Another name for the Buchmanites is “Life-Changers”, and every convert must set to work to change the lives of other people. They appear to collect converts as other people collect china or first editions. At House Parties and the smaller meetings you will hear one after another confessing that their collection is not coming along as it should, and that they have come to find out what is wrong. It usually seems to take them only a short time to discover this, and they return home to carry on what Dr. W. B. Selbie, late Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford, has described as “a technique of soul healing which they insist on applying to all and sundry, whether it really meets their condition or not.”
All potential Groupers, whatever their age, experience or temperament, have one thing in common. Time after time you hear new converts saying that they were first attracted to the Group because “these people have something that I lacked”. This little something some others haven’t got is usually described as happiness or joy. The truth is that that “little something” is a happy capacity for a facile credulity. The majority of those who are attracted by the teaching have this capacity in some measure, whether they are aware of it or not. Otherwise there would be a very small Group and a much better one.
Two impressions stand out especially clearly after having met and talked with numbers of Buchmanites. The first is that so many appear never to have done any independent thinking in their lives. As one girl confessed: “Whenever I heard important matters, such as war or unemployment discussed, I simply shut my ears and thought about my own little interests. I never read the newspapers. Now I have come to realise that that was a sin.” (I have no doubt that all newspaper circulation managers will agree with her.) Another outstanding impression is the stupendous ignorance of the meaning and reality of the Christian religion. This pitiable ignorance is the most terrible indictment of the churches. What have they been about that so many thousands should not have the first idea of what Christianity teaches? The Roman Catholic Church alone can be freed from this charge of neglect. She has indeed obeyed Christ’s injunction to “feed my lambs”. Nor has she waited for them to come to her. She goes out among her own flock and shepherds them.
Groupers have sometimes applied “life-changing” methods to myself. They usually start by saying: “Don’t you think all this is very wonderful?” I can’t help replying, “No, I think it is perfectly natural. I have been taught many of your fundamentals from babyhood. I have believed in the Guidance of God, for instance, all my life. The vital difference is that I have been taught to believe that God will guide me through normal channels, and you believe that He will give you direct instructions.”
This reply seems to astonish them. Some admit that they have had a religious teaching as children, but that “it never meant anything”; others that they have had no teaching at all and so, of course, religion for them, too, “never meant anything”. Others say that they have practised religion to the extent of trying to do their best and going to church, but, once again, “it never meant anything”. Why has religion never meant anything to these people who have now proved their desire for it? Because the Church of Christ has failed to teach the living faith.
There are, then, four reasons that account for the success of Buchmanism. The first is a natural instinct for spiritual expression, and the second an extraordinary thoughtlessness. (It is an indictment of our educational system that half these highly “educated” young men and women have never been taught to think.) The third is a stupendous ignorance of the meaning of Christianity, and the fourth an element of “gullibility”. Most people have a natural hunger for religion, and potential Groupers have one or more of the other characteristics as well. It is for this reason that they are suitable material for the “Life-Changing” methods of Dr. Buchman. The emotional appeal would have less influence if every attempt at intellectual honesty—called criticism by the Group-was not extinguished. Criticism from outside the Group cannot be prevented. It is combated not by a defence or an answer, but by an assumption of indifference. It is merely an assumption of indifference for criticism is desperately feared just as advertisement is welcomed. Within the Group criticism is absolutely forbidden.
This is for an excellent reason. The insidiously harmful teachings cannot be defended. Stripped of these elaborations there would stand revealed the simple and sane teaching of Christianity: the Christianity that has been found difficult and not tried. Buchmanism has been tried and found easy and swallowed wholesale.
The claim that the Group “changes lives” is true—up to a point, but there seems to be little sign of much spiritual change in many cases. The most casual observer cannot fail to be impressed by this.
You will hear men and women reeling off their sins and experiences as “witness” to their changed lives, and with every word they utter proving that their characters, tastes, faults, and virtues remain precisely the same. At a House Party I heard a young married woman stand up at two meetings and boastfully relate the trivialities, the bickerings and the sordidness that make up the life of an empty-headed woman. She was enjoying herself hugely. She was wallowing in the limelight. She made those members of the audience who were not yet stripped of every critical faculty feel hot and ashamed. If she had been changed at all, it must have been for the worse. For nothing on earth could have been as bad, or as lacking in any sense of taste, as she was at that moment.
And anyway—who cares? What help is it to know that Mrs. A. who was a little fool last year is an even greater fool this year?
Sometimes members of the Group in their confessions are guilty of astonishing exaggerations. I heard one woman say: “Then there was hate—oh! I hated hundreds of people.” If she would only have a “Quiet Time” and count up the number of her acquaintances, she would probably find that she did not even know—let alone hate—“hundreds of people”.
Another woman confessed that she found no difficulty in loving her friends—but her enemies—well—she couldn’t love her enemies; those people who did things better; those who had prettier children; servants who broke things; and intruders into a railway carriage when she wanted to have it to herself. Enemies—all enemies!
