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Union Theological Seminary 

Certain questions raised by Professor EUwood's recent book, The Reconstruction 
of Religion, are discussed in this article. 

Is social science at present prepared to furnish the technique for religious activity, 
which Professor Ellwood emphasizes? The prevailingly descriptive character of 
social study does not encourage confident judgments of value. Moreover, social laws 
are as yet too imperfectly known to supply authoritative guidance. 

The religious interpretation of social acts is a challenging problem. Is this problem 
solved by a social reinterpretation of the traditional theological concepts ? 

If the religion of Jesus is to be the triumphant social religion of the future we need 
a much more thoroughgoing social study of the teachings of Jesus than has yet been 

The problem of the motivation of religion is a difficult one. The vigor of motives 
demands a creative consciousness which will convincingly pass judgment on the sins 
of the present social order. 

What is to be the relationship between social science and 
religion? They are both seeking the best possible human 
world. Shall they then Uve and work together ? In how close 
a union and on what terms ? This question, long pending, has 
now been definitely formulated and flung into the arena of 
religious discussion by Professor Ellwood in his recent book, 
The Reconstruction of Religion.^ 

The question is thrown out against the background that 
now oppresses every lover of mankind and every seeker after 
truth. A world torn asunder by conflicting ideals of Mfe. A 
civilization semipagan, poised on the brink of destruction. 
Religion, like all other human institutions, weakened by the 
revolutionary pressure of democracy and science. Yet, in 
the possibih'ty of its renaissance, lies the only hope for man- 
kind. The picture is alas too familiar and the inference almost 
a commonplace. But here Professor Ellwood begins. The 
revitalizing of religion and the consequent saving of the world 

^The Reconstruction of Religion. By Charles A. Ellwood. New York: Mac- 
millan, 1922. xv+323 pages. $2.25. 



is to be accomplished by bringing religion into harmony with 
science and particularly with social science. Rehgion desires 
to release humanity from its ills and social science is contin- 
ually discovering the means to this end. Religion seeks the 
solidarity of mankind and science is continually achieving like- 
mindedness among men concerning the manner of living. But 
social science lacks adequate motivation for its growing pro- 
gram. This religion alone can furnish as it intensifies and imi- 
versalizes social values, doing for the feelings what science does 
for the reason. Likewise religion is ineffective to make good 
will universal for lack of the guidance of social knowledge and 
of certainty as to genuine social values. Each then is impotent 
to change mankind without the other; one for lack of technique 
and one for want of power. These two therefore come now to 
be joined. 

If this union can be consummated, the long warfare between 
science and religion will indeed be accomplished. Such a result 
is but the natural culmination of continued contacts, with con- 
sequent modification of attitudes. Having purged our theol- 
ogy of its crudities concerning the physical universe by its 
revelation of nature, having revitalized our historical sources 
by the impact of its method, having shown us through psychol- 
ogy what is the nature of conversion and of sound religious 
instruction, science comes now to have her perfect work in 
religion by guiding us to the solution of the problem of the 
practical values of himian living, which, according to Professor 
EUwood, is the religious problem of our day. 

His central argument has for its premise the social nature 
and significance of religion in general and of Christianity in 
particular. From this it is concluded that a positive Chris- 
tianity can become the religion of humanity, capable of 
guaranteeing peace and good will and preventing the collapse 
of civilization. By positive Christianity is meant a Chris- 
tianity based upon objective realities, upon all the facts of the 
total Hfe of mankind, and therefore in harmony with the spirit 


of pure science. Such a Christianity will require a church 
which recognizes that its supreme duty and opportunity is 
the creation of a Christian world and that this is to be accom- 
plished by the formation and guidance of an effective public 
opinion. Thus, while the argument is for certain changes in 
the attitudes and structure, the content and emphasis of reli- 
gion, it is obvious that it turns upon the capacity and effective- 
ness of science, depends upon the correctness of its diagnosis 
of the social function of religion and the social characteristics 
of Christianity, upon the abiUty of social science to bring to 
religion the authority and power which are now obviously 
lacking and which the situation certainly demands. 

