Project Canterbury






AUGUST, 1909




Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012

In the opinion of some persons deeply interested in the welfare of Ascension Church, various publications from time to time in daily newspapers of the city, and other comment, not altogether serious or accurate, may have given rise to misapprehension concerning the purpose and result of the inauguration of the so-called Sunday Evening After-Meetings.

The Vestry, therefore, have deemed it wise, for the benefit of members of the Church and of others in the community who wish such adequate information about the movement as will enable them to form a proper judgment concerning it, to have reprinted the accompanying article on "Socialism and Christianity" by the Rector, the Rev. Percy Stickney Grant, appearing in "The North American Review" for August of this year, in which these meetings are referred to and discussed.

Mr. Grant, believing with the Vestry that the course proposed is for the best interests of the Church, has approved of the reprint, although the article was written without any thought of having it put to this use.

NEW YORK, December 31st, 1909.
CLEMENT A. GRISCOM, JR., Committee of the Vestry.


THE Church, some recent critics have pointed out, is trying to get back to the people. This undertaking is unmasked as if it were a plot—a sly attempt at material rehabilitation, with an eye to an increase of ecclesiastical power. As a matter of fact, the democratizing of the Church is a healthy instinct and an evidence of leadership. All our institutions might well follow its example. None needs to get back to the people more than our Government itself; more democracy is its only salvation. Lowell, a quarter of a century ago, called American democracy an experiment. To-day it is still more of an experiment, because farther from the ideals of its founders. The democratizing of the Church is not an ecclesiastical programme; but it is the attempt of an originally popular organization to set its own house in order and to oppose the undemocratic tendencies—the plutocratic and oligarchical tendencies of our times.

During the last two years the Church of the Ascension, in New York, has been holding Sunday-evening services for working-men. The preacher has been Mr. Alexander Irvine, once a working-man himself, and still a member of labor unions and of the Socialist Party. Mr. Irvine is a man of wide experience and sympathies, a brilliant writer and an eloquent and influential speaker. At the conclusion of the service in church, which lasts an hour, there is an after-meeting in the adjoining Parish House, which is addressed by some expert,—like the chairman of a commission, a college professor, a philanthropist, a socialistic leader, a man of letters or the head of a city department. Some of our [1/2] recent speakers have been Professor Dickinson S. Miller, Professor Edwin R. A. Seligman, Professor Henry Crampton, Mr. Edwin Markham, Mr. Fulton Cutting, Mrs. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Dr. Darlington and Commissioner Hebberd. After the address there are questions and short speeches from the audience. This meeting lasts from 9 until 11 P.M. A third of the audience are Hebrews, for the most part from Russia, or, at any rate, if not Hebrews they are not native-born; a half are Socialists; for in dealing with working-men I soon learned that the most alert and interested, the most curious to hear and question, are the Socialists. This is true also, I am told, in labor unions, where the Socialists, though they number only ten per cent, perhaps, of the entire membership, are, nevertheless, the most aggressive element.

I have mentioned these meetings because the material for this article is mostly derived from discussions I have heard in them by Socialists and economists.

What is Socialism? What is Christianity? Socialism is an economic theory that proposes to make the state supreme over the individual, rather than to allow the individual to be supreme over the state. Christianity, in the terms of the Baptismal Service in the Book of Common Prayer, is, "To follow the example of our Saviour Christ and to be made like unto Him." Socialism has so many descriptions that its foes feel they have triumphed when they ask, "What is Socialism?" Christianity likewise has so many interpretations that its opponents often choose the worst, or, at any rate, the most characteristic—the individualistic definition—viz., the salvation of the soul through belief in Christ.

Some Socialists can see no relation, no point of comparison between Socialism—an economic theory dealing with the production and distribution of wealth, and Christianity—a religion bent upon the salvation of souls. Nevertheless, Socialism, as its most valuable characteristic, presents a religious motive; it is stirring thousands to new ideals and to self-sacrifice in a purely religious fashion, and is even taking on the methods and habits of religion. On the other hand, Christianity, it must not be forgotten, is a doctrine of a Kingdom of Heaven, which is not only an inner, but an outer condition; moreover, Christianity is the child of Judaism, a religion which had more to say about the duties of the rich to the poor than any religion in the world. What is more, Socialism, in its economic position, is changing [2/3] from a purely mechanical to a more ethical ideal, at the same time that Christianity, in its religious attitude, is changing from a purely spiritual to a more economic outlook.


