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God The Invisible King by H. G. Wells [Herbert George Wells]

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This etext was prepared by Donald Lainson, Toronto, Canada.


by H. G. Wells












This book sets out as forcibly and exactly as possible the religious
belief of the writer. That belief is not orthodox Christianity; it
is not, indeed, Christianity at all; its core nevertheless is a
profound belief in a personal and intimate God. There is nothing in
its statements that need shock or offend anyone who is prepared for
the expression of a faith different from and perhaps in several
particulars opposed to his own. The writer will be found to be
sympathetic with all sincere religious feeling. Nevertheless it is
well to prepare the prospective reader for statements that may jar
harshly against deeply rooted mental habits. It is well to warn him
at the outset that the departure from accepted beliefs is here no
vague scepticism, but a quite sharply defined objection to dogmas
very widely revered. Let the writer state the most probable
occasion of trouble forthwith. An issue upon which this book will
be found particularly uncompromising is the dogma of the Trinity.
The writer is of opinion that the Council of Nicaea, which forcibly
crystallised the controversies of two centuries and formulated the
creed upon which all the existing Christian churches are based, was
one of the most disastrous and one of the least venerable of all
religious gatherings, and he holds that the Alexandrine speculations
which were then conclusively imposed upon Christianity merit only
disrespectful attention at the present time. There you have a chief
possibility of offence. He is quite unable to pretend any awe for
what he considers the spiritual monstrosities established by that
undignified gathering. He makes no attempt to be obscure or
propitiatory in this connection. He criticises the creeds
explicitly and frankly, because he believes it is particularly
necessary to clear them out of the way of those who are seeking
religious consolation at this present time of exceptional religious
need. He does little to conceal his indignation at the role played
by these dogmas in obscuring, perverting, and preventing the
religious life of mankind. After this warning such readers from
among the various Christian churches and sects as are accessible to
storms of theological fear or passion to whom the Trinity is an
ineffable mystery and the name of God almost unspeakably awful, read
on at their own risk. This is a religious book written by a
believer, but so far as their beliefs and religion go it may seem to
them more sceptical and more antagonistic than blank atheism. That
the writer cannot tell. He is not simply denying their God. He is
declaring that there is a living God, different altogether from that
Triune God and nearer to the heart of man. The spirit of this book
is like that of a missionary who would only too gladly overthrow and
smash some Polynesian divinity of shark's teeth and painted wood and
mother-of-pearl. To the writer such elaborations as "begotten of
the Father before all worlds" are no better than intellectual
shark's teeth and oyster shells. His purpose, like the purpose of
that missionary, is not primarily to shock and insult; but he is
zealous to liberate, and he is impatient with a reverence that
stands between man and God. He gives this fair warning and proceeds
with his matter.

His matter is modern religion as he sees it. It is only
incidentally and because it is unavoidable that he attacks doctrinal

In a previous book, "First and Last Things" (Constable and Co.), he
has stated his convictions upon certain general ideas of life and
thought as clearly as he could. All of philosophy, all of
metaphysics that is, seems to him to be a discussion of the
relations of class and individual. The antagonism of the Nominalist
and the Realist, the opposition of the One and the Many, the
contrast of the Ideal and the Actual, all these oppositions express
a certain structural and essential duality in the activity of the
human mind. From an imperfect recognition of that duality ensue
great masses of misconception. That was the substance of "First and
Last Things." In this present book there is no further attack on
philosophical or metaphysical questions. Here we work at a less
fundamental level and deal with religious feeling and religious
ideas. But just as the writer was inclined to attribute a whole
world of disputation and inexactitudes to confused thinking about
the exact value of classes and terms, so here he is disposed to
think that interminable controversies and conflicts arise out of a
confusion of intention due to a double meaning of the word "God";
that the word "God" conveys not one idea or set of ideas, but
several essentially different ideas, incompatible one with another,
and falling mainly into one or other of two divergent groups; and
that people slip carelessly from one to the other of these groups of
ideas and so get into ultimately inextricable confusions.

The writer believes that the centuries of fluid religious thought
that preceded the violent ultimate crystallisation of Nicaea, was
essentially a struggle--obscured, of course, by many complexities--
to reconcile and get into a relationship these two separate main
series of God-ideas.

Putting the leading idea of this book very roughly, these two
antagonistic typical conceptions of God may be best contrasted by
speaking of one of them as God-as-Nature or the Creator, and of the
other as God-as-Christ or the Redeemer. One is the great Outward
God; the other is the Inmost God. The first idea was perhaps
developed most highly and completely in the God of Spinoza. It is a
conception of God tending to pantheism, to an idea of a
comprehensive God as ruling with justice rather than affection, to a
conception of aloofness and awestriking worshipfulness. The second
idea, which is opposed to this idea of an absolute God, is the God
of the human heart. The writer would suggest that the great outline
of the theological struggles of that phase of civilisation and world
unity which produced Christianity, was a persistent but unsuccessful
attempt to get these two different ideas of God into one focus. It
was an attempt to make the God of Nature accessible and the God of
the Heart invincible, to bring the former into a conception of love
and to vest the latter with the beauty of stars and flowers and the
dignity of inexorable justice. There could be no finer metaphor for
such a correlation than Fatherhood and Sonship. But the trouble is
that it seems impossible to most people to continue to regard the
relations of the Father to the Son as being simply a mystical
metaphor. Presently some materialistic bias swings them in a moment
of intellectual carelessness back to the idea of sexual filiation.

And it may further be suggested that the extreme aloofness and
inhumanity, which is logically necessary in the idea of a Creator
God, of an Infinite God, was the reason, so to speak, for the
invention of a Holy Spirit, as something proceeding from him, as
something bridging the great gulf, a Comforter, a mediator
descending into the sphere of the human understanding. That, and
the suggestive influence of the Egyptian Trinity that was then being
worshipped at the Serapeum, and which had saturated the thought of
Alexandria with the conception of a trinity in unity, are probably
the realities that account for the Third Person of the Christian
Trinity. At any rate the present writer believes that the
discussions that shaped the Christian theology we know were
dominated by such natural and fundamental thoughts. These
discussions were, of course, complicated from the outset; and
particularly were they complicated by the identification of the man
Jesus with the theological Christ, by materialistic expectations of
his second coming, by materialistic inventions about his
"miraculous" begetting, and by the morbid speculations about
virginity and the like that arose out of such grossness. They were
still further complicated by the idea of the textual inspiration of
the scriptures, which presently swamped thought in textual
interpretation. That swamping came very early in the development of
Christianity. The writer of St. John's gospel appears still to be
thinking with a considerable freedom, but Origen is already
hopelessly in the net of the texts. The writer of St. John's gospel
was a free man, but Origen was a superstitious man. He was
emasculated mentally as well as bodily through his bibliolatry. He
quotes; his predecessor thinks.

But the writer throws out these guesses at the probable intentions
of early Christian thought in passing. His business here is the
definition of a position. The writer's position here in this book
is, firstly, complete Agnosticism in the matter of God the Creator,
and secondly, entire faith in the matter of God the Redeemer. That,
so to speak, is the key of his book. He cannot bring the two ideas
under the same term God. He uses the word God therefore for the God
in our hearts only, and he uses the term the Veiled Being for the
ultimate mysteries of the universe, and he declares that we do not
know and perhaps cannot know in any comprehensible terms the
relation of the Veiled Being to that living reality in our lives who
is, in his terminology, the true God. Speaking from the point of
view of practical religion, he is restricting and defining the word
God, as meaning only the personal God of mankind, he is restricting
it so as to exclude all cosmogony and ideas of providence from our
religious thought and leave nothing but the essentials of the
religious life.

Many people, whom one would class as rather liberal Christians of an
Arian or Arminian complexion, may find the larger part of this book
acceptable to them if they will read "the Christ God" where the
writer has written "God." They will then differ from him upon
little more than the question whether there is an essential identity
in aim and quality between the Christ God and the Veiled Being, who
answer to their Creator God. This the orthodox post Nicaean
Christians assert, and many pre-Nicaeans and many heretics (as the
Cathars) contradicted with its exact contrary. The Cathars,
Paulicians, Albigenses and so on held, with the Manichaeans, that
the God of Nature, God the Father, was evil. The Christ God was his
antagonist. This was the idea of the poet Shelley. And passing
beyond Christian theology altogether a clue can still be found to
many problems in comparative theology in this distinction between
the Being of Nature (cf. Kant's "starry vault above") and the God
of the heart (Kant's "moral law within"). The idea of an antagonism
seems to have been cardinal in the thought of the Essenes and the
Orphic cult and in the Persian dualism. So, too, Buddhism seems to
be "antagonistic." On the other hand, the Moslem teaching and
modern Judaism seem absolutely to combine and identify the two; God
the creator is altogether and without distinction also God the King
of Mankind. Christianity stands somewhere between such complete
identification and complete antagonism. It admits a difference in
attitude between Father and Son in its distinction between the Old
Dispensation (of the Old Testament) and the New. Every possible
change is rung in the great religions of the world between
identification, complete separation, equality, and disproportion of
these Beings; but it will be found that these two ideas are, so to
speak, the basal elements of all theology in the world. The writer
is chary of assertion or denial in these matters. He believes that
they are speculations not at all necessary to salvation. He
believes that men may differ profoundly in their opinions upon these
points and still be in perfect agreement upon the essentials of
religion. The reality of religion he believes deals wholly and
exclusively with the God of the Heart. He declares as his own
opinion, and as the opinion which seems most expressive of modern
thought, that there is no reason to suppose the Veiled Being either
benevolent or malignant towards men. But if the reader believes
that God is Almighty and in every way Infinite the practical outcome
is not very different. For the purposes of human relationship it is
impossible to deny that God PRESENTS HIMSELF AS FINITE, as
struggling and taking a part against evil.

