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THE WAR AND THE BIBLE

THE SPIRITUAL PROBLEMS OF THE

WAR

In every country the Great War has created not merely military and economic problems, but also spiritual problems of many aspects. M. Henri Bergson has remarked that upon the outbreak of the war, France at once changed spiritually -- she became like a cathedral, solemn and grave. No one who was in France in those fateful days of August, 1914, could escape that transformation. The air was charged with spiritual awe. A similar effect the War has had in every other country touched by it, though, of course, each has expressed it in its own way. It is not certain to what degree we have been spiritually affected by the War. Perhaps there has not yet been that impact upon our mind and soul, that challenge, that catharsis, which others have experienced, and which has found voice in so many of the literary productions of the past four years. But that it is sure to come, there is not the shadow of a doubt. Man liveth not by bread alone ”- this the War has proved anew. The present struggle de

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mands the help not only of commanders and commissaries but also of poets and philosophers. An American reporter said the other day that the War is nothing but "a colossal merchandising proposition with men instead of materials.” But this is only one way of viewing it and not the most exalted way. The nearer we get to the combat, the more the spiritual problem is sure to weigh upon us.

In the early days of the War, it was thought by many that the whole spiritual problem was a question of the success or failure of Religion. There were those who thought that when they said that the War signified the collapse of Religion or the bankruptcy of the Church, they had settled the matter. As if that removed, solved, or mitigated the problems which on a sudden confronted the spirit of man. Their attitude, however, involved a twofold

error.

In the first place, there is no such thing as an abstract Religion, or an abstract success or failure of Religion. It means absolutely nothing to say that Religion has failed. Religion is two things: first, an interpretation of the world, and second, a mode of life. We might say that men had proved that their particular religion represented a false or baleful view of the world; or we might say that men had shown that their religion had produced a pernicious form of life. But this would contain no affirmation concerning all Religion, and certainly no wholesale condemnation of the religious idea or mode of life. It

merely would affirm something about a certain kind of religion and conduct.

The second error was one of observation. It is clear now that the War, far from killing interest in Religion, has served to spread and intensify it. In European countries this was noticeable at once, and the effect has been felt among us. The literature of the time certainly has proved it.

As a matter of fact, the spiritual problem of the War goes far deeper than the question of the failure of organized Religion, or of any particular form of it. What it consists in is rather the relation of the War to the spiritual and ethical side of life, the compatibility of the phenomena of the War with the ideals underlying our modern civilization. And there is good reason why this spiritual problem should have swiftly become keen and widespread. Civilization never before had been as universal as it was before the outbreak of the War. Nor had the ideals of civilization ever been so universally acknowledged as the proper goal of man. Never before had the practical purpose of Religion been so generally accentuated, its aim to serve not merely as a means of preparing for the hereafter, but as a force making for a better life and a happier world here on earth. Never before had the belief in the unity of civilization and the brotherhood of man become so universally recognized a part of Religion. It is because the War caused such a terrible shock to these ideas of the dominant Civ

** An age

ilization and Religion, that it has made men look up and wonder, forced them to examine afresh the spiritual bases of their lives and the spiritual ideals upon which their civilization has rested.

is dying, and the bell
Rings midnight on a vaster deep.
But over all its waves, once more

The searchlights move, from shore to shore.
And captains that we thought were dead,
And dreamers that we thought were dumb,
And voices that we thought were fled,
Arise, and call us, and we come:
And Search in thine own soul,' they cry;
'For there, too, lurks thine enemy.'

Of course, there are such as believe that all human history is but a series of accidents. There are those who think that all history is the result of economic struggle. For them, the War has no spiritual problems. As they interpret all life in terms of matter, this conflict, with its trials and tragedies, is no exception. The difficulty exists for those only who believe that there is an ascending purpose in human history, who believe that life is not a mere chain of accidents, who believe, in a word, that there is a God in the world, concerned with the evolution of human affairs and the determination of human destiny. It is such who in the face of the War's phenomena are moved to ask again some farreaching questions.

Why does God permit war? Or, does He want war?

What is the purpose of all this misery and slaughter?

Why are so many innocent victims allowed? How shall we explain, for example, the slaying of two such upright and liberty-loving men as the former Russian ministers who one night were assassinated in a Russian hospital?

What has Religion to say on these themes ?

Will men ever cease to engage in such combats, or is it a matter of no moment, from a spiritual point of view, whether they do or no?

These are some of the questions that the War has raised. And one other, which, in a way, is fundamental: What is death, and what the destiny of the dead? After all, the question of the nature of death and of the hereafter is never far from the purlieus of thought. To think about life, is to think about death. The two are interrelated-two sides of the mirror of existence. They interact upon one another. They are linked in our minds—but never so much as when experience has brought the subject near to our hearts. The very multitude of deaths caused by the War has inevitably turned the human mind anew to a contemplation of death, and of all the themes that cluster about it. It was no accident that M. Paul Bourget, in the early days of the War, wrote a story called “The Sense of Death,” and that M. Maeterlinck, who for years had tried to penetrate the veil, should have been stimulated to grapple with the subject more than ever.

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