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Sermon Notes: By the late Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson. First Series, Anglican. Edited by the Rev. C. C. Martindale. New York: Longmans, Green & Co. pp. 143. $1.25 net.

In his Dedication to Lord Halifax the editor warns us that this book contains merely notes, but we are inclined to think that many readers will find notes such as these more practically useful than a finished homily, for whatever they may lack in literary style is more than compensated by the quick, spontaneous expression of the author's personalty. From a knowledge of his other works, we are not surprised in finding here the indications of a master mind, with more than usual powers of analysis and cogent interpretation of the deepest truths.

The sermons are in the main devotional, rather than consciously dogmatic, but covering as they do the first half of the Christian Year from Advent to Pentecost, they are necessarily concerned with dogma. The two last chapters contain wonderful notes of addresses for Quiet Days, and four sermons on the Sacramental Principles in Nature and Grace. There is nothing commonplace to be found in this book, but we would select as most striking the Four Sermons preached by Fr. Benson in Lincoln Cathedral in 1900, on the Attraction, the Offence, the Examples and the Power of the Cross.

All the Notes are full of suggestion for pulpit teaching, and will be equally useful for the purposes of private Meditation.

W. H. B.

It is a fact to be deplored that society to-day tends toward materialism and even the Church is drifting away from spirituality. The tendency is to materialize the Church, to make of it a place for social meeting, of intellectual profit and even of entertainment. Now the questions arise: Is not the Church doing the very thing it ought to avoid? Is not morality supplanting religion as the chief purpose of the Church? What should we do for man? is the question emphasized, rather than – What should we do for God? The social meeting is taking the place of the prayer meeting; the popular lecture, the place of the gospel sermon; the whole tendency of the Church seems to be away from the spiritual and toward the material, which we are apt to term the "practical." Robert Lansing.

The American Church


A Magazine of comment, criticism and review dealing
with questions confronting the Anglican Communion
and more especially the Church in the United States

Volume II


Number 3


"The Necessity of Atheism"

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T is now over a hundred years since a couple of undergraduates at Oxford, becoming excited about religion, published a pamphlet entitled, The Necessity of Atheism. Copies of it are said to have been sent to every bishop on the bench with a view to stimulating discussion - and to various Fellows and dons of the University as well. The result was what the boyish authors had hoped; their fate the one which they had courted. The controversialists were soon discovered. They proved to be a student in his first year, Percy Bysshe Shelley by name, and his friend, T. Jefferson Hogg. The precious pair were summoned before the authorities, and charged to repudiate their pamphlet. Upon their refusal to do so, they were expelled from the University. Thus Oxford, unable to look into the seeds of time, thrust indignantly from her bosom a youth destined to become the most ecstatic lyrist of the century, a poet whom she was afterwards to attempt to honor by the erection of a rather startling monument in marble. Shelley went out from his alma mater, and the University pursued its orthodox development, unstained by freshman heresies.

Times have changed since 1811, and the spirit of universities has changed with them. It is interesting to speculate what would happen to a clever youth in an American university who wrote an essay on the Necessity of Atheism. I am afraid that there are few students in our colleges sufficiently interested in religion to consider it worth attacking. I am also afraid that there are few faculties nowadays that would think it worth while to fuss and fume and appoint a committee to expel the offender, as did the Oxford dons a century ago. It is rather more probable, I suspect, that the young author would be given a first prize in English composition, and advised to change the title of his essay to The Necessity of Broad-mindedness. It is, you see, largely a matter of terms. You may say what you will nowadays if you use the proper words. You may preach atheism as much as you please, only you will do it by saying that it doesn't much matter what a man believes, if he is trying to be good. You may attack religion as much as you please by calling it dogma. You may denounce Christianity all day by talking about the narrowness of creeds. But you will naturally avoid the term atheism, because, by a careful definition of the subject, you will have shown that atheism is practically impossible, and that really everybody has a religion, anyhow. Personally I prefer the ugly term for the ugly thing. I call a man who sneers at creeds an atheist, on the (approved) ground that he that is not for us is against us. But I have to admit that this is an oldfashioned point of view. It is not always prudent, but it does clear the air.

