2 JUNE 1961, Page 12

The Churches

Going Fishing

By MONICA FURLONG A T a provincial university I visited recently keen young Christian Unionists were organ- ising coach trips to Billy Graham's meetings at Manchester. Turning over the stones of the intel- lectual wilderness they had happened on only two fertile patches--the Psychology Department which was turning out in force, and a cheerfully irreverent group of agnostics known as the Heretics. It was not difficult to see what the attraction was in either case. A genuine red- blooded, old-fashioned religious revivalist at work was a priceless source of study to the psychologist, just as he was a priceless source of entertainment to the sophisticated unbeliever. A good time looked like being had by all.

Granted, however, that Dr. Graham and his team are unlikely to lay the intellectuals in the aisles, have they a function in the Christian life of this country? At a glance one can see that Graham has much that is likely to appeal to the teenager of all ages; the transatlantic good looks that are usually the preserve of pop singers, the passion for a cause, the money to lend his mis- sion and his retinue the glamour that are always lacking from religion in this country. Also, one might add, the vulgarity. So far, so good. Christ- tianity is a versatile religion, and there is no reason why any of these qualities should lessen an evangelist's effectiveness.

If one wants religious revivalists, therefore, Billy Graham seems to be of the right stuff, and if one may judge by the number of 'decisions for Christ' called forth at his meetings, he is effective in his specialised field. Sweeping down upon a city with all the force of unfamiliarity, an American accent, and a gigantic reputation, he is squarely in the tradition of the peripatetic preachers who used to create dust-storms of religious emotion wherever they went, even if his financial and administrative resources are a deal more impressive than theirs. The purpose of such men is to achieve a confrontation, a confronta- tion of the individual soul with the person of Jesus Christ, and to bring about such an end there is a well-tried technique. Since the audience of the high-pressure evangelist is rarely com- posed of intellectuals, he does not waste time on expounding doctrine nor even on explanations of the role and duties of Christians in the world. He invades the attention of his listeners, in fact, not by playing on their nobler instincts, but by plunging an intrusive finger into vulnerable points. He lingers predictably over the terrible wickedness of the world, and from there moves on to the sins of the individual. Slowly and• inexorably he plays on our fear of the future, on our feelings of guilt and insecurity. At a carefully calculated moment of tension, he. draws a figurative curtain, and shows the wounded and tormented god. This, he makes clear, is our doing. It is our fault this hideous thing happened and the only way to put the balance right is to 'make a decision' for Christ; the lights, the music, the crowds, all beckon irresistibly in the same direc- tion. Only a monster, or a strong man, can refuse.

It is a mark in favour of the Graham team that having precipitated emotional crises in so many people they do not then simply abandon them. The filing system has caught up on the haphazard methods of earlier evangelists, and those who make their decision are painstakingly referred to the care of their local vicar or minister. Only then can it be seen whether the blank cheque written by the emotions is going to be endorsed by the mind and the will.

Too few people are prepared to ask whether such methods are entirely scrupulous. Provided you end by confronting a man with Jesus Christ, so runs the argument of the extreme evangelicals, does it really matter how the deed is done? But this, of course, is precisely the argument of the Communists, whose own methods of spreading the good news are often surprisingly similar. Christians cannot remind themselves too often that their mission is not to indoctrinate, but to teach people the art of loving each other and God. It would seem to be dangerous to set about such a mission by sidestepping a man's reason.

Christians are becoming more ahd more interested in the process by which a man turns from unbelief to belief, and are learning to be far less accusing in their approach to the agnostic and the atheist. The situation of the agnostic who is sympathetic to Christian beliefs, but who can- not in honesty subscribe to them, interests intel- ligent Christians more and more, and the old, romantic view of conversion by which God descended on a man as sharply as a guillotine cutting him off from his former life, begins to recede. Even where conversion appears to be a sudden process it is usually easy to trace a slow movement towards faith over months or years, like a rising of the sun, effecting an absolute but extremely gradual change in the landscape of the mind.

The more one looks at the methods of the high-speed evangelist, the more one wonders at its lack of respect for the human personality, and in particular for the mind. With its heavy emphasis on my sin, my religion, my Saviour, it seems to open a window on to a grey, egocentric world of a terrifying tension, ignoring all the Christian insights which see a man always as a creature living in community, his love and hate, his goodness and badness conditioned by the society he lives in and interacting upon it. Good- ness knows, Christians have muddled and con- fused their mission, and in their worst moments have tried to ignore it altogether. But can Grahamism be the kind of evangelism people want, or need? Religion existing almost entirely in the emotions has been tried often enough in human history, usually with disastrous results. A Christianity using the whole of a man, including his senses and his mind, has rarely enough been attempted and looks like a promising field of exploration.