The teaching of Christianity as it is interpreted by every branch of the Church is briefly on these lines. God is a Father. We are His children. So long as we are ready to do His Will, we may claim His Help and rely upon His Guidance. Absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness and love are not necessary on our part—only the will to do right, and the effort in so far as we are able.
But the children of God, like the children of a good earthly father, are not spoilt. They must learn to stand on their own feet and to use a God-directed intelligence, common sense, reason and, as the years go by, experience and judgment in solving their problems. We believe that God will direct and guide through these channels. But there is no reason to suppose that He will, in normal circumstances, use any other means. That exceptional circumstances occur when Guidance comes in some other form, is an experience of almost everyone who has relied upon God and tried to do his best.
In great weakness and danger—when the fight has worn down resistance—a deliverance from an insupportable temptation may come in a miraculous fashion. God sends great angels in our sore dismay. . . irrevocable mistakes are averted and dangers escaped often unconsciously. It is only when we look back that we see the things from which we have been saved. We usually call it “luck” or “fate” in talking of it to our friends, when we might well give the thanks unto God.
It is a less usual experience to have, as it were, some vision or voice directing us. But there are undoubtedly people who have received God’s Guidance from time to time in this way—it may have been only once in a lifetime. The Bible provides several instances of this direct guidance. It would, however, be presumptuous to expect Divine instructions in this manner, or indeed to expect instructions at all. The Bishop of London, speaking on the Group some time ago, said: “God has given us intelligence and reason to be the lamps to guide us.”
The Group by its interpretation of Divine Guidance advocates the dowsing of these lamps.
To return to the simile of a father and his children. The Group teaches the child to regard his father not as a guide and defence generally and a ready help in time of trouble, but someone to whom the child turns for actual direction in everything he does. Father, shall I play with my train or my bricks? Father, shall I build a house or a bridge? Father, shall I use red bricks or blue? Father, shall I knock it down? Father, shall I build it up? Father this and father that, until a father might well wonder whether his child is a half-wit, instead of a reasonable being.
Why should we storm the courts of Heaven to know whether we shall buy cigarettes or take the 10:45 or the 11 o’clock train to town, or as a critic has said: “render God responsible for our neckties or whether we choose to eat beef or mutton at luncheon.”
Believe me, these instances are no exaggeration. Dr. Buchman acknowledges that he asks for guidance for the expenditure on postage. At the House Party I attended we were told to ask God’s guidance as to the amount we should tip the hotel servants. At a Group meeting in the North of England, people were told to ask God’s guidance as to whether they should put sixpence into a cigarette machine or into the missionary box.
At another meeting in the Midlands, an excited young woman recounted how she had been guided to buy a dress. She had given so much money away under “guidance” that she had only sufficient left to allow two and a half guineas for the frock. But she was guided to a certain street and a certain shop and there, lo and behold! was the very dress, correct colour, material and perfect fit, and costing just the right amount of money. Wasn’t it marvellous?
Stories are told of “guidance” that has led men and women to neglect duty. Mr. John Macadam, writing in the Sunday Dispatch, tells of a conversation with an Oxford don. Mr. Macadam asked if the Movement had affected the work of his students. “It most certainly has,” he replied, “immediately one of my men joins up, I can tell. His work becomes affected. He loses interest in all the normal things. He wants only one thing—to talk and talk and talk religion. These boys lose their sense of balance. They seek guidance on all sorts of things, and then evade their responsibilities by saying that they were ‘guided’ to do this and that.”
The Group boasts of the reunion of parents and children thanks to its influence. It does not count the homes sundered through the same cause. Parents, who have made sacrifices to send their sons and daughters to the University, are exasperated and distressed to find time wasted, work neglected and careers ruined. I was told recently of a man who, at considerable financial inconvenience, had undertaken the education of a young nephew. In the midst of his University career the boy insisted on throwing up his work and attaching himself to the Buchmanites. No sense or reason can be used as an influence. To every argument they blandly reply that they know that they are right because God told them so.
Dr. Buchman teaches his followers to set apart an hour the first thing every morning, which is kept as the “Quiet Time”. At first the time may be shorter, but an hour is the aim. The “Quiet Time” is not devoted to the meditation that is practised by many spiritually-minded people—for in this there is an occupation for the mind in the contemplation of some aspect of the Life of Christ or the attributes of God. The “Quiet Time” is to be spent partly in prayer and Bible reading, but chiefly in “listening”. Thoughts and ideas that come into the mind during this time are written down. Apart from the morning hour, this “Quiet Time” is indulged in at any moment during the day. In any doubt or dispute someone says, “Let’s have a Q. T.” Note books are produced and in a few minutes pencils are scribbling. It is all rather after the manner of planchette and the “messages” read in much the same way. Groupers guide their lives entirely by these “messages”.
