The Stages of World Religion — part 4


This concluding section of The Stages of World Religion, as shown in the different books of Christopher Dawson, deals with Stages VI and VII, the period from the Renaissance and the Reformation down to the 20th century. Because of the breakup of the Catholic synthesis which had brought the Hellenic and Hebraic traditions together in a common unity, the culture of the West is now vulnerable to the invasion of alternative syntheses of thought and culture.

Introduction by John J. Mulloy — In particular, the appeal of a quasi-religious naturalism is very strong, as we see in the attempts to create a religion without revelation, or, within Catholicism itself, the attraction exercised by the evolutionary naturalism of Teilhard de Chardin.

Marxism also possesses the appeal of a substitute religion, despite its bedrock materialism, since it gives its followers a sense of absolute purpose for human life and history. But, as Dawson notes, there were already, in the 1930s, attempts being made to re-interpret Marxism so as to have it accommodate more directly the element of, religious idealism which is so strong among many of its disciples. These attempts are certainly still with us, as can be seen in the case of liberation theology in the Catholic Church, and in the different varieties of Christian Marxism which have been proposed by the religious left.

Whether provided with a religious covering or not, the different forms of naturalism lead to a loss of belief in God and in a transcendent order of reality. If they succeed, revealed religion no longer has any meaning. In a memorandum back in 1954, Dawson pointed out:

"The most important issue is that of theism, which seems to be pushed into the background by all this East and West school. . . . The old opposition: theism — atheism, seems out of date. These monists have turned this position — indeed they had already done so in the 19th century. They are rather anti-theists than atheists; but perhaps this is even worse... .

"I suggest that there are two opposing traditions in the East and two in the West. In the East you have the tradition of theism and revealed religion represented by Islam (E. 1); and that of paganism and nature worship sublimated by philosophy, in India and China and Japan (E.2). In the West too you have the tradition of theism and revealed religion represented by Christianity (W. 1), and a tradition of naturalism represented first by Greek paganism sublimated by philosophy, and secondly in post-Christian times by materialism and scientific naturalism, also sublimated by philosophy in a series of different forms from Spinoza to Feuerbach and to more recent forms of monism (W. 2).

"Thus we have a fourfold division with a double set of opposites: the two Western traditions v. the two Eastern, or (alternatively), the two traditions of revealed religion in East and West v. the two traditions of naturalism. The chief difference between East and West is that E. 2 has always been profoundly religious, whereas W. 2 tends to secularism. But with the advent of communism in Asia we are being faced with an alliance of W. 2 and E. 2, both thoroughly secularized.

"The obvious counterpart to this is an alliance of W. 1 and E. 1, but of this there is no sign at present." (From memorandum of March 18, 1954.)

Thus, as Dawson sees it, there is some likelihood that the type of Western naturalism represented by Marxism's economic determinism may be able to find response and acceptance among Eastern peoples whose historical formation has been that of pagan nature worship, which their philosophy has reinterpreted so as to provide it with intellectual justification. If this alliance becomes a reality, it would mean that the two traditions of revealed religion in East and West — Islam and Christianity — would find themselves faced with a worldwide combination of aggressive forms of naturalism.

Faced with this possibility, it might seem that Islam and Christianity should build bridges of greater mutual understanding and cooperation in order to protect and advance the tradition of revealed religion. Despite Islam's rejection of the Incarnation, it retains the fundamental Judaic belief in a transcendent personal God who had made known His will to mankind by means of prophecy and by intervention into the course of human history, a God to Whom all men are accountable at the Last Judgment.

Whether the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the countries of the Middle East will make such cooperation more difficult, may depend on whether Christianity is perceived as simply part of the Western secularist thrust into the non-Western world. To the degree that Christianity accepts the way of life associated with contraception, sterilization and abortion, it may have raised new barriers between itself and Islam. For Islam in the 20th century seems to have taken on some of the ideals related to the family which previously characterized Christianity. Thus it represents a sounder social tradition than those forms of Christianity which have surrendered to modern secularism. If this is the case, it may be the so-called social issues which will be decisive in any possible rapprochement between Christianity and Islam.

