An Interpretation of the Aims of the Christendom Trust
V. A. Demant
(This essay first appeared as an article in Theology, LXXIV (May 1971), pp. 296–30 and is republished with permission.)
The Christendom Trust has been formed as a charitable research foundation. Its founder and the first body of Trustees envisage the Trust as an instrument for initiating enquiries into the human and social issues of to-day, adapting for the present and future the inspiration of an earlier phase of Christendom Thought.
We hold that human beings are set in the world by God and are meant to live in it and use it to the glory of the Creator and in the service of their fellows. Man finds his fulfilment both in this life and in eternity. The good life is not to be separated from the needs of men in society. Each human being is made in God’s image and has that image deformed by his imperfection and sin. But he is also involved in relations with his social groupings, helped when they are healthy and hindered when they are in structural disorder. Moreover, organized society takes away from the individual many results of his own willing. For these reasons man’s responsibility towards God includes responsibility for a truly human order. This is not the same as a society of perfected individuals; it is the condition where the best in them is fostered and the worst improved or counteracted. A healthy social order is one where each of its organized activities is true to its own valid secular purpose. It can thus be seen as the worldly counterpart of what Christians proclaim as grace in the specifically religious realm; it makes holiness possible but does not depend upon it. We start then with two axioms. One, our world to-day needs a Christian judgement upon the structure of society, and not only upon the behaviour of men in it, for the structure largely imposes its own conflict of aims upon the purposes of citizens. Two, a Christian understanding of the nature and destiny of man is a source of guidance for the validity of secular goals, using all that the natural and social sciences make suitably available.
Man as a social being
Christianity has attached great significance to the individual, finding that significance to be rooted in the individual’s relation to God directly as well as through his place in the historical and cosmic whole. The human field has thus to endure a tension between the individual and his group. Men in Christendom have therefore had to find new bonds to replace those of tribal group loyalties. The new bonds are those of charity, of justice and of political ordering. Recent social studies have emphasized the elements of tribal solidarity and territorial rivalry, and have displaced the late view of man as an aggressive individualist. In the intellectual situation of today Christian prophecy requires a new assessment of the cohesive and divisive factors in human behaviour, and moral directives for a human social order. This may well be a field for Christendom studies.
Injustice is a universal feature of togetherness among sinful human beings, and it does violence either to the significance of individual persons or to their fumbling efforts to make and remake communities. This is a perpetual problem. But today, injustice is not all due to the common egoism of the human soul; much of it springs from social structures false to their own valid functions. Poverty in the presence of affluence, vast inequalities of power, racial, political and economic, seem to be endemic in modern industrialized societies, with great concentrations of power over regions and individuals. These seem more recalcitrant to improvement than the weaker group egoisms of simpler peoples. A striking symptom is the fact that welfare provisions of a modern state have not resulted in a growth of civic sense or neighbourly beneficence but the contrary. In spite of genuine social feeling expressed in generous giving for victims of calamities, demonstrations for human rights, support for philanthropic causes, there is not much concern for strengthening the communities in which men spontaneously find their support and opportunities. The group consciousness of families, work associations, civic entities, rural responsibilities, neighbourhood, professions, is eviscerated by developments which leave only the relation of individual and state as the sole strong social bond. At the same time the state is no protection against the insuperable powers of large companies, big corporations, trade unions employing monopolies, selling and advertising rackets, planners and developers, nor against over-grown bureaucracies and expensive enquiries thriving on social dislocations. There is a growing sense that the human being is attacked and deceived by these dominant social forces. The public life is now debasing the private life. In all this there is need for renewed political thought.
Man as an economic being
Any attempt to exercise Christian prophecy for the natural life of man has to cope with the conflict of purposes in the economic disorder of modern industrialized societies. In them there is neither a common life nor a common aim. Even if greed and avarice were at a minimum, it would be impossible to exercise charity and benevolence in a world where man is divided from man by rivalry in their economic pursuits. In a straightforward economy production of wealth may be hard and its distribution unjust: if a man is not on the average producing as much wealth as he consumes, he is robbing his brother, and this is a plain question of social morals. But now men are mainly divided over sharing, not the wealth, but earning opportunities. By the application of science and technique the cost in terms of effort can be lightened and for want of an ethic and a distributive system which would reflect this change, there is a contradiction in industrialism between the satisfaction of physical and cultural needs, and the conditions of paying for them. More and more economic activity is undertaken in order to give people, not more and better goods, but more employment and earnings. In this situation the benefits of work and skill and applied science are defeated; things are done in the most wasteful way possible and largely in the most destructive. The dreadful dilemma afflicts all industrialized societies and is in danger of infecting the economies of the ‘third world’. Full employment (never properly defined) as now understood means inflation; the seller pursues the consumer: the consumer becomes a buying utility. Production cannot be seen as a vocation, either in exercising men’s energies and creative power or in service to others. Less and less can a man’s employment be offered to God, assuming that he is a believer. The social and human cost of pursuing maximum economic growth is enormous. Increase of ‘gross national product’ of whatever kind is the object of a mythology for multiplying employment, not for products which are good to make and to have.
