“Things that are false will accomplish a great many useful things in the world. If I take a counterfeit coin and buy a dinner with it, the dinner is every bit as good as if the coin were a product of the mint. And what a very useful thing a dinner is! But just as I am on my way downtown to buy a dinner for a poor man, an expert tells me that my coin is a counterfeit. The miserable, heartless theorizer! While he is going into uninteresting, learned details about the primitive history of that coin, a poor man is dying for want of bread. So it is with faith. Faith is so very useful, they tell us, that we must not scrutinize its basis in truth. But, the great trouble is, such an avoidance of scrutiny itself involves the destruction of faith. For faith is essentially dogmatic. Despite all you can do, you cannot remove the element of intellectual assent from it. Faith is the opinion that some person will do something for you. If that person really will do that thing for you, then the faith is true. If he will not do it, then the faith is false. In the latter case, not all the benefits in the world will make the faith true. Though it has transformed the world from darkness to light, though it has produced thousands of glorious healthy lives, it remains a pathological phenomenon. It is false, and sooner or later it is sure to be found out.”
Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, pp. 142-43
“Uniformity in education, it seems to me, is one of the worst calamities into which any people can fall. There are, it is true, some spheres in which uniformity is a good thing. It is a good thing, for example, in the making of Ford cars. … But what is good for a Ford car is not always good for a human being, for the simple reason that a Ford car is a machine while a human being is a person. Our modern pedagogic experts seem to deny the distinction, and that is one place where our quarrel with them comes in. When you are dealing with human beings, standardization is the last thing you ought to seek.”
J. Gresham Machen, “The Necessity of the Christian School”
“I think I am just about as strongly opposed to the reading of the Bible in state-controlled schools as any atheist could be.
“For one thing, the reading of the Bible is very difficult to separate from propaganda about the Bible. I remember, for example, a book of selections from the Bible for school reading, which was placed in my hands some time ago. Whether it is used now I do not know, but it is typical of what will inevitably occur if the Bible is read in public schools. Under the guise of being a book of selections for Bible-reading, it really presupposed the current naturalistic view of the Old Testament Scriptures.
“But even where such errors are avoided, even where the Bible itself is read, and not in one of the mistranslations but in the Authorized Version, the Bible still may be so read as to obscure and even contradict its true message. When, for example, the great and glorious promises of the Bible to the redeemed children of God are read as though they belonged of right to man as man, have we not an attack upon the very heart and core of the Bible’s teaching? What could be more terrible, for example, from the Christian point of view, than the reading of the Lord’s Prayer to non-Christian children, as though they could use it without becoming Christians, as though persons who have never been purchased by the blood of Christ could possibly say to God, ‘Our Father, which art in Heaven’? The truth is that a garbled Bible may be a falsified Bible; and when any hope is held out to lost humanity from the so-called ethical portions of the Bible apart from its great redemptive core, then the Bible is represented as saying the direct opposite of what it really says.
J. Gresham Machen, in “The Necessity of the Christian School”
Also worthwhile from Machen on this topic: Education, Christianity and the State
H.L. Mencken’s laudatory obituary of Machen is here, as it appears as an appendix in Gary North’s 1995 book Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church. It originally appeared in the Baltimore Evening Sun on January 18, 1937.
Mencken was not at all inclined to Machen’s religious views, saying that he stood “much more chance of being converted to spiritualism, to Christian Science or even to the New Deal than to Calvinism, which occupies a place, in my cabinet of private horrors, but little removed from that of cannibalism.” Yet Mencken admired Machen’s courageous and intelligent struggle against modernism in seminaries and churches. Mencken rejected Christianity, but despised the efforts of ecclesiastical modernists to dispense with the substance of Christianity while retaining its nomenclature, ceremony, and semblance of piety. “It is one thing,” Mencken wrote, “to reject religion altogether, and quite another thing to try to save it by pumping out of it all its essential substance, leaving it in the equivocal position of a sort of pseudo-science.”
Mencken also commented favorably upon Machen’s stance against Prohibitionism in the Church. The anti-alcohol movement had become quite the rage in churches of Machen’s era (indeed, it has had an inexcusably long legacy), and Mencken suggests that Machen’s opposition to it may have had something to do with Machen’s break with mainstream Presbyterians.
Mencken clearly took pleasure in observing Machen’s thorough routing of modernists. “Dr. Machen argued them quite out of court,” Mencken exulted, “and sent them scurrying back to their literary and sociological Kaffeeklatsche.”
Unfortunately, Machen’s battles ended in retreat. Crossed Fingers discusses those battles and the liberal strategy that led to their victory.
I was introduced to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church through the writings of J. Gresham Machen. As a graduate student studying economics at Auburn University, I further developed my interest in affinities between conservative theology and good economic analysis. It was during this time that I came across Daniel F. Walker’s article “J. Gresham Machen: A Forgotten Libertarian” published in December 1993 The Freeman, a magazine published by the Foundation for Economic Education. Walker’s piece was a delight as it introduced me to Machen’s social thought and served as a catalyst for me to present a seminar lecture on Machen to the political economy club we had at the Mises Institute when I was a graduate student. Walker begins his essay by quoting a passage from early in Machen’s book Christian Faith in the Modern World.
Everywhere there rises before our eyes the spectre of a society where security, if it is attained at all, will be attained at the expense of freedom, where the security that is attained will be the security of fed beasts in a stable, and where all the high aspirations of humanity will have been crushed by an all-powerful state.
The Christian Faith in the Modern World, by the way, is an excellent accessible introduction to Reformed theology concerning the nature of the Scriptures and the characteristics of God.
The Acton Institute‘s journal Religion and Liberty has a short essay on Machen as “radically libertarian” in his politics. In Christianity and Liberalism, Machen writes, “Personality can only be developed in the realm of individual choice. And that realm, in the modern state, is being slowly but steadily eradicated.”
Shawn Ritenour’s blog “Foundations of Economics” had a post several weeks ago on Machen’s view of what the Church should do during economic hard times. Machen had contributed to a 1932 American Academy of Political and Social Sciences symposium on the Great Depression, and in that paper he rejected the “materialistic paternalism” of an expansive State. As Prof. Ritenour put it, “Machen’s address to social scientists was also remarkable for its call for the Church to be the Church, meaning the Church was not to be a political lobby or primarily a society for social work. The mission of the Church is what it has been since it was ordained: to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The March 2011 issue of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church journal New Horizons has an article by William Hobbs on Machen’s address: “The Church and Economic Recovery.”
“What is today a matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires. In that second stage, it has gone too far to be combatted; the time to stop it was when it was still a matter of impassionate debate.”
J. Gresham Machen, “Christianity and Culture.”
This new blogging venture is dedicated to promoting and discussing the work of J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937), a Presbyterian theologian, one of the founders of Westminster Theological Seminary, and founder of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. One of Machen’s best-known works is Christianity and Liberalism. Also available here.
Much more to come.