Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton
Part 3 out of 3
a little, dancing sister, to be laughed at as well as loved.
This, however, is hardly our main point at present; I have admitted
it only in order to show how constantly, and as it were accidentally,
the key would fit the smallest doors. Our main point is here,
that if there be a mere trend of impersonal improvement in Nature,
it must presumably be a simple trend towards some simple triumph.
One can imagine that some automatic tendency in biology might work
for giving us longer and longer noses. But the question is,
do we want to have longer and longer noses? I fancy not;
I believe that we most of us want to say to our noses, "thus far,
and no farther; and here shall thy proud point be stayed:"
we require a nose of such length as may ensure an interesting face.
But we cannot imagine a mere biological trend towards producing
interesting faces; because an interesting face is one particular
arrangement of eyes, nose, and mouth, in a most complex relation
to each other. Proportion cannot be a drift: it is either
an accident or a design. So with the ideal of human morality
and its relation to the humanitarians and the anti-humanitarians.
It is conceivable that we are going more and more to keep our hands
off things: not to drive horses; not to pick flowers. We may
eventually be bound not to disturb a man's mind even by argument;
not to disturb the sleep of birds even by coughing. The ultimate
apotheosis would appear to be that of a man sitting quite still,
nor daring to stir for fear of disturbing a fly, nor to eat for fear
of incommoding a microbe. To so crude a consummation as that we
might perhaps unconsciously drift. But do we want so crude
a consummation? Similarly, we might unconsciously evolve along
the opposite or Nietzschian line of development--superman crushing
superman in one tower of tyrants until the universe is smashed
up for fun. But do we want the universe smashed up for fun?
Is it not quite clear that what we really hope for is one particular
management and proposition of these two things; a certain amount
of restraint and respect, a certain amount of energy and mastery?
If our life is ever really as beautiful as a fairy-tale, we shall
have to remember that all the beauty of a fairy-tale lies in this:
that the prince has a wonder which just stops short of being fear.
If he is afraid of the giant, there is an end of him; but also if he
is not astonished at the giant, there is an end of the fairy-tale. The
whole point depends upon his being at once humble enough to wonder,
and haughty enough to defy. So our attitude to the giant of the world
must not merely be increasing delicacy or increasing contempt:
it must be one particular proportion of the two--which is exactly right.
We must have in us enough reverence for all things outside us
to make us tread fearfully on the grass. We must also have enough
disdain for all things outside us, to make us, on due occasion,
spit at the stars. Yet these two things (if we are to be good
or happy) must be combined, not in any combination, but in one
particular combination. The perfect happiness of men on the earth
(if it ever comes) will not be a flat and solid thing, like the
satisfaction of animals. It will be an exact and perilous balance;
like that of a desperate romance. Man must have just enough faith
in himself to have adventures, and just enough doubt of himself to
This, then, is our second requirement for the ideal of progress.
First, it must be fixed; second, it must be composite. It must not
(if it is to satisfy our souls) be the mere victory of some one thing
swallowing up everything else, love or pride or peace or adventure;
it must be a definite picture composed of these elements in their best
proportion and relation. I am not concerned at this moment to deny
that some such good culmination may be, by the constitution of things,
reserved for the human race. I only point out that if this composite
happiness is fixed for us it must be fixed by some mind; for only
a mind can place the exact proportions of a composite happiness.
If the beatification of the world is a mere work of nature, then it
must be as simple as the freezing of the world, or the burning
up of the world. But if the beatification of the world is not
a work of nature but a work of art, then it involves an artist.
And here again my contemplation was cloven by the ancient voice
which said, "I could have told you all this a long time ago.
If there is any certain progress it can only be my kind of progress,
the progress towards a complete city of virtues and dominations
where righteousness and peace contrive to kiss each other.
An impersonal force might be leading you to a wilderness of perfect
flatness or a peak of perfect height. But only a personal God can
possibly be leading you (if, indeed, you are being led) to a city
with just streets and architectural proportions, a city in which each
of you can contribute exactly the right amount of your own colour
to the many coloured coat of Joseph."
Twice again, therefore, Christianity had come in with the exact
answer that I required. I had said, "The ideal must be fixed,"
and the Church had answered, "Mine is literally fixed, for it
existed before anything else." I said secondly, "It must be
artistically combined, like a picture"; and the Church answered,
"Mine is quite literally a picture, for I know who painted it."
Then I went on to the third thing, which, as it seemed to me,
was needed for an Utopia or goal of progress. And of all the three it
is infinitely the hardest to express. Perhaps it might be put thus:
that we need watchfulness even in Utopia, lest we fall from Utopia
as we fell from Eden.
We have remarked that one reason offered for being a progressive
is that things naturally tend to grow better. But the only real
reason for being a progressive is that things naturally tend
to grow worse. The corruption in things is not only the best
argument for being progressive; it is also the only argument
against being conservative. The conservative theory would really
be quite sweeping and unanswerable if it were not for this one fact.
But all conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave
things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not.
If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change.
If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you
particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again;
that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you
want the old white post you must have a new white post. But this
which is true even of inanimate things is in a quite special and
terrible sense true of all human things. An almost unnatural vigilance
is really required of the citizen because of the horrible rapidity
with which human institutions grow old. It is the custom in passing
romance and journalism to talk of men suffering under old tyrannies.
But, as a fact, men have almost always suffered under new tyrannies;
under tyrannies that had been public liberties hardly twenty
years before. Thus England went mad with joy over the patriotic
monarchy of Elizabeth; and then (almost immediately afterwards)
went mad with rage in the trap of the tyranny of Charles the First.
So, again, in France the monarchy became intolerable, not just
after it had been tolerated, but just after it had been adored.
The son of Louis the well-beloved was Louis the guillotined.
So in the same way in England in the nineteenth century the Radical
manufacturer was entirely trusted as a mere tribune of the people,
until suddenly we heard the cry of the Socialist that he was a tyrant
eating the people like bread. So again, we have almost up to the
last instant trusted the newspapers as organs of public opinion.
Just recently some of us have seen (not slowly, but with a start)
that they are obviously nothing of the kind. They are, by the nature
of the case, the hobbies of a few rich men. We have not any need
to rebel against antiquity; we have to rebel against novelty.
It is the new rulers, the capitalist or the editor, who really hold
up the modern world. There is no fear that a modern king will
attempt to override the constitution; it is more likely that he
will ignore the constitution and work behind its back; he will take
no advantage of his kingly power; it is more likely that he will
take advantage of his kingly powerlessness, of the fact that he
is free from criticism and publicity. For the king is the most
private person of our time. It will not be necessary for any one
to fight again against the proposal of a censorship of the press.
We do not need a censorship of the press. We have a censorship by
This startling swiftness with which popular systems turn
oppressive is the third fact for which we shall ask our perfect theory
of progress to allow. It must always be on the look out for every
privilege being abused, for every working right becoming a wrong.
In this matter I am entirely on the side of the revolutionists.
They are really right to be always suspecting human institutions;
they are right not to put their trust in princes nor in any child
of man. The chieftain chosen to be the friend of the people
becomes the enemy of the people; the newspaper started to tell
the truth now exists to prevent the truth being told. Here, I say,
I felt that I was really at last on the side of the revolutionary.
And then I caught my breath again: for I remembered that I was once
again on the side of the orthodox.
Christianity spoke again and said: "I have always maintained
that men were naturally backsliders; that human virtue tended of its
own nature to rust or to rot; I have always said that human beings
as such go wrong, especially happy human beings, especially proud
and prosperous human beings. This eternal revolution, this suspicion
sustained through centuries, you (being a vague modern) call the
doctrine of progress. If you were a philosopher you would call it,
as I do, the doctrine of original sin. You may call it the cosmic
advance as much as you like; I call it what it is--the Fall."
I have spoken of orthodoxy coming in like a sword; here I
confess it came in like a battle-axe. For really (when I came to
think of it) Christianity is the only thing left that has any real
right to question the power of the well-nurtured or the well-bred.
I have listened often enough to Socialists, or even to democrats,
saying that the physical conditions of the poor must of necessity make
them mentally and morally degraded. I have listened to scientific
men (and there are still scientific men not opposed to democracy)
saying that if we give the poor healthier conditions vice and wrong
will disappear. I have listened to them with a horrible attention,
with a hideous fascination. For it was like watching a man
energetically sawing from the tree the branch he is sitting on.
If these happy democrats could prove their case, they would strike
democracy dead. If the poor are thus utterly demoralized, it may
or may not be practical to raise them. But it is certainly quite
practical to disfranchise them. If the man with a bad bedroom cannot
give a good vote, then the first and swiftest deduction is that he
shall give no vote. The governing class may not unreasonably say:
"It may take us some time to reform his bedroom. But if he is the
brute you say, it will take him very little time to ruin our country.
Therefore we will take your hint and not give him the chance."
It fills me with horrible amusement to observe the way in which the
earnest Socialist industriously lays the foundation of all aristocracy,
expatiating blandly upon the evident unfitness of the poor to rule.
It is like listening to somebody at an evening party apologising
for entering without evening dress, and explaining that he had
recently been intoxicated, had a personal habit of taking off
his clothes in the street, and had, moreover, only just changed
from prison uniform. At any moment, one feels, the host might say
that really, if it was as bad as that, he need not come in at all.
So it is when the ordinary Socialist, with a beaming face,
proves that the poor, after their smashing experiences, cannot be
really trustworthy. At any moment the rich may say, "Very well,
then, we won't trust them," and bang the door in his face.
On the basis of Mr. Blatchford's view of heredity and environment,
the case for the aristocracy is quite overwhelming. If clean homes
and clean air make clean souls, why not give the power (for the
present at any rate) to those who undoubtedly have the clean air?
If better conditions will make the poor more fit to govern themselves,
why should not better conditions already make the rich more fit
to govern them? On the ordinary environment argument the matter is
fairly manifest. The comfortable class must be merely our vanguard
Is there any answer to the proposition that those who have
had the best opportunities will probably be our best guides?
Is there any answer to the argument that those who have breathed
clean air had better decide for those who have breathed foul?
As far as I know, there is only one answer, and that answer
is Christianity. Only the Christian Church can offer any rational
objection to a complete confidence in the rich. For she has maintained
from the beginning that the danger was not in man's environment,
but in man. Further, she has maintained that if we come to talk of a
dangerous environment, the most dangerous environment of all is the
commodious environment. I know that the most modern manufacture has
been really occupied in trying to produce an abnormally large needle.
I know that the most recent biologists have been chiefly anxious
to discover a very small camel. But if we diminish the camel
to his smallest, or open the eye of the needle to its largest--if,
in short, we assume the words of Christ to have meant the very least
that they could mean, His words must at the very least mean this--
that rich men are not very likely to be morally trustworthy.
