The New Word, by Allen Upward, , at sacred-texts.com
The Fear of God.—1. The Worship of Falsehood.—2. The Knowledge of Good and Evil.—3. Meaning of Religion.—4. The Gods afraid of Man.—5. Divinity and Diplomacy.
WE have now got so far in this inquiry as to see that a work of an idealist tendency must be a work of a practical tendency, and in some way or other of a reforming tendency. As the Materialist, by more careful measuring and clearer reckoning corrects the mistakes of sense, so must the Idealist correct the mistakes of hope. Both work towards the same end, the benefit of mankind, and both have to overcome the same enemy, the stupidity of mankind.
The Buddha taught that all evil was owing to ignorance. But that is not so. In a great measure ignorance itself is owing to stupidity, which in its turn is a mixture of laziness and cowardice, of sloth that cannot learn, and fear that will not.
It is against sloth that the Gods themselves fight in vain. We cannot raise the beast to be a man, nor change the black man into a white. The leopard and the Ethiop have both fallen behind in the race, and we may hinder ourselves more than we help them, if we try to run in couples with them.
There are signs of other runners halting; those Mediterranean men, who led the van so proudly in their day, have they not been caught up and passed by the Baltic folks? And in spite of all the talk about Humanity the Ethiop does not want to run in couples with us. The African does not want to rule the European, but only to be ruled by him kindly. The poor do not want to rob the rich man; they only want him to pay his poor rate honourably. Even the bomb thrown at a king by the poor mad anarchist is only his insane way of asking for a sane king.
Fear is a foe of far other mettle. The story of religion is on the whole the story of the conquest of fear by hope. This is a foe worth fighting, for when the Man Outside wrestles with us under this form he means us to prevail.
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." But it is not the end. When Alexander asked Diogenes if he were not afraid of him, the Cynic answered,—"Are you a good man?—if you are, why should I be afraid of you?" If the Man Outside is a good Man, then he cannot want us to fear him. He can only want us to live so that we need not fear him.
Fear is the enemy that the Idealist has to fight. And yet fear is the hardest word for him to understand. For Fear and Hope are in metastrophe.
The wise healer, called in to cure a disease, will seek first to understand it, before he prescribes a remedy. In the case before us we have not only a disease to overcome, but a refractory patient; and the bad temper of the patient is a leading symptom of the disease. Why do men fear relief from fear? Why do they hope against hope? Why do they deem it wicked to write books of an idealist tendency?
The thoughtful man, as he walks here amidst mankind, must often feel as if he had strayed into a madhouse, wherein he could not raise his voice above a whisper without drawing down on himself the frantic clamour of the inmates, or worse, their silent, murderous hate.
For the fool never forgives. While the two parties named Gnostics and Idiots, the learned and the unlearned, were contending for the mastery of the Catholic Church, the wise were bidden to suffer the fools gladly. But fools never suffer the wise gladly. The triumph of the Idiots was sealed by the blood of the Gnostics; and from that day to this, like the frenzied Pope who dipped his pen in the consecrated chalice that he might curse his enemy in the very blood of Christ, the Catholic Church has written in the blood of truth-seekers the excommunication of Truth.
Enmity to Verihood is older than that strange revival which I call Catholic, or Mediterranean, to mark it off from the old Christ-eating cults whose language it gruesomely repeats. Falsehood is found in every religion, but only in the Catholic Christianity is it the foundation of religion. The first word of Buddhism is Know. The first word of Christianity is Believe. And the merit lies not in believing what is true, but in believing what is false. The greater the falsehood, the greater the faith. As one of themselves has written,—"I believe because it is impossible."
The anti-scientific instinct, which Christianity has hallowed as the cardinal virtue, is therefore not the fear that science may be wrong, but that it may be right. Heaven is trying to hide its laws from man, and he advances to discover them at his peril. The truth of the discovery is no excuse for the discoverer. When the geologists found out that the earth was more than 5804 years old, many good men thought them mistaken, because the margin of the English Bible had fixed the date of creation at 4004 B. C. When the good men had it shown to them that this date rested on Archbishop Usher's authority, and not on God's, they held their peace, and let the geologists go on. But they did not thank the geologists. Their feeling was that the geologists had shown great rashness and presumption, and that they would have done much better to keep their discoveries to themselves.
