Chapter 2: "The Winsome Doctrine"
By Malachi Martin
Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1987, pages 260-268
added for emphasis
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, unbelief “assumed its present
status as a fully available option in American culture” and in its European
counterpart. It did not drive out belief. It did not dampen the ardor of
religious revivals. It was merely that the “continuing absence of a
conviction that any such superhuman power (as God] exists” became... a
perfectly acceptable attitude to religion, on a par with belief itself.
As James Turner shows in his book Without God, Without Creed,
this change had been in preparation for
at least two centuries. But... change did not come about as a direct
“victory” of purely secular zeal over religious belief. It was not the
rise of science, or the secularization of education and politics, or wide
spread industrialization, or the emergence of Communism and Marxism that
forced unbelief on our culture as an acceptable
This radical change was directly due
to the reaction of religious leaders themselves to modernity.
Faced with the efficiency of reason... religious thinkers fell
into lockstep. They labored to include God comfortably in all these
new modes of thinking [about science, man’s origins, medicine,
social science...] ... “Religious leaders committed religion functionally
to making the world better in human terms, and intellectually to modes of
knowing God that were fitted only for understanding the world." 
In making these new commitments, religious
leaders stepped out of the trenches. While the world was rushing to adapt to
its new wisdom, churchmen failed to perform the one task that has always
been the hallmark of great religious thinkers: to leaven, to modify, and to
give transcendent meaning to the bared facts of life in the visible world.
They failed, in other words, to train the supernatural light of their belief
onto the new revolutionary wisdoms that flooded the minds of men in the
Instead they adapted. They consented to think
and reason about God and religious truth according to the new rules by which
modern secularism was making its rather impressive progress. /161-262/ In a
word, they surrendered to modernity. “God,” declared Gilbert Burnet, Bishop
of Sarum, “is a progressing Providence.”
By 1875, one orator at the University of
Wisconsin could declare in public that “Social Science is the Healer, the
life-thrilled Messianic Healer of the human race. It is the herald on the
misty mountain top proclaiming through all this burdened earth that the Kingdom of Man is at hand.”
Unbelief was in. It was perfectly
respectable. Not to believe was as much a right as to believe. ...
The new religious attitude of unbelief had
attractions that were all its own, especially for intellectuals. Such people
were, after all, the cream of the crop, the brains, the leading spirits.
They weren’t simply modern for their day. They were modernity. They
set the pace.... Some of them were the leading thinkers in their world,
and their specialties—science, Biblical lore, the arts, history—were
held in high honor....
This new and revolutionary breed of men
seemed so human in their understanding and so divine in
their instinct! They were...
democratic in their spirit of toleration—where
a Protestant and a Catholic would be at each other’s throats, the unbeliever
could be friends with both, taking no side.... His attitude seemed so
broadminded and apparently so unprejudiced, so seemingly sweet and
tractable, so winsome and peace-loving... that for many, it
appeared to be the most genuine and noblest of attitudes a believing
Christian could adopt. ...
....the new outlook could hardly have
enjoyed its solid vogue... if it weren’t for an obscure Hindu monk ... Swami
Vivekananda... participated in the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893
in Chicago. ...with an exotic accent and /261-262/ a hypnotic stare, the
Swami spoke about the oneness of existence, the
divinity of the human soul, the harmony of all religions, and the oneness of
Still, it was not so much what the
Swami said; it was the way he made it fit so remarkably well with the
journey of science and humanism toward a new idea of material perfection.
“Man is not traveling from error to truth,”
Vivekananda declared to the newly receptive Western mind, “but climbing from
truth to truth, from truth that is lower to truth that is higher..."
The Swami from Calcutta took the academicians
and high society by storm. He was... honored by the philosophers and
theologians of Harvard and Chicago. Wherever he went, in fact, he left an
indelible tint in the bloodstream of academic thinkers among whom the
winsome doctrine had already taken hold. For he supplied the notion that
what mattered was not religion in general any religion in particular, but
spirit. To be spiritual; that was the key. “If one religion be true,”
he said, “then all the others must be true....Art, science, and religion
are but three different ways of expressing single truth. .. . Everything
ascends to the spiritual....“Importantly for thinkers engaged in recodifying
the world, the Swami supplied a vocabulary to express that spirituality."...
