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Full text of "What can a man believe"



a Man 




^ CQ 

What Can a Mangy 7, 


Based on the Book, "What Can a Man 

Believe," by Bruce Barton. 

It was in a Pullman car I noticed 
a man reading a book and he, in 
turn, noticing my interest in what 
he was reading said, "There ought 
to be more books like this; it hits 
the bull's-eye at every point: it is 
what we need today." I looked at 
the book and it was Bruce Barton's 
"What Can A Man Believe." Noting 
the enthusiasm of this man, who 
seemed an average successful busi- 
ness man, I deemed it best to read 
the book and to see what appealed 
so strongly to the average man. 

Religion is a favorite topic of con- 
versation wherever men forgather. 
They love to show their liberalism, or 
at least the veneer of liberalism. 
They love to point out the places in 
the Bible in which they do not be- 
lieve, where moral standards seem 
to be lower than our present stand- 
ards, and to pick flaws in the life 
story of Bible heroes, forgetting or 
probably not knowing, that the sub- 
limity of the Bible rests on its splen- 
did human characteristics. In the 
Bible no one is a goody-goody, each 
one sins in some particular way and 
the good of the completed life so 
overshadows the slip from settled 
standards of morality, that we rec- 
ognize brethren, fellow workers, in 
the fields of human endeavor. Not 
even a Moses, was sinless. He was 
not granted the right to enter the 
Promised Land. Judaism knows no 
perfect man at any time in the his- 
tory of the world. Thus in these 
conversations we gain an insight into 
Mr. Average Man and Mr. Average 
Man feels that this book of Bruce 

i 5308175 

Baton's is just about the last word 
on his favorite theme 

Some one in reviewing the works 
of Bruce Barton said; as the author 
of "Book That Nobody Knows" he 
presented the Bible as only he knew 
it: that as the author of "The Man 
Nobody Knows" he presented a 
sketch of the founder of Christian- 
ity who was only known to him. If 
I might carry this suggestion a lit- 
tle further, I would say that in pre- 
senting "What Can A Man Believe," 
he really presents a work on "The 
Religion Nobody Knows." And in 
saying that I am epitomizing my 
comment on the book. 

The author traces the origin of 
faith, he shows the accomplishments 
of faith and then in his own words 
"The plea of this book is for a frank 
recognition of the truth that the 
faith which begets great Achieve- 
ments and the faith which worships 
are both of the same spirit: that re- 
ligion is as natural and normal a part 
of human experience as birth and 
growth and hope and love. We say 
that it is time to take religion out of 
the hush-hush class: to recognize 
frankly and normally that every 
worth while enterprise is an act of 
faith that: 

There is no unbelief 
Whoever plants a seed beneath the 


And waits to see it push away the 

He trusts in God." 

This is splendid. As also is splen- 
did his criticism of the use to which 
the religious forces are put today 
"And the great forces of its organ- 
ized power are exerted for what? To 
keep people who like wine and who 
consider there is no moral wrong in 
drinking it, from having it. To sup- 
pi ess Sunday games. To be very bit- 
ter and unforgiving toward the girl 
who yields to the impulses of hot 
blood. These things which Jesus re- 
garded as of less importance have 
become the law and the prophets. And 
the other and greater sins go usually 

Credit also must be granted for 
pointing out to the average man 
that "education in America did not 
start with some millionaire donat- 
ing a stadium: it started with a sin- 
cere hope that learning and religious 
leadership might be preserved." Not 
the men of wealth are responsible for 
Harvard, but the humble preachers 
and teachers who gave their libraries 
and donated their time and talent. 
This ought to be emphasized in this 
age where we believe that millions 
are absolutely needed and that mil- 
lionaires present the only saviors of 
our schools and our public works. At 
the same time we want to recognize 
that "if democracy and modern ed- 
ucation are the gifts of the church, 
so also are hospitals for the sick and 
insane, and all the multitude of ag- 
encies for social forces in which our 
civilization has so much pride. 

The word church must be under- 
stood in the broadest sense. For the 
synagogue and Temple have been 
leaders in these humanitarian ef- 
forts and they have received their in- 
spiration from the teaching of the 
Old Testament. Jewish hospitals and 
orphanages are the leaders in this 
line of endeavor and the Jew has giv- 
en to social service not only its tech- 
nique but also its method of raising 

I shall not discuss all the questions 
that Bruce Barton claims are the 
inspiration for his work. The first 
two questions he has not answered 
satisfactorily. He has often begged 
the question. But when he tries to 
answer "Of the various religions 
now extant which is the best?" 
"What few simple things, if any, can 
a business man believe" and "If there 
is to be a faith of the future, what 
kind of a faith will it be?" then I 
want the right to question every 
statement that he has made. 

