Course Hero. "Looking Backward Study Guide." Course Hero. 25 Oct. 2017. Web. 1 June 2020. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Looking-Backward/>.
Course Hero. (2017, October 25). Looking Backward Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Looking-Backward/
(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "Looking Backward Study Guide." October 25, 2017. Accessed June 1, 2020. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Looking-Backward/.
Course Hero, "Looking Backward Study Guide," October 25, 2017, accessed June 1, 2020, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Looking-Backward/.
Over breakfast the next morning, Julian West learns it is a Sunday morning, and Dr. Leete asks if he would like to hear a sermon. Julian asks about the state of religion in the 20th century and is surprised to learn that churches still exist. They are supported by subscribers much like the newspapers, thus defraying the cost to the nation of using workers as pastors. Dr. Leete explains that most people listen to sermons from home via the telephone. The family then hears a sermon from Mr. Barton who preaches regularly to 150,000 listeners.
Mr. Barton's sermon begins by acknowledging Julian's presence amongst them. Mr. Barton explains that society in Julian's day sprung from the assumption that people's worst qualities—such as selfishness and greed, which resulted in individualism—were the only qualities upon which a nation could depend. Today's nation, he continues, resulted from a shift in this paradigm. Society began "appealing to the social and generous instincts of men." Lest his audience think themselves so much better than their ancestors, the pastor reminds them that people in Julian's day were often motivated to take advantage of their peers out of a desperation to feed their own children. Out of such darkness the hope offered by a new social order drew people irresistibly to "that last, greatest, and most bloodless of revolutions ... [which] laid aside the social traditions and practices of barbarians, and assumed a social order worthy of rational and human beings." Now "for the first time since the creation every man stood up straight before God."
Mr. Barton imaginatively compares the nation to a rosebush once planted in a swamp, where it suffered from disease and barely managed to bloom. When the gardeners dared to question the environment rather than the rosebush itself, and had the courage to transplant it to better soil and sunlight, the rosebush flourished. Mr. Barton contends that "human nature in its essential qualities is good, not bad ... [and] the constant pressure ... of conditions of life which might have perverted angels ... [when] once removed, like a bent tree ... spring back to its normal uprightness." There is now nothing to stop humanity from attaining its full potential: "the heavens are before it."
Because of technology, church services are no longer interactive, social gatherings, but products to be consumed. Rather than gathering together in a church building, most people tune in to hear the sermon from their own homes via the telephone. Listeners hear the disembodied voice of a pastor, which is the sum of the service. The Leetes do not sing hymns, offer prayers, or receive sacraments, as church attendees in Julian's day would have. The Leetes subscribe to hear the pastor's words, and the service requires no interaction or contribution on their part. As with the musical performances, which would have been social events in Julian's day, church services in 2000 are now individual experiences. Readers see again how technology could serve as a somewhat isolating force in the new social order, which may strike them as ironic in an otherwise communal society.
Mr. Barton's illustration of the rose bush serves to illustrate the argument that environment can either corrupt or encourage the innate goodness of humanity. The rose bush, which represents humanity, cannot hope to thrive in the swamp in which it is planted. Try as they might, the gardeners cannot do anything to fix or help the rose bush while it remains in that suffocating environment. Barton argues that people used to believe that humanity was evil and sinful, rather than recognizing that it was the environment in which it operated that was corrupting its nature, just as the swamp brought out the worst in the rose bush. It was not until the gardeners transplanted it into a healthy environment that the rosebush could really thrive. According to Barton, when humanity was given a healthy environment that encouraged its best inclinations rather than its worst, the potential of the good of people finally blossomed. People, he says, have always been basically good. It was the stifling, corrupting influence of capitalism that brought out their worst characteristics. Their desperate struggle for survival forced them to do things they otherwise would not have done. The new social order removes such negative influences, and there is now nothing standing in the way of humanity to reach "the heavens before it."