restricted access Christianity and Communism
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422 ] Christianity and Communism The Listener, 7 (16 Mar 1932) 382-831 I have been tempted to begin my contribution to this discussion with the words of Trinculo in The Tempest: “The folly of this island! They say there’s but five upon this isle: we are three of them; if th’other two be brained like us, the state totters.”2 I must add that I do not use this quotation in any invidious sense. But it had some relevance to my first thought when I began to prepare my talks: why should a person like myself, whose only reasonable notoriety is due to the composition of verses and jingles, in which I have some skill, be talking on this subject? I am not educated for anything elsethanverses,andIhavelittleothercompetence.WhyshouldIbeinvited to talk to you upon a subject which comprehends everything under the sun? I am neither an historian like Mr. Dawson nor a philosopher like Professor Macmurray.3 And also, why, except under some mad delusion of vanity, should I have the temerity to accept? If this were merely a personal query, I should not bother you with it; but it seems to me to have a direct bearing upon what we call the “modern dilemma.” Lord Russell, speaking in another series of these talks a couple of months ago, warned us against the tyranny of the expert.4 This is certainly an injunction to be taken to heart; but I may add that the present is also very conspicuously an age of the amateur (at least in the field of discussion) and of popular expositions in book form. After all, Lord Russell himself is an expert in a department as confined, if perhaps more important, than my own; and on the subject on which he was talking he also is a kind of amateur.5 It seems to me that the reason why we care to listen to amateurs, and to read popular books of science and culture and history, and the reason why the amateurs like to talk and write, is that we are all in dumb revolt against the expert. I do not mean that we wish to remove him from his proper place, or that we wish to replace expert knowledge by mere enthusiasm – God forbid! But we feel that there is an art as well as a science of life; that the specialist is apt to exceed his terms of reference; that he can teach us how to put into effect a particular purpose, but not what purposes are worth having. We feel the need for a point of view from which we can see the world as at least potentially orderly; a point of view wider than the expert’s can be, and a world in [ 423 Christianity and Communism which we may accept our own tiny lives as having a justifiable place in an intelligible whole. Here, surely is a form in which the “dilemma,” if we call it that, comes home to roost with everybody – with everybody, I mean, who is sufficiently sensitive and conscious. There are many people, I am sure, in every walk of life, who are perfectly satisfied with themselves and with what they are doing. Happy the man, but perhaps not always enviable, to whom never comes the thought, in a sudden if momentary paralysis, “Of what use is my work.”6 It is a thought which might come to the most brilliant or to the most necessary member of the community: to the speculative scientist, the inventor, the financier, the manufacturer and the unskilled labourer; it can come, I testify, to the man of letters. Of what use is this experimenting with rhythms and words, this effort to find the precise metric and the exact image to set down feelings which, if communicable at all, can be communicated to so few that the result seems insignificant compared to the labour? Such thoughts have come to men at every period of civilised history, I make no doubt; but they are especially natural in our own day. We have been told by many philosophers that the world has no design and no purpose; we have seen the revolution of peoples and the downfall of monarchies with very little apparent good coming of it; we see vast machinery for production , and destitution in the midst of it; we hear vulgarization of taste applauded under the name of education; profligacy of manners acclaimed as an advance of civilization; trifling amusements...


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