The writer believes that these dogmas of relationship are not merely
extraneous to religion, but an impediment to religion. His aim in
this book is to give a statement of religion which is no longer
entangled in such speculations and disputes.

Let him add only one other note of explanation in this preface, and
that is to remark that except for one incidental passage (in Chapter
IV., 1), nowhere does he discuss the question of personal
immortality. [It is discussed in "First and Last Things," Book IV,
4.] He omits this question because he does not consider that it has
any more bearing upon the essentials of religion, than have the
theories we may hold about the relation of God and the moral law to
the starry universe. The latter is a question for the theologian,
the former for the psychologist. Whether we are mortal or immortal,
whether the God in our hearts is the Son of or a rebel against the
Universe, the reality of religion, the fact of salvation, is still
our self-identification with God, irrespective of consequences, and
the achievement of his kingdom, in our hearts and in the world.
Whether we live forever or die tomorrow does not affect
righteousness. Many people seem to find the prospect of a final
personal death unendurable. This impresses me as egotism. I have
no such appetite for a separate immortality. God is my immortality;
what, of me, is identified with God, is God; what is not is of no
more permanent value than the snows of yester-year.

H. G. W.

May, 1917.





Perhaps all religions, unless the flaming onset of Mohammedanism be
an exception, have dawned imperceptibly upon the world. A little
while ago and the thing was not; and then suddenly it has been found
in existence, and already in a state of diffusion. People have
begun to hear of the new belief first here and then there. It is
interesting, for example, to trace how Christianity drifted into the
consciousness of the Roman world. But when a religion has been
interrogated it has always had hitherto a tale of beginnings, the
name and story of a founder. The renascent religion that is now
taking shape, it seems, had no founder; it points to no origins. It
is the Truth, its believers declare; it has always been here; it has
always been visible to those who had eyes to see. It is perhaps
plainer than it was and to more people--that is all.

It is as if it still did not realise its own difference. Many of
those who hold it still think of it as if it were a kind of
Christianity. Some, catching at a phrase of Huxley's, speak of it
as Christianity without Theology. They do not know the creed they
are carrying. It has, as a matter of fact, a very fine and subtle
theology, flatly opposed to any belief that could, except by great
stretching of charity and the imagination, be called Christianity.
One might find, perhaps, a parallelism with the system ascribed to
some Gnostics, but that is far more probably an accidental rather
than a sympathetic coincidence. Of that the reader shall presently
have an opportunity of judging.

This indefiniteness of statement and relationship is probably only
the opening phase of the new faith. Christianity also began with an
extreme neglect of definition. It was not at first anything more
than a sect of Judaism. It was only after three centuries, amidst
the uproar and emotions of the council of Nicaea, when the more
enthusiastic Trinitarians stuffed their fingers in their ears in
affected horror at the arguments of old Arius, that the cardinal
mystery of the Trinity was established as the essential fact of
Christianity. Throughout those three centuries, the centuries of
its greatest achievements and noblest martyrdoms, Christianity had
not defined its God. And even to-day it has to be noted that a
large majority of those who possess and repeat the Christian creeds
have come into the practice so insensibly from unthinking childhood,
that only in the slightest way do they realise the nature of the
statements to which they subscribe. They will speak and think of
both Christ and God in ways flatly incompatible with the doctrine of
the Triune deity upon which, theoretically, the entire fabric of all
the churches rests. They will show themselves as frankly Arians as
though that damnable heresy had not been washed out of the world
forever after centuries of persecution in torrents of blood. But
whatever the present state of Christendom in these matters may be,
there can be no doubt of the enormous pains taken in the past to
give Christian beliefs the exactest, least ambiguous statement
possible. Christianity knew itself clearly for what it was in its
maturity, whatever the indecisions of its childhood or the
confusions of its decay. The renascent religion that one finds now,
a thing active and sufficient in many minds, has still scarcely come
to self-consciousness. But it is so coming, and this present book
is very largely an attempt to state the shape it is assuming and to
compare it with the beliefs and imperatives and usages of the
various Christian, pseudo-Christian, philosophical, and agnostic
cults amidst which it has appeared.

The writer's sympathies and convictions are entirely with this that
he speaks of as renascent or modern religion; he is neither atheist
nor Buddhist nor Mohammedan nor Christian. He will make no
pretence, therefore, to impartiality and detachment. He will do his
best to be as fair as possible and as candid as possible, but the
reader must reckon with this bias. He has found this faith growing
up in himself; he has found it, or something very difficult to
distinguish from it, growing independently in the minds of men and
women he has met. They have been people of very various origins;
English, Americans, Bengalis, Russians, French, people brought up in
a "Catholic atmosphere," Positivists, Baptists, Sikhs, Mohammedans.
Their diversity of source is as remarkable as their convergence of
tendency. A miscellany of minds thinking upon parallel lines has
come out to the same light. The new teaching is also traceable in
many professedly Christian religious books and it is to be heard
from Christian pulpits. The phase of definition is manifestly at


Perhaps the most fundamental difference between this new faith and
any recognised form of Christianity is that, knowingly or
unknowingly, it worships A FINITE GOD. Directly the believer is
fairly confronted with the plain questions of the case, the vague
identifications that are still carelessly made with one or all of
the persons of the Trinity dissolve away. He will admit that his
God is neither all-wise, nor all-powerful, nor omnipresent; that he
is neither the maker of heaven nor earth, and that he has little to
identify him with that hereditary God of the Jews who became the
"Father" in the Christian system. On the other hand he will assert
that his God is a god of salvation, that he is a spirit, a person, a
strongly marked and knowable personality, loving, inspiring, and
lovable, who exists or strives to exist in every human soul. He
will be much less certain in his denials that his God has a close
resemblance to the Pauline (as distinguished from the Trinitarian)
"Christ." . . .

The modern religious man will almost certainly profess a kind of
universalism; he will assert that whensoever men have called upon
any God and have found fellowship and comfort and courage and that
sense of God within them, that inner light which is the quintessence
of the religious experience, it was the True God that answered them.
For the True God is a generous God, not a jealous God; the very
antithesis of that bickering monopolist who "will have none other
gods but Me"; and when a human heart cries out--to what name it
matters not--for a larger spirit and a stronger help than the
visible things of life can give, straightway the nameless Helper is
with it and the God of Man answers to the call. The True God has no
scorn nor hate for those who have accepted the many-handed symbols
of the Hindu or the lacquered idols of China. Where there is faith,
where there is need, there is the True God ready to clasp the hands
that stretch out seeking for him into the darkness behind the ivory
and gold.

The fact that God is FINITE is one upon which those who think
clearly among the new believers are very insistent. He is, above
everything else, a personality, and to be a personality is to have
characteristics, to be limited by characteristics; he is a Being,
not us but dealing with us and through us, he has an aim and that
means he has a past and future; he is within time and not outside
it. And they point out that this is really what everyone who prays
sincerely to God or gets help from God, feels and believes. Our
practice with God is better than our theory. None of us really pray
to that fantastic, unqualified danse a trois, the Trinity, which the
wranglings and disputes of the worthies of Alexandria and Syria
declared to be God. We pray to one single understanding person.
But so far the tactics of those Trinitarians at Nicaea, who stuck
their fingers in their ears, have prevailed in this world; this was
no matter for discussion, they declared, it was a Holy Mystery full
of magical terror, and few religious people have thought it worth
while to revive these terrors by a definite contradiction. The
truly religious have been content to lapse quietly into the
comparative sanity of an unformulated Arianism, they have left it to
the scoffing Atheist to mock at the patent absurdities of the
official creed. But one magnificent protest against this
theological fantasy must have been the work of a sincerely religious
man, the cold superb humour of that burlesque creed, ascribed, at
first no doubt facetiously and then quite seriously, to Saint
Athanasius the Great, which, by an irony far beyond its original
intention, has become at last the accepted creed of the church.

