Introduction to Religion in Social Action, 1913

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THIS series of papers, now appearing in book form, embodies an able and conscientious attempt to state the actual relation existing between organized religion and social amelioration.

The author, Graham Taylor, has for many years been both a clergyman teaching in a theological school and a citizen actively identified with advanced movements making for political and social reform. He sees the need of more religion in all departments of life, and he longs for the help of the churches in the various efforts for social amelioration which are now too often being carried on without their leadership and sometimes without their active participation.

In his careful analysis of our varied human [page 2] relationships -- in the family, in the neighborhood, in industry, in the city -- and of the changes they are undergoing through the sheer pressure upon them of modern economic conditions, Dr. Taylor draws from a wide and varied experience in socialized action. In the light of such daily living we may perhaps claim for the ideas he sets forth in this book that they are "true," in the definition of Professor James, in that they have been "assimilated, validated, corroborated, and verified in experience."

Throughout these chapters it is as though Dr. Taylor saw the arid wastes of modern life being slowly flooded by an incoming tide of religion which will in time irresistibly bear away many impediments now blocking the path of social progress. The reader shares the consciousness that these beneficent waters are rising in response to one of those world forces which inevitably draw men's wills into one effective current. 

Dr. Taylor was among the first men to [page 3] introduce a systematic study of sociology into a theological institution, at Chicago Theological Seminary. Therefore, from the standpoint of a student of social history, familiar with the development of organized religions, he knows that the religious synthesis, or rather the competing religious syntheses, are constantly changing and differentiating themselves in response to special needs; that such adaptations in organized religion are evolved not only because new needs confront the Church from without, but also because there is a vigorous minority within the Church whom the existing forms of expression no longer satisfy. It is as a member of this group that Dr. Taylor has written the following pages in which he directly and fearlessly points out the adaptation going on in the Church at the present moment and the need for further changes.

Because the desire for just human relationships has seized upon the imaginations of a multitude of our contemporaries, it is [page 4] possible that a group within the Church is now demanding that a new form of social action shall express their yearning sense of justice and compassion, quite as the schoolmen once insisted that creeds and dogmas should embody their philosophy, or the artists that their absorbing desire for beauty should be built into cathedrals and painted upon the walls of shrines. This thirst for beauty and order in human relationships may seize upon the religious spirits of our time as the desire for personal holiness and for unbroken communion with God, in another period of history, drove thousands of men to spend their lives in hermitage or monastery.

Certainly a distress of spirit for social wrongs, "the burden of souls," as Dr. Taylor calls it, expresses itself in many ways, as the most casual observer may see. Many a young person whose attention is fixed and whose emotions are absorbed by the vast and stupid atrocities of contemporary life -- its [page 5] aimless waste, its meaningless labor, its needless suffering -- finds his only relief from the abiding horror over the existence of such things in the heated conviction that they are not inevitable. He expresses himself in such well-worn phrases as "there must be some way out," "such a state of things was never intended," "human nature can no longer tolerate it."

To some of these young people in the Church with its chance of miracle, as it were, it divine help, its faith so invincible and so incalculable, offers itself as a refuge against unaided human effort and against the scientific estimate of the slow pace of social amelioration. It is said that human creatures, almost as much as they require light and bodily warmth, need the sense that others are thinking and feeling like themselves. It is obviously true that "the other poor little brethren gathered with us under the Madonna cloak keep us warm quite as much as the great mantle itself." Religion has always [page 6] provided for deep-seated wants which mortals themselves cannot satisfy, and has ever comforted man for his own insufficiencies. Doubtless there has always been a small number of persons who came into the Church because they found that they were discouraged with their own best conscious activities, quite as a multitude of those affrighted by the wrongs and injustices abroad in the world have throughout the ages come into the Church for shelter.

Many of these young people, turning to organized religion as it is found in their own communities, hoping to find both simplification of motives and an assurance of guidance, are bitterly disappointed. The desire to relieve at one and the same time a personal compunction and to utilize forms of socialized activity to which they have been trained in college and elsewhere is seldom gratified. The poignant sense of social wrong is all too [page 7] seldom mentioned in the Church, often not assuaged, and they receive no suggestions nor direction for effective action. This is the more remarkable in that, of the two leading religions in America, Judaism has always upheld the ideals of social justice, its great prophets and great teachers from the beginning having urged the redemption of the entire nation and having considered individuals pious or impious as they aided or retarded this consummation: in the Christian Church such religious expression in social action would be the one thing able to unite the extreme individualism taught by the evangelical churches with that concerted action which is only possible when a central authority is acknowledged. Such expression would be a veritable social growth, based upon the agreements of experience and verified by the current events in which all participate. Without it, at this moment it is difficult to see how religion can adequately perform its traditional function in the world. 

