Chapter 7:<I> </I>The Good Earth and the Good Society

God’s Grace and Man’s Hope
by Daniel Day Williams

Chapter 7:<I> </I>The Good Earth and the Good Society

The hope for a "better world" of human dignity, productive peace, and social justice formed a cardinal tenet of the liberal expression of Christian faith. We are all beginning to learn that Christian hope ought never to be expressed as a prediction of the course of history. We cannot demand that the future be bent to conform to human plans. Christian hope is the spirit in which we accept the risk of the future. We move into the unknown with faith and expectancy because we have seen salvation accomplished in the midst of evil.

At this time when hope runs low among men, we should be ready to give as sane an interpretation as we can fashion of the possibilities of human life. Christianity would be a sorry failure today if it kept itself aloof from the search for constructive solutions of human problems. Secular idealism may not reach the height of religious faith, but a conscientious effort to bring a better order into the world is one of the continuing signs of the image of God in man.


We need to consider what kind of hope for the better world is implied in the viewpoint we have developed and show how we must hold this hope in strict balance with a Christian realism concerning the evil which is within us and about us. We need to formulate the Christian hope in a way which embraces what is valid in both realism and utopianism.

I use the word "utopianism" deliberately because it brings us straightway to the crux of our problem. The word "utopian" is usually hissed rather than spoken today. It is hurled with reproach at liberal Christianity which is charged with having allowed the Christian faith to be replaced by a secular utopianism. The American approach to politics and history is characterized as "utopian" when critics wish to say that Americans do not understand historical realities. Richard Niebuhr describes this dissolution of the Gospel in American Christianity: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross."1

We have admitted the justice in this criticism. We want no return to a view of history which deals superficially with the fact of evil. It may serve the purpose of clarity if having made this qualification I state bluntly my thesis that the utopianism in the liberal faith had a lasting value which it derived partly from the Christian faith and partly from what was valid in the world view of the Enlightenment. We could make no greater mistake today than to allow this utopian element to be uprooted from our Christian experience and witness. Utopianism rightly understood has a place in the Christian response to life.

To use the term "utopian" merely as a scornful epithet does not serve the purpose of clear thinking. Let us ask what it means. What is utopian in a bad sense and what is not?

In the narrow sense of the word "a Utopia" is an imaginative picture of a perfect order of life, projected either backward toward a golden age or forward into an ideal future. From Plato’s Republic to the several visions of H. G. Wells, the Utopias have served as the vehicles for the expression of wisdom about life, social preachment, and sheer imaginative delight. Culturally speaking, at least, we should be much the poorer without them.

It is doubtful if any one generalization about the functions and significance of these artistic and intellectual visions can be made. Mr. Toynbee is probably oversimplfying when he says that their primary intent is to arrest the process of decay of civilization while trying to show that certain selected elements of the civilization are essential to perfection. Plato, for example, borrows some of the Spartan ideals for his perfect state in order to arrest the decay of Athens.2 This misses, I believe, the profounder significance of Plato’s Republic as an expression of philosophical wisdom. A strong case has been made by F. J. E. Woodbridge that Plato not only does not seriously regard his "perfect state" as realizable, but that he means to make us see the error of imposing perfection too rigorously on human fallibility.3 Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward illustrates the utopia which becomes a persuasive call to radical social reforms.4 It also illustrates one of the functions of utopian thought as a medium of realistic criticism of the present. When Bellamy says that in his new society the editors of newspapers are elected by the subscribers, he hits straight at the problem of the democratic control of the sources of propaganda which has become critical for us.

The religious utopianism of the Anabaptists in the Reformation period and of the Levellers and Diggers in England grew out of the Christian expectation of the imminent end of the world and the attempt within the religious community to begin to live the life of the new order here and now. The modern utopias of liberalism and of Marxism have asserted the possibility of the order which overcomes evil emerging either through gradual development or catastrophic struggles in history. Both Marxists and liberals who expect in their different ways the coming of the good society are able to live in a kind of anticipatory participation in the perfection of the goal. Its triumph is assured. A Condorcet predicting the age of peace from his prison during the French Revolution, or the German Communist in a Nazi concentration camp, may live through the trials of the present with a serenity born of the knowledge that what ought to be will be.