The following quotations appeared in a recent letter to the "New York Times." I have not verified them, but I use them because they illustrate the feeling of masses of uneducated Socialists I have listened to and represent the older but prevailing attitude:

"Marx said: 'Religion is a fantastic degradation of human nature."'

"Liebknecht, the grand old man of Socialism, said: 'Socialism must conquer the stupidity of the masses in so far as this stupidity reveals itself in religious forms and dogmas.'"

"And Bebel, the present great world leader of Socialism, says 'We wish in politics the republic, in economy Socialism, and in religion atheism.'

Socialism inherited atheism from Marx and Lassalle. These pioneers did not derive it from their economic position, but from Feuerbach and his Hegelianism. Their followers, however, have accepted their philosophical as well as their economic views. The practical effect of Socialistic atheism is to deny immortality, to concentrate attention upon this life and to intensify confidence in material well-being. In our Sunday-night meetings, after an eloquent individualist had held forth about the soul, a Socialist would stand up and say: "I know nothing about the soul. Where is it? I only know that I have a stomach and that it is empty."

Socialism denies to religion any economic influences. The Pope, for instance, has nothing to fear, theoretically, from Socialists who will not for a moment admit that Catholicism has retarded the development of any country in Europe; not because they have studied the facts, but because they claim, as a general principle, that history is interpreted economically; that moral and religious forces have had nothing to do with the growth or decline of states.

Behind this denial of influence to religion is the denial of important constructive power to ideas. Socialism has not wished to work by means of the slow influence of ideas, but by means of various compulsions—military, legislative, etc. Nevertheless, their propaganda is an appeal to reason and conscience.

[4] Socialism asserts that morality is the offspring of society. The good individual is the product of a good society; a good society is not the product of good individuals. Moreover, that moral codes are the handiwork of the dominant class, which codifies and gives authority to what will preserve its order.

Socialism maintains that the Church is hypocritical, because it received the command, "Love your neighbor as yourself," but supports, nevertheless, an industrial system under which it is impossible to love your neighbor as yourself—whose maxim, in fact, is the old pagan caveat emptor—let the buyer take heed.

Socialism considers the doctrine of the forgiveness of sin to be the source of much industrial and private injustice, because it frees the wrong-doer from the sense of responsibility. Until the priestly power of absolution is destroyed, tyranny will flourish.

Socialism calls pietism and passivity (two traits of Christianity) injurious to civilization, because progress has been attained not by meekness, but by struggle.

Socialism hates the religious way of dealing with poverty—that is, by charity and philanthropy—because these are remedial and based upon a voluntary spirit. Socialism would legislate poverty out of existence and would have what are now sporadic acts of kindness made compulsory usages. In short, Socialism considers religion a rubbish-heap of arbitrary laws and gross superstitions used as a prop to social injustice.


These attitudes of unfriendliness to religion are scientifically mistaken or are ethically weak. Socialism regards religion in an old-fashioned way as an artifice of priests and powerful castes, and not in the new-fashioned way as a biological product—created and perpetuated because it was of use, changing and reshaping itself in response to criticism and increased knowledge.

It was a mistake for Socialism to take on atheism, which has no logical connection with its economic position, simply because Marx and Lassalle were atheists. Socialists declaim against mixing up religion with economics. Why, then, mix up irreligion with economics?

Socialism is a new form of pity—the self-pity of "the proletariat" and the world-pity of the fortunate. Now world-pity is a Promethean and magnanimous trait, but self-pity a pigmy and rather contemptible exhibition. Socialists in America will not win the respect of the older blood of the country until they stop calling themselves "the proletariat" and "children of the abyss." There is a beggar whine in these epithets thoroughly un-American. A people which has subdued a continent is not quick to sympathize with a cult that accuses circumstances and upbraids fortune. In this respect Americans are Stoics. "The worst state of man," said Epictetus, "is to accuse external things; better than that is to accuse a man's self and best to accuse neither."

