The War and the Churches/Chapter III
THE APOLOGIES OF THE CLERGY
Any person who cares to read the reports of the utterances of our clergy in the current religious periodicals will recognise that they are painfully conscious of the reproach which this war implies. One constantly finds them repeating that in this year of tragedy "Christianity has failed" and "the gospel has broken in our hands." It had been their boast that Christianity had civilised Europe, and none of them has the audacity or indecency to claim, as some writers have done, that such a war is in harmony with the principles and ideals of civilisation. They have preached brotherhood and peace, and the greater part of Christendom is engaged in a strife of the most terrible nature. It is not a struggle of Christian and infidel; it is a struggle of Christian and Christian, and one or several of the Christian nations involved are guilty of a crime greater in magnitude than all the murders in Europe during a decade. Above all patriotism, above all immediate anxiety, above all argumentation about responsibility, this grim fact stands out and reproaches them: after fifteen hundred years of Christian preaching Europe is locked in the bloodiest struggle of all time.
During the last fifty or hundred years the clergy have developed some expertness in making apologies. They have lived in a world of anxious questions and heated charges, and a special department called Apologetics has been added to theology. They are, it is true, sorely perplexed, divided in counsel, uneasy as to their procedure. Some would ignore the pertinacious outsider and persuade their followers that he is negligible; others would sustain an energetic campaign against him. Some would openly and candidly meet the questions of their followers; others would prefer not to unsettle the large number who never ask questions. At the present juncture it is impossible to be wholly silent. Some of the clergy, it seems—I learn this from the recorded words of eminent preachers—wish to ignore the war and go on with their business as usual. But the majority feel that such a procedure is dangerous. This violent breach of Christian principles by Christian nations requires some explanation. Where is the long-boasted moral influence of Christianity? Where is the all-loving ruler of the universe? Let us examine some of the apologies of the preachers.
Let me confess that, from a long experience of this apologetic branch of theology, I am not surprised to find that not a single speaker or writer—as far as my reading of their utterances goes—fairly meets the main difficulty. Most of them, naturally, are content to plead that the war has been forced on Europe by Germany, and that therefore no responsibility lies on Christianity as a whole for the tragedy and the moral failure it involves. A large number of them go even farther. They point to the heroic sacrifices made in defence of an ideal by France, Belgium, England, and Russia—the millions of men streaming to the battle-field, the millions of women bravely enduring the suspense and the loss, the millions who generously open their purses to every philanthropic enterprise—and they acclaim this as a triumph of Christian civilisation. As to the failure of Christianity in Germany to stand the test, they either point superficially to the growth of Rationalism, Biblical Criticism, and Socialism in that country, or they take refuge in the confusions of the extreme pacifists and refuse to assign responsibility at all, or they persuade themselves that a small minority of men who were not Christians deluded the German people into consenting to the war. In any case, they insist that Christianity as a whole is not impeached. Assume that Austria was dragged into the war by Germany, and you have four Christian nations—five, if one includes Serbia—behaving with great gallantry and entire propriety, and only one Christian nation misbehaving.
There is no doubt that this is the common religious attitude, but it does not satisfy some of the more thoughtful and earnest preachers. This optimism seems to them rebuked by the very fact that Christendom is in a state of war to which Paganism can offer no parallel. They think of the lands beyond the sea to which they have been sending the Christian message of peace and brotherhood. They fancy they see China and Japan smiling their faint but distressing smile at the situation in Christian Europe. They have assured all these distant peoples that their faith has built up a shining civilisation in Europe, and now there flash and quiver through the nerves of the world the daily messages of horror, of fierce hatred, of appalling carnage, of the wanton destruction by Christians of Christian temples. The Gospel has, somehow, broken down in Europe, they regretfully admit.
