In a 1925 essay on reforming government schools, J. Gresham Machen pointed out the immorality of rooting morality in patriotism. Whether based on nationalism or on broader human experience, however, a humanistic morality is “flimsy,” according to Machen. Machen was willing to accept “secularized public education” as “a necessary evil,” but wanted to reduce “the danger of that institution” by limiting its functions, by discouraging the “garbled” reading of the Bible in government schools, and providing for unhampered competition from private and explicitly religious schools.Continue reading “The Immorality of Patriotic Morality”
J. Gresham Machen might be (erroneously) thought of as merely an upper-crust ivory-tower academic who spent his life developing intellectual arguments, lecturing to students, and contending with his opponents in highbrow ecclesiastical circles. While his scholarly pursuits and his family money did permit a comfortable life removed from the hardships of many urban Americans, Machen worked to alleviate poverty in his own personal way. Machen and another Princetonian, Sylvester Beach, befriended and cared for a local man named Richard Hodges. As Stephen Nichols relates the story,Continue reading “Machen’s Personal Response to Poverty”
In “Taking up Machen’s Torch: An Archetype for Christian Libertarians,” Kerry Baldwin explains how Machen stood against both the political right and political left. He “staunchly opposed ideas that jeopardized the proper roles of Christian faith and civil governance and so opposed these two movements in both realms of church and state.” From this enlightening article:
Theologically, Machen distanced himself from fundamentalism’s political, eschatological, and revivalist tendencies. Against the right, he opposed prohibition, protestant character education and Bible reading and prayer in public schools. Machen recognized that Bible reading in schools would strip Christianity of its doctrine and therefore should not be done in schools at all. Stripping doctrine would result in diluting doctrinal issues. This would inevitably arise through the standardization of education. Machen knew state control of education was bad enough, but to “put God in the schools” was to sterilize the Gospel.
[The family] is being pushed more and more into the background. It is being pushed into the background by undue encroachments of the community and of the state. Modern life is tending more and more toward the contraction of the sphere of parental control and parental influence. The choice of schools is being placed under the power of the state; the “community” is seizing hold of recreation and of social activities. It may be a question how far these community activities are responsible for the modern breakdown of the home; very possibly they are only trying to fill a void which even apart from them had already appeared. But the result at any rate is plain–the lives of children are no longer surrounded by the loving atmosphere of the Christian home, but by the utilitarianism of the state. A revival of the Christian religion would unquestionably bring a reversal of the process; the family, as over against all other social institutions, would come to its rights again.
–J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, Eerdmans, 1923, p. 154.
J. Gresham Machen’s contest against theological liberals was not a contest against political involvement per se, though political action among professing Christians had become almost synonymous with “social gospel” liberalism. Machen was also opposed to the pietistic retreat of fundamentalists from political affairs. Though Machen was not a fundamentalist in the pietistic sense, his commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible and confessional orthodoxy put him in that category as far as the theological liberals were concerned. He had therefore become the de facto intellectual leader of conservative fundamentalists by the time of his death in 1937. Gary North explains the political vacuum existing among fundamentalists in the mid 20th century in this selection from the essay “The Intellectual Schizophrenia of the New Christian Right”: Continue reading “The Fundamentalist Political Vacuum of the Mid-20th Century”
Two Reasons for the Christian School
J. Gresham Machen
The Christian school is to be favored for two reasons. In the first place, it is important for American liberty; in the second place, it is important for the propagation of the Christian religion. These two reasons are not equally important; indeed, the latter includes the former as it includes every other legitimate human interest. But I want to speak of these two reasons in turn.
In the first place, then, the Christian school is important for the maintenance of American liberty.
We are witnessing in our day a world-wide attack upon the fundamental principles of civil and religious freedom. In some countries, such as Italy, the attack has been blatant and unashamed; Mussolini despises democracy and does not mind saying so. A similar despotism now prevails in Germany; and in Russia freedom is being crushed out by what is perhaps the most complete and systematic tyranny that the world has ever seen.
But exactly the same tendency that is manifested in extreme form in those countries, is also being manifested, more slowly but none the less surely, in America. It has been given an enormous impetus first by the war and now by the economic depression; but aside from these external stimuli it had its roots in a fundamental deterioration of the American people. Gradually the people has come to value principle less and creature comfort more; increasingly it has come to prefer prosperity to freedom; and even in the field of prosperity it cannot be said that the effect is satisfactory.
The result of this decadence in the American people is seen in the rapid growth of a centralized bureaucracy which is the thing against which the Constitution of the United States was most clearly intended to guard.
This is an excerpt from “The Necessity of the Christian School” by Machen (1933).