Converts who have not yet lost the habit of regarding obvious duties as of first importance are sometimes torn between the thoughts that have come into their heads during “Quiet Times” and what their own sense of responsibility tells them is their proper course of action. Their bewilderment is piteous, and the stifling of their conscience a tragic thing. They are taught to believe that the ideas coming in the “Quiet Time” are instructions from God. They often fail to see how they can carry out these instructions without a neglect of duty. But they are told, too, that—“Doubt stifles and makes abortive our attempt to act upon God’s Guidance,” and that if it is true guidance, God will provide the means and assistance.
So in an earnest desire to do all in their power to lead this new life, they follow a will-o’-the-wisp into the darkness, for, in obedience to the teachings of the Movement, they have put out the lights of reason and intelligence that have been given them.
One of the questions by which “guidance” is supposed to be checked is: “Does it conflict with our duties and responsibilities to others?” If this were followed, we should hear less of broken homes, of neglected duties, and selfish unkindness. One of the most remarkable facts about this Movement is the way in which its members so quickly lose all sense of proportion and disregard what is most sound in their own teachings. Possibly this is because the sound and the unsound are so hopelessly mixed. For instance, in this same pamphlet we are told that God’s Guidance will be forthcoming on such matters as letters to write and visits to pay, as well as what are vaguely described as “Miscellaneous thoughts and promises”. It must be remembered that guidance is expected in the form of direct instruction. If a thought comes into their heads that they must write to So-and-So, they obey it blindly, not because they think it is the wise, kind or sensible thing to do, but because they “have been told to do so”.
I have already shown how a woman member of the London Team defended to me the action of a Woman whose “guidance” led her to neglect her home and cause unhappiness to her husband and child. I had asked how this could be reconciled with the test of “absolute unselfishness”. My question was not answered; the woman’s action was blindly justified because it was the result of “Guidance”.
Here, from my own experience, is another instance of how Guidance is interpreted by members of the Oxford Group.
The scene is a comfortable sitting-room at the Hotel Metropole. Three middle-aged women are sitting round the fire waiting “contacts”. An enquirer is termed a “contact”—an Americanism that always makes me feel like an infectious disease ! (One of the women picks up the house telephone and asks for a number, “Miss . . . ” she says, “your contact is here.”).
I had explained that I was interested in the Movement, but that I was critically-minded and would be grateful if they would explain certain things to me. For instance, I said, how would the Group advise me to be absolutely honest as a writer for newspapers and magazines? Naturally I must write according to the policy of the particular paper. When I write for a newspaper, I am employed to write from a certain point of view—it may be quite opposite to my own opinions. I may have to write admiringly when I do not really admire, and praise when I would blame, and boost when I would blast, and so on. Is that absolutely honest? There are many good answers that might be made to this question.
But the answer I received was this: “You must have Guidance. You know how often one is asked an embarrassing question. For instance, suppose that you are married to a man who is unkind to you. He is abroad. Someone says: How very sad for you to be so long parted from your husband. Now what are you to say? You cannot reply that it isn’t really sad, as you are glad he is out of the way. That would be confessing his sins for him. But if you quickly pray to God, you will find what a wonderful answer comes to help you to be honest. Perhaps in that moment the conversation is changed, or the question is dropped.”
Now, I am not married to an unkind husband, either here or abroad. If I were, and if he were comfortably out of the way, I should not require guidance for my reply to a remark that it was sad for me to be parted from him. I should answer: “Yes, isn’t it?” or “My dear, not at all,” according to the extent that I knew the questioner. Neither reply would offend any but a quibbling sense of honesty.
But the example had nothing to do with my question regarding the Group’s idea of the honesty of writing to newspaper policy. It is not easy to get a direct answer to a direct question. People who have followed this pseudo-guidance for long lose the ability to think to the point. They are, even in conversation, under guidance and following the ideas that come into their heads at the moment. Groupers become extraordinarily evasive people.
When we had returned to the original subject, it was suggested that I obviously did not like what I was doing and had I ever thought of doing anything else? No, I said, I had not. Had I thought of giving up that work? No, once again. “Have you any guidance on the subject?” said one of the women, turning to another who was sitting at a writing-table with her back to us. She turned round quickly with a copy of a Group Supplement in her hand. “No,” she said, “but while you have been talking, my eye has been on this headline,” and she pointed to the words: “Footloose for God.” “Perhaps,” she added, “God wants you to be footloose for Him.”