The Swami succeeded where Christian leaders
had failed. He provided the new cult of unbelief with an overarching,
unifying and completely acceptable mind-set.6 That it was religious
in the pagan sense of that word was unimportant. Its appeal was that it
harped on the dignity of man, the privileged power of his reason; and it
placed total trust only in human nature, so that if each person were free
of all tinkering and tampering by organized religion, he could achieve
his own happiness....
The new unbelief had found a way to
emphasize what brought people together, not what separated them. Now it could tell men and women what they could become, were destined to
become, not what they shouldn’t become. /262-263/...
Believing Christians would patronizingly, but
still admiringly, call them “obviously enlightened heathens.” The new breed
didn’t like that term heathen, however, nor atheist; the negative
connotations were too negative and too obvious. ... For they claimed
to be moved by the spirit of morality and its conscience, which urged them
to do the best they could for other human beings. They supported all the
moral good that formal religions both professed and performed, and they
propagated friendship, love, reconciliation, and peace.... We tolerate all
Thus, the new religion of unbelief had
acquired an ethos or mind-set and a vocabulary by the turn of the
century.... Because of the new attitude, unbelief, championed our
humanness, it could be described as a humanism—but definitely not the same
humanism that had emerged in the European Renaissance three centuries
The new humanism underlined our privilege of being human together in a
purely material cosmos. It championed human membership in that cosmos as
something inherent in cosmic history, a happenstance that dated from remote
beginnings in the primeval “soup” of lifeless chemicals...
In its heyday during the nineteenth and
three-quarters of the twentieth centuries, the new unbelievers and those who
understood them called the new attitude or outlook “being modern” or
“modernist.” Modernism became the normal mode of thinking congenial to the
unbelievers of Western nations. The Modernist mind
foresees all sorts of “goodies” for mankind, and quite a spectacular
development, if people will only consent to change.
one obstacle to that sustained and
spectacular development Modernism promised was a certain stubborn
resistance to change, a certain fixity of religious belief,
the clinging by many to ancient dogmas.
Of course, any organized religion presented such an obstacle. But, for the
new race of unbelievers and Modernists, the Christian churches... were the
prime creators of the obstacle....
The new breed of unbelievers automatically
had a deep antipathy for that control by churchmen. It had retarded man’s
development, they said. It offended man’s dignity. Clerics themselves
spoiled the natural unity of men by their churlish divisiveness, and
their quarrels over abstract ideas and propositions and dogmas...
impeded modernity. Worst of all, clerics forbade change. They allowed no
/264-265/ adaptation. If that clericalism
and ecclesiastical control could be liquidated, men would be free to develop
and meet the challenges of a new world....
Unbelief, of itself, could not unseat
popular belief and attachment to traditional religion among the masses
of ordinary people. The very language it spoke was unintelligible to
the ordinary mind....
A great desire to join in the success, to
participate in the “new age,” to be colleagues of those who were pushing the
frontiers of man knowledge far beyond all conceivable limits, began to play
on the intelligentsia of the Church. Surely, they concluded, the Church must
also evolve and therefore change. They too (in the Swami's words) were
“climbing up from truth to truth that is higher." /265-266/
Nevertheless, covert though it was, Modernism made its inroads in the
Church. For the intellectual, for the culturally sophisticated, there
remained that winsome attraction of the unbeliever—as well as his modernity.
The Modernist mind was that of hundreds who helped mightily in bettering
man’s lot. He originated socially beneficial legislation. Modernists
championed the underdog. They displayed none of the hate that was rife
between differing religions. They claimed no infallibility.... /266-267/
...Would it not be better to adopt a more sympathetic and understanding
attitude to these Modernists? How else could modern man of the 1880s be led
“suavely and sweetly” to consider Christ and his salvation?
...those voices advocating what they called a
“positive” approach were drowned out [at first]....
Modernist mind existed as the “upper ceiling of thought” beneath which many
Catholic scholars... faithfully taught the traditional doctrines of Rome.
Edgar C Bundy,
General Chairman of the Church League of America
Collectivism in the churches: A
documented account of the political activities of the Federal, National,
and World Councils of Churches (Wheaton, Illinois: Church League of America, 1957),
page numbers added at the end of each section above.