In days like these, who can read the signs of the times? Our many and varied experts seem to lead us only to confusion. As. for me, I find that “keeping up on things” is always just a little beyond me.
After such a humble introduction, however, let me think along with you about a few things in this new year of 1968. I see in the papers that the Russians are now becoming capitalistic. I am also led to understand that this apparent slippage in loyalty to sound communistic doctrine is what is driving the wedge between Russia and China.
At the same time, I see—and this has been going on for many, many years—that there is the general belief (or rather fear) that so-called Western civilization, exemplified primarily by the American way of life, is wrapped up in a creeping socialism that is slipping toward communism. It would seem, therefore, that one way or another, the United States and Russia are on the way to some kind of a reasonable rapport. But the idea of getting along with Russia is such a frightful thought to many people that they run away from any such possibility.
To understand these tendencies, it seems to me, we need a correction in the kind of thinking we have been accustomed to. This may easily lead us into philosophy—perish the thought.
The first thing wrong with our thinking is that we have continually criticized Russia for being atheistic. Why this is a purely Russian problem, I have never been able to see. The Roman Catholic Church has taken the lead in a continuous condemnation of Russia because of its atheism, and many Protestants have been more sympathetic to Romanism because they like the way Rome stands up to Russia while so many Protestant leaders seem a bit vague at this point.
The real problem for the Roman Catholics, however, is not atheism. What else does a church do for a living besides combat atheism wherever atheism is found? The church in Rome has been in the business of combating atheism all over the world for centuries. What we fail to notice is that the problem of Rome and Russia is, more than godlessness, the fact that in communistic society the church cannot control its own property, cannot control its own money, and therefore has no foundation in a power struggle. In other countries, such as our own, the financial strength of the Roman church and the power that flows out from this strength are staggering.
At the same time, those of us who like to talk about Western civilization had better think again about atheism in Western society. What is the Church doing about the atheism of France, or modern Britain, or Christian America? About 50 per cent of the population of our own land is related in no way to the Church; would you like to guess what part of that 50 per cent has any Christian commitment? The domination of state-controlled education is producing a secular society by geometric progression. Statistically, there are more Christians in America than in any other country in the world; yet we cannot walk our streets at night in safety. To put it succinctly, do we really believe that God is more interested in atheistic democracy than in atheistic communism?
Now take the word “communism.” There may be something essentially weak in a communistic society. Perhaps its own built-in flaws are what have led to failure time and time again when groups small and large have tried communal living. We have to keep reminding ourselves that the early Church looked very much like a communal society, and that other early experiments failed over and over again. Many times in history, people for religious reasons and Christian reasons—not atheistic reasons—have thought that society ought to be some kind of a community.
In the communal society, property and even family belong to the group. Communism does not have to be atheistic, and it is not in essence anti-God. Many serious thinkers have thought that some form of communal living approaches the Christian ideal.
What I am arguing is that the problem with Russia is neither atheism nor communism in essence, and that their moving toward capitalism may simply be illustrative of the historically sound position that any communistic form of society will not sustain itself.
The problem is deeper. This brings us to the philosophical basis of the Russian experiment: dialectical materialism. The term looks forbidding, but it isn’t really difficult. “Materialism” is clear enough, so long as we remember that we are speaking of it as a total world view. It is not simply a liking for material things; it is the belief that at the foundation of all reality there is nothing more or less than matter. This eventually leads to a psychology or a sociology or even a system of values in which the only realities are material; they can never be spiritual. Goals are material, methods are materialistic. In the last analysis, even man can be looked on as things; the most subtle operations of a man are seen to rest on cells and combinations of cells, and other possible realities such as the soul are dismissed as nonsense. “The mind secretes thought as the liver secretes bile.”
The word “dialectical” is a little harder. In simplest terms, it means this: There are certain forces loose in history that by their nature oppose one another. One force becomes a thesis, the opposing force is the antithesis, and the moves of history have by necessity been moves toward many syntheses. As the Russians view it, the force of capitalism is a thesis, the proletariat is the antithesis, and the synthesis is to be the classless society. Since these forces of history are deterministic and irresistible, men as persons are expendable. One’s freedom of choice consists in aligning himself on the side of the new day that will bring in the classless society—and perhaps even giving his life for it.
The doctrine of thesis and antithesis must be thought of, again, as materialistic. This is where atheism comes in. There is no God; therefore man cannot be a creature of God. As a result he is either the end product of a series of biological accidents or a thing swept along by the tides of history.
Well, if the Russians and the Chinese like this sort of thing, let them have it. We Christians and especially we Americans will believe in God and will protect men as persons and will pass judgment on behavior according to the will of God. The only question is, Do we?
As one reads the signs of the times, the real and frightening aspect of rapport between East and West is not a question of ahteism or communism; it is the fact that Americans generally are settling for materialistic aims and methods and are coming to believe that men are things and not souls.
Would you not agree with me that most of the goals of our beloved nation are materialistic? And can you not say with me that the dominant philosophy of our universities (logical positivism) and the dominant psychology of our universities (behaviorism) are variations of scientism, which is another way of describing materialism? The apathy and despair that mark our civilization are simply the throwing up of our hands in the face of the determinism of forces and the sweep of history. Russia may well be winning in ways we haven’t even suspected.
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