Christianity even when watered down is hot enough to boil all modern
society to rags. The mere minimum of the Church would be a deadly
ultimatum to the world. For the whole modern world is absolutely
based on the assumption, not that the rich are necessary (which is
tenable), but that the rich are trustworthy, which (for a Christian)
is not tenable. You will hear everlastingly, in all discussions
about newspapers, companies, aristocracies, or party politics,
this argument that the rich man cannot be bribed. The fact is,
of course, that the rich man is bribed; he has been bribed already.
That is why he is a rich man. The whole case for Christianity is that
a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of this life is a corrupt man,
spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt.
There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints
have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply
that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck.
It is not demonstrably un-Christian to kill the rich as violators
of definable justice. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to crown
the rich as convenient rulers of society. It is not certainly
un-Christian to rebel against the rich or to submit to the rich.
But it is quite certainly un-Christian to trust the rich, to regard
the rich as more morally safe than the poor. A Christian may
consistently say, "I respect that man's rank, although he takes bribes."
But a Christian cannot say, as all modern men are saying at lunch
and breakfast, "a man of that rank would not take bribes."
For it is a part of Christian dogma that any man in any rank may
take bribes. It is a part of Christian dogma; it also happens by
a curious coincidence that it is a part of obvious human history.
When people say that a man "in that position" would be incorruptible,
there is no need to bring Christianity into the discussion. Was Lord
Bacon a bootblack? Was the Duke of Marlborough a crossing sweeper?
In the best Utopia, I must be prepared for the moral fall of any man
in any position at any moment; especially for my fall from my position
at this moment.
Much vague and sentimental journalism has been poured out
to the effect that Christianity is akin to democracy, and most
of it is scarcely strong or clear enough to refute the fact that
the two things have often quarrelled. The real ground upon which
Christianity and democracy are one is very much deeper. The one
specially and peculiarly un-Christian idea is the idea of Carlyle--
the idea that the man should rule who feels that he can rule.
Whatever else is Christian, this is heathen. If our faith comments
on government at all, its comment must be this--that the man should
rule who does NOT think that he can rule. Carlyle's hero may say,
"I will be king"; but the Christian saint must say "Nolo episcopari."
If the great paradox of Christianity means anything, it means this--
that we must take the crown in our hands, and go hunting in dry
places and dark corners of the earth until we find the one man
who feels himself unfit to wear it. Carlyle was quite wrong;
we have not got to crown the exceptional man who knows he can rule.
Rather we must crown the much more exceptional man who knows he
Now, this is one of the two or three vital defences of
working democracy. The mere machinery of voting is not democracy,
though at present it is not easy to effect any simpler democratic method.
But even the machinery of voting is profoundly Christian in this
practical sense--that it is an attempt to get at the opinion of those
who would be too modest to offer it. It is a mystical adventure;
it is specially trusting those who do not trust themselves.
That enigma is strictly peculiar to Christendom. There is nothing
really humble about the abnegation of the Buddhist; the mild Hindoo
is mild, but he is not meek. But there is something psychologically
Christian about the idea of seeking for the opinion of the obscure
rather than taking the obvious course of accepting the opinion
of the prominent. To say that voting is particularly Christian may
seem somewhat curious. To say that canvassing is Christian may seem
quite crazy. But canvassing is very Christian in its primary idea.
It is encouraging the humble; it is saying to the modest man,
"Friend, go up higher." Or if there is some slight defect
in canvassing, that is in its perfect and rounded piety, it is only
because it may possibly neglect to encourage the modesty of the canvasser.
Aristocracy is not an institution: aristocracy is a sin;
generally a very venial one. It is merely the drift or slide
of men into a sort of natural pomposity and praise of the powerful,
which is the most easy and obvious affair in the world.
It is one of the hundred answers to the fugitive perversion
of modern "force" that the promptest and boldest agencies are
also the most fragile or full of sensibility. The swiftest things
are the softest things. A bird is active, because a bird is soft.
A stone is helpless, because a stone is hard. The stone must
by its own nature go downwards, because hardness is weakness.
The bird can of its nature go upwards, because fragility is force.
In perfect force there is a kind of frivolity, an airiness that can
maintain itself in the air. Modern investigators of miraculous
history have solemnly admitted that a characteristic of the great
saints is their power of "levitation." They might go further;
a characteristic of the great saints is their power of levity.
Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.
This has been always the instinct of Christendom, and especially
the instinct of Christian art. Remember how Fra Angelico represented
all his angels, not only as birds, but almost as butterflies.
Remember how the most earnest mediaeval art was full of light
and fluttering draperies, of quick and capering feet. It was
the one thing that the modern Pre-raphaelites could not imitate
in the real Pre-raphaelites. Burne-Jones could never recover
the deep levity of the Middle Ages. In the old Christian pictures
the sky over every figure is like a blue or gold parachute.
Every figure seems ready to fly up and float about in the heavens.
The tattered cloak of the beggar will bear him up like the rayed
plumes of the angels. But the kings in their heavy gold and the proud
in their robes of purple will all of their nature sink downwards,
for pride cannot rise to levity or levitation. Pride is the downward
drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One "settles down"
into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a gay
self-forgetfulness. A man "falls" into a brown study; he reaches up
at a blue sky. Seriousness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy,
but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice.
It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one's self gravely,
because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to
write a good TIMES leading article than a good joke in PUNCH.
For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap.
It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of
Now, it is the peculiar honour of Europe since it has been Christian
that while it has had aristocracy it has always at the back of its heart
treated aristocracy as a weakness--generally as a weakness that must
be allowed for. If any one wishes to appreciate this point, let him
go outside Christianity into some other philosophical atmosphere.
Let him, for instance, compare the classes of Europe with the castes
of India. There aristocracy is far more awful, because it is far
more intellectual. It is seriously felt that the scale of classes
is a scale of spiritual values; that the baker is better than the
butcher in an invisible and sacred sense. But no Christianity,
not even the most ignorant or perverse, ever suggested that a baronet
was better than a butcher in that sacred sense. No Christianity,
however ignorant or extravagant, ever suggested that a duke would
not be damned. In pagan society there may have been (I do not know)
some such serious division between the free man and the slave.
But in Christian society we have always thought the gentleman
a sort of joke, though I admit that in some great crusades
and councils he earned the right to be called a practical joke.
But we in Europe never really and at the root of our souls took
aristocracy seriously. It is only an occasional non-European
alien (such as Dr. Oscar Levy, the only intelligent Nietzscheite)
who can even manage for a moment to take aristocracy seriously.
It may be a mere patriotic bias, though I do not think so, but it
seems to me that the English aristocracy is not only the type,
but is the crown and flower of all actual aristocracies; it has all
the oligarchical virtues as well as all the defects. It is casual,
it is kind, it is courageous in obvious matters; but it has one
great merit that overlaps even these. The great and very obvious
merit of the English aristocracy is that nobody could possibly take
In short, I had spelled out slowly, as usual, the need for
an equal law in Utopia; and, as usual, I found that Christianity
had been there before me. The whole history of my Utopia has the
same amusing sadness. I was always rushing out of my architectural
study with plans for a new turret only to find it sitting up there
in the sunlight, shining, and a thousand years old. For me, in the
ancient and partly in the modern sense, God answered the prayer,
"Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings." Without vanity, I really
think there was a moment when I could have invented the marriage
vow (as an institution) out of my own head; but I discovered,
with a sigh, that it had been invented already. But, since it would
be too long a business to show how, fact by fact and inch by inch,
my own conception of Utopia was only answered in the New Jerusalem,
I will take this one case of the matter of marriage as indicating
the converging drift, I may say the converging crash of all the rest.
When the ordinary opponents of Socialism talk about
impossibilities and alterations in human nature they always miss
an important distinction. In modern ideal conceptions of society
there are some desires that are possibly not attainable: but there
are some desires that are not desirable. That all men should live
in equally beautiful houses is a dream that may or may not be attained.
But that all men should live in the same beautiful house is not
a dream at all; it is a nightmare. That a man should love all old
women is an ideal that may not be attainable. But that a man should
regard all old women exactly as he regards his mother is not only
an unattainable ideal, but an ideal which ought not to be attained.
I do not know if the reader agrees with me in these examples;
but I will add the example which has always affected me most.
I could never conceive or tolerate any Utopia which did not leave to me
the liberty for which I chiefly care, the liberty to bind myself.
Complete anarchy would not merely make it impossible to have
any discipline or fidelity; it would also make it impossible
to have any fun. To take an obvious instance, it would not be
worth while to bet if a bet were not binding. The dissolution
of all contracts would not only ruin morality but spoil sport.
Now betting and such sports are only the stunted and twisted
shapes of the original instinct of man for adventure and romance,
of which much has been said in these pages. And the perils, rewards,
punishments, and fulfilments of an adventure must be real, or
the adventure is only a shifting and heartless nightmare. If I bet
I must be made to pay, or there is no poetry in betting. If I challenge
I must be made to fight, or there is no poetry in challenging.
If I vow to be faithful I must be cursed when I am unfaithful,
or there is no fun in vowing. You could not even make a fairy tale
from the experiences of a man who, when he was swallowed by a whale,
might find himself at the top of the Eiffel Tower, or when he
was turned into a frog might begin to behave like a flamingo.
For the purpose even of the wildest romance results must be real;
results must be irrevocable. Christian marriage is the great
example of a real and irrevocable result; and that is why it
is the chief subject and centre of all our romantic writing.
And this is my last instance of the things that I should ask,
and ask imperatively, of any social paradise; I should ask to be kept
to my bargain, to have my oaths and engagements taken seriously;
I should ask Utopia to avenge my honour on myself.
All my modern Utopian friends look at each other rather doubtfully,
for their ultimate hope is the dissolution of all special ties.
But again I seem to hear, like a kind of echo, an answer from beyond
the world. "You will have real obligations, and therefore real
adventures when you get to my Utopia. But the hardest obligation
and the steepest adventure is to get there."
VIII THE ROMANCE OF ORTHODOXY
It is customary to complain of the bustle and strenuousness
of our epoch. But in truth the chief mark of our epoch is
a profound laziness and fatigue; and the fact is that the real
laziness is the cause of the apparent bustle. Take one quite
external case; the streets are noisy with taxicabs and motorcars;
but this is not due to human activity but to human repose.
There would be less bustle if there were more activity, if people
were simply walking about. Our world would be more silent if it
were more strenuous. And this which is true of the apparent physical
bustle is true also of the apparent bustle of the intellect.
Most of the machinery of modern language is labour-saving machinery;
and it saves mental labour very much more than it ought.
Scientific phrases are used like scientific wheels and piston-rods
to make swifter and smoother yet the path of the comfortable.
Long words go rattling by us like long railway trains. We know they
are carrying thousands who are too tired or too indolent to walk
and think for themselves. It is a good exercise to try for once
in a way to express any opinion one holds in words of one syllable.
