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Home » Theology & Philosophy » The Evolution of My Social Concern

The Evolution of My Social Concern

James Luther Adams

James Luther Adams

I was reared in a Plymouth Brethren home where the name of Darby was a household word and where the Scofield Reference Bible, with its heilsgeschichtliche footnotes on the dispensations was the daily food. Indeed, the food at table always followed the spiritual repast of the Bible-reading. In accord with Scofield’s footnotes, my father’s constant attention was devoted to interpreting apocalyptically the signs of the times. This whole apparatus, and even the interest in the Bible, disappeared from my consciousness for a time when evolutionary humanism and then classical humanism (under Irving Babbitt) took their place.

Considering the early training, I find it no accident that following upon my student years at Harvard in theology my experiences in the face of Naziism assumed crucial significance. I would like to ask your indulgence here as I relate an incident of some importance for me. In the summer of 1927, six years after Hitler became head of the movement and six years before the Party came into power, I visited Nuremberg just at the time when thousands of people, young and old, were in the city for the annual Nazi festival. On the day of the great parade in the streets of Nuremberg, history as it was being made at that juncture gave me personally a traumatic jolt. Standing in the jostling crowd and watching the thousands of singing Nazis with their innumerable brass bands as they passed along the street, I inadvertently got into a conversation with some people who turned out to be Nazi sympathizers. Out of curiosity as to what they would say, I asked a bystander the meaning of the swastika that was everywhere evident. Within a few minutes I found myself in a heated conversation with more and more people joining in, particularly when the discussion turned to the Jewish question. As I bore down in the argument against these defenders of Nazism, asking more and more insistent questions, I was suddenly seized by the elbows from behind, and pulled vehemently out of the crowd. No one made an effort to help me. I immediately thought I was being taken into custody. I could not see who it was—who, after extricating me from crowd, marched me vigorously down a side street and then turned up into an alley. On reaching the dead end of the alley, my host, a young German workingman in his thirties, wheeled me und and shouted at me, “Don’t you know that when you watch a parade in Germany today you either keep your mouth shut or get your head bashed in?”

My palpitation mounted even higher at this moment, and I was all the more puzzled when my captor smiled and said, “Don’t be frightened. I have saved you.”

“Saved me from what?”

“From being sandbagged. In about five minutes more of that argument on the curb, they would have knocked you out, flat on the pavement.”

This man was an unemployed worker and an anti-Nazi. He immediately invited me to take dinner with him at his home. I accepted gladly. Then came the second shock: the walk into the slums, the trudge up four flights of a rundown tenement house, where some of the stairs were missing, and even some of the bannisters. The dinner was just as far from normal. In the few hours I spent with this man and his family I learned at first hand about the Sitz im Leben of the rising Nazism.

The experiences in Germany during that summer became crucial for me, but they did not assume full significance in my consciousness until in the middle Thirties I spent some months in the so-called “underground” movement of the Confessing Church in Germany. Meanwhile, I had resumed graduate studies at Harvard. These were years in which my acquired religious liberalism came under the scrutiny that we associate with that period in American Protestantism. The awareness of the thinness of its theology was in part stimulated by the Whiteheadean concern for metaphysics, by Irving Babbitt’s vigorous attack upon Romantic conceptions of human nature, and by von Huegel’s emphasis upon the theological, the historical, the institutional, and the devotional elements in Christianity. The depression and the early Roosevelt years, along with a markedly unideological interest in the writings of Marx, an increasing interest in the problems of unemployment and of the labor movement, participation as a minister in the activities incident to the great textile strike in Salem, Massachusetts—all these things conspired to develop a social concern, both theoretical and practical, which had previously been relatively peripheral. At the same time, the awareness of the fissiparous individualism and the unprophetic character of conventional middle-class, humanitarian religious liberalism served to increase my concern for the nature and mission of the church and especially for the ecclesiola in ecclesia as indispensable for the achievement of significant and costing consensus relevant to the historical situation.