Is science in general and social science in particular pre- 
pared to meet the demands involved in this proposed imion 
with religion? To begin with, if only a religion based upon 
all the facts of the total life of mankind can save the world, is 
science at present on the way to getting those facts, or to 
co-ordinating them when gathered, so that their total meaning 
can be available for religion ? In other words, in so far as the 
descriptive function of science is concerned, have we yet any 
such thing as social science? Professor EUwood, being a 
sociologist, explains that his use of the term social science 
"refers not only to sociology but to all the social sciences 
taken collectively, including anthropology, social psychology, 
social ethics and social philosophy, so far as these latter are 
based upon science." Politics and economics are not specifi- 
cally mentioned, though these, with sociology and anthropology, 
are the obviously social sciences when the term is used to con- 
trast the sciences that deal with human relationships with the 
natural sciences that deal with the physical universe. Is soci- 
ology then equipped and authorized to speak for those other 
sciences taken collectively ? 

In his recent book. The Economic Basis of Politics, Pro- 
fessor Beard points out what has happened in one field because 
"the living organism of human society as a subject of inquiry 


has been torn apart and parcelled among specialists," who have 
forgotten "the profound truth enunciated by Buckle that the 
science of any subject is not at its center but at its periphery 
where it impinges upon all other sciences." So political 
economy has become economics, and men have absurdly tried 
to "write of the production, and distribution of wealth apart 
from the state which defines, upholds, taxes, and regulates 
property, the very basis of economic operations." We have 
then separate social sciences furnishing religion with facts in 
particular fields ; we lack co-ordination and synthesis. 

The need is still greater when it comes to value judgments. 
Professor EUwood affirms it to be the duty of science to evaluate 
as well as describe and the special duty of the social sciences 
to guide ethical and reUgious evaluations. Yet is not sociology 
as now taught mostly descriptive? What proportion of col- 
lege students who have taken courses in poUtical or economic 
science have acquired any standards of social value or indeed 
any sense of the relation of politics and economics to social 
values ? It is notorious that the value judgments of a goodly 
portion of current poHtical and economic theory are in favor 
of the doctrines of self-interest and the competitive struggle 
which are generally declared by sociology to be unsocial. 
There is then a warfare in the house of science as in the house 
of religion. 

The situation requires either that sociology be prepared and 
permitted to co-ordinate the facts and valuations of all other 
sciences into judgments concerning the total life of mankind, 
or else that the various sciences create a general staff for this 
purpose. In either case there would then come into being a 
real social science. Until this happens religion must needs 
attempt as best it can to relate to the whole strategy of life 
such separate groups of facts and such partial judgments as 
the various social sciences contribute. If both science and 
religion set their hands jointly to this task, then as Professor 
EUwood foresees, the two will become but different aspects of 


one fundamental attitude. This outcome, however, depends 
just as much upon the eagerness of scientists to develop a 
science of humanity as upon the desire of churchmen to develop 
a religion of humanity and involves the same necessity of 
service and even sacrifice. If the future of mankind depends 
upon reUgion becoming scientific and therefore social, it equally 
depends upon science becoming social and therefore religious. 

A kindred question raised by the proposed union between 
science and religion is whether social science is yet able to 
formulate laws for human relationships and conduct which it 
can assert to be the essentials of a continuing social order. 
Here is where science is called upon to provide an ethical 
reUgion with authority adequate for a scientific age because 
derived from the validity of the social values which it seeks to 
perpetuate and universalize. These values religion has here- 
tofore seized upon by instinct and feeling, or by the pressure 
of habit. Its certainty is in the intensity of its feeling, or 
the apparent invincibility of its logic. In the physical imiverse 
natural science corrects or reinforces feeUng and reason with 
the certainty derived from objective tests, from the records of 
verified observations. Can such objective tests be made in 
the realm of social relations and values and with any com- 
parable result of certainty ? 

