The Virus of the Comparative

It is time we lifted our eyes from what others may or may not be willing to do, and fixed our atten­tion on the needs of the world, on the pos­sibilities of the work, and on the potentials that await our sincere effort.

Associate Secretary, General Conference Medical Department

Given as a worship talk at the General Conference.

ORIGINALLY there were three learned professions —medicine, the clergy, and the law. Medicine is the study of the laws of God as they re­late to the natural bodies. Violations of these laws cause disease. The clergy study the laws of God as they relate to the soul, and violations of these laws we call sin. The law studies the statutes of men pertaining to their relations to their fellow men and to their property. Violations of these laws we call felonies or misdemeanors, crimes, or torts.

The virus of comparative religion is cul­tured best also in a great body of law, but not any of the three I have mentioned. It grows in a body of law less codified, but no less real, and more unrelentingly and in­exorably enforced than any other laws. It is a body of law that most of us would rather die than violate, laws we usually obey cheerfully, unfalteringly, and often blindly. It includes the laws of public approval, the great code of public acceptance, the juris­prudence of what others about us do. These laws modify our lives, our behavior, our dedications, our sacrifice, our devotion, our religious experience, and in them is cultured the virus of comparative religion. Most of you are somewhat familiar with the writings of Bruce Barton. Few I sur­mise have acquaintance with the writings of his father, the Reverend William B. Bar­ton. From him I quote:

We sojourned in Egypt, I and Keturah, and we rode on donkeys, and also on camels. Now, of all the beasts that ever were made, the camel is the most ungainly and preposterous, and also the most pic­turesque. And he taketh himself very seriously.

And we beheld a string of five camels that be­longed in one caravan, and they were tethered every one to the camel in front of him. But the foremost of the camels had on a halter that was tied to the saddle of a donkey. And I spake unto the man of Arabia who had the camels, and inquired of him how he managed it.

And he said, Each camel followeth the one in front and asketh no questions. And I come after, and prod up the last camel. And I said, Doth not the first camel consider that there is no other camel in front of him, but only an ass?

And he answered, Nay, for the first camel is blind, and knoweth only that there is a pull at his halter. And every other camel followeth as he is led, and I prod up the hindermost one. And I inquired, How about the donkey?

And he said, The donkey is too stupid to do any­thing but keep straight on, and he hath been often over the road. And I said unto Keturah, Behold a picture of human life, for on this fashion have the processions of the ages largely been formed. For there be few men who ask otherwise than how the next in front is going, and they blindly follow, each in the track of those who have gone before.

And Keturah said, But how about the leader? And I said, That is the profoundest secret of history; for often he who seemed to be the leader was really behind the whole procession.

Thus, we blindly follow the law of public approval, and usually know it not. The apostle Paul warned us against the virus of comparative religion that had infected some in the church even in his day.

Reaching Epidemic Proportions

This virus has redefined the word sacri­fice for us. Our forefathers would never rec­ognize the word by its present connota­tion. Today we are sacrificing if we strug­gle through life with only one car. The virus of comparative religion, I fear, has reached epidemic proportions even among us. Throughout our rank and file there tends to be a willingness to give, in hours, and time, and devotion, as much as those about us are giving—to sacrifice of our means the average that others about us are giving. We have now deluded ourselves into believing that this gospel of Christ's soon re­turn can be taken to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people between nine and five, except Sundays and holidays, so to speak. If an occasion arises which requires that we violate the law of averages and do more than those about us, we tend to have one of two reactions. One is that we may feel ex­ploited and abused, and resolve to quit and work for the Standard Oil Company, where people are appreciated. The other is that there may well up in our hearts that satis­fying feeling of holy martyrdom that stems from the sweet consciousness of doing noble deeds in an unappreciative and misunder­standing world.

The virus of comparative religion dulls our eyes to the high standard of perfection that God holds for us; and substitutes for perfection the lesser standards of conduct and piety adequate to merit the approval and even the mild admiration of those about us. This virus dulls our ears to the call of God for a complete and unreserved devotion and dedication, and substitutes in its stead a dedication and a sacrifice suf­ficient to purchase for our souls a feeling of holy unselfishness—but not so consuming as to deprive us of anything that we really want. It operates by a simple method of dulling our senses to the needs of the world, and turning them instead to the sweet strains of approval of those in the circle in which we move.

This virus completely clouds our per­ception to the fact that God holds us ac­countable, not for the paltry efforts we have expended, nor for the moneys we have given, nor for the souls we may have had a part in bringing into the church, but rather for evils we might have prevented, for wrongs we had the power to assuage.

The virus of comparative religion is but a strain of the same virus that has attacked our nation and our society—the virus of comparative accomplishment. During the last General Conference session I pur­chased a copy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer dated June 23, 1958, and from the editorial page I read these words:

Dr. Lawrence G. Derthick describes education in Russia as engulfed in "a kind of grand passion" through which the country expects to achieve its chief slogan "Reach and overreach America." . . .

Now, listen for a moment to Charles Brower, president of Batten, Barton, Durstine, and Osborn Advertising Agency. . . . "America today is ex­periencing the great era of the goof-off, the age of the half-done job. . . . The land from coast to coast has been enjoying a stampede away from responsibility. It is populated with laundrymen who won't iron shirts, with waiters who won't serve, and with carpenters who will come around some day, maybe, with executives whose minds are on the golf course, with teachers who demand a single salary schedule so that achievement cannot be rewarded, with students who take cinch courses." . . .

Most of us had ancestors who strove for perfection because they coveted the respect of their associates and because they were spiritually stimulated to make the maximum use of their talents. All we want to know today is how much cash is in it for us, and if it isn't enough, we'll just take it easy. The only defense we know against the goof-off dis­ciple is to join him in goofing off. It would take a generation to change it, because we are going to have to start with the children, who, unless they learn the lesson quickly, will live to dwell in a second-class nation beholden to a foreign power whose citizens today are working a double shift with little hope of personal reward.

Our personal religious experience and our church have not escaped unscathed from this epidemic that has infected our society today. The God of love is not the god of comparative dedication, nor is He the god of relative service. It is time we lifted our eyes from what others may or may not be willing to do, and fixed our atten­tion on the needs of the world, on the pos­sibilities of the work, and on the potentials that await our sincere effort.

It is so human, Lord, to look around

And keep my vision focused to the ground

And make my aims, the goals by others found—

Forbid that I compare.

But help me find the joy that's best expressed

By giving, when I give my best,

Uncounted, measured, weighed, and unrepressed

With nothing left to spare.

Help me to measure strength against the need—

Nor mediocrity become my creed,

But unreserved devotion mark each deed

That I attempt or dare.

Thus let me know the thrill of work well done—

Nor be content with races others run.

May all my tools be blunt, at set of sun. This is my humble prayer.

H. E. R.


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Associate Secretary, General Conference Medical Department

April 1960

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