“Living like a free citizen”

Anybody who believes at all in God must believe in the absolute supremacy of God.  But in so far as that supremacy does allow of any degrees that can be called liberal or illiberal, it is self-evident that the illiberal power is the deity of the rationalists and the liberal power is the deity of the dogmatists. Exactly in proportion as you turn monotheism into monism you turn it into despotism.  It is precisely the unknown God of the scientist, with his impenetrable purpose and his inevitable and unalterable law, that reminds us of a Prussian autocrat making rigid plans in a remote tent and moving mankind like machinery.  It is precisely the God of miracles and of answered prayers who reminds us of a liberal and popular prince, receiving petitions, listening to parliaments and considering the cases of a whole people.  I am not now arguing the rationality of this conception in other respects; as a matter of fact it is not, as some suppose, irrational; for there is nothing irrational in the wisest and most well-informed king acting differently according to the action of those he wishes to save.  But I am here only noting the general nature of liberality, or of free or enlarged atmosphere of action. And in this respect it is certain that the king can only be what we call magnanimous if he is what some call capricious.  It is the Catholic, who has the feeling that his prayers do make a difference, when offered for the living and the dead, who also has the feeling of living like a free citizen in something almost like a constitutional commonwealth. It is the monist who lives under a single iron law who must have the feeling of living like a slave under a sultan.

The Everlasting Man (1925).

Published in: on May 26, 2010 at 6:50 am  Comments (1)  

“In fact, we are generally even stupider”

Thus we may concede that politicians have done something towards degrading journalism.  It was not entirely done by us, the journalists. But most of it was.  It was mostly the fruit of our first and most natural sin — the habit of regarding ourselves as conjurers rather than priests, for the definition is that a conjurer is apart from his audience, while a priest is a part of his.  The conjurer despises his congregation; if the priest despises any one, it must be himself. The curse of all journalism, but especially of that yellow journalism which is the shame of our profession, is that we think ourselves cleverer than the people for whom we write, whereas, in fact, we are generally even stupider. [. . .] Journalism is popular, but it is popular mainly as fiction. Life is one world, and life seen in the newspapers another; the public enjoys both, but it is more or less conscious of the difference. … But the, people know in their hearts that journalism is a conventional art like any other, that it selects, heightens, and falsifies. Only its Nemesis is the same as that of other arts: if it loses all care for truth it loses all form likewise.

All Things Considered (1908).

Published in: on May 19, 2010 at 6:22 am  Comments (1)  

The future as an ideal

There is one quite simple objection to the Future as an ideal.  The objection is that the Future does not exist.  The Future is non-existent; therefore the Future is dead.  It is “le Néant,” as Danton said.  The Past is existent, and therefore the Past is alive.  He who lives in past affairs lives in vivid and varied affairs, in turbulent, disputatious, and democratic affairs.  He who lives in the future lives in a featureless blank; he lives in impersonality; he lives in Nirvana.  The past is democratic, because it is a people.  The future is despotic, because it is a caprice.  Each man is alone in his prediction, just as each man is alone in a dream.  If I turn my face to the past I immediately find myself in the presence of Phidippides, who could outrace me; of Coeur-de-Lion, who could knock me down; of Erasmus, who could greatly improve my Latin; of Newton, who could explain very clearly things that I could not understand; of Robin Hood, who could beat me in a game of archery; or of William Shakespeare, who might possibly be my superior in a game of bouts-rimés.  But when I turn my face to the future, then everybody bows down to me; then everybody prostrates himself; because there is nobody there but myself.

The Illustrated London News, 18 December 1909.

Published in: on May 12, 2010 at 7:25 am  Leave a Comment  

The barren dogma and the beautiful sentiment

If there is one question which the enlightened and liberal have the habit of deriding and holding up as a dreadful example of barren dogma and senseless sectarian strife, it is this Athanasian question of the Co-Eternity of the Divine Son.  On the other hand, if there is one thing that the same liberals always offer us as a piece of pure and simple Christianity, untroubled by doctrinal disputes, it is the single sentence, ‘God is Love.’  Yet the two statements are almost identical; at least one is very nearly nonsense without the other.  The barren dogma is only the logical way of stating the beautiful sentiment. For if there be a being without beginning, existing before all things, was He loving when there was nothing to be loved? If through that unthinkable eternity He is lonely, what is the meaning of saying He is love?  The only justification of such a mystery is the mystical conception that in His own nature there was something analogous to self-expression; something of what begets and beholds what it has begotten. Without some such idea, it is really illogical to complicate the ultimate essence of deity with an idea like love.

The Everlasting Man (1925).

Published in: on May 5, 2010 at 5:49 am  Comments (4)