The long truce in the criticism of Trinitarian theology is drawing
to its end. It is when men most urgently need God that they become
least patient with foolish presentations and dogmas. The new
believers are very definitely set upon a thorough analysis of the
nature and growth of the Christian creeds and ideas. There has
grown up a practice of assuming that, when God is spoken of, the
Hebrew-Christian God of Nicaea is meant. But that God trails with
him a thousand misconceptions and bad associations; his alleged
infinite nature, his jealousy, his strange preferences, his
vindictive Old Testament past. These things do not even make a
caricature of the True God; they compose an altogether different and
antagonistic figure.

It is a very childish and unphilosophical set of impulses that has
led the theologians of nearly every faith to claim infinite
qualities for their deity. One has to remember the poorness of the
mental and moral quality of the churchmen of the third, fourth, and
fifth centuries who saddled Christendom with its characteristic
dogmas, and the extreme poverty and confusion of the circle of ideas
within which they thought. Many of these makers of Christianity,
like Saint Ambrose of Milan (who had even to be baptised after his
election to his bishopric), had been pitchforked into the church
from civil life; they lived in a time of pitiless factions and
personal feuds; they had to conduct their disputations amidst the
struggles of would-be emperors; court eunuchs and favourites swayed
their counsels, and popular rioting clinched their decisions. There
was less freedom of discussion then in the Christian world than
there is at present (1916) in Belgium, and the whole audience of
educated opinion by which a theory could be judged did not equal,
either in numbers or accuracy of information, the present population
of Constantinople. To these conditions we owe the claim that the
Christian God is a magic god, very great medicine in battle, "in hoc
signo vinces," and the argument so natural to the minds of those
days and so absurd to ours, that since he had ALL power, all
knowledge, and existed for ever and ever, it was no use whatever to
set up any other god against him. . . .

By the fifth century Christianity had adopted as its fundamental
belief, without which everyone was to be "damned everlastingly," a
conception of God and of Christ's relation to God, of which even by
the Christian account of his teaching, Jesus was either totally
unaware or so negligent and careless of the future comfort of his
disciples as scarcely to make mention. The doctrine of the Trinity,
so far as the relationship of the Third Person goes, hangs almost
entirely upon one ambiguous and disputed utterance in St. John's
gospel (XV. 26). Most of the teachings of Christian orthodoxy
resolve themselves to the attentive student into assertions of the
nature of contradiction and repartee. Someone floats an opinion in
some matter that has been hitherto vague, in regard, for example, to
the sonship of Christ or to the method of his birth. The new
opinion arouses the hostility and alarm of minds unaccustomed to so
definite a statement, and in the zeal of their recoil they fly to a
contrary proposition. The Christians would neither admit that they
worshipped more gods than one because of the Greeks, nor deny the
divinity of Christ because of the Jews. They dreaded to be
polytheistic; equally did they dread the least apparent detraction
from the power and importance of their Saviour. They were forced
into the theory of the Trinity by the necessity of those contrary
assertions, and they had to make it a mystery protected by curses to
save it from a reductio ad absurdam. The entire history of the
growth of the Christian doctrine in those disordered early centuries
is a history of theology by committee; a history of furious
wrangling, of hasty compromises, and still more hasty attempts to
clinch matters by anathema. When the muddle was at its very worst,
the church was confronted by enormous political opportunities. In
order that it should seize these one chief thing appeared
imperative: doctrinal uniformity. The emperor himself, albeit
unbaptised and very ignorant of Greek, came and seated himself in
the midst of Christian thought upon a golden throne. At the end of
it all Eusebius, that supreme Trimmer, was prepared to damn
everlastingly all those who doubted that consubstantiality he
himself had doubted at the beginning of the conference. It is quite
clear that Constantine did not care who was damned or for what
period, so long as the Christians ceased to wrangle among
themselves. The practical unanimity of Nicaea was secured by
threats, and then, turning upon the victors, he sought by threats to
restore Arius to communion. The imperial aim was a common faith to
unite the empire. The crushing out of the Arians and of the
Paulicians and suchlike heretics, and more particularly the
systematic destruction by the orthodox of all heretical writings,
had about it none of that quality of honest conviction which comes
to those who have a real knowledge of God; it was a bawling down of
dissensions that, left to work themselves out, would have spoilt
good business; it was the fist of Nicolas of Myra over again, except
that after the days of Ambrose the sword of the executioner and the
fires of the book-burner were added to the weapon of the human
voice. Priscillian was the first human sacrifice formally offered
up under these improved conditions to the greater glory of the
reinforced Trinity. Thereafter the blood of the heretics was the
cement of Christian unity.

It is with these things in mind that those who profess the new faith
are becoming so markedly anxious to distinguish God from the
Trinitarian's deity. At present if anyone who has left the
Christian communion declares himself a believer in God, priest and
parson swell with self-complacency. There is no reason why they
should do so. That many of us have gone from them and found God is
no concern of theirs. It is not that we who went out into the
wilderness which we thought to be a desert, away from their creeds
and dogmas, have turned back and are returning. It is that we have
gone on still further, and are beyond that desolation. Never more
shall we return to those who gather under the cross. By faith we
disbelieved and denied. By faith we said of that stuffed scarecrow
of divinity, that incoherent accumulation of antique theological
notions, the Nicene deity, "This is certainly no God." And by faith
we have found God. . . .


There has always been a demand upon the theological teacher that he
should supply a cosmogony. It has always been an effective
propagandist thing to say: "OUR God made the whole universe. Don't
you think that it would be wise to abandon YOUR deity, who did not,
as you admit, do anything of the sort?"

The attentive reader of the lives of the Saints will find that this
style of argument did in the past bring many tribes and nations into
the Christian fold. It was second only to the claim of magic
advantages, demonstrated by a free use of miracles. Only one great
religious system, the Buddhist, seems to have resisted the
temptation to secure for its divinity the honour and title of
Creator. Modern religion is like Buddhism in that respect. It
offers no theory whatever about the origin of the universe. It does
not reach behind the appearances of space and time. It sees only a
featureless presumption in that playing with superlatives which has
entertained so many minds from Plotinus to the Hegelians with the
delusion that such negative terms as the Absolute or the
Unconditioned, can assert anything at all. At the back of all known
things there is an impenetrable curtain; the ultimate of existence
is a Veiled Being, which seems to know nothing of life or death or
good or ill. Of that Being, whether it is simple or complex or
divine, we know nothing; to us it is no more than the limit of
understanding, the unknown beyond. It may be of practically
limitless intricacy and possibility. The new religion does not
pretend that the God of its life is that Being, or that he has any
relation of control or association with that Being. It does not
even assert that God knows all or much more than we do about that
ultimate Being.

For us life is a matter of our personalities in space and time.
Human analysis probing with philosophy and science towards the
Veiled Being reveals nothing of God, reveals space and time only as
necessary forms of consciousness, glimpses a dance of atoms, of
whirls in the ether. Some day in the endless future there may be a
knowledge, an understanding of relationship, a power and courage
that will pierce into those black wrappings. To that it may be our
God, the Captain of Mankind will take us.

That now is a mere speculation. The veil of the unknown is set with
the stars; its outer texture is ether and atom and crystal. The
Veiled Being, enigmatical and incomprehensible, broods over the
mirror upon which the busy shapes of life are moving. It is as if
it waited in a great stillness. Our lives do not deal with it, and
cannot deal with it. It may be that they may never be able to deal
with it.


So it is that comprehensive setting of the universe presents itself
to the modern mind. It is altogether outside good and evil and love
and hate. It is outside God, who is love and goodness. And coming
out of this veiled being, proceeding out of it in a manner
altogether inconceivable, is another lesser being, an impulse
thrusting through matter and clothing itself in continually changing
material forms, the maker of our world, Life, the Will to Be. It
comes out of that inscrutable being as a wave comes rolling to us
from beyond the horizon. It is as it were a great wave rushing
through matter and possessed by a spirit. It is a breeding,
fighting thing; it pants through the jungle track as the tiger and
lifts itself towards heaven as the tree; it is the rabbit bolting
for its life and the dove calling to her mate; it crawls, it flies,
it dives, it lusts and devours, it pursues and eats itself in order
to live still more eagerly and hastily; it is every living thing, of
it are our passions and desires and fears. And it is aware of
itself not as a whole, but dispersedly as individual self-
consciousness, starting out dispersedly from every one of the
sentient creatures it has called into being. They look out for
their little moments, red-eyed and fierce, full of greed, full of
the passions of acquisition and assimilation and reproduction,
submitting only to brief fellowships of defence or aggression. They
are beings of strain and conflict and competition. They are living
substance still mingled painfully with the dust. The forms in which
this being clothes itself bear thorns and fangs and claws, are
soaked with poison and bright with threats or allurements, prey
slyly or openly on one another, hold their own for a little while,
breed savagely and resentfully, and pass. . . .