The "utopian" experimental societies so familiar in American history have drawn little groups of people into adventure of proving that the new order is possible. They all failed; yet many were splendid failures and released into the mainstream of our culture forces and ideals which we would not willingly let go.5

This cursory survey reminds us that the "lure of perfection" has its own power, and appears as a recurring phenomenon among sensitive souls. Our capacity to deal with what we call the realistic problems of life would be weakened without this element which contains something profound in spite of the romantic and even absurd ways in which it may be expressed.

We are encouraged to look for the deeper element in utopianism through the labors of the sociologist Karl Mannheim, who has characterized it in a brilliant manner. If we follow Mannheim we are able to identify a general meaning of "utopianism" as one of the ways in which groups in history take hold of their historical situation.

Mannheim describes the "utopian mentality" in these words: "Every age allows to arise . . . those ideas and values in which are contained in condensed form the unrealized and the unfulfilled tendencies which represent the needs of each age. These intellectual elements then become the explosive material for bursting the limits of the existing order." 6 The utopian element appears where men believe in the creative eruption of forces which are capable of meeting the new demands of life. Now we begin to see one aspect of the historical significance of the Christian faith that God is powerful and that He will act. Mannheim himself traces the "spiritualization" of politics in modern culture to its origin in the chiliastic utopias of exploited and oppressed Christian groups which began to try to make radical changes in the political order.7 Faith that God’s power was producing the new order became a call to revolutionary human response. Religion which has not lost its utopianism is the opposite of the opiate of the people.

The sense in which the utopian element belongs in the Christian view of history now becomes clear. It does not require the assertion that perfection is possible in any life or society. It does mean that history is open to the power of God and through His power society can be transformed in the direction of the real good. It is one of the functions of theology to be a critic of utopias and utopianism. Criticism is evaluation. The Christian mind will seek at all times for the possibility of new good which may be hidden from our sight, but which we know is everywhere present.

Utopianism in the Christian hope is that spirit which knows that man is never satisfied or at peace until he discovers the meaning of life in the community of love with God and his fellows. It is the everlasting expectancy of God’s mercy sustaining and redeeming our twisted lives. It is the willingness to trust life to Him even when we cannot see the way through. It is the willingness to let the old order be shaken to pieces and to believe that a better is possible under God who is forever making "a new heaven and a new earth." This expectancy of the Christian spirit has more than one mode of expression. It may release a zestful activism in which we start out to get things done. But there is also a brooding and silent patience in the face of disaster, when we see no way to turn and nothing we can do. But the waiting can be filled with hope for him who believes that God keeps His own watch in the night.

Hope itself is born of the spirit’s grip upon ultimate things. The forms of hope are functions of the world view of a particular mind or culture. When we try to say what we hope for and why we hope, we begin and end with the vision of God as the source and meaning of life. But we also point to the life about us and try to say what we see in it that sustains our hope. When we do this we discover that Christian hope has many dimensions. We shall explore three of them,


1. Christian hope is sustained by, and expresses itself in, a reverent grateful love for the good earth.

In asserting the goodness of our natural environment we should avoid a false sentimentality. There is a mystery of evil in the creation. Human life is often crushed, starved, or killed by disease before its "natural" course is run. Yet amidst the travail of creation there is the fact of the tender nurture of life. The earth is but a passing order. Still if this present cosmos is but a wasting flow of energy, in faith we believe that creative love will go on doing its patient work. God is not bound to one universe or one cosmic epoch, and His work is manifest in this order which sustains our life. The prayer for "our daily bread" is the acknowledgment of our dependence, and the expression of hope that the God who has given life will continue to give it. We experience His grace in the order of the stars and seasons, the rhythm of work and rest, the repeated miracle of birth, growth, death, and new life. The Christian attitude permits no ultimate asceticism toward the things of earth and sense. When the meek shall inherit the earth their reward is like the reward of the Kingdom of heaven itself.