[page 8] A popular novel has recently asserted that the Christian Church has no right to test the fitness of men for its communion by their belief or non-belief in a set of creeds which were written and adopted by scholarly ecclesiastics who directed the Church during the least spiritual period of her history. If, as this widely read book contends, the leadership of the Church depends upon her ability to guide and enlighten men in the complexities and contradictions of modern life, then the test of the communicant should be his willingness to bear a man's share in the self-sacrificing labor involved in this period of maladjustment in which we find ourselves.

By this test no man has a better right to speak for the Church than the author of this book, although this is by no means his only qualification. No one can be really useful in the long and delicate task of social adaptation unless in addition to the unresting desire for universal justice he is informed on the [page 9] economic situation and the changes being urged by various bodies of people.

As a sympathetic student of social movements, understanding the larger hopes of men, in the early years of Chicago Commons Dr. Taylor every week presided over a "free-floor" discussion where men of all social faiths were made welcome. Chicago was at that time characterized by a challenging discussion of the existing social order. Each school of social philosophy preached not so much its own remedies as the necessity of clearing away much of the present industrial organization before any remedies could be applied, or rather before social reconstruction could begin. Even among the socialists there were many radicals of more zeal than learning, who felt that the end of the competitive system was approaching and urged a morality such as could be applied only to a world on the brink of destruction. These ardent speakers, therefore, distrusted all tendencies towards social improvements and denounced [page 10] any compromise on the part of socialists with the existing state. They looked askance at any accommodating spirit evinced by a capitalistic society, and at the growing humanitarianism of an enfeebled bourgeoisie. Above all they disliked the theory of the common interest of labor and capital for which the social settlement stood, as well as the gradual interpenetration of the two classes.

In spite of these radical differences, Dr. Taylor held the respect of these men of various social beliefs, shall we say, because of his religious faith in the unity and solidarity of mankind. He judged them righteously and generously, not as disturbers of the peace, but as men who like himself were concerned that the knowledge of economic forces should be intelligently applied to the progress of society. He did not despise half-baked theories, because as a student of economic history, he was familiar with the fact that each distinct historical epoch begins with striking economic changes which society joyfully [page 11] hails as indubitable signs of progress, but that soon after the more sensitive men of the epoch begin a long struggle to make the social readjustments, and that at last the epoch ends with more or less reorganization.

As he points out in his chapter on "Industrial Relations," the abrupt changes in the early years of the nineteenth century brought about untold distress, overcrowding in towns and mills, long working hours, child labor, and all the rest of the dreary list with which we are so familiar. In the first rush for increased prosperity no one was concerned to refit social conditions to the striking economic changes. And yet the epoch thus introduced must go through a long period of slow readjustment before society can work out a fitting reorganization, the outlines of which are new but vaguely apprehended.

In this middle period of readjustment in which our generation finds itself, many people, conscious of the social misery and convinced that much of it is unnecessary, have [page 12] been brought to a state of mind scarcely to be endured. Although knowledge of social development gave Dr. Taylor patience with those driven to rebellion, yet his own temperament and training place him in the list of those of the social reformers who believe in a gradual modification of society. Here, once more, he presents "fruits for life," or to use a more familiar phrase, he justifies his faith by long and arduous works.

This may be illustrated from only a few of the public and quasi-public commissions with which he has been identified during these later years, whose findings have changed public opinion and have resulted in remedial legislation. As a member of the well-known Chicago Vice Commission, he became conversant with the breakdown of moral fiber which so easily takes place where a large city offers concealment for illicit relations, and where many young people grow accustomed to consider the pursuit of pleasure a legitimate occupation. He vividly realized that [page 13] implicit in city conditions is the grave danger resulting from the withdrawal of social control at the very time the inner restraints of religion are confessedly less compelling. The Commission made a large number of painstaking recommendations for immediate action, but always considered the final goal to be the absolute abolition of commercialized vice -- a drastic conclusion, founded not upon vague ideals of human conduct but upon a careful study of human nature as it reacted to every possible temptation a great city could provide.

