Thoughts On Religion At The Front - Ch. 4
( Originally Published 1917 )
I MUST modify, then, and say that on the whole there is not a great articulate revival of the Christian religion at the front. But further I must add that there is religion about, Only, very often it is not the Christian religion. Rather it is natural religion. It is the expression of a craving for security. Literally it is a looking for` salvation. It is a very unnatural man who does not feel at any rate more inclined to pray when danger abounds and anxiety presses, than at other times. Naturally, then, chaplains find a readier response to their efforts right at the front than farther back. Men come to a service before they go to the trenches. Communicants increase before a fight.
Chaplains are frequently told of prayer being resorted to under this or that strain of this terrific war. There is in short a general association of ideas about religion and, as I have said, it may be called the association of a craving for security.
I would say nothing disrespectful of it. I would not pretend for a moment to be void of this very natural craving.
I would recognise that impressions made by strain and anxiety are often the means whereby God brings men home to Himself. I thought it a hard saying of an ardent salvationist lad, who told me of a transport sergeant's prayers one night in a ditch by a shrapnelled roadside, and of the same sergeant's reversion to apparent in religion on return to safety. " I call it," said the boy, "cowardice." But what I do say about it is, firstly, that Religion thus mainly associated with danger, is not the Christian religion, and secondly, that many of the best men of all ranks have little to do with it, or what little they do have is intermittent and rather shamefaced.
I leave the first statement for the moment. About the second I hazard the belief that this has been more or less true of all soldiers in history. Religion regarded merely as a resort in trouble, as a possible source of good luck, as a charm or insurance policy is as old as man ; but I believe many of the best soldiers up and down history have had little to do with it, and the more sporting and soldierly the man, the less be has had to do with it. After all, the soldier-mails code goes clean the other way. It is ever insisting on non-calculating and self-regardless service, endurance, and sacrifice. As such, it lies above the ordinary level of life, calling out the heroic and honourable in men. But religion associated with anxiety touches men at a level lower than the highest in them, it has the morbidity of their weaker moments hanging about it, it wears badly, and, above all, often it does not seem to work. I have had the case propounded to me of "Bill who did pray," but yet had had "his head blowed off."