Religion in the New State


We have seen that the most striking feature of the new political order is the increasing claims of the State on the individual. The sphere of action of the State has grown steadily larger until it now threatens to embrace the whole of human life and to leave nothing whatsoever outside its competence.

As I have written elsewhere, “the modern State is daily extending its control over a wider area of social life and is taking over functions that were formerly regarded as the province of independent social units, such as the family and the church, or as a sphere for the voluntary activities of private individuals. It is not merely that the State is becoming centralized but that society and culture are becoming politicized. In the old days the statesman was responsible for the preservation of internal order and the defence of the State against its enemies. To-day he is called upon to deal more and more with questions of a purely sociological character and he may even be expected to transform the whole structure of society and re-fashion the cultural traditions of the people. The abolition of war, the destruction of poverty, the control of the birth-rate, the elimination of the unfit – these are questions which the statesman of the past would no more have dared to meddle with than the course of the seasons or the movements of the stars: yet they are all vital political issues to-day and some of them figure on the agenda of our political parties.”

The most important step in this advance was undoubtedly the introduction of universal compulsory education; for that put into the hands of the State the power and responsibility of forming the minds of the youth of the nation. But even before this the State on the Continent had made another advance that was almost as important, namely the institution of universal military service. The absence of this in the British Empire and America is one of the main dividing lines between the civilization of Anglo-Saxon peoples and that of the rest of the world. It is a division which cuts across the division between East and West and between Fascist and Communist: for conscription is found equally in Russia and Italy, in Germany and Japan, in Turkey and Holland. And it is a distinction that rests at least to some extent on religious causes. For there can be no doubt that the attitude of the Free Churches, or some of them, would have made it very difficult for any British Government to introduce permanent conscription in the nineteenth century, even if circumstances had demanded it.

Thirdly, we have the extension of economic control by the State, and this, perhaps, is now the most important factor of all. It is due in part to Socialism, in part to the inherent needs of a highly organised industrial society, and in part to the humanitarian movement for social reform, which in this country, at least, is responsible for a very great deal of modern social legislation.

It is interesting to note the diverse elements and personalities that have contributed to this result. In England we have the influence of any evangelical individualist like Shaftesbury, alongside of the trade union movement, both currents finally merging in the Parliamentary social reform of the early twentieth century. In Germany we have the influence of the Social Democratic Party as well as the anti-socialist social legislation of Bismarck; and finally in Russia there is the anti-Christian communism of the Soviets and in Italy the anti-communist and anti-liberal corporativism of the Fascists.

I think it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the movement towards State control in every department of life is a universal one and is not to be confused with the political tenets of a party, whether Communist or Fascist. The essential principle of the Totalitarian State was, in fact, asserted by Liberalism before Fascism was ever heard of. What is happening to-day is that the movement towards State control and State organisation has reached a point at which it comes into conflict with the older forms of parliamentary democracy. The vast increase in the numbers of the electorate, the multiplication of political parties and the fundamental character of the points at issue all tend to produce a state of political deadlock which in turn leads parties to look to extra-parliamentary action in order to gain their ends. In practice this may mean general strikes, dictatorships, revolutions and every kind of violence. Nevertheless it rests fundamentally on a perfectly healthy and reasonable desire to put the State and the government of the State above party, and to ensure that the power which has so immense an influence for good or evil on the lives of every citizen shall not be at the mercy of a political clique or the servant of class interests. It is, moreover, difficult to deny that the old political ideal of individual liberty corresponded to the old ideals of economic individualism and laissez faire, and the supersession of the latter by the State economic control and a planned economy involves some limitation of individual liberty in the political sphere and some increase in the authority of the Government.

Now in fact we do find in every State and not least in our own such a limitation of freedom and increase of State authority taking place owing to the extension of bureaucratic government. In Fascism and Communism, however, we find in addition to this a new principle of political authority. This is not simply dictatorship. Indeed, as we have seen, the pure type of dictatorship is to be found rather in the new Turkey than in either Russia or Germany. The new type of political authority is the dictatorship not of a man but of a party. It is, however, something very different from the political parties that we know in democratic countries. It is organised in hierarchical fashion. That is to say it is based on authority, discipline and subordination. It demands complete obedience and unlimited devotion from its members, who may have to undergo a period of probation before their admission and who may be degraded in rank, or expelled from the party altogether, if they show any sings of disloyalty or inefficiency. In short it resembles a religious or military order rather than a political party of the old type, and it tends to foster the same strong esprit de corps as they do.