The objective realities here are, of course, the facts and 
experiences of human living and out of them social science has 
already drawn more certainty concerning the way of life for 
mankind than religion has yet used. The nature, causes, and 
consequences of poverty, disease, delinquency, and war, the 
great social ills, are now specifically charted. They root in 
certain attitudes and relationships which ethical religion has 
ever declared wrong and urged men to abandon, usually on 
pain of hell. Now comes social science declaring that the 
continuance of these attitudes and relationships means the dis- 
integration of society, with the accompanying destruction of 
personahty. Therefore, for that part of the message of reli- 


gion which concerns the escape from evil the modern preacher 
who knows his social sciences can affirm, " Thus saith the Lord " 
with the inevitability and finality of demonstrable and verifi- 
able scientific law. It is a matter which Professor EUwood 
might profitably have discussed in detail. 

There remains, however, the question of whether the appeal 
to reason can gain the authority to secure the avoidance of 
evil which the appeal to fear had for earlier times but has lost 
for this. We live in a period which at the same time reduces 
the death-rate from preventable disease and increases the 
destructiveness of war, which admittedly possesses more tech- 
nique and equipment for securing release from social ills than 
it is using. Is this failure due to lack of rationality or of some 
other qualities to which the New Testament gave that primacy 
which the Greeks awarded to reason. True the reason of 
experimental science is different from the reason of the specula- 
tive intellect, but those who put their trust in its capacity to 
keep collective humanity out of the broad road that leads to 
destruction have yet to reckon with the nature of the crowd, 
with the vast irrationality of life, its insistence upon taking 
chances, its periodic tenacity of movement in the face of 
inevitable disaster, of going hell-bent as the old preachers 
used to say. What does the part played alike by men of 
science and men of religion in the world- war indicate concern- 
ing the power of reason or good will, or both, to control those 
savage instincts which make for the mutual destruction of the 
race ? By this time the common people know what the next 
war means, yet in Europe the attitudes and poHcies of some 
nations already assume it and this country pursues courses 
that lead directly toward it. Is it because the springs of col- 
lective conduct lie finally deeper than reason, or merely that 
man in the group has not yet had time to achieve the capa- 
city to act in the light of known consequences ? 

Certainly there is no hope for civilization, no prospect of 
the Beloved Community unless this capacity can be developed 


collectively as it has been individually, in the moral order as 
it has been in the physical order. But just now the race 
between education and catastrophe is so close that badly as the 
world needs a positive religion in the sense of one based on 
objective reaUties and man's capacity to act in relation to 
them, still more does it need a religion that is positive in its 
ability to guide the non-rational and even the irrational ele- 
ments of life toward a better world. 

Does the matter look any differently when we turn from 
the evil to be shunned to the good to be sought ? 

Concerning the way that leadeth to life as well as concern- 
ing the road to destruction, social science has formxilated some 
general laws. Professor Ellwood emphasizes the part played 
in human progress by "pattern ideas." Around these civil- 
izations and cultures have formed. They are the dominant 
social values that have survived the test of experience. Also 
in part they are the work of creative personalities who have 
moved the mass, the Utopians imagining the future, and 
fashioning it, too, whenever their vision coincides with the 
aspirations and needs of the mass and thus gets the sanction 
of the common religious instincts and feelings. Out of the 
survey of these pattern ideas and their consequences, sociol- 
ogy finds the laws of progress, the conditions of a continuing 
human society. Roughly these are the development of Uke- 
mindedness, sympathy, good will, the avoidance of conflict, 
the imiversalization of opportunity. This is the way of 
life and none other. Again science brings certainty to 

