The Church’s great concern is to justify what man and the world are doing. This is just like olden times, except that it is no longer the same things which are being justified. Instead of the royal power, the patriarchal family, feminine servitude, worldly morality, etc., the things now being justified are science, technology, world management, politics, and the big city.
The latest fabulous example of justification is Harvey Cox’s celebrated book, The Secular City. It is hard to believe that a book so feebly thought through, so loaded with historical error, so sociologically and theologically superficial, so ordinary, with its repetition of all the commonplaces about secularization and the profane, and lacking in any depth in the subject, that a book so dubious in its historical analyses and so generalized in its sociology—that such a book would enjoy such a success. Just one thing explains it; it offers the public a justification for what is going on in the world, for what man is in process of doing. It is true that modern man in his most fallen aspect wants exactly above everything else that someone should come along to tell him that he is right in doing what he is doing. That was the springboard for all the propaganda. From the standpoint of ideology and publicity, The Secular City is a great book. Here again, for the hundredth time, I call attention to the fact that to condemn the act of justifying is not, to my mind, the same as to condemn what is being done in society, in science, and in technology. I have never condemned these!
It supplies precisely the “solemn complement” (that Marx rightly accuses religion of supplying). Urban anonymity? That is great. That is freedom. Urban mobility is admirable, the very condition of progress. Pragmatism conforms to God’s way of acting. The profane accords with God’s will. The secular city is the meeting place of man and God. Since man’s technological power is constantly increasing, the Church’s message consists in giving assurance that it is up to man to create his own destiny.
This is a tissue of commonplaces, all of which are entirely nonbiblical, and are rooted in an imaginary factor in modern society. Here is where theology does indeed become a completely futile superstructure. Yet, as Marx rightly said time and again, no matter how futile and tasteless it might be, it nevertheless turns into a deadly poison, in that it prevents man from seeing things as they really are. It causes him to live an illusion and to turn his back upon the real. The Secular City is the prime example, for our modern society, of the opiate of the people.
Today I picked up a second hand copy of Men of Faith and Courage: The Official History of the Royal New Zealand Chaplains Department by J. Bryant Haigh (1983). As one would expect of an official history it is full of boring lists of names and events. But certain passages are revealing of the assumptions concerning Christianity’s relationship to issues of war and peace.
An early chapter opens with this:
The motto of the Royal New Zealand Chaplains Department (RNZChD) as carried on their badge is In This Sign Conquer, a saying attributed to the Roman emperor, Constantine the Great, who legalised Christianity in the Roman Empire in 313 … He was the first commander to realise that soldiers could be Christians, and his adopting of the cross on his standard in battle was the first formal connection of Christianity with the profession of arms. Since then Christian countries have always expected their soldiers to profess Christianity and pay some attention, outwardly anyway to their faith. (p. 18)
Then after some history covering the NZ Land Wars and WWI, we finally get to WWII and a passage reads as follows:
In the years following the First World War, New Zealand, like other countries, suffered a strong wave of pacifism as a backlash to the slaughter of that conflict. Pacifist books and societies appeared, and well known politicians and clergymen were speakers on pacifist platforms. This affected the recruitment of young chaplains as, even before this time, there had always been a strong differences of opinion as to whether Christians should take part in war even as noncombatants. (p. 104)
What I find interesting about these quotes is that we start with the presumption that Christians can be warriors, and only later is there an aberration, indeed the curse of pacifism, which made recruiting chaplains difficult. While obviously this is an official history, it is surprising to see pacifism (often based in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount) as the later inconvenience, and not Constantianism as the new deviant form of Christianity.
At a central Wellington Presbyterian Church yesterday we sang the hymn “Almighty Father of all things that be”, but we missed out two verses. I wondered why. The hymn goes:
Almighty Father of all things that be,
our life, our work, we consecrate to thee,
whose heavens declare thy glory from above,
whose earth below is witness to thy love.
For well we know this weary, soiled earth
is yet thine own by right of its new birth,
since that great cross upreared on Calvary
redeemed it from its fault and shame to thee.
Thine still the changeful beauty of the hills,
the purple valleys flecked with silver rills,
the ocean glistening ‘neath the golden rays;
they all are thine, and voiceless speak thy praise.
Thou dost the strength to workman’s arm impart;
from thee the skilled musician’ mystic art,
the grace of poet’s pen or painter’s hand,
to teach the loveliness of sea and land.
Then grant us, Lord, in all things thee to own,
to dwell within the shadow of thy throne,
to speak and work, to think, and live, and move,
reflecting thine own nature, which is love:
that so, by Christ redeemed from sin and shame,
and hallowed by thy Spirit’s cleansing flame,
ourselves, our work, and all our powers may be
a sacrifice acceptable to thee.
[Author: Earnest Edward Dugmore (1843-1925): SOURCE]
The verses missed out are in bold.
It is a regrettable that these verses were passed over. The first speaks to God’s beautiful Creation that signs the praise of God. The second to God’s guidance of human work for the appreciation of God’s gifts.
For me they speak of the importance of the re-enchantment of creation and the work of human hands. What could more important in a time of environment destruction and the dehumanization of much human work that results in the further destruction of our God-given world.
Next time I’ll sign them anyway!