Some of us Unitarian ministers initiated a study group just before I went to Germany in 1927. The group undertook a vigorous year-round discipline of reading, discussion, and the writing of papers. We collectively studied major literature of the time in the fields of theology, Bible, historical theology, social philosophy, art, liturgy, prayer, ever seeking consensus and seeking common disciplines whereby we could implement consensus in the church and the community. During one entire summer, for example, we read thoroughly and discussed at length Troeltsch’s Social Teaching of the Christian Churches. Reinhold Niebuhr and Karl Mannheim, of course, figured largely in our study. Such groups have increased through the years, they continue in several parts of the country. I speak of this group discipline here, because in my conviction the concern for group participation and group responsibility became increasingly crucial in the quest for identity.

These multiple concerns were brought to a convergence by my second, more prolonged visit to Europe, a year of study of theology, of prayer and liturgy, of fascism and its persecution of the churches. During a period of several months at the Sorbonne, also at the Protestant theological faculty, and at the Catholic Institute, I lived in the home of a retired professor of the Sorbonne. Another paying guest in this home was a right-wing nationalist student. Many an hour we spent arguing the issues between democracy and fascism. I soon became aware of the fact that he would hesitate not a moment to shoot me down in cold blood if his wave of the future came to flood tide. I cannot enter here into detail about the experiences of those days. Listening to lectures daily at the hands of a liberal theologian, of an orthodox Calvinist, and of the principal Parisian Barthian—none of them making any analytic effort to interpret the signs of the times, signs that were the chief interest of the secularists—the Fascists and the Marxists. Meanwhile, I was also under the tutelage of an eminent Jesuit spiritual director at the Roman Catholic Seminary of Saint-Sulpice. Each week I posed my questions on prayer, and the following week he answered them. But always I felt the gap between the cultivation of mental prayer and the bludgeonings of a period of history that was swiftly moving into the storms of our time. I recall an experience not dissimilar to the one of 1927 in Nuremberg. Early one morning I went to the Pantheon to watch the formation of a United Front parade. When it began to move, I could not get out of the jam. Willy nilly I marched; no escape was possible. Every cross street was filled with crowds of people, obstructed also by a police cordon. For two hours I marched, pushed along as if I had been seized by the elbows and at every moment seeing people giving the Communist salute from the lows of the buildings. On the day when Hitler marched into the Rhineland, I was in the home of Edgar Ansel Mowrer. We stayed up all night.

It is perhaps not surprising that soon after this in Geneva I adopted the counsel of the young Visser ët Hooft. “You are to study in the German universities? I hope that is not all! I am going to give you the advice that I constantly give to churchmen going to Germany. But none of them takes my advice. I say you should get into the underground of the Confessing churches and learn the meaning of the Synod of Barmen.”

I took his advice, though I also attended the lectures of Bultmann and Heiler, of Jaspers and Barth and Brunner, of Heim and even of Wilhelm Hauer, the founder of the German Faith Movement. I cannot here narrate the melodramatic experiences of the underground, largely in company with or under the auspices of a former Harvard friend, Peter Brunner, who had served time in the Dachau Concentration Camp and who is now Professor of Theology at Heidelberg. For several months, during an interim, I spent two or more hours a day with the retired Rudolf Otto at Marburg, at the same time taking the lectures of Bultmann and others in the University. In view of my connections with leaders in the Confessing Church, Rudolf Otto saw to it that I should get acquainted with German Christians, Nazis among the clergy whom he deemed to be insane.

It is extremely difficult to pass over a description of the maelstrom of this whole experience in Germany, an experience that brought fearful encounter with the police and even a frightening encounter two years later with the Gestapo. The ostensible charge made by the Gestapo was that I was violating the law by walking on the street with a deposed Jewish teacher and by visiting a synagogue. The word existential came alive in those hours of bludgeoned questioning and of high palpitation. It is difficult, I say, to suppress giving an account of incidents in connection with the Nazis, the anti-Nazis, and the hidden underlings. It is even more difficult to determine how to compress into brief statement what all this did for the evolution of my “social concern.”