We acknowledge that the criticism of romantic tendencies in the theologies which have stressed the immanence of God is often justified. We are not defending the sweetish sentiments taught in much poetry and song which discreetly ignore the cruel and darker side of nature. But there is more than sentimentality in a reverent acceptance of this life with fear of its evil and love for its good. Such acceptance comes from the discovery of the patient working of God as He bears us with Him into the future. As Tagore wrote: "Every child comes into the world with the message that God does not yet despair of man."8

Even death has its place in the service of God. It is the way life makes way for more life.9 Death establishes a common fate for every living thing, and thus gives a decisive character to our dependence upon God and our unity with all His creatures. It opens the way to the participation of this finite life in the infinite life of God. The traditional doctrine that death is in the world as the result of sin may easily lead to confusion. Death as separation from God is the mark of sin. But death as a natural fact is one of the conditions under which God’s work gets done. Here is a decisive point at which we need to recognize that our existence as finite creatures offers us something more than temptations to sin. The theologies which stress original sin inordinately tend to see nothing but temptation in the natural order. But there are also persuasions to love in our creaturely experience. Even in death God draws us to Himself.

The reverent acceptance of the natural conditions of life has practical consequences. When man regards nature only as something to be exploited for immediate gain without concern for the whole good it is meant to serve, he loses even his capacity to make full use of nature. A scientific conquest of nature without the sense of reverence will always turn against us. Mind becomes calculating, practical, sure of its capacity to dominate. Yet this imperial confidence of man the exploiter has nothing to serve. It loses the zest of life. It has no power to see it whole. That is much of what is wrong with man’s spirit today. Sheer control over life for the sake of control is self-defeating. The good earth is good only as we love it in the using of it.

The Malvern conference of English churchmen said in 1941, "We must recover reverence for the earth and its resources, treating it no longer as a reservoir of potential wealth to be exploited but as a storehouse of divine bounty on which we utterly depend."10 Mr. David Lilienthal has given practical evidence of the validity of this religious attitude in his account of how the principle of the "respect for the unity of nature" emerged in the development of the Tennessee Valley Authority. The principle is that soil, forests, rivers, and our technical skill will together serve human life provided we understand and respect the interrelatedness of all life. Thoughtless exploitation of one natural resource without taking account of the whole restorative cycle of nature and the whole need of man wastes natural wealth. Mr. Lilienthal gives the striking example of Ducktown, Tennessee. To this town came a copper mining company interested apparently only in copper. To get fuel for the smelter furnaces the magnificent hard wood forests were cut down. Fumes from the smelter laid their killing blight on the remaining vegetation. Rainfall washed away the good soil now unprotected. Man made a desert of the land.11 The actual cost in natural wealth of this one failure is staggering. Today new technical skill has rendered the smelter fumes harmless. A program is under way to restore the lost forests and fields. The earth will yield her increase when man respects her laws. As the engineer describes the principle of the unity of nature an ancient word takes on new meaning, "The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof." God made us members not only of one another, but of the one great society of all creatures.

It may be held that our earth really provides only meager living for most human beings. One school of economists suggests that nothing much better than poverty for the masses of men is conceivable within the economy of nature as we know it. Certainly it is true that we cannot expect, and indeed we would not want, a world which did not call forth a strenuous disciplined effort of mind and body for the maintenance of life. Yet the burden of grinding poverty destroys the possibility of the full life for the masses of men. The scientist, K. F. Mather, has made out a strong case that there is "Enough and to Spare" of natural resources. The resources are in the earth and the means to use those resources are at hand to lift mankind beyond the threat of starvation, and out of the grinding condition of insecure physical existence. Fairfield Osborn in Our Plundered Planet gives a less optimistic analysis, but makes the same argument that intelligent planning is imperative for the full use of the resources we have.12 Advances in medical science are so dramatic we need only to mention them. Life expectancy in America has doubled since 1900. That is a gain for human good beyond calculation. Scientific resources for dealing with mental illness are increasing. While our culture produces neurotic personalities, we know some of the causes and some of the ways by which men can be helped to accept life and to live it with adequacy rather than to be broken by it. All this takes human effort and ingenuity. Nature does not give her bounty without human labor. But man did not invent his own inventiveness. That itself is a gift of grace.