This second Being men have called the Life Force, the Will to Live,
the Struggle for Existence. They have figured it too as Mother
Nature. We may speculate whether it is not what the wiser among the
Gnostics meant by the Demiurge, but since the Christians destroyed
all the Gnostic books that must remain a mere curious guess. We may
speculate whether this heat and haste and wrath of life about us is
the Dark God of the Manichees, the evil spirit of the sun
worshippers. But in contemporary thought there is no conviction
apparent that this Demiurge is either good or evil; it is conceived
of as both good and evil. If it gives all the pain and conflict of
life, it gives also the joy of the sunshine, the delight and hope of
youth, the pleasures. If it has elaborated a hundred thousand sorts
of parasite, it has also moulded the beautiful limbs of man and
woman; it has shaped the slug and the flower. And in it, as part of
it, taking its rewards, responding to its goads, struggling against
the final abandonment to death, do we all live, as the beasts live,
glad, angry, sorry, revengeful, hopeful, weary, disgusted,
forgetful, lustful, happy, excited, bored, in pain, mood after mood
but always fearing death, with no certainty and no coherence within
us, until we find God. And God comes to us neither out of the stars
nor out of the pride of life, but as a still small voice within.


God comes we know not whence, into the conflict of life. He works
in men and through men. He is a spirit, a single spirit and a
single person; he has begun and he will never end. He is the
immortal part and leader of mankind. He has motives, he has
characteristics, he has an aim. He is by our poor scales of
measurement boundless love, boundless courage, boundless generosity.
He is thought and a steadfast will. He is our friend and brother
and the light of the world. That briefly is the belief of the
modern mind with regard to God. There is no very novel idea about
this God, unless it be the idea that he had a beginning. This is
the God that men have sought and found in all ages, as God or as the
Messiah or the Saviour. The finding of him is salvation from the
purposelessness of life. The new religion has but disentangled the
idea of him from the absolutes and infinities and mysteries of the
Christian theologians; from mythological virgin births and the
cosmogonies and intellectual pretentiousness of a vanished age.

Modern religion appeals to no revelation, no authoritative teaching,
no mystery. The statement it makes is, it declares, a mere
statement of what we may all perceive and experience. We all live
in the storm of life, we all find our understandings limited by the
Veiled Being; if we seek salvation and search within for God,
presently we find him. All this is in the nature of things. If
every one who perceives and states it were to be instantly killed
and blotted out, presently other people would find their way to the
same conclusions; and so on again and again. To this all true
religion, casting aside its hulls of misconception, must ultimately
come. To it indeed much religion is already coming. Christian
thought struggles towards it, with the millstones of Syrian theology
and an outrageous mythology of incarnation and resurrection about
its neck. When at last our present bench of bishops join the early
fathers of the church in heaven there will be, I fear, a note of
reproach in their greeting of the ingenious person who saddled them
with OMNIPOTENS. Still more disastrous for them has been the virgin
birth, with the terrible fascination of its detail for unpoetic
minds. How rich is the literature of authoritative Christianity
with decisions upon the continuing virginity of Mary and the
virginity of Joseph--ideas that first arose in Arabia as a Moslem
gloss upon Christianity--and how little have these peepings and
pryings to do with the needs of the heart and the finding of God!

Within the last few years there have been a score or so of such
volumes as that recently compiled by Dr. Foakes Jackson, entitled
"The Faith and the War," a volume in which the curious reader may
contemplate deans and canons, divines and church dignitaries, men
intelligent and enquiring and religiously disposed, all lying like
overladen camels, panting under this load of obsolete theological
responsibility, groaning great articles, outside the needle's eye
that leads to God.


Modern religion bases its knowledge of God and its account of God
entirely upon experience. It has encountered God. It does not
argue about God; it relates. It relates without any of those
wrappings of awe and reverence that fold so necessarily about
imposture, it relates as one tells of a friend and his assistance,
of a happy adventure, of a beautiful thing found and picked up by
the wayside.

So far as its psychological phases go the new account of personal
salvation tallies very closely with the account of "conversion" as
it is given by other religions. It has little to tell that is not
already familiar to the reader of William James's "Varieties of
Religious Experience." It describes an initial state of distress
with the aimlessness and cruelties of life, and particularly with
the futility of the individual life, a state of helpless self-
disgust, of inability to form any satisfactory plan of living. This
is the common prelude known to many sorts of Christian as
"conviction of sin"; it is, at any rate, a conviction of hopeless
confusion. . . . Then in some way the idea of God comes into the
distressed mind, at first simply as an idea, without substance or
belief. It is read about or it is remembered; it is expounded by
some teacher or some happy convert. In the case of all those of the
new faith with whose personal experience I have any intimacy, the
idea of God has remained for some time simply as an idea floating
about in a mind still dissatisfied. God is not believed in, but it
is realised that if there were such a being he would supply the
needed consolation and direction, his continuing purpose would knit
together the scattered effort of life, his immortality would take
the sting from death. Under this realisation the idea is pursued
and elaborated. For a time there is a curious resistance to the
suggestion that God is truly a person; he is spoken of preferably by
such phrases as the Purpose in Things, as the Racial Consciousness,
as the Collective Mind.

I believe that this resistance in so many contemporary minds to the
idea of God as a person is due very largely to the enormous
prejudice against divine personality created by the absurdities of
the Christian teaching and the habitual monopoly of the Christian
idea. The picture of Christ as the Good Shepherd thrusts itself
before minds unaccustomed to the idea that they are lambs. The
cross in the twilight bars the way. It is a novelty and an enormous
relief to such people to realise that one may think of God without
being committed to think of either the Father, the Son, or the Holy
Ghost, or of all of them at once. That freedom had not seemed
possible to them. They had been hypnotised and obsessed by the idea
that the Christian God is the only thinkable God. They had heard so
much about that God and so little of any other. With that release
their minds become, as it were, nascent and ready for the coming of

Then suddenly, in a little while, in his own time, God comes. This
cardinal experience is an undoubting, immediate sense of God. It is
the attainment of an absolute certainty that one is not alone in
oneself. It is as if one was touched at every point by a being akin
to oneself, sympathetic, beyond measure wiser, steadfast and pure in
aim. It is completer and more intimate, but it is like standing
side by side with and touching someone that we love very dearly and
trust completely. It is as if this being bridged a thousand
misunderstandings and brought us into fellowship with a great
multitude of other people. . . .

"Closer he is than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet."

The moment may come while we are alone in the darkness, under the
stars, or while we walk by ourselves or in a crowd, or while we sit
and muse. It may come upon the sinking ship or in the tumult of the
battle. There is no saying when it may not come to us. . . . But
after it has come our lives are changed, God is with us and there is
no more doubt of God. Thereafter one goes about the world like one
who was lonely and has found a lover, like one who was perplexed and
has found a solution. One is assured that there is a Power that
fights with us against the confusion and evil within us and without.
There comes into the heart an essential and enduring happiness and

There is but one God, there is but one true religious experience,
but under a multitude of names, under veils and darknesses, God has
in this manner come into countless lives. There is scarcely a
faith, however mean and preposterous, that has not been a way to
holiness. God who is himself finite, who himself struggles in his
great effort from strength to strength, has no spite against error.
Far beyond halfway he hastens to meet the purblind. But God is
against the darkness in their eyes. The faith which is returning to
men girds at veils and shadows, and would see God plainly. It has
little respect for mysteries. It rends the veil of the temple in
rags and tatters. It has no superstitious fear of this huge
friendliness, of this great brother and leader of our little beings.
To find God is but the beginning of wisdom, because then for all our
days we have to learn his purpose with us and to live our lives with




Religion is not a plant that has grown from one seed; it is like a
lake that has been fed by countless springs. It is a great pool of
living water, mingled from many sources and tainted with much
impurity. It is synthetic in its nature; it becomes simpler from
original complexities; the sediment subsides.

A life perfectly adjusted to its surroundings is a life without
mentality; no judgment is called for, no inhibition, no disturbance
of the instinctive flow of perfect reactions. Such a life is bliss,
or nirvana. It is unconsciousness below dreaming. Consciousness is
discord evoking the will to adjust; it is inseparable from need. At
every need consciousness breaks into being. Imperfect adjustments,
needs, are the rents and tatters in the smooth dark veil of being
through which the light of consciousness shines--the light of
consciousness and will of which God is the sun.

So that every need of human life, every disappointment and
dissatisfaction and call for help and effort, is a means whereby men
may and do come to the realisation of God.

There is no cardinal need, there is no sort of experience in human
life from which there does not come or has not come a contribution
to men's religious ideas. At every challenge men have to put forth
effort, feel doubt of adequacy, be thwarted, perceive the chill
shadow of their mortality. At every challenge comes the possibility
of help from without, the idea of eluding frustration, the
aspiration towards immortality. It is possible to classify the
appeals men make for God under the headings of their chief system of
effort, their efforts to understand, their fear and their struggles
for safety and happiness, the craving of their restlessness for
peace, their angers against disorder and their desire for the
avenger; their sexual passions and perplexities. . . .