Now there is an example of the use of coincidence that is one of the accepted “sign-posts” of guidance. “Footloose”, another Americanism, certainly sounds slippery, and I gathered that I was to consider embracing this insecurity. Was that very wise and sensible advice to give in these days to someone of whom they knew nothing at all, and of whose circumstances they were ignorant?
Supposing that I had been very poor, very earnest, and very worried by quibble over the word “honesty”. I should have left that room with the belief that God’s Guidance was in favour of giving up a career on which a great deal of time and money had been spent. Even if I had been unable to bring myself to that point, I should have been hindered and hampered by a nagging worry that I was doing wrong. Is that true Guidance lightened by intelligence, reason and common sense?
Everyone who thinks twice about the subject must realise the grave danger that wishes and desires, or ideas suppressed and dreaded, coming into the mind during a “Quiet Time” when the mind is in a state of negation, may well be mistaken for Guidance.
Every serious critic of the Movement has viewed with the greatest alarm the Group’s teaching and practice in this direction.
As The Times put it in a leading article: “It would be incredible if the bulk of the ‘guidance’ received in ‘quiet times’ would not consist of submerged thoughts and desires. Most of what is put forward as guidance received in these periods of relaxed attention is so trivial that it would be impious to ascribe it to the promptings of God.”
The Group itself does not deny this. Dr. Buchman himself admits that “thoughts might come from the sub-conscious self or from the evil one”.
The author of What is the Oxford Group? says: “The human mind . . . takes up a train of thought it finds hard to discard, invents or remembers a thought of its own. But to those closely in touch with God, it becomes easy after a short while to differentiate between spiritual and human messages.” Was there ever a more thoughtless, dangerous and careless pronouncement on a subject of gravest importance to the lives of so many people?
A new-comer to the Movement starts to practise the “Quiet Time” and act on his guidance immediately. What right has he, or any other, including Dr. Buchman himself, to assume that he has found a short-cut to the stature of the fullness of Christ, and that he is so in touch with the Mind of the Infinite that he has no difficulty in reading it at a glance?
The greatest saints of history would not make so presumptuous a claim. The members of the Group are just as much and no more in touch with God than any man or woman who seeks His Blessing and Guidance. But whereas the ordinary man humbly does his best by using his sense and intelligence, the Grouper is pitiably handicapped by becoming the victim of every wandering thought and up-rush from the subconscious.
Here is another instance of the shallowness of thought and extremes of teaching of which the Group must be held guilty. In a booklet issued by the Group entitled The Guidance of God, there is a story of a three-year-old child taught to be quiet and listen to God’s Voice. He looks up and remarks: “God says you must eat more porridge this morning.” Although the child is obviously reiterating an injunction of his mother’s, this is put forward as a direct instance of Divine Guidance.
In the same booklet there is the dangerous injunction: “Look for the coincidences” as sign-posts of Guidance.
I asked a friend of mine to go to the Hotel Metropole and talk to some of the men members of the London Team. He reported a conversation with a man of great intelligence and intellectualism. He had put forward the teachings of the Group as any believer in Christianity would explain his belief. There were no exaggerations or fanaticisms until it came to the question of Guidance, and then this instance was given. “I was going to my room this morning when I felt I ought to go downstairs instead. I went down, and there in the lounge I saw a man I had not met for many years, and who was wanting to see me.” If every passing thought is to be followed as Guidance, and every coincidence regarded as a Divine intervention, where are we to stop this side madness? Dr. Buchman has no authority whatever for his, doctrine of direct guidance available at any moment.
The result of such a teaching, made “with an infallibility the Pope would envy”, is to rob men and women of their God-given intelligence, and to weaken their sense of reason and their capacity for judgment until they become almost nonexistent. It stifles initiative, relieves of responsibility and is entirely pernicious and harmful. A man or woman dependent on such a teaching would soon be incapable of making the smallest decision unaided. It is a pitiable fact that many young children are now being brought up in this way. I believe that there are no words too strong to condemn such a teaching, and that its consequences can be so terrible that no warning is too grave.
The “Quiet Time” encourages introspection: the pseudo-guidance is its result. Minds deranged, homes made tragic, careers broken, bitter disappointment following the unhappy or negative outcome of this so-called guidance-these are the consequences.
I would sum up in the words of The Times: “It must be the most serious charge against the Groups that they encourage their members to shirk the discipline of thought in favour of impulses received from they know not where.”
The teaching on Guidance is as great a superstition as any purged from the Church at the Reformation.