If you say "The social utility of the indeterminate sentence is
recognized by all criminologists as a part of our sociological
evolution towards a more humane and scientific view of punishment,"
you can go on talking like that for hours with hardly a movement
of the gray matter inside your skull. But if you begin "I wish
Jones to go to gaol and Brown to say when Jones shall come out,"
you will discover, with a thrill of horror, that you are obliged
to think. The long words are not the hard words, it is the short
words that are hard. There is much more metaphysical subtlety in the
word "damn" than in the word "degeneration."
But these long comfortable words that save modern people the toil
of reasoning have one particular aspect in which they are especially
ruinous and confusing. This difficulty occurs when the same long word
is used in different connections to mean quite different things.
Thus, to take a well-known instance, the word "idealist" has
one meaning as a piece of philosophy and quite another as a piece
of moral rhetoric. In the same way the scientific materialists
have had just reason to complain of people mixing up "materialist"
as a term of cosmology with "materialist" as a moral taunt.
So, to take a cheaper instance, the man who hates "progressives"
in London always calls himself a "progressive" in South Africa.
A confusion quite as unmeaning as this has arisen in connection
with the word "liberal" as applied to religion and as applied
to politics and society. It is often suggested that all Liberals
ought to be freethinkers, because they ought to love everything that
is free. You might just as well say that all idealists ought to be
High Churchmen, because they ought to love everything that is high.
You might as well say that Low Churchmen ought to like Low Mass,
or that Broad Churchmen ought to like broad jokes. The thing is
a mere accident of words. In actual modern Europe a freethinker
does not mean a man who thinks for himself. It means a man who,
having thought for himself, has come to one particular class
of conclusions, the material origin of phenomena, the impossibility
of miracles, the improbability of personal immortality and so on.
And none of these ideas are particularly liberal. Nay, indeed almost
all these ideas are definitely illiberal, as it is the purpose
of this chapter to show.
In the few following pages I propose to point out as rapidly
as possible that on every single one of the matters most strongly
insisted on by liberalisers of theology their effect upon social
practice would be definitely illiberal. Almost every contemporary
proposal to bring freedom into the church is simply a proposal
to bring tyranny into the world. For freeing the church now
does not even mean freeing it in all directions. It means
freeing that peculiar set of dogmas loosely called scientific,
dogmas of monism, of pantheism, or of Arianism, or of necessity.
And every one of these (and we will take them one by one)
can be shown to be the natural ally of oppression. In fact, it is
a remarkable circumstance (indeed not so very remarkable when one
comes to think of it) that most things are the allies of oppression.
There is only one thing that can never go past a certain point
in its alliance with oppression--and that is orthodoxy. I may,
it is true, twist orthodoxy so as partly to justify a tyrant.
But I can easily make up a German philosophy to justify him entirely.
Now let us take in order the innovations that are the notes
of the new theology or the modernist church. We concluded the last
chapter with the discovery of one of them. The very doctrine which
is called the most old-fashioned was found to be the only safeguard
of the new democracies of the earth. The doctrine seemingly
most unpopular was found to be the only strength of the people.
In short, we found that the only logical negation of oligarchy
was in the affirmation of original sin. So it is, I maintain,
in all the other cases.
I take the most obvious instance first, the case of miracles.
For some extraordinary reason, there is a fixed notion that it
is more liberal to disbelieve in miracles than to believe
in them. Why, I cannot imagine, nor can anybody tell me.
For some inconceivable cause a "broad" or "liberal" clergyman always
means a man who wishes at least to diminish the number of miracles;
it never means a man who wishes to increase that number. It always
means a man who is free to disbelieve that Christ came out of His grave;
it never means a man who is free to believe that his own aunt came
out of her grave. It is common to find trouble in a parish because
the parish priest cannot admit that St. Peter walked on water;
yet how rarely do we find trouble in a parish because the clergyman
says that his father walked on the Serpentine? And this is not
because (as the swift secularist debater would immediately retort)
miracles cannot be believed in our experience. It is not because
"miracles do not happen," as in the dogma which Matthew Arnold recited
with simple faith. More supernatural things are ALLEGED to have
happened in our time than would have been possible eighty years ago.
Men of science believe in such marvels much more than they did:
the most perplexing, and even horrible, prodigies of mind and spirit
are always being unveiled in modern psychology. Things that the old
science at least would frankly have rejected as miracles are hourly
being asserted by the new science. The only thing which is still
old-fashioned enough to reject miracles is the New Theology.
But in truth this notion that it is "free" to deny miracles has
nothing to do with the evidence for or against them. It is a lifeless
verbal prejudice of which the original life and beginning was not
in the freedom of thought, but simply in the dogma of materialism.
The man of the nineteenth century did not disbelieve in the
Resurrection because his liberal Christianity allowed him to doubt it.
He disbelieved in it because his very strict materialism did not allow
him to believe it. Tennyson, a very typical nineteenth century man,
uttered one of the instinctive truisms of his contemporaries when he
said that there was faith in their honest doubt. There was indeed.
Those words have a profound and even a horrible truth. In their
doubt of miracles there was a faith in a fixed and godless fate;
a deep and sincere faith in the incurable routine of the cosmos.
The doubts of the agnostic were only the dogmas of the monist.
Of the fact and evidence of the supernatural I will
speak afterwards. Here we are only concerned with this clear point;
that in so far as the liberal idea of freedom can be said to be
on either side in the discussion about miracles, it is obviously
on the side of miracles. Reform or (in the only tolerable sense)
progress means simply the gradual control of matter by mind.
A miracle simply means the swift control of matter by mind. If you
wish to feed the people, you may think that feeding them miraculously
in the wilderness is impossible--but you cannot think it illiberal.
If you really want poor children to go to the seaside, you cannot
think it illiberal that they should go there on flying dragons;
you can only think it unlikely. A holiday, like Liberalism, only means
the liberty of man. A miracle only means the liberty of God.
You may conscientiously deny either of them, but you cannot call
your denial a triumph of the liberal idea. The Catholic Church
believed that man and God both had a sort of spiritual freedom.
Calvinism took away the freedom from man, but left it to God.
Scientific materialism binds the Creator Himself; it chains up
God as the Apocalypse chained the devil. It leaves nothing free
in the universe. And those who assist this process are called the
This, as I say, is the lightest and most evident case.
The assumption that there is something in the doubt of miracles akin
to liberality or reform is literally the opposite of the truth.
If a man cannot believe in miracles there is an end of the matter;
he is not particularly liberal, but he is perfectly honourable
and logical, which are much better things. But if he can believe
in miracles, he is certainly the more liberal for doing so;
because they mean first, the freedom of the soul, and secondly,
its control over the tyranny of circumstance. Sometimes this truth
is ignored in a singularly naive way, even by the ablest men.
For instance, Mr. Bernard Shaw speaks with hearty old-fashioned
contempt for the idea of miracles, as if they were a sort of breach
of faith on the part of nature: he seems strangely unconscious
that miracles are only the final flowers of his own favourite tree,
the doctrine of the omnipotence of will. Just in the same way he calls
the desire for immortality a paltry selfishness, forgetting that he
has just called the desire for life a healthy and heroic selfishness.
How can it be noble to wish to make one's life infinite and yet
mean to wish to make it immortal? No, if it is desirable that man
should triumph over the cruelty of nature or custom, then miracles
are certainly desirable; we will discuss afterwards whether they
But I must pass on to the larger cases of this curious error;
the notion that the "liberalising" of religion in some way helps
the liberation of the world. The second example of it can be found
in the question of pantheism--or rather of a certain modern attitude
which is often called immanentism, and which often is Buddhism.
But this is so much more difficult a matter that I must approach it
with rather more preparation.
The things said most confidently by advanced persons to
crowded audiences are generally those quite opposite to the fact;
it is actually our truisms that are untrue. Here is a case.
There is a phrase of facile liberality uttered again and again
at ethical societies and parliaments of religion: "the religions
of the earth differ in rites and forms, but they are the same in
what they teach." It is false; it is the opposite of the fact.
The religions of the earth do not greatly differ in rites and forms;
they do greatly differ in what they teach. It is as if a man
were to say, "Do not be misled by the fact that the CHURCH TIMES
and the FREETHINKER look utterly different, that one is painted
on vellum and the other carved on marble, that one is triangular
and the other hectagonal; read them and you will see that they say
the same thing." The truth is, of course, that they are alike in
everything except in the fact that they don't say the same thing.
An atheist stockbroker in Surbiton looks exactly like a Swedenborgian
stockbroker in Wimbledon. You may walk round and round them
and subject them to the most personal and offensive study without
seeing anything Swedenborgian in the hat or anything particularly
godless in the umbrella. It is exactly in their souls that they
are divided. So the truth is that the difficulty of all the creeds
of the earth is not as alleged in this cheap maxim: that they agree
in meaning, but differ in machinery. It is exactly the opposite.
They agree in machinery; almost every great religion on earth works
with the same external methods, with priests, scriptures, altars,
sworn brotherhoods, special feasts. They agree in the mode
of teaching; what they differ about is the thing to be taught.
Pagan optimists and Eastern pessimists would both have temples,
just as Liberals and Tories would both have newspapers. Creeds that
exist to destroy each other both have scriptures, just as armies
that exist to destroy each other both have guns.
The great example of this alleged identity of all human religions
is the alleged spiritual identity of Buddhism and Christianity.
Those who adopt this theory generally avoid the ethics of most
other creeds, except, indeed, Confucianism, which they like
because it is not a creed. But they are cautious in their praises
of Mahommedanism, generally confining themselves to imposing
its morality only upon the refreshment of the lower classes.
They seldom suggest the Mahommedan view of marriage (for which
there is a great deal to be said), and towards Thugs and fetish
worshippers their attitude may even be called cold. But in the
case of the great religion of Gautama they feel sincerely a similarity.
Students of popular science, like Mr. Blatchford, are always
insisting that Christianity and Buddhism are very much alike,
especially Buddhism. This is generally believed, and I believed
it myself until I read a book giving the reasons for it.
The reasons were of two kinds: resemblances that meant nothing
because they were common to all humanity, and resemblances which
were not resemblances at all. The author solemnly explained that
the two creeds were alike in things in which all creeds are alike,
or else he described them as alike in some point in which they
are quite obviously different. Thus, as a case of the first class,
he said that both Christ and Buddha were called by the divine voice
coming out of the sky, as if you would expect the divine voice
to come out of the coal-cellar. Or, again, it was gravely urged
that these two Eastern teachers, by a singular coincidence, both had
to do with the washing of feet. You might as well say that it was
a remarkable coincidence that they both had feet to wash. And the
other class of similarities were those which simply were not similar.
Thus this reconciler of the two religions draws earnest attention
to the fact that at certain religious feasts the robe of the Lama
is rent in pieces out of respect, and the remnants highly valued.
