In a previous post we made reference to C.E.M. Joad's testimony as to how his generation rejected the doctrine of original sin. As G. K. Chesterton once famously observed, when people cease to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing; they begin to believe in everything. So it proved true in the Twilight Generation in Britain that lived in the first part of the twentieth century.
The early years of the twentieth century were years of achievement and of hope of yet greater achievement; indeed, the era which came abruptly to an end in 1914 was one of the most confident and successful in the history of mankind. [C. E. M. Joad, The Recovery of Belief, (London: Faber and Faber, 1952), p. 47]What were the dominant beliefs of the time? What had replaced the belief in Almighty God? The first was a near universal belief amongst intellectuals and the literati in creative evolution.
This was a belief that man was the master of his own fate and that the future of the world was his for the making. This proud and confident assertion in man's manifest destiny was directly connected to the rejection of God. Joad explains why:
Now the outstanding characteristic of the views to which I have referred is the clean sweep that they made of . . . a limiting supernatural (Being). For them there was no force other than man, or other than that expressed in man, to bar his path, to punish his transgressions, to limit his aspirations, to cramp, in a word, his style. (Ibid., p. 48)Man is the measure of all things, and nothing human is foreign to me. Deny the Living God; elevate Man to replace Him. We live under the aegis of this aberrant religion in the West to this day. It is the West's dominant and established religion. The idea of the perfectibility of man was one of Chesterton's "anythings" that replaced belief in God. Joad traces out Unbelief's new catechism:
(i) There is nothing in the universe other than man to which man is subject, by whom or which he is controlled and to whom or which he owes obligation, worship, reverence and love.The huge advances in science in technology in the nineteenth century appeared to give a certain and sure testimony to the truth of man's rising perfection. It took two world wars to stymie this philosophical and religious movement. But the upshot was not to reject the humanist creed and return back to God. Rather it was to double down and try harder. The humanist's redeemers ceased to be science and technology, but became education and distributive government. These would be the conduits to man's self-realisation and perfection.
(ii) There is nothing intractable in man himself, nothing which is no the product of the evolutionary process, and which, since man is himself a creature in continuous development, cannot be improved through the continuance of that same process. For just as the universe is man's for the making, so man himself is in the making. Whatever in man seems imperfect and regrettable, whatever flaws of character or deficiencies of mind he may exhibit, can be bred out of him by a further instalment of the process that produced him. Indeed, he himself can learn consciously to direct that process in whatever direction seems good to him; can, therefore, if he so wills, direct it to the betterment of himself. (Ibid., p. 49)
We will deal with each of these next.