The Idea of a Christian Society
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[ 683 The Idea of a Christian Society London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1939. Pp. 99. Preface The three lectures which, with some revision and division, are here printed, were delivered in March 1939 at the invitation of the Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, on the Boutwood Foundation.1 I wish to express my thanks to the Master and Fellows for this honour and privilege. The notes I have added while preparing the lectures for press. My point of departure has been the suspicion that the current terms in which we discuss international affairs and political theory may only tend to conceal from us the real issues of contemporary civilisation. As I have chosen to consider such a large problem, it should be obvious that the following pages can have but little importance by themselves, and that they can only be of use if taken as an individual contribution to a discussion which must occupy many minds for a long time to come. To aim at originality would be an impertinence: at most, this essay can be only an original arrangement of ideas which did not belong to me before and which must become the property of whoever can use them. I owe a great deal to conversations with certain friends whose minds are engrossed by these and similar problems: to make specific acknowledgement might have the effect of imputing to these friends an inconvenient responsibility for my own faults of reasoning. But I owe a great deal also to a number of recent books: for instance, to Mr. Christopher Dawson’s Beyond Politics, to Mr. Middleton Murry’s The Price of Leadership, and to writings of the Revd. V. A. Demant (whose Religious Prospect has appeared too recently for me to have made use of it). And I am deeply indebted to the works of Jacques Maritain, especially his Humanisme intégral.2 I trust that the reader will understand from the beginning that this book does not make any plea for a “religious revival” in a sense with which we are already familiar. That is a task for which I am incompetent, and the term seems to me to imply a possible separation of religious feeling from religious thinking which I do not accept – or which I do not find acceptable for our present difficulties. An anonymous writer has recently observed in The New English Weekly (July 13, 1939) that Essays, Reviews, Commentaries, and Public Letters: 1939 684 ] [M]en have lived by spiritual institutions (of some kind) in every society , and also by political institutions and, indubitably, by economic activities. Admittedly, they have, at different periods, tended to put their trust mainly in one of the three as the real cement of society, but at no time have they wholly excluded the others, because it is impossible to do so.3 This is an important, and in its context valuable, distinction; but it should be clear that what I am concerned with here is not spiritual institutions in their separated aspect, but the organisation of values, and a direction of religious thought which must inevitably proceed to a criticism of political and economic systems. The Idea of a Christian Society I The fact that a problem will certainly take a long time to solve, and that it will demand the attention of many minds for several generations, is no justification for postponing the study.4 And, in times of emergency, it may prove in the long run that the problems we have postponed or ignored, rather than those we have failed to attack successfully, will return to plague us.5† Our difficulties of the moment must always be dealt with somehow: but our permanent difficulties are difficulties of every moment. The subject with which I am concerned in the following pages is one to which I am convincedweoughttoturnourattentionnow,ifwehopeevertoberelieved of the immediate perplexities that fill our minds. It is urgent because it is fundamental; and its urgency is the reason for a person like myself attempting to address, on a subject beyond his usual scope, that public which is likely to read what he writes on other subjects. This is a subject which I could, no doubt, handle much better were I a profound scholar in any of several fields. But I am not writing for scholars, but for people like myself; some defects may be compensated by some advantages; and what one must be judged by, scholar or no, is not particularised knowledge but...


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