Religious Reality
By A.E.J. Rawlinson

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Chapter VII - Christianity and Industry

Labour problems have always existed, but the development of industrialism as we know it to-day is comparatively modern. It dates from the introduction of machinery and mechanical transport, and coincided in its beginnings with the vogue of the so-called “Manchester School” in political and economic theory. The modern world of industry has been built up by the enterprise of capitalists working upon the basis of unrestricted competition. Joint-stock companies and “trusts” are simply capitalistic combinations for the exploitation of industrial opportunities upon a larger scale.

The economic theorists of the Manchester School regarded wages as necessarily governed by the working of the “iron law” of supply and demand. It was the “interest” of the employer to buy such labour as was required at as cheap a rate as possible. It was assumed that in this, as in other matters of “business,” his procedure must be determined wholly by self-interest, to the exclusion of “sentimental" considerations. Individual employers might be better than their creed, and in the smaller “concerns” the relations between employer and employed were often humanized by personal knowledge and intercourse. With the advent of the joint-stock company this no longer held good. “A corporation has no bowels.” Directors were not personally in contact with their workpeople, and their main consideration was for their shareholders. The whole tendency of the industrial order of society as it developed was in the direction of the exploitation of the workman in the interests of “capital.”

It was not that members of the employing class were consciously inhuman. It was simply that they were blinded to the human problems which were involved. They had become accustomed to regard as natural and inevitable a wage-slavery of the many to the few. Labour was a commodity in the market. The workman was a unit of labour. Regarded from the point of view of Capital he represented simply the potentiality of so many foot-pounds of more or less intelligently- directed energy per diem. His life as a human being, apart from the economic value of his labour, was from the “business” point of view irrelevant.

The system was based upon a lie. “Treat human beings as machines as much as you will, the fact remains that they are incurably personal." The wage-slaves of the modern world asserted their personality, and the modern Socialist-Labour Movement is the result. The forces of organized labour have won some notable victories. They are a recognized power in the land. There are those who hope, and those who fear, that they will in the end become socially and politically omnipotent. It is now generally recognized that society prior to the war was on the brink of a struggle between the classes of great bitterness, and that the social condition of the country after the war is likely to be fraught with formidable possibilities. There are many observers who regard a social revolution, in one form or another, as inevitable.

Much, no doubt, will depend upon the temper of the returning troops, both officers and men. That men and officers have learnt to know and to respect one another upon the battlefield is acknowledged, but those who imagine that herein is contained a solution of social and labour problems are likely to prove grievously disappointed. A great deal of nonsense is being talked about the effects of “discipline” upon the men. Military discipline has its admirers: but men of mature years and civilian traditions who in the present conflict have served in the ranks of His Majesty’s Army are not included among their number. They have submitted to discipline for the period of their military service. They are quite able to recognize that it is essential to the efficiency of the army as a fighting machine. But they conceive themselves to have been fighting for freedom: and their own freedom and that of their children and of their class is included in their eyes among the objects for which they fight. They will be more than ever jealous, after the war, of their recovered liberties, and determined to assert them. It is probable that one result of demobilization will be an enormous accession of strength to the ranks of the Socialist and Labour parties. The “class war” with which society was threatened before the European War broke out is not likely to be a less present danger when “that which now restraineth “is removed by the conclusion of peace.

What in relation to these problems is the message of the Christian Church? The distinctively Christian ethic is based not upon self- assertion but upon self-sacrifice, not upon class distinctions but upon brotherhood. “Let no man seek his own, but each his neighbour’s good.” The principle is of corporate as well as of individual application. In an ideally Christian society, the interests of “Labour” would be the sole concern of “Capital,” the interests of “Capital” the sole concern of “Labour”: and the message of the Church to the contending parties should be, now as always, “Sirs, ye are brethren.”

Neither party, however, is likely at present to pay much heed to such a message, which is apt to sound like an abstract and theoretical truism remote from the actualities of life. In point of fact, the large sections of the population who live permanently near or below the poverty line are largely precluded by lack of leisure from entering into the Christian heritage of the spiritual life, and are too much obsessed by the daily struggle for material existence to have patience with exhortations to regard with sympathy either the temptations or the good intentions of the well-to-do. The latter in turn are apt to resent any attempt to stir in them a social conscience with regard to the problems of poverty or the fundamental causes of labour “unrest,” to regard the security of dividends as conveniently guaranteed by the laws of GOD, and to hold, in a general way, that everything has hitherto been ordered for the best in the best of all possible worlds. The Church–and more particularly the Church of England–is commonly regarded both by “Labour” and by “Capital” as traditionally identified with the Conservative Party in politics. The Church-going classes love to have it so, and the world of Labour not unnaturally holds aloof.

It is nevertheless sufficiently obvious that the future of civilization after the war will be largely in the hands (or at the mercy) of organized Labour. And it is worth remembering that our Saviour died not for the rich only, but for the poor, having moreover Himself lived and worked as a labouring Man. There are those who regard the spirit of idealism and world-wide brotherhood by which the Labour Movement is inspired as the most profoundly Christian element in the life of the modern world, and the existing cleavage between Labour and the Church as a tragedy comparable only to the tragedy of the war. It is the plain duty of a Christian man to do what in him lies to remedy this cleavage, to think hard and honestly about social problems from a Christian point of view, and to make it his business to have an adequate understanding and sympathy with the real character and motives of Labour aspirations and ideals.


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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