To get men to take this road, however, requires again more 
than the rationality that science requires of religion and brings 
to it. Professor Ellwood sees that science at most can furnish 
but one of the bases of religion. Religion is and must remain 
essentially in the realm of faith. That is, it must get men to 
walk where there is no certainty, to guess, to try, to ventvire, 
that Ufe may go forward. By reason are you saved through 


faith, is then the fommla for the reUgious science and the 
scientific religion. And its effectiveness obviously depends 
upon the part that reason plays in relation to faith. If it is 
merely to justify the faith that is already within us, then 
religion remains static, or becomes reactionary. If it is to 
justify faith in new ventures by giving her the experience of 
the past as equipment for the journey, then indeed will reason 
aid her in the building of a better human world as Professor 
Ellwood desires. 

Is the contribution of social science to religion then limited 
to the practical problems of himian living? It calls for a 
rational faith that religion may use its contributions to the 
development of humanity, for a creative faith that religion may 
supplement and continue them. Has it anything to say about 
the content of faith, about what man shall beUeve in? Its 
testimony concerning the conquest of evil and the capacity 
of the race for progress is, of covirse, both challenge and rein- 
forcement to faith in a day when man needs desperately to 
believe in himself collectively. Then social science, as inter- 
preted by Professor Ellwood, pointing out the absurdity of 
purely subjective religion, goes on to affirm a moral um'verse 
as the essential condition of the progressive moral order it 
finds in human society, and to demand a religious attitude 
toward nature and the ultimate reality behind nature. 

Of course, we are told that religion must be freed from the 
trammels of theological dogmatism, that the trend of reUgion 
is and must be from theology to sociology, and by way of 
demonstration Professor Ellwood proceeds to set forth some 
definite theological views, assuring us that they do not affect 
the argument of the book. Manifestly the emphasis upon 
rationality in religion will not diminish but increase the inter- 
est in the theology; the more the area of the unknown is 
diminished in practical Uving the more free the mind is to 
adventure in other realms. To require theology to become 
scientific instead of being dogmatic is to give it a stimulus. 


This process, however, is not advanced by telling us that 
Christianity informed by social science will reaffirm the belief 
in God, immortality, the reality of sin and salvation from sin 
as a part of the universal consciousness of man. Religion and 
social progress are not damaged as much by the denial of these 
beliefs in general as by differences over the form and manner 
of them in particular. What kind of God, what sort of immor- 
tality, how to be saved from sin ? It is over these issues that 
men become unsocial and consequently irreligious. There- 
fore, what religion needs from social science is some appraisal 
of specific theological beliefs from the standpoint of social 
values, or at least such analysis of their social consequences 
as shall enable theology to make its own appraisal. 

True, Professor EUwood points out that social science 
requires theological behefs to show that they wiU result in a 
better human world, in more fellowship, in enhancing and 
extending the approved social values. For conventional reli- 
gion this involves precisely that reversal of relationships between 
the two worlds in which we live at the same time which Jesus 
accomplished when he proclaimed the service of man to be the 
service of God. Before it can be done in modern religion, the 
social scientist must give us more than generalizations about 
theological doctrines. For instance, in relation to the two 
problems over which the mind of man always has ranged and 
always will — God and evil — he must show us what modern 
studies of poverty, disease, and delinquency mean in terms of 
a theory of evil; he must show us in terms of social analysis 
just what is the relationship between loving God as one's 
Father and one's neighbor as one's brother, that is, what actual 
working connection there is between democracy and the con- 
cept of God. 

This raises the question of what social science has to say 
about the teaching of Jesus. It declares, according to Pro- 
fessor EUwood, that there is no other name under heaven 
whereby men may be saved. This for the reason that his 


teaching of justice, brotherhood, and good will, enunciates the 
pattern ideas which are the conditions of a cohering and 
continuing social order. Around these and these only can 
civilization form. Therefore positive Christianity must pro- 
claim and organize these teachings, for they are in harmony 
with the fundamental principles of modern social science. 