New thought is required in order to embody a natural order in economic life where making and trading would respond to men’s needs in things and services, in place of the present scramble for employment opportunities. Historically, ethics of economic behaviour had to deal with men’s coveting each others property or earnings: now it has to meet a situation where men struggle to take work opportunities from each other. This is an issue quite bypassed by the threadbare debate between free enterprise and collectivism. Any Christian social thought making for a true humanism has the colossal task of indicating how the great productive capacity available can be rescued from the cross purposes which now dissipate it. Of course, a programme for thus humanizing our economy, if it were carried out, would radically upset the way modern society gets its living, but it would not diminish our life-giving resources, and England would have enough to spare for reciprocal trade with the world and for help to poorer regions. It would make for an economy which would ensure that increased production leads to lower prices instead of rising wages and would thus spread wealth over the whole community directly, instead of by rivalry of producers and traders for higher pay at the cost of the wider community. It would also make possible incomes from the common pool for those whose effort is less and less required. This would be a positive alternative to the vapid chatter about a coming age of leisure. It would of course mean a serious revolution in the present pattern of economic life and as such it will meet with popular apathy and resistance from the most powerful interests. Therefore, it is possible that such a message of renewal can only be expected from the social thinking of a religious body.
Man as a biological being
Mankind has been placed in a position of dependence upon the earth for his biological life, and has been divinely given a certain dominion over it. With the help of Western outlooks and technique, men have succeeded in dominating the earth for the greater satisfaction of their wants, but for some generations they have done so at the expense of destroying its reproductive power and its people-serving designs. In religious terms, the earth has been treated as a slave instead of as a God-given sphere of responsible care. Production of any kind is multiplied at the cost of reproduction. The earth’s self-recovering rhythm is broken under the spur of technocratic, megapolitan and commercial aggression. The alarm has been sounded loudly enough; and the Christian mind sees its destructive results as a betrayal of the powers delegated by God to his human creatures. The main results of this betrayal of man’s stewardship are widely known. They include widespread pollution of air, water and soil; turning more and more areas of the earth’s surface into desert incapable of reproducing the sources of life: the land over-driven by technical farming, reckless use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides; loss of agronomic land for urban development, airports and roads, cities ceasing to be desirable human habitations and becoming only places to work in rather than to live in. The most urgent problem of today is not the satisfaction of primary needs or of archetypal wishes but reparation of evils and damage wrought by the technology of yesterday, still carried on so furiously that peacetime living is now more destructive than wars.
Again, it must be realized that this danger to man’s livelihood is not all due to human greed and power striving. It has become an inevitable consequence of the momentum, previously mentioned, which needs growing employment of capital and labour irrespective of the product. This momentum appears to be a form of determinism for the millions who do not question its assumptions. How to break with that determinism is a task daunting enough. The Christian thinker, however, has no business to give up hope and be reduced to silence by the strength of the forces which appear to make a break-through impracticable. Christendom thought has now the very new task of developing a theological understanding of man’s confrontation with nature. There is much known about the extent to which Christianity with its Bible has fostered the impulse to control the human environment; the dissociation of man from nature has made possible understanding and manipulating the natural world. This has led to the great wave of experimental and theoretical science in the West. Man’s dominion has enhanced the human condition in many respects, but now refusal to observe his dependence upon the earth’s life and its intrinsic rhythm threatens the very existence of human kind on earth. Any Christian prophecy in this matter will see it as a form of the perennial problem of man’s God-given powers and his misuse of them by arrogating a spurious independence of the laws of life.
A recovered humanism
The Christendom Trustees envisage their task as encouraging a body of constructive thought which can be designated ‘Towards a True Humanism’. While believing that such a humanism must be rooted in a Christian understanding of man, they wish to co-operate with secular movements whose humanist aims may be avowedly secularist. They welcome any expressions of concern which are congruous with the concerns here outlined. They feel desperately the need of a set of convictions about the hopes and needs of men in modern society which now falters from dealing with one emergency after another. They believe that the strongest forces in public life to-day constitute an attack on the human being, and therefore that any counter-movements are bound to appear as being ‘against the stream’ and could rightly be called revolutionary. They hold that in many respects it is the organized public life of modern society which is debasing the private life. They know, for instance, that democracy becomes unreal when the public life is determined by forces which are only intelligible to the professional few who use the esoteric language of the technical specialist.
The Trustees believe that millions of people all over, especially the young, are in a state of resentment, but find it only possible to protest by word and behaviour. The phenomena of ‘contracting out’ of the system are legion, taking the unhelpful forms of sheer rebellion, violence, sullen recalcitrance, escape through narcotics or quasi-religious cults. There are also numerous small experiments in community living outside organized channels which, if they can get a patch of land, aim at physical and spiritual self-subsistence.
The Trustees ask: can we help to canalize these energies into constructive avenues which will do justice to men and women as persons and as members of real communities, which will ensure that their natural and instinctive drives can have healthy and creative outlets, which will help them to recover from loss of nerve and from despair of finding ways of working for the future?