The second was a philosopher—one George Bernard Shaw, who gave a talk one evening long ago in the Crypt of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. His “sermon” was the only one I have ever remembered. He taught the meaning of the religious life in almost identical terms.
The third is Frank Buchman, who, in my opinion, is seventy-five per cent cute, keen American business man. He, through the organisation of the meeting at the Eastbourne House Party that I described in the preceding chapter, gave at least a glimmer of what applied Christianity might mean to the world.
Here is the soldier’s description of the Church:
“The Church is the body of Christ. This means that the Church, which is an association of a large number of men and women, who differ from each other in race and language, and qualities and occupation and temper, has to embody the personality of Jesus Christ. Its members have got to remain different, just as the members of a human body are different; but they have got to be parts of a single life, to be obedient to a single will, and to combine with each other so as to carry out the purposes of that will, just as the members of a healthy and well-controlled human body do.”
I cannot now remember the exact words of Mr. Bernard Shaw, but they were to this effect:
God is a Spirit. The world is material. The Spirit of God must therefore be interpreted through material means. A spirit has no eyes, hands or feet, and without these work cannot be done in a material world. Your faculties are the only means through which God can work in this world. You are the body of the Spirit of God. Without the co-operation of man God is powerless in this world. Without God, man is equally powerless. Together they are omnipotent.
At Dr. Buchman’s meeting there spoke a handful of thoughtful people representing different nations and types, who showed how the interpretation of the philosopher and the soldier could provide a common meeting-ground, and that such a God-directed life is a practical possibility in the world of politics and economics, as well as in personal relationships.
The thoughtful and intelligent member of the Group Movement believes that through an ever-expanding body of people, living in different countries of the world and practising Christianity, the whole world may be changed from misery and self-destruction to the fullness of life and development. They show the practicability as well as the value of honesty and unselfishness.
They apply their “sharing” principles by advocating frankness in business, in politics, and in international affairs, as well as in personal relationships.
Is there anyone who cannot think of some friendship spoilt and broken on the rocks of suspicion with their damnable spikes of doubt and mistrust? There would be fewer misunderstandings, broken friendships and less bitterness and disillusionment if there could be a little more straightforwardness. We all jump to conclusions, and nine out of ten times our conclusions are largely wrong.
Imagine that same directness brought into business and politics. (I know it is almost beyond the keenest imagination.) Distrust, the very essence of misunderstanding, would be swept away. Employer and employee would each have the right to air a grievance, and if the principle were adopted universally and allowing for a measure of unselfishness, there would be an end to undercutting wages for the sake of purely selfish profits on the one hand, and grudging and shirked work, combined with class-consciousness and friction, on the other. Capital and Labour would dovetail at last.
Take this same attitude into the world of international politics. Imagine the nations being even a little honest with one another, and with even a little consideration for the good of mankind as a whole. Disarmament conferences would soon solve their problems, for distrust, breeding fear, would be swept away.
International honesty sweeping away fear, linked with an international sense of responsibility would perhaps see the end of war. In every human activity there would be an end of the smash-and-grab methods.
That the Christian ideal is practical in business has been demonstrated long ago by certain of the Quakers and is again being proved by members of the Group who are business men and women. Honesty in commercial dealings was well illustrated in my hearing by the experience of Mr. E. Reynolds, the head of a Toronto advertising business.
He explained that it is constant practice for advertising agents to take certain “pickings” from the money entrusted to them by their clients; a little extra to commission here and there: an added charge to the cost of photographic blocks, and so on. It is not usual to give a detailed list of expenditure, and without this the client cannot check the exact spending of his money. Mr. Reynolds decided to be completely honest, and told his clients why he had decided to run his business in future on such apparently unorthodox lines. He enclosed a complete account of every cent expended. The result was that other firms were forced to do the same thing or lose their business. Honesty became the best policy with a vengeance!
One of the most convincing members of the London Team is Mr. George Light, a self-educated and a highly educated man. He is typical of what one might describe as the intelligentsia of the working class. He believes that Christianity can solve economic troubles by “changing the spirit of industry”.
These people believe that if mankind desired to do the Will of God as interpreted by Christ, then the Kingdom of God would be in our midst.
And yet . . . why is it, then, that in some aspects Buchmanism seems to be not only an exploitation of the world’s need for God, but of Christianity itself? Why should a Movement containing men and women of intelligence and high aim have to face such grave charges, and, unless they are answered, to stand so strongly condemned ?
First, because its leaders have not been content with a full Christianity. They have made it more palatable by adding on the one hand, and detracting on the other. Not only has there been no attempt to check exaggeration: these have been encouraged by the imposition of an attractive, but wholly false doctrine.
