Science in Christian Perspective
Frank E. Houser, M.A.
From JASA 9 (March 1957): 18-19.
In the past this columnist has been content to report the theoretical formulations and research results in sociology which would be of interest to Christian men of science. In so doing we emphasized the cutting edge of contemporary research. Perhaps it is now time to place before us-for one issue-some of the funded knowledge in sociology which has marked importance for Christians.
One of the most significant set of propositions about our contemporary society is that delineating power. If what the sociologists are saying is true regarding the directive elements in our society, then evangelical Christendom faces an abrupt change in its ideas of ethics.
As a background to understanding the concentrations of power now residing in the giants of industry, labor, and government it is necessary to recall the rapid change from a chiefly rural to a chiefly urban way of living wherein the cohesive bonds of family life gradually eroded. New primary associations grew up, such as the gang, the drug store crowd, the lodge, and the union. After all, with the family losing its functions of economic production, recreation, education, protection and even religion there were other groups formed to take the interest of the family members. We now find ourselves in a "sea of influence" where powerful cross currents are commonly encountered.
The new groupings in out industrial society have become gigantic in size. Production, recreation, education, protection-to mention some of the functions largely lost by the family-are now vast bureaucratic structures. We now speak of the entertainment industry, the educational system.
Our basic needs are now met by institutional complexes too large and complex for any man to understand. And our attitudes to life itself have been heavily affected by the media of mass persuasion-themselves intricate commericial organizations. All this is what Frederick Allen, the late editor of Harpers Magazine, called the "big change." The outstanding economist, Kenneth Boulding, has coined the term, "the organizational revolution." Industry is organized in the form of gigantic corporations, labor in nationwide unions, farmers in powerful pressure groups, even doctors in a monolithic voice, the American Medical Association.
The struggle for power as these pressure groups serve their own interests is focussed most often in the political arenas of state and national government. But power struggles are often as vivid inside these bureaucratic groups as men climb or miss the notches to seniority.
These extensive organizational structures with their inherent power make decisions that determine a great deal of our acting and thinking.
These observations on our society I believe to be accurate. I pass over the question of whether or not it is a desirable state. Suffice it to say it is probably here to stay a while. What is of more concern to me at this point is the revolution in ethics this view requires. Assuming religion makes a difference in a man's morals, this contemporary social situation knocks into the proverbial cocked hat the idea that Christian influence is adequately expressed through personal relations. As Rasmussen put it in Christian Social Ethics, ".. . being kind and faithful in the family, or pleasant and generous among one's vocational associates, or a friendly next-door-neighbor does not add up to effective influence in organizational and political structures that make the policies that determine the patterns of our society." He maintains that personal good will will not produce the good social organization.
Not long ago Kermit Eby, writing an article entitled "The Glass Top Desk" in Christianity Today, raised the kind of question we all now ask: "How can we give meaning to our Judeo-Christian ethic in a society that is increasingly complex, with decisions ever further removed from the persons affected by them?"
One answer left for us is a Christian social action that deals with power and influence at the level where it works-the organizational level. This means cooperative influence through such church, religious, or even secular organizations as are ready and able to do the job. This action is going to require an explanation to the folks back in the pew as well as the pastor who are not yet cognizant where the sources of power lie or how to deal with them.
This view of ethics will also affect one's idea of religion-the base of ethics. As a matter of fact it becomes
apparent that when Christianity is summed up as one's
devotional life with Christ it becomes a part truth. No
matter how much we would like to escape into the bliss
of communion with Christ, the gospel demands active outreach to our people and their patterns of living.
This does not always present the most pleasant prospect. It demands decisions which
are sometimes agonizing. It is far from bliss. Unless contemplation and
action are mutually instructive we stand in danger of either religion without ethics or
ethics without religion.
February 12, 1957