He discusses Buddhism, Confu- 
cianism and Mohammedanism and 
naturally sets these aside for Chris- 
tianity. Just where he got his in- 
formation about these foreign relig- 
ions, I do not know, but judging 
from his statements they were de- 

rived from biased sources, whose ob- 
ject was to prove the inferiority of 
these religions to that of his own. 
And in doing so he naturally magni- 
fies his own. I do not know how many 
followers of these faiths Bruce Bar- 
ton knows, so that by his examina- 
tion into their lives he might deduce 
the effect of the teaching upon their 
conduct? Probably very few, if any! 
But he surely knows some Jews, he 
knows of the activities of Jews in 
every form of human endeavor, he 
could easily verify Jewish facts in 
the large centers of American life 
and yet he has not a line about Ju- 
daism and its teachings or about the 
possibility that it may contain those 
fundamental truths that a man can 
believe, because it is the foundation 
of all Christian teaching. It is 
strange that in searching for truth, 
for fundamentals by which the mod- 
ern man can live, he should go far 
afield, to Buddhism, Confucianism 
and Mohammedanism, when there ex- 
isted at his side a faith, from which 
his own faith has developed which 
still shows vitality and ability to ad- 
just itself to its surroundings. 

Thus for instance, he ascribes to 
his form of faith those cardinal doc- 
trines that belong primarily to Ju- 
daism and because the sister relig- 
ions have not accepted them are 
still emphasized by that veteran of 
faiths, Judaism. For instance, he 
tells us that the message of Jesus 
was "God is a Father, who may be 
approached directly by any of His 
Children without mediation of tem- 
ple or priest." Now . s a matter of 
fact the churches that have been 
founded in the name of Jesus, em- 
phasize at all times that God can best 
be approached, or only approached, 
through the mediatorship of Jesus: 
while accepting God as the Father, 
they feel that it is through his son 
that salvation will come. At the same 
time the author is ignorant of the 
fact that even within the ancient 
temple walls, where priests offered 
sacrifices, there were special places 
where prayer alone was offered, and 
that prayer was directed directly to 

God. As early as in the days of Eli, 
the priest, Hannah answers "No, 
my lord, I am a woman of a sorrow- 
ful spirit: I have drunk neither wine 
or strong drink, but I poured out 
my soul before the Lord", for Han- 
nah had "prayed unto the Lord and 
wept sore." The Jew has always 
taught and is still teaching today 
that God is the Father who may be 
approached directly at all times. That 
is the message of our holy-day sea- 
son God, the Father, offering a 
means of redemption unto his child- 

And if he examines "the various 
religions now extant" in order to 
reach some reasonable conclusion as 
to "which is best" then out of fair- 
ness to his readers, out of fairness to 
the struggle that Judaism has car- 
ried on all these centuries, he ought 
to have included that faith in his 
survey. If he had done this, then he 
might have found an easier answer 
to the other two questions. He might 
not have offered forced explanations 
for miracles and other things that 
need so much explaining and he may 
have found the reason why "it is 
likewise true that Jesus of Nazareth 
might feel uncomfortable in some of 
the temples erected in His name." 

And then when he answers the 
questions concerning religion he pre- 
sents a diluted Christianity that can 
hardly be accepted by any organized 
Christian Church. He presents a 
faith that approaches nearer and 
nearer to that faith from which Chris- 
tianity sprang and which this house 
of God is proclaiming year in and 
year out. 

"What are the simplest things we 
can write down?" he says. He places 
them in this order, 1. I believe in my- 
self (and no one who reads the book 
can have any doubt that Bruce Bar- 
ton believes in himself). 2. I know 
that I am intelligent. 3. Because I 
am, I believe in God. 4. Immor- 
tality of some sort is a necessary 
compliment t^ the existence and na- 
ture of God." 