The Break-up of the Catholic Synthesis

1. The Polarizing Effects of the Renaissance and the Reformation

Medieval Christendom incorporated and overlaid a number of distinct earlier traditions, such as those of the Latin culture of the Mediterranean, and the more barbarous tribal societies of Northern Europe. This underlying diversity of cultural tradition expressed itself in the awakening of the national spirit and the formation of separate national cultures which reached their full development in the age of the Renaissance and the Reformation. The mediaeval unity was torn in sunder by a centrifugal movement, which made itself felt alike in culture, in religion, and in political and ecclesiastical organization.

In the South this movement took the form of a return to the older tradition of culture. The Renaissance in Italy was not a mere revival of scholarly interests in a dead past, as was usually the case in the northern countries. It was a true national awakening. Men saw the revival of classical learning as the recovery of a lost inheritance. They revolted against the mediaeval culture not on religious grounds but because it was alien and uncivilized. They entered on a crusade to free the Latin world from the yoke of Gothic barbarism.

In Northern Europe it is obvious that the movement of national awakening had to find a different form of expression, since there was here no older tradition of higher culture, and behind the mediaeval period there lay an age of pagan barbarism. Consequently Northern Europe could only assert its cultural independence by a remoulding and transforming of the Christian tradition itself in accordance with its national genius. The Renaissance of Northern Europe is the Reformation.

The situation was not unlike that of the subject oriental nationalities of the Roman Empire in the 5th and 6th centuries. Just as, in the latter case, the religious revolt of Syria and Egypt against the Imperial Church represents a national reaction of the oriental element against the dominance of the Hellenistic-Roman culture, so in the Reformation, we may see a Nordic revolt against the Latin traditions of the Mediaeval culture. The syncretism of Roman and Germanic elements which had been achieved by the Carolingian age, was terminated by a violent explosion which separated the mediaeval culture complex into its component elements, and reorganized them on new lines. Thus the Reformation is the parallel and complement of the Renaissance; as the one made the culture of Southern Europe more purely Latin, so the other made the culture of Northern Europe more purely Teutonic.

2. St. Paul Without His Hellenism

Consequently Luther's religious work of reformation and simplification amounted to a de-intellectualization of the Catholic tradition. He eliminated the philosophical and Hellenic elements, and accentuated everything that was Semitic and non-intellectual. He took St. Paul without his Hellenism, and St. Augustine without his Platonism.

It is true that the Reformation, like the Christological heresies of the 5th century, originated as a religious and theological movement, but its historical importance is due less to its religious doctrine than to the social forces that it came to represent. Luther himself, the religious leader of the movement, is intellectually a man of the Middle Ages rather than of the modern world. His ideas were, on the main, those of the men of the 14th century, Ockham and Wycliffe and Hus. He was entirely alien in spirit from the culture of the Italian Renaissance, and even from that of Northern humanists, like More and Erasmus, whom he describes as "the vilest miscreant that ever disgraced the earth." His originality is due not to his intellectual position, but to the force of his emotional life. He embodies the revolt of the awakening German national spirit against every influence that was felt to be foreign or repressive; against asceticism and all that checked the free expression of the natural instincts, against the intellectualism of Aristotle and St. Thomas, against the whole Latin tradition, above all against the Roman curia and its Italian officials which were to him the representatives of Antichrist and the archenemies of the German soul. "The Lutheran Reformation," wrote Nietzsche, "in all its length and breadth was the indignation of the simple against something complicated." It was "a spiritual Peasant Revolt."

Consequently Luther's religious work of reformation and simplification amounted to a de-intellectualization of the Catholic tradition. He eliminated the philosophical and Hellenic elements, and accentuated everything that was Semitic and non-intellectual. He took St. Paul without his Hellenism, and St. Augustine without his Platonism.

Nevertheless, the result of this process was not, as one might suppose, a return to the Oriental type of religion. On the contrary, it produced an accentuation of the purely occidental elements in Christianity. Faith was no longer a human participation in the Divine knowledge, but a purely non-rational experience — the conviction of personal salvation.

The Divine was no longer conceived as pure intelligence — luce intelletual piena d'amore — the principle of the intelligibility of the created universe. It was regarded as a despotic power whose decrees predestined man to eternal misery or eternal bliss by the mere fiat of arbitrary will. It may seem that this denial of the possibility of human merit, and the insistence on the doctrine of predestination would lead to moral apathy and fatalism. This, however, was not the case. Protestantism was essentially a religion of action. By its hostility to monasticism and asceticism, it destroyed the contemplative ideal and substituted the standard of practical moral duty.