It has added to Christianity the introduction of a belief that God will take charge of every detail of life and issue implicit instruction. The result is a tendency to forsake responsibility, to avoid decisions, and to dull, and eventually atrophy the power of reason, intelligence and common sense. There is absolutely no proof or reason to suppose that the sudden inspirations and ideas on which the Buchmanites act are indeed sent by God. There is every reason to suppose that they come from the same source—whatever that may be—as the ideas, thoughts, desires and wishes of the rest of the world. The Guidance doctrine is calculated to undermine character, stifle and eventually destroy the normal workings of conscience, and cut out almost every attribute of the mind and spirit that distinguishes man from the animals.
It must be remembered that personal guidance is to be checked—if the recipient wishes—with other members of the Group. On important matters it is referred to the Inner Team, with Dr. Buchman at its head. This one man could, if he wished, and if his Movement expands as he desires, have the control in any national or international matter affecting the widely scattered Groups containing the “key people” of their countries.
When one remembers that no effort is made to check the wildest exaggerations or misinterpretations, one is forced to the conclusion that the main aim of the Group is to include at any cost large numbers of people living under this so-called Divine Guidance, which on corporate matters is subject to the interpretation of a handful of leaders. The potentialities of this are enormous.
Life-changing in practice is often no more than the recruitment of numbers of thoughtless or emotional people, only too ready to be “guided“ by anyone or to be lured by any novelty or fashion.
Buchmanism, further, has added to Christian teaching by setting up an impossible standard of “absolute goodness”. It has not been content with “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and thy neighbour as thyself”. The result, with sensitive temperaments, is a morbid introspection that sometimes leads to derangement. In other cases, the “absolute goodness” becomes a flippant misuse of words, in the same way that the word “sin” is so often used to explain innocent pleasures. There is no sense of proportion.
It detracts from the Christian religion by its emphasis on the personal advantages to be gained, and by its efforts to avert and avoid an unpleasant remembrance of other people’s poverty, sorrow and suffering. Many of the Buchmanite testimonies read like publicity for a quack medicine: “I have never had a better time” ; “Efficiency is increased”; “I have always been very self-conscious and hope that this will be cured through contact with the Group.” Occasionally one encounters a dissatisfied customer. I heard one woman say: “I have decided to surrender my life to God, but so far I have not been very successful in getting guidance.” The leader of the meeting made no attempt to correct this astonishing point of view. She merely laughed, and said: “But you’re hoping for the best.” “Yes, I go on hoping,” said the new patron of Buchmanism a little dubiously.
A House Party provides instance after instance of exhibitionism, of not merely unorthodox, but utterly unmoral teaching and the most grotesque misunderstandings of what Christianity means.
There is a great deal of talk about sin, but any shame or sorrow for it is deliberately checked. When Dr. Buchman invited converts to stand up and confess at one meeting that I attended, he said: “Remember these three points when you speak: BREVITY, SINCERITY, and HILARITY.” Members of his Group Movement are taught to be funny and jocular about their sins. I should like to know how that can be reconciled with the teaching of any religion.
A House Party is a little world in miniature. And it is the best example of the evils of the Buchmanite interpretations of Christianity. It has failed in its own little world, and as assuredly it will fail in the great world. It preaches “absolute honesty”, and Dr. Buchman, standing on a platform, holds up a Canadian newspaper and draws attention to the streamer headlines in favour of the Group. He reads extracts: he reels off figures: he gives the impression that all Canada has been swept into the Movement. He does not show the other side of the picture. He is entirely one-sided. There is no mention of the scathing criticisms and denunciations that met the Group in Toronto alone. A careful and discriminating report was made by a committee of thirty religious leaders in Toronto and published early in 1933. It sums up its findings in these words :
“Movements of this kind have their value, but they frequently leave the Church with more problems than they solve. They make few converts outside of the regular church membership, and frequently divert their allegiance to faith missions and other forms of pentecostalism.”
In the New Outlook, a paper stated to be “Published under the authority of the United Church of Canada”, there has appeared an article that contains one of the strongest condemnations of Buchmanism that I have encountered. It speaks of “unblushing exhibitionism”. The writer shudders to think of what is happening to the “inner consciousness of the younger members of the Group, manifestly sincere and compelled to go through such performances night after night.” A meeting for ministers only, at which matters of sex were discussed, will abide as “one of the hideous memories of a lifetime”.
