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THE RECONSTRUCTION OF RELIGIOUS 
LOYALTY 



GERALD BIRNEY SMITH 
University of Chicago 



The current campaign of opposition to critical scholarship in the realm of religion 
involves, not merely the question of establbhing the truth, but also the question of 
religious loyalty. Critical scholarship must face this issue. The need and the value 
of loyalty to the institutions of Christianity on the part of scholars is urged. There 
is real danger of a scientific provincialism in theological scholarship. 



The morale of any cause depends on the whole-souled 
loyalty of the men and women who are engaged in its promo- 
tion. If it be suspected that the cause is being subordinated 
to other ends by any of its supposed devotees, distrust takes 
the place of co-operation. If singleness of aim be not restored, 
the cause itself will suffer from inner division. The disin- 
tegrating effect of "disloyalty" was keenly felt by every 
patriot during the war; and in the effort to prevent this 
demoralization, stringent restrictions were placed on freedom 
of criticism. To be sure, the perils of this suppression of 
criticism were evident to thoughtful minds; and with return 
to less strenuous days we are eagerly seeking to restore the 
rights of free speech which were curtailed during the war. 

The vigorous campaign which is now being waged against 
critical scholarship in the realm of reUgion is to be understood 
only as we remember that it grows, at least in part, out of a 
genuine concern for loyalty. Christianity exists as an organ- 
ized form of devotion to Christ and to the Kingdom of God. 
Its primary aim is to enlist men in the privileges of religious 
experience and in the responsibiUties of religious service. The 
morale of the Christian cause depends on whole-souled loyalty. 
The militant conservatives in Protestantism believe that such 
loyalty is being impaired by critical scholarship. Hence, in 

igo 



TEE RECONSTRUCTION OF RELIGIOUS LOYALTY 191 

order to maintain loyalty, they are seeking to penalize and 
suppress criticism. 

This current distrust of critical scholarship cannot be met 
simply by declaring that the critical scholar has the facts on 
his side. If the discussion could be kept to the issue of a dis- 
passionate investigation, scholarship would, of course, be able 
to vindicate itself. But the opponent of criticism addresses 
himself to an audience which knows little or nothing about 
the technicaUties of critical research. With such an audience 
it is easy to quote scholars long since dead as doughty defend- 
ers of conservative conclusions; or superficially to display 
disagreements among Uving scholars as evidences of the inher- 
ent vagaries of criticism. The conservative is really challen- 
ging the critic on the groimd of reUgious loyalty. Unless 
scholarship squarely faces this challenge, it can be accused of 
evading the issue. For the scholar to make rejoinder by 
charging the conservative with ignorance is peculiarly irritat- 
ing. It must be granted that a man like Dwight L. Moody 
knew little or nothing about critical scholarship. Yet he was 
a great religious leader. The religious man wants to know 
whether one possessed of critical scholarship can show any 
such power. 

The critical scholar is primarily impressed by the fact 
that zeal without knowledge is a dangerous thing. If religious 
loyalty is identified with the acceptance of a theory of the 
Bible which is contrary to the facts, the discovery of the facts 
will tend to discredit rehgion. If Christians be called upon to 
oppose the doctrine of evolution, the college student who finds 
that the evolutionary hypothesis, like the theory of gravitation, 
is taken for granted by scholars, will be ashamed of a religion 
which puts a premium on avoidable ignorance. The preju- 
dice aroused against rehgion because it has been identified with 
doctrines which will not stand the test of critical investigation 
is real and deep and more widespread than is often suspected. 
It would be a calamity if there were no critical scholars whose 



192 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

distinctive contribution is to establish the facts in the realm 
of religion. 