But this is the reverse of a resemblance, for the garments of Christ
were not rent in pieces out of respect, but out of derision;
and the remnants were not highly valued except for what they would
fetch in the rag shops. It is rather like alluding to the obvious
connection between the two ceremonies of the sword: when it taps
a man's shoulder, and when it cuts off his head. It is not at all
similar for the man. These scraps of puerile pedantry would indeed
matter little if it were not also true that the alleged philosophical
resemblances are also of these two kinds, either proving too much
or not proving anything. That Buddhism approves of mercy or of
self-restraint is not to say that it is specially like Christianity;
it is only to say that it is not utterly unlike all human existence.
Buddhists disapprove in theory of cruelty or excess because all
sane human beings disapprove in theory of cruelty or excess.
But to say that Buddhism and Christianity give the same philosophy
of these things is simply false. All humanity does agree that we are
in a net of sin. Most of humanity agrees that there is some way out.
But as to what is the way out, I do not think that there are two
institutions in the universe which contradict each other so flatly
as Buddhism and Christianity.
Even when I thought, with most other well-informed, though
unscholarly, people, that Buddhism and Christianity were alike,
there was one thing about them that always perplexed me;
I mean the startling difference in their type of religious art.
I do not mean in its technical style of representation,
but in the things that it was manifestly meant to represent.
No two ideals could be more opposite than a Christian saint
in a Gothic cathedral and a Buddhist saint in a Chinese temple.
The opposition exists at every point; but perhaps the shortest
statement of it is that the Buddhist saint always has his eyes shut,
while the Christian saint always has them very wide open.
The Buddhist saint has a sleek and harmonious body, but his eyes
are heavy and sealed with sleep. The mediaeval saint's body is
wasted to its crazy bones, but his eyes are frightfully alive.
There cannot be any real community of spirit between forces that
produced symbols so different as that. Granted that both images
are extravagances, are perversions of the pure creed, it must be
a real divergence which could produce such opposite extravagances.
The Buddhist is looking with a peculiar intentness inwards.
The Christian is staring with a frantic intentness outwards. If we
follow that clue steadily we shall find some interesting things.
A short time ago Mrs. Besant, in an interesting essay,
announced that there was only one religion in the world, that all
faiths were only versions or perversions of it, and that she was
quite prepared to say what it was. According to Mrs. Besant this
universal Church is simply the universal self. It is the doctrine
that we are really all one person; that there are no real walls of
individuality between man and man. If I may put it so, she does not
tell us to love our neighbours; she tells us to be our neighbours.
That is Mrs. Besant's thoughtful and suggestive description of
the religion in which all men must find themselves in agreement.
And I never heard of any suggestion in my life with which I more
violently disagree. I want to love my neighbour not because he is I,
but precisely because he is not I. I want to adore the world,
not as one likes a looking-glass, because it is one's self,
but as one loves a woman, because she is entirely different.
If souls are separate love is possible. If souls are united love
is obviously impossible. A man may be said loosely to love himself,
but he can hardly fall in love with himself, or, if he does, it must
be a monotonous courtship. If the world is full of real selves,
they can be really unselfish selves. But upon Mrs. Besant's principle
the whole cosmos is only one enormously selfish person.
It is just here that Buddhism is on the side of modern pantheism
and immanence. And it is just here that Christianity is on the
side of humanity and liberty and love. Love desires personality;
therefore love desires division. It is the instinct of Christianity
to be glad that God has broken the universe into little pieces,
because they are living pieces. It is her instinct to say "little
children love one another" rather than to tell one large person
to love himself. This is the intellectual abyss between Buddhism
and Christianity; that for the Buddhist or Theosophist personality
is the fall of man, for the Christian it is the purpose of God,
the whole point of his cosmic idea. The world-soul of the Theosophists
asks man to love it only in order that man may throw himself into it.
But the divine centre of Christianity actually threw man out of it
in order that he might love it. The oriental deity is like a giant
who should have lost his leg or hand and be always seeking to find it;
but the Christian power is like some giant who in a strange
generosity should cut off his right hand, so that it might of its
own accord shake hands with him. We come back to the same tireless
note touching the nature of Christianity; all modern philosophies
are chains which connect and fetter; Christianity is a sword which
separates and sets free. No other philosophy makes God actually
rejoice in the separation of the universe into living souls.
But according to orthodox Christianity this separation between God
and man is sacred, because this is eternal. That a man may love God
it is necessary that there should be not only a God to be loved,
but a man to love him. All those vague theosophical minds for whom
the universe is an immense melting-pot are exactly the minds which
shrink instinctively from that earthquake saying of our Gospels,
which declare that the Son of God came not with peace but with a
sundering sword. The saying rings entirely true even considered
as what it obviously is; the statement that any man who preaches real
love is bound to beget hate. It is as true of democratic fraternity
as a divine love; sham love ends in compromise and common philosophy;
but real love has always ended in bloodshed. Yet there is another
and yet more awful truth behind the obvious meaning of this utterance
of our Lord. According to Himself the Son was a sword separating
brother and brother that they should for an aeon hate each other.
But the Father also was a sword, which in the black beginning
separated brother and brother, so that they should love each other
This is the meaning of that almost insane happiness in the
eyes of the mediaeval saint in the picture. This is the meaning
of the sealed eyes of the superb Buddhist image. The Christian
saint is happy because he has verily been cut off from the world;
he is separate from things and is staring at them in astonishment.
But why should the Buddhist saint be astonished at things?--
since there is really only one thing, and that being impersonal can
hardly be astonished at itself. There have been many pantheist poems
suggesting wonder, but no really successful ones. The pantheist
cannot wonder, for he cannot praise God or praise anything as really
distinct from himself. Our immediate business here, however, is with
the effect of this Christian admiration (which strikes outwards,
towards a deity distinct from the worshipper) upon the general
need for ethical activity and social reform. And surely its
effect is sufficiently obvious. There is no real possibility
of getting out of pantheism, any special impulse to moral action.
For pantheism implies in its nature that one thing is as good
as another; whereas action implies in its nature that one thing
is greatly preferable to another. Swinburne in the high summer
of his scepticism tried in vain to wrestle with this difficulty.
In "Songs before Sunrise," written under the inspiration of Garibaldi
and the revolt of Italy he proclaimed the newer religion and the
purer God which should wither up all the priests of the world:
"What doest thou now Looking Godward to cry I am I,
thou art thou, I am low, thou art high, I am thou that thou
seekest to find him, find thou but thyself, thou art I."
Of which the immediate and evident deduction is that tyrants
are as much the sons of God as Garibaldis; and that King Bomba
of Naples having, with the utmost success, "found himself"
is identical with the ultimate good in all things. The truth is
that the western energy that dethrones tyrants has been directly
due to the western theology that says "I am I, thou art thou."
The same spiritual separation which looked up and saw a good king in
the universe looked up and saw a bad king in Naples. The worshippers
of Bomba's god dethroned Bomba. The worshippers of Swinburne's god
have covered Asia for centuries and have never dethroned a tyrant.
The Indian saint may reasonably shut his eyes because he is
looking at that which is I and Thou and We and They and It.
It is a rational occupation: but it is not true in theory and not
true in fact that it helps the Indian to keep an eye on Lord Curzon.
That external vigilance which has always been the mark of Christianity
(the command that we should WATCH and pray) has expressed itself
both in typical western orthodoxy and in typical western politics:
but both depend on the idea of a divinity transcendent, different
from ourselves, a deity that disappears. Certainly the most sagacious
creeds may suggest that we should pursue God into deeper and deeper
rings of the labyrinth of our own ego. But only we of Christendom
have said that we should hunt God like an eagle upon the mountains:
and we have killed all monsters in the chase.
Here again, therefore, we find that in so far as we value
democracy and the self-renewing energies of the west, we are much
more likely to find them in the old theology than the new.
If we want reform, we must adhere to orthodoxy: especially in this
matter (so much disputed in the counsels of Mr. R.J.Campbell),
the matter of insisting on the immanent or the transcendent deity.
By insisting specially on the immanence of God we get introspection,
self-isolation, quietism, social indifference--Tibet. By insisting
specially on the transcendence of God we get wonder, curiosity,
moral and political adventure, righteous indignation--Christendom.
Insisting that God is inside man, man is always inside himself.
By insisting that God transcends man, man has transcended himself.
If we take any other doctrine that has been called old-fashioned
we shall find the case the same. It is the same, for instance,
in the deep matter of the Trinity. Unitarians (a sect never to be
mentioned without a special respect for their distinguished intellectual
dignity and high intellectual honour) are often reformers by the
accident that throws so many small sects into such an attitude.
But there is nothing in the least liberal or akin to reform in
the substitution of pure monotheism for the Trinity. The complex
God of the Athanasian Creed may be an enigma for the intellect;
but He is far less likely to gather the mystery and cruelty
of a Sultan than the lonely god of Omar or Mahomet. The god
who is a mere awful unity is not only a king but an Eastern king.
The HEART of humanity, especially of European humanity, is certainly
much more satisfied by the strange hints and symbols that gather
round the Trinitarian idea, the image of a council at which mercy
pleads as well as justice, the conception of a sort of liberty
and variety existing even in the inmost chamber of the world.
For Western religion has always felt keenly the idea "it is not
well for man to be alone." The social instinct asserted itself
everywhere as when the Eastern idea of hermits was practically expelled
by the Western idea of monks. So even asceticism became brotherly;
and the Trappists were sociable even when they were silent.
If this love of a living complexity be our test, it is certainly
healthier to have the Trinitarian religion than the Unitarian.
For to us Trinitarians (if I may say it with reverence)--to us God
Himself is a society. It is indeed a fathomless mystery of theology,
and even if I were theologian enough to deal with it directly, it would
not be relevant to do so here. Suffice it to say here that this triple
enigma is as comforting as wine and open as an English fireside;
that this thing that bewilders the intellect utterly quiets the heart:
but out of the desert, from the dry places and the dreadful suns,
come the cruel children of the lonely God; the real Unitarians who
with scimitar in hand have laid waste the world. For it is not well
for God to be alone.
Again, the same is true of that difficult matter of the danger
of the soul, which has unsettled so many just minds. To hope
for all souls is imperative; and it is quite tenable that their
salvation is inevitable. It is tenable, but it is not specially
favourable to activity or progress. Our fighting and creative society
ought rather to insist on the danger of everybody, on the fact
that every man is hanging by a thread or clinging to a precipice.
To say that all will be well anyhow is a comprehensible remark:
but it cannot be called the blast of a trumpet. Europe ought rather
to emphasize possible perdition; and Europe always has emphasized it.
Here its highest religion is at one with all its cheapest romances.