3. Humanism in Catholic and Protestant Europe

Both Catholic and Protestant Europe shared the same humanist education and the same classical literature, so that in spite of their spiritual separation they still maintained a certain community of intellectual life which prevented the divergence between Catholics and Protestants from completely destroying the unity of Western culture.

I do not go so far as to say the humanist culture of the post-Reformation world was one and the same in every part of Europe. Religious differences had an even greater influence than national ones on its development, so that while Catholics and Protestants were alike influenced by their humanist education, it yielded different products in art and thought and life in different spiritual environments. Thus while humanism had as strong an influence on education and literature in Protestant Europe as in Catholic Europe it permeated the whole culture less deeply than it did the Baroque culture of the South. It produced great scholars like Scaliger and Casaubon and great poets like Milton, but it remained the culture of a minority. The educated classes had all undergone the discipline of humane letters, but the people as a whole derived their moral ideas and their spiritual imagery not from the philosophers or the humanists or the artists but directly from the Bible and above all from the Old Testament.

This Hebraistic tradition was characteristic of Protestant culture and has often been regarded, e.g., by Matthew Arnold, as responsible for the anti-humanist, Philistine character of middle-class culture in England-America. It was naturally strongest among the sects whose whole intellectual life was nourished on the Bible and the Bible only. But even in representatives of the highest Protestant culture, like Milton, there is a hard core of unassimilated Hebraism which is in conflict with their humanist education and which in lesser men produced a sharp dualism between religion and culture. It was this dualism which prevented the development of religious drama and religious art in the seventeenth century and caused that partial secularization of culture which destroyed the medieval unity of religious and social life.

In Catholic Europe, this was not so. As I have said, the Baroque culture was not confined to the scholars and the men of letters. It permeated the life of the people as a whole through the religious art and music and drama which continued to play the same part in the Baroque world as they had done in the Middle Ages.

In the same way there was no sharp dualism in Catholic Europe between Christian and humanist ethics. The synthesis of Catholic and Aristotelian ethics which was perhaps the most important of all the achievements of St. Thomas remained the basis of Catholic teaching and provided an ideal foundation for the creation of a Christian humanism which could integrate the moral values of the humanist tradition with the transcendent spiritual ends of Christian theology.

In Protestant Europe the influence of humanist ethics is considerable, as we can see in the Cambridge Platonists. Nevertheless the influence of the Old Testament was far stronger, especially in Calvinist countries, and it was this Hebraist ethos which explains both the strength and the weakness of Protestant culture.


The Conflict of Naturalism vs. Monotheism

1. Newtonian Science and a Naturalized Universe

In place of the Aristotelian doctrine that the heavens were moved by conscious spiritual substances, which derived their eternal motion from God, the unmoved mover, there was now substituted a conception of the world as a vast machine, consisting of material bodies situated in absolute space and moved by mechanical, physical laws. The ultimate realities were no longer spiritual substances and qualities but Space, Matter and Time.

Thus, at the same time that spiritual forces were being excluded from society and from human experience by the new philosophy of Hobbes and Locke, their control of the world of nature was also being denied by the new science. God was no longer seen as the heavenly King and Father, who ruled His world by the unceasing interposition of His all-seeing Providence, nor even as the Renaissance philosopher saw Him, as the immanent spiritual principle of nature. He was the Architect of the Universe, a sublime mechanic who had constructed the cosmic machine and left it to follow its own laws.

Hence the new science was as hostile to supernaturalism and to the miraculous element in Christianity as was the new philosophy, and proved one of the chief factors in the secularization of European thought.


Where Christianity recognized the reality of the immense burden of inherited evil that weighed on the human race, and the need for a real deliverance, the new religion shut its eyes to everything but the natural virtues of the human heart, and salved the wounds of humanity with a few moral platitudes. Thus the new religion became a religion of death and not of life.

2. Adverse Effects of the Enlightenment

The age of the French Revolution was a time of boundless hope and idealism. Men felt that the world was being born again, and that they were witnessing the liberation of humanity from its age-long enslavement to superstition and oppression and the dawn of a new age.