One way to do this is in terms of the ideological battles, specifically in terms of symbols. The ideological battle, as Schelling would say, was a war of the gods, a war between myths. Here I express indebtedness to Paul Tillich, whose reputation and writing I began to encounter at this time, seeing in him a German counterpart to Reinhold Niebuhr. I wish I could pause here to speak of the lectures of Jaspers and Heidegger and Bultmann. But let me hasten on. As between Bultmann and Otto, I was the more greatly attracted to Otto. The gnostic existentialism of Bultmann, despite his heroic stand against Hitler, did not speak directly to my condition. Like others in the Confessing church, he possessed only an abstract conception of concreteness and decision with respect to positive action in history. Indeed, his aversion to concern for the historical Jesus and his preference for kerygma alone seemed to me to be part and parcel of a really inchoate non-historical outlook, despite the frequent admonition of openness to the future. His concern for anthropology to the exclusion of ontology seemed to me to urge the cart without the horse. The increasing criticism of Bultmann today, even among his quondam disciples, insists on a more historical understanding of history, on the resumption of the quest for the historical Jesus, and the centrality of ontology.

What gave focus to the whole experience in Germany was Rudolf Otto’s The Kingdom of God and the Son of Man. The conception of kingdom as more than judgment, as redemptive dynamics, as seed that grows of itself in struggle against the demonic powers, Son of Man as suffering servant, the kingdom as both present and future—all of this represented a turning point away from the eschatology of Schweitzer. In the course of studying simultaneously the anti-prophetic organic symbolism of the Nazi myth, I like everyone else, became more vividly aware than hitherto of the role of myth in religion and culture, but more specifically I became aware of the types of symbolism. Later on I was to recognize the ontological significance of myth, particularly at the hands of Schelling, Tillich, and Heidegger. Later on, too, I was to see the anthropological significance of symbolism—the view that language was a decisive medium for the expression of the freedom of man. But at the time I was particularly frustrated by the pietistic, individualistic symbolism of Kierkegaard and of American individualism. Heinrich Frick of Marburg (whom I saw a great deal) suggested in his Vergleichende Religionswissenschaft a distinction between symbols drawn from history—dynamic symbols oriented to time—and symbols drawn from nature—static symbols oriented to space. The pertinence of dynamic symbolism had earlier been impressed upon me by the study of Whitehead.

But more significant than this sort of typology was the distinction between symbols that relate the concept of the kingdom of God to the inner life or the life of the individual and that relate the concept of the Kingdom of God to institutions, that is, to the church and to other institutions. Quite decisive for me was the recognition of the political character of Biblical symbolism. As political, this symbolism, particularly in the Old Testament, expressed the sovereignty of God over all of life, including the institutional structures. From this time on I saw, with the aid of Troeltsch, the narrowing of Christian obligation which in Lutheranism resulted from the two-kingdom theory—a bifurcation of political symbolism which makes a dichotomy between the church and culture and thus reduces tension between them.

In conjunction with a doctrine of vocation oriented only to daily work, the two-kingdom theory released the eschatological tension and also prevented the doctrine of vocation from including dynamic political obligation. Likewise, the merely interpersonal emphasis on the priesthood of all believers crowded out dynamic functioning of a doctrine of the prophethood of all believers in the face of institutions. In contrast to this institutional orientation of political symbolism, one can readily observe the merely interpersonal orientation of the doctrine of justification by faith or the doctrine of forgiveness. I still offer a prize to students in my classes if they can bring in a report that the Sunday morning Lutheran Hour on TV finds any symbol of the power or the demand of God other than the power and the demand of God to forgive. It is difficult to work out a social ethics on the basis of a doctrine of forgiveness. Toward this end, the doctrine must be related to political symbolism. One must emphasize, of course, that both the personal and the institutional belong together in soteriology and in a theological anthropology. To separate them is to violate the sovereignty of God. One sees these two corresponding forms of distortion in Kierkegaard and Marx. Both of these thinkers are unthinkable without the Bible, but in their reduction of ethics exclusively to the personal or to the institutional they are both of them unbiblical. Looking at them, one must say there is nothing so much like a swelling as a hole. Kierkegaard, despite his astute attack upon so-called Christendom, is in Christian circles a form of infidelity to the sovereignty of God over institutions, a sophisticated form of pietism, that is, a form of political and ecclesiastical irresponsibility. In industrial society, pietism tends to support by default the primacy of the economic life over the political.