Christian faith accepts the challenge of the natural environment to make it serve human fulfillment. We need to make certain that neither the mood of despair of our time, nor the theological concentration of attention on man as sinner robs us of a respect for life’s essential goodness and the importance of intelligence and disciplined effort in meeting the particular problems which are set for us by the conditions of human existence. Hope for man is reborn whenever we rediscover our dependence upon the good earth. That hope will be expressed in a reverent concern that what God has provided shall be used to serve nothing less than His good which is the one real good of all things.

2- The Christian hope for man is sustained by, and expressed in, the never-ending struggle for the Good Society.

"The Good Society" is a utopian symbol. That is its power. The hope for a redeemed humanity, living in dignity, freedom, and brotherhood under God is an integral part of the Christian faith about the meaning of the human adventure. Whatever blocks the coming of the Good Society is an enemy of Christ. What helps humanity forward toward that society is proof that Christ reigns with power. This hope for the Good Society was justified in liberal theology both by its ultimate faith in God and by what it took to be experiences of real victory over evil.

We can save that hope. We must save it if Christianity is to have an ethical gospel for human affairs. The ethic of love presupposes that in some measure what ought to be can come to be. Such is the radical faith with which the Christian spirit ought to release us to tackle our social problems.

We now know that it is imperative for us to recognize that the Christian hope for the Good Society can be saved only if we achieve a new formulation of it. We know that something was wrong with the optimism of the social gospel. What is not so clear is how to bring the spiritual and moral depth of that gospel into a new philosophy of Christian action in history. But a most promising solution is emerging in the theological discussion today. The key is this: The aim of Christian social ethics is to discover and promote the establishment of those conditions which will aid the growth of communities of freedom, justice, and equality. These communities will not be "the great community," but they will support that community, and be something like it. We cannot directly create a good society. It must grow. No growth is mechanical or wholly controllable even in the lowest orders of life. At the human level the growth of community depends on the free response of men to the needs of their neighbors. What we can do is to discover in human experience those social, economic, political, and cultural conditions which may open the way for the life of free men under God.

To make clear what is new in this approach to the social gospel let us take the analogy of the family. Suppose a man and a woman marry, and set out to establish the Perfect Marriage. They determine to govern the whole of life toward the full realization of the ideal. They manage their children’s lives with the intention of seeing to it that nothing but the most perfect domestic order is established. Now we quickly sense there is something dangerous and humanly intolerable in such an effort. It has been well said, when we work at our virtues they may become deadly. We are forcing something which cannot be forced. When our try for perfection falls short as it must, we have no resources with which to meet it. if we have staked the meaning of life on achieving nothing less than the ideal.

Some forms of the Christian attack on the social problem have expressed just such a taut idealism. Men set out to create their ideal Christian order of life, that is, to control history.

Whatever the moral heroism it may elicit the limitations of this idealistic approach are now clear. The structure of the ideal society Cannot be finally prescribed, nor can we directly create a new order, The stuff of human history and human nature simply does not permit that kind of attack. We have to make our way through monstrous evil, and make endless concessions to what is actually there in the forces which shape our destiny. The crucial difference between two ways of looking at human problems is the difference between trying to manage history according to plan, and a responsible planning within a history which is more successfully dealt with when we recognize the unmanageable factors within it.