He also served on the Illinois state commissions which secured effective legislation to protect the workers from dangerous machinery and insanitary conditions, and to safeguard life and property from loss in the mines. These laws led the way to determine the employer's liability for industrial accidents and diseases, but the recommendation to divide with the employer and the state the burdens of these disasters, which were hitherto [page 14] borne by the worker alone, could not have been so willingly received by the very people to whom it meant an increased expenditure of money, unless the public mind had been previously aroused to that renewed appreciation of the value and dignity of human life which is said to characterize all moments of spiritual awakening.

In the matter of municipal reform, Dr. Taylor has been actively identified with the Municipal Voters' League of Chicago, one of the pioneer organizations in America, to purify once corrupt city councils by arousing public sentiment against evil practices which had been unchallenged for so many years that they had been accepted as inevitable. That Chicago demands not only honest alderman but those devoted to the higher interests of the city, is due to the fearless men who first recognized and fostered a changing conception of public duty and insisted that the ideals of Democracy are still operative in America.

Dr. Taylor has lived for twenty years at [page 15] Chicago Commons, the social settlement which he himself founded in one of those shifting city districts to which people of a score of nationalities are drawn from all parts of the world in response to industrial opportunities in factories and shops that too often exploit them but seldom unite them. That political reforms were inaugurated in his own ward, that the community was rallied to strenuous endeavor, could have been accomplished only through an appeal to those profounder spiritual experiences which, transcending all differences of creed and ritual, are at the foundations of every religious faith.

It requires an unfaltering courage to act year after year upon the belief that the hoary abominations of society can only be done away with through "the steady impinging of fact on fact, of interest on interest, and of will on will." It requires skill as well as loving kindness to be able to say this to an ardent young person so that the statement, [page 16] even although it contains the implication that these hideous conditions will at last be changed, shall not come as a dash of cold water to his ardent hopes. It requires tact and training to make it clear that because each one of us can do so little in the great task of regenerating society, it is therefore more necessary that each should dedicate his powers and add his individual will to the undertaking.

For several years Dr. Taylor performed this service for college women and others who met with him at Chicago Commons for conferences. It was as a logical outcome from this and in response to a community need that he founded the now well-known Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy. He saw the necessity for trained workers in every field of social endeavor. Where amelioration comes through legislation, informed and trained people are needed not only to help secure it but to interpret and enforce the new laws. So long as the social needs, while [page 17] glaring and obvious, are still such as can be supplied only by volunteer groups who must experiment and make good before the state can either realize the situation or attempt a remedy, there is need of trained social workers for philanthropy. For the teaching these groups, and a third, of college men and women trained in the methods of social research, the School has gathered together a faculty and staff of lecturers, many of them distinguished in their own lines of work, who are loyally devoted to the president and founder of the School, and are convinced that the School is rendering a patriotic service not only to the city but to the nation as well.

Dr. Taylor has come to be regarded as an "expert" adviser in the best sense of the term. His long familiarity with the men who are "down and out," both the vagrant and the convict, has enabled him to give advice of great practical value in their institutional care, in the founding of a Municipal Lodging House in Chicago, in the abolition of the [page 18] segregated district, in the establishment of the Morals Court, and in many another reform.

With other worried and harried social workers who found themselves giving much time to public speaking and to pamphleteering because they felt impelled to share their knowledge with the community at large, realizing that the community alone could bring about needed reforms, Dr. Taylor for years has given much time for public speaking. He constantly preached "the Christianizing of the social order" from orthodox pulpits, he roused young men to a sense of social responsibility through series of lectures at leading universities and colleges, he spoke before summer gatherings, before Y. M. C. A. audiences, and wherever he was constantly summoned by people eager for help in understanding the collective morality.

When the social workers, each with his store of fermented knowledge, met from year to year in annual conference, they found that [page 19] they tended more and more to discuss the economic conditions underlying the poverty, disease, and overwork which they were seeking to ameliorate. The discussion of the sources of the low standards of living, of the protection of the worker from the risks of industry, grew in interest at each meeting of the National Conference of Charities and Correction. That Dr. Taylor was elected president of that imposing national body for this year was a recognition both of his personal achievements and of his sympathy with the newer developments in philanthropy.