These considerations underscore the fact that Christians possess almost infinite capacities of dissolving the political symbolism of covenant and kingdom. These forms of dissolution include the reduction of Christian ethics to personalism, systematic theology that has no reference to institutions, psychotherapy that possesses no sociological framework, abstract existentialism that talks about concreteness and decision but does not drive towards actualizing concreteness and decision in the social-historical situation.

Why is it so extremely easy for Christians to become pietistic, in the sense that they see little connection between Christian ethics and structural institutional analysis or between Christian ethics and responsibility for the character and influence of economic and political institutions? One reason for this is the ease with which pietism can appeal for sanction to the Gospels. The first sentence of Troeltsch’s Social Teaching of the Christian Churches asserts that primitive Christianity was not a social movement. In one of his long essays, The Social Philosophy of Christianity, he argues that primitive Christianity had no social philosophy, no articulated theology of social institutions which could provide a critical and positive interpretation of ongoing economic and political institutions. Accordingly, he asserts that early Christianity turned to pagan natural-law doctrine in search of a basis for a social philosophy. I do not need to examine this issue here. I would like to say only that the angelology and the doctrine of Christ the King recently under debate among New Testament scholars offers some challenge to Troeltsch’s view. A masterly essay by G. Dehn on the doctrine of the Kingship of Christ appeared in the Barth Festschrift of 1936; through the years I have asked my students to familiarize themselves with my translation of this essay. According to this view, the state, for example, is seen to be in a fallen condition and under the aegis of fallen angels; under Christ the King, it and other social forces are the end to be restored to their essential nature. Thus salvation is for society as well as for the individual. In a recent essay, Amos Wilder has suggested that the doctrine of the Kingship of Christ could serve as a new Christian theological basis for Rauschenbusch’s Social Gospel. I mention this here only in order to suggest that a continuing problem for Christian ethics is the place of political symbolism. The Nazi movement and the Communist movement have given new urgency to the explication of the political symbolism of the Bible and of later articulations of Christian ethics. It is striking to observe how little the Bultmann School has contributed to contemporary understanding of the political symbolism of the Bible. One must question the adequacy of the Heideggerian anthropology as a framework for demythologizing the Gospel.

I must now return to consider another aspect of the impact of Nazism upon my social concern. This consideration, if fully set forth, would entail the discussion of the sociology of religion, the philosophy of history, the relations between Christianity and democracy, as well between Christianity and capitalism and religious socialism. But I must spare you the full rehearsal of those themes. I must be highly selective.

Let me repeal reticence so far as to say that the experience of Nazism induced a kind of conversion. I recall a conversation with Karl Jaspers at his home one day in Heidelberg in 1936. I asked him what he deemed to be the contemporary significance of liberal Christianity. He replied with unwonted vehemence, “Religious liberalism has no significance. It has Zwang—no costing commitment.”

He was thinking of the liberals who had become German Christians (Nazis), the while overlooking the impotence and silence of orthodoxy and neo-orthodoxy in the burgeoning period of Nazism, overlooking also the collaboration of the Catholic Center Party and the Vatican with Fascism and Nazism—a collaboration that is now at last receiving candid discussion precisely in Catholic circles in Germany. So Jaspers now offered me some advice. “If I were a young man of liberal preferences today, I would return to the most orthodox branch of my heritage.”