To the Buddhist or the eastern fatalist existence is a science
or a plan, which must end up in a certain way. But to a Christian
existence is a STORY, which may end up in any way. In a thrilling
novel (that purely Christian product) the hero is not eaten
by cannibals; but it is essential to the existence of the thrill
that he MIGHT be eaten by cannibals. The hero must (so to speak)
be an eatable hero. So Christian morals have always said to the man,
not that he would lose his soul, but that he must take care that he
didn't. In Christian morals, in short, it is wicked to call a man
"damned": but it is strictly religious and philosophic to call
All Christianity concentrates on the man at the cross-roads.
The vast and shallow philosophies, the huge syntheses of humbug,
all talk about ages and evolution and ultimate developments.
The true philosophy is concerned with the instant. Will a man
take this road or that?--that is the only thing to think about,
if you enjoy thinking. The aeons are easy enough to think about,
any one can think about them. The instant is really awful:
and it is because our religion has intensely felt the instant,
that it has in literature dealt much with battle and in theology
dealt much with hell. It is full of DANGER, like a boy's book:
it is at an immortal crisis. There is a great deal of real similarity
between popular fiction and the religion of the western people.
If you say that popular fiction is vulgar and tawdry, you only say
what the dreary and well-informed say also about the images in the
Catholic churches. Life (according to the faith) is very like a
serial story in a magazine: life ends with the promise (or menace)
"to be continued in our next." Also, with a noble vulgarity,
life imitates the serial and leaves off at the exciting moment.
For death is distinctly an exciting moment.
But the point is that a story is exciting because it has in it
so strong an element of will, of what theology calls free-will.
You cannot finish a sum how you like. But you can finish a story
how you like. When somebody discovered the Differential Calculus
there was only one Differential Calculus he could discover.
But when Shakespeare killed Romeo he might have married him to
Juliet's old nurse if he had felt inclined. And Christendom has
excelled in the narrative romance exactly because it has insisted
on the theological free-will. It is a large matter and too much
to one side of the road to be discussed adequately here; but this
is the real objection to that torrent of modern talk about treating
crime as disease, about making a prison merely a hygienic environment
like a hospital, of healing sin by slow scientific methods.
The fallacy of the whole thing is that evil is a matter of active
choice whereas disease is not. If you say that you are going to cure
a profligate as you cure an asthmatic, my cheap and obvious answer is,
"Produce the people who want to be asthmatics as many people want
to be profligates." A man may lie still and be cured of a malady.
But he must not lie still if he wants to be cured of a sin;
on the contrary, he must get up and jump about violently.
The whole point indeed is perfectly expressed in the very word
which we use for a man in hospital; "patient" is in the passive mood;
"sinner" is in the active. If a man is to be saved from influenza,
he may be a patient. But if he is to be saved from forging,
he must be not a patient but an IMPATIENT. He must be personally
impatient with forgery. All moral reform must start in the active
not the passive will.
Here again we reach the same substantial conclusion. In so far
as we desire the definite reconstructions and the dangerous revolutions
which have distinguished European civilization, we shall not discourage
the thought of possible ruin; we shall rather encourage it.
If we want, like the Eastern saints, merely to contemplate how right
things are, of course we shall only say that they must go right.
But if we particularly want to MAKE them go right, we must insist
that they may go wrong.
Lastly, this truth is yet again true in the case of the common
modern attempts to diminish or to explain away the divinity of Christ.
The thing may be true or not; that I shall deal with before I end.
But if the divinity is true it is certainly terribly revolutionary.
That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we
knew already; but that God could have his back to the wall is a boast
for all insurgents for ever. Christianity is the only religion
on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete.
Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God,
must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds,
Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator.
For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean
that the soul passes a breaking point--and does not break.
In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it
is easy to discuss; and I apologise in advance if any of my
phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the
greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach.
But in that terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional
suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way)
went not only through agony, but through doubt. It is written,
"Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." No; but the Lord thy God may
tempt Himself; and it seems as if this was what happened in Gethsemane.
In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God.
He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror
of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven,
it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross:
the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let
the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all
the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable
recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god
who has himself been in revolt. Nay, (the matter grows too difficult
for human speech,) but let the atheists themselves choose a god.
They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation;
only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be
These can be called the essentials of the old orthodoxy,
of which the chief merit is that it is the natural fountain of
revolution and reform; and of which the chief defect is that it
is obviously only an abstract assertion. Its main advantage
is that it is the most adventurous and manly of all theologies.
Its chief disadvantage is simply that it is a theology. It can always
be urged against it that it is in its nature arbitrary and in the air.
But it is not so high in the air but that great archers spend their
whole lives in shooting arrows at it--yes, and their last arrows;
there are men who will ruin themselves and ruin their civilization
if they may ruin also this old fantastic tale. This is the last
and most astounding fact about this faith; that its enemies will
use any weapon against it, the swords that cut their own fingers,
and the firebrands that burn their own homes. Men who begin to fight
the Church for the sake of freedom and humanity end by flinging
away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the Church.
This is no exaggeration; I could fill a book with the instances of it.
Mr. Blatchford set out, as an ordinary Bible-smasher, to prove
that Adam was guiltless of sin against God; in manoeuvring so as to
maintain this he admitted, as a mere side issue, that all the tyrants,
from Nero to King Leopold, were guiltless of any sin against humanity.
I know a man who has such a passion for proving that he will have no
personal existence after death that he falls back on the position
that he has no personal existence now. He invokes Buddhism and says
that all souls fade into each other; in order to prove that he
cannot go to heaven he proves that he cannot go to Hartlepool.
I have known people who protested against religious education with
arguments against any education, saying that the child's mind must
grow freely or that the old must not teach the young. I have known
people who showed that there could be no divine judgment by showing
that there can be no human judgment, even for practical purposes.
They burned their own corn to set fire to the church; they smashed
their own tools to smash it; any stick was good enough to beat it with,
though it were the last stick of their own dismembered furniture.
We do not admire, we hardly excuse, the fanatic who wrecks this
world for love of the other. But what are we to say of the fanatic
who wrecks this world out of hatred of the other? He sacrifices
the very existence of humanity to the non-existence of God.
He offers his victims not to the altar, but merely to assert
the idleness of the altar and the emptiness of the throne.
He is ready to ruin even that primary ethic by which all things live,
for his strange and eternal vengeance upon some one who never lived
And yet the thing hangs in the heavens unhurt. Its opponents
only succeed in destroying all that they themselves justly hold dear.
They do not destroy orthodoxy; they only destroy political
and common courage sense. They do not prove that Adam was not
responsible to God; how could they prove it? They only prove
(from their premises) that the Czar is not responsible to Russia.
They do not prove that Adam should not have been punished by God;
they only prove that the nearest sweater should not be punished by men.
With their oriental doubts about personality they do not make certain
that we shall have no personal life hereafter; they only make
certain that we shall not have a very jolly or complete one here.
With their paralysing hints of all conclusions coming out wrong
they do not tear the book of the Recording Angel; they only make
it a little harder to keep the books of Marshall & Snelgrove.
Not only is the faith the mother of all worldly energies, but its foes
are the fathers of all worldly confusion. The secularists have not
wrecked divine things; but the secularists have wrecked secular things,
if that is any comfort to them. The Titans did not scale heaven;
but they laid waste the world.
IX AUTHORITY AND THE ADVENTURER
The last chapter has been concerned with the contention that
orthodoxy is not only (as is often urged) the only safe guardian of
morality or order, but is also the only logical guardian of liberty,
innovation and advance. If we wish to pull down the prosperous
oppressor we cannot do it with the new doctrine of human perfectibility;
we can do it with the old doctrine of Original Sin. If we want
to uproot inherent cruelties or lift up lost populations we cannot
do it with the scientific theory that matter precedes mind; we can
do it with the supernatural theory that mind precedes matter.
If we wish specially to awaken people to social vigilance and
tireless pursuit of practise, we cannot help it much by insisting
on the Immanent God and the Inner Light: for these are at best
reasons for contentment; we can help it much by insisting on the
transcendent God and the flying and escaping gleam; for that means
divine discontent. If we wish particularly to assert the idea
of a generous balance against that of a dreadful autocracy we
shall instinctively be Trinitarian rather than Unitarian. If we
desire European civilization to be a raid and a rescue, we shall
insist rather that souls are in real peril than that their peril is
ultimately unreal. And if we wish to exalt the outcast and the crucified,
we shall rather wish to think that a veritable God was crucified,
rather than a mere sage or hero. Above all, if we wish to protect
the poor we shall be in favour of fixed rules and clear dogmas.
The RULES of a club are occasionally in favour of the poor member.
The drift of a club is always in favour of the rich one.
And now we come to the crucial question which truly concludes
the whole matter. A reasonable agnostic, if he has happened to agree
with me so far, may justly turn round and say, "You have found
a practical philosophy in the doctrine of the Fall; very well.
You have found a side of democracy now dangerously neglected wisely
asserted in Original Sin; all right. You have found a truth in
the doctrine of hell; I congratulate you. You are convinced that
worshippers of a personal God look outwards and are progressive;
I congratulate them. But even supposing that those doctrines
do include those truths, why cannot you take the truths and leave
the doctrines? Granted that all modern society is trusting
the rich too much because it does not allow for human weakness;
granted that orthodox ages have had a great advantage because
(believing in the Fall) they did allow for human weakness, why cannot
you simply allow for human weakness without believing in the Fall?
If you have discovered that the idea of damnation represents
a healthy idea of danger, why can you not simply take the idea
of danger and leave the idea of damnation? If you see clearly
the kernel of common-sense in the nut of Christian orthodoxy,
why cannot you simply take the kernel and leave the nut?
Why cannot you (to use that cant phrase of the newspapers which I,
as a highly scholarly agnostic, am a little ashamed of using)
why cannot you simply take what is good in Christianity, what you can
define as valuable, what you can comprehend, and leave all the rest,
all the absolute dogmas that are in their nature incomprehensible?"
This is the real question; this is the last question; and it is a
pleasure to try to answer it.
The first answer is simply to say that I am a rationalist.
I like to have some intellectual justification for my intuitions.
If I am treating man as a fallen being it is an intellectual
convenience to me to believe that he fell; and I find, for some odd
psychological reason, that I can deal better with a man's exercise
of freewill if I believe that he has got it. But I am in this matter
yet more definitely a rationalist. I do not propose to turn this
book into one of ordinary Christian apologetics; I should be glad
to meet at any other time the enemies of Christianity in that more
obvious arena. Here I am only giving an account of my own growth
in spiritual certainty. But I may pause to remark that the more I
saw of the merely abstract arguments against the Christian cosmology
the less I thought of them. I mean that having found the moral
atmosphere of the Incarnation to be common sense, I then looked
at the established intellectual arguments against the Incarnation
and found them to be common nonsense. In case the argument should
be thought to suffer from the absence of the ordinary apologetic I
will here very briefly summarise my own arguments and conclusions
on the purely objective or scientific truth of the matter.