We can know in principle for all situations that some structures of human society block the real good, and some may open the way for it. Here, then, is the distinctive task of Christian social philosophy: to raise in every social order the question, "What is its consequence for the community of mutuality among men?" There is, for example, no Christian economics in the sense of a distinctive Christian science of economic behavior, nor any one Christian answer to the question. "What is a good economic order?" But there is a Christian question to put to all economic orders and programs. What does this way of life do to the freedom, equality, and growth of mutuality of the people who live in it?

The elaboration of this approach to Christian social ethics is an enormous task requiring the continuing co-operation of every Christian whether he be layman, minister, scientist, or theologian. There will always be differences of judgment in the Christian group on specific political and social issues. I am here concerned to state a method of approach to the problem rather than to discuss the complex issues which surround us everywhere. But "a moral discussion is inconclusive and even trivial, if it leaves out the question of its application," as Gregory Vlastos has said.13 In order to be as specific as possible about this approach to Christian social philosophy I shall outline in arbitrary fashion five general principles which I suggest can be supported by the evidence of human experience as being necessary guides to the conditions under which the Good Society can grow.

First, the resources of the good earth and of human intelligence must provide for every responsible member of society the minimal basis for decent health, housing, education, and recreation. We have come very near to accepting this charge on the total social body in principle, though we are a long way from achieving it in practice. The problem in America is not primarily one of wealth. There is enough. The real problems arise in finding the adequate ways to provide and distribute such security. Ways are being found. If one rides the downtown bus in one of our large cities through the slum areas in which children play in dirty alleys behind saloons, and then passes a housing project with clean, sunlit yards. and children playing in safety, he can only say, "So far, so good, not only for them but for all society." The fundamental securities, basic education, and the necessities of healthful and wholesome life can be shared among all.

Second, political institutions must be found which unite stable order with the maximum opportunity for free interchange of goods. ideas, and experiences among men. Order is the precondition of successful human living. At the international level we know that an order capable of enforcing peace is essential to survival itself. Order and freedom are not antithetical, though there will always be practical difficulties in equating them perfectly. The unity of order and freedom is essential to the growth of the real good, for this good is the growing community of personal understanding, and mutual interdependence among people. Consequently the Christian ethic always stands against artificial barriers of law or custom which segregate races or classes, and which in any way deny the right or opportunity of free and equal meeting of men in personal comradeship.

To state the political requirement in this way illustrates the difference of this approach to Christian social philosophy from the attempt to create the Good Society according to an ideal plan. So much of the actual work of state-making takes the form of ground-clearing and obstacle removing. The poll tax has to be repealed. A law forbidding discrimination against groups in public restaurants has to be enforced. A board of trustees has to be educated to the necessity for understanding anti-Semitism and its evils. The United Nations fights for its life. We try to find what needs to be done to save it. All this is a long way from "creating the Good Society." But this is what responsible Christian action must be. We must break up the inhuman conditions which set men against one another. We must plant such seeds as we can of a better way. But God gives the increase in ways we cannot prescribe.

Third, the political order must protect the voluntary associations of men, and the free propagation of their faith about ultimate matters. The religious group, the Church, is not the only significant voluntary group in the state, but it is the principal group whose supreme loyalty is given to something beyond the state. Karl Barth has proposed an amazingly simple principle of Christian politics. He says: "All that can be said from the standpoint of divine justification on the question (and the questions) of human law is summed up in this one statement: ‘the Church must have freedom to proclaim divine justification.’" 14 That the freedom of the Church to speak its message should be the one principle by which Christianity judges any social order may seem an absurd oversimplification. Probably it does say too little, but it is far from absurd.