Each of these great systems of needs and efforts brings its own sort
of sediment into religion. Each, that is to say, has its own kind
of heresy, its distinctive misapprehension of God. It is only in
the synthesis and mutual correction of many divergent ideas that the
idea of God grows clear. The effort to understand completely, for
example, leads to the endless Heresies of Theory. Men trip over the
inherent infirmities of the human mind. But in these days one does
not argue greatly about dogma. Almost every conceivable error about
unity, about personality, about time and quantity and genus and
species, about begetting and beginning and limitation and similarity
and every kink in the difficult mind of man, has been thrust forward
in some form of dogma. Beside the errors of thought are the errors
of emotion. Fear and feebleness go straight to the Heresies that
God is Magic or that God is Providence; restless egotism at leisure
and unchallenged by urgent elementary realities breeds the Heresies
of Mysticism, anger and hate call for God's Judgments, and the
stormy emotions of sex gave mankind the Phallic God. Those who find
themselves possessed by the new spirit in religion, realise very
speedily the necessity of clearing the mind of all these
exaggerations, transferences, and overflows of feeling. The search
for divine truth is like gold washing; nothing is of any value until
most has been swept away.


One sort of heresies stands apart from the rest. It is infinitely
the most various sort. It includes all those heresies which result
from wrong-headed mental elaboration, as distinguished from those
which are the result of hasty and imperfect apprehension, the
heresies of the clever rather than the heresies of the obtuse. The
former are of endless variety and complexity; the latter are in
comparison natural, simple confusions. The former are the errors of
the study, the latter the superstitions that spring by the wayside,
or are brought down to us in our social structure out of a barbaric

To the heresies of thought and speculation belong the elaborate
doctrine of the Trinity, dogmas about God's absolute qualities, such
odd deductions as the accepted Christian teachings about the
virginity of Mary and Joseph, and the like. All these things are
parts of orthodox Christianity. Yet none of them did Christ, even
by the Christian account, expound or recommend. He treated them as
negligible. It was left for the Alexandrians, for Alexander, for
little, red-haired, busy, wire-pulling Athanasius to find out
exactly what their Master was driving at, three centuries after
their Master was dead. . . .

Men still sit at little desks remote from God or life, and rack
their inadequate brains to meet fancied difficulties and state
unnecessary perfections. They seek God by logic, ignoring the
marginal error that creeps into every syllogism. Their conceit
blinds them to the limitations upon their thinking. They weave
spider-like webs of muddle and disputation across the path by which
men come to God. It would not matter very much if it were not that
simpler souls are caught in these webs. Every great religious
system in the world is choked by such webs; each system has its own.
Of all the blood-stained tangled heresies which make up doctrinal
Christianity and imprison the mind of the western world to-day, not
one seems to have been known to the nominal founder of Christianity.
Jesus Christ never certainly claimed to be the Messiah; never spoke
clearly of the Trinity; was vague upon the scheme of salvation and
the significance of his martyrdom. We are asked to suppose that he
left his apostles without instructions, that were necessary to their
eternal happiness, that he could give them the Lord's Prayer but
leave them to guess at the all-important Creed,* and that the Church
staggered along blindly, putting its foot in and out of damnation,
until the "experts" of Nicaea, that "garland of priests," marshalled
by Constantine's officials, came to its rescue. . . . From the
conversion of Paul onward, the heresies of the intellect multiplied
about Christ's memory and hid him from the sight of men. We are no
longer clear about the doctrine he taught nor about the things he
said and did. . . .

* Even the "Apostles' Creed" is not traceable earlier than the
fourth century. It is manifestly an old, patched formulary.
Rutinius explains that it was not written down for a long time, but
transmitted orally, kept secret, and used as a sort of password
among the elect.

We are all so weary of this theology of the Christians, we are all
at heart so sceptical about their Triune God, that it is needless
here to spend any time or space upon the twenty thousand different
formulae in which the orthodox have attempted to believe in
something of the sort. There are several useful encyclopaedias of
sects and heresies, compact, but still bulky, to which the curious
may go. There are ten thousand different expositions of orthodoxy.
No one who really seeks God thinks of the Trinity, either the
Trinity of the Trinitarian or the Trinity of the Sabellian or the
Trinity of the Arian, any more than one thinks of those theories
made stone, those gods with three heads and seven hands, who sit on
lotus leaves and flourish lingams and what not, in the temples of
India. Let us leave, therefore, these morbid elaborations of the
human intelligence to drift to limbo, and come rather to the natural
heresies that spring from fundamental weaknesses of the human
character, and which are common to all religions. Against these it
is necessary to keep constant watch. They return very insidiously.


One of the most universal of these natural misconceptions of God is
to consider him as something magic serving the ends of men.

It is not easy for us to grasp at first the full meaning of giving
our souls to God. The missionary and teacher of any creed is all
too apt to hawk God for what he will fetch; he is greedy for the
poor triumph of acquiescence; and so it comes about that many people
who have been led to believe themselves religious, are in reality
still keeping back their own souls and trying to use God for their
own purposes. God is nothing more for them as yet than a
magnificent Fetish. They did not really want him, but they have
heard that he is potent stuff; their unripe souls think to make use
of him. They call upon his name, they do certain things that are
supposed to be peculiarly influential with him, such as saying
prayers and repeating gross praises of him, or reading in a blind,
industrious way that strange miscellany of Jewish and early
Christian literature, the Bible, and suchlike mental mortification,
or making the Sabbath dull and uncomfortable. In return for these
fetishistic propitiations God is supposed to interfere with the
normal course of causation in their favour. He becomes a celestial
log-roller. He remedies unfavourable accidents, cures petty
ailments, contrives unexpected gifts of medicine, money, or the
like, he averts bankruptcies, arranges profitable transactions, and
does a thousand such services for his little clique of faithful
people. The pious are represented as being constantly delighted by
these little surprises, these bouquets and chocolate boxes from the
divinity. Or contrawise he contrives spiteful turns for those who
fail in their religious attentions. He murders Sabbath-breaking
children, or disorganises the careful business schemes of the
ungodly. He is represented as going Sabbath-breakering on Sunday
morning as a Staffordshire worker goes ratting. Ordinary everyday
Christianity is saturated with this fetishistic conception of God.
It may be disowned in THE HIBBERT JOURNAL, but it is unblushingly
advocated in the parish magazine. It is an idea taken over by
Christianity with the rest of the qualities of the Hebrew God. It
is natural enough in minds so self-centred that their recognition of
weakness and need brings with it no real self-surrender, but it is
entirely inconsistent with the modern conception of the true God.

There has dropped upon the table as I write a modest periodical
portraits of various clergymen of the Church of England, and of
ladies and gentlemen who belong to the little school of thought
which this magazine represents; it is, I should judge, a sub-sect
entirely within the Established Church of England, that is to say
within the Anglican communion of the Trinitarian Christians. It
contains among other papers a very entertaining summary by a
gentleman entitled--I cite the unusual title-page of the periodical--
"Landseer Mackenzie, Esq.," of the views of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and
Obadiah upon the Kaiser William. They are distinctly hostile views.
Mr. Landseer Mackenzie discourses not only upon these anticipatory
condemnations but also upon the relations of the weather to this
war. He is convinced quite simply and honestly that God has been
persistently rigging the weather against the Germans. He points out
that the absence of mist on the North Sea was of great help to the
British in the autumn of 1914, and declares that it was the wet
state of the country that really held up the Germans in Flanders in
the winter of 1914-15. He ignores the part played by the weather in
delaying the relief of Kut-el-Amara, and he has not thought of the
difficult question why the Deity, having once decided upon
intervention, did not, instead of this comparatively trivial
meteorological assistance, adopt the more effective course of, for
example, exploding or spoiling the German stores of ammunition by
some simple atomic miracle, or misdirecting their gunfire by a
sudden local modification of the laws of refraction or gravitation.

Since these views of God come from Anglican vicarages I can only
conclude that this kind of belief is quite orthodox and permissible
in the established church, and that I am charging orthodox
Christianity here with nothing that has ever been officially
repudiated. I find indeed the essential assumptions of Mr. Landseer
Mackenzie repeated in endless official Christian utterances on the
part of German and British and Russian divines. The Bishop of
Chelmsford, for example, has recently ascribed our difficulties in
the war to our impatience with long sermons--among other similar
causes. Such Christians are manifestly convinced that God can be
invoked by ritual--for example by special days of national prayer or
an increased observance of Sunday--or made malignant by neglect or
levity. It is almost fundamental in their idea of him. The
ordinary Mohammedan seems as confident of this magic pettiness of
God, and the belief of China in the magic propitiations and
resentments of "Heaven" is at least equally strong.