The Rev. E. W. Young, of London, Ontario, writes: “While several of our leading ministers have declared themselves to be in fullest sympathy . . the rank and file have hesitated in giving their assent.“ He praises what is good, and does not hesitate to condemn what is bad, and quotes the effect of the Group on a young man who can “talk of nothing else”: who “has lost interest in the Church to which he belongs”.
You would not gather one word of Canada’s mixed attitude if you listened only to Mr. Buchman.
The same thing applies to the descriptions of the Group meeting in our House of Commons. According to the Buchmanites it was an unqualified success. Here, however, is the general feeling of those who attended, as expressed to me by one M.P.: “They were rather disgusted with the entire affair, and the majority of the M.P.’s actually got up and walked out.”
I have heard a leader of the Movement say that contact with the Group increases the efforts of university undergraduates in their studies. Many university tutors have a very different tale to tell. The propaganda of the Group is just about as honest, and no more so, as any other advertising copy.
You will find in the little world of a house party the same selfishness and egotism that you will find outside. It is “I, I, I” all the time.
The weakness of this new Movement and the reason why it will no more change the world than it has changed its own members, lies in the fact that it has not been content with simple fundamentals of Christianity. It believes it can improve upon these.
Only one thing can bring about the Kingdom of God. It is a changed spirit. And a spiritual development is a slow business. It takes all of a lifetime, and how much beyond we do not know. This is essentially a comforting thought. It means that man need not despair at repeated failures. He “falls to rise, is baffled to fight better, sleeps to wake”.
When it comes to a spiritual change in the life of the world, rapidity is equally impossible. This spiritual change is taking place and is occurring more quickly than ever before. The cruder cruelties and injustices are now shocking to civilised peoples. Mercy and justice and truth are slowly developing. War is no longer regarded as a glorious thing. It is becoming thoroughly bad form. Poverty is not now regarded as the state of life unto which it has pleased God to call you or me or anyone else. “Thy Will be done” is not an acquiescence in all tragedy, but a vigorous assent to all that makes for happiness and well-being. It might be written up over every hospital, every clinic, and every social centre, not as the resigned cry of those who suffer, but as the inspiration of all who teach and heal and work for the good of mankind.
No good ever came of shutting one’s eyes to truth. The Group is blind to the knowledge of human nature. It cannot see any tough facts, and not least of these, the fact that nothing good is easy. It is blind because dust has been thrown in its eyes, or because it has chosen to adopt the ostrich policy of refusing to see.
The world owes a debt to Buchmanism. It has brought religion out into the open, and made it the most absorbingly interesting topic of the day. It has, at least, reminded many people that Christ’s teaching—the Love of God and all that He stands for, and a responsibility to other people as great as that to oneself—is a practical solution to the world’s problems.
If you go to a Group House Party, with every critical faculty working at its highest pitch and a determination to be untouched by emotionalism, you will learn a great deal. You will take away a vision of what the application of Christian teaching could mean to individual lives and to the life of nations. But you will leave behind the appalling evils of pure Buchmanism. Unless these are purged from the Movement it will not only fail, it will justify the condemnation of Mr. Reginald Lennard, Fellow and Tutor of Wadham College, Oxford.
In an article in the Nineteenth Century for November, 1933, he writes:
“For myself, I can only say that I have known Oxford for three years as an undergraduate, and have worked in Oxford as a college tutor for some twenty-two years, and it seems to me that, of all the influences and movements and fashions and opinions which I have seen at work in Oxford during that time, almost, if not quite the most depraving in its ultimate tendency, and the most insidiously inimical to the formation of fine character, is the Group Movement which Dr. Buchman has brought us from America.”
Mr. Lennard sums up a great body of thinking opinion. The charge is the most serious that can possibly be made against any movement, religious or otherwise. If it is unanswered, Buchmanism must stand condemned as an insidious power of evil, using as its tools the hearts and minds and lives of men and women sincerely desirous for good. To turn good into evil—will that be the ultimate end of the Buchman Group Movement?
Buchmanism has proved beyond doubt not only through the numbers of its adherents, but through the interest of its far greater number of thoughtful critics, that the world is not pagan or indifferent.
The nineteenth century saw the birth of the religion of materialism. In New York City there stands the great Chrysler Building, rearing its silver head into the clouds. It is dedicated by a self-made man to world commerce and industry. A modern temple dedicated to a modern god. And not so very modern, either. That god is toppling from his throne already.
Mr. Barney Baruch, who is an outstanding figure in world politics and finance, once said to me: “I shall not live to see it, but you will—the passing of this civilisation.”
This twilight of materialism is a stark time in which to live; but it may be that it precedes the dawn of an age of spiritual discovery and the reign of the Living God.