But they never go beyond this vague admission and boldly state the sin of the Churches. One would imagine that, in spite of its obvious and lamentable failure, they still thought that their predecessors had been justified in preaching only the general terms of the Christian gospel and never applying it to war. One would fancy that they are so unacquainted with history as to suppose that during the long ages of the past the Churches were really frowning on violence and warfare, instead of blessing and employing it. They fear to draw out in its full proportion the inefficacy (because of its vagueness) of the gospel and the long perversion of its ministers. Yet we cannot evade this fundamental fact of the situation, that this particular war is an outcome of a general military system, and the Churches have a very grave responsibility for the maintenance of that system until the twentieth century. We all know how the technical moral theologian of recent times has glossed the complacency of his Church. He has drawn a distinction between offensive and defensive war, and, since the latter is obviously just, he has maintained that armies are rightly raised to wage it when necessary. On this petty fallacy the Churches have so long reconciled themselves to militarism, and have, in fact, been amongst its closest allies. The clergy did not, or would not, see that the retention of the military system was in itself the surest provocation of offensive war; that ambition or covetousness could almost always find a moral pretext for aggression, and that there have been comparatively few priests in the history of Europe who ever stood out and unmasked the hypocrisy of such monarchs. As long as the military system lasted, it was certain that wars would take place, yet they never denounced the system. The great conception of substituting justice for violence, law for lawlessness, did not enter the mind of Christianity. It was born of the secular humanitarian spirit of modern times.
For any serious person this is the gravest charge which the clergy have to meet, and they one and all evade it. The civilisation of Europe has a unique greatness on its material side; in its applied science, its engineering, its industries, its commerce. For that, assuredly, the Churches are not in any degree responsible. Our civilisation is unique also in its political power, its mastery over other peoples; and for that again the Churches are not responsible. It is great on the intellectual side, in its science and philosophy, its art and general culture; and that greatness, too, has been won independently of, or in defiance of, the clergy. On the moral side only it may plausibly be connected with its established religion, and here precisely it fails and approaches barbarism. I do not wonder that the Churches are troubled, and do not wonder greatly that they are silent.
But while they are silent on the main issue, they have a vast amount to say about minor issues and secondary aspects. They console and reconcile their people in a hundred ways. Actually they seem, in a great measure, to entertain the idea that the Churches are going to emerge from this trial stronger than ever, and to witness at last that religious revival which they had almost begun to despair of securing. Let me examine a few of these clerical pronouncements. I do not choose the eccentric sermons of ill-educated rural preachers, but the utterances of some of the more distinguished preachers, reproduced with pride and honour in the leading religious periodicals. Yet no person can coldly reflect on these pronouncements and fail to realise that our generation acts not unnaturally in passing by the open doors of the Churches; that the clergy are, as usual, shirking the most serious questions of the modern intelligence, and trusting mainly to profit by the heated and disordered and confusing emotions of the hour.
One of the most extraordinary of these deliverances reaches me from Australia, but as it comes from one of the leading prelates of the Commonwealth and does assuredly express what multitudes of preachers are saying everywhere, I do not hesitate to give it prominence. Archbishop Carr, of Melbourne, set out in the middle of the war to enlighten his followers, and his words are reported with great deference in the Melbourne Age (December 28th). The prelate observed that he had "very strong ideas about the war" (I quote the words of the Age), and "did not believe it had happened by accident, or by the chance action of some king or emperor." He believed that "the great God who provided for all human creatures, through the war was punishing sin that had prevailed for a long time, particularly in the shape of infidelity." The Archbishop proved from history and the Bible that war did come sometimes as a punishment of sin, and he concluded, or the journal thus summarises his conclusion:
"The reason that God was using the present war for the punishment of the nations was that for a very considerable time there had been not merely neglect of the worship and service of God, which had always existed to a greater or less extent, but a regular upraising of human light and human understanding and human will against the existence of the providence of God. It was not so common among us here [it is just as common], but there were countries in Europe in which the spirit of infidelity and the absence of supernatural faith had been increasing for many years. Men were coming to think they were quite sufficient in themselves for the working out of their own destinies, but the war had come, and it was humbling such men."