You will see an instance of how “changing” can be for the worse, if you go to a Group meeting when new converts are asked to testify. These people are very touching in their complete sincerity, humility and deep reverence. Then hear the various members of the “Teams”—the same type of people after they have had an intensive training in Group methods and have recounted their sins at many public confessions. There is no longer any ring of sincerity; they are glib. There is no humility; they are smug, complacent and insufferably priggish. And the reverence has gone completely. This picture does not, of course, apply to every member of the Group teams. There are those who have sufficient wisdom as well as native goodness and simplicity of heart to retain the dignity of simple virtues in spite of great temptation to abandon them. These are usually the older members. The effect on the younger people is very often disastrous.
Finally, there are those people who have indeed changed for the better. There are several men and women who were the victims of some overwhelming temptation and who through contact with the Group have found release and strength. Notably there is the case of the morphine addict who had been a slave to the drug for many years. He is now completely cured. In the Group Movement he and others came in touch with some part of the teachings of the Christian religion. These they applied, and they were people of sufficient character and wisdom—or perhaps one should call it taste—to be untouched by the crudities, the vulgarities and the misconstructions that provide a moral pitfall for many of the Group converts. Men and women of this type are to be found in the Group, and the Group owes to them the preservation of all that is good, but they are comparatively few and far between. In their hands the doctrine of Guidance is fairly safe. Their interpretation is often far nearer to that of the Christian Church than to that of Dr. Buchman.
The destruction of the sense of reverence is one of the many undermining influences of the Group. A girl who had been changed at the International House Party at Oxford in July, 1933, and had been busy bodying with other people’s lives ever since, confessed later that when she changed others she “hung their scalps round her waist instead of hanging them round God’s waist”.
Mr. Douglas Buchanan, K.C., who came to England from Bechuanaland to defend the native chieftain, Tshekedi, recounted (at a public meeting that I attended) the Guidance he had received, in dealing with an ecclesiastical case in South Africa. He had received guidance to concentrate on the legal aspect instead of the doctrinal points. The next day his Guidance was different, and he was instructed to bring forward the doctrinal evidence.
He said: “Well, really, God, this is a bit too much. Yesterday you told me to go for the legal points and to-day you tell me to go all out for doctrine!”
Why Mr. Buchanan finds it particularly helpful to speak to Almighty God with less courtesy than he would use in addressing the Judge in his Court, passes my comprehension.
A complete lack of reverence towards God Himself is one of the first changes that can be seen in a “changed” life. Some people become positively profane for the first time in their lives. The particularly foolish type of undergraduate who is blasphemous as a general rule, stops being blasphemous, but adopts instead a hearty “good fellow” attitude towards God. Originally his blasphemy meant nothing because God meant nothing. His new attitude seems to be more reprehensible.
In order to become “changed”, converts must make a complete surrender of every part of life and of every corner of the heart and mind. This is taught as surrender to God. But is it? Has God ever demanded the surrender of intellectual honesty? Surely He respects an honest doubter? But an honest doubter—not necessarily of the reality of God, but of the wisdom of Group teaching is of no use to the Group.
There are two ways to the spiritual peace for which most men and women are hungering. One is through spiritual warfare taught by the Church militant. The other through the surrender taught by the Buchmanites. The one is the heat and dust of battle, the other is in return for the laying down of arms—the promise of a peaceful internment in a concentration camp, a camp with an excellent social atmosphere and every comfort, but no freedom. It is a selling proposition.
This surrender teaching provides a way of escape from reality—especially the reality of thought.
“Surrender” is a word used invariably in revivalism. It attacks the emotions. It is easier than the word dedication used so much by the Church. The emphasis on this surrender, which includes the muffling-down of all criticism and independent thought, is a striking point about the Group teachings. The mind of the convert is then ready for the life-changing, which includes an acceptance of the Buchman doctrine of guidance and every other exaggeration and misrepresentation.
It is a healthy sign that so many of the Buchman converts fall away quickly. There is a great deal of boastfulness about the number of “changed” lives. The number of people who come to their senses again remarkably quickly is not mentioned.
Unfortunately their disgust with the Group may tend to make them impatient of all religious teaching.
The “surrender” is generally an emotional experience. At a House Party I was asked to go to a meeting for girls and young women. We festooned ourselves on chairs, tables and the floor. Those who were experiencing their first House Party were asked in turn to introduce themselves by name, and then to say why they had come, and what they had found. The first girl who was asked to speak blushed furiously and stammered: “I don’t quite know why I came. I—I was just interested. I don’t think I have anything more to say.”
Three hours later that girl—she looked about seventeen or eighteen—got up in a crowded audience under the hypnotic influence of mass-suggestion and said that she had decided to give her life to God. Many of the converts—men and women—had come to this stupendous decision within three days. It is not surprising that it is difficult to estimate accurately the shifting population of the Buchman Groups. It is a case of here to-day and gone to-morrow. Quickly come and quickly go. But the subsequent disillusion must be a cruel experience.