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“Life” Versus Logic (1932)

The Student Christian Movement, with Professor K. H. Bailey and the Rev. E. H. Burgmann as its chief spokesmen, has endeavoured to persuade us to open our hearts to love, and then, as missionaries of love, to go out into the world and remould it. We admit, of course, the social anarchy to which these speakers referred; but before adopting love as a social solvent, before adopting the way that is offered to us as making sense of things, we should do well to consider how much sense there is in these doctrines. It is claimed for them that they are something more than scientific, but examination may show that they are something less. “Religion includes the explanation and interpretation of the universe, along with the attempt to live in accordance with that interpretation,” says Professor Bailey. “Both science and religion must square up with objective facts” says Mr. Burgmann. “Science discovers truth; it does not invent it. So also religion, when it is sane, seeks to know the will of God for man.” And the religious man, in conforming his own will thereto, “throws himself into the real currents of history”. In being religious, then, we know something. And the question arises therefore, How does religion differ from science? Is it not, in the affirmations made by the religious, presented as one science among others. It is idle for Mr. Burgmann to say that “man comes at knowledge of God by intuitive imagination, by contemplation, by the method of the artist” or for Professor Bailey to assert that “the proof of religion is by living it”. If affirmations are made, for example, “the central affirmation that the universe is one“, that is, if certain things are said to be true, then they are subject to the same conditions of investigation and proof as are the objects of any other science. The state of mind we need to be in before we investigate religious objects, the state we shall be in after doing so—all this is no more relevant to religious doctrine itself than corresponding considerations are to other sciences. A boy's admiration of the starry sky may stimulate him to the study of astronomy. Something in his nature and upbringing must set the interest going. But the existence of the special astronomical interest does not lead astronomers to claim a supra-theoretical character, a special “power”, for their science. Why, then, do not the speakers for the Student Christian Movement simply present the religious objects, the religious facts they wish us to be interested in? In advocating “the method of the artist”, in admitting the need for metaphorical expression, are they not confessing to scientific failure—are they not indicating, indeed, that the life they seek to induce is one of intellectual coma and not of active inquiry? Should not the instrument by which the world is to be regenerated be subjected to the most rigid investigation? Are we to get a new life by opening our hearts and shutting our minds. Yes; that is what this latest revival implies. We are told that “at the heart of things there is creative love”. But where are we to find this heart of things, a heart which also does duty as a source? We are not to find it anywhere; we are to be as like it as we can; and the more we operate in a spirit of creative love, the more things we shall feel akin to. And this, of course, will automatically eliminate conflict—at least, provided the things we love, for example, capitalists and the unemployed, are stimulated to love us in return and likewise to love one another. The unemployed, indeed, shall prove a particularly good field for the propaganda of selflessness; they are so nearly selfless already. What has scientific Socialism to offer compared with this? Naturally it would take a little time for the solution of social problems to be completed by the creative method. But “our task is to wait for the future; short-cuts and quack remedies lead only to confusion”. Short-cuts, we are reminded, are not for the loving. Christians have assurance of ultimate victory; “the rationality of God will prevail”. Science will play a part in this consummation, because it is necessary to have both knowledge and power; but it will be a subordinate part, for science depends on religion, on belief in “the rationality of the universe”. All this displays both the social orientation of the message we have received and its logical weakness. To take the latter point first, we may note the distortion by means of fine phrases of the function of the scientist. Science depends on the recognition of facts, on our knowing that something or other is the case. But to say that something is the case is to say nothing about “the universe” and its “rationality”. Furthermore, nothing is said to show why, if there were such a universe, it would not exhibit its rationality as much at one time as at another. The doctrine is intelligible only if reference is made to some particular thing such that the love which is at its heart can “ultimately” spread to its extremities. But, on this showing, the hate at the extremities might as well invade the heart; the matter cannot be settled until the thing in question is produced for our inspection, and that, from the nature of the case, cannot be done. Of course, if “rational” simply meant knowable, it would appear, on the revivalists' own showing, that hate is as rational as love. But the attempt is to have things both ways, to have an organised totality of things which is somehow not yet quite organised. Thus present discontents are balanced by a promise of future or “ultimate” felicity. The Student Christian Movement avoids the more extreme and, it must be said, more intelligent doctrine that eternally, behind the mere temporal show, rationality does prevail; it wishes to make a bridge between the actual and the eternal, and so falls back on the vague assertion that in the long run things will be put right. The line of social action which our student missionaries are to follow is as clear as the intellectual poverty to which they are asked to vow themselves. They are to go out and minister the sick, including sick capitalism; they are to inform the victims of social oppression that their wrongs will be righted—but, of course, not in a hurry; oh, no, ultimately. The heart of things is sound; so is the heart of society, so are the hearts of all of us—only some need to be loved into dropping their acquisitiveness and becoming selfless, and others need to be loved into avoiding hasty measures for the acquisition of the means of subsistence. This is the social programme of the Student Christian Movement. As social theory, as providing a specific solution for any specific social problem, the S.C.M. outlook is null and void. But as social practice, as a mission, it amounts to the propaganda of quietism, of acquiescence in the anarchy which it pretends to oppose. The “life” it has to offer is social and intellectual death. As against this, the spirit of science is one of struggle, of rooting out errors and exposing confusion-mongers, as well as the avowed enemies of inquiry. The confusions of the “Broad Church” are not, indeed, the most serious obstacle to science, but a clear recognition of them leads on to the exposure of the social forces with which they are linked.

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