I ran across a post at the Southern Bread blog from October 2010 referencing an audio recording of an old (1996) talk by Shawn Ritenour at the Ludwig von Mises Institute “brown bag” seminars they ran when I was in graduate school with Shawn. The blogger writes,
“It’s an overview of J. Gresham Machen’s views on the state. He was staunchly anti-state and anti-war. Yet, as a solid Christian theologian he didn’t see how those things conflicted with his faith at all. To the contrary, he saw them as a compliment. This is a very good lecture and worth your time to listen to. If you don’t know Dr. Ritenour’s work, he’s very good. He’s a professor of economics at Grove City College, a Christian liberal arts college in Pennsylvania.”
Shawn Ritenour is author of Foundations of Economics: A Christian View. Two other posts by Dr. Ritenour on this blog:
As we approach the day formerly known as “Armistice Day,” a little note about Machen’s views of World War I seems appropriate. As World War I began, Machen had deep misgivings about American intervention on the side of the British. It appears he was far from a “hawk” on foreign policy.
In contrast to the optimistic progressives, professor J. Gresham Machen at Princeton Theological Seminary expressed a more measured view of events in Europe. Like so many of his theological opponents, he had studied abroad in Germany. Yet for some reason Machen’s fondness and sympathy for Germany seemed more durable than that of his liberal colleagues, an attitude all the more striking given his contempt for modernist German theology. In a letter to his mother dated six weeks after the opening of the war, he called Britain’s alliance with Russia and Japan “an unholy thing” that had been fashioned for the sole purpose of subduing Germany, Britain’s “progressive commercial rival.” The idea that this was to be a war for democracy he found manifestly absurd. … Responsibility for the war rested with Britain’s drive for imperial supremacy, he argued, an ambition that deprived Germany of “a place in ocean trade” and actually prevented international peace. This was not a war of ideals, but rather a war of economic competition.
While Hillis [Dwight Hillis was a minister promoting war with Germany] was beating the drum for intervention, other clergy lamented the prospect of war. J. Gresham Machen had never claimed to be an idealist or a pacifist, and over the past two years had spoken against American subservience to British policy. In 1915 he advocated genuine international pluralism over the British ambition to impose the “English mind” around the world. In 1916, he mourned America’s submission to British foreign policy, lamenting that “the spirit of ‘76 seems to be dead at last.” And now on the eve of intervention, he warned privately that the United States was heading toward bondage and statism, that is, toward “a permanent alliance with Great Britain, which will inevitably mean a continuance of the present vassalage, and a permanent policy of compulsory military service with all the brutal interference of the state in individual and family life which that entails, and which has caused the misery of Germany and France. Princeton is a hot-bed of patriotic enthusiasm and military ardor, — which makes me feel like a man without a country.”
Quotations from The War for Righteousness by Richard M. Gamble, pp. 96-97, 147, ISI Books
Freedom of thought in the middle ages was combated by the Inquisition, but the modern method is far more effective. Place the lives of children in their formative years, despite the convictions of their parents, under the intimate control of experts appointed by the state, force them then to attend schools where the higher aspirations of humanity are crushed out, and where the mind is filled with the materialism of the day, and it is difficult to see how even the remnants of liberty can subsist. Such a tyranny, supported as it is by a perverse technique used as the instrument in destroying human souls, is certainly far more dangerous than the crude tyrannies of the past, which despite their weapons of fire and sword permitted thought at least to be free.
–J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, Eerdmans, 1923, p. 14.
“A great system of National Parks has been built up. It might have been a beneficent thing if it meant that the natural beauty of the regions now embraced in the National Parks were to be preserved. But as a matter of fact it means nothing of the kind. During a period of over 30 years I used to go in the summers, with some interruptions, to Mt. Desert Island, Maine. When I first went there it was about the sweetest and most beautiful lake and mountain region that could possibly be imagined. It really seemed as though no human being would have the heart to destroy the delicate charm of those woods. But then came Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and the Lafayette (later Acadia), National Park, and all was changed. Huge roads now scar practically every mountainside and skirt the shores of practically every lake. The woods near the roads have been ruthlessly ‘cleaned up.’ The natural beauty of the region has been systematically destroyed. When I go into that National Park, with its dreary regularity and its officialdom, I almost feel as though I were in some kind of penal institution. I feel somewhat as I do when I am in Los Angeles or any of the other over-regulated cities of the West, where pedestrians meekly wait around on the street corners for non-existent traffic and cross the streets only at the sound of the prison gong. Certain it is at any rate that the best way to destroy true recreation is for government to go into the business of promoting it.”