Reading List–Heretics (3)

Hence the difficulty which besets “undenominational religions.” They profess to include what is beautiful in all creeds, but they appear to have collected all that is dull in them.

Take away the supernatural, and what remains is the unnatural.

The sound rule in the matter would appear to be like many other sound rules – a paradox. Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.

And at the high altar of Christianity stands another figure, in whose hand also is the cup of the vine. “Drink” he says “for the whole world is as red as this wine, with the crimson of the love and wrath of God. Drink for the trumpets are blowing for battle and this is the stirrup-cup. Drink, for this is my blood of the new testament that is shed for you. Drink, for I know of whence you come and why. Drink, for I know of when you go and where.”

Thus was accidentally discovered (like the steam-engine) the great journalistic maxim – that if an editor can only make people angry enough, they will write half his newspaper for him for nothing.

But they did not realize the two great facts – first, that in the attempt to be everything the first and most difficult step is to be something; second, that the moment a man is something, he is essentially defying everything.

When modern sociologists talk of the necessity of accommodating one’s self to the trend of the time, they forget that the trend of the time at its best consists entirely of people who will not accommodate themselves to anything.

The obvious truth is that the moment any matter has passed through the human mind it is finally and for ever spoilt for all purposes of science. It has become a thing incurably mysterious and infinite; this mortal has put on immortality.

As long as a tree is a tree, it is a top-heavy monster with a hundred arms, a thousand tongues, and only one leg. But so long as a tree is a tree, it does not frighten us at all. It begins to be something alien, to be something strange, only when it looks like ourselves. When a tree really looks like a man our knees knock under us. And when the whole universe looks like a man we fall on our faces.

Science in the modern world has many uses; its chief use, however, is to provide long words to cover the errors of the rich.

In a similar way, humanity is divided into conscious ritualists and unconscious ritualists. The curious thing is, in that example as in others, that it is the conscious ritualism which is comparatively simple, the unconscious ritual which is really heavy and complicated.

The first is called a ritualist because he invents and remembers one rite; the other is called an anti-ritualist because he obeys and forgets a thousand.

Scotland continues to be educated and Calvinistic; England continues to be uneducated and happy.

It may be said with rough accuracy that there are three stages in the life of a strong people. First, it is a small power, and fights small powers. Then it is a great power, and fights great powers. Then it is a great power, and fights small powers, but pretends that they are great powers, in order to rekindle the ashes of its ancient emotion and vanity. After that, the next step is to become a small power itself.

If then, I repeat, there is to be mental advance, it must be mental advance in the construction of a definite philosophy of life. And that philosophy of life must be right and the other philosophies wrong.

The man who understands the Calvinist philosophy enough to agree with it must understand the Catholic philosophy in order to disagree with it.

Bigotry may be roughly defined as the anger of men who have no opinions. It is the resistance offered to definite ideas by that vague bulk of people whose ideas are indefinite to excess. Bigotry may be called the appalling frenzy of the indifferent.

Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas.

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