The view that Heaven means us to learn its ways; that its first commandment is—Thou Shalt Learn; and that such learners as Copernicus and Linné and Darwin have rendered more faithful service to Heaven than the whole roll of saints and puritans, would be rejected unanimously by the conscience of Christendom. It is in the interest of Heaven, it is in defence of their God, that the theologians have laid their ban on all the sciences in turn, on the lore of the stars, of the rocks, of the atoms, of the frame of man, of his mind, of the Hebrew language and literature, of Eastern history, and of the history of life.
Such is the disease. It is this habit of mind which brings about the so-called conflict between Religion and Science, which well-meaning men, who had not thought over the meaning of the word Religion, and the word Science, have wanted to make up. The conflict is between the view that God is displeased by the search for verihood, and that he is pleased. Such a conflict ought never to be made up.
To-day the struggles of the patient are getting feebler, but the disease is still there. Only the other day an Anglo-Roman priest, of course not a bishop, was brave enough to tell his congregation,—"We must face the truth about our documents." Fancy a teacher of medicine saying to his class,—"We must face the truth about our drugs." Fancy a lecturer on astronomy telling his hearers,—"We must face the truth about the stars." The man who
shrinks from facing the truth about his documents does so because he fears they are false documents. What should we think of the counsel who said to his client in open court.—"We must face the truth about our evidence." What would a tradesman think of the banknote tendered to him by a customer, with the remark,—"I must face the truth about this note."
Again, and within the last year or two, a paper was read at a gathering in England called the Church Congress, on the teaching of religion in our great public schools, the schools for rich men's sons. And the argument of the paper was on this wise:—When the boys to whom we have taught religion in the schools go on to the universities, and find out that educated men no longer believe what we have taught them, they turn round and despise us for having taught them falsely; what then is the least truth that we must teach them in the schools, so as not to be despised by them after they have gone to the universities?
That was the question raised by the paper, and on that the discussion turned. It was not a question of how much truth they might teach the boys, but how little truth they must teach. No one in that Church Congress hinted that the whole truth should be taught. No one proposed that they should teach as much truth as they could. No one argued as though the truth about God were a good thing for boys to know, or other than an unnecessary,
and a dangerous, and on the whole a hurtful thing. That the teaching of some truth was a regrettable necessity was the basis of the discussion. And why was it a necessity? In order to save the teachers from contempt. Truth was to be told, not for the benefit of the boys, but for the benefit of the teachers. They were in this dilemma; to please God they must teach falsely, and to please the boys they must teach truthfully. And so that great gathering of churchmen, that gathering of all that was best and most representative of English Christianity in the dawn of the twentieth century, sat there and painfully debated how far they must betray their God to save themselves.—In the end they adjourned the discussion, that they might pass a resolution in favour of teaching the whole falsehood in the schools for poor men's sons.
If the sufferers from this disease were asked to diagnose their state of mind, they would most likely answer that fuller knowledge tends to make men lose faith. Their reasoning seems to be somewhat after this fashion:—"I believe that God made the earth, and made it flat; if I now learn that it is not flat, I shall cease to believe that it was made by God." Through the last few centuries we seem to hear a succession of men crying out, after each fresh discovery of verihood,—"The earth moves; therefore there is no God!"—"The earth is millions of years old; therefore there is no God!"—" The Buddha was a great and good man; therefore
there is no God!"—"There are traces of more than one hand in the writing of the Pentateuch; therefore there is no God!"—Such a frame of mind can hardly be called faith. The man who holds to his God by a single hair, ready to let go if it should turn out that there is something in wireless telegraphy, or that there are no whales in the Mediterranean sea, is surely not far removed from an infidel.
Such is the leading symptom of the disease. It is time to look for the bacillus.
“And the Gods commanded the Man, saying, 'Of every tree in the garden eating thou shalt eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat; for in the day that thou eatest thereof, dying thou shalt die.'
“And the Serpent said unto the Woman, 'Surely ye shall not die. For the Gods know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as the Gods, knowing good and evil.'
“And the eyes of them both were opened.
"And the Gods said,—'Behold the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he live for ever' . . ."
The tabu of truth stands menacing on the first
page of the old Book of Truth. The book which was read for more than a thousand years, by more than a tenth part of mankind, as the book of the knowledge of good and evil, opens with the curse laid on mankind for having stolen the knowledge of good and evil from God.
The readers of this book were not likely to be troubled by the contradiction. It was by no means the only test of faith. However, to us who read it as a curious folk-tale, it may serve as a help to understand why good men fear that God fears the truth about himself.