Furthermore, it is an ethical mistake to suppose that all the torments of the soul are to vanish before personal prosperity. There is no such thing as a noble peace and rest in terms of considerate circumstances, which graciously supplies what we desire; but there is peace in terms of a spiritual attitude which can look on all things with serenity.

Nor can the Socialist state make its members happy in spite of themselves. The virtue required for carrying on a co-operative commonwealth will not be generated by the mere running of the machinery. Honesty, temperance, unselfishness cannot be born, willy-nilly, out of a new industrial system.

Nor will an assured and sufficient livelihood obliterate selfish ambition and greed. No improvement in material conditions is going to make saints out of sinners. Boost Socialists to opulence and they would merely repeat the experiences of the well-to-do of to-day; they would meet temptation and often succumb; they would have children and hand down to some of them evil traits. Human progress is made by steps, not by leaps and bounds. This law will not be changed by merely rearranging the handicaps.

A great believer in democracy, James Russell Lowell, could say:

"Men prate
Of all heads to an equal grade cashiered,
On level with the dullest, and expect
(Sick of no worse distemper than themselves)
A wondrous cure-all in equality;
They reason that To-morrow must be wise
Because To-day was not, nor Yesterday,
As if good days were shapen of themselves,
Not of the very life blood of men's souls."

Considering the methods of Socialism, its confidence in brute force, in mechanical laws, Nietzsche was not far wrong when he [5/6] wrote: "Socialism is not a problem of right, but of power—no violent redistribution, but a slow, gradual reformation and regeneration of the mind are needed; the sense of justice must be increased everywhere, whilst that of violence must be weakened."

Socialism has no place for sorrow or suffering. It expects general well-being to do away with suffering. This is too naïve. Have we nothing but bodies? And are our bodies to be pain-proof under Socialism? Is there no pleasure of the heart to be hoped for or regretted? Is there no aspiration of the spirit to be fostered or mourned?

Socialism in its teaching exalts love. But does it know of some new kind of love that is exempt from suffering? Neither is it romantic love alone, the love of a Werther that suffers or suffers most deeply; the love of humanity—the Christ-love of a Mazzini suffers most profoundly of all. In fact, the more the Socialist's brotherly love is developed the greater will be his capacity for suffering. This elimination of suffering as a practical and as a moral factor in a well-fed world contradicts the experience of the body and the soul.

"Be the world great or small," says Anatole France, "what matter is that to mankind? It is always great enough, provided it gives us a stage for suffering or for love. To suffer and to love—these are the twin sources of inexhaustible beauty. Suffering and pain; how divine it is, how misunderstood. To it we owe all the good in us, all that makes life worth living; to it we owe pity and courage and all the virtues. The earth is but a grain of sand in a barren infinity of worlds. Yet, if it is only on earth creation suffers, it is greater than all the rest of the universe put together."

The most serious question put to Socialists is a moral question. They must exert themselves in a co-operative commonwealth as much as they do in a competitive state or more, but spontaneously and with good-will, as from either love or duty. This is the highest ethical ideal of conduct.

A co-operative commonwealth, if all are to have an abundance, must be asked to produce as much per capita as now. The present waste in strikes, in lockouts and in various forms of industrial conflict, besides the waste of vanity, dissipation and luxury, would then be required for those who now are below the margin of consumption—a very appreciable percentage of the population.

[7] But the co-operative state can never do this until its citizens have a high sense of moral responsibility and altruism. Some men work to-day as hard for humanity, science or art as they could possibly work for purely selfish ends. This kind of enthusiasm for work would have to extend to all industrial branches. Such moral ardor is a spiritual as well as an economic necessity by which, through labor, men can develop the possibilities of their souls. Is Socialism equal to it?


Christianity is now so largely supported and interpreted by the propertied classes that it fears a doctrine that criticizes private property or seems to threaten it.