If I am asked, as a purely intellectual question, why I believe
in Christianity, I can only answer, "For the same reason that an
intelligent agnostic disbelieves in Christianity." I believe in it
quite rationally upon the evidence. But the evidence in my case,
as in that of the intelligent agnostic, is not really in this or that
alleged demonstration; it is in an enormous accumulation of small
but unanimous facts. The secularist is not to be blamed because
his objections to Christianity are miscellaneous and even scrappy;
it is precisely such scrappy evidence that does convince the mind.
I mean that a man may well be less convinced of a philosophy
from four books, than from one book, one battle, one landscape,
and one old friend. The very fact that the things are of different
kinds increases the importance of the fact that they all point
to one conclusion. Now, the non-Christianity of the average
educated man to-day is almost always, to do him justice, made up
of these loose but living experiences. I can only say that my
evidences for Christianity are of the same vivid but varied kind
as his evidences against it. For when I look at these various
anti-Christian truths, I simply discover that none of them are true.
I discover that the true tide and force of all the facts flows
the other way. Let us take cases. Many a sensible modern man
must have abandoned Christianity under the pressure of three such
converging convictions as these: first, that men, with their shape,
structure, and sexuality, are, after all, very much like beasts,
a mere variety of the animal kingdom; second, that primeval religion
arose in ignorance and fear; third, that priests have blighted societies
with bitterness and gloom. Those three anti-Christian arguments
are very different; but they are all quite logical and legitimate;
and they all converge. The only objection to them (I discover)
is that they are all untrue. If you leave off looking at books
about beasts and men, if you begin to look at beasts and men then
(if you have any humour or imagination, any sense of the frantic
or the farcical) you will observe that the startling thing is not
how like man is to the brutes, but how unlike he is. It is the
monstrous scale of his divergence that requires an explanation.
That man and brute are like is, in a sense, a truism; but that being
so like they should then be so insanely unlike, that is the shock
and the enigma. That an ape has hands is far less interesting to the
philosopher than the fact that having hands he does next to nothing
with them; does not play knuckle-bones or the violin; does not carve
marble or carve mutton. People talk of barbaric architecture and
debased art. But elephants do not build colossal temples of ivory
even in a roccoco style; camels do not paint even bad pictures,
though equipped with the material of many camel's-hair brushes.
Certain modern dreamers say that ants and bees have a society superior
to ours. They have, indeed, a civilization; but that very truth
only reminds us that it is an inferior civilization. Who ever
found an ant-hill decorated with the statues of celebrated ants?
Who has seen a bee-hive carved with the images of gorgeous queens
of old? No; the chasm between man and other creatures may have
a natural explanation, but it is a chasm. We talk of wild animals;
but man is the only wild animal. It is man that has broken out.
All other animals are tame animals; following the rugged respectability
of the tribe or type. All other animals are domestic animals;
man alone is ever undomestic, either as a profligate or a monk.
So that this first superficial reason for materialism is, if anything,
a reason for its opposite; it is exactly where biology leaves off that
all religion begins.
It would be the same if I examined the second of the three chance
rationalist arguments; the argument that all that we call divine
began in some darkness and terror. When I did attempt to examine
the foundations of this modern idea I simply found that there
were none. Science knows nothing whatever about pre-historic man;
for the excellent reason that he is pre-historic. A few professors
choose to conjecture that such things as human sacrifice were once
innocent and general and that they gradually dwindled; but there is
no direct evidence of it, and the small amount of indirect evidence
is very much the other way. In the earliest legends we have,
such as the tales of Isaac and of Iphigenia, human sacrifice
is not introduced as something old, but rather as something new;
as a strange and frightful exception darkly demanded by the gods.
History says nothing; and legends all say that the earth was kinder
in its earliest time. There is no tradition of progress; but the whole
human race has a tradition of the Fall. Amusingly enough, indeed,
the very dissemination of this idea is used against its authenticity.
Learned men literally say that this pre-historic calamity cannot
be true because every race of mankind remembers it. I cannot keep
pace with these paradoxes.
And if we took the third chance instance, it would be the same;
the view that priests darken and embitter the world. I look at the
world and simply discover that they don't. Those countries in Europe
which are still influenced by priests, are exactly the countries
where there is still singing and dancing and coloured dresses and art
in the open-air. Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls;
but they are the walls of a playground. Christianity is the only
frame which has preserved the pleasure of Paganism. We might fancy
some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island
in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff's edge
they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the
place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down,
leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over;
but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in
terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased.
Thus these three facts of experience, such facts as go to make
an agnostic, are, in this view, turned totally round. I am left saying,
"Give me an explanation, first, of the towering eccentricity of man
among the brutes; second, of the vast human tradition of some
ancient happiness; third, of the partial perpetuation of such pagan
joy in the countries of the Catholic Church." One explanation,
at any rate, covers all three: the theory that twice was the natural
order interrupted by some explosion or revelation such as people
now call "psychic." Once Heaven came upon the earth with a power
or seal called the image of God, whereby man took command of Nature;
and once again (when in empire after empire men had been found wanting)
Heaven came to save mankind in the awful shape of a man.
This would explain why the mass of men always look backwards;
and why the only corner where they in any sense look forwards is
the little continent where Christ has His Church. I know it will
be said that Japan has become progressive. But how can this be an
answer when even in saying "Japan has become progressive," we really
only mean, "Japan has become European"? But I wish here not so much
to insist on my own explanation as to insist on my original remark.
I agree with the ordinary unbelieving man in the street in being
guided by three or four odd facts all pointing to something;
only when I came to look at the facts I always found they pointed
to something else.
I have given an imaginary triad of such ordinary anti-Christian
arguments; if that be too narrow a basis I will give on the spur
of the moment another. These are the kind of thoughts which in
combination create the impression that Christianity is something weak
and diseased. First, for instance, that Jesus was a gentle creature,
sheepish and unworldly, a mere ineffectual appeal to the world; second,
that Christianity arose and flourished in the dark ages of ignorance,
and that to these the Church would drag us back; third, that the people
still strongly religious or (if you will) superstitious--such people
as the Irish--are weak, unpractical, and behind the times.
I only mention these ideas to affirm the same thing: that when I
looked into them independently I found, not that the conclusions
were unphilosophical, but simply that the facts were not facts.
Instead of looking at books and pictures about the New Testament I
looked at the New Testament. There I found an account, not in the
least of a person with his hair parted in the middle or his hands
clasped in appeal, but of an extraordinary being with lips of thunder
and acts of lurid decision, flinging down tables, casting out devils,
passing with the wild secrecy of the wind from mountain isolation to a
sort of dreadful demagogy; a being who often acted like an angry god--
and always like a god. Christ had even a literary style of his own,
not to be found, I think, elsewhere; it consists of an almost furious
use of the A FORTIORI. His "how much more" is piled one upon
another like castle upon castle in the clouds. The diction used
ABOUT Christ has been, and perhaps wisely, sweet and submissive.
But the diction used by Christ is quite curiously gigantesque;
it is full of camels leaping through needles and mountains hurled
into the sea. Morally it is equally terrific; he called himself
a sword of slaughter, and told men to buy swords if they sold their
coats for them. That he used other even wilder words on the side
of non-resistance greatly increases the mystery; but it also,
if anything, rather increases the violence. We cannot even explain
it by calling such a being insane; for insanity is usually along one
consistent channel. The maniac is generally a monomaniac. Here we
must remember the difficult definition of Christianity already given;
Christianity is a superhuman paradox whereby two opposite passions
may blaze beside each other. The one explanation of the Gospel
language that does explain it, is that it is the survey of one
who from some supernatural height beholds some more startling synthesis.
I take in order the next instance offered: the idea that
Christianity belongs to the Dark Ages. Here I did not satisfy myself
with reading modern generalisations; I read a little history.
And in history I found that Christianity, so far from belonging to the
Dark Ages, was the one path across the Dark Ages that was not dark.
It was a shining bridge connecting two shining civilizations.
If any one says that the faith arose in ignorance and savagery
the answer is simple: it didn't. It arose in the Mediterranean
civilization in the full summer of the Roman Empire. The world
was swarming with sceptics, and pantheism was as plain as the sun,
when Constantine nailed the cross to the mast. It is perfectly true
that afterwards the ship sank; but it is far more extraordinary that
the ship came up again: repainted and glittering, with the cross
still at the top. This is the amazing thing the religion did:
it turned a sunken ship into a submarine. The ark lived under the load
of waters; after being buried under the debris of dynasties and clans,
we arose and remembered Rome. If our faith had been a mere fad
of the fading empire, fad would have followed fad in the twilight,
and if the civilization ever re-emerged (and many such have
never re-emerged) it would have been under some new barbaric flag.
But the Christian Church was the last life of the old society and
was also the first life of the new. She took the people who were
forgetting how to make an arch and she taught them to invent the
Gothic arch. In a word, the most absurd thing that could be said
of the Church is the thing we have all heard said of it. How can
we say that the Church wishes to bring us back into the Dark Ages?
The Church was the only thing that ever brought us out of them.
I added in this second trinity of objections an idle instance
taken from those who feel such people as the Irish to be weakened
or made stagnant by superstition. I only added it because this
is a peculiar case of a statement of fact that turns out to be
a statement of falsehood. It is constantly said of the Irish that
they are impractical. But if we refrain for a moment from looking
at what is said about them and look at what is DONE about them,
we shall see that the Irish are not only practical, but quite
painfully successful. The poverty of their country, the minority
of their members are simply the conditions under which they were asked
to work; but no other group in the British Empire has done so much
with such conditions. The Nationalists were the only minority
that ever succeeded in twisting the whole British Parliament sharply
out of its path. The Irish peasants are the only poor men in these
islands who have forced their masters to disgorge. These people,
whom we call priest-ridden, are the only Britons who will not be
squire-ridden. And when I came to look at the actual Irish character,
the case was the same. Irishmen are best at the specially
HARD professions--the trades of iron, the lawyer, and the soldier.
In all these cases, therefore, I came back to the same conclusion:
the sceptic was quite right to go by the facts, only he had not
looked at the facts. The sceptic is too credulous; he believes
in newspapers or even in encyclopedias. Again the three questions
left me with three very antagonistic questions. The average sceptic
wanted to know how I explained the namby-pamby note in the Gospel,
the connection of the creed with mediaeval darkness and the political
impracticability of the Celtic Christians. But I wanted to ask,
and to ask with an earnestness amounting to urgency, "What is this
incomparable energy which appears first in one walking the earth
like a living judgment and this energy which can die with a dying
civilization and yet force it to a resurrection from the dead;
this energy which last of all can inflame a bankrupt peasantry
with so fixed a faith in justice that they get what they ask,
while others go empty away; so that the most helpless island
of the Empire can actually help itself?"