But the true God as those of the new religion know him is no such
God of luck and intervention. He is not to serve men's ends or the
ends of nations or associations of men; he is careless of our
ceremonies and invocations. He does not lose his temper with our
follies and weaknesses. It is for us to serve Him. He captains us,
he does not coddle us. He has his own ends for which he needs
us. . . .


Closely related to this heresy that God is magic, is the heresy that
calls him Providence, that declares the apparent adequacy of cause
and effect to be a sham, and that all the time, incalculably, he is
pulling about the order of events for our personal advantages.

The idea of Providence was very gaily travested by Daudet in
"Tartarin in the Alps." You will remember how Tartarin's friend
assured him that all Switzerland was one great Trust, intent upon
attracting tourists and far too wise and kind to permit them to
venture into real danger, that all the precipices were netted
invisibly, and all the loose rocks guarded against falling, that
avalanches were prearranged spectacles and the crevasses at their
worst slippery ways down into kindly catchment bags. If the
mountaineer tried to get into real danger he was turned back by
specious excuses. Inspired by this persuasion Tartarin behaved with
incredible daring. . . . That is exactly the Providence theory of
the whole world. There can be no doubt that it does enable many a
timid soul to get through life with a certain recklessness. And
provided there is no slip into a crevasse, the Providence theory
works well. It would work altogether well if there were no

Tartarin was reckless because of his faith in Providence, and
escaped. But what would have happened to him if he had fallen into
a crevasse?

There exists a very touching and remarkable book by Sir Francis
Younghusband called "Within." [Williams and Norgate, 1912.] It is
the confession of a man who lived with a complete confidence in
Providence until he was already well advanced in years. He went
through battles and campaigns, he filled positions of great honour
and responsibility, he saw much of the life of men, without
altogether losing his faith. The loss of a child, an Indian famine,
could shake it but not overthrow it. Then coming back one day from
some races in France, he was knocked down by an automobile and hurt
very cruelly. He suffered terribly in body and mind. His
sufferings caused much suffering to others. He did his utmost to
see the hand of a loving Providence in his and their disaster and
the torment it inflicted, and being a man of sterling honesty and a
fine essential simplicity of mind, he confessed at last that he
could not do so. His confidence in the benevolent intervention of
God was altogether destroyed. His book tells of this shattering,
and how labouriously he reconstructed his religion upon less
confident lines. It is a book typical of an age and of a very
English sort of mind, a book well worth reading.

That he came to a full sense of the true God cannot be asserted, but
how near he came to God, let one quotation witness.

"The existence of an outside Providence," he writes, "who created
us, who watches over us, and who guides our lives like a Merciful
Father, we have found impossible longer to believe in. But of the
existence of a Holy Spirit radiating upward through all animate
beings, and finding its fullest expression, in man in love, and in
the flowers in beauty, we can be as certain as of anything in the
world. This fiery spiritual impulsion at the centre and the source
of things, ever burning in us, is the supremely important factor in
our existence. It does not always attain to light. In many
directions it fails; the conditions are too hard and it is utterly
blocked. In others it only partially succeeds. But in a few it
bursts forth into radiant light. There are few who in some heavenly
moment of their lives have not been conscious of its presence. We
may not be able to give it outward expression, but we know that it
is there." . . .

God does not guide our feet. He is no sedulous governess
restraining and correcting the wayward steps of men. If you would
fly into the air, there is no God to bank your aeroplane correctly
for you or keep an ill-tended engine going; if you would cross a
glacier, no God nor angel guides your steps amidst the slippery
places. He will not even mind your innocent children for you if you
leave them before an unguarded fire. Cherish no delusions; for
yourself and others you challenge danger and chance on your own
strength; no talisman, no God, can help you or those you care for.
Nothing of such things will God do; it is an idle dream. But God
will be with you nevertheless. In the reeling aeroplane or the dark
ice-cave God will be your courage. Though you suffer or are killed,
it is not an end. He will be with you as you face death; he will
die with you as he has died already countless myriads of brave
deaths. He will come so close to you that at the last you will not
know whether it is you or he who dies, and the present death will be
swallowed up in his victory.


God comes to us within and takes us for his own. He releases us
from ourselves; he incorporates us with his own undying experience
and adventure; he receives us and gives himself. He is a stimulant;
he makes us live immortally and more abundantly. I have compared
him to the sensation of a dear, strong friend who comes and stands
quietly beside one, shoulder to shoulder.

The finding of God is the beginning of service. It is not an escape
from life and action; it is the release of life and action from the
prison of the mortal self. Not to realise that, is the heresy of
Quietism, of many mystics. Commonly such people are people of some
wealth, able to command services for all their everyday needs. They
make religion a method of indolence. They turn their backs on the
toil and stresses of existence and give themselves up to a delicious
reverie in which they flirt with the divinity. They will recount
their privileges and ecstasies, and how ingeniously and wonderfully
God has tried and proved them. But indeed the true God was not the
lover of Madame Guyon. The true God is not a spiritual troubadour
wooing the hearts of men and women to no purpose. The true God goes
through the world like fifes and drums and flags, calling for
recruits along the street. We must go out to him. We must accept
his discipline and fight his battle. The peace of God comes not by
thinking about it but by forgetting oneself in him.


Man is a social animal, and there is in him a great faculty for
moral indignation. Many of the early Gods were mainly Gods of Fear.
They were more often "wrath" than not. Such was the temperament of
the Semitic deity who, as the Hebrew Jehovah, proliferated, perhaps
under the influence of the Alexandrian Serapeum, into the Christian
Trinity and who became also the Moslem God.* The natural hatred of
unregenerate men against everything that is unlike themselves,
against strange people and cheerful people, against unfamiliar
usages and things they do not understand, embodied itself in this
conception of a malignant and partisan Deity, perpetually "upset" by
the little things people did, and contriving murder and vengeance.
Now this God would be drowning everybody in the world, now he would
be burning Sodom and Gomorrah, now he would be inciting his
congenial Israelites to the most terrific pogroms. This divine
"frightfulness" is of course the natural human dislike and distrust
for queer practices or for too sunny a carelessness, a dislike
reinforced by the latent fierceness of the ape in us, liberating the
latent fierceness of the ape in us, giving it an excuse and pressing
permission upon it, handing the thing hated and feared over to its
secular arm. . . .

* It is not so generally understood as it should be among English
and American readers that a very large proportion of early
Christians before the creeds established and regularised the
doctrine of the Trinity, denied absolutely that Jehovah was God;
they regarded Christ as a rebel against Jehovah and a rescuer of
humanity from him, just as Prometheus was a rebel against Jove.
These beliefs survived for a thousand years throughout Christendom:
they were held by a great multitude of persecuted sects, from the
Albigenses and Cathars to the eastern Paulicians. The catholic
church found it necessary to prohibit the circulation of the Old
Testament among laymen very largely on account of the polemics of
the Cathars against the Hebrew God. But in this book, be it noted,
the word Christian, when it is not otherwise defined, is used to
indicate only the Trinitarians who accept the official creeds.

It is a human paradox that the desire for seemliness, the instinct
for restraints and fair disciplines, and the impulse to cherish
sweet familiar things, that these things of the True God should so
readily liberate cruelty and tyranny. It is like a woman going with
a light to tend and protect her sleeping child, and setting the
house on fire. None the less, right down to to-day, the heresy of
God the Revengeful, God the Persecutor and Avenger, haunts religion.
It is only in quite recent years that the growing gentleness of
everyday life has begun to make men a little ashamed of a Deity less
tolerant and gentle than themselves. The recent literature of the
Anglicans abounds in the evidence of this trouble.

Bishop Colenso of Natal was prosecuted and condemned in 1863 for
denying the irascibility of his God and teaching "the Kaffirs of
Natal" the dangerous heresy that God is all mercy. "We cannot allow
it to be said," the Dean of Cape Town insisted, "that God was not
angry and was not appeased by punishment." He was angry "on account
of Sin, which is a great evil and a great insult to His Majesty."
The case of the Rev. Charles Voysey, which occurred in 1870, was a
second assertion of the Church's insistence upon the fierceness of
her God. This case is not to be found in the ordinary church
histories nor is it even mentioned in the latest edition of the
ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA; nevertheless it appears to have been a
very illuminating case. It is doubtful if the church would
prosecute or condemn either Bishop Colenso or Mr. Voysey to-day.


Closely related to the Heresy of God the Avenger, is that kind of
miniature God the Avenger, to whom the nursery-maid and the
overtaxed parent are so apt to appeal. You stab your children with
such a God and he poisons all their lives. For many of us the word
"God" first came into our lives to denote a wanton, irrational
restraint, as Bogey, as the All-Seeing and quite ungenerous Eye.
God Bogey is a great convenience to the nursery-maid who wants to
leave Fear to mind her charges and enforce her disciplines, while
she goes off upon her own aims. But indeed, the teaching of God
Bogey is an outrage upon the soul of a child scarcely less dreadful
than an indecent assault. The reason rebels and is crushed under
this horrible and pursuing suggestion. Many minds never rise again
from their injury. They remain for the rest of life spiritually
crippled and debased, haunted by a fear, stained with a persuasion
of relentless cruelty in the ultimate cause of all things.