Archbishop Carr is not adduced here as a representative type of clerical culture. On what grounds the Roman Catholic authorities select men like him and the late Cardinal Moran to preside over the destinies of their Church in our great and promising Commonwealth is not clear. In the course of this important sermon, in which he is delivering his very personal and mature conclusions on the greatest issue of the hour, the Archbishop observed that "the Roman Empire had been attacked by Attila" and "Attila scourged the Romans for the crimes of which they had for a long while been guilty." One is surprised that he did not add the pretty legend of the awe-stricken Hun retreating before the majestic figure of Pope Leo I. However, most of us are aware that, as a student in any college of Australia ought to be able to inform the Archbishop, Attila never reached within two hundred miles of Rome, and that the Pagan Romans, whom the Archbishop obviously has in mind, had been extinguished long before the monarch of the Huns was born. There is no greater historical scholarship in the other proofs which the prelate brings in support of his thesis that war is often deliberately sent as a punishment.
But what are we to make of the moral standards of an eminent prelate of the Roman Church who can hold and express so appalling a theory? It is based on the moral standard of the Prussian officer, of the medieval torturer. The majority of clergymen have at length come to realise, tardily and reluctantly, that the man or woman who rejects the creeds they offer may quite possibly not believe in them. The practice of describing a refusal to assent to the doctrine of hell and heaven as a wilful rebellion of passion against the restraining influences of Christianity is going out of fashion. Christian people were meeting too many heretics in the flesh, and did not recognise the thing described from the pulpit. The sturdy Archbishop will have none of this pampering. Unbelief is a matter of the will as well as the understanding. And he actually believes that God guided the thoughts of William II in engineering this war—believes it for a reason a hundred times worse than the Kaiser's idea. He believes that God sent on Europe a war that will cost £10,000,000,000, that is blasting the homes and embittering the hearts of millions, that mingles the innocent and guilty in one common and fearful desolation, that sends millions to a premature death amidst circumstances which do not lend themselves to a devout preparation, that is raising storms of hatred and perverting the souls of millions, because a few other millions refuse to go to church. It would be difficult to conceive a cruder and more barbarous idea. Attila did not scourge the Romans, but he did scourge other peoples; and we hold him up to execration for ever for it. But Archbishop Carr, and many other preachers, think that an all-holy and all-intelligent God can do infinitely worse than Attila. He is going to punish the unbelievers in eternal fire when they die: meantime he will make a hell on earth for the innocent as well as the supposed guilty, the child and the mother as well as the free-thinking father. Of a truth, it is not surprising that a reluctance to listen to sermons has spread to Melbourne, and that men are wondering whether they had better not take in hand their own destinies rather than entrust them to such spiritual guides as this.
Note, particularly, in passing the emphasis which the Archbishop puts on the determination of our generation to control its own destinies. Until the nineteenth century men entrusted their destinies, on the moral side, to guides like Archbishop Carr. I have described the result. In the nineteenth century there began this practice, which the Archbishop thinks worthy of so inhuman a chastisement, of men attending to their own moral interests. Of this also I have described the result. The moral sentiment of Europe has greatly improved, and there is at least a widespread revolt against warfare and a prospect of abolishing it. For this God, the more than human, scorched Europe with the horrible flames which Archbishop Carr thinks he keeps in his arsenal of torture-implements. The Archbishop says that infidelity has not spread so much in Australia. I should, if I were not well acquainted with the Commonwealth, be disposed to see in that the reason why eminent prelates can still utter such gross medieval nonsense in that country.
In England this particularly crude type of nonsense is not usually uttered by preachers of distinction, though it is common enough among less responsible preachers; but there is a dangerous approach to it in some of the sermons which the religious periodicals regard as important. Looking over the current issues of the religious press, I notice a sermon on the war by Professor Clow, in which the Allies are, in harmony with his test, described as "the vultures of God." Germany, it seems, is the prey, and Germany's sins are painted black. Professor Clow, it is true, shrinks from the very natural implication of his words, but he clearly intimates that he sees the action of God in the military conduct of the Allies, and to that extent he is hardly less revolting, in view of his culture, than the archbishop. Could the God of Professor Clow find no other way of removing Germany's arrogance than to sear and blast it with a world-war and involve millions of innocent along with the guilty in his lakes of fire and blood?