The heterodoxy most dangerous, at present, to a clergyman's status in the Church is not doctrinal, but industrial. There is a good deal of truth in what Karl Marx said in the preface of the first edition of "Capital."

"The English Established Church will more readily pardon an attack on thirty-eight of its thirty-nine Articles than on one-thirty-ninth of its income. Nowadays atheism is culpa levis, as compared with criticism of existing property relations."

Christianity takes hold of the opposite end of the stick from Socialism; it would renovate society by first renovating the individual. Christianity considers the eternal welfare of the soul above the present well-being of the body. Christianity regards the hardships of life as providentially sent to school the soul.

Christianity fails to perceive that ethical laws have not been produced out of the needs of the individual as an individual, but out of social relationships.

"Morals and conscience," says Lydston, in his "Diseases of Society," "have developed from the social necessities of the human race and are not natural attributes."

Christianity, therefore, is indebted to the very social environment it has tended (in its extreme care for the individual) to neglect.

Christianity makes a mistake in being still so other-worldly; in clinging to dogmatic belief as the path to spiritual safety; in encouraging intense individualism without a sufficient social balance; in allowing itself to be so largely tied to the stability of the comfortable classes; in not admitting the fundamental [7/8] importance of the bread-and-butter problem and in not acknowledging that heredity and environment (outer, not inner conditions) have spiritual influence.

Socialism criticises Christianity for not promoting the general welfare; in not securing a larger share of the world's wealth for the working-man. Christianity retorts that property is not its field and echoes Jesus's words, "Who made me a judge or a divider over you?" Socialists assert that there is food and clothing enough in the world for all—that none should suffer want; and that until the problem of waste and want is settled all other problems are insignificant. Christianity replies that the Socialist thinks only of the body and of this world, and that he neglects the soul and the world to come and quotes its Master: "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth." Both the Socialist and Christian hold extreme positions. The Socialist cannot ask that all other effort ceases until everybody has enough to eat. Life is not such a single-track road as that. Christianity is equally obtuse when it will not admit that the bread-and-butter problem is at the basis of civilization. Christianity is too individualistic; it leaves the personal fortunes of men and women too much to the strength of their inner nature; it does not utilize, in their behalf, the boundless power of social co-operation.


Socialism is a new religious movement, a new expression of justice, of fraternity and real democracy. Its methods are political, its ends economic; but its spirit (which is its greatest gift to our time) ought to live in spite of its methods and beyond its goal. Its most advanced advocates are no longer basing their arguments upon Marxian economics, but upon the plea of justice, brotherhood and of better opportunities for higher human development.

Its political programme, so far as it aims at material advantages, might easily be captured any day by either of our political parties, but its spirit of co-operation and of higher justice is needed and must persist.

Socialism uses religious propaganda; its Sunday-schools are increasing in Europe and America. In the British Sunday-schools the following are some of the texts taught:

[9] "The New World, its Foundations to be Justice; Love to be the Spirit of its inhabitants."

"All things pass away, but Love abideth forever."

"He who owns the things men must have, owns the men who have them."

"That which is not in the interest of the whole swarm is not in the interest of a single bee."

There is nothing to be alarmed at in this; it is as old as Aristotle and St. Paul. "The end of the state and the individual," said Aristotle, "are the same." "Now abideth faith, hope and love," said St. Paul, "but the greatest of these is love."

Socialism demands practically a transformation of human nature, for it must depend upon honest and self-controlled men when its civilization is in the hands of Government employees. Consequently, it demands clean politics, which cannot be secured merely by better political machinery, but by better men. These Christianity, if true to itself, can produce.

Socialism must correct not only the greed of overpaid rich, but the materialism of underpaid poor; both are unlovely. For after material well-being is secured the moral and spiritual problems of human nature still remain unsolved.