There is no doubt that this type of political organisation has shown its effectiveness both in the Communist and Fascist States. It is, in fact, the one element in the Totalitarian State that is an undisputed success. It combines the aristocratic principle of government by a privileged elite, with a democratic width in the basis of selection. But at the same time it can be a most formidably instrument of tyranny, for the very strength of its corporate spirit is apt to generate intolerance and fanaticism. Yet on the other hand it may be argued that a Totalitarian State without this element would be a soulless bureaucracy which would leave no room for any free initiative and would reduce the whole society to a dead level of mechanical uniformity.

What then is the position of the religious man and the religious society under these new political circumstances? How far does this new political development threaten the spiritual liberty which is essential to religion? Ought the Church to condemn the Totalitarian State in itself and prepare itself for resistance to the secular power and for persecution? Should the Church ally itself with the political and social forces that are hostile to the new State? Or should it limit its resistance to cases of State interference in ecclesiastical matters or in theological questions? Or finally are the new forms of authority and political organisation reconcilable in principle with Christian ideas and are the issues that divide Church and State accidental and temporary ones which are extraneous to the essential nature of the new political development? It is impossible to answer these questions off-hand and in the lump. We must first clear the ground by a closer definition of the issues and by making a number of necessary distinctions.

In the first place we must distinguish between spiritual freedom and political and economic liberty. It is one of the great classical commonplaces of religion and of ancient philosophy that the two are not the same: that a man may possess citizenship and wealth and yet be without spiritual freedom and that a man may be poor and a slave, like Epitectus, and yet enjoy the good of spiritual freedom. To-day there are many who would question this latter view. But whether it be true or no there can be no question that the two kinds of freedom are distinct and that they do not always co-exist with one another.

Now the great age of Liberalism and individualism was not in fact approved by the religious conscience of the age. On the Continent the advance of political liberty was accompanied almost everywhere by an anti-religious movement which did very much to secularize European civilization. And at the same time, the economic individualism of the Liberal economists was condemned as being inconsistent with Christian morals by religious leaders such as Leo XIII and Bishop von Ketteler of Mainz.

In England Liberalism on the whole had not this irreligious character. Nevertheless it was far from meeting with the unrestricted approval of religious men. The Oxford Movement, for instance, was definitely opposed to political liberalism, while F. D. Maurice, the leading social thinker in the Church of England, was as outspoken in his condemnation of democracy as in his opposition to economic individualism. In these respects he was the disciple of Coleridge and Carlyle though the latter cannot perhaps be regarded as a Christian thinker he certainly exercised a very strong influence on religious thought in nineteenth century England.

I think we may conclude that there is no necessary connection between Christian on the one hand and the parliamentary democracy and economic liberalism of the nineteenth century on the other. Undoubtedly a fusion between the two did take place in the later nineteenth century in England, the age of Gladstonian liberalism, but this was a local and temporary phenomenon which has little bearing on the fundamental character of the forces involved.

Consequently there is no fundamental reason why the passing of parliamentary democracy and economic individualism should be opposed to Christian principles or sentiment. It is at least theoretically possible that the limitation of political and economic freedom by the extension of social control should be actually favourable to the cause of spiritual freedom. In practice, however, we have got to consider the spiritual tendency of the new political forces, before we can decide whether their influence is favourable or hostile to Christianity.

Here we must distinguish between the various forms of the Totalitarian State. It is obvious that the Totalitarian State is not a uniform phenomenon. There is obviously not only a difference but an opposition between the Fascist and Communist types. And within Fascism there is a considerable difference in the character and principles of the Fascist regime in its Italian and German forms.

Now the Fascist State as such is not consciously or intentionally hostile to religion. In Italy and Austria it has given a much fuller recognition to the place of religion in national life than did the democratic regime that is replaced. In Italy the attitude of the Fascist State is objective and realistic. It takes account of the Church as a living element in the national being, as a cultural and social asset which must be incorporated in the new system. Moreover, Mussolini, at least, has increasingly recognised the ethical basis of the State and of political authority, a conception on which the traditional concordance or alliance of the temporal and spiritual powers has always been based.