While many members of the Conference were content with a mere general statement of the relation between unregulated industry and poverty, Dr. Taylor was closely identified with a small group who felt that the time had come for a more definite indictment. The members of this group were convinced that some of the worst conditions which depressed whole communities of working people and kept a promising generation of youth [page 20] from following its better impulses, were localized and definite, and although these spots of glaring economic wrong might be exceptional, their very existence implied many others only less sensationally wretched. In their previous efforts to arouse an indifferent public, the social workers had eagerly welcomed the help which had come from the so-called "muck-raking" of certain magazines and even of the exaggerated tales printed in the daily press, the authoritative statements of those economists who is increasing numbers felt the responsibility for public wrongs, and the cumulative results of the governmental investigations into industrial conditions. For, while all of these were necessarily national in scope, so that each community found it easy to shift responsibility for that which was so widespread, there was, however, gradually brought about a growing conviction that industrial conditions could be bettered.

In order to provide definite information in [page 21] the early days of the settlement, Dr. Taylor had edited a small paper entitled "The Commons," in which he gathered data of current efforts of social reform with suggestions to those in industrial and civic struggles, and in social and church work. Later this publication was merged with "Charities," a paper performing a similar service in New York, and the two have since developed into The Survey, a journal which not only reports constructive philanthropy and industrial and civic undertakings, but points out to its readers the gaps and failures in the social structure. It was through The Survey that it was first made clear that, with the help of a small number of persons trained to careful economic investigation, the thorough study of one community might fix the responsibility where it could not be avoided. The local investigation, isolating the conditions from the rest of the country in such wise as to make them appear abnormal, pointed out the wretched results of [page 22] such conditions in the community itself. The lack of protection against industrial accidents in a huge steel plant had meant injuring so many men among the [employees] during the year; the insanitary housing in a given city ward had caused an abnormally high death-rate among the babies of that ward, and many another conclusion from which it was difficult to escape. When such investigation was accompanied by a picture of normal industrial conditions, vividly portrayed as they existed elsewhere, and was followed by an appeal to civic patriotism, in many instances an enthusiasm for better things was evoked and even a spiritual unrest.

But while the conviction of sin could thus be made through an objective and economic investigation, the regeneration which was supposed to follow must of course depend upon spiritual forces. The necessity of following each such presentation of special civic needs by a revival of religion in that particular city is to put it baldly, but some [page 23] such plan was finally evolved in the effort to match the will power of the community to its knowledge, "to marshal the moral forces capable of breaking what must be broken and of building what must be built." It was at once evident as soon as the results of an investigation and the methods of relief were published in the daily papers, that even the most obvious social reforms require practical means for their realization with the inevitable committees. It seemed possible to accomplish both the spiritual awakening and the organization through The Men and Religion Forward Movement. Its leaders were determined to win the men of the country back to religion by meeting the distinctively masculine interests, and from the beginning it was plain that it was the social obligations of religion which rallied the audiences and brought men under conviction of dereliction. It was evident that the force to be applied to social reforms was what Mazzini called "religious sentiment," that to which he so [page 24] confidently appealed for the remaking of Italy; "from it," he declared, "flow strength and constancy in the struggle for great principles, indifference to danger, noble resignation in persecution." Of course such an attempt to connect religious enthusiasm with civic and economic needs implied the full co-operation of the clergy, and that there was a generous response in so many cities indicated perhaps how ready they were to meet the challenge.

For the encouragement of these eager young men one may be permitted perhaps to quote from that great republican priest, Lammenais: "There is no power on earth that surpasses or equals that of the clergy when they are imbued with the genius of a nation and guide it faithfully in its natural progress according to the laws that direct the procession of its life. But if by error, or from interest, they set themselves in opposition to those eternal laws, if they attempt to hold the people in a state which it knows [page 25] to be not good and so to block the road to the future, their words excite mistrust and their living force is spent."

Dr. Taylor published in The Survey the material for this book as his contribution to The Men and Religion Forward Movement at the very time many cities themselves were beginning to ask for surveys of their own conditions, willingly bearing the expense involved, as though they were insisting upon a social expression for their religious sentiment and were asking to have the road laid out.

This book will doubtless be of value to men and women of all faiths who are eager that the current of their religion should pour itself into broader channels of social purpose.

September, 1913.