I, who write, was so set against God, thus rendered. He and his
Hell were the nightmare of my childhood; I hated him while I still
believed in him, and who could help but hate? I thought of him as a
fantastic monster, perpetually spying, perpetually listening,
perpetually waiting to condemn and to "strike me dead"; his flames
as ready as a grill-room fire. He was over me and about my
feebleness and silliness and forgetfulness as the sky and sea would
be about a child drowning in mid-Atlantic. When I was still only a
child of thirteen, by the grace of the true God in me, I flung this
Lie out of my mind, and for many years, until I came to see that God
himself had done this thing for me, the name of God meant nothing to
me but the hideous scar in my heart where a fearful demon had been.

I see about me to-day many dreadful moral and mental cripples with
this bogey God of the nursery-maid, with his black, insane revenges,
still living like a horrible parasite in their hearts in the place
where God should be. They are afraid, afraid, afraid; they dare not
be kindly to formal sinners, they dare not abandon a hundred foolish
observances; they dare not look at the causes of things. They are
afraid of sunshine, of nakedness, of health, of adventure, of
science, lest that old watching spider take offence. The voice of
the true God whispers in their hearts, echoes in speech and writing,
but they avert themselves, fear-driven. For the true God has no
lash of fear. And how the foul-minded bigot, with his ill-shaven
face, his greasy skin, his thick, gesticulating hands, his
bellowings and threatenings, loves to reap this harvest of fear the
ignorant cunning of the nursery girl has sown for him! How he loves
the importance of denunciation, and, himself a malignant cripple, to
rally the company of these crippled souls to persecute and destroy
the happy children of God! . . .

Christian priestcraft turns a dreadful face to children. There is a
real wickedness of the priest that is different from other
wickedness, and that affects a reasonable mind just as cruelty and
strange perversions of instinct affect it. Let a former Archbishop
of Canterbury speak for me. This that follows is the account given
by Archbishop Tait in a debate in the Upper House of Convocation
(July 3rd, 1877) of one of the publications of a certain SOCIETY OF

"I take this book, as its contents show, to be meant for the
instruction of very young children. I find, in one of the pages of
it, the statement that between the ages of six and six and a half
years would be the proper time for the inculcation of the teaching
which is to be found in the book. Now, six to six and a half is
certainly a very tender age, and to these children I find these
statements addressed in the book:

"'It is to the priest, and to the priest only, that the child must
acknowledge his sins, if he desires that God should forgive him.'

"I hope and trust the person, the three clergymen, or however many
there were, did not exactly realise what they were writing; that
they did not mean to say that a child was not to confess its sins to
God direct; that it was not to confess its sins, at the age of six,
to its mother, or to its father, but was only to have recourse to
the priest. But the words, to say the least of them, are rash.
Then comes the very obvious question:

"'Do you know why? It is because God, when he was on earth, gave to
his priests, and to them alone, the Divine Power of forgiving men
their sins. It was to priests alone that Jesus said: "Receive ye
the Holy Ghost." . . . Those who will not confess will not be
cured. Sin is a terrible sickness, and casts souls into hell.'

"That is addressed to a child six years of age.

"'I have known,' the book continues, 'poor children who concealed
their sins in confession for years; they were very unhappy, were
tormented with remorse, and if they had died in that state they
would certainly have gone to the everlasting fires of hell.'" . . .

Now here is something against nature, something that I have seen
time after time in the faces and bearing of priests and heard in
their preaching. It is a distinct lust. Much nobility and devotion
there are among priests, saintly lives and kindly lives, lives of
real worship, lives no man may better; this that I write is not of
all, perhaps not of many priests. But there has been in all ages
that have known sacerdotalism this terrible type of the priest;
priestcraft and priestly power release an aggressive and narrow
disposition to a recklessness of suffering and a hatred of liberty
that surely exceeds the badness of any other sort of men.


Children do not naturally love God. They have no great capacity for
an idea so subtle and mature as the idea of God. While they are
still children in a home and cared for, life is too kind and easy
for them to feel any great need of God. All things are still
something God-like. . . .

The true God, our modern minds insist upon believing, can have no
appetite for unnatural praise and adoration. He does not clamour
for the attention of children. He is not like one of those senile
uncles who dream of glory in the nursery, who love to hear it said,
"The children adore him." If children are loved and trained to
truth, justice, and mutual forbearance, they will be ready for the
true God as their needs bring them within his scope. They should be
left to their innocence, and to their trust in the innocence of the
world, as long as they can be. They should be told only of God as a
Great Friend whom some day they will need more and understand and
know better. That is as much as most children need. The phrases of
religion put too early into their mouths may become a cant,
something worse than blasphemy.

Yet children are sometimes very near to God. Creative passion stirs
in their play. At times they display a divine simplicity. But it
does not follow that therefore they should be afflicted with
theological formulae or inducted into ceremonies and rites that they
may dislike or misinterpret. If by any accident, by the death of a
friend or a distressing story, the thought of death afflicts a
child, then he may begin to hear of God, who takes those that serve
him out of their slain bodies into his shining immortality. Or if
by some menial treachery, through some prowling priest, the whisper
of Old Bogey reaches our children, then we may set their minds at
ease by the assurance of his limitless charity. . . .

With adolescence comes the desire for God and to know more of God,
and that is the most suitable time for religious talk and teaching.


In the last two or three hundred years there has been a very
considerable disentanglement of the idea of God from the complex of
sexual thought and feeling. But in the early days of religion the
two things were inseparably bound together; the fury of the Hebrew
prophets, for example, is continually proclaiming the extraordinary
"wrath" of their God at this or that little dirtiness or
irregularity or breach of the sexual tabus. The ceremony of
circumcision is clearly indicative of the original nature of the
Semitic deity who developed into the Trinitarian God. So far as
Christianity dropped this rite, so far Christianity disavowed the
old associations. But to this day the representative Christian
churches still make marriage into a mystical sacrament, and, with
some exceptions, the Roman communion exacts the sacrifice of
celibacy from its priesthood, regardless of the mischievousness and
maliciousness that so often ensue. Nearly every Christian church
inflicts as much discredit and injustice as it can contrive upon the
illegitimate child. They do not treat illegitimate children as
unfortunate children, but as children with a mystical and an
incurable taint of SIN. Kindly easy-going Christians may resent
this statement because it does not tally with their own attitudes,
but let them consult their orthodox authorities.

One must distinguish clearly here between what is held to be sacred
or sinful in itself and what is held to be one's duty or a nation's
duty because it is in itself the wisest, cleanest, clearest, best
thing to do. By the latter tests and reasonable arguments most or
all of our institutions regulating the relations of the sexes may be
justifiable. But my case is not whether they can be justified by
these tests but that it is not by these tests that they are judged
even to-day, by the professors of the chief religions of the world.
It is the temper and not the conclusions of the religious bodies
that I would criticise. These sexual questions are guarded by a
holy irascibility, and the most violent efforts are made--with a
sense of complete righteousness--to prohibit their discussion. That
fury about sexual things is only to be explained on the hypothesis
that the Christian God remains a sex God in the minds of great
numbers of his exponents. His disentanglement from that plexus is
incomplete. Sexual things are still to the orthodox Christian,
sacred things.

Now the God whom those of the new faith are finding is only
mediately concerned with the relations of men and women. He is no
more sexual essentially than he is essentially dietetic or hygienic.
The God of Leviticus was all these things. He is represented as
prescribing the most petty and intimate of observances--many of
which are now habitually disregarded by the Christians who profess
him. . . . It is part of the evolution of the idea of God that we
have now so largely disentangled our conception of him from the
dietary and regimen and meticulous sexual rules that were once
inseparably bound up with his majesty. Christ himself was one of
the chief forces in this disentanglement, there is the clearest
evidence in several instances of his disregard of the rule and his
insistence that his disciples should seek for the spirit underlying
and often masked by the rule. His Church, being made of baser
matter, has followed him as reluctantly as possible and no further
than it was obliged. But it has followed him far enough to admit
his principle that in all these matters there is no need for
superstitious fear, that the interpretation of the divine purpose is
left to the unembarrassed intelligence of men. The church has
followed him far enough to make the harsh threatenings of priests
and ecclesiastics against what they are pleased to consider impurity
or sexual impiety, a profound inconsistency. One seems to hear
their distant protests when one reads of Christ and the Magdalen, or
of Christ eating with publicans and sinners. The clergy of our own
days play the part of the New Testament Pharisees with the utmost
exactness and complete unconsciousness. One cannot imagine a modern
ecclesiastic conversing with a Magdalen in terms of ordinary
civility, unless she was in a very high social position indeed, or
blending with disreputable characters without a dramatic sense of
condescension and much explanatory by-play. Those who profess
modern religion do but follow in these matters a course entirely
compatible with what has survived of the authentic teachings of
Christ, when they declare that God is not sexual, and that religious
passion and insult and persecution upon the score of sexual things
are a barbaric inheritance.