In spite of its apparent rationalism, the movement was essentially a religious one, which drew its inspiration from Christian sources and clothed traditional ideas in new imagery. But it was a religion that substituted intellectual abstractions for spiritual realities, that put imagination in the place of Faith, and Idealism in the place of Charity. Where Christianity recognized the reality of the immense burden of inherited evil that weighed on the human race, and the need for a real deliverance, the new religion shut its eyes to everything but the natural virtues of the human heart, and salved the wounds of humanity with a few moral platitudes. Thus the new religion became a religion of death and not of life. Instead of freeing mankind, it liberated the anti-spiritual forces of economic individualism and selfish nationalism, and left society free to drift to destruction.


3. Science and Cyclic Determinism

Cut off from its roots in the living tradition of historic religion the Deist creed withered away from lack of vitality. And its disappearance left the way clear for the consistent application of the mechanistic hypothesis to every aspect of existence. Man lost the privileged position which he had preserved in the world of Newton and the philosophers of the Enlightenment, and became part of the machine. The scientific determinism, which had at first been limited to the physical world, was now extended to biology and the social sciences. The 19th century economists, such as Ricardo and James Mill, conceived economic laws on the analogy of the mechanical laws of physical science, thus excluding all moral and spiritual factors and preparing the way for a "materialist interpretation of history." And in biology, Darwin himself was influenced both by the physicists and the economists in his central doctrine of the evolution of species through the pressure of population on food supply and the consequent struggle for existence in which only the fittest survived.

But a world that is the product of chance and the blind working of material forces leaves no room for the golden hopes for the future of humanity which had been so characteristic of the 18th century creed. Even social reform and humanitarian ideals seemed difficult to reconcile with the mechanical view of social evolution, and the theory of the survival of the fittest was popularly interpreted in the crudely selfish form that used to be known to the French as le struggleforlifeisme.

So long as science was the servant of the optimistic Deist creed, it was itself optimistic; but as soon as science came into its kingdom its optimism began to disappear. Nor was this solely due to the influence of the Darwinian version of the evolutionary theory; it lies in the very nature of the materialistic worldview.

When once we abandon the theological doctrine of Creation, which is common both to orthodox Christianity and to the philosophic Deism which is derived from it, we are left with an eternal cosmic process, which does not admit of ultimate and absolute progress. The development of our planet is but a momentary result of material laws, which, working in infinite time and space, must repeat themselves endlessly, and so we are brought back to the cyclic theory of the Return of All Things, and once more we shall say with Lucretius: Eadem cunt omnia semper.

And actually in the second half of the 19th century we begin once more to meet with new expressions of this most ancient doctrine.


4. Nihilist Metaphysics of Marxism

Marx addressed himself to those elements in the modern world which were already deprived of any share in the heritage of humanist culture. He found the proletariat enslaved to the machine, and he sought, not to destroy this servitude, but to equalize and rationalize it by extending it to the whole social organism.

Thus, in Marx, the cult of equality and social justice led to the sacrifice of human freedom and spiritual creativeness to an inhuman economic whole. He condemned the whole humanistic morality and culture as bourgeois, and accepted the machine, not only as the basis of economic activity, but as the explanation of the mystery of life itself. The mechanical processes of economic life are the ultimate realities of history and human life. All other things — religion, art, philosophy, spiritual life — stand on a lower plane of reality; they are a dream world of shadows cast on the sleeping mind by the physical processes of the real world of matter and mechanism. Hence Marxism may be seen as the culminating point of the modern tendency to explain that which is specifically human in terms of something else. For the Marxian interpretation of history is in fact nothing but an explaining away of history. It professes to guide us to the heart of the problem, and it merely unveils a void. And thus, according to Berdyaev, the essential importance of Marxism is to be found not in its constructive proposals, but in its negations, its sweeping away of the semi-ideological constructions of nineteenth-century thought. For the optimistic rationalism of the nineteenth century tended to hide the true significance of the conflict between materialism and spiritualism. Just as behind all religion and all spiritual philosophy there is a metaphysical assent — the affirmation of Being — so behind materialism and the materialist explaining away of history there is a metaphysical negation — the denial of Being — which is the ultimate and quasi-mystical ground of the materialistic position.


5. Idealism vs. Materialism in Marxism

At the present time this contradiction between the materialistic philosophy of pure Marxism and the social idealism which supplies the driving, force in the movement is felt by many Socialists especially in Western Europe and America, and they have attempted to solve it by a frank appeal to the religious instinct....