We will not quarrel with the order 
in which these axioms are placed : 

we would simply point out that there- 
in is said nothing of the great body 
of doctrine that is essential to Chris- 
tianity. Nor is such a statement a 
satisfactory one for the religion of 
today. If this is the order of the 
credos of modern belief then has 
man m:.de God in his own imagt and 
he believes as Barton says that "In- 
telligence is God." Surely there is 
not found in such a statement the 
sanctions and urge for further en- 
deavor along these lines which he 
previously pointed out as the gifts 
of religion to the civilization of all 
times education, hospitals, orphan- 
ages and general recognition of our 
duty to the lowly. Surely that can- 
not be the "faith of the futture," it 
would be a s f erile faith. 

And before giving our answer as 
to "What Can a Man Believe," let 
us note the strictures that he places 
upon the modern church. Whether 
they apply to the modern synagogue, 
I shall let yo.. answer for yourselves. 
He says First "In one respect the 
church can learn honesty from busi- 
ness." He makes this statement with 
reference to church statistics about 
which we heard so much a few 
months ago. I am under the impres- 
sion that it is the business of relig- 
ion to tea.h ^onesty to business. At 
least, I believe that business needs 
that lesson if the record of a famous 
lawsuit recently tried in Washing- 
ton is a criterion as to what is going 
on in the business world, and if the 
innumerable lawsuits that crowd the 
courts of every commuitv in America 
prove anything. Secondly "It 
sounds almost shocking, ytet it is 
true, that in some respects the church 
does not have as much faith as bus- 
iness." There is a kernel of truth in 
this matter. Somehow or another 
the business man lives day by day 
through faith and carries on his bus- 
iness through faith, but when he 
faces the real issues of life then he 
lacks that strength of faith that wLl 
move mountains. As Barton tells us 
The whole modern commercial 
structure is built on a foundation of 
credit. And what is the world credit, 

where does it come from? Credo I 
believe. Business is good or bad, 
statisticians point out, according to 
the degree of confidence. What is 
confidence? Confides, with faith. 
Such and such a concern is weak be- 
cause its personnel lacks fidelity.Fi- 
delity: fidelis: faithful." The same 
belief, confidence and faith we need 
in the affairs of our churches and 

Third Business is endlessly flex- 
ible and adaptable: the church is too 
often rigid and unadaptable. There- 
in is a valid criticism of many mod- 
ern churches but it is not valid so far 
as this temple or its interpretation of 
religion is concerned. It does adopt 
itself to the needs of the day; it has 
set aside the outworn garments of 
the fathers and is seeking to clothe 
in greater splendor the strong body 
of Jewish teachinp-s that is funda- 
mental to all faith. Fourthly Busi- 
ness checks up on itself frequently 
to be sure ihat it is still headed for 
its original goal. Is there not need 
for a similar check up on the part 
of the church?" Yes. and the church 
or synagogue that fails to do this, is 
not meeting the demands of a mod- 
ern church 

I must hasten to a close. If Bruce 
Barton had been honest in his search 
for an answer to the question, "What 
Can A Man Believe" and if he had 
turned to the teaching of the Reform 
Jewish Synagogue, he would have 
found his answer if he were open 
minded to accept it. Let me place it 
in the words that our confirmation 
classes learn each year 

1. "We believe with a sincere and 
steadfast faith that there is a God, 
who is one and only one the Crea- 
tor, Preserver and Ruler of the 

2. "We believe with a sincere and 
steadfast faith that man is created 
in the image of God, innocent and 
pure, with the impulse to develop to- 
ward perfection." 

3. "We believe with a sincere and 
steadfast faith that the soul of man 
is immortal, its righteousness brings 
reward, its wickedness punishment. 

4. "We believe with a sincere and 
steadfast faith in the common father- 
hood of God and the comrr.on brother- 
hood of man." 

To the latter we, as Jews, add 
"To realize this is the great aim and 
hope the mission of Israel." 

Without this latter phrase, here is 
a statement of fundamentals, begin- 
ning with God and not with man, 
which we feel that every honest man 
can accept. We have here the teach- 
ings which have been and will con- 
tinue to be the inspiration for all the 
splendid fellowship work for which 
Barton gives the Church credit. We 
have here a statement that does not 
need to apologize for or explain away 
some of the teachings ascribed to 
religion. These answer definitely the 
question of his book "What Can A 
Man Believe" and we present it to 
him for consideration. For the re- 
ligion he presents to the American 
public is a "Religion that Nobody 
Knows" and that no Christian Church 
woul accept arf its teachings and its 


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