The Search for Moral Sanction
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446 ] The Search for Moral Sanction The Listener, 7 (30 Mar 1932) 445-46, 4801 [I have read all the letters which came to me after my first talk. Some showed misunderstandings which I hope are gradually clearing up as I proceed ; some tend to cancel each other; I must say that all have been useful to me and I thank you for them. There are one or two points on which there is enough enquiry to make an answer desirable. One correspondent asks me whether the Communist could not say that there was more Christian spirit in Communism than in our present system.2 I am quite willing to concede that point, for what it is worth, which is nothing at all. I am attacking communism, not defending the present system. That should answer the question of another correspondent who asks whether I think we are living in a Christian or in a Pagan world; my answer is emphatically the latter.3 But I must point out, about communism, that we must take it as we find it, and as we find it, communism means atheism for anyone who can think straight. That is not only true of Russia but everywhere. If you can invent a “Christian communism,” by all means do; but I feel pretty confident that if you succeed it will turn out to be something so different from communism as we know it that there will be no point in calling it “communism ” at all. For there is a world of difference between a philosophy which starts with this world and a philosophy which views this world from the point of view, so to speak, of the next. It may seem a paradox, but the Christian wants a better social order just because he believes that the world is transient and secondary. And in Christianity there must always be a residue of Tragedy in this world and its satisfactions. There are very profound implications, in the terrible words: “Not as the world gives, give I unto you.”4 I tried to suggest, last week, that the progress of science, of physical theory, could only be held responsible for the decline of religious faith in so farasitssignificancehadbeenmisunderstood.5 Itmayhavedivertedhuman emotions, and made men hold more firmly to what appear certainties of scientific proof than to what appear the unprovable assertions of religion; but even so, it has only concurred with other, more important causes.] I want this week to touch upon the effect of the progress of biological and [ 447 The Search for Moral Sanction psychological science upon conduct, and upon the effect of scientific invention upon social life. [I say touch upon, because it is impossible to cover such vast ground thoroughly in the time of half an hour, even had I the detailed knowledge.] First of all, I do not propose to say anything sensational , or to indulge in any rhetoric of denunciation of modern morals; that attitude has already been well exploited in the press. I see no reason for supposing that morals are much worse than they used to be, or that young peoplearelessvirtuousthantheoldwere.Mannerscertainlyhaveimproved; and manners are a part of morals. [It is likely that several generations can show a decrease of debauchery, of grossness and general beastliness; the growth of the feeling of humanity and humanitarianism, of social responsibility , has shown itself there. Many changes in social conventions we are sure have been good; some, such as votes for women, have at worst not done much harm.6 About public and industrial corruption I do not know; the forms vary from one generation to another, but the quantity may always be the same. In short,] There seems to me no reason for worrying about actual conduct or misconduct: what is interesting, for our purpose, is the search for moral sanction, for reasons for behaving in one way rather than another, and for teaching one kind of behaviour rather than another, by earnest people who have given up Christian faith, and also by Christians who feel that traditional morality must be in some ways altered by the advance of knowledge. And this is why I wish to touch upon psychology. Modern psychology or psycho-analysis received its impulse from work at the French school for mental disorders at Nancy, and from the great French psychiatrists Charcot and Ribot and Janet; but French psychology has, for the most part confined itself prudently to the cure of cases, and left the more surprising developments...


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