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The Soldier and the Church

Much has been written and a great deal more said in reference the soldier’s attitude towards the Church. Possibly the man vitally affected has said least. This is not due to any feeling of indifference on his part, merely a natural disinclination to air his views. He has his teeth in a business which he knows will strain his every endeavor. To waste energy in directions that may bear but very questionable fruit does not appeal to him. As a whole, soldiers forgive and forget much more easily and readily than civilians. Enmity too is not quickly provoked among them, nevertheless those people who will persist in offering Tommy their unsolicited advice, with their nonsensical desire to turn the soldier from his "blind and dark path" into the way they think he should go, will discover that it is possible to arouse his displeasure.

To many of the lads in khaki, the constant companionship of all classes and conditions of men, has been a revelation. It has given them a broader outlook and a more sympathetic understanding of human nature than would have been acquired by years of civilian life. The "superior" bank clerk has fought and suffered alongside the coster and has found him a jolly good fellow. The college nurtured subaltern has found in the rough and ready Sgt. Major a consideration and sympathy thought impossible previously. Men have learned to appraise men by the heart and life and not by the superficial and the veneer. Notwithstanding this admitted widened outlook and knowledge, none will be persuaded that the position of the churches is satisfactory. Tommy does not understand the church, neither does the church understand Tommy. Those well meaning people who see in all this strife, the Hand of God, punishing the sins of the people, find it more than difficult to convince a soldier of the Goodness and Truth of such a God. The people who are still so unenlightened as to persist in viewing the deadly horror of the turmoil and death as a blessing in disguise, as a mild medicine to cure the ills of the world command the soldier's compassion.

Then we have those who actually endeavor to frighten the soldier into the accepting of a free and priceless salvation of a God of Love, by threatening of the terror to come. Truly that position is a sad one. How can it logically be supposed that the soldier, daily immured to the scenes of death and destruction, will be scared by a pitiful, black, phantom conjured up by a distorted imagination in the desire to terrify him to the acceptance of good? Would it be necessary to frighten a child in order to persuade him to eat something which he is told is good? Such methods were practiced by the Spanish Inquisition with as satisfactory results. Such conflicting statements are placed before Tommy that he is bewildered. A God of unfathomable love is waiting to pounce on him at the first opportunity. A God who does no wrong, who commits no mistakes has apparently made a horrible mess with the war. The Love of God is in imminent danger of being overlooked in the present method and contradictory words of the church. In some unaccountable manner man's free will, God’s divine gift, is forgotten. That everything comes of a cause, and that evil is only the creation of man is apparently too austere a doctrine for the modern church. It fails to recognize in that law, the natural law, Gods law, the Good law. The church is sadly behind. Her doctrines and creeds are "unalterable and changeth not." This prevents progress and the church which declines to advance with modern thought will surely fall lt can satisfy neither soul nor intellect.

Many young men quitted home with a comfortable untested faith, a hereditary faith. Many possessed a faith concerning which they had certainly never thought. "Everybody believed it, or professed they did, so what necessity for thought?" Somehow things in the Army were not quite the same. The parade service spoilt the effect somewhat. Open criticism, burningly hostile, voiced in the barrack-room by educated as well as uncouth men, exposition of hypocrisy by disappointed men, broke the easy going. They commenced their pilgrim age. They began with this hypothesis. "If there is a God, and if He is good, if I endeavor to find Him, honestly and sincerely I shall be able to do so." They thought and thought and in such an environment their reason smashed up the little puny faith they possessed. Then they seemed lost. For months they were seemingly stagnant. Though ever striving, ever seeking, all their efforts seemed barren. They finished with no faith at all. Churches and pastors were tried. Some, a few, were happy in finding an understanding pastor. Advice to their reasons as well as their hearts had the right effect. By far the majority discovered the pastor non-understanding, or were too fearful to approach him. The church services were lacking greatly an intelligent comprehension. The lads were bidden to have faith and believe in creeds their reasons refused. Many found their reasons the great obstacle to their faith, and the church failed to convince the reason. What a position! Honest sincere men seeking the truth, appealing to the church and going away unsatisfied. Verily a man’s salvation is his own making. It may come by way of the church, but to be effective, to grip the majority of men the church must change. It must learn to understand the men better. And the war has provided an opportunity to accomplish an understanding. Chaplains and soldiers have mixed and shared perils which have drawn them closer together. Many of the Chaplains have learned of the men. Men whose lives were clean, strong and beautiful though they boasted no religious denomination. Men have been discovered halving their last ration, men who never use the name of Christ except as blasphemy. Men, regarded by the modern churches as inevitably lost, have been among the first volunteers to fetch in the wounded. Great big men, with rough hands and coarse tongues nurse their sick pal as tenderly as a woman. Yet the church fails to attract them. It has no message for them. It does not understand them. Oh, the pity of it.

If the church fails to meet the need if will be sought elsewhere. The quest for truth does not cease at the first defeat. The search, be it long or short, will be carried right through to the end, for the soldier will know.

The churches are being weighed in the Balances. Will they be found wanting?

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Alfred Hardy (B. E. F.)

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