More important, however, is a sermon delivered before the recent National Free Church Council by one of the most esteemed Nonconformist preachers, the Rev. J. H. Rushbrooke, and reproduced admiringly in the Nonconformist journals. The cloud of war, naturally, brooded over this gathering of ministers. Some of them heroically closed their eyes to it and went on with their clerical business as usual. But most of the speakers seem to have felt that all other issues were thrust aside in the minds of their followers just now, and that a grave and soul-shaking question possessed them. As a result we have, I suppose, the finest efforts of Nonconformity to meet that question and save the prestige of the Churches.
Mr. Rushbrooke frankly described the war as an overwhelming catastrophe, gravely disturbing the religious mind. It bore witness, he said, to "the failure of organised, or disorganised, Christianity." He conceived it as "God's judgment upon the Church's failure seriously to devote herself to the great cause of peace on earth and good-will among men." With all their boasts of what Christianity had done in Europe, it now appeared that that civilisation was raised upon "foundations of sand." The preacher claimed that much was being done in modern times by the clergy to promote international amity, but he seemed to feel that it was little and was very recent. The spectacle unfolded before us in Europe to-day is a sufficient proof of its inadequacy. And, as Mr. Rushbrooke said, we now see how little use it is to preach ideals at home and not apply them to the common life of the world.
These words are the nearest to wisdom that I have found among a large collection of pulpit-utterances and religious articles. The preacher plainly sees, and with some measure of candour confesses, that long remissness of Christian ministers in applying their principles to which the war, and all wars, are fundamentally due. The record which he carefully makes of recent efforts to redeem the failure is paltry in comparison with the resources even of the Free Churches, and only serves to bring out more clearly the awful neglect of Christian ministers during the long ages when they had a mighty power in Europe. But Mr. Rushbrooke makes one grave error. He feels that not merely the relation of the war to Christianity, but its relation to God, is engaging public attention, and he stumbles into the theory that God sent the war. It is "God's judgment on the Church's failure." We must suppose that Mr. Rushbrooke did not literally mean what he said. His words imply a theory of the war more monstrous even than that of Archbishop Carr. To punish Europe for the sins of unbelievers has at least a genuine medieval plausibility about it; but to send this indescribable plague on the nations of Europe because the clergy failed to do their duty.…One must really assume that Mr. Rushbrooke did not mean what he said, and leave the sentence unfinished. What he meant it is impossible to conjecture. To the religious mind "God's judgment" means a chastisement sent by God. But, whatever Mr. Rushbrooke meant, he had been wiser to leave the idea of God out of his comments on this war, and to say frankly that it would bring on them and on their predecessors, on the whole of Christianity, the judgment of man and the judgment of history for their neglect of their opportunities.
The Rev. A. T. Guttery addressed the Council in a more cheerful mood, and his reflections are characteristic of a large group of the clergy. He would not for a moment allow the failure of Christianity. The Churches had, he said, been so successful in compelling the world to recognise the evil of aggressive warfare that even the Germans were eager to describe their action as purely defensive. "The Pagan glory of war for its own sake was gone." And when we acknowledge the comparative failure of religion in Germany, and restrict our attention to the sphere of our own clergy, we find that they have created an entirely new spirit. The lust for territory and for gold is felt no more in England. Here there is no mafficking over victories, there are no hymns of hate. The British nation has been sobered by the influence of Christianity. We may regret that the German people has not proved equally susceptible, and its pastors equally energetic, but we cannot bear their burden. Their naughtiness alone has disturbed the moral progress which, even in this department, Christianity was fostering.
This is, I think, a very usual attitude of the clergy, and I have already appreciated the sound element of it. There is no comparison between the behaviour of the two nations. Whether England deserves quite all the compliments which Mr. Guttery showers upon it may be a matter of opinion. We have as yet little cause for "mafficking," but there is very little doubt that it will occur on a grandiose scale before the war is over. We do not sing hymns of hate; but it might be hazardous to speculate what we would do if some nation drew an iron ring round our country and reduced us almost to a condition of starvation. We have no lust for territory—I am not sure about the lust for gold—because we have in our Empire territory enough for our population; and we may wait to see if England does not annex any part of Germany's African or Pacific possessions. Mr. Guttery's contrast is crude and superficial. He ignores the economic and geographical conditions which give us a feeling of content and Germany a profound feeling of discontent and a dangerous ambition. The German character is not in itself inferior to ours, and it were well for us to fancy ourselves in Germany's position and wonder if we would have acted otherwise.
