On sincerity

We do not (at least, I do not) respect any sect, church, or group because of its sincerity. Sincerity merely means actuality. It only means that a man’s opinion undoubtedly is his opinion. But if a man’s opinion is that he ought to burn dogs alive, I do not respect him because he really feels like that; on the contrary, I should respect him more if I could believe that it was an elegant affectation. If a man holds that swindling everybody successfully is a mark of the Superman, I do not respect him any more because he holds it firmly; I should much prefer that he should hold it lightly. I do not think the more of a devil-worshipper because he truly loves devilry; nor the more of the torturing Nero because (like all second-rate artists) he takes his art seriously. Matthew Arnold used to talk a great deal about the ‘high seriousness’ of the good poets. He ought to have taken more notice of the low seriousness which is the special mark of bad poets, of bad philosophers, and even of bad men. It is precisely when a man takes his casual human vice with this low seriousness that it masters him and drives him mad. He becomes at once pompous and furtive, and commonly ends in the evil pride of some perversion.

The true doctrine surely is this — that we respect the creeds held by others because there is some good in them, not because they are creeds and are held. In other words, an honest man must always respect other religions, because they contain parts of his religion — that is, of his largest vision of truth. I will respect Confucians for reverencing the aged, because my religion also includes reverence for the aged. I will respect Buddhists for being kind to animals, because my morality includes being kind to animals. I will respect Mohommedans for admitting a general human justice, for I admit it also. But I will not admire Chinese tortures because they are performed with ardour; nor enjoy Hindoo pessimism because it is sincere, and therefore hopeless, pessimism; nor respect the Turk for despising women merely because he despises them very heartily. Thus we perpetually come back to that sharp and shining point which the modern world is perpetually trying to avoid. We must have a creed, even in order to be comprehensive. We must have a religion, even in order to respect other religions. Even if our whole desire is to admire the good in other worships, we must still worship something — or we shall not know what to admire.

The Illustrated London News, 29 October 1910.

Published in: on February 9, 2011 at 6:48 am  Leave a Comment  

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