With the exception of the chapter on atheists and agnostics, this book is addressed not to the sophisticated nor to the naive or credulous, but to those who believe there is a God and that it is likely that He has revealed Himself to man, and who desire carefully to weigh the evidence with an open mind.
This book will not appeal to those whose ambition is to belong to the avant-garde, or the wave of the future. We believe that there are few who are willing to give up much of their worldly ambitions for the sake of finding the truth and living according to it. On the other hand, there are many who are curious about the latest novelties, and who are eager to appear modem and in tune with the times.
A religious belief which demands profound study and effort, which has no prospect of becoming popular, which is and will be despised by the learned sophisticates, and which therefore will be accepted by few, has little appeal, except to those who desire to find and follow the truth even if it causes them to be despised or ridiculed.
The great majority of people say that they believe in God. But in modern times, particularly in America and Europe, the idea of God has become more and more vague and uncertain, so that to many, God has become an unknown God. It is the hope of this book that for some the following expression of Paul may be fulfilled: "For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, to the unknown god. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you." (Acts 17:23.)
When Abraham Lincoln was running for President, some of the clergy, who knew that he was not a member of any denomination, came to him and asked him what was his religion. To this question he replied: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the First and Great Commandment. And the Second is like unto it; thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself." (Lincoln combined Matthew 22:37-39 and Mark 12:30,31.)
Most Christians would say that they agree with Lincoln, but there is scarcely one in a hundred who seriously attempts actually to carry out such a belief in his life.
In past centuries many made faith, or the contemplation of God, the only thing of importance and neglected the things having to do with our love and duty to our neighbor. At the present day most, even in the churches, looking to the good of societyor social gospel, as it is called—which they identify with love toward their neighbor, neglect the words of the greatest Commandment, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God ... with all thy mind."
They regard theology, which is loving God with the mind, as of little importance.
Is it not a primary saying of the Lord, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free"? (John 8:32.) If a person does not believe it is possible to know the truth for certain, can he honestly think he is a Christian?
Yet love of one's neighbor is merely an earthly love akin to the animal feeling if it is not united to loving God with all one's heart, soul, mind, and strength, which idea includes a wholehearted desire to understand God, or, what is the same, to have a theology. On the other hand, the love of God, apart from loving and doing one's duty to one's neighbor, is not a love of God at all; for the Lord said, "He who hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me" (John 14:21), and He said, "This is My Commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you." (John 15:12.)
Many eagerly give much time and effort to solving a business problem or to a study of economics, a foreign language, literature, philosophy, or other subjects; but when it comes to theology, they feel an aversion to any serious study. With many the very thought of making a serious effort to understand the nature of the Trinity, even the thought that it is a primary duty to try to understand this subject, causes a feeling of annoyance. Yet how can one love God with all one's understanding if one does not know for sure whether God is one person or three persons? Thus, although the First and Great Commandment is subscribed to in theory by nearly all, in practice it is rejected: a sign that there is very little real love of God.
How many strive with all their might to understand and know God, and to live according to their understanding with all their heart and soul? Are they not few? If this is so, why is it so?
There are many reasons why there is an aversion to a serious study of theology; one of them is spiritual laziness. To many the pursuit of the things of this world appears real, bringing concrete results, whereas the pursuit of the knowledge and wisdom of God appears vague and unreal, with no likelihood of arriving at any certainty or any definite concept. Even in the churches it has been taught that the mysteries of faith are above human comprehension, and that therefore "the understanding must be kept in obedience to faith"—which necessarily implies a blind faith. Such an idea certainly discourages anyone from seriously trying to obey the First and Great Commandment.
Another reason is that many doubt that there is any definite source of truth concerning God. Many doubt that the Bible is the Word of God, and see no way by which they An come to a sure knowledge of God; they therefore turn to science or other subjects where they feel they can deal with facts and actual experiences, or they seek to understand the meaning of life in their subjective experiences.
Nowadays most people think theology is unimportant; they think that they can have a kind of intuition of God, apart from any definite idea. If a person thinks he loves his father and mother and is uninterested in the character and quality of his parents, in the history of their life, in their goals, their ideals, and their thoughts, his love is a sentimental love of no value. In the same way, if a man thinks he loves God and is uninterested in theology, or does not hope to find a true theology, his love is a sentimental love of no value; for theology is nothing but the knowledge of God, and to pretend to love without wishing to know God is a fantasy. In a word, if one says he loves God and is uninterested in theology, his love is not genuine.
In ancient Greece there were two classes of intellectual leaders: the philosophers and the sophists. The true philosopher was the one who loved wisdom, who placed the pursuit of wisdom above all personal advantage, who was willing to sacrifice himself for the truth. The true philosopher exposed sham goodness and fallacious opinions without regard to person. He searched for the basic causes of things. He was therefore at times persecuted—even put to death. Socrates, before taking hemlock, said, "I would rather die having spoken after my manner than to speak in your manner and live." The sophist was one who, as in modern times, taught "how to make friends and influence people." He taught the art of becoming a demagogue. His art consisted of the striking phrase, the superficial appearance of learnedness, the advocacy of the latest novelty the show, without the substance, of philosophy.
History teaches us that civilizations grow and flourish, and then degenerate and fall. It is the same with religions. There are those who feel that the present civilization shows signs of decay. Prominent men and women have pointed this out, but what causes the decay is not clearly seen. The fall of civilizations and religions is the result of false attitudes or a false religious philosophythat is, of sophistry arising out of wrong motives.
We especially address ourselves to those who are distressed at the signs of the times and desire to consider the basic causes of the confusion of our day: causes which are on the plane of ideas but which have their effect in the life of people. We shall examine the cause of what we see as the decline of Christian civilization and consider remedies for it.
Certain remedies have indeed been proposed by those who recognize the decline. But these are based on unwarranted optimism or wishful thinking. They are based on the idea that if one is optimistic—has self-confidence and desire for change—a change for the better will take place. Now such an attitude can produce apparent or temporary improvement, but it is a palliative cure, having no inner or lasting effect. The only real cure demands a new understanding of and faith in the Lord, a new understanding of the relation of God to man and of man to God; and a new repentance out of a humble heart. This must be accompanied by a hope—but a realistic hope, not an optimistic idea that all things will turn quickly for the better; a hope that there will be a sufficient number of people who will come to a new repentance so that there can be established a true Christian civilization which can endure.