The most significant example of this tendency is, however, to be found in the writings of Dr. Julius Hecker. . . . In him we see the social idealism of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism in vital contact with the materialist philosophy of orthodox Russian Marxism. The result of this process of fusion is not, however, materialism in the strict sense, but an immanentist monism which has more affinity with Hegel and Spinoza than with Marx or Lenin. It is a very similar doctrine to that set forth by Professor Julian Huxley in his book Religion without Revelation. In fact Professor Huxley's idealistic pantheism is almost indistinguishable from Dr. Hecker's materialism, though it is poles apart from the materialism of Lenin, which treat all such attempts to bring religion or idealism into materialism as nothing but camouflaged clericalism....

The official teaching of Moscow is still faithful to the authentic tradition of Marx and Lenin. And that tradition differs profoundly both in form and spirit from the spiritualized monism of Dr. Hecker and Professor Huxley. It has been stated in unequivocal terms by Adoratsky in his little book on Dialectical Materialism which has appeared in an English version recently. "Materialism," he writes, "considers it wrong to place spirit at the base of all phenomena. It regards matter as the basis of everything and asserts that matter exists independently and outside of our mind. The external material world reacts on our mind, is reflected in it and determines it. Matter is the primary, the fundamental, mind is secondary and derivative. Mind is inseparably connected with matter; it is a property of matter organized in a special way, viz. , our brain, and is a product of the latter's activity. Mind reflects the external world. There can be no mind or thought without brain. The idealists sever thought from the brain and consider that Spirit is the beginning of all things. The idealists turn the whole course of things upside down. In their opinion matter is derived from spirit. Materialism declares that there is no spirit world; there is no transcendental world; the world is unitary and its unity lies, as Engels says, in its materialness" (V. Adoratsky, Dialectical Materialism, p. 65).

Thus there are two currents in Communist thought, and the future character of Communist culture depends in a great degree on which of these tendencies becomes predominant. Hitherto and at the present time the strict materialism of the Leninist tradition has alone possessed an official character. It is the orthodox doctrine, while the more idealistic strain is regarded as an heretical modernism. Nevertheless it is by no means impossible that the latter may finally prevail, and if it does so there may be a corresponding change in the whole spirit of the Communist regime. In any case, however, the opposition to Christian thought remains. No reconciliation is possible between materialism, even in its most idealized form, and the Catholic faith in God, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Maker and Redeemer of man, the Lord and Giver of Life. Where that faith is absent, as it is so widely in the modern world, man is divorced from reality. He is living in the dark and all his intellectual and political systems become distorted and unreal. This is the case with Communism, which more than any other system in history has attempted to build its new world in the dark.


6. The Challenge of Religious Naturalism

The present age seems to demand a religion which will be an incentive to action and a justification of the material and social progress which has been the peculiar achievement of the last two centuries.

An attempt to supply this need is to be found in the new theories of evolutionary vitalism which are so popular in philosophic circles at the present time. The movement originated with Bergson's philosophy of creative evolution, but it has had a much wider development in this country than on the continent. It is represented, on the one hand, by the doctrine of "Emergent Evolution" put forward by Professor Alexander and Professor Lloyd Morgan, and on the other by the pantheistic vitalism of scientists like Professors Julian Huxley and J. H. Haldane. According to the theory of the former, the spiritual values on which the world religions were based, are not illusory. They have a real place in the universe, but they are not absolute and transcendental realities, as the old religions believed. They are, no less than material things, the result of an evolutionary process. Thus God is not the creator of the world, he is himself created with the world, or rather he "emerges" as part of the cosmic process. In Professor Alexander's words, "God as an actual existent is always becoming deity, but never attains it. He is the ideal God in embryo. The ideal when fulfilled ceases to be God" (S. Alexander: Space, Time and Deity, vol. II, p. 365).

Professor Huxley's position, on the other hand, is not a philosophical one. He professes a complete Spencerian agnosticism with regard to metaphysical problems, and seeks to find the material for a religious interpretation of reality in natural science and in human nature itself. His aim is a strictly religious one, and he is concerned to a far greater extent than any of the other writers that we have mentioned with the discovery of a religious solution which will satisfy the moral and social needs of modern civilization.

