Modern man is a success. He can produce far more foodstuffs and more goods than his forefathers at a fraction of the cost in bodily and mental effort. His scientific and technical achievements have not only given him leisure, but provided endless means of enjoying it. He has accumulated so great a store of knowledge of the world in which he lives that he can never exhaust its possibilities. And still new knowledge and new techniques keep pouring in. Moreover, modern man has built up vast organizations for international co-operation, for health and social welfare, for the production and distribution of wealth and for the regulation of world economy—all of which should ensure him against the risks of war, revolution, slumps, epidemic diseases, and guarantee social justice and human progress on a scale and at a rate never known before.
Yet modern man is unhappy, and lives in fear rather than in hope as he looks towards the future. He is in this condition despite the optimism that is almost universally proclaimed by the leaders and thinkers of the greatest and most powerful nations of the earth. People no longer believe in their leaders, either political or philosophical or religious. They feel like the child in Hans Andersen's story, who, despite acclamations of the courtiers, can see for himself that the Emperor, for all his new clothes, rides stark naked in his carriage.
Neither view of man can be denied. Man is successful, and still he is unhappy and afraid. Yet happiness and freedom from fear matter to him more than success. He might even sacrifice his prosperity if he were sure that he would be delivered from fear and unhappiness. But he is sure of nothing.
The cause of all this malaise is easy to trace, and many people are well aware of it. Man is outwardly rich and inwardly poor; strong in what he has and can do, weak in what he is and can feel. The outer world forces in human life have grown enormously; the inner world forces have not grown—perhaps they have even dwindled. Man's contacts with the visible, tangible world of matter and bodies have increased in every direction, his contact with the invisible, suprasensible world of the spirit is less than in any previous period of history.
If the material world were reliable, and if man could obtain from it all that he needs or wants, then the loss of the spiritual world might be no great hardship. Materialists in recent decades have asserted that the greatest blessing that has ever been enjoyed by mankind is liberation from religious superstitions and naive beliefs in a spiritual or non-material world. They have said that, once set free from the illusions of religious belief, human progress need know no limits. A boundless horizon of technical achievements would make man Master, not only of the earth, but also of the whole Solar System, and perhaps even of the stars also. With limitless potentialities of new experiences and new powers, each generation could not only enjoy the present, but possess in their children the glorious future of mankind.
Today, these voices are no longer shouting their message from the housetops with the same assurance, or, if they are shouting, it is rather to keep up a courage that from year to year is undermined with doubt and disillusion. New voices are being heard that proclaim the downfall of mankind, the End of the Age. These prophets of doom are listened to, above all by the younger generation, that sees with bitterness that it has been brought into a world where success spells fear and progress is the harbinger of misery.
There is only one way out, and that is the renewal of inward, spiritual vigour. Everyone knows this, and no one knows how it is to be achieved. Good counsel there is in plenty, but practical suggestions that will actually work are utterly lacking. Everything has been tried.
Religious revivals within and outside the Church have proved ephemeral. Universal education is a boomerang: the more we know, the more we want and cannot have. United nations and welfare states are losing their glamour. So far from gaining an inner strength, man becomes from decade to decade more and more dependent upon external supports.
The majority of people can no longer eat what they wish, furnish their houses as they wish, use their leisure as they wish—but only as it is dictated to them by some form of propaganda. An American lady was standing in Piccadilly at the traffic lights, evidently in a state of helpless uncertainty. When asked what was the matter she replied, "In New York, we wait until the sign says WALK: then we walk. Here they don't tell you, so I don't know how to cross." Such is modern man in almost all that he does. However, comical such situations may appear to others, they are not a laughing matter, for we are all in the same boat. Unless there is some extraordinary change, there will, within a century, be very few men and women left able to do anything unless they are urged to it by some effectual form of propaganda. Since freedom of judgment and the power of choice are the marks of a human being, we are bound to conclude that, within three or four generations, mankind will have ceased to be human.
Sheep at least do not think. At present some people still think a little and they are sometimes even appalled at the universal lack of initiative. Then they feel that for all our successes there is something terribly amiss with human affairs.
Such people turn to their religious leaders with the reproach: "You assure us that God is in His Heaven—tell us then why all is not right with the world." If there is no answer to this question, then man is thrown back upon his own resources, with slender hope that if he can weather the threatening storm, a spiritual revival based upon a broad humanism may yet be promised.
But we all know too much of past history to have any confidence in such promises. Man has never yet lifted himself out of the mire by his own shoe-strings. The great renewals of the past have always come by the providential intervention of Sacred Beings who have been able by some incomprehensible power to re-establish faith, hope and love as the motive forces among their immediate followers, and these in their turn have been a leaven that has brought a new spiritual vigour to the multitudes. We cannot, at the present time, look for help in any power inferior to that of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. But we are closed to the Spirit, just because the very qualities of faith, hope and love are lacking in us. Our hearts are hardened, and our ears are dull of hearing, and who shall deliver us?
Ten years ago, I gave a series of lectures in London, published afterwards as The Crisis in Human Affairs. Then I said, as now, that only Divine Intervention can save us. But then I added that we had not yet heard the voice of one crying in the wilderness. I received a letter from the late Dean Inge in which he wrote: "I agree with nearly all you write in your book—but I cannot promise a new revelation."
Now I am writing again after having seen many new things, and passed through prodigious experiences, to tell those who wish to hear that I believe that a new light has appeared on the horizon. In this light we can see the outlines of a great plan, or Purpose. There seems at last to be the possibility of a practical method or means whereby the hungry can be fed. It is all so new and so astonishing that it would in many ways have been better to wait for clearer proofs and a fuller understanding. But there is really no time to lose. If there is indeed a hope that very large numbers of people—in fact, all who ask for it—can receive the spiritual awakening that can begin a new life, then this hope should not be the treasured possession of a few.