There is an answer: it is an answer to say that the energy
is truly from outside the world; that it is psychic, or at least
one of the results of a real psychical disturbance. The highest
gratitude and respect are due to the great human civilizations such
as the old Egyptian or the existing Chinese. Nevertheless it is
no injustice for them to say that only modern Europe has exhibited
incessantly a power of self-renewal recurring often at the shortest
intervals and descending to the smallest facts of building or costume.
All other societies die finally and with dignity. We die daily.
We are always being born again with almost indecent obstetrics.
It is hardly an exaggeration to say that there is in historic
Christendom a sort of unnatural life: it could be explained as a
supernatural life. It could be explained as an awful galvanic life
working in what would have been a corpse. For our civilization OUGHT
to have died, by all parallels, by all sociological probability,
in the Ragnorak of the end of Rome. That is the weird inspiration
of our estate: you and I have no business to be here at all. We are
all REVENANTS; all living Christians are dead pagans walking about.
Just as Europe was about to be gathered in silence to Assyria
and Babylon, something entered into its body. And Europe has had
a strange life--it is not too much to say that it has had the JUMPS--
I have dealt at length with such typical triads of doubt
in order to convey the main contention--that my own case for
Christianity is rational; but it is not simple. It is an accumulation
of varied facts, like the attitude of the ordinary agnostic.
But the ordinary agnostic has got his facts all wrong.
He is a non-believer for a multitude of reasons; but they are
untrue reasons. He doubts because the Middle Ages were barbaric,
but they weren't; because Darwinism is demonstrated, but it isn't;
because miracles do not happen, but they do; because monks were lazy,
but they were very industrious; because nuns are unhappy, but they
are particularly cheerful; because Christian art was sad and pale,
but it was picked out in peculiarly bright colours and gay with gold;
because modern science is moving away from the supernatural,
but it isn't, it is moving towards the supernatural with the rapidity
of a railway train.
But among these million facts all flowing one way there is,
of course, one question sufficiently solid and separate to be
treated briefly, but by itself; I mean the objective occurrence
of the supernatural. In another chapter I have indicated the fallacy
of the ordinary supposition that the world must be impersonal because it
is orderly. A person is just as likely to desire an orderly thing
as a disorderly thing. But my own positive conviction that personal
creation is more conceivable than material fate, is, I admit,
in a sense, undiscussable. I will not call it a faith or an intuition,
for those words are mixed up with mere emotion, it is strictly
an intellectual conviction; but it is a PRIMARY intellectual
conviction like the certainty of self of the good of living.
Any one who likes, therefore, may call my belief in God merely mystical;
the phrase is not worth fighting about. But my belief that miracles
have happened in human history is not a mystical belief at all; I believe
in them upon human evidences as I do in the discovery of America.
Upon this point there is a simple logical fact that only requires
to be stated and cleared up. Somehow or other an extraordinary
idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them
coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only
in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way.
The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they
have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them
(rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them.
The open, obvious, democratic thing is to believe an old apple-woman
when she bears testimony to a miracle, just as you believe an old
apple-woman when she bears testimony to a murder. The plain,
popular course is to trust the peasant's word about the ghost
exactly as far as you trust the peasant's word about the landlord.
Being a peasant he will probably have a great deal of healthy
agnosticism about both. Still you could fill the British Museum with
evidence uttered by the peasant, and given in favour of the ghost.
If it comes to human testimony there is a choking cataract of human
testimony in favour of the supernatural. If you reject it, you can
only mean one of two things. You reject the peasant's story about
the ghost either because the man is a peasant or because the story
is a ghost story. That is, you either deny the main principle
of democracy, or you affirm the main principle of materialism--
the abstract impossibility of miracle. You have a perfect right
to do so; but in that case you are the dogmatist. It is we
Christians who accept all actual evidence--it is you rationalists
who refuse actual evidence being constrained to do so by your creed.
But I am not constrained by any creed in the matter, and looking
impartially into certain miracles of mediaeval and modern times,
I have come to the conclusion that they occurred. All argument
against these plain facts is always argument in a circle. If I say,
"Mediaeval documents attest certain miracles as much as they attest
certain battles," they answer, "But mediaevals were superstitious";
if I want to know in what they were superstitious, the only
ultimate answer is that they believed in the miracles. If I say "a
peasant saw a ghost," I am told, "But peasants are so credulous."
If I ask, "Why credulous?" the only answer is--that they see ghosts.
Iceland is impossible because only stupid sailors have seen it;
and the sailors are only stupid because they say they have seen Iceland.
It is only fair to add that there is another argument that the
unbeliever may rationally use against miracles, though he himself
generally forgets to use it.
He may say that there has been in many miraculous stories
a notion of spiritual preparation and acceptance: in short,
that the miracle could only come to him who believed in it.
It may be so, and if it is so how are we to test it? If we are
inquiring whether certain results follow faith, it is useless
to repeat wearily that (if they happen) they do follow faith.
If faith is one of the conditions, those without faith have a
most healthy right to laugh. But they have no right to judge.
Being a believer may be, if you like, as bad as being drunk;
still if we were extracting psychological facts from drunkards,
it would be absurd to be always taunting them with having been drunk.
Suppose we were investigating whether angry men really saw a red
mist before their eyes. Suppose sixty excellent householders swore
that when angry they had seen this crimson cloud: surely it would
be absurd to answer "Oh, but you admit you were angry at the time."
They might reasonably rejoin (in a stentorian chorus), "How the blazes
could we discover, without being angry, whether angry people see red?"
So the saints and ascetics might rationally reply, "Suppose that the
question is whether believers can see visions--even then, if you
are interested in visions it is no point to object to believers."
You are still arguing in a circle--in that old mad circle with which this
The question of whether miracles ever occur is a question of
common sense and of ordinary historical imagination: not of any final
physical experiment. One may here surely dismiss that quite brainless
piece of pedantry which talks about the need for "scientific conditions"
in connection with alleged spiritual phenomena. If we are asking
whether a dead soul can communicate with a living it is ludicrous
to insist that it shall be under conditions in which no two living
souls in their senses would seriously communicate with each other.
The fact that ghosts prefer darkness no more disproves the existence
of ghosts than the fact that lovers prefer darkness disproves the
existence of love. If you choose to say, "I will believe that Miss
Brown called her fiance a periwinkle or, any other endearing term,
if she will repeat the word before seventeen psychologists,"
then I shall reply, "Very well, if those are your conditions,
you will never get the truth, for she certainly will not say it."
It is just as unscientific as it is unphilosophical to be surprised
that in an unsympathetic atmosphere certain extraordinary sympathies
do not arise. It is as if I said that I could not tell if there
was a fog because the air was not clear enough; or as if I insisted
on perfect sunlight in order to see a solar eclipse.
As a common-sense conclusion, such as those to which we come
about sex or about midnight (well knowing that many details must
in their own nature be concealed) I conclude that miracles do happen.
I am forced to it by a conspiracy of facts: the fact that the men who
encounter elves or angels are not the mystics and the morbid dreamers,
but fishermen, farmers, and all men at once coarse and cautious;
the fact that we all know men who testify to spiritualistic incidents
but are not spiritualists, the fact that science itself admits
such things more and more every day. Science will even admit
the Ascension if you call it Levitation, and will very likely admit
the Resurrection when it has thought of another word for it.
I suggest the Regalvanisation. But the strongest of all is
the dilemma above mentioned, that these supernatural things are
never denied except on the basis either of anti-democracy or of
materialist dogmatism--I may say materialist mysticism. The sceptic
always takes one of the two positions; either an ordinary man need
not be believed, or an extraordinary event must not be believed.
For I hope we may dismiss the argument against wonders attempted
in the mere recapitulation of frauds, of swindling mediums or
trick miracles. That is not an argument at all, good or bad.
A false ghost disproves the reality of ghosts exactly as much as
a forged banknote disproves the existence of the Bank of England--
if anything, it proves its existence.
Given this conviction that the spiritual phenomena do occur
(my evidence for which is complex but rational), we then collide
with one of the worst mental evils of the age. The greatest
disaster of the nineteenth century was this: that men began
to use the word "spiritual" as the same as the word "good."
They thought that to grow in refinement and uncorporeality was
to grow in virtue. When scientific evolution was announced,
some feared that it would encourage mere animality. It did worse:
it encouraged mere spirituality. It taught men to think that so long
as they were passing from the ape they were going to the angel.
But you can pass from the ape and go to the devil. A man of genius,
very typical of that time of bewilderment, expressed it perfectly.
Benjamin Disraeli was right when he said he was on the side of
the angels. He was indeed; he was on the side of the fallen angels.
He was not on the side of any mere appetite or animal brutality;
but he was on the side of all the imperialism of the princes
of the abyss; he was on the side of arrogance and mystery,
and contempt of all obvious good. Between this sunken pride
and the towering humilities of heaven there are, one must suppose,
spirits of shapes and sizes. Man, in encountering them,
must make much the same mistakes that he makes in encountering
any other varied types in any other distant continent. It must
be hard at first to know who is supreme and who is subordinate.
If a shade arose from the under world, and stared at Piccadilly,
that shade would not quite understand the idea of an ordinary
closed carriage. He would suppose that the coachman on the box
was a triumphant conqueror, dragging behind him a kicking and
imprisoned captive. So, if we see spiritual facts for the first time,
we may mistake who is uppermost. It is not enough to find the gods;
they are obvious; we must find God, the real chief of the gods.
We must have a long historic experience in supernatural phenomena--
in order to discover which are really natural. In this light I
find the history of Christianity, and even of its Hebrew origins,
quite practical and clear. It does not trouble me to be told
that the Hebrew god was one among many. I know he was, without any
research to tell me so. Jehovah and Baal looked equally important,
just as the sun and the moon looked the same size. It is only
slowly that we learn that the sun is immeasurably our master,
and the small moon only our satellite. Believing that there
is a world of spirits, I shall walk in it as I do in the world
of men, looking for the thing that I like and think good.
Just as I should seek in a desert for clean water, or toil at
the North Pole to make a comfortable fire, so I shall search the
land of void and vision until I find something fresh like water,
and comforting like fire; until I find some place in eternity,
where I am literally at home. And there is only one such place to
I have now said enough to show (to any one to whom such
an explanation is essential) that I have in the ordinary arena
of apologetics, a ground of belief. In pure records of experiment (if
these be taken democratically without contempt or favour) there is
evidence first, that miracles happen, and second that the nobler
miracles belong to our tradition. But I will not pretend that this curt
discussion is my real reason for accepting Christianity instead of taking
the moral good of Christianity as I should take it out of Confucianism.
I have another far more solid and central ground for submitting
to it as a faith, instead of merely picking up hints from it
as a scheme. And that is this: that the Christian Church in its
practical relation to my soul is a living teacher, not a dead one.