Many Socialists ignorantly call themselves such when they only demand reform. The most popular subjects discussed before our Sunday night and Tuesday night groups were: The Teaching of Market-Gardening and Farming to School Children; The Means of Stopping the Spread of Tuberculosis. The enthusiasm of working-men over these subjects, disclosed to me the fact that these audiences were unfamiliar with definite lines of attempted social improvement, but could appreciate the advantage of reforms, as contrasted with revolutionary legislation, when such reforms were pointed out and explained.

Socialism is not a new idea, but a rate of speed; consequently, what is wanted is intelligence to hasten progress rather than revolution to destroy present gains. Highroads, city water, public schools, courts, etc., are all socialistic, and the present will surely enlarge the list of state-controlled institutions.

Socialists have a tendency toward a new Puritanism. They are largely vegetarians and total abstainers from alcohol.

Socialism needs religion's pursuit of moral ideals by which alone happiness can be secured: otherwise Socialism, in despair [9/10] at the emptiness of its attainment, is in danger of committing suicide in its hour of victory. The words of the celebrated psychologist, Dr. Paul Dubois, may well be a warning:

". . . Let us beware of placing all our happiness on cards liable to be shuffled at any moment by others' hands or blown away by the least wind. It is this point of view that gives me only a very moderate confidence in the benefits of civilization, so long as it only brings us material advantage, greater comfort in our homes, better food and more cheerfulness of spirit, however noble they may be. Happiness is not there; it dwells in the deepest part of us, in our inmost ego; it can only have its existence in the most complete of our ideal aspirations, in the worship of the True, the Beautiful and the Good."

Socialism needs patience and charity. Two hours were required in one of our Sunday-night meetings for the Commissioner of Charities to convince the Socialists present of the good faith of a bill, introduced in the Legislature of New York, which proposed to create a labor colony for vagrants. In the end it turned out that the bill had been drafted by leading Socialists.


The objection the Socialist makes to the individual's religious isolation is well taken: "Religion is a relationship to God; a cleanly and high ordering of the soul," says the individualist. "Yes," says the Socialist, "but the relationship to God must include relationship to men; and how can your relationship to them be profound if you will not actively help them? Your own Bible should reprove you: 'Whoso hath this world's goods and seeth his brother have need and shutteth up his compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?' 'If a man say, I love God and hateth his brother he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?'"

The poor man cannot understand a religion that is an assent to propositions and is satisfied to hold itself aloof from life—a religion that is a mental state or an emotion and pays no attention to the clamor of empty stomachs.

We shall always have, perforce, vicissitudes enough to whet our spiritual appetites for moral combat. We need not manufacture hardships, as ascetics have done, nor maintain them as modern mystics are inclined to do. Indeed, when we are willing to allow [10/11] hardships to remain in the world, particularly the hardships of others, we are about as good Christians as Artemus Ward was a patriot during the Civil War, who said that he was willing to sacrifice all his wife's relations upon the altar of his country.


Neither individualism nor Socialism, as a solitary principle, governs progress, but rather a combination of the two. Until a man has made something of himself—is a healthy, sane and energetic individual—he is a burden to society; until society is organic and protects the individual it is not discharging its function.

The point at issue between individualists and Socialists is capable of solution—a solution that does not demand the surrender of either side. The future is not to see a purely individualistic or a purely Socialistic order, but one in which both principles are realized.

In biology the individual life and individual efficiency appear first, then a collectivism for the sake of a higher individuality. The individual, as an individual, must be good for something before he can be good enough for collective use; but by his collective relationships becomes of still further importance.

In psychology we discover that there are other influences affecting personality besides that which originates in the mind and is self-directed; there are exterior influences—viz., heredity and environment. The Christian individualist holds that the will is the great instrument of regeneration; the atheistic Socialist holds that environment is the agent of improvement. But will, according to its most modern definition (cf. Professor James), is a form of suggestion; it is a holding of an ideal before the mind until action follows. Environment also is a form of suggestion.

The depths of human consciousness are the product of heredity, environment, education, will—not of one, but of all. If, then, nature works with all these agents, have we a right to demand that our fellows work with only one? Man will always continue to be the child of many parents. Cromwell did not know how much his iron will borrowed from his inheritance, environment and education.

