Pranksters are turning Philadelphia street-signs to misdirect the traffic; not even one-way arrows can any longer be trusted to tell the truth.

These misdirectional signs may also reflect the shifting vogue ideas of modern society. One by one the reigning notions of liberal learning and action seem to be coming under fire. Detached from any truth of revelation, the high dogmas of scientists, moralists, and even theologians soon become unwelcome detours.

Current revision of evolutionary theory emphasizes the highly tentative character of scientific assumptions. Biochemists and anthropologists at the University of California (Berkeley) now contend that differences in the genetic structure of hemoglobin (blood proteins) of man and the apes are so small that their presumed evolutionary line divided merely five to ten million years ago, not twenty to thirty million as previously held. Dr. Sherwood Washburn told the Philadelphia Inquirer (Dec. 13, 1969) that paleontologists, long dependent on fossil evidence in guessing at relationships, should now look to biochemistry and the protein clock. “This changes the rules of the science,” he said. Surely not, we may add, for the last time.

In another field, comparative religions, many evolutionary scholars have held that a common core of religious ideas can be detected and developmentally arranged to exhibit ethical monotheism (particularly if one earns his bread and butter in the West) as the latest and highest emergent. The price of this compliment to Judeo-Christian religion was, of course, the surrender of its claims to revelational uniqueness; the religion of the Bible was held to differ from other religions not in kind but in degree. More recently, however, this assumption of a shared common core has been widely disputed. More and more scholars insist that the specific religious claims can be properly understood only within the divergent outlooks to which they belong, and that the notion of a universal essence to which all world religions are to be related on a sliding scale is a speculative imposition in the interest of evolutionary theory.

In Old Testament studies the incomparability of Yahweh is now stoutly affirmed by a number of scholars, despite every effort of radical critics to derive the God of the Old Testament simply from the Semitic religious milieu. The differences between Yahweh and the ancient polytheistic gods are held by these specialists engaged in comparative studies to be irreducible.

In New Testament studies also there are rumblings to indicate that a major earthquake may not be far off. If any single assumption has been basic to liberal studies through the twentieth century, it is the priority of Mark’s Gospel, premised on the evolutionary assumption that its brevity argues for priority. But impressive scholarly opinion against this theory continues to accumulate, and the issue may soon emerge into front-line dispute.

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For two generations neo-Protestant theology, in its dialectical and existential preoccupation, has emphasized the reality of God by deliberately rejecting God’s objectivity and existence in the interest of divine subjectivity. This emphasis on God’s non-objectivity and non-existence has gradually emptied itself into sheer subjectivism. Doubt about the transcendent reality of God has given way to prattle about the silence, eclipse, and death of God. But now this whole approach of Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann and their satellites is under weighty assault by scholars who insist once again that the Living God is an object of objective knowledge.

Neo-Protestant assumptions about the Church seem likewise to be collapsing right and left (mostly left). The National Council of Churches, the great liberal Protestant experiment in church unity, is breathing so heavily that some interpreters see its demise not far off. So long has the NCC trumpeted the prophecy that merger of smaller denominations into one huge church would impress upon the world the importance of Jesus Christ, and so long has it pressured for a leveling of material resources as the heart of authentic Christian social ethics, that conciliar ecumenism is now hard pressed on both counts. The enthusiasm for revolutionary radicalism has led on unexpectedly to such bold black-power demands that neither Roman Catholics nor unaffiliated evangelical Protestants would currently welcome the NCC if it were offered as a gift. Even a professor at Union Theological Seminary recently reminded his students of the false prophecy emanating from nearby 475 Riverside Drive: “They told us that the world would become Christian if we got the denominations together.” The fact is that fewer and fewer Christians are attending the ecumenized churches.

The absolutized relativisms are giving way to relativized absolutes, and nowhere are the indications of an erosion of conscience more evident than in the realm of morals. In recent months the United States has been especially stunned by two reports of atrocities. Although the My Lai massacres—if actually committed—run counter to official U. S. policy, they raise once again the issue of the complete suspension of personal conscience upon a higher human authority, military or political. But the cold-blooded California murder of Sharon Tate and three friends raises the wider problem of an existential view of life that frees neighbor relations and sexual love from universally valid criteria and connects them only with one’s inner preferences.

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For the modern generation the comments attributed by the Los Angeles Times to one of the suspects, Susan Atkins, ought to be required reading:

When we got back … he just acted as though it never happened. Charles is the type that lives for each second, and pays no mind to what may happen two seconds later. That’s how much he is with it.… I went in and slept for a while, but first I think I made love with Clem.… I’m not sure who I made love with—or if I even made love that night.… There was a comment made by one of us that what had happened had served its purpose. That was to instill fear in Man himself. Man the establishment. That’s what it was done for. To instill fear—to cause paranoia. To also show the black man how to go about taking over white man. Then I just put what had happened out of my mind, the best I could. But I couldn’t.… I’d look at Charlie, and he’d wink at me and give me reassurance that everything was O.K., was going to be all right. Not that he said it aloud. He didn’t have to say it—I just felt it. That’s the way Charlie was.

It isn’t so much that modern vogue ideas proclaim out loud that God is myth and man but a clever animal. They just wink the message, and a warped conscience sportively turns life’s directional signals whichever way it wabbles.


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