Joseph Needham’s typed summary of his outlook on Christianity and the Social Revolution

From Karl Polanyi
Jump to navigation Jump to search

(1) I have for many years been sceptical of the establishment of any understanding of the universe by man in the form of a unitary scheme, - of its comprehension in a single formula. Science, religion, history, art, etc., are each realms of only a limited validity, to my mind. They speak different and often untranslatable languages. Their conclusions are only relative. And no one of them, not even philosophy, approaches nearer to reality than the rest.

(2) In theology, I am in the main a follower of all those traditions associated with the point of view held by Rudolf Otto. The Numinous gets itself expressed in different civilisations and different naces in different ways. It is not absent from the Red Square.

(3) I derived from Spengler, while rejecting the greater part of his theories, what indeed was obvious on any previous consideration of history) a lively appreciation of the lines of demarcation between civilisations forms. This led me to feel that Communism is the likely successor to “Apollinian” civilisation.

(4) This idea conduces to a comparison of the times in which we live with the first century A.D. Like Symmachus and many others I am attracted both by the old dispensation and by the new. And those who like Berdyaey and Dawson, cry out for a revivification of the old forms in contradiction to the new and the achievements of the new, seem to me, like Julian (Imperator) and Sallustius, to be engaged in the hopeless task of trying to combine Christianity and Paganism under the forms of Paganism. Obviously there was at that time, as there always is in such historic periods, a combination: but it was made by the Fathers, who combined Christianity and Paganism under the forms of Christianity.

(5) This point of view, enhanced as it is by a certain attachment to the Marxist doctrine of inevitability, does not take away from me all motive for thinking out my own peculiar ideal blend of Christianity and Communism, my own peculiar interpretation of the phrase “Communism the heir of the Christian tradition”. For it seems to me clear that what actually happens will to some extent be the resultant of the ideals of a great many thinking people, - allowing also for the operation of Chance (if chance there be in history) which brings now one man now another to a position of influence at any given time.

Letter Informations

Date: 1934
KPA: 13/08