Middleton Murry (who was a pacifist) was offended by a British psychologist who, around 1938, spoke of Nazi Germany as being in a state of “national health”.
“Can a nation be healthy which sets itself deliberately to exterminate the Jew? Or, less openly but not less stubbornly, to eradicate the spiritual autonomy of the Christian Church? Or to annihilate the socialist and the pacifist by means of the concentration camp? These campaigns of extermination, says Herr Hitler, are the necessary expulsion of noxious elements from the social body of Germany. By getting rid of them Germany achieves ‘national unity'” and this is seen as “national health”.
Such judgment, Murry thought, revealed “the terrible moral confusion which is the radical disease of today… Surreptitiously, good and evil change places, under the cover of ambiguous concepts like unity. National ‘unity’ is quite naively posited as a good, without any responsible effort to determine whether unity may not just as easily be bad as good or what is the difference between the unity that is bad and the unity that is good”.
Are we any better today, we might ask?
[Middleton Murry, The Pledge of Peace, 1938, pp.62-63].
What Middleton Murry feared was that a post-Christian society could become a totalitarian society (as had happened in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia).
He predicted that for humans, without their sense of solidarity with God and other humans that came with that sense, it was certain that, through very fear, they “will rush to the solidarity of the slave-state”.
Writing in the mid 20th century, he said:
“We live in a time when the old fixed framework of the human consciousness is finally breaking down: when the religious consciousness, above all, is in the melting pot, thrown into the fiery furnace by a terrible upheaval of the demonic and savage forces, which men vainly believed only a generation ago were finally conquered.
In the spiritual chaos of these days – at least one thing stands firm: the necessity and the truth of spiritual rebirth… Because spiritual rebirth is the only way by which a human society can become a brotherhood, and unless human societies become brotherhoods, they will assuredly use their vast powers to do one another to death…
I certainly do not believe that the existing Christian Church will become the medium of that renascence, unless it is itself reborn. But that may happen in the same way – here a little and there a little”.
[Not As The Scribes, pp.42-43].
Murry suggested that loss of faith had something to do with wider human understanding of the immensity of the universe. When Christianity was the central religion of Europe and the heart of civilisation for 1500 years “the universe was a small place, with the Earth set solidly at its centre. The Sun and the Moon revolved about it, evidently for the sustenance and comfort of man”. But that was far more difficult in the twentieth century after the scientific revolution and more sophisticated cosmology: “Nor is there much doubt that it is largely because Christianity has insisted that, in recognizing the Fatherhood of God, we must also recognize that the same God controls the cosmos, that the vast mass of men have drifted away from the Christian faith. I do not believe that they will ever be brought back to it: yet it is (I think) quite clear to me that unless they are brought back to the central experience of Christianity – to the crucial and eternal truth it contains – it will be an unmitigated disaster”.
What Murry seems to be implying is that Christians should concentrate on the central mystery of Christian faith, its essential spiritual message, without needing to believe that by doing so they are in contact with the power that controls the universe. As Alec Vidler observed of Murry in such matters he seemed unorthodox or on the fringes of orthodox Christian doctrine.
[Quote from Middleton Murry, Not As The Scribes, pp.40-41].
Middleton Murry felt ill at ease preaching from a pulpit as a pulpit felt like a place to utter certainties and “I possess no certainties”.
Beliefs, in his view, were as subtle and shadowy as they were important:
“they have their home somewhere between the definite and unsatisfying world of factual knowledge, and the equally definite and unsatisfying world of dogma. A belief lies in between a measurable fact and a comprehensible idea: it is like the light on the landscape, tremendously real, terribly evanescent: it is the bloom on the ripeness of reality, and for that very cause mobile, unstable, incapable of fixity. One becomes therefore more and more reluctant to talk directly about one’s beliefs: one feels that they should be whispered rather than proclaimed, and implied rather than whispered”
[Not As The Scribes, p.11].
This opinion was not likely to get all that many supporters in his age of world wars and strident ideologies where “beliefs” were shouted to the skies and also an age that seemed to worship science with its “world of factual knowledge”.
I thought I would post a few thoughts from John Middleton Murry (1889-1957). He was a writer and literary critic, who (for better or worse) is probably best known as the husband of New Zealand born writer Katherine Mansfield and controversial curator of her papers after her death in 1923. Murry wrote on a variety of religious, political and social issues.
As Alec Vidler said of him: “he was one of that numerous and uncoordinated class that finds it impossible honestly to accept the official claims made by the Christian Church and for Christian dogma, but nonetheless retains… the conviction that in the spiritual experience of Jesus and in the spiritual movement that stems from him there lies the clue to what human history and human experience ought to be”.
[quoted from John Middleton Murry, Not As The Scribes: Lay Sermons (London, 1959), p.8].
More from Murry himself soon.
Gabrielle Bryden has written informatively about her experiences with bringing up her autistic child Michael. She deals with various themes and her study gives a uniquely Australian perspective. On the theme of sleeping problems with young autistic children see her entry on her blog gabriellebryden.wordpress.com.
(Gabrielle is my daughter).