Will Herberg on Unbelief
Dr. Herberg is graduate Professor of Philosophy and Culture at Drew University. In answer to the question: “What keeps modern man from religion?” he replied. First, although not indicting technology, he replied that the triumph of the technological spirit in less than two centuries “has engendered in modern Western man a monstrous sense of technological arrogance. Man, collective man, has come to see himself replacing God as ‘Maker and Master of all’; and, most ironically, he has come to see himself not only as Creator and Maker, but also as his own destroyer! The same technological spirit has promoted in Western culture a pervasive technological climate with a mechanistic bias toward depersonalization and ‘thingification.’ Everything about man—body, mind, and spirit—tends to be mechanized.”
We have tended to convert “all human problems into technological problems, to be deal with by some kind of machinery, mechanical or organizational.” But human problems are so deep and complex that they cannot be laid to rest like technological problems, but are always with us, and confront each generation anew. The technological approach cuts the ground out from under “the sense of personal being and personal relation, which is at the heart of living religion. It is fundamentally hostile to the sense of transcendence, the sense of beyondness, that is the proper dimension of living religion. It is fundamentally hostile to the sense of human insufficiency and limitation, without which there can be no living religion.”
Second, “the triumph of the omnicompetent welfare state” whose impersonal bureaucracy has more and more replaced the care given by friends and family “within the scope and function of the church. . . .” This has contributed to the secularization of society wherein “the hopes and expectations of the masses of people have steadily been turning from church to state, from religion to politics.”
Third, “The triumph of mass society” in which “the individual person is increasingly atomized and homogenized, stripped bare of whatever particularities of background tradition, and social position he may have possessed, and converted into a homogenized featureless unit in a vast impersonal machine. In our homogenizing mass society, we have a horror of distinctions and differences, which are felt to be ‘discriminatory;’ we want everybody to be like everybody else, only more so! This tendency toward homogenization, which John Stuart Mill saw and denounced a century ago as destructive of all real freedom (On Liberty, 1859; Mill called it ‘assimilation’), is now welcomed by liberal writers. “The ideal human society,’ one recent writer promulgates as a self-evident truth, ‘is one in which distinctions of race, nationality, and religion, are totally disregarded. . . .”
This destroys “person-to-person relationships,” magnifies the impersonal state, leads to non-involvement, and “a spurious sociability without personality, community, or responsibility.” People in many places are no longer neighbors. (“What Keeps Modern Man from Religion?” The Intercollegiate Review, Winter, 1969-1970, pp. 5-11.)
What some cannot seem to see is that: First, the greater man’s technological achievements the more incredible it is to believe that man is but a mechanism or the non-planned by-product of the forces of nature. The greater the achievements of man the more it should be impressed on us that the Cause of man is far superior to matter in motion. Second, without the sense of personal worth, of a real relationship to God, of good will, and of fellowship which the church should provide, the more the state not only tends to replace God but also to become the dictatorial apparatus of a self-assumed elite who believe they have the wisdom and the knowledge necessary to plan and direct the lives of others. When men are not ruled by God they will ultimately be ruled by tyrants. Third, when man becomes a number in mass society he loses his sense of personal responsibility; but recognition of personal responsibility is essential to one’s acceptance of Christ. Men differ in many ways, but when these differences are controlled and developed by love progress is made and individuals are actually drawn closer to one another. When they are pressured into the same mould, they tend to become increasingly hostile to one another. The sameness which Christianity seeks is the faithful use of one’s differences in ability and talents under the authority of the one Lord, bounded by the one faith and directed to the glory of God, the development of one’s own character, and the good of others.
The very things which are undermining the faith of some in Christianity are things which, when rightly viewed, show the increasing need for Christ in this world as well as in the world to come.
James D. Bales
Gospel Advocate 22 March 1973, p. 183-84
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James D. Bales was a long time professor at Harding University. He wrote extensively in the field of Apologetics during the 20th century, and was a recognized expert on Marxism. He served as moderator for Dr. Thomas B. Warren during his monumental 1976 debate on the existence of God with Dr. Antony Flew.