A Pulpit Criticism of "Looking Backward."
Preaching at Dunedin lately on the Communistic experiment in the early Church at .Jerusalem, the Rev A. R. Fitchett said that it was necessary to the success of an experiment of this nature that all who took part in it should be equally animated by the spirit of unselfish devotion to the common good. For a time this seems to have been so in the Jerusalem Church. Its members "sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men as every man had need." As long as the enthusiasm of brotherly love generated at the Pentecost endured, "the whole multitude were of one heart and soul, neither said any of them that aught of things that he possessed was his own, but they had all things common." There are indications in the history, however, that the self sacrifice demanded by Communism was not manifested in equal degree by all. Consider the import of the Ananias and Sapphira inefdent, and of the " murmuring " that arose inone section of the church against the other "because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration." Evidently the strain which the system put on selfish human nature was I severe. Ifcisindispensabletotheexistencejof a Communistic society that all its members should be true to the same lofty ideal— utter self-effacement. Failing that, such a society must become. the prey of the idler, the loafer, the impostor. Possibly this was the fate of the Communistic ; society at Jerusalem. We know at any rate that it did not continue, and that before disappearing it fell into great poverty, for we read of a relief fund raised in the Gentile churches for its benefit. We have recently had presented to us a glowing picture of human society reconstructed on Communistic principles. Nobody has any money, yet everybody is rich ; nobody is idle, yet everybody has abundant leisure ; nobody takes thought for the morrow, because the material wellbeing of everybody is assured from the cradle to the grave. This fascinating picture is to be realised, not by kindling again in men's hearts the spiritual enthusiasm and devoted self-sacrifice of Apostolic Christianity, but by means merely of certain political and economic changes, men themselves remaining as they are. All property is to be thrown into a common fund ; the nation is to be formed into one vast joint stock company, all the shareholders in which will contribute equally—by serving a fixed term in the "industrial army," and will receive an equal dividend —namely, provision for all their wants'. But before we can reach this equality it is clear that the rich must be stripped.of the advantages of wealth and leisure that they now possess, either surrendering them voluntarily or being deprived by force. In " Looking Backward" the j idea of a resort to force is repudiated. | The writer sees quite well that there s j could be no stability in an order of society | based upon the redistribution of wealth by violence. Class hatreds would continue, and what had once been the prize of revolution might become so again. The writer supposes that the rich "will surrender their wealth voluntarily, induced thereto by the ordinary motives:of self-interest, in combination with such sentiments of general benevolence as are native to us all. C«uld any supposition be wilder 1 A rich man, whose life is now spent in idleness and self-indulgence —a round of the club, the opera, the ballroom, hunting, shooting, luxurious travel, —agreeably varied by such public duties as yield their own reward by ministering to his vanity or ambition ; this man is to I
ep down from his position of privilege, and take his place in the ranks of the industrial army by the side, perhaps, of the laborers who used to till Inn lands, he and they receiving precisely the same remuneration. To expect of men as we know them this heroic self-sacrifice is to expect grapes of thorns and figs of thistles. There is, indeed, the promise to the world of a regenerated and reconstructed human society, in which all men shall be brothers, but it can only come when all men have learned the spirit of brotherhood in the school of Christ. Given a whole nation filled with this spirit, as, for a time, the Communistic Christians at Jerusalem were filled with it, and the ideal commonwealth of "Looking Backward" might be realised, but assuredly on no other conditions. Socialism desires Christian results without Christian methods— the fruit without the tree. The Cross of Christ represents the sacrifice of one for all, the individual for the society, and this, in its highest forms and best living examples, has always been practical Christianity. But note the contrast with Socialism. Christianity teaches the sacrifice of the individual for the society; Socialism, on the contrary, seeks to employ the whole force of organised society to secure the selfish ends of the individnal. The difference is vital; it can hardly be doubted along which line lies the true hope for the world.
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A Pulpit Criticism of "Looking Backward.", Ashburton Guardian, Volume VII, Issue 2471, 22 July 1890
A Pulpit Criticism of "Looking Backward." Ashburton Guardian, Volume VII, Issue 2471, 22 July 1890
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