The Significance of the Institute
G. F. Wright
The Institute of Christian Sociology at Oberlin has emphasized three things very strongly: 1st, the interest in sociological studies; 2d, the vagueness of the science; and 3d, the importance of it being Christian. The number and the eminence of the men who were glad to come to discuss and to get information upon the subject was a surprise to all. Nor was the attendance of the students and citizens of the place less of a surprise. The question was anxiously raised beforehand, how are the expenses of the convention to be met? The modest charge of twenty-five cents for course tickets to exercised has met the cost of getting the eminent speakers here and all incidental expenses and left a generous surplus for the Summer School. In this case as so often it was the men of faith who won the day.
Mr. Holbrook’s indictment of the science for vagueness, sustained as it was by a great army of authorities upon the subject, is altogether just. The attempt of Comte and Herbert Spencer to construct an exact science out of sociological data is a failure. Man is more than a physical organism. He is not the slave of his conditions, or at least he need not be. He has free will. He can and often does master his environment. Every once in a while great geniuses arise and overturn the calculations of all ordinary observers. Napoleon was berated by the generals throughout the length and breadth of Europe because he did not follow the rules of war in his modes of attack. But rules or no rules he kept right on winning victories. McClellan followed the rules of war and won no victories. Grand and Sherman violated the rules of war and saved the nation. These victors had genius, and saw what other men failed to see. So it is not hard to see that the planting of Oberlin where it is, in 1833, was a necessary link in the chain of influences which saved the union from the domination of the slave power. This has been proven by Professor Ellis and General Cox. It was the influence of Oberlin in this central position, which turned the tide of political power against the South. The ideas of a few God-fearing men, who builded better than they knew, were more potent than all the material forces which were arising in the great Mississippi valley. It was, according to Mr. Holbrook, a tract, written by one whose boyhood was spent upon the Western Reserve, which formed the anti-slavery opinions of Abraham Lincoln while he was still a young man. These opinions slumbered in the breast of that great character in history until the time of responsibility and action came. He was then equal to the occasion. He spoke the word and two races were emancipated — the slave from his chains and the master from his bondage to the sum of all villainies.
But while sociology is not an exact science, there is a great body of information which is at hand to guide us in practical plans for benefitting the conditions of mankind. We are compelled, and to some extent able, to forecast the action of men in masses, else there could be no business calculation. Within narrow limits the conditions of life do determine the actions of men in the mass. Poverty and crimes of various sorts are increased by certain unfavorable conditions of society. Christianity has to find its embodiment in things as they are. The social life of Ohio must be very different from that of Greenland. The relations of capital to labor are among the most varying of all the conditions of life. This was clearly brought out in Dr. Warner’s admirable address. So far from it being wrong for a business man to make money, it is his duty to do so. The failure of a business concern or bank is one of the worst things that can happen to a community. A man has no right to go into business unless he can make it pay. Not only is this demanded by the depositors who have trusted their money to him for safe keeping, bu it is demanded by the general interests of society. The whole process of cheapening production which lowers the cost of living and provides the poor with what at one time would have been the luxuries of life is the result of it. The Manchester motto, "buy in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest", is a rule of the highest benevolence as society is founded. No greater mistake can be made than indiscriminately to condemn rich men and their accumulation of riches. Dr. Warner himself is an object lesson on the point. And so are all the Oberlin professors and pastors who are receiving more than two dollars and a half per day for their services.