Immediately I asked him if he planned to do this himself. He flushed, he blushed, and replied, “I am not making a personal confession. I am giving you a sociological judgment.” So spoke the pupil of Max Weber!

I did in those days recover a sense of the centrality of the Bible and of the decisive role in history of both the sacramental and the prophetic elements. I mention only in passing here the influence of Christian art, and especially of Bach, upon me. In addition, I pressed upon myself the question, “If Fascism should arise in the States, what in your past performance would constitute a pattern or framework of resistance?” I could give only a feeble answer to the question. My principal political activities had been the reading of the newspaper and voting. I had preached sermons on the depression or in defense of strikers. Occasionally, I uttered protests against censorship in Boston, but I had no adequate conception of citizen participation.

I must now turn to this theme. The German universities, supposedly independent entities, had been fairly easily Nazified. My American acquaintance, Edward Yarnall Hartshorne, later killed in Marburg when serving as American Military Government director of the universities at Hesse-Nassau, wrote a well documented account of the Nazification of the universities: The German Universities and National Socialism (Harvard University Press, 1937). Hitler also liquidated the trade unions. The persecuted Confessional Seminary I attended in Elberfeld occupied an abandoned Masonic building. The order was forbidden to hold meetings. Repeatedly I heard anti-Nazis say, If only 1,000 of us in the late twenties had combined in heroic resistance, we could have stopped Hitler. I noticed the stubborn resistance of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I observed also the lack of religious pluralism in a country that had no significant Nonconformist movement in the churches. Gradually I came to the conviction that a decisive institution of the viable democratic society is the voluntary association as a medium for the assumption of civic responsibility. Ernst Troeltsch’s treatment of voluntarism of associations, his account of the free-church movement and of the associational creativity of the Calvinists began to flood back into memory. I read Max Weber’s Proposal for the Study of Voluntary Associations and his typology of Associations. In his “Proposal” Weber said it had been the genius of the Prussian government to drain off the national energies into Singing Academies, thus diverting attention away from public policy and from civic responsibility. More than Troeltsch, I, the former sectarian (Plymouth Brethren), began to appreciate the role of the aggressive sect in Western history and of its grandchild, the secular voluntary association concerned with public policy.

You will forgive me if I mention here quickly the important ingredients of this development of social concern. I plunged into voluntary associational activity, concerning myself with race relations, civil liberties, housing problems. I joined with newly formed acquaintances in the founding of the Independent Voters of Illinois, I began to learn at first hand about Moral Man and Immoral Society. I traveled to Washington fairly often to consult with men like Adlai Stevenson, Jonathan Daniels, and Harold Ickes regarding Chicago politics. At the same time I participated in precinct organization, becoming a doorbell ringer and also consulting with party leaders in the back rooms. There is nothing intrinsically unusual about all this. It was only unusual for the Protestant churchman or clergyman. Equally significant for me was the new motivation for sociological understanding. The social sciences acquired an existential quality; and increasingly they figured in my thinking, in my associations, and in my courses.

Moreover, this combination of impulses conditioned my historical studies. I turned to the history of the Radical Reformation, to the influence of English Independency and Quakerism on the rise of democracy. From Bourgeaud I first learned to appreciate the epic sweep of what Whitehead had called the diffusion of opportunity and what I called the dispersion of power, the capacity to participate in social decision. Here with considerable excitement I pursued the theme through modern history—the transfer of radical concern from the Independents and the Levellers to the initiation of rationally devised public agitation and to the initiation of political parties, the spread of this voluntarism into education, and under Methodist leadership the rise of the British labor movement, and so on. In a memorable address by Whitehead before the American Academy of Sciences in 1941, he spoke of the gap between Statesmanship and Learning, between the processes of social coordination and the activities of the vocations and professions. The voluntary association in manifold ways fills in these gaps. Indeed, voluntary association stands between the individual and the state, providing the opportunity for achievement and implementation of consensus. It provides, alas, other opportunities, depending on the goals, the constituency, the internal organization of the association. I can mention here the American Medical Association, the name of James Hoffa, or the Board of Trustees of a suburban church in captivity.