The Christian law of progress is the very reverse of that of the world. When the Church possesses all the marks of external power and success, then is its hour of danger; and when it seems that no human power can save it, the time of its deliverance is at hand. Christianity began with a startling failure, and the sign in which it conquered was the Cross on which its Founder was executed. The more persecution and unpopularity strip off the coating of human prestige that has gathered round the Church in the days of its temporal prosperity, the more room will there be for the development of its inherent spiritual vitality.

Nevertheless, in spite of this difference of standpoint, his religious ideal is not unlike that of Professor Alexander. Science, he believes, teaches us that the world is advancing in a spiritual direction. The process of evolution has no spiritual creative power behind it, but in man matter has flowered in spirit, and spiritual values have "emerged" from the blind movement of material forces. Consequently the religious impulse must find its satisfaction in a conscious cooperation with this cosmic trend. God is the human ideal, but inasmuch as man is the vanguard of nature's advance, his ideal is an earnest of future achievement. "It is Incarnate Spirit," he says, "embodied in Life the Mediator" (Religion Without Revelation (1927), p. 329). Or again in one of his earlier sonnets:

"The Universe can live and work and plan
At last made God within the mind of Man"
(God and Man in Essays of a Biologist (1923), p. 234).

It is clear that Professor Huxley's religious ideal is simply that of the Religion of Progress in a new form. But though his theory of a divine ideal, immanent in the life process itself, avoids the external dogmatism of the Deist creed, it brings fresh difficulties in its train. The old teleological interpretation of nature has been abandoned only to be replaced by an attempt to read spiritual values into biology and the evolutionary process. Such an interpretation will always tend to reflect the metaphysical and theological preconceptions of its author. The elan vital of Bergson, for example, is not a pure generalization of biological facts, it is rather the explanation of those facts by a quasi-theological hypothesis, half way between the Stoic theory of a World Soul and the Christian doctrine of the Holy Ghost. In the case of Professor Huxley's interpretation, the derivation of his religious symbolism from the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is quite conscious and deliberate. But although he has attempted to free it from all theistic or metaphysical connotations, it is obviously something more than a mere symbolic formula. It involves a real contact with the religious attitude and the spiritual tradition of Christianity.

For the conception of the progressive spiritualization of nature — the embodiment of a divine principle in the order of time — is not the only or the most obvious deduction to be drawn from the contemplation of the evolutionary process. In the presence of the same facts, a Hindu would see, not the gradual emergence of the human ethical ideal, but the manifestation of a universal cosmic energy which is no less divine in its destructive and malevolent aspects than in its beneficent ones — in which all values are alike because they are all the expressions of a single creative fecundity. It is Shiva, the Terrible One, dancing his cosmic dance amidst the birth and death of the worlds. And this interpretation of life which finds God in the whole cosmic process is at least as logical as that of the European idealist who sees God only in the human mind — that is in the mental processes of a single species of mammalia. Moreover, it seems equally capable of evoking intense religious emotion, as we see in countless Shivaite and Saktist prayers and hymns.

To us these conceptions are unacceptable. They seem definitely lower and less true than the idea of the world process as a gradual ascent in a spiritual direction. But this is because we view the evolutionary process through Christian eyes. even when, like Professor Huxley, we profess the most complete religious agnosticism.

For the moral idealism which is still so characteristic of the Western mind is the fruit of an age-long tradition of religious faith and spiritual discipline. Humanitarianism is the peculiar possession of a people who have worshipped for centuries the Divine Humanity — apart from all that even our humanism would have been other than it is. It is from this Christian moral tradition that both the older Deist movement and the new movement of evolutionary vitalism have derived whatever positive religious value they possess.


7. The Breath of the Spirit



Abbreviations: PR - Progress and Religion. Enq - Enquiries into Religion and Culture. RMS - Religion and the Modern State. CNA - Christianity and the New Age. GR. - The Gods of Revolution. MWR - The Movement of World Revolution.

Stage VI. The Break-up of the Catholic Synthesis: 1. The Polarizing Effects of the Renaissance and the Reformation: PR: 177-179. 2. St. Paul without His Hellenism: PR: 180-181. 3. Humanism in Catholic and Protestanta Europe: MWR: 45-47.