In Germany, however, the situation is different. There is a strong strain of racial and political mysticism in National Socialism which involves a serious danger of conflict between Church and State. It is not that the Nazi movement is anti-religious. The danger is rather that it has a religion of its own which is not that of Christian orthodoxy. This religion has not the dogmatic character of the Communist creed ; it is a fluid and incoherent thing which expressed itself in several different forms. There is the neo-paganism of the extreme Pan-German element, there is the Aryanized and nationalized Christianity of the German Christians, and there is the racial and naturalist idealism which is characteristic of the movement as a whole and which, if not religious in the strict sense, tends to develop a mythology and ethic of its own that may easily take the place of Christian theology and Christian ethics.

At the same time it would be a mistake to suppose that National Socialism is generally regarded in Germany as hostile to Christianity. The coming of the new regime means the abandonment of the religious neutrality or indifferentism of the liberal state, and this cannot but meet with the approval of those who still accept the traditional Lutheran ideal of the relations of Church and State. German Protestants, or at least Lutherans, cannot but sympathise with the ideal of a National Church which would be organically related to the new national State and would restore the spiritual unity of the German people. There are, however, grave objections even to this ideal. For, in the first place, such a union could only embrace the Protestant part of the nation, and consequently it would only accentuate the religious division of Germany and would thus increase rather than diminish the danger of religious strife. Moreover, in the second place, the relation of the State of the National Church would be fundamentally different from that which existed in earlier centuries. In the past the Church and State were bound together, because the people were consciously Christian. The same individuals were members of both societies, and even when the prince asserted his supremacy in ecclesiastical matters, he did so as a member of the Church who accepted its moral and theological teachings.

But this state of things no longer exists in the world to-day. In Protestant Germany, above all, only a small part of the population consists of practising Christians, and there is no reason to suppose that the rulers of the State will be more Christian than the rest of the nation. If the National Socialists create a National Church and give it a privileged position, it will not be because they believe that the Christian faith is necessary for salvation, but because they think that such a Church would be a valuable support to them in their work of national reorganization and education. In other words, the National Church will be the servant of the National State and the organ of its moral and social propaganda.

Now it is easy for us to condemn such a development because we as Englishmen have no political sympathy with the Nazi propaganda or with the German type of Totalitarian State. But what would our attitude be towards a similar development which had a different political movement and a different set of social ideas behind it? We may not have a Totalitarian State in this country of the same kind that we find in Germany or in Italy. Nevertheless, as I have already pointed out, the same forces that make for governmental control and social uniformity are at work here also and in the U.S.A., and it seems to me highly probable that these forces will result in the formation of a type of Totalitarian State which bears the same relation to Anglo-Saxon political and social traditions, as the Nazi State bears to the traditions of Prussia and Central Europe. Such a State might be nominally Socialist, but it would not the Socialism of the Third International ; it might be Nationalist, but it would not be the militant racial nationalism of the Nazis. Its ideals would probably be humanitarian, democratic and pacific. Nevertheless it will make the same universal claims as the Totalitarian State in Russia and Germany and it will be equally unwilling to tolerate any division of spiritual allegiance.

What attitude will such a State adopt towards Christianity and the Christian Churches? I do not believe that it will be anti-Christian in the Russian sense, or that it will be inspired by any conscious hostility to religion. On the other hand, it will have very little in common with the old liberal State which claimed to be no more than a policeman and left men free to guide their lives by whatever religious or moral standard they chose to adopt. The new State will be universal and omnicompetent. It will mould the mind and guide the life of its citizens from the cradle to the grave. It will not tolerate interference with its educational functions by any sectarian organization, even though the latter is based on religious convictions. And this is the more serious, since the introduction of psychology into education has made the schoolmaster a spiritual guide as well as a trainer of the mind. In fact it seems as though the school of the future must increasingly usurp the functions that the Church exercised in the past, and that the teaching profession will take the place of the clergy as the spiritual power of the future.