On the face of it, the story is a relic of snake-worship, that ancient worship of knowledge under the form of a snake, which has left traces half over the world; which is a living worship in some lands to-day. A reverent king removed the brazen serpent out of the house of Yahweh, but no one has been reverent enough to remove the serpent myth out of the book of Yahweh.
In spite of apologetic editing we still can see that the Serpent is the hero of the story. The jealous Elohim try to keep this knowledge from the Man by threats; the Serpent tells him that their threats are vain, and bids him learn. His assurance is fulfilled, and the threat of the Elohim falsified. Like Prometheus, like many a Prometheus, the Serpent suffers for his material benefit to the Man, but the gift once bestowed cannot be taken away. The Man, too, suffers, but he does not die. Instead, the
[paragraph continues] Elohim are driven to provide against his gaining eternal life; as in another myth they devise means to keep him out of Heaven, when he threatens to take their Kingdom with his Tower.
The feeling that inspires this parable is not altogether the Christian feeling that knowledge, as such, is an evil rather than a good. Still less is it that profane learning is frowned upon by Heaven. There is no hint in the text that the Elohim grudged to the Man the knowledge of the earth's shape, or of its age, or of his own shape and age, or of any other kindred topic banned by Christian morality. Those attempts to widen the tabu must seek warrant elsewhere. The knowledge here forbidden is of one kind only; it is the knowledge of good and evil. The embargo is not on Science, but Religion.
Such a tabu cannot be understood till we recover the meaning of the word religion.
The root meaning of religion, or religio, had already passed out of mind in the days of Cicero, who suggested that the word might come from relegere, to read over, the recital of a liturgy. To Lactantius and Augustine it seemed to come rather from re-ligare, to fast-bind, and to mean the bond or covenant between God and man. Both guesses have truth in them, but neither goes far enough back.
Religion, in Augustine's sense, is found in its most natural form to-day on the west coast of Africa. As soon as a child is born his parents drive a bargain for him, much like godfathers and godmothers elsewhere, with an unseen spirit. The child binds himself by proxy to keep some tabu, such as not to eat when he is on the water, or to abstain from the flesh of some animal; and in return the spirit binds himself, as it should seem by the same proxies, to take care of the child, and to lead him safely all the days of his life. That is a covenant; it is the famous Covenant of Sinai in the germ.
But religion is much older than that. Wars are older than treaties, and the covenant is in the nature of a treaty. In the beginning man was at war with nature; the Men Outside were for the most part enemies, and if any of them were friends, those could be safely disregarded. The first business, and the only pressing business, was to defend oneself from the lightning, the torrent and the tiger, and from those unseen tigers whose teeth were felt in the mysterious aches and pains of suffering man.
Against these foes man furnished himself with many weapons, and among them in turn came the magic spell.—I interrupt myself here to set right a mistake which runs through all the books on folklore I have seen, except the fundamental work of Massey. When the wild man pours out a pail of water on the ground to get rain from the clouds, that is not "sympathetic magic." The wild man is
not an electrician. It is sign language. It is the oldest language, and therefore the one the clouds are most likely to understand. The Gods are always rather backward in learning languages; even some very civilised Gods have not yet learned to read, and after you have written your book of prayers, you have to recite it aloud to them. Buddha, we know, can read, and hence the praying-wheel.—It is sign language, and it is no more magical than all language is.
The use of the magic spell of course is not confined to the case of the unseen tigers. A party of hunters sent out by a king of my own creation, to catch a leopard for me, armed themselves with a spell, some bows and arrows, and a gun. The spell failed to work, the arrows partly failed, and the gun did the business. This was the triumph of science over religion, or rather of the new religion over the old.
For the old religion is the spell. A black man showed me how the spell ought to have worked, by folding up his fingers, and closing his mouth. The spell ought to have bound the leopard's claws and jaws,—and would have done so if the spell-maker had fasted properly the night before. In the same way the unseen leopards are bound by liturgies and incantations. Relegere and religare are both right.
