Project Canterbury

The Church and the Hour
Reflection of a Socialist Churchwoman

By Vida D. Scudder, A.M.

New York: E.P. Dutton, 1917.

III. Two Letters to The Masses

The Masses is a radical weekly published in New York. It is clever, searching, clear-purposed, and bitterly anti-ecclesiastical. Its scathing cartoons well deserve attention from church-loving persons; as in the case of a drawing of prosperous clergy feasting at a table over which hangs a crucifix; below, a citation from the Times stating the cost of a clerical dinner to have been $5.00--or was it $10.00?--a plate; above, the caption, Their Last Supper.

But while the satire stings, some of it is grossly unfair, notably the contemptuous and ignorant attitude toward Christian dogma. Certain skits, imitating from afar the light irony of Anatole France, but unrelieved, to some minds at least, by Gallic delicacy or point, excited much criticism a year or two ago. These skits called forth a number of letters, some protesting, some applauding, which the editors published in amusing juxtaposition. The quotations from the correspondence which follow are reprinted with the thought that they may indicate conditions in sincere radical minds which the Christian apologist must meet:

"Editors of The Masses,

"GENTLEMEN: You sent me an appeal for subscribers. Slowly and lazily I had just reached the point of getting you one when I received the 'Heavenly Dialogue' in your last month's issue. You will get no subscribers through me. I am not afraid of blasphemy, as I do not think the eternal verities are ever injured by it, and I like and approve sharp, clever attacks on all that is false and conventional in religion. But the smart and cheap vulgarity of that thing was too much for me. It is a pity.

"I have read few remarks about the war that struck home to me as did those by Max Eastman in the same number. . . .

"I wish The Masses could manage to avoid offensiveness with no sacrifice of its trenchant quality, and I think it could, perfectly well, if the editors chose to do so. ...

"Fraternally and cordially,


A Western correspondent wrote:

"Keep hammering away at the failure of us who profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ--we need it: we must never think we are following his ideals as closely as smug complacency suggests. But please do not serve up in your columns more of such articles as that to which I have referred, which alienate without benefiting--and which are in bad taste, I firmly believe."

The Masses retorted:

"Such a letter one can hardly answer at all, so remote is its viewpoint, and yet so warm its good-will. It is as if a being from some other planetary system should write in, asking why we assume that every heavy thing drops to the earth. We wonder how this being who lives under the Lord Jesus as an anthropomorphic God, ever wandered into the orbit of The Masses--and yet, now that he is there, we would like to hold his interest and faith, for he evidently has a little faith in us.

"And perhaps there is some ground for it. We believe in Jesus. We believe that he lived and died laboring and fighting, in a noble atmosphere of disreputability, for the welfare and liberty of man. To us his memory is the memory of a hero, and perhaps a good deal of our indignation against the Church rises from that. We are indignant, not only because the Church is reactionary, but because the Church betrayed Jesus. The Church took Christ's name and then sold out to the ruling classes. The Church is Judas. And to us that little immaculate ikon that sits at the right hand of the image of God in Heaven is a part of the whole traitorous procedure. Whoever puts Jesus up there dodges Him down here--that has been our experience. Look into your mind and find out whether it is Jesus of Nazareth that you want to defend against satire, or a certain paste-and-water conception of Him which assuredly needs your defense."

It seemed worth while to comment a little further on this correspondence, so the following letter was written:

"To the Editor:

"With 'inward glee' if not with 'serious faith,' I read your Talk on Editorial Policy, wherein you print letters from candid friends, including myself, neutralizing each other. They are good fun.

"But I am moved to tell you something. It is apropos of the letter from California and your comment on it.

"What I want to tell you is that you have no cause for surprise at the sympathy of 'this being' for The Masses. He does not stand alone. It is high time for you to recognize that anti-Church radicals do not absorb radicalism any more than Church-members absorb Christianity. The old creeds are not dead, though impassioned believers in them are not often met, according to my experience, in 'cultured Boston' or its suburbs--or anywhere else. They exist, however, these believers--men and women who consider themselves, not merely with you, admirers of a dead martyr-hero, but disciples of a Living Lord. Among these disciples a considerable number find the pungent and penetrating treatment of Churchi-anity and civilization in The Masses as welcome as flowers in May. They agree with you not all the time, but much of the time, and they give thanks for you and wish they were clever enough to do so too.

"For among those who know an interior union with the Living Christ (pardon the strange language) He is manifest more and more as the Christ of the Revolution.

"Of course, this vision of Him was long obscured. But it has never been lost. In the unpromising eighteenth century, William Blake defiantly proclaimed it:

'The vision of Christ which thou dost see
Is my vision's greatest enemy,
Both read the Bible day and night,
But thou readest black where I read white.
Where'er His chariot took its way.
The gates of death let in the day--

"So long as the Gospels are read aloud Sunday after Sunday in church, the vision can't be lost. It bides its time, it finds its own. It is most compelling to-day among those who believe,--they really do, I assure you,--that He who was executed by the combined forces of the religious, intellectual, and governing classes of His day, is to be the Judge of the human race.

"In gently assuming that no intelligent person who enjoys The Masses holds this extraordinary hope, Mr. Editor, you are provincial. Please socialize your mind! Please open imagination to the fact of which I inform you,--that there are plenty of people ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with you in the fight for a clean, just, democratic civilization, who get authentic inspiration from sources closed to you. And don't sneer at their sanctities; it isn't worthwhile. The most seeming-obsolete formula is likely to have a sacred heart beating in it. It has meant, at all events, something profound in human experience. Were I in Buddha-land, I should never make fun of even the most crude and popular forms of Buddha-worship. Were I among the Turks, I should say my prayers in the Mosques--always supposing (I am hazy on this point)--that they would admit a lady. The Masses lives in a country where a great deal of real Christianity survives--though I confess that appearances rather contradict the assertion. It wouldn't do you a bit of harm to show a little respect for it. For the amazing truth of the old Christian formulas is plain to the experience of thousands, and great tides of Christian mysticism are rising to refresh the arid souls of our generation. "I hardly expect you to be interested in all this. And nobody is trying to convert you. You are doing a lot of good just where you are, and we all have eternity, and possibly many lives ahead even on earth, in which to learn things we don't know. But as we muddle along together, it should be possible to believe people who tell us that they see a light we don't, and to accept them courteously as fellow-pilgrims toward the City of Equity.

"Fraternally yours,


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