Religious Reality
By A.E.J. Rawlinson

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Chapter II - The Way of the World

The three traditional enemies of the Christian life are symbolized under the headings of the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, and the classification has a certain convenience. The “World” stands in this connexion for human society in so far as it is organized apart from Christ. It is obvious that “the way of the world,” as represented by the general outlook of conventional society, is in many respects in manifest conflict with the principles of the Gospel. The existing social order is the product of a compromise between inherited influences and standards which are in a certain sense broadly Christian, and the natural man’s instinctive selfishness in matters both individual and social. The conflict against the spirit of worldliness which should be one of the marks of a genuine Christian life is beset by peculiar difficulties, precisely because in a society which is in some respects partially Christian the issues are confused. Public opinion indubitably tolerates many things which should not be tolerated, and condones others which should not be condoned. But public opinion approves much that is good, and does lip-service to a variety of Christian ideals, even while reserving the reality of its devotion for the worship of success and material comfort.

Perhaps it may be said that the most fundamental characteristic of essentially “worldly” opinion is absence of idealism. Worldliness is the principle of contentment with things as they are. Against worldliness, so defined, the Christian is committed to a conflict all along the line, since even in those regions of life and conduct in which the standards recognized by the world are right and good so far as they go, “the good is the enemy of the best.” To rest content at any point with what has already been attained is fatal to all spiritual advance. It is, in effect, the death of the soul.

Mr. William Temple has remarked that in the conflict of Christians against the Devil and the Flesh the public opinion of the Church, as visibly organized, is on their side, but that in their conflict with the World it is decidedly against them. That is an over-statement, but it conveys a truth. Undoubtedly the Church has made compromises with the World, a fact which arises partly as the result of the inclusion within her fold of a large proportion of merely nominal members whose Christianity is no more than an inherited or conventional tradition. A further point of importance is this. Two thousand years is not a long period in relation to the scale of the world’s history as a whole, and Christianity is still a comparatively young religion. The problem of worldliness is mainly a problem of the relation of the Church to the social order; and there are reasons why it was natural that the working out of the Christian ideal of conduct should first have been developed in relation to the affairs of private and domestic life.

Christians in the early days were a “little flock,” surrounded by a society whose standards and conventions and beliefs were frankly pagan and hostile. So long as these conditions obtained the issues were plain: the contrast in ideals between Church and World stood out sharp and clear. The world, it was held, was ready to perish, and destined at no distant date to do so. “The whole world,” writes S. John, “lieth in wickedness.” The Church stood apart as the spiritual brotherhood of GOD’S elect who were called to assist at the obsequies of a world which was in process of passing away. “The world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of GOD abideth for ever.”

The words contain an eternal truth: but in their literal sense they expressed a mistaken judgment. The world–that is, secular society– did not pass away. It is with us still. For a period of some three hundred years it persecuted the Church. At the end of that period it accepted baptism, but not its implications. The Church has been engaged ever since in the task of attempting to Christianize the heathen within her own borders.

The Church was outwardly secularized: and the minority who could not tolerate the secularization of her ideals took refuge in the hermit’s cell or in the cloister. In these retreats was developed the practice of Christianity as an art or science of individual sanctity, but at the cost of a certain aloofness from the rough and tumble of workaday life. The Christianity of the Middle Ages was fertilized from the cloister, with the result that the spiritual ideals even of those Christians who remained “in the world” tended to be coloured by the monastic tradition. The Christian man of the world who took seriously the practice of his religion aimed at reproducing at second hand the Christianity of the monk. The salvation of the individual soul tended to be regarded as the supreme end of Christian endeavour, rather than the service of the brethren.

The Reformation, when it came, did nothing to diminish this individualism of the religious outlook, but rather accentuated it. The whole emphasis of Protestantism was thrown upon the life of the individual soul in relation to GOD, to the comparative neglect of the importance of the conception of membership in the Church. To the ordinary worldling the advent of Protestantism meant simply that he need no longer trouble to go to Mass or to Confession. The Protestant who took his religion seriously became a Puritan, a type resembling the monk of Catholicism in his attempted isolation from the world, yet lacking the peculiar otherworldly mysticism of the monkish character at its best, and having a peculiar knack of making religion appear repellent to the ordinary man.

