The Spike or Victoria University College Review June 1926
Free Discussions Club
Free Discussions Club.
We're poor little lambs who've lost our way,
We're little black sheep who've gone astray
We do not know where truth exactly is, but we an busy sinking wells. Professor Hunter led the first engineering feat of this description on 13th April, when he gave an address on the "Future of Morality." There was a need to keep alive the spirit of free inquiry into such problems, especially in universities; for the great mass of people had never thought out any system of morality for themselves. The morality of a Community was not what determined the life of that community—such a statement would be absurd, e.g., in the case of Wellington, An investigation, if possible, into the large number of codes of morals prevalent here would be a very fruitful one. The standards of what was done and what ought to be done differed tremendously—to illustrate which, Professor Hunter read the two codes of Rotarian ethics, so exhilaratingly compiled by Mr. Valder, of Hamilton. With a comparatively few people morality was now getting rid of the dead hand of custom; a double standard and other time-honoured accretions, but it was not therefore to be inferred that moral rules were merely customs. Certain fundamental facts, such is justice and truth, had been very firmly and properly established by the experience of the past and were not be lightly overthrown. The immediate future of morals, in Professor Hunter's opinion, taking the libertarian tendencies of the world to-day into consideration, lay in a return to Puritanism; but the vital need of the present time was the free development of personality, and ultimately the future would belong to the nation who gave free play to and fostered that development.page 62
The discussion was not pursued with any great fervor, except by Professor Hunter, as everybody agreed with the main points he made. Mr. Campbell wished to discuss the ethics of Dr. J. B. S. Haldane's recent spiritual adventure at Cambridge, but the Professor disclaimed all knowledge of same. Mr. Fortune instanced a case of political persecution at V.U.C. in the war years, and Mr. Wilson, a Wellington divorce cause celebre, but it did not seem possible to prove anything of moment from these contributions to the subject. After a fine peroration on the cognate subject of loyalty and the Minister of Education from the leader of the discussion, the meeting broke up. warmed to the heart.
The second meeting of the year was held on Thursday, 29th April, when the discussion was opened by Mr. R. F. Fortune, M.A., who, on the eve of his departure for Europe, fired his parting shot at the Christian religion in all its shapes and forms.
Mr. Fortune was originally billed to consider the "Impossibility of Christianity"; the fact remains, however, that either because he was intimidated by his large audience, or because he feared to leave a bad impression behind him, Mr. Fortune was less his vigorous self than usual, and, apart from a certain wildness in his opening remarks, his statements seemed somewhat reasonable and capable of proof—of a sort.
To Mr. Fortune, Christianity as a religion, was logically impossible—so logically unsound was it that he did not consider it worth his while to show any or all of its anomalies. Therefore, he proposed to consider Christianity in relation to our present civilisation and to modern times in particular. Christianity was held up to ridicule as being a religion for women, and old men, as a religion which tended to disunite the family, and which tended to bar every movement towards the progress of the human race. Christianity was also instanced as conducive towards a "slave morality," as being the religion of the downcast and oppressed, and as having no contribution to make to modern life. God and immortality, the Bible and Jesus, were also disposed of to the speaker's satisfaction—if not to the satisfaction of his wondering audience. Mr. Fortune closed his address by pointing out that he was an Agnostic, and recommending Agnosticism to the consideration of his hearers.
Orthodoxy was quickly in the field to take up this bold challenge of such an important freethinker. Mr. McWilliams, after remarking that he needed at least thirty minutes to reply to Mr. Fortune, contented himself with making a very obvious pun—which some held to be in distinctly bad taste—upon his opponent's name, a few ineffectual remarks about his mentality, and ended with several vague and apparently wandering statements about his own religious convictions and beliefs, which failed entirely to hold water.
Either before or after Mr. McWilliams had spoken, Mr. Heyting gave the meeting his views in a rambling statement, which included London, Oxford, America, various Popes and Cardinals in Rome, and which concluded with the astonishing remarks, that though Christianity ought to be taught to children—to keep them quiet, apparently—yet it is not good enough for adults and other grown-up persons like the speaker himself Mr. Heyting was warmly applauded for his lucid and distinctly enlightening summary of his views on Christianity.
As the hour was now far advanced, the Chairman declared the meeting closed; he addressed a few farewell words to Mr. Fortune, giving him an equivocal compliment by saying that though his mind might be broadened he was sure his opinions would never change.
A week later this discussion was continued, and Professor Hunter, as Chairman, summed up the case of Mr. Fortune. Mr. McWilliams came along prepared to defend his faith, and to lead any wanderers back into the fold. He expressed deep regret that Mr. Fortune was not present, as he bad hopes of enlightening him.
In reply to Mr. Fortune's attack, he said that the R.C. Church was still true to its faith, and what was more, she practiced it. He instanced the figures in connection with divorce, which, as is well known, are much lower in R.C. countries. Most people, like Mr. Fortune, who attacked the Virgin Birth, the Bodily Resurrection and other such doctrines, were ignorant of what was really taught. He was prepared to challenge any one to dispute these on his premises. The argument allowed was quite vigorous. Mr. Miles said that Mr. Fortune's sweeping statements showed the extreme dogmatism of youth and had neglected all the facts page 63 of history. He said that Dr. Glover's Clash of Religion in the Roman Empire was a much more impartial authority than J. M. Robertson's History of Christianity.
Mr. James, in his apologia pro vita sua, stated that he was a R.C. by baptism, and was thus entitled to the blessing of the Pope, which, however, he did not want. He did not know where His Eminence lived, but he was sure that his manner of life was different from that of the Head of the Church. Mr. Wilson said that St. Paul was the real figure in Christianity not Christ, but he was promptly told to read the life of St. Paul again. St. Paul confessed that Christ was his inspiration, and whose "slave" he gladly was. Mr. Rollings said that the R.C. Church had burnt all those who had attempted to reform it, Wycliffe for translating the Bible into English, etc. Mr. McWilliams replied that he had not heard of such a gentleman, and would not believe Mr. Rollings's facts, Green's History of England being sufficient evidence. True religion was a matter of the spirit, said Mr. Steele, and was not confined within the walls of any particular Church or tradition. It was founded on the nature of man, and however little he may admire some of its forms or however doubtful we may be of their validity we could not fail to recognise the practical effectiveness and intense human interest. Religion is man's only answer to materialism and pessimism. He quoted Baron von Hugel to show that the true significance of personality and the necessary faith in man and his possibilities were impossible outside of religion.
Mr. Fraser replied to the attack on Christian Missions, saying that while he recognised that there was truth in all religion, and that they all aimed at much the same goal, still, the Christian had the highest conception, any honest study of comparative religion would show this.
Mr. Beaglehole said that he could not see anything in Mr. McWilliams's case that justified his belief. His creed might have been all right in the second or third century, but it "just would not hold water to-day and that was an end to it." He liked Mr. Steele's ideas, but thought that his religion was just "a warmth about the heart."
Mr. McWilliams thought we ought to continue the subject at a later date, and with this wish the meeting closed.