Science in Christian Perspective



Frank A. Houser, M.A.

From: JASA 6 (September 1954): 28-29

Observer after observer of the contemporary American scene has remarked on the loneliness of modern man and his consequent "quest for community". Phrases like "wish for recognition," "desire to belong," "other orientation," and "status drives" are commonly used to describe his search. He lives in a society marked by constant flux in values, in physical and social location, and in institutional forms. Where can a man turn when families are transitory in so many ways, when neighborhoods and friends break up with increasing frequency, when. communities seem moved by some inexorable law to become so large that he becomes a digit, when even his religious and moral beliefs are elbowed over the precipice into the morass of relativism? Having been gradually edged away from stable social relations which ministered to his fundamental need of fellowship modem man now cries in a strange, crowded wilderness. In Eric Forom's words, he longs to "escape from freedom." A frantic few turn to bizarre behavior before the public at large. Some sell out to a tangible dictatorship where "agonizing reappraisals" are made for them. Most modern Americans caught in the vortex of the urban-industrial milieu grope around in an attempt to preserve some of the uniqueness they possess as persons, and simultaneously "join ... .. conform," and "socialize" in their quest for community. 0 7 the other hand there is the danger of stark individuality sensed so keenly. On the other hand there is a rea tyranny of "mass society"-the realm of "group-think' where society is king and every man an amorphous blob.

It is not surprising that much social research is being turned toward aiding men learn to live in groupsto help them develop as persons while simultaneously the group becomes a harmonious whole. This is, putting it mildly, a large order. It is something religious groups are supposed to do. If social science has any success in this direction it will be of considerable service to groups everywhere.

As a matter of fact a surprising amount of very h elpf ul insight has already issued forth from social scientists. The term "group dynamics" is being used to connote studies in this field. A bibliography of works in this area has been compiled by W. Holcomb and is xvw1able in the January-February 1954 issue of Religious Education. For the reader who wants a quick summary of the type of contributions from the group dynamics people there is a very readable account in Theology Today, January 1954. See Theodore Wedel's article entitled "The Group Dynamics Movement and the Church."

Techniques used in group dynamics studies point toward stimulating participation and personal involvement in group life. The assumption is that we become persons in community. Every teacher who is permissive in some degree in the classroom can testify how real learning takes place as the student becomes involved in a discussion. He is no longer just a studenthe is a person actively enmeshed in learning. Thus it is that such techniques as discussion, leadership skills, "buzz sessions," circular seating, and so on enter the group dynamics arsenal. I have found buzz sessions particularly helpful in enlisting the student's interest as well as making the subject relevant to him. It works this way. A large class or group is divided either before the lecture or at its close into small groups of not more than five or six. A question is proposed by the lecturer or chairman, and ten minutes is allotted for discussion. Each "huddle" group digs into the question. It is a real joy to see students who would never venture a word in a class discussion get so involved in their small face-to-face group that they often develop leadership in the group-and become lively learners in the process. After the buzz session each small group reports to the chairman. Genuinely aroused interest is an almost inevitable result.

Not only interest but understanding often results. Mention should be made of Lloyd McCorkle's real suc cess in group therapy with prison inmates. Work is also proceeding with psychiatric cases.

Fascinating stories can be told of how problem situations were solved by use of these techniques. This is to say that not only does the individual become a person in the decision process of the group, but the group comes to remarkable harmony to boot. During the last war attempts were made through public lectures to acquaint women with the nutritional as well as patriotic value involved in using certain meat substitutes at the family table. Progress was very slow until lectures were dropped in favor of discussion groups guided by carefully trained leaders. Success was astounding. But after all, those women had made their own decision; no one had dictated to them.

The work of group dynamics is clearly of pertinence to the church of Christ. If the children of light are brought into closer fellowship with one another then both their own needs as well as the cause of Christ will have been served. Of course, there are qualifications to be made on the group dynamics movement. Wedel summarizes it nicely for us. "Are there dangers in authoritarian surrender, Yes, of course. Participation soon runs into the necessity of limits and boundaries to freedom. Social chaos is a possibility. All human life is under authority-the authority of natural and revealed law, as also of the wisdom of science and of tradition. Authoritarianism needs to be distinguished from it. In the Church, obviously, no democracy, even of saints, can replace the authority of God, or of the Ten Commandments, or of the Gospel. But there are, even in a community of Christians, large areas in which we are left free. Surely a Woman's Guild in a parish might be given the privilege of participation in the life of God's people beyond deciding whether ham or chicken is to be on the menu of the next parish supper."

I. OP. Cit. P. 520.

Wheaton College Wheaton, Illinois August 4, 1954