Max Weber adumbrated a philosophy of history in terms of his typology of authority—traditionalist, rational legal, and charismatic (relying here in part upon Sohm’s Kirchenrecht). Troeltsch offered a typology of religious associations—church, sect, and mystical type—which became the basis of a philosophy of church history. He has also offered a typology of Christian political theory, arranged according to the degree of reliance upon individual spontaneity or upon the external shaping disciplines. In a general way, all of these philosophies of history may be traced back to Joachim of Flora’s theory of the three ages of the church, but more immediately the father of this associational theory of history and its periods is Otto von Gierke. In his magnum opus Genossenschaftsrecht, we may recognize a special kind of anthropology. Men are associating beings. Their differences may be determined by observing the associations they form, and by observing the relations between their voluntary and their involuntary associations, the types of participation they give to these associations. Accordingly, Gierke offers a theory of the periodization of Western history from the time of Charlemagne to the eighteenth century, a theory that characterizes the periods in terms of the dominant types of association.

Now the ramifications of associational theory are of course manifold. Maitland and Jenks have traced the history of England in terms of associational theory and practice. Gierke and Fred Carney have shown the great significance of the Calvinist Althusius for Protestant theory. Troeltsch and Weber really presuppose Gierke in their works. H. Richard Niebuhr in his neo-Troeltschean work on the Social Sources of Denominationalism traces the development of Protestantism in terms of the structure and dynamics of associations.

I would like now at the end to list some theses and some problems. First, some theses very briefly put.

Considering the associational character of human existence, we may say that the social meaning of a theological idea is to be determined in a crucial way by the type of association it calls for in the minds of the believers. Here we have a special application of the pragmatic theory of meaning. By their groups, their associational fruits, shall ye know them. If the theological or the theological ethical commitment does not issue in associational preference or transformation, it is to this extent not yet clear or meaningful.

Let me give two illustrations. R. B. Braithwaite, the British linguistic philosopher, in his book An Empiricist Approach to Religion argues that we can determine the meaning of Christianity by observing its consequence for behavior. To be a Christian, he says, means that one is committed to an agapeistic way of life. This view, like Bultmann’s openness to the future, is extremely abstract. A Roman Catholic, a Presbyterian, and a Quaker might provisionally agree with Braithwaite. But consider the wide breach of differences they exhibit in their doctrines of the church. We can most quickly determine the meaning of a theological outlook by examining its doctrine of the church.

A second illustration. H. Richard Niebuhr has offered a typology of the relations between Christ and Culture. Here he gives the now familiar rubrics Christ Against Culture, Christ Over Culture, Christ Transforming Culture. The rubrics are scarcely sufficient. Within each of these classifications one can find a considerable variety of associational theories, and in several of the classifications one can find thinkers who would hold very similar associational theories. This fact shows us, on the one hand, that no timeless associational theory may be taken as definitively normative for the Christian. On the other hand, one does not know enough about a particular type of Christian ethos at a given time if one does not know the type of associational arrangements that are preferred. From this perspective man from Mars could be misled if he accepted William Adams Brown’s claim that the Protestant and the Catholic worship the same God. The man from Mars would do well to look into Sohm’s Kirchenrecht or into K. Barth’s Christengemeinde und Buergergemeinde. At the same time we must say that the Christian ethos can appear in a considerable variety of types of association. To this extent and by this means the Christian ethos is differentiated. It is also differentiated by the types of non-ecclesiastical associations in which the Christian participates. Associational theory contributes to the analysis of meaning by reminding us, “By their groups shall ye know them.” Here the social sciences have their contribution to make by assisting in the study of the types, the structure and dynamics, and the pathology of associations. So much for the pragmatic theory of meaning when applied to associations.