In winter the Russian pope, in whom the northern wizard is still plainly to be seen beneath his Byzantine robes, walks through the forest, chanting as he
goes, to compel the Pagan spirits of flood and fell to fall behind him, while he leads them to their prison beneath the frozen lake. In summer the same pope walks through the cornfield, chanting other litanies to compel the Christian spirit to give a plenteous harvest; and if the incantation fails to work, the peasants lay the fault on the enchanter, and maltreat him, sometimes to his death. In prayer books further west there is a Prayer against Rain; but still the children keep their old prayer to the Rain-God,—
All that is religion. It is the bond in which the familiar spirit is bound by the magician; it is the magic formula which the unwilling djinn obeys in the Arabian tales. The liturgies, the rites, the dances, the sacred observances of all kinds by which the outside Powers, seen or unseen, are compelled to obey man, are religious; the oath by which man binds himself to them is also religious in its turn. The root-meaning of religion is not covenant, but bond. It is not a treaty, but a conquest, not an agreement, but a fetter.
It was the knowledge of the fetters by which they could be bound, of the laws which they themselves obeyed, in short the knowledge of religion, that the Elohim in the story grudged to the Man.
If the Men Outside did not resent man's control they would not be human. When Prospero asks his servant sprite,—"How now, moody, what wouldst thou?"—Ariel answers,—"My liberty." It is their sleepless dread lest man should master them by his conjurations that leads them to withhold their names from him, like the Red Indian who goes through life under a pseudonym to baffle the malice of his enemies. An enchantment, it should seem, like a medieval writ, must call the defendant by his right name, or the whole process is null and void. So Moses does not dare to ask the Man in the burning bush for his true name, but only for some name by which to call him; and the Man answers still more guardedly, "I am who I am." The Third of the celebrated Ten Commandments witnesses to the same belief.
As we have seen, it is not altogether a false belief. The Name has an unexplained power in the Mystery. Well did those old Hebrews hide the right name of their God, calling him Lord and King and Bright One. We, for our part, call him the Good One. We do so by way of compliment, as our peasants still speak of the spirits of flood and fell as the Good People. They hope by doing so to coax them to behave like good people. In the
meantime we have not yet learned the right name of the Man Outside.
In most religions the ritual and the moral law, the spell and the tabu, are intermingled, though in most of them words count for more than deeds. Heresy is a greater sin than homicide in every well-regulated church. The view that Pure Religion is visiting the widow and the fatherless in their affliction is put forth in the epistle which Luther condemned as an epistle of straw.
The tabus come under the influence of the old belief. The Church of Rome keeps a banking account with God. So many masses said, so many fasts and mortifications, so many orphans fed, so many Protestants burned,—and so many years struck off the purgatorial sentence. If the saint leaves a balance to his credit, God is debited with that balance in the general account of sinners. As soon as God's balance is on the wrong side a soul escapes from Purgatory, like a drop of water overflowing when the tank is full. These dynamic laws work even more thoroughly in earlier religions. In the Ramayana a wicked man who wishes to destroy the world sets himself to practise unheard of austerities in order that he may be able to compel the Gods to execute his purpose. The dismayed Gods hold a council. They cannot evade their obligations. Enough fasts endured, enough gashes self-inflicted, and they must destroy the world. And so, as the sole resource, one of them goes down to earth,
and forcibly interrupts the pious exercises of this mechanical moralist.
That is the sequel to the story of the tree of knowledge. It was in their own defence that the Elohim forbade the knowledge of their own laws to the Man. They behaved just like the Philistines who forbade the Israelites the use of iron; just like the Christian Powers who forbid the heathen the use of magazine rifles.
Perhaps it is also in their own defence that other personages have shown a like jealousy of knowledge ever since.
To-day, Theology, driven from every other corner of the field of knowledge, is sheltering itself in its last ditch under a shield borrowed from the enemy. The theologians are claiming to be specialists. They are saying to the Materialists,--" Each of us has his own department: you leave us alone, and we will leave you alone."
The Materialist may accept that apology. The Idealist cannot. For it is, alas! in their own department that the theologians are at their worst. Their Hebrew scholarship is a hundred times worse than their Latin scholarship. Their maps of Heaven are far falser than their maps of earth. The grand fault of the theologians is, not that they have known nothing about man, but that they have known nothing about God.
The sad thing is that all this divinity is at bottom only diplomacy. All this Talk about God ends in talk about the government of men. Every priest is still at heart a king, and every theologian a lawgiver. Catholic Theology has not been building a house of cards all this time, with its Andronican words. It has been rebuilding the Capitol. The Man who hides in so much language is not Jesus of Nazareth, but Caesar. The crowning dogma, the top-stone of the edifice, is this, that all the world shall kneel and kiss the toe of whomsoever rules in Rome; and all Roman Catholic Theology, however honestly it may be written, is a means to that end.