The emergence of the ideal of a genuinely social Christianity, aiming not at escape from the world by way of flight, but at the deliberate conquest of the world for Christ by the resolute application of Christian standards to the ordinary life of men in society, is of comparatively recent date. It began in this country with the writings of Kingsley and Maurice, and various living teachers both in England and in America have carried on their work. It is one of the misfortunes of Germany that she has had no corresponding movement. As a consequence we are confronted at the present time with the spectacle of various leaders of religious thought in Germany, too honest not to perceive the glaring contrasts between the way of the world and the precepts of the Gospel, deliberately maintaining the position that Christianity is solely adapted to be a religion of private life, and that Christian standards and ideals have no application as between class and class, or as between nation and nation. To adopt such an attitude is to abandon all hope of the redemption of society. It is to condemn the world in perpetuity to a fate of which the present war is the appropriate symbol.

The war is, in effect, a kind of sacrament of the power of Antichrist. It is the outward and visible sign of the inward character and essence of a civilisation founded upon principles which are the opposite of those of the Gospel. Neither men nor nations, in the world as we have known it, have been wont to love their neighbours as themselves. The way of the world is, and has been, the way of selfishness.

This is not any the less true because the world’s selfishness has been to a considerable extent unconscious, and has arisen rather from absence of thought than from deliberate badness of heart. The world does not always realize how cruel are its ways towards the weak and the socially unfortunate, or towards those who, for whatever reason, transgress its code. For the world has a code of its own, both in manners and in morals, though the basis of its code is convention, and its standard respectability rather than virtue. The world is very apt to show itself implacable towards those whom it regards as being beyond its pale, and to exhibit, in effect, the spirit and temper which, when manifested in the religious sphere, we know and loathe as Pharisaism. Pharisaism, like worldliness, has penetrated to an alarming extent into the Church of England.

Parallel and proportionate to the world’s selfishness is its cynicism. This also is largely unconscious. Lacking any true insight into spiritual realities, the world lacks vision and lacks hope. It presumes always that “the thing which has been, it is that which shall be.” It beholds the evil that is done under the sun, and pronounces it inevitable. It fails to understand that to pronounce any evil inevitable is to be guilty of blasphemy against the GOD of heaven.

Against the spirit of the worldly world, its selfishness and cynicism, its conventional judgments and shallowness of mind, the Christian is called deliberately to make war. The Church exists to be to the world and its ways a permanent challenge: to be the champion in all circumstances and times of righteousness and truth; to insist upon bringing to bear on human life in all its relationships, both corporate and individual, the spirit of brotherhood, which is the Spirit of Christ. It was a true instinct which led S. Ignatius Loyola to pray on behalf of the Order which he founded that it might be hated by the world. “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.... If ye were of the world, the world would love his own.” If the world does not hate the Church it is not because the world has become Christian, but because worldliness has taken possession of the Church. The world to-day regards the Church as not worth hating, as a negligible quantity. When the Church is once more ready to be crucified, then the opposition of the world will be revived, and the Church will suffer martyrdom afresh.


Preface  •  Author’s Preface  •  Introduction  •  Part I - The Theory of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - the Man Christ Jesus  •  Chapter II - The Revelation of the Father  •  Chapter III - The Fellowship of the Spirit  •  Chapter IV - The Holy Trinity  •  Chapter V - The Problem of Evil  •  Chapter VI - Sin and Redemption  •  Chapter VII - The Church and Her Mission in the World  •  Chapter VIII - Protestant and Catholic  •  Chapter IX - Sacraments  •  Chapter X - The Last Things  •  Chapter XI - Clergy and Laity  •  Chapter XII - The Bible  •  Part II - The Practice of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - The Christian Aim  •  Chapter II - The Way of the World  •  Chapter III - The Spirit and the Flesh  •  Chapter IV - The Works of the Devil  •  Chapter V - The Kingdom of God  •  Chapter VI - Christianity and Commerce  •  Chapter VII - Christianity and Industry  •  Chapter VIII - Christianity and Politics  •  Chapter IX - Christianity and War  •  Chapter X - Love, Courtship, and Marriage  •  Part III - The Maintenance of the Christian Life: Chapter I - How to Begin  •  Chapter II - Prayer  •  Chapter III - Self-Examination and Repentance  •  Chapter IV - Corporate Worship and Communion  •  Chapter V - The Devotional Use of the Bible  •  Chapter VI - Almsgiving and Fasting

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Religious Reality
By A. E. J. Rawlinson
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