His friends had been asking for Dad to write an account of his social action and other works for years. He introduced his ‘BLIND MAN’S GROPING’ in March, 1955, starting it with letters from two friends. One was Mary van Kleeck, who had been director of industrial studies for the Russell Sage Foundation and officer of C.L.I.D. [the Church League for Industrial Democracy] from its beginning. They had worked with each other on the national board of the American Civil Liberties Union, also. The other was the Rev. Canon Charles A. Martin, head-master of St. Alban’s School, Washington, D.C., who was a co-trustee with Dad of the ‘Bishop Robert Paddock Foundation’ The gropings of a blind man, then, start with this justification…
[Charles Martin] commends the idea but says he cannot imagine me writing memoirs. He does not state his reason but maybe it is because it brings to mind a person who is on the shelf, voluntarily or otherwise, who bores others by relating past events. But as Mary van Kleeck says, ‘current issues had their beginnings in the past and their history, especially when it is unfinished business, can be made to illuminate the present.’
Webster says that a memoir is an account of events and acquaintances in which one has had a part or interest. If that is it, then memoirs is OK with me. For my plan is to relate events that are as fresh as today’s Congressional investigations –are in fact based on a recent one where I testified. I was there forcefully reminded of the truth of Mary van Kleeck’s statement that ‘current issues had their beginnings in the past’ that it sure is ‘unfinished business’ and that anyone going up against the Washington boys realizes how it ‘illuminates the present.’
In relating events I will of course have a lot to say about those who played their part in them–people who, for the most part, have battled for a more Christian world, and not too successfully if you take a short range view. A newspaper is before me: bombs that can utterly destroy an area 7,000 square miles; a million and a quarter U.S. soldiers stationed at 950 bases scattered over the earth. Not much Kingdom of God there.
When such news gets me down there are a couple of things I do; spend an afternoon in the anthropology wing of the Museum of Natural History in New York. There you see the development of life on this planet from slime to a U.S. Senator and leave singing with the certain knowledge that the Senator is not the end of God’s creation.
Or I can read or listen to G. Bernard Shaw,. The most stimulating debate I hear — it’s on a long-playing record –is between Charles Laughton as the Devil and Charles Boyer as Don Juan. The Devil makes out a good case for his religion of Love and Beauty; that ‘love is good to look at; that music is good to hear; that love is good to feel; and that they are all good to think about and talk about.”
And he has more ample grounds today for saying whast Shaw had him say fifty years ago: “I tell you that in the arts of life man invents nothing; but in the arts of death he outdoes Nature herself, and produces by chemistry and machinery all the slaughter of plague, pestilence and famine.—-When he goes out to slay, he carries a marvel of mechanism that lets loose at the touch of his finger, all the molecular energies, and leaves the javelin, the arrow, the blowpipe of his fathers far behind. In the arts of peace Man is a bungller.—The power that governs the earth is not the power of Life but of Death; and the inner need that has nerved Life to the effort of organizing itself into the human being is not the need for higher life but for a more efficient engine of destruction. The plague, the famine, the earthquake, the tempest were too spasmodic in their action; the tiger and crocodile were too easily satiated and not cruel enough; something more constantly, more ruthlessly, more ingeniously destructive were needed; and that something was Man, the inventor of the rack, the stake, the gallows, the electric chair, of the sword and gun; above all of justice, duty, patriotism and all the other isms by which even those clever enough to be humanely disposed are persuaded to become the most destructive of all destroyers.”
But Don Juan describes the Devil’s friends, the worshipers of Love and Beauty, as the dullest dogs he knows. “They are not beautiful; they are only decorated. They are not clean; they are only shaved and starched. They are not dignified; only fashionably dressed. They are not educated; they are only college graduates. They are not religious; they are only pew-renters. They are not moral; they are only conventional. They are not virtuous; they are only cowardly. They are not even vicious; they are only frail. They are not artistic; they are only lascivious. They are not prosperous; they are only rich. They are not loyal; they are only servile; not dutiful, only sheepish; not public spirited, only patriotic; not courageous, only quarrelsome; not determined, only obstinate; not masterful, only domineering; not self-controlled, only obtuse; not self-respecting, only vain; not kind, only sentimental; not social, only gregarious; not considerate, only polite; not intelligent, only opinionated; not progressive, only factious; not imaginative, only superstitious; not just, only vindictive; not generous, only propitiatory; not disciplined, only cowed; and not truthful at all — liars everyone of them to the backbone of their souls.”
Over against this Devil’s crowd he puts those who serve the Life Force: “He who seeks to discover the inner will of the world, in invention to discover the means of doing that will, and in action to do that will by the so-discovered means.—I tell you as long as I can conceive something better than myself I cannot be easy unless I am striving to bring it into existence or clearing the way for it. That is the law of my life. That is the working within me of Life’s incessant aspiration to higher organization, wider, deeper, intenser self-consciousness, and clearer self-understanding. It was the supremacy of this purpose that reduced love for me to the mere pleasure of a moment, art for me to the mere schooling of my faculties, religion for me to a mere excuse for laziness, since it has set up a God who looked at the world and saw that it was good, against the instinct in me that looked through my eyes at the world and saw that it could be improved…When the Spaniard learns at last that he is no better than the Saracen, and his prophet is no better than Mahomet, he will arise, more Catholic than ever, and die on a barricade across the filthy slum he starves in, for universal liberty and equality. Later on, Liberty will not be Catholic enough: men will die for human perfection, to which they will sacrifice all their liberty gladly.—I tell you gentlemen, if you can show a man a piece of what he now calls God’s work to do, and what he will later on call by many new names, you can make him entirely reckless of the consequences to himself personally.”
The frontier of hell and heaven, as Shaw says, is only the difference between two ways of looking at things, and in doing things since activity is the only road to knowledge.
That, basically, is what this story is all about for in its thought and action the C.L.I.D. has always stood with Don Juan and is on the frontier of heaven, however much some people have tried to place it on the frontier of hell.