Meditations for Layfolks - Faith and Values

It has been said now for some time that all our sports have been spoilt by professionalism. Boxing, for example, has been accused of no longer following the old lines; the earlier method was, on the whole, a series of head attacks; whereas the newer style is in-fighting, which, without being either illegal or even unsportsmanlike, is yet on principles different from the tactics employed by the earlier generation of fighters. But it is not so much the manner of fighting that has changed as the idea that lies behind it, the purpose for which the combatants engaged. Formerly it is asserted that they fought for the sport, but now for the victory. It used to be considered that the entertainment was for the benefit of the spectators, but at present it is simply to produce the earliest knock-out. The new fashion is much more efficient, and the most efficient must always be adopted. So, again, the whole recent legislation for social matters has been largely conducted on the same lines. No thought is given to what the people want, or whether, indeed, they have any right to expect to be asked what they want, but only to what is the most efficient way of treating them houses are not built in accordance with any preconceived ideas that the people might have who are to live in them, but solely the ideas of those who are to build them. Again, the question of what is called eugenics is resolvable simply into the same thing. The feeble-minded are to be segregated because they are inefficient. Not one thought is given to the consideration as to whether they have any rights as human beings, but only as to whether they are efficient, in the strictly material sense.

The national life of the modern world is being worked out purely on lines of efficiency. It is true that there is certainly need for the consideration of efficiency; but the trouble is that too much is centred on that single idea to the exclusion of every other. For example, there is the principle also of freedom, an idea that has been far more productive of good in the history of man. A nation that has aimed consistently at freedom has, on the whole, done more for the ultimate good of the world than have those races that have given them selves over to the worship of mere efficiency. No doubt there are dangers for those who aim too exclusively at liberty; there is such a thing as the dissolution of the bonds of public morality and, therefore, of public discipline: but it is unquestionable that the harm done has been, on the whole, less than that brought about by the extreme promulgation of the efficiency ideal. It is repeated over and over again by many of the modern philosophers that no nation can afford to lag behind in the struggle for progress. This is true, but do they not very often limit the idea of progress to the merely material consideration of manufacture or trade? Is it not, on the other hand, quite arguable that a nation that is on a lower plane in matters purely material, may yet on the whole question be far more representative of true culture? Just because a poor but religious population cannot make its commerce pay, is it, therefore, to be supposed to have done less for the world than some spick and span people that has little else to show for its achievements but terrible slaughter and the invention of destructive forces?

Now all this is not merely to be applied to the national, but to the individual, life; it is there far more dangerous, because far more likely to be carried to extremes. Thus is it quite possible that I find myself getting into the way of judging life and life's affairs by the vulgar material standard that may well happen to prevail in the circles in which my business is cast. Have I not found myself adopting their standard even when it is most opposed to the principles of faith? I judge, that is to say, not by eternity, but by time. Poverty is looked upon as a disgrace by half the world, which yet lifts hardly a finger to insist upon its abolition. Yes, probably I am generous enough with my charity. But if poverty is so disgraceful a thing that I will not welcome its victims to my doors, is it not time that I did something far more radical, did something to get at the social causes of this extreme destitution, which no follower of Christ could ever allow to exist if he could well help it? Sickness and failure are, I am always professing in my prayer-book, signs that God loves me; yet how oddly I treat these pledges of love. I say that faith is dearer to me than life, yet, on the whole, life seems to get the better of faith on most points in which they come into conflict. Am I not, when all is said and done, rather a hypocrite in my idealistic profession of the value of spiritual things compared with the actual tenor of my life, which hardly suggests any such tremendous resolve? Now the value that I put upon things must be just that value that faith teaches me. Faith is to be the standard of judgement, and according to its dictates am I to settle my choice in life.

- text taken from Meditations for Layfolk by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.