Justification means making righteous. What Barth says is that where the Church is free to proclaim God’s righteousness above all human righteousness; where the Church can call men to worship the God who is the judge of every state; and where the Church can publicly interpret the demand of righteousness in relation to the life about it; here we have the most fundamental of all freedoms, and the one absolute condition of the better social order. Men must feel free to speak, hear, and criticize in the realm of faith. Whether such freedom can exist in a state where any church is "established" is debatable, taking human experience as a whole. We cannot say it is absolutely impossible given certain historical conditions. But Americans and many others are rightly dubious about it.15

Fourth, the resources of both the political order and the voluntary groups in society must be used to bring healing and mercy to broken lives. One of the truly bright strands in the dark fabric of human history is the slow but real progress of the humanitarian ideal. Lives can be reclaimed. The moral demand for humane treatment of the criminal and the sense of social responsibility for seeking his rehabilitation are precious achievements of civilization, however tragically inadequate present practice may be. There will always be those who need special care and aid from the state, the Church, or other institutions. Both in England and in America at the present time we appear ready to recognize that the good offices of courts and other public institutions may help to save many marriages which are threatened with collapse. Philanthropy which merely patches up the worst results of evil social conditions can hardly be called anything more than a necessary evil. But in the best society we can conceive men will still need to bear one another’s burdens.

Fifth. Our first four principles are so widely accepted by men of good will that they sound commonplace. That does not make it less necessary to state them. We are a long way from achieving them even on the most optimistic view. The principle which we now urge is of a somewhat different character. In some measure it has been accepted in enlightened democratic society; but it always meets stubborn resistance. The fifth condition of the good society is that every man shall be able to participate with power in the making of the decisions which affect his life; and every group shall be able to participate with power in the decisions which affect its interests as a group. Here is the ethical frontier in the major struggles of mankind today. How shall the worker participate with power in the decisions which affect his job, his income, his security? How shall all nations, strong and weak, participate with power in the decisions in the international political order which affect their very existence and their prospects for security?

The importance of the power problem for Christian ethics derives both from the fact that power, whether economic, political, military, or spiritual, means capacity to determine life for good or ill, and from the fact that some fundamental redistribution of power is necessary as a condition of the freedom and dignity of men in their social relations. The failure to recognize the significance of power is a grave error for which traditional Christian ethics may at some points be held responsible. It has sometimes made the false assumption that where men have the spirit of love they can be indifferent to the structure of power in their social relationship. But "liberty of contract begins where equality of bargaining power exists," as Oliver Wendell Holmes said.16 There are indeed many kinds of power, including the power of prestige, of moral conviction, of rational persuasion. That is why there can be no simple rule for calculating equality of power. But Justice Holmes points to the essential matter. If I have power over my neighbor and he has none over me, the chances are overwhelming that I will exploit him. I will probably justify my exploitation on the ground that my motives are pure. The proof of this is that in all the struggles for power in human history, those who have been powerless have been able to see the evil that is done to them; whereas those who have power both cannot and will not see the evil. To take one example: women have been systematically exploited by men in all human relations and not least in the home in all Western civilization. They have been assigned the dullest work, have been denied opportunity for self-development, have had the major decisions affecting their lives determined by men. A modern writer pleads that women might have a chance "to be something other than a nurse-maid. a scrub-woman, a delivery truck."17 In so far as the status of women has approached equality in our society this gain cannot be attributed primarily to the moral insight of men. It was made possible through the new economic power of women which came with the technological developments in modern industry. This is but one example of the fact that the distribution of economic power is essential to the establishment of human relations on a basis of the equal dignity of all members of the community.

We have already pointed out that the existence of the power factor does not make the ethic of love irrelevant. On the contrary, love as a principle of social ethics implies that distribution and organization of power which can offer the foundation for free and constructive human relations. One of the high strategies of parental love is to allow children the growing sense of power which sets them free from either the conscious or unconscious domination of the parents. It is in such a strategy rather than in the intensity of emotional attachment that parental love reaches its highest moral plane, and comes closest to the meaning of love in its religious sense.