Socialism is continually declaiming against the superior individual, against genius and its masteries, but in the same breath begs the genius to arise and emancipate the wage-slave. If [11/12] Socialism ever wins it will be by the aid of what it despises—genius and religion. The first it needs to perfect the organization of industry; the second it needs to change the human heart and equip mankind with the virtues required by its new organization.


The Christian Socialist is laughed at and repudiated as being neither a Christian nor a Socialist. He is too Socialistic for capitalistic Churchmen and too individualistic for "the proletariat." The Christian Socialist is the man in the middle of the road in spiritual and industrial progress. He is the Christian who is not purely an individualist. He is a Socialist who believes in moral idealism. This is a perfectly clear and valuable distinction.

On the Continent Christian Socialism is a movement largely organized and directed by the Roman Catholic Church to counteract the effect of Marxian Socialism. Continental Christian Socialism is also, I believe, anti-Semitic. Both these considerations render it repugnant to the American Socialists, who, being so often of non-British races, do not know much about Charles Kingsley and Maurice, and the manly advocacy of working-men's projects that characterized the founders of English Christian Socialism.


The test of modern civilization will be its willingness to face the problem of co-operation and to attempt a purer democracy. What does Whittier's "Barefoot Boy" know about classes?

"Let the million-dollared ride!
Barefoot, trudging at his side,
Thou hast more than he can buy,
In the reach of ear and eye,—
Outward sunshine, inward joy;
Blessings on thee, barefoot boy!"

But if the farmer's boy, when a successful man of business, separates himself from the rank and file; if he forms alliance by marriage with European aristocracy; if he favors the social system and pleasures of the leisure class of Europe, he is playing into the hands of Socialism. He is creating classes in a democracy, and so is furnishing the factors for that "class struggle" which Karl Marx pronounces the evolutionary road to Socialism.

[13] The separation of heads of great corporations from their workmen, by the necessity that keeps one in a financial centre and the other in an industrial centre, suited to their special product; the separation in sympathy between capital and labor, as labor has become more and more foreign—all these causes have produced in America to-day what we denied existed a quarter of a century ago, namely, classes.

Success, too, separates the fortunate from the unfortunate. Not only is there a social change in the status of the man who has arrived, but there is little sympathy felt by him for the man who is left behind. Success and humility rarely go together. "Qu'il est difficile, messieurs, d'être victorieux et d'être humble tout ensemble!" cried the French orator, Fléchier, in his eulogy on Marshal Turenne. Our victorious captains of industry are not often enough Turennes,—at once successful and humble.

Under the circumstances of an increasing class separation in the United States, any-thing that can counterbalance undemocratic influences should be looked upon with favor. The Church to-day can help stem this undemocratic tide and can be of great social, industrial and political usefulness.

The permanent utility of the institution known as the Church is grounded in its power to affect association—to bring classes together. No other institution, except the state, gives one so large and permanent a tie with his fellows. The family is small and shifts. School and college meet the needs of only a part of our lives. Organizations for special objects, even great ends, are naturally one-sided and change complexion with success or failure, as can be seen in labor unions and political parties.

The Church represents a permanent interest from the cradle to the grave—a universal interest; an organization of ideals which all men can share and aspire to; an association of all classes in a common hope.

The best thing about the Sunday-night meetings at the Church of the Ascension—upon which the views expressed in this article are based—is that they have done just the thing the Church can and should do; they have brought extremes together—the rich and poor, the educated and uneducated. When thrown together the good in each is mutually appreciated. The sincerity of the capitalist and the honesty of the radical working-man have been made apparent. While no attempt to make proselytes was for [13/14] a moment contemplated or permitted, yet, to my surprise, a large number of persons, who supposed themselves hostile to religion, experienced in the course of these meetings almost an emotional conversion to a more peaceful and spiritual view.

The power of popular government is an ethical power. The masses cannot reason as well as a selected, trained aristocracy; but they reduce political problems to ethical terms and solve them by the use of a healthy conscience. The Church to-day, like the prophet of old, should be the voice of conscience and should keep a democracy true to its moral ideals.


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