On the other hand, I have freely acknowledged, or claimed, that there has been a great improvement in the moral temper of Europe, and that this is especially seen in the odium that is now cast on aggressive or offensive war. But to claim this improvement for the credit of religion is, to say the least, audacious. The more simple-minded of Mr. Guttery's hearers would imagine that the change set in with the fall of Paganism. "The Pagan glory of war for its own sake is gone." When clerical writers speak of Paganism they think that any evil deed ever done by a Pagan is characteristic of the whole body; they ask us to apply a different standard to their own body. Plato and Socrates were Pagans; Marcus Aurelius and Antoninus Pius—to speak of warriors and statesmen—were Pagans. The truth is that a glory in war for its own sake was no more generally characteristic of Paganism than it was of Christian Europe until a century ago: it was probably less. Most of the German Emperors and of the Kings of England, France, and Spain would fairly come under the description which Mr. Guttery calls Pagan. One hardly needs to know much of history to perceive that this moral improvement in the conception of war belongs to the last century and a half, and it is somewhat bold to claim that a change which made no appearance during a thousand years of profound Christian influence, and did begin to appear and make progress as that faith waned, can be claimed for Christianity. I do not forget that the theologian began long ago, in the seclusion of his cell or study, to condemn offensive warfare. But there have been hundreds of offensive wars waged by Christian monarchs since that date, and we do not read of any instance in which the clergy failed to endorse the thin casuistry by which the offensive was turned into a defensive or a preventive war, or refused to sanction an entire neglect of the principle.
Dr. Scott-Lidgett followed on somewhat similar lines. The whole trouble, he protested, was due to an anti-Christian, illiberal, and inhuman system. It seems that he was referring to Prussia, and it is regrettable that he did not feel called to explain why that system prevails in the year of the Lord 1915, or how it finds an instrument of its ambition in a militarism that ought to have been denounced and abolished centuries ago. Mr. Shakespeare, another distinguished Nonconformist, follows the same facile course—casts all the responsibility on Germany—and equally fails to explain how Germany came to find the machinery of destruction at its hand in our age.
In fine, Dean Welldon, one of the most energetic spokesmen of the Church of England, addressed this Free Church Council, and imparted an element of originality. He used the inconclusive and dangerous argument of tu quoque. If, he said, you claim that this war exhibits the failure of Christianity, you must admit that it shows equally the failure of science and civilisation. Nay, he says, growing bolder, if your contention is true, Christianity has done no more than supply the instrument of its own destruction, but science and civilisation have brought us back to savagery.
It is, of course, difficult to follow a man's rounded thought in the crabbed phrases of an abbreviating reporter, but it is plain that Dean Welldon has here been guilty of a confusion which only betrays his apologetic poverty in face of this great crisis. Science—and it is especially science that the clergy conceive as the rival they have to discredit—has no concern whatever with the war. Science, either as an organised body of teachers or as a branch of culture, has never discussed war, and never had the faintest duty or opportunity to do so. Economic science may discuss particular aspects of war, but the economist deals with things as they are, not as they ought to be. Moral science even is not a preaching agency, desirous of dividing with the clergy the ethical guidance of the people. When men pit science against religion, they usually refer to its superior power of explaining reality. And if it be objected that therefore no morally educative agency would remain if religion were discarded, the answer is simple. A system of moral idealism founded on science—it is absurd to call it science—does exist, and might at any time be enlarged to the proportions of a national or international educative agency. As yet it is left to individual cultivation or crystallised in a few tiny associations, such as Ethical and Secularist and, partly, Socialist Societies; and I venture to say, from a large experience of these bodies, that, apart from the professed peace societies, they have been more assiduous than any religious associations in England, in proportion to their work, in demanding the substitution of arbitration for war, and that the overwhelming majority, almost the entirety, of their members are pacifists. To speak of this small organised force, with its slender influence, as equally discredited with the far mightier and thousand-year-older influence of the Churches would be strangely incongruous; and it is hardly less incongruous to drag science into the comparison.