It seems reasonable to hope that one result of the world tragedy through which we are passing will be to dispose of a lot of this vague nonsense. Hereafter it ought to be starkly impossible to say that it makes no difference what a man's creed may be. This country is avowedly in the war because the creed of Germany was all wrong, and its essential wrongness could not be kept out of the nation's daily thought and act. The old view that creed and act could be divorced was about as silly as to argue that it makes no difference whether it be light or dark provided that one can see distinctly. It is not without significance

that such a view should flourish in the age which talked eternally of "progress," by which it seemed frequently to indicate a belief in the glory of going ahead rapidly without being particularly concerned about the place one was going to. We shall have learned little from the war if we are not sent back to the examination of the fundamentals on which our daily life reposes. It seems inevitable that some such re-examination of the bases of life should be made; for we are witnessing the collapse of many things which our comfortable old existence took for granted. Like the diplomat and the soldier, the financier and the socialist, the Christian has got to face new conditions. We shall all be forced back to the fundamentals. As Christians we shall have to return to faith as the solution of the bitter problem of sinor we shall have to go out of business. And first the Church must wake to the realization that she is no longer in a world that takes kindly to her, but is in the midst of a warfare with that world, and that her greatest enemy to-day is the one with whom, under the name of broad-mindedness, she has parleyed so long, atheism.

If there is anyone to whom all this seems ill-natured and unreasonable, let him consider the present state of the British novel or the British drama. British novelists and dramatists are not, in truth, philosophers, but that is the very reason why they are so significant. Your popular novelist has vastly more to do with forming the views of the public than has the philosopher. He can destroy with a smile or a mot a whole attitude of mind. If you want to cure a boy of sixteen of a preposterous love-affair, you do not argue with him about the validity of human passions; you try to make the affair seem ridiculous. That is the very policy adopted by Messrs. Wells and Shaw with regard to the established Church. Orthodoxy is sometimes in danger of being laughed out of court. Mr. Wells is so busy just now creating a god of his own that he hasn't much time for laughter; but he can still sneer. The Bishop in his latest novel, said to stand for the whole Church of England, has the soul of "a tame rabbit." Indeed, we are all, it may be feared, tame rabbits to Mr. Wells. But there is hope for the

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warren, if it will only, like the Bishop, learn the " authority "in religion. So much for the old faith.

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Mr. Shaw's interpretation of Christianity is even less palatable than Mr. Wells's contempt for it. Four years ago the dramatist fluttered all the pious souls in England and America by laughing at the early martyrs in Androcles and the Lion. It was quite unnecessary to get angry at this comedy, for it was undeniably funny, and a good play in spots. It was easy for the Shavians to tell the unco' guid that their master was only laughing at certain weaknesses in contemporary Christianity which are perhaps no worse for an occasional smile. But it was different when Androcles appeared in print. Mr. Shaw prefaced his play with an introduction in which he kindly consented to tell the modern reader what he ought to think about Christianity. Among all the amazing documents that have appeared in "explanation" of the faith, this is certainly one of the most amazing. In it Jesus Christ is set forth as a cynical young carpenter with a bitter tongue and an obviously Fabian view of society. Shaw had looked into the face of Deity and beheld his own image. The conclusion which the author invited the reader to accept was as simple as it was astonishing. The reader was not asked to regard the carpenter of Nazareth as God almighty; he was asked to regard him as George Bernard Shaw. Those who know Mr. Shaw well realised that this was a sort of direct compliment, since, obviously, the noblest thing which the author could think of Christ was that He was a man like unto himself. The Biblical criticism of the essay was sadly at fault, to be sure, but this did not trouble the Shavians, who were delighted at the discomfiture of the orthodox. It is really not without a profound significance that every teacher, however right-headed or wrong-headed he may be, should find in Christ a manifestation of all that he holds most sacred, and should claim Him as his own. Emperors have inscribed the Name upon their banners, and anarchists have cheered "the good Sansculotte."

It would be possible to go on indefinitely with illustrations of the contempt of the faith as set forth in current literature. Mrs. Gerould, in writing of the whole school of contemporary

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