But granting the necessity of establishing the facts, the 
question raised by the conservative is not yet answered. Does 
critical investigation, after the facts have been discovered, 
take expression in religious loyalty ? Here there is a distinct 
danger that critical inquiry may issue in what a modem scholar 
has called an "illicit secularizing of religion." Religion exists 
in himian Ufe because it is the means of organizing and express- 
ing precious experiences of aspiration, love, devotion, service. 
Its primary raison d'etre is the promotion of these experiences. 
But in the process of critical investigation, the scholar may 
easily come to use religion exclusively as material to be turned 
into scientific or critical historical conclusions. What the 
scholar does may be all to the good so far as disinterested 
science is concerned. And if the sole end of life were to 
arrive at defensible scientific conclusions, such a scholar might 
become the high-priest of a new culture. 

But if, either because of sentiments of distrust so freely 
expressed by those hostile to critical scholarship, or because 
of exclusive preoccupation with his specialty, the scholar 
permits himself to drop out of active social relationship with 
a reUgious group; if — to be perfectly plain — ^he ceases to have 
any vital share in the distinctively reUgious expressions of 
experience as these are promoted by our churches, he is almost 
inevitably led more and more to judge his contribution solely 
in terms of the scientific standards which are provided by the 
fellowship of scholarship. That this easy acqviiescence in a 
release from religious responsibiUty is common enough to 
attract attention, cannot be denied. Not that every scholar 
thus withdraws himself, any more than every devotee of reU- 
gious zeal neglects scholarship. But the pressure of professional 
demands may easily make a scholar provincial, if he neglect 
the general demands of human culture. 



THE RECONSTRUCTION OF RELIGIOUS LOYALTY 193 

Admirable as is an unquestioning loyalty, there is a kind 
of loyalty much finer. It may be illustrated in what often 
takes place in the experience of marriage. The yoxmg lover 
pictures his beloved in terms of perfection. Poetry is full of 
the ardent devotion inspired by such idealization. Marriage, 
however, sooner or later brings to light defects of character 
which were not known. The facts, as these are revealed, do 
not justify the picture of perfection on which romantic ardor 
was based. Now some of the finest chapters in human history 
are the record of a reconstructed loyalty in the marriage 
relationship. When the facts are frankly faced and taken 
into account, there may be developed a social companionship 
which shall include precisely the virtues and the hmitations 
which actually exist. While the unrestrained adoration of 
the romantic iover is more dramatic, the picture of a domestic 
love which tenderly observes and reverences frailties as well 
as virtues is ultimately more satisfying and more enduring. 
If it were more commonly exalted, we should perhaps have less 
of the violent ruptures of marriage due to disillusionment. 

Another analogy may be drawn from the political realm. 
Love for country is indispensable to the welfare of our complex 
social Ufe today. To "stand by the government" is a moral 
precept which deserves honor. Now no government is perfect. 
In our land of freedom of speech we have plenty of criticism 
of governmental policies. It is weU that this should be so. 
But a genuinely patriotic citizen experiences a sense of disap- 
pointment if he is compelled to read merely criticism. One may 
acknowledge the brilliancy and the challenge of certain critical 
journals in the realms of poUtics and social issues, and yet be 
profoundly weary of a kind of criticism which leaves the 
critic and those who agree with him apparently detached 
from the organizations and institutions which are actually 
operative. The influence of a critic who is a recognized 
outsider is seriously limited. In times of stress he will be 



194 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

accused of ttying to break down the government instead of 
trying to help it to be more efficient. But the man who remains 
in social contact with the organizations through which move- 
ments are actually promoted is in a position to have his criti- 
cisms listened to with respect, provided he has the exact 
knowledge which entitles him to respect. 

In the history of Israel we have a striking illustration of the 
combination of inexorable criticism with religious zeal. The 
reader of the prophetic books of the Old Testament often 
gasps in amazement at the merciless dissection of national life 
which the prophets perform. But these very trenchant criti- 
cisms are the outgrowth of so ardent a love for Israel that the 
prophet desires only the best for his nation. And that best 
can be had only by facing the facts, cost what it may. While 
the prophets, like all critics, had often to encoimter distrust 
and opposition, yet they became the great religious leaders 
of their people and the inspirers of all generations since their 
day. If their exposiure of conditions in Israel had taken the 
form of a coldly judicial investigation, they would today be 
trnknown and forgotten figures. 

