The Questing Spirit: Religion in the Literature of Our Time

The Questing Spirit: Religion in the Literature of Our Time

The Questing Spirit: Religion in the Literature of Our Time

The Questing Spirit: Religion in the Literature of Our Time

Excerpt

Ernest Renan, writing about eighty years ago, made a picturesque prophecy. "I predict," he wrote, "that the twentieth century will spend a good deal of its time picking out of the wastebasket things which the nineteenth century threw into it."

This prediction has been fulfilled in many ways. In one particular way it is being abundantly fulfilled in these present years. One thing which a part, at least, of the nineteenth century, and a very articulate part at that, threw into the wastebasket was faith in God and the spiritual world, as being of little use for a confident and expanding industrial civilization. But there has been much rummaging in the wastebasket for spiritual values disregarded. There have been many noises in our turbulent world since the first guns of World War II boomed out. But even above the guns of the war, and the turmoil of the postwar world, there can be heard the noise of hands, groping in the wastebasket for faith.

"I see on every hand," wrote Van Wyck Brooks in 1941, "a hunger for affirmations, for a world without confusion, waste or groping, a world that is full of order and purpose . . ." This phrase, "a hunger for affirmations," may well indicate one of the greatest changes in mood that has occurred for centuries in the English-speaking world. The decade from the beginning of World War II, roughly from 1937 to 1947, has seen a revolution in the thinking of multitudes of people in regard to the relation of the spiritual world, man's faith in spiritual values, to life on our planet, to civilization and all man's hopes.

The literature of the period has been deeply marked by this shift in outlook, by the quest for enduring values. The same word "affirmations," as a key to the times, was used by J. Donald Adams, in July, 1943: "Daily the evidence mounts that the tremendous changes through which we are living are by no means confined to the outer circumstances of men and nations; there is in process a revolution in man's inner world. . . . We are still groping, but the groping is definitely in the direction of something to affirm, something in which to believe."

One can almost reach out his hand at random in any direction and . . .

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