The word "democracy" has not appeared in our statement of the conditions of the possibility of the good society. Whether these conditions are identical with democracy is in part a matter of definition. They are not identical with all the political and ideological forms which have characterized democracy. But if basic democracy means the attempt to order the common life in such a way that these conditions are met -- and I believe that basic democracy can be so defined -- then the positive relationship between the Christian ethic and political and social democracy is here affirmed. All the democratic rights and freedoms are, from this Christian perspective, derived from the one natural right which belongs to every man. his right to find fulfillment in the free service and enjoyment of God and his fellows.18


The Christian hope for human society is that these conditions can be more completely fulfilled, and that within these conditions men will continue to discover and respond to the high possibilities of justice and love.

We cannot absolutely prove that these conditions can be more fully realized. Ultimate assumptions about the nature of human existence and the forces which determine it are involved. Yet some objectivity in the analysis of human possibilities is possible. We have a right to take some hope from certain facts which are being brought to light. Four recent major studies of human problems support a measure of optimism in human affairs: Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History; Quincy Wright’s Study of War; Gunnar Myrdal’s study of color caste in America, entitled An American Dilemma; and the essays edited by the cultural anthropologist, Ralph Linton, entitled The Science of Man in the World Crisis. These intensive analyses of the human scene by historian, social scientist, political scientist, and anthropologist, do not cover up the brutal, tragic record. If one wanted to defend Thomas Hobbes’ description of human life as "nasty, brutish, and short," he could use these studies as case material. But they also reveal something more hopeful. They all reject the kind of fatalistic determinism which at times has hung like a pall over our scientific sophistication. When Mr. Toynbee says, "The more I study the record the less of a fatalist I become," he is speaking as one individual, but he expresses a judgment which is more and more finding support.19 Neither the fatalistic pessimism of Spengler nor the mechanistic optimism of Herbert Spencer, nor yet the confident assurance of Professor Sorokin that we can chart the future on the basis of a scientific formula represent infallible truth.20 We may believe one or the other of them. But we may also interpret the facts as supporting the belief that there are within limitations real possibilities for the exercise of human freedom in the reconstruction of the orders of existence. Myrdal says: "With all we know today, there should be the possibility to build a nation and a world where people’s great propensities for sympathy and cooperation would not be so thwarted." Looking at America and the race problem he says: "America can demonstrate that justice, equality, and cooperation are possible between white and colored people"21 Mr. Wright makes the important point that the belief in the inevitability of a great evil, such as war, will itself contribute to man s inability to deal with that evil. He concludes that the ways in which men will deal with conflict are not determined; and human intelligence and control may make possible a world order which can prevent the terrible destruction of violent warfare.22

To believe in human freedom is to believe that conditions do not control human decisions. Conditions make certain kinds of decisions more likely and more possible. But freedom sets the limit to all assurance that any particular human problem will be solved. The ultimate condition of the Good Society is that men shall freely will the justice and the love which are necessary to it. We need to say to ourselves cold-bloodedly that if we do not rise to the demand of our time for a wider justice and a more stable world order, there is the real possibility that what will be left of humanity will be a few crazed survivors stumbling and mumbling about in the radioactive ruins left by the atomic war. But a great demand has its own power of calling forth a high response. What we can believe in and hope for is the possibility of that response.23

3. Our hope has a third dimension. Christian hope is sustained by, and expressed in, faith in the Kingdom of God. In the good earth, and in such glimpses of the Good Society as we have we discern a deeper reality upon which these depend. The Kingdom of God we have said is God’s love being manifested with power. His Kingdom is present in the goodness of the earth and in the promise of the better society. Its form in our history is that of the reign of Christ against His enemies which are the enemies of all human fulfillment. Beyond and yet within all political issues we recognize the more ultimate issue of our relation to the eternal work of God.

The Kingdom of God is disclosed among us first as judgment. We cannot identify any earthly Good Society, even one perfected in our imagination, with God’s order. On this point structural alterations must be made in the interpretation of the social gospel. The minister may say: "The Kingdom of God was for Jesus something to be achieved on this earth here and now. He urged his followers to seek to transform the whole social order until it conformed to the will of God and brought justice to all. . . . An immediate task right here in our own community that will help is to work for public power at cost."24 But he is making a claim which should not be made and raising hopes which should not be raised. Public power at cost probably is one of the ways in which the principle of distribution of economic power must be implemented in modern society. But we can support that program as Christians while refusing to claim for one political policy the righteousness of God. This, then, should be the new imperative of the Christian social gospel: "Let us create according, to our best wisdom, the conditions of the Good Society for the sake of the Kingdom of God."