The critical scholars in the realm of religion today have 
an enviable opportvmity. No permanent objection can be 
raised to the proposal to test critically all phases of reUgion. 
It is inevitable that the outcome of such testing will be the 
discovery that in theology, as in every other branch of human 
learning, opinions and doctrines are in need of revision. But, 
granting this, the scholar should ask himself whether he is 
primarily interested in religion itself, or merely in critically 
ascertained facts, regardless of the bearing of his discoveries 
on the fate of religion. If he is compelled to admit that his 
only use of reUgion is to make it serve as material for interest- 
ing (and perchance sensationally startUng) scientific conclu- 
sions, if he assumes no responsibility whatever for the relat- 
ing of his scholarship to the actual reHgious life of the churches, 
he has no real cause for complaint if he is denounced as a foe 
of reUgion. Indeed, the comfort and the strength which 



THE RECONSTRUCTION OF RELIGIOUS LOYALTY 195 

religion brings to mankind are so precious and so indispensable 
to wholesome social relations, that he who neglects this spiritual 
asset will ultimately find himself outside the great social emo- 
tions and motives which most men share. To translate reUgion 
into non-religious terms, or to use religion for non-religious pur- 
poses cannot be defended even on grounds of scientific pre- 
cision. Yet this very defect marks some of the most challen- 
ging investigations of our day. 

On the other hand, the vehement accusations of those who 
oppose critical scholarship reveal the fact that such scholar- 
ship has a far wider hold on the religious thinking of our day 
than would appear to the casual observer. There are many 
ministers today who are constructively using scholarship. The 
great forward movement of the churches recently was based 
on the preliminary survey undertaken under the auspices of 
the Interchurch Movement — a survey which sought to arouse 
loyalty and generosity on the basis of a knowledge of the facts 
which evangehcal and missionary enterprise must face. The 
time is ripe for a reorganized religious loyalty, which shall 
include what is made known by critical investigation. There 
are many brave leaders who are practicing this loyalty. If 
the scholars themselves shall personally identify themselves 
actively with the actual social promotion of this kind of 
religion, the reinforcement which they bring will be invaluable. 
But a critical scholarship which simply uses rehgion as material 
for the filling of scientific treatises must logically look to 
scientific rather than to religious interests for its support. If 
the religion of the future is to include the best scholarship 
it is self-evident that the best scholars must themselves be 
loyally devoted to religion itself. If the control of rehgious 
organization and propaganda should pass into the hands of 
those opposed to scholarship, the scholars themselves would 
be largely to blame. 

One of the significant aspects of the current attack on 
critical scholarship is a singular lack of discrimination m 
relation to the matter of religious loyalty. Although the con- 



196 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

fessed interest of the reactionary conservatives is the preserva- 
tion and promotion of religious vitaUty, they are constantly 
being betrayed into a mere debate over theological positions. 
They apparently make little or no distinction between the 
liberal who has withdrawn from church activities and the 
liberal who is zealously giving time and thought to the pro- 
motion of the church's efficiency. All "critics" are tarred 
with the same stick. The discussion is being constantly turned 
into a debate over theological conclusions. Conservative 
theology is assumed to be identical with religious loyalty. Yet 
we all know of controversialists, whose theology is strictly 
orthodox, but who use that theology chiefly as a bludgeon 
with which to fell possible rivals. Surely this is as serious 
a misuse of religious material as that of which the critical 
scholar is alleged to be guilty. 

The fact of the matter is that loyalty to the church cannot 
be determined by asking what a man's theology is. Such 
loyalty is far more dependent on the spurit of social generosity 
than on any other one thing. And this spirit of social gener- 
osity is precisely what we mean by the spirit of Christ. The 
ultimate decision as to whether critical scholarship is a blessing 
or a bane to the church will rest upon the question as to 
whether such scholarship is or is not fruitful in promoting 
the spirit of social co-operation. A reconstructed religious 
loyalty, strong and virile because it faces all the facts, is 
within reach wherever scholars care enough about religion 
itself.