A somewhat similar distinction must be observed in regard to civilisation. The antithesis of religion and civilisation is confused and confusing. Christian ministers have claimed that they are the moral element of civilisation, and they have jealously combated every effort to take from them or divide with them that function. They resist every attempt to exclude their almost useless Bible-lessons from our schools, and to substitute for them a direct and more practical moral education of children. They have for fifteen hundred years claimed and possessed the monopoly of ethical culture in European civilisation, and we are a little puzzled when they turn round and say, with an air of argument, that if Christianity has failed civilisation also has failed. There is only one civilisation in Europe that has attempted to substitute a humanitarian for a religious training of conduct; one nation that is plainly and overwhelmingly non-Christian. That nation is France. And France has one of the best moral records in modern Europe, and has behaved nobly throughout this lamentable business. In fine, if we take Dean Welldon's words in the most generous sense, if we assume that he refers to the whole body of culture and sentiment which, in our time, aspires to mould and direct the race apart from Christian doctrine, the answer has already been given. Christianity is, as a power in Europe, fourteen centuries old; this humanitarianism is hardly a century old. But there has surely been more progress made during this last century toward the destruction of the military system, and more progress in the elimination of brutality from war, than in the whole preceding thirteen centuries. Does Dean Welldon doubt that? Or does he regard it as a mere coincidence?
Thus, whether we turn to Churchman or Nonconformist, to cleric or layman, we find no satisfactory apology. I have before me a short article by Mr. Max Pemberton on the question, "Will Christianity survive the war?" He uses the most consecrated phrases of the Church, and leaves no doubt whatever that he writes in defence of Christianity. But Mr. Pemberton practically confines himself to a very emphatic personal assurance that Christianity will survive the war, and does not honestly face a single one of the questions of "the Pagan" against whom he is writing. He does make one serious point of a peculiar character. There are, he says, "23,000 priests fighting for France in the trenches." Mr. Pemberton seems to find it easy to accept the interested statements of those Roman Catholic journalists who make sectarian use of some of the London dailies. There are only about 30,000 priests in France, and, since none of them are younger than twenty-three, to suppose that seventy-five per cent. of them are of military age is to take a remarkable view of the population of France. In any case, there is no special ground for rhapsody. They are not volunteers; in France every man must do his civic duty. We may appreciate their devotion to their religion on the battle-field, but Mr. Pemberton must be imperfectly acquainted with the French character if he supposes that the thirty-four million unbelievers of France are going to return to the Church because the younger curés did not try to evade the military service which the State imposed on them.
Another document I may quote is a manifesto issued by the "Hampstead Evangelical Free Church Council," a joint declaration of the principal Nonconformist ministers of that highly cultivated suburb. It does not purport to vindicate the Churches, yet some of its observations in connection with the war open out a new page of apologetics. These clergymen invite all the citizens of their district, on the ground of the war, to attend church, even if they have not been in the habit of doing so. On what more precise ground? The able lawyer who received this invitation, and forwarded it to me, thought it, not the most ingenious, but the most curious, piece of pleading he had ever known. The citizens of Hampstead were invited to go to church "to offer up to God a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for his goodness to us as a nation"! At the very time the eminent preachers were writing this, the darkened city still cowered under the threat of a horrible outrage; the shattered homes and fresh graves of Scarborough and Whitby reminded us faintly of the horrors beyond the sea; the maimed soldiers all over the country, the sad figures of the bereaved, the anxious hearts of a million of our people, were but a beginning of the evil that had fallen on us. We had in fourteen years, since the last war, been obliged to spend a thousand millions sterling in preparation for a war we did not desire, and we were entering upon an expenditure of something more than a thousand millions in a year. All this we had incurred through no fault of ours. And these clergymen thought it a good opportunity to invite us to go to church to thank God for "his goodness to us as a nation."