For this leading American sociologists are cited. Giddings 
with his emphasis upon sympathy and consciousness of kind 
as the essential factor in human co-operation; Small with his 
exposition of the place of mutual service and sacrifice in social 
development; Ross with the formula for social progress, "The 
maximizing of harmony and co-operation and the minimiz- 
ing of hostility and conflict"; Cooley with his doctrine of the 
fimction of primary groups (those of intimate personal rela- 
tions, especially the family and neighborhood) in society. 

It is here that the evidence lies concerning the social validity 
of the teaching of Jesiis and it needs to be worked out. Cooley 
proves that the primary groups are the builders of social life, 
the primary sociaUzing agencies, developing both habits of 
co-operation and social conscioxisness. They are also the 
chief carriers of social tradition, of cultiure or civilization. Now 
the teaching of Jesus was obviously and historically the uni- 
versalizing of the social values and ideals of these primary 
groups. They are the source of his pattern ideas. This is 
roughly why and how he has the way of life which social 
science proves is the only way that hiunanity can develop. 
The detailed story of how and why the formative social values 
and ideals of primary groups were preserved, developed, and 
given religious sanction among the race from which Jesus sprang 
has not yet been adequately told by the sociologist. It needs 
very much more than the scant page Professor EUwood has 
given to it. 

From the standpoint of anthropology and sociology, Pro- 
fessor EUwood sees Christianity as a new set of pattern ideas, 
the precursor of a new tjrpe of culture, because it endeavors to 


replace the predatory morality of individuals, classes, tribes, 
nations with a universal, non-predatory morality. This 
complicates the task of universaUzing the social values of 
primary groups, for it is evident that all groups have two con- 
flicting sets of pattern ideas, one for their relations within 
themselves, the other for their relations with other groups. 
The process of social organization — ^not merely what EUwood 
calls barbarism — by multiplying intergroup relationships, 
develops the predatory attitudes that characterize their 
earlier stages and intrenches these behind the sanctions of law 
and religion. So far civilization has always been nationalistic 
and predatory, and so far Christianity and humanity alike 
have been defeated by it. Time and again it has organized 
the centrifugal forces of human living until they have become 
stronger than the centripetal, and the social order has broken 
to bits. With such a situation again impending, Christianity 
as Professor Ellwood sees it, as the records show it, as the 
heart of man approves it, comes as it did to the Roman world, 
as a new religion, proclaiming a new way of life, exhorting 
mankind to forsake the predatory attitudes of self-seeking 
groups and organize on a world-scale around the co-operative 
attitudes of the primary groups. Confronting such a task, it 
looks to social science for something more than the general 
statement that himianitarian ethics must have the support of 
a rehgion of humanity. It needs analysis of the process by 
which in some measure the unsocial values of intergroup 
relationships have already been transcended by the social 
values developed within primary groups. 

The problem is finally one of motivation and Ellwood gives 
it but a passing touch and a lingering glance in closing. Sound 
instruction about the control of public opinion and general 
principles concerning the organization of economics, politics, 
and the family will bear no fruit until life be moved to seek a 
better way of life. All this discussion could profitably be 
exchanged for a detailed account of the part that self-seeking 


motives actually play in human society. The fact is, the 
general principles enunciated by Ellwood are either now, or 
at once will be, accepted by the powerful group of intellectual 
liberals in American Christianity, and yet nothing adequate 
happens. Why ? They know without being told by sociology 
that the only sufficient motive for human living is love, that 
love that becomes sacrificial becomes also redemptive, but liber- 
alism has always been without passion, it has never desired the 
Universal and Beloved Community ardently enough to die for 
it. So the people perish for lack of knowledge of the way to 
live, for none may give it them until, like Jesus, they are 
willing to yield aU, church, country, life, for the sake of human- 
ity. To the joint task of science and religion the former can 
bring only one part of the divine urge — the passion for truth — 
and that is unavailing without the other part — the passion for 

For this religion must fall back upon the resources it pos- 
sessed before social science offered to come to its aid, when 
alone it proclaimed that love was the supreme good. Much 
impetus to social progress has been given by those who loved 
God enough to seek to serve their fellows, and their fellow- 
men enough to seek to save them from hell, and to try to get 
them to heaven. The same passion is now working still more 
effectively in modem social movements, alike among despised 
radicals and self-sacrificing church members. Can social 
science show us how it is generated and increased ? 