Nor will the State confine its educational activties to the training of the young. It will more and more tend to control public opinion in general by its organs of instruction and propaganda. We have already gone a long way towards the nationalization and public control of Broadcasting, and I believe the time is not far distant when similar methods will be applied to the control of the Press, and the Cinema. It is obvious that a Totalitarian State, whether of the Fascist or the democratic type, cannot afford to leave so great a power of influencing public opinion in private hands, and the fact that the control of the popular Press and of the film industry is often in unworthy hands gives the State a legitimate excuse to intervene. The whole tendency of modern civilization is, in fact, to concentrate the control of opinion in a few hands. For example, Hollywood to-day forms the taste and influences the thought of millions all over the world. As our civilization becomes more completely mechanised it becomes easier to control, and the organs of control become more centralised. It is true that these things are not usually regarded as having much relevance to the religious issue. But we may ask ourselves-do people go to the cinema or to church? Does not the cinema take the place that was formerly occupied by church and chapel? Has not Hollywood got a distinct ethic of its own which influences the minds of its audiences? Is this ethic in any sense Christian?

Now the centralised control which will be characteristic of the new State will doubtless stand on a higher moral level than that of Hollywood, but there is no reason to suppose that it will be Christian in any real sense. Its moral standards will no doubt be higher than the commercialised morality of the Press and of Cinema, but they will be essentially secular standards and consequently more akin to the latter than to the traditional Christian ethic of the Church. But whether these standards are high or low, whether they represent the bourgeois idealism of the Rotarians, or the racial idealism of the Nazis, or the proletarian idealism of the Communists, they will be only standards recognised and tolerated. They will govern the whole of life. It will be impossible to go one’s own way, as in the old days, and leave the State in control of politics. For there will be no department of life in which the State will not intervene and which will not be obliged to conform to the mechanized order of the new society.

This is the situation that Christians have to face. The great danger that we have to meet is not the danger of violent persecution but rather that of the crushing out of religion from modern life by the sheer weight of a State-inspired public opinion and by the mass organisation of society on a purely secular basis. Such a state of things has never occurred before because the State has never been powerful enough to control every side of social life. It has been a State with limited functions, not a Totalitarian State. Moreover in the past, public opinion recognised the validity of the religious category and the autonomy of the religious life, even when it opposed and persecuted particular forms of religion. To-day the conflict is a deeper and wider one. It goes to the very roots of life and affects every aspect of human thought and action. One might even say that the very existence of religion itself is at stake, were it not that there are some who hold that religion is no longer to be identified with Christianity and the other historic religions but is finding a new social expression in the movements that are creating the new state: Communism, National Socialism and Liberalism Humanitarianism. If this is the case, we must alter our terminology and say, as Professor Julian Huxley said the other day, that the coming conflict is not one between religion and secular civilization but rather “between the God-religious and the social-religious,”-in other words between the worship of God and the cult of the state or of the race or of humanity.

I do not myself believe that man will ever find a true religious satisfaction in the worship of himself, or even of some magnified and idealized reflection of himself in the race or in humanity at large. Nevertheless it is impossible to deny that Russian Communism does resemble a religion in many respects. Its attitude to the Marxian doctrines is not the attitude of an economist or an historian towards a scientific theory, it is the attitude of a believer to the gospel of salvation; Lenin is more than a political hero, he is the canonized saint of Communism with a highly developed cultus of his own; and the Communist ethic is religious in its absoluteness and its unlimited claims to the spiritual allegiance of its followers.

Thus Communism is not simply a form of political organization; it is an economy, a philosophy and a creed. And its hostility to Christianity is due not to its political form, but to the philosophy that lies behind it. Communism, in fact, challenges Christianity on its own ground by offering mankind a rival way of salvation. In the words of a Communist poster, “Jesus promised the people Paradise after death, but Lenin offers them Paradise on earth.”

Consequently it is in Communism that the latent opposition between the new state and the Christian religion attains its full realization in the social consciousness of our age. For the first time in the world’s history the Kingdom of Antichrist has acquired political form and social substance and stands over and against the Christian Church as a counter-church with its own dogmas and its own moral standards, ruled by a centralized hierarchy and inspired by an intense will to world conquest.

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