Stage VII. The Conflict of Naturalism vs. Monotheism: 1. Newtonian Science and a Naturalized Universe: GR: 19-20. 2. Adverse Effects of the Enlightenment: Enq: 303. 3. Science and Cyclic Determinism: PR: 221-222. 4. Nihilist Metaphysics of Marxism: CNA: 12-13. 5. Idealism vs. Materialism in Marxism: RMS: 98-101. 6. The Challenge of Religious Naturalism: PR: 239-242. 7. The Breath of the Spirit: RMS: 151-153.

Everywhere today the ruling forces in civilization seem converging against the Christian tradition. Modern civilization is not only ceasing to be Christian; it is setting itself up as an anti-religion which will tolerate no rival, and which claims to be sole master of the world. Never, perhaps, in the whole of its history has the People of God seemed weaker and more scattered, and more at the mercy of its enemies than it is today. Yet this is no reason for us to despair. The Christian law of progress is the very reverse of that of the world. When the Church possesses all the marks of external power and success, then is its hour of danger; and when it seems that no human power can save it, the time of its deliverance is at hand. Christianity began with a startling failure, and the sign in which it conquered was the Cross on which its Founder was executed. The more persecution and unpopularity strip off the coating of human prestige that has gathered round the Church in the days of its temporal prosperity, the more room will there be for the development of its inherent spiritual vitality.

And while the City of God is stronger than it appears to be, the city of man is weaker. The forces that appear to make human civilization so irresistible — its wealth, its economic organization, and its military power — are essentially hollow, and crumble to dust as soon as the human purpose that animates them loses its strength. The real forces that rule the world are spiritual ones, and every empire and civilization waits for the hour when the sentence of the watchers goes forth and its kingdom is numbered and finished. The spirit of life goes out of its social traditions and institutions and a new age is begun. Thus from age to age the divine purpose towards the human race is carried on, and even the civilization which appears to resist that purpose is the unwilling servant of a power that it does not recognize.

Thus we may expect not merely the passing of the Liberal-capitalist order of the nineteenth century, but the End of the Age; a turning-point in world history which will alter the whole character of civilization by a change in its fundamental direction: a turning of the human mind from the circumference to the center, from the emptiness of modern civilization and progress to the vision of spiritual reality which stands all the time looking down on our ephemeral activities like the snow mountains above the jazz and gigolos of a jerry-built hotel.

If this is so, it is clear that the real social mission of Christians is to be the pioneers in this true movement of world revolution.

Today the world is ripe for renewal. The liberal and humanitarian ideals that inspired the civilization of the last two centuries are dead or dying and there is nothing left to take their place. The process of secularization has worked itself out to its logical conclusions in Communism and it can go no further. But this process of secularization in Western culture is but a moment in the general movement of history and not its goal, as Marxism believes. It is a negation that ultimately annuls itself, and gives place by the dialectic of history to a principle of a new order. On the other hand, it is of the very nature of Christianity to provide new solutions for new situations. It is not bounded like Marxism by the narrow horizon of historical materialism, but is open to the breath of the spirit that renews the face of the world.

Christopher Dawson
"The Stages of World Religion — part 1"
"The Stages of World Religion — part 2"
"The Stages of World Religion — part 3"
"The Stages of World Religion — part 4"



Dawson, Christopher. “The Stages of World Religion — part 4.” Dawson Newsletter Vol. V # 3 (Fall, 1986).

Reprinted by permission of Julian Philip Scott, grandson of Christopher Dawson.


Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) was most likely the most penetrating student of the relationship of religion and culture who has ever written. "Every culture," he wrote, "is like a plant. It must have its roots in the earth, and for sunlight it needs to be open to the spiritual. At the present moment we are busy cutting its roots and shutting out all light from above." In order to address this situation, he proposed the study of Christian culture. He believed this study to be essential to the secularist and Christian alike, because it is the key to the understanding of the historical development of Western civilization. His lucid analysis of the driving forces of world history, as well as his championing of the contributions of the Christian faith to the achievements of European culture, won him many admirers, including T. S. Eliot and Arnold Toynbee.

Christopher Dawson wrote twenty-two books. Among those currently available are Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, The Making of Europe, Medieval Essays, Dynamics of World History, and Progress and Religion. Also available is A Historian and His World: A Life of Christopher Dawson written by Christopher Dawson's daughter, the late Christina Scott. All works by Christopher Dawson © Julian Philip Scott, 2003.

Copyright © 2005 Julian Philip Scott

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