A second thesis I do not need to spell out. Christian vocation extends beyond the job to the church and the community. The means by which the church goes into the world is through the voluntary associations. That is, the responsibility of the Christian is to participate in the associations that define and re-define the actual situation, in the associations that give utterance and body to prophetic protest, and to social change or to social stability in associations that provide the occasion for the Christian and the non-Christian to enter into dialogue and even to achieve a working consensus—in short, in the associations that contribute to the shaping of history. Indeed, it is from these associations that the Christian can carry back to the church experiences, significant facts, informed concerns, insights demanding interpretation at the hands of the koinonia.

Now for some problems.

We do not have, and we probably shall not be able to get, an adequate study of the history of voluntary associational activity in the various countries, including our own. Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., following the lead of de Tocqueville, has outlined the history of American associations under the title of A Nation of Joiners. Great changes with respect to associations have come about in the twentieth century. Many of the changes that were implemented during the nineteenth century within the context of voluntary philanthropic activity have been taken over by the welfare state. There yet remain thousands of associations in the United States. Some of them, like labor unions and the American Medical Association, are scarcely voluntary, and their internal structures exhibit Michel’s iron law of oligarchy—the tendency of political organizations to come under the control of a small group of “eager beavers.” Doctors who deplore the tight bureaucratization despairingly say that in order to break the hierarchy, they would have to expend more energy than they can afford—they trained to be doctors and they want to be doctors. Some of the associations provide the opportunity to cross racial and class lines, in order to work for the general welfare. The NAACP, which has lost some of its dynamic, has done much to elevate the status of the Negro and to extend democracy. Many civic associations function to bring about minor reforms or to serve as watchdogs. On the other hand, many associations serve only special and narrow interests. Pressure groups with enormous budgets enter into collusion in state legislatures and in the national legislature, to promote or obstruct legislation. On the whole, participation in associations concerned with public policy is a middle class phenomenon, and even then in special interest groups. Philanthropic associations in large degree have this middle class constituency. Rev. Robert Cowell of Denver, in his study published in the Harvard Business School Bulletin shows that business and professional people, so far from breaking through class and race barriers, more deeply entrench themselves in their own perspectives by participation in philanthropic and service organizations. Like the churches, voluntary associations of this sort shape the society into isolated grooves or channels. Mirra Komarovsky, in her studies of associations in New York City, shows that the average membership in associations apart from the church is less than one per person. Some indication of the trend in the USA is revealed by the fact that from 1892 to 1948 the percentage of eligible voters who participated in national elections declined from 87 per cent to 57 per cent—hardly credible. This fact alone reveals the character and extent of the opportunity for the operation of the political machine. Komarovsky has suggested that nonmembership and nonparticipation in associations concerned with public policy is the criterion for the appearance of the mass man. Add to these facts the structure and power of the American business corporation community, and the largely centralized control of the mass media of communications, and we see the dimensions of domination in American society; we see the measure of the impotence of the churches in face of the principalities and powers.

I share the conviction that Christian ethics must be promoted in direct confrontation with these principalities and powers. These principalities and powers have to be analyzed with the assistance of the behavioral sciences, which in turn are promoted by persons who, like us, are under the grip, even under the spell of the principalities and powers. From certain quarters we hear the term “the end of the ideologies.” This term itself bespeaks an ideology. If we observe the confusion brought to a focus by the indictment of General Electric, Westinghouse and other corporation executives; if we observe the extreme difficulty one encounters in the attempt to secure basic information regarding poverty in the United States; if we ask the question as to the contribution of the United Fruit Company to the rise of Castro; if we ask the question how the mass media are to be freed from their bondage to the processes of marketing, we should be brought to an awareness of the epochal structural dimensions of our economy, and thus to an awareness of demands that the Lord of history places upon us at this time and in this place.


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