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2 The Modern Dilemma T HE MODERN DILEMMA is essentially a spiritual one, and everyone of its main aspects, moral, political and scientific , brings us back to the need of a religious solution. The one remaining problem that we have got to consider is where that religious solution is to be found. Must we look for some new religion to meet the new circumstances of the changing world, or does the Christian faith still supply the answer that we need? In the first place, it is obvious that it is no light matter to throw over the Christian tradition. It means a good deal more to us than we are apt to realise. As I have pointed out, it is the Christian tradition that is the most fundamental element in Western culture. It lies at the base not only of Western religion, but also of Western morals and Western social idealism. To a far greater extent than science or philosophy, it has determined our attitude to life and the final aims of our civilisation. Yet on the other hand we cannot fail to recognise that it is just this religious element in Western culture that is most challenged at the present day. The majority of men, whatever their political beliefs may be, are prepared to rrB The Modern Dilemma 119 accept science and democracy and humanitarianism as essential elements in modern civilisation, but they are far less disposed to admit the importance of religion in general and of Christianity in particular. They regard Christianity as out of touch with modern life and inconsistent with modern knowledge. Modern life, they say, deals with facts, while Christianity deals with unproved and incomprehensible dogmas. A man can indulge in religious beliefs, so long as he treats them as a private luxurYi but they have no bearing on social life, and society can get on very well without them. Moreover, behind this vague tendency to treat religion as a side issue in modern life, there exists a strong body of opinion that is actively hostile to Christianity and that regards the destruction of positive religion as absolutely necessary to the advance of modern culture. This attitude is most in evidence in Soviet Russia, where, for the first time in the history of the world, we see a great state, or rather a world empire, that officially rejects any species of religion and has adopted a social, and educational policy inspired by militant atheism. But this tendency is not confined to Russia or to the followers of communism . Both in Europe and America there is a strong antireligious movement that includes many of our ablest modern writers and a few men of science. It seeks not only to destroy religion, but also to revolutionise morals and to discredit the ethical ideals which have hitherto inspired Western society. This, I think, is one of the most significant features of the present situation. Critics of religion in the past have, as a rule, been anxious to dissociate the religious from the moral issue. They were often strict moralists, like the late John Morley,1 who managed to clothe atheism in the frock coat and top hat of Victorian respectability. But today the solidarity of religion and morals is admitted on both sides. If Europe abandons Christianity , it must also abandon its moral code. And conversely the 1. [John Morley (I838-I923), first Viscount Morley; editor of the Pall Mall Gazette and author of lives of Edmund Burke, Oliver Cromwell, and William Gladstone.-Ed.] 120 Selected Essays modern tendency to break away from traditional morality strengthens the intellectual revolt against religious belief. At first sight it seems as though the forces of change in the modern world were definitely hostile to religion, and that we are rapidly approaching a purely secular state of civilisation. But it is not so easy to get rid of religion as we might imagine. It is easy enough for the individual to adopt a negative attitude of critical scepticism. But if society as a whole abandons all positive beliefs, it is powerless to resist the disintegrating effects of selfishness and private interest. Every society rests in the last resort on the recognition of common principles and common ideals, and if it makes no moral or spiritual appeal to the loyalty of its members, it must inevitably fall to pieces. In the past, society found this unifying principle in its religious beliefs; in fact religion was the vital centre of the whole social organism...


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