Christianity or Materialism

Christianity or Materialism

The real religion of the West today, the religion that rules over its mind and spirit, is not Christianity but Materialism. Says the author of Islam at the Crossroads:

“No doubt, there are still many individuals in the West who feel and think in a religious way and make the most desperate efforts to reconcile their beliefs with the spirit of their civilization, but they are exceptions only. The average Occidental be he a Democrat or a Facist, a Capitalist or a Bolshevik, a manual worker or an intellectual knows only one positive religion’, and that is the worship of material progress, the belief that there is no other goal in life than to make life continually easier or, as the current expression goes, “independent of nature’. The temples of this ‘religion’ are the gigantic factories, cinemas, chemical laboratories, dancing halls, hydro-electric works; and its priests are bankers, engineers, film-stars, captains of industry, finance magnates. The unavoidable result of this craving after power and pleasure is the creation of hostile groups armed to the teeth and determined to destroy one another whenever and wherever their respective interests come to a clash. And on the cultural side the result is the creation of a human type whose morality is confined to the question of practical utility alone, and whose highest criterion of good and evil is the material success.”[1] 

Prof. C.E.M.Joad cites the following incident as symptomatic of the growing malady of religious disbelief among the young men and women of Europe:

“I recently asked a group of twenty students, young men and women for the most part in the early twenties, how many of them were, in any sense of the word, Christian. Only three said that they were; seven had never thought about the matter one way or the other, while the remaining ten were belligerently anti-Christian. I saw no reason to suppose that the proportion of believers to non-believers indicated by these replies is untypical. Yet fifty or even twenty years ago it would assuredly have been different. Canon Barry’s conviction that a Christian revival on a large scale can save the world seems, then, to be shared by a diminishing number of persons, and I can see no reason why Canon Barry should think his opinion to be true, except such as is afforded by his wish that that it may be true. Now wishes may father thoughts, but they do not breed evidence. I return, then, to the opinion expressed at the beginning of this article that, so far as present indications go, the Christian Church in this country will, in another hundred years, be to all intents and purposes, dead. Since Christianity is our theme, it will be well to conclude with a parable. I take it from the daily paper.

“A fortune is being made by a man of seventy-seven who, after sixteen years of self-imposed poverty, living on €2 a weak has invented and patented a method of turning old Bibles into gun-cotton, artificial silk, cellulose, and expensive note-paper. His machinery has already been installed at a Cardiff factory and at eight others in various parts of the country where modern armaments are being made from ancient Tastaments.

‘He that hath ears to hear, may hear’.”[2]

In another book, he says:

“For centuries England has been dominated by the gospel of acquisition. ‘Money talks’ and the desire for it, has for two hundred years past been a greater spur to effort than all other incentives and added together. For money buys possessions, and by the number and grandeur of his possessions a man’s merit is chiefly estimated. Politics, literature, the cinema, the radio, even on occasions the pulpit, have poured forth year after year a stream of propaganda devoted to convincing their readers and seers and listeners that a society in which acquisitiveness is the most highly developed of the instincts is a civilized society. The worship of money assorts oddly with our profession of a religion which assures us not only that poverty is good and riches are evil, but that a rich man has as poor a chance of eternal happiness as the poor man has a good one. Nevertheless, though the dictates of prudence no less than the exhortations of religion unite in recommending poverty to those who would serve God and go to heaven, people have shown no disposition to act as if the exhortations of religion were true, and have been willing and eager to barter their chance of celestial bliss in the future for a sufficiency of worldly goods in the present. Perhaps they have believed that they could make the best of both worlds, and by the timeliness of a death-bed repentance, secure for themselves as much consideration in the next world as their bank balances have obtained for them in this one. Implicitly their view would seem to be that expressed by Samuel Butler in his Note-books. “It is all very well for mischievous writers to maintain that we cannot serve God and Mammon. Granted that it is not easy, but nothing that is worth going is ever easy.” 

“Whatever we may be in theory, most of us demonstrate by our practice that we are convinced Butlerians. So strong indeed is our addiction to wealth, so confirmed our belief that it is wealth which, above all other things, confers merit upon a man and greatness upon a State, that it had succeeded in inspiring two theories of the greatest historical importance with regard to the nature of the motive force which makes the wheels of the world go round. One of these, laissez faire economics, dominated in the nineteenth century. It asserted that men would always act in the way which they considered would conduce to their greatest economic advantage; that, in short, they were inspired by a hedonism not of the passions, but of the pocket. The other, which bids fair to dominate the early part of the twentieth century is Marx’s theory of economic determinism, which insists that the way in which, at any given moment, a society organizes its economic system to satisfy its material needs, determines its arts, its ethics, its religion, and even its logic no less than its form of government. Both these theories derive their greatest plausibility from the value which men and women demonstrably place upon wealth as a criterion of merit in individuals and a sign of greatness in States.”[3]

[Islam and the World by Shaykh Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, p. 171-172]


[1] Islam at the Crossroads, Lahore, 1955, Pp. 55-56.

[2] Guide to Modern Wickedness, Pp. 114-115. 

[3] Philosophy for Our Times, Pp. 338-40.

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