- The Moot Papers: Faith, Freedom and Society 1938–1947
Given the radical reassessment of the secularization hypothesis in recent years, The Moot Papers is a timely work that will significantly challenge standard interpretations of prominent intellectuals such as Karl Mannheim, John Middleton Murry, and T. S. Eliot, among others. J. H. Oldham, a former Scottish missionary, organized the group, which met a few times a year between 1938 and 1947, and The Moot Papers mainly consists of the minutes from these meetings. The objective of the group was to re-Christianize the West, but what will strike scholars most are the conversations about the nature and function of Christianity within the modern body politic and the methods and strategies these writers endorsed and deployed in order to achieve their Christianizing end.
One central issue was the use of coercion or force in the re-Christianization of society. Moot members believed that it was no longer possible to evangelize the society by simply sharing the good news of Divine Revelation, so they examined alternative strategies. One was the use of Natural Law. For instance, in a 1940 conversation, Eliot notes that Natural Law is “of practical use in a mixed society of Christians and non-Christians” (332). Herbert Arthur Hodges, philosophy professor at the University of Reading, affirms Eliot’s position, for he holds that “many people believe” the truths of Christianity “without being Christians” (336). For example, Hodges mentions “Kant and others [who] have believed in the norms on other grounds [than Divine Revelation] and to reach them the Christian premiss had to be tactically suppressed” (336). Mannheim, author of the groundbreaking book Ideology and Utopia, agrees with Hodges, claiming that “the origin of Natural Law was precisely this—that Christians had to live with pagans, and the direct appeal to Revelation was useless. Natural Law was a supplement” (336).
But Eliot makes an important qualification that would prove decisive for the Moot’s Christianizing approach. According to Eliot, “Hodges’ statement was a correct view of Natural Law, as opposed to Kant who maintained a view which made Natural Law a thing which non-Christians had a perfectly good reason for believing in. Consciousness of Natural Law did not exist for the natural man” (336). Since humans are fallen beings, they do not have a natural inclination for the Christian Good, which explains why “Consciousness of Natural Law did not exist for the natural man” and why Kant’s universalist approach to Natural Law is limited and misguided. In essence, Kant’s universal approach to morality fails to take into account the reality and consequences of original sin, and therefore, his model is limited and even flawed. What Eliot is ultimately suggesting through his critique of Kant is that there are two separate and irreconcilable approaches [End Page 959] to Natural Law, the Enlightenment rationalist approach, which assumes the natural goodness of humans, and the orthodox Christian approach, which assumes that humans are fallen beings.
Based on this distinction, the Christian model necessitates a certain level of coercion and manipulation in order to lead the ordinary person to the Christian Good, which Ruth Kenyon, a high church Anglican socialist, argues in her essay, “The Idea of the Natural Law.” Before the members of the Moot convened a meeting, they read a number of position papers, and Kenyon’s paper, which is not included in the volume, argues that after “the Fall, not only was his [man’s] natural being disordered, but the supernatural state was lost.”1 Therefore, in a prelapsarian world, there was “no dominium or coercive element; no coercive State.”2 But given humanity’s “disordered” condition “relative to the Fall,” there is a need for a Christian state that “admits a coercive element.”3
That original sin necessitates a certain level of coercion explains the Moot’s discussions about the possibility of forming a totalitarian Christian state. For instance, at the first meeting, Adolf Löwe, lecturer in economics and sociology at Manchester University and author of Has Freedom a...