"Whither Bound?"

FEATURES: "Whither Bound?"


Associate Professor of Speech, University of Michigan

In World War I there was a popular song, sung by American doughboys, which had in it these words: "Where do we go from here?" And back came the answer: "Anywhere from Pike's Peak to Jersey City's pier." This was the sardonic expression of the soldier to indicate that his destination was wholly out of his hands. Some of you graduates also are leaving now, and your destination has not been completely in your hands. It seems appropriate, then, to ask you, "Where do you go from here?" and to pose the question not to you alone but to all of us who know and love and strive to spread this gospel of the soon-coming kingdom. Nor would I confine this question to the literal application alone, but to a far broader con text that embraces all our relationships and activities within the program of the church of God.

Religious Revival Today

The world in which we live tonight no more resembles that of a decade ago than it does that of thirty or forty years ago. To put it literally and tritely, things have changed, and conditions in America pre sent a strange paradox. Let's take a quick look.

The religious revival that began in World War II is still booming; churches are growing at a rate double that of our population increase. Billy Graham has preached to two million people within a year. Not since the days of Sankey and Moody has anything to compare with Graham been seen in the nation. Religion is front-page news in Houston, Detroit, or anywhere. In Stillwater, Oklahoma, a de bate between a Protestant and a Catholic clergyman drew four thousand people to hear arguments concerning the supreme authority in the Christian religion, and Still- water is a small city, a college town. Millions hear a vast assortment of religious radio programs. One prominent Protestant clergyman was startled to learn that a survey showed one and one-half million sets tuned in to his program. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen gets forty-five hundred fan letters a week from his television programs, and even has drawn viewers away from Milton Eerie. Bible sales have been going up in almost a vertical line since 1947. Although all types of books other than religious ones face de creasing sales, the Bible may sell twelve million copies this year. Americans are giving more to church and charity, paying more attention to preachers, leaning more on the Scriptures and religious themes than ever before. We must face it "That old-time religion is back," perhaps not just as it was, but relatively unchanged.

Gustave Le Bon, famed French psychologist and social historian, wrote a book some sixty years ago called The Crowd: A Study of the Mind. In it he said:

"Sudden political revolutions which strike the historian most forcibly are often the least important. The great revolutions are those of manners and thoughts. The true revolutions which transform the destinies of a people are accomplished so slowly that the historians can hardly point to their beginnings."

I submit tonight that we are in the midst of such a revolution.

Nobody Laughed

Millions of Americans saw Senator 'Charles Tobey, at the Kefauver Crime Committee hearings in New York, cry out across the continent for a return to religion, a rebirth of a spiritual concept of our responsibilities. The big and significant thing is that when the elderly Tobey cried forth his jeremiad with tears coursing down his withered cheeks, nobody laughed. A few brief years ago it would have been worth a big laugh. H. Stuart Hughes, teacher of history at Harvard, reviewing a monumental book, Main Currents in Modern Political Thought, by John H. Hollowell, notes in the Saturday Review of Literature that the central thesis of the volume is: "Our only political and social solution lies in a return to Christianity."

And then he adds:

"To one educated in the thirties such a conclusion comes as a shock. Ten or fifteen years ago no self-respecting enlightened individual would have been caught dead with a religious interpretation of anything."

He concludes, "Religion is now the thing."

Nor is this revolution confined in any one spot or among any particular group. There is a rebirth of religious interest in the places where atheism once flourished on our college and university campuses. This semester alone in my speech classes I have had nine speeches voluntarily given by students, the central theme of which was their own deep and heartfelt religious conviction, and no one laughed. In fact, at the conclusion of the recitation hour each one of those students became the center of a group of interested classmates. Before administrative bodies of our State university today is a petition, backed by the chief student organizations on the campus, requesting that a department of religion be set up as part of the regular curriculum. If the statement Goethe once made is true, that "the future of any nation, at any given moment, lies in the opinion of its youth under twenty-five years of age," it would appear that American youth are moving in the right direction. Atheism is not at the present time a popular doctrine.

A Peculiar Paradox

There is a peculiar paradox in all this, however. The religious revival does not seem to affect conduct seriously. Americans gamble, drink, carouse, kill each other, rob, assault, lie, embezzle, and commit every other form of crime at an undiminished rate. Much of America's entertainment is lewd and lascivious, books positively filthy, recreation debasing and debilitating. The race tracks break new records, the divorce rate is appalling, and corruption in government is a popular phrase. We do not seem to have adjusted our living to the standards of that old-time religion which seems now to be so flourishing. And we still live in a mortal fear of the atomic bomb.

At the risk of oversimplification, let me state that this is a picture of our America today. People are tremendously and vitally interested in religion, are searching for solutions, while at the same time huge numbers of our citizenry are engaged in open debauchery. In many cases the same people are doing both. The question arises, What shall we do about this unparalleled at least in modern times opportunity?

Pioneers of Progress in Our Ranks

I believe I should first pay tribute to some of the pioneers of progress in our ranks, men who at some personal and denominational risk have inaugurated programs for the spreading of the gospel, programs that have met and are meeting some of the -needs of a new world. I refer to men like H. M. S. Richards, who began the radio ministry in spite of opposition, W. A. Fagal and his successful television program, J. R, Ferren and his public relations work, and the founders and teachers of this Seminary, who have sacrificed and labored for a sounder and better-trained ministry. There are many others too numerous to single out, men and women whose contributions have been incalculable. We are all in their debt, and I believe, members of the graduating class, that you will join with me in acknowledging that debt and expressing our heartfelt appreciation for their contributions.

But there is much more that remains to be done on the part of the ministry to adjust itself to the needs of the hour. To some specific suggestions, therefore, I now ad dress myself, noting as I do this that we must recognize that by emphasizing these points we are in no way belittling much in the work of the ministry that has always been important and must continue to be so.

First of all, the primary question in the minds of most people today with whom I come in contact is, "Why am I here?" and second, "What does it all mean?" We have always had a very good answer to the second question, and our evangelistic meetings have frequently begun with attempts to answer that question. I believe we have been relatively successful. To the first question, "Why am I here?" we have not paid so much attention. It is my observation that man is now deeply interested in his own personal salvation, to use the term loosely. The atomic bomb and modern industry have led him to be skeptical of mass solutions. He knows, or feels he knows, that within the framework of modern society collectivism is a necessity, but this very realization makes him rebel and seek personal solutions to his nearest and dearest problem. He wants security, personal security, in every relationship of life, and he is vitally interested in it on the spiritual level as well. We have not met this need as well as we might. If the essence of the gospel is to bring the good news of salvation to man, wherever he is and I think you will all agree to that observation then perhaps we need to readjust our emphases to reach and help modern man where he is. Mankind is not at the moment interested in proving the existence of God. Most men believe there is a God, although they do not know who or what He is. They are not fundamentally interested in the question (important as it is) of Christianity versus evolution. They are interested in the answers to their own personal problems, and only when those problems are recognized and .met are they willing to go on to what we like to call the finer theological questions. We Adventists are not the only church with a well-rounded theology. There are others, but the dissatisfied and unhappy people in those churches who seek further light are not particularly unhappy with the theology they are unhappy because their needs and desires are not being met within the framework of the communion to which they belong. Let it be a lesson to us. People are interested in what Christianity can do for them. Let us first tell them and show them, and then establish the rational foundation on which it is based. We need to expound the fifth and sixth chapters of the Gospel of Matthew as never before, and live them.

(To be continued)



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Associate Professor of Speech, University of Michigan

September 1952

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