Another manifesto is signed by a body of archbishops and bishops of the Anglican Church. It enjoined all the faithful to supplicate the Almighty on January 3rd to stop the war. This was to be done "all round the Empire." I will not indulge in any cheap sarcasm as to the result, though one would probably be right in saying that, if the end be deferred to the year 1917, they will still believe that their prayers had effect. What it is more material to notice is that the prelates think that "these are days of great spiritual opportunity." It seems that "the shattering of so much that seemed established reveals the vanity of human affairs," and that "anxiety, separation, and loss have made many hearts sensible of the approach of Christ to the soul." It is, perhaps, unkind to examine this emotional language from an intellectual point of view, but one feels that there is a subtle element of apology in it. These spiritual advantages may outweigh the secular pain; may even justify God's share in the great catastrophe. I have examined, and will discuss more fully in the next chapter, the theistic side of this plea. Intellectually, it borders on monstrosity: it is the survival of an ancient and barbaric conception. The notion that "the approach of Christ to the soul" is felt especially in time of affliction is merely a statement of a certain type of emotional experience, while the revelation of "the vanity of human affairs" is sheer perversity. Human affairs have for ages been so badly managed, in this respect, that we cannot in a decade or a century rid ourselves of such a legacy. The real moral is to discover who were responsible for that legacy of disorder and violence, and to put our affairs on a new and sounder basis.
A considerable number of clerical writers proceed on the suggestion discreetly advanced by these Anglican prelates. Let us wait, they ask, until the clouds of war have rolled away, and then estimate the spiritual gain to men from the trial through which they have passed, and the closer association of the Churches which it may bring about. Now I have no doubt that many who really believe the doctrines of Christianity, yet have for years neglected the duties which their belief imposes on them, will be induced by this awful experience to return to allegiance. The number is limited, and an equal or greater number may be, and probably will be, induced to surrender religion entirely, and with good reason, by the reflections with which this war inspires them. But to insinuate that this spiritual advantage, if it be an advantage, of the few is justly purchased by the appalling suffering and disorder brought about by the war is one of those religious affirmations which seem to the outsider positively repulsive.
I do not speak merely of the deaths, the pain, the privation, the outrages, the flood of tears and blood over half of Europe. This, indeed, is of itself enough to make the theory repellent to any who do not share the ascetic views taught in the Churches. The notion that an evil is justified if good issue from it is akin to the notion that the end justifies the means. But I would draw attention to an aspect of the war which is almost ignored by these eloquent preachers. They eagerly record every flash of heroism, every spark of charity and mercy, that the war evokes. They refer sympathetically to the dead and the bereaved, the outraged girls and women—whom, in the narrowest Puritanism, they forbid to rid themselves of the awful burden laid on them by drunken brutes—the shattered homes and monuments. But there is a side of war which they must know, and it demands plain speaking. It relaxes the control of moral restraints even where it was before operative. The illegitimate-birth rate of England and France will faintly tell the story before the year is out. Inquiry in any town where our soldiers are lodged, or in the rear of the French and English (or any other) trenches, will tell it more fully. I do not speak of crime and violence, but of willing sexual intercourse where it was never known before. These things, and the increased drunkenness and the stirring of old passions, are regarded by the clergy as amongst the most evil things of life. Do they seriously suggest that they have been brought in to secure, or are justified by, the spiritual advantage of the refined and emotional few whose religion is only deepened by affliction?
In short, I find not a single phrase of valid explanation or apology in these and other prominent clerical pronouncements I have read. They are superficial, contradictory, and vapid. Nothing is more common than for religious writers to protest that the conception of reality which is opposed to theirs is shallow. What depth, what sincere grip of reality, does one find in any of these pulpit utterances? Yet I have taken the pronouncements of official bodies or of distinguished preachers who may be trusted to put the Christian feeling in its most persuasive form. One thinks that God sent the war; another attributes it to German rebels against God. One regards it as a spiritual agency devised for our good; another says that it is an unmitigated calamity sent for our punishment. One sees in it the failure of Christianity; others find in it precisely a confirmation of Christian teaching. Some think it will draw men to God; others that it will drive men from God. Unity, perhaps, we cannot expect; but the empty rhetoric and utter sophistry of most of these utterances reveal the complete lack of defence. On the main indictment of the Christian Church, its failure to have condemned and removed militarism long ago, all are silent; or the one preacher who notices it can only dejectedly confess that it is true.
- As I write, the Press describes Canon Green of Burnley as saying that "the war is a divine judgment on the world—England for the last ten years has been God-forgetting, drunken, immoral."