It not only certainly taught me yesterday, but will almost certainly
teach me to-morrow. Once I saw suddenly the meaning of the shape
of the cross; some day I may see suddenly the meaning of the shape
of the mitre. One fine morning I saw why windows were pointed;
some fine morning I may see why priests were shaven. Plato has
told you a truth; but Plato is dead. Shakespeare has startled you
with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you with any more.
But imagine what it would be to live with such men still living,
to know that Plato might break out with an original lecture to-morrow,
or that at any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a
single song. The man who lives in contact with what he believes
to be a living Church is a man always expecting to meet Plato
and Shakespeare to-morrow at breakfast. He is always expecting
to see some truth that he has never seen before. There is one
only other parallel to this position; and that is the parallel
of the life in which we all began. When your father told you,
walking about the garden, that bees stung or that roses smelt sweet,
you did not talk of taking the best out of his philosophy. When the
bees stung you, you did not call it an entertaining coincidence.
When the rose smelt sweet you did not say "My father is a rude,
barbaric symbol, enshrining (perhaps unconsciously) the deep
delicate truths that flowers smell." No: you believed your father,
because you had found him to be a living fountain of facts, a thing
that really knew more than you; a thing that would tell you truth
to-morrow, as well as to-day. And if this was true of your father,
it was even truer of your mother; at least it was true of mine,
to whom this book is dedicated. Now, when society is in a rather
futile fuss about the subjection of women, will no one say how much
every man owes to the tyranny and privilege of women, to the fact
that they alone rule education until education becomes futile:
for a boy is only sent to be taught at school when it is too late
to teach him anything. The real thing has been done already,
and thank God it is nearly always done by women. Every man
is womanised, merely by being born. They talk of the masculine woman;
but every man is a feminised man. And if ever men walk to Westminster
to protest against this female privilege, I shall not join
For I remember with certainty this fixed psychological fact;
that the very time when I was most under a woman's authority,
I was most full of flame and adventure. Exactly because when my
mother said that ants bit they did bite, and because snow did
come in winter (as she said); therefore the whole world was to me
a fairyland of wonderful fulfilments, and it was like living in
some Hebraic age, when prophecy after prophecy came true. I went
out as a child into the garden, and it was a terrible place to me,
precisely because I had a clue to it: if I had held no clue it would
not have been terrible, but tame. A mere unmeaning wilderness is
not even impressive. But the garden of childhood was fascinating,
exactly because everything had a fixed meaning which could be found
out in its turn. Inch by inch I might discover what was the object
of the ugly shape called a rake; or form some shadowy conjecture
as to why my parents kept a cat.
So, since I have accepted Christendom as a mother and not
merely as a chance example, I have found Europe and the world
once more like the little garden where I stared at the symbolic
shapes of cat and rake; I look at everything with the old elvish
ignorance and expectancy. This or that rite or doctrine may look
as ugly and extraordinary as a rake; but I have found by experience
that such things end somehow in grass and flowers. A clergyman may
be apparently as useless as a cat, but he is also as fascinating,
for there must be some strange reason for his existence. I give
one instance out of a hundred; I have not myself any instinctive
kinship with that enthusiasm for physical virginity, which has
certainly been a note of historic Christianity. But when I look
not at myself but at the world, I perceive that this enthusiasm
is not only a note of Christianity, but a note of Paganism, a note
of high human nature in many spheres. The Greeks felt virginity
when they carved Artemis, the Romans when they robed the vestals,
the worst and wildest of the great Elizabethan playwrights clung to
the literal purity of a woman as to the central pillar of the world.
Above all, the modern world (even while mocking sexual innocence)
has flung itself into a generous idolatry of sexual innocence--
the great modern worship of children. For any man who loves children
will agree that their peculiar beauty is hurt by a hint of physical sex.
With all this human experience, allied with the Christian authority,
I simply conclude that I am wrong, and the church right; or rather
that I am defective, while the church is universal. It takes
all sorts to make a church; she does not ask me to be celibate.
But the fact that I have no appreciation of the celibates,
I accept like the fact that I have no ear for music. The best
human experience is against me, as it is on the subject of Bach.
Celibacy is one flower in my father's garden, of which I have
not been told the sweet or terrible name. But I may be told it
This, therefore, is, in conclusion, my reason for accepting
the religion and not merely the scattered and secular truths out
of the religion. I do it because the thing has not merely told this
truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as a truth-telling thing.
All other philosophies say the things that plainly seem to be true;
only this philosophy has again and again said the thing that does
not seem to be true, but is true. Alone of all creeds it is
convincing where it is not attractive; it turns out to be right,
like my father in the garden. Theosophists for instance will preach
an obviously attractive idea like re-incarnation; but if we wait
for its logical results, they are spiritual superciliousness and the
cruelty of caste. For if a man is a beggar by his own pre-natal sins,
people will tend to despise the beggar. But Christianity preaches
an obviously unattractive idea, such as original sin; but when we
wait for its results, they are pathos and brotherhood, and a thunder
of laughter and pity; for only with original sin we can at once pity
the beggar and distrust the king. Men of science offer us health,
an obvious benefit; it is only afterwards that we discover
that by health, they mean bodily slavery and spiritual tedium.
Orthodoxy makes us jump by the sudden brink of hell; it is only
afterwards that we realise that jumping was an athletic exercise
highly beneficial to our health. It is only afterwards that we
realise that this danger is the root of all drama and romance.
The strongest argument for the divine grace is simply its ungraciousness.
The unpopular parts of Christianity turn out when examined to be
the very props of the people. The outer ring of Christianity
is a rigid guard of ethical abnegations and professional priests;
but inside that inhuman guard you will find the old human life
dancing like children, and drinking wine like men; for Christianity
is the only frame for pagan freedom. But in the modern philosophy
the case is opposite; it is its outer ring that is obviously
artistic and emancipated; its despair is within.
And its despair is this, that it does not really believe
that there is any meaning in the universe; therefore it cannot
hope to find any romance; its romances will have no plots. A man
cannot expect any adventures in the land of anarchy. But a man can
expect any number of adventures if he goes travelling in the land
of authority. One can find no meanings in a jungle of scepticism;
but the man will find more and more meanings who walks through
a forest of doctrine and design. Here everything has a story tied
to its tail, like the tools or pictures in my father's house;
for it is my father's house. I end where I began--at the right end.
I have entered at last the gate of all good philosophy. I have come
into my second childhood.
But this larger and more adventurous Christian universe has
one final mark difficult to express; yet as a conclusion of the whole
matter I will attempt to express it. All the real argument about
religion turns on the question of whether a man who was born upside
down can tell when he comes right way up. The primary paradox of
Christianity is that the ordinary condition of man is not his sane
or sensible condition; that the normal itself is an abnormality.
That is the inmost philosophy of the Fall. In Sir Oliver Lodge's
interesting new Catechism, the first two questions were:
"What are you?" and "What, then, is the meaning of the Fall of Man?"
I remember amusing myself by writing my own answers to the questions;
but I soon found that they were very broken and agnostic answers.
To the question, "What are you?" I could only answer, "God knows."
And to the question, "What is meant by the Fall?" I could answer
with complete sincerity, "That whatever I am, I am not myself."
This is the prime paradox of our religion; something that we have
never in any full sense known, is not only better than ourselves,
but even more natural to us than ourselves. And there is really
no test of this except the merely experimental one with which these
pages began, the test of the padded cell and the open door. It is only
since I have known orthodoxy that I have known mental emancipation.
But, in conclusion, it has one special application to the ultimate idea
It is said that Paganism is a religion of joy and Christianity
of sorrow; it would be just as easy to prove that Paganism is pure
sorrow and Christianity pure joy. Such conflicts mean nothing and
lead nowhere. Everything human must have in it both joy and sorrow;
the only matter of interest is the manner in which the two things
are balanced or divided. And the really interesting thing is this,
that the pagan was (in the main) happier and happier as he approached
the earth, but sadder and sadder as he approached the heavens.
The gaiety of the best Paganism, as in the playfulness of Catullus
or Theocritus, is, indeed, an eternal gaiety never to be forgotten
by a grateful humanity. But it is all a gaiety about the facts of life,
not about its origin. To the pagan the small things are as sweet
as the small brooks breaking out of the mountain; but the broad things
are as bitter as the sea. When the pagan looks at the very core of the
cosmos he is struck cold. Behind the gods, who are merely despotic,
sit the fates, who are deadly. Nay, the fates are worse than deadly;
they are dead. And when rationalists say that the ancient world
was more enlightened than the Christian, from their point of view
they are right. For when they say "enlightened" they mean darkened
with incurable despair. It is profoundly true that the ancient world
was more modern than the Christian. The common bond is in the fact
that ancients and moderns have both been miserable about existence,
about everything, while mediaevals were happy about that at least.
I freely grant that the pagans, like the moderns, were only miserable
about everything--they were quite jolly about everything else.
I concede that the Christians of the Middle Ages were only at
peace about everything--they were at war about everything else.
But if the question turn on the primary pivot of the cosmos,
then there was more cosmic contentment in the narrow and bloody
streets of Florence than in the theatre of Athens or the open garden
of Epicurus. Giotto lived in a gloomier town than Euripides,
but he lived in a gayer universe.
The mass of men have been forced to be gay about the little things,
but sad about the big ones. Nevertheless (I offer my last dogma
defiantly) it is not native to man to be so. Man is more himself,
man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him,
and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude,
a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent
pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday;
joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live. Yet, according to
the apparent estate of man as seen by the pagan or the agnostic,
this primary need of human nature can never be fulfilled.
Joy ought to be expansive; but for the agnostic it must be contracted,
it must cling to one corner of the world. Grief ought to be
a concentration; but for the agnostic its desolation is spread
through an unthinkable eternity. This is what I call being born
upside down. The sceptic may truly be said to be topsy-turvy;
for his feet are dancing upwards in idle ecstasies, while his brain
is in the abyss. To the modern man the heavens are actually below
the earth. The explanation is simple; he is standing on his head;
which is a very weak pedestal to stand on. But when he has found
his feet again he knows it. Christianity satisfies suddenly
and perfectly man's ancestral instinct for being the right way up;
satisfies it supremely in this; that by its creed joy becomes
something gigantic and sadness something special and small.
The vault above us is not deaf because the universe is an idiot;
the silence is not the heartless silence of an endless and aimless world.
Rather the silence around us is a small and pitiful stillness like
the prompt stillness in a sick-room. We are perhaps permitted tragedy
as a sort of merciful comedy: because the frantic energy of divine
things would knock us down like a drunken farce. We can take our
own tears more lightly than we could take the tremendous levities
of the angels. So we sit perhaps in a starry chamber of silence,
while the laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear.
Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic
secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume I open
again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I
am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure
which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other,
above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos
was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern,
were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears;
He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as
the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something.
Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining
their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture
down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected
to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something.
I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality
a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid
from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something
that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation.
There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when
He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was
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