For our day does the process he in working out the pos- 
sibilities of the union of social science and religion in concrete 
cases ? Does reUgion wait again upon life ? Take for instance 
the man who hews the coal for us. He needs a more human 
lot. Science tells us the final condition of its achievement is 
the reorganization and co-ordination of the production and 
distribution of coal to secure the greatest human use from that 
natural resource. It is a long and difficult job. Do the social 
scientists and the preachers love the coal miner and humanity 


enough to set about their part in it ? Or take the case of those 
who live in the countries to the south of us that are fast becom- 
ing financial dependencies of American banking interests and, 
therefore, the serfs of American politicians and militarists. 
Science tells us that the only way to save them and ourselves 
from the disaster of imperialism is to revise our concept and 
practice of property and its relation to forms of government in 
the light of what history has discovered in that field. Again 
do we love these brown-skinned children of God to whom we 
send our missions, do we love the ideal community, enough to 
undertake an extremely difficult and disagreeable job ? It may 
be that only in using for human need the tools that science 
has already fashioned for us shall we increase the love without 
which reason remains impotent to save mankind from disaster. 
In short, the challenge and the impetus that social science 
brings to religion is to the revolutionary aspects of its social 
function, and it is the characteristic of Christianity that these 
bulk larger than its sanction of the good already attained. If 
preachers content themselves with proclaiming that sociology 
says in the long run no other than a Christian world is prac- 
ticable, if sociologists are satisfied with enunciating general 
principles concerning the harmony between science and Chris- 
tianity, their salt will soon lose its savor. EUwood declares 
that "no crisis in social evolution exceeds the transition from 
one type of culture to another," and we stand in that situation. 
The appHcation of the natural sciences to himian living has 
made such transition imperative. We must pass from the 
individualistic, nationalistic type of culture, with its emphasis 
upon private rights, to a collective t3^e, emphasizing function 
and social values. The pattern ideas of the passing age still 
hold and endanger the life of the world. That they are 
opposite to the pattern ideas of Jesus is known to religion. 
That they are antagonistic to the needs of humanity is known 
to science. If rehgion and science are then to help each other 
save the world, all their force must be thrown at the moment 


on the side of the revolutionary culture which Professor 
EUwood says Christianity truly is. They cannot afford any 
tenderness toward the older order such as he has shown in 
lending aid and comfort to economic classes based on special 
privilege on the ground that separate economic functions are 
always necessary, or the church has shown by failing to strike 
at the roots of the economic order that has produced the 
twelve-hour day, the seven-day week, and a faUing standard 
of living. 

Something more vital than the reconstruction of religion 
is involved in the thesis of Professor EUwood. It is creative 
change that is required. The sinfulness of the present social 
order, the necessity and the possibility of a new life, this is 
the message that science requires of religion. And for those 
who proclaim it, the Black Hundreds and the Inquisition wait, 
and other Bufords will be chartered. Yet did new life and 
new religion ever come on any other terms? Did the crowd 
that lives content in ordinary days, unmoved by reason or by 
fear, that is swept to destruction by primitive passion in days 
of war and revolution, ever move a step nearer fellowship and 
God, away from robbing and killing toward sharing and lov- 
ing, except the trail were shown by some souls strong enough 
to take it ? If social science and religion, being joined, would 
now move men, it is required that their word shall become 
flesh, tread the paths of service, and not turn aside from the 
way of the cross.