Book Review: The Kingdom Without God: Roads End for the Social Gospel by Gerald Heard and Edmund A. Opitz and The Powers That Be: Case Studies of the Church in Politics by Edmund A. Opitz
SEPTEMBER 01, 1956 by FRANK CHODOROV
Introduction by Admiral Ben Moreell. Los Angeles: Foundation for Social Research. 104 pp. $1.50. (Both books as a set, $3.00)
First, there is Religion. Then there is the Church. and inevitably there are Prophets. That seems to be the regular order of things in matters spiritual and ethical.
Just now the Prophets—always a minority, sometimes a minority of one—are raising their voices. In line with the tradition of their trade, they feel called upon to point up the inadequacies of the institutionalized Church—particularly its betrayal of Religion by making it a mere means to currently fashionable secular or political ends. The Church has always been tempted to render unto Caesar that which belongs to God, and the National Council of Churches (NCC) has not entirely avoided this pitfall. Its deviations are critically analyzed in the volumes under review.
The NCC is an organization of Protestant denominations dedicated to the proposition that despite theological differences there is a common ground on which all Christians can unite in achieving the Kingdom of God on earth—a naturalized version of the un-achieved goal of Christianity since its beginning. The common ground is called “social action”—or the use of political force to make men “good” whether they want to be or not. What is “good”? One gets the impression that the hierarchy of the NCC would define it in about the same terms as the energumens of the New Deal—the psychological reaction of three square meals every day, a color television in every household, a well-filled clothes closet for everybody. That is to say, man is not primarily a soul but is the product of his material environment; hence, to improve him it is necessary only to better his circumstances by the well-known formula of taking from Peter to give to Paul. Christianity thus becomes an adjunct of egalitarianism. An additional item of “goodness” is compulsory peace through World Government.
All this, say the latter day Prophets, is not Religion. It is the denial of the primacy of the individual, the liquidation of his soul, the transference of his allegiance from God to the State. In order that religion might properly influence social relations, the churchmen of today must stop playing the politician’s game.
When the elders of Israel asked Samuel to set a king over them, he put the matter up to Jehovah and was told that nothing could be done about saving the Israelites, since they had abandoned first principles. Then the Lord added, “Shew them the manner of king that shall rule over them.” In something of that spirit, the two little books under review “shew” the Christian reader the way things will be with Christianity if the hierarchy should have its way. It will cease to be a search for eternal verities, a guiding star for the improvement of the human spirit. Rather, it will become an instrument for the regulatory and repressive State.
But, has this not always been the way with organized religion? Religion, or faith in an order of things beyond the compass of the finite mind, is as much an essential of life as food. No man, not even a socialist or atheist, can rid himself of it. But, for reasons beyond the scope of this review, a vested interest in this integral of human life always arises and tends to pervert it. And always the vested interest joins with the State to perpetuate the perversion and its prerogatives. But the religious arm of the State cannot function as a true Church; this needs a climate of freedom. Only when Religion is master in its own house can it go about its job of recalling man to his true nature and destiny.
The Powers That Be is a series of “Case Studies of the Church in Politics” (a subtitle). It is a blow-by-blow account of the NCC’s effort to underwrite and promote the prevailing panaceas, which include collectivism and internationalism. The final essay shows that an adequate philosophy of liberty, while it needs an understanding of the nature of political action and of economics, must be rooted in religion.
The Kingdom Without God includes a three-round debate between Mr. Opitz and his former teacher, John C. Bennett, now Dean of New York’s Union Seminary and a leading social planner. This exchange illustrates the fact that the collectivists may have power, but they haven’t a case which will stand up. Other essays in this volume trace the history of the Social Gospel and its various ramifications, survey the socialist literature of the past generation, and demolish the notion that the Welfare State has scriptural sanctions. On the more positive side, Gerald Heard presents an inspiring picture of what a truly contemporary Church would be like, and another essay sketches a possible theology for such a Church.
As these books make plain, the forces which would politicalize the Church are to be found in the upper reaches of the denominational and interdenominational hierarchies; they do not stem from the local clergyman and congregation. These two publications of the Foundation for Social Research are most informative and most opportune. They provide a well-rounded philosophy of Christian social responsibility from the standpoint of sound theology, economics, and political theory; and they lay a substantial religious foundation for libertarian social thought.