The Kingdom is promise and power as well as judgment. We know our efforts are not futile. Our hope is not pinned to the success of any particular program we undertake. This belief in the continuing victory of God within the shattering of human designs is based on more than an untested faith. It is based on the continuing experience of a people who have lived by that faith, have seen it illuminated through one solitary life which is forever remembered, a people who have known a new life made possible by that memory. Here is the real Good Society in history. It is something other than political orders or ecclesiastical institutions. It is the company of imperfect folk who have seen the love of God, entrusted their lives to Him, and have begun to love one another. While we certainly do not draw the boundaries of that society at the limits of historic Christianity, and Christian theology has never done so, it is our Christian confession that such knowledge as we have of the "communion of saints" has come to us primarily through the Christian community.

Everything we have so far said about man’s hope depends upon the assertion that through the transforming power of God it is possible for men to love one another. The reader who has come so far with us will already have been asking whether that assertion is made on faith, or whether it is a truth of experience. To this question we give our attention in the last chapter.


1) Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America, p. 193.

2) Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, I Vol. abridgment (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946), p. 183.

3) F. J. E. Woodbridge, The Son of Apollo, pp. 81 ff.

4) Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (Boston: Houghton Muffin Company, 1898), pp. 167-69.

5) Cf. the account by James Dombrowski of the Christian Commonwealth Colony in Georgia in his Early Days of Christian Socialism in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), chap. xii.

6) Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1936), p. 179.

7) Ibid., pp. 217-26.

8) Quoted in W. C. Barclay, Challenge and Power (Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1936), p. 61.

9) William E. Hocking, Thoughts on Death and Life (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1937), pp. 12-26.

10) Malvern Conference Report, Malvern, 1941; the Life of the Church and the Order of Society (London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1942).

11) David E. Lilienthal, TVA -- Democracy on the March (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1944), pp. 83-84.

12) Fairfield Osborn, Our Plundered Planet (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1948); and William Vogt, The Road to Survival (New York: Wm. Sloane Associates, Inc., 1948).

13) R. B. Y. Scott and Gregory Vlastos, eds., Towards the Christian Revolution (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1936), p. 69.

14) Karl Barth, Church and State, p. 83.

15) Professor John Bennett pointed out at the Interseminary Conference at Oxford, Ohio, in June of 1947, the importance of historical development in making possible freedom in spite of Church establishment.

16) See Dissenting Opinions of Mr. Justice Holmes, arr. Alfred Lief (New York: The Vanguard Press, 1929), p. 9.

17) Elizabeth Hawes, "American Women Don’t Get a Break," Reader’s Scope, February, 1947, Vol. 4, No. 9.

18) Cf. William E. Hocking, Freedom of the Press (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947).

19) Arnold Toynbee speaking on the University of Chicago Round Table, March 23, 1947, No. 470, Round Table Publications.

20) Herbert Spencer, First Principles, 4th ed. (New York: A. L. Burt Company, 1880); Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926-28); Pitirim Sorokin, The Crisis of Our Age (New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1941). Sorokin is less deterministic than the others, especially in his latest book, The Reconstruction of Humanity (Boston:The Beacon Press, 1948).

21) Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma, 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1944), pp. 1024, 1021.

22) Quincy Wright, A Study of War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942), pp. 6, 1223.

23) Wayne D. Williams, "What Instrumentality for the Administration of International Justice Will Most Effectively Promote the Establishment and Maintenance of International Law and Order?" American Bar Association Journal, September, 1944.

24) Quoted from a published sermon in Faith at Work, Vol. I, No. 2, October, 1945, published by the Religious Associates of the NCPAC.