The Modern Dilemma [originally “Two Masters”]
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810 ] The Modern Dilemma1 The Christian Register (Boston), 102 (19 Oct 1933) [675]-676 Severalyearsago,attheendofapamphletonthelastLambethConference, I wrote the words: “The world is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the world from suicide.”2 It has struck me since that these words, and the paragraph from which they are taken, must have impressed a good many readers as merely a rather rhetorical flourish in concluding a rather polemical pamphlet. During the last fifteen years or so we have become so accustomed to gloomy predictions of the future of civilization that we take them as a matter of course, or as a pleasant opiate. But my prediction differed from other predictions by being really a statement of what is already a fact. What I expect to happen in the future is merely the sort of thing that will make more evident that what I predict has already happened. It is quite possible that we are at the beginning of the Dark Ages. In the last three or four hundred years we have passed through successive stages of schism, heresy, and toleration. Possibly the age of toleration is coming to an end, and we may be again approaching a period in which Christians in Western Europe and America will be persecuted . I hardly expect so much as that: life will simply be made more and more inconvenient for them. Christians will not be persecuted until they are feared; and they will not be feared until they are powerful. They may, for the efficient regiment of the state, be segregated into ghettos; but they will probably be tolerated on the assumption that they are a dying race for some time to come. Meanwhile, the intermediate stages between Christianity will, I believe, tend to disappear, and it is well that they should disappear. The future will be black and white. That is, however, a slow process; the humanitarians, the sentimentalists, the conservatives, and the fundamentalists are tenacious of life. But amongst the more intelligent, and in the main centers of activity, I think it is no exaggeration to say that men and women tend to be either more orthodox or else do not pretend to be Christians at all. It [ 811 The Modern Dilemma is still premature to conjecture on what lines the amorphous body of non-Christians will organize itself; and it is difficult to conceive what their minds will belike.ManyofthemostcharmingandcongenialpersonsIknow are atheists (they may call themselves agnostics). But they are either the children , or grandchildren, or at most the great-grandchildren, of professing Christians; their religious inheritance is involved with their social inheritance , their “class” values, their social and financial position, their notions of correct behavior, however debased. Their agnosticism represents a transitional stage, as broadmindedness and tolerance on any large scale are transitional. Their great-grandchildren will probably find themselves with some positive belief; and this belief will either be for Christianity or against it. I am sure that it is only in its complete form that Christianity will survive at all – though some of us may disagree at present as to what this completeness comprehends. The lingering political importance of Protestantism, in Britain, northern Europe, and America, is an importance of democratic numbers rather than of intellectual activity and leadership; and democratic numbers themselves seem to become less powerful than they were. I do not, of course, present this forecast as offering an argument in favor of Catholicism; arguments are concerned with its truth, not with the probable consequences of failing to support it, however disastrous those consequences may be. Nor am I manipulating the political bogey of Communism.3 Most people’s prejudices against Communism are no better founded than other people’s prejudices in its favor. Communism is, at any rate, something with which the Catholic can have a kind of sympathy. It does aim at something. To the liberal, Communism finds a mythical value in something called society or humanity, and Catholicism finds a mythical value in something called the individual soul. It is true that Communism does not make much of the Christian virtue of chastity, but I cannot see why anyone who is not a Christian should attach much importance to chastity; and Communism does not make much...