But lest anyone should fling off here with some hasty assumption
that those who profess the religion of the true God are sexually
anarchistic, let stress be laid at once upon the opening sentence of
the preceding paragraph, and let me a little anticipate a section
which follows. We would free men and women from exact and
superstitious rules and observances, not to make them less the
instruments of God but more wholly his. The claim of modern
religion is that one should give oneself unreservedly to God, that
there is no other salvation. The believer owes all his being and
every moment of his life to God, to keep mind and body as clean,
fine, wholesome, active and completely at God's service as he can.
There is no scope for indulgence or dissipation in such a
consecrated life. It is a matter between the individual and his
conscience or his doctor or his social understanding what exactly he
may do or not do, what he may eat or drink or so forth, upon any
occasion. Nothing can exonerate him from doing his utmost to
determine and perform the right act. Nothing can excuse his failure
to do so. But what is here being insisted upon is that none of
these things has immediately to do with God or religious emotion,
except only the general will to do right in God's service. The
detailed interpretation of that "right" is for the dispassionate
consideration of the human intelligence.

All this is set down here as distinctly as possible. Because of the
emotional reservoirs of sex, sexual dogmas are among the most
obstinately recurrent of all heresies, and sexual excitement is
always tending to leak back into religious feeling. Amongst the
sex-tormented priesthood of the Roman communion in particular,
ignorant of the extreme practices of the Essenes and of the Orphic
cult and suchlike predecessors of Christianity, there seems to be an
extraordinary belief that chastity was not invented until
Christianity came, and that the religious life is largely the
propitiation of God by feats of sexual abstinence. But a
superstitious abstinence that scars and embitters the mind, distorts
the imagination, makes the body gross and keeps it unclean, is just
as offensive to God as any positive depravity.




Now having set down what those who profess the new religion regard
as the chief misconceptions of God, having put these systems of
ideas aside from our explanations, the path is cleared for the
statement of what God is. Since language springs entirely from
material, spatial things, there is always an element of metaphor in
theological statement. So that I have not called this chapter the
Nature of God, but the Likeness of God.

And firstly, GOD IS COURAGE.



Upon this point those who are beginning to profess modern religion
are very insistent. It is, they declare, the central article, the
axis, of their religion. God is a person who can be known as one
knows a friend, who can be served and who receives service, who
partakes of our nature; who is, like us, a being in conflict with
the unknown and the limitless and the forces of death; who values
much that we value and is against much that we are pitted against.
He is our king to whom we must be loyal; he is our captain, and to
know him is to have a direction in our lives. He feels us and knows
us; he is helped and gladdened by us. He hopes and attempts. . . .
God is no abstraction nor trick of words, no Infinite. He is as
real as a bayonet thrust or an embrace.

Now this is where those who have left the old creeds and come asking
about the new realisations find their chief difficulty. They say,
Show us this person; let us hear him. (If they listen to the
silences within, presently they will hear him.) But when one
argues, one finds oneself suddenly in the net of those ancient
controversies between species and individual, between the one and
the many, which arise out of the necessarily imperfect methods of
the human mind. Upon these matters there has been much pregnant
writing during the last half century. Such ideas as this writer has
to offer are to be found in a previous little book of his, "First
and Last Things," in which, writing as one without authority or
specialisation in logic and philosophy, as an ordinary man vividly
interested, for others in a like case, he was at some pains to
elucidate the imperfections of this instrument of ours, this mind,
by which we must seek and explain and reach up to God. Suffice it
here to say that theological discussion may very easily become like
the vision of a man with cataract, a mere projection of inherent
imperfections. If we do not use our phraseology with a certain
courage, and take that of those who are trying to convey their ideas
to us with a certain politeness and charity, there is no end
possible to any discussion in so subtle and intimate a matter as
theology but assertions, denials, and wranglings. And about this
word "person" it is necessary to be as clear and explicit as
possible, though perfect clearness, a definition of mathematical
sharpness, is by the very nature of the case impossible.

Now when we speak of a person or an individual we think typically of
a man, and we forget that he was once an embryo and will presently
decay; we forget that he came of two people and may beget many, that
he has forgotten much and will forget more, that he can be confused,
divided against himself, delirious, drunken, drugged, or asleep. On
the contrary we are, in our hasty way of thinking of him, apt to
suppose him continuous, definite, acting consistently and never
forgetting. But only abstract and theoretical persons are like
that. We couple with him the idea of a body. Indeed, in the common
use of the word "person" there is more thought of body than of mind.
We speak of a lover possessing the person of his mistress. We speak
of offences against the person as opposed to insults, libels, or
offences against property. And the gods of primitive men and the
earlier civilisations were quite of that quality of person. They
were thought of as living in very splendid bodies and as acting
consistently. If they were invisible in the ordinary world it was
because they were aloof or because their "persons" were too splendid
for weak human eyes. Moses was permitted a mitigated view of the
person of the Hebrew God on Mount Horeb; and Semele, who insisted
upon seeing Zeus in the glories that were sacred to Juno, was
utterly consumed. The early Islamic conception of God, like the
conception of most honest, simple Christians to-day, was clearly, in
spite of the theologians, of a very exalted anthropomorphic
personality away somewhere in Heaven. The personal appearance of
the Christian God is described in The Revelation, and however much
that description may be explained away by commentators as
symbolical, it is certainly taken by most straightforward believers
as a statement of concrete reality. Now if we are going to insist
upon this primary meaning of person and individual, then certainly
God as he is now conceived is not a person and not an individual.
The true God will never promenade an Eden or a Heaven, nor sit upon
a throne.

But current Christianity, modern developments of Islam, much Indian
theological thought--that, for instance, which has found such
delicate and attractive expression in the devotional poetry of
Rabindranath Tagore--has long since abandoned this anthropomorphic
insistence upon a body. From the earliest ages man's mind has found
little or no difficulty in the idea of something essential to the
personality, a soul or a spirit or both, existing apart from the
body and continuing after the destruction of the body, and being
still a person and an individual. From this it is a small step to
the thought of a person existing independently of any existing or
pre-existing body. That is the idea of theological Christianity, as
distinguished from the Christianity of simple faith. The Triune
Persons--omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent--exist for all
time, superior to and independent of matter. They are supremely
disembodied. One became incarnate--as a wind eddy might take up a
whirl of dust. . . . Those who profess modern religion conceive
that this is an excessive abstraction of the idea of spirituality, a
disembodiment of the idea of personality beyond the limits of the
conceivable; nevertheless they accept the conception that a person,
a spiritual individual, may be without an ordinary mortal body. . . .
They declare that God is without any specific body, that he is
immaterial, that he can affect the material universe--and that means
that he can only reach our sight, our hearing, our touch--through
the bodies of those who believe in him and serve him.

His nature is of the nature of thought and will. Not only has he,
in his essence, nothing to do with matter, but nothing to do with
space. He is not of matter nor of space. He comes into them.
Since the period when all the great theologies that prevail to-day
were developed, there have been great changes in the ideas of men
towards the dimensions of time and space. We owe to Kant the
release from the rule of these ideas as essential ideas. Our modern
psychology is alive to the possibility of Being that has no
extension in space at all, even as our speculative geometry can
entertain the possibility of dimensions--fourth, fifth, Nth
dimensions--outside the three-dimensional universe of our
experience. And God being non-spatial is not thereby banished to an
infinite remoteness, but brought nearer to us; he is everywhere
immediately at hand, even as a fourth dimension would be everywhere
immediately at hand. He is a Being of the minds and in the minds of
men. He is in immediate contact with all who apprehend him. . . .

But modern religion declares that though he does not exist in matter
or space, he exists in time just as a current of thought may do;
that he changes and becomes more even as a man's purpose gathers
itself together; that somewhere in the dawning of mankind he had a
beginning, an awakening, and that as mankind grows he grows. With
our eyes he looks out upon the universe he invades; with our hands,
he lays hands upon it. All our truth, all our intentions and
achievements, he gathers to himself. He is the undying human
memory, the increasing human will.

But this, you may object, is no more than saying that God is the
collective mind and purpose of the human race. You may declare that
this is no God, but merely the sum of mankind. But those who
believe in the new ideas very steadfastly deny that. God is, they
say, not an aggregate but a synthesis. He is not merely the best of
all of us, but a Being in himself, composed of that but more than
that, as a temple is more than a gathering of stones, or a regiment
is more than an accumulation of men. They point out that a man is
made up of a great multitude of cells, each equivalent to a
unicellular organism. Not one of those cells is he, nor is he
simply just the addition of all of them. He is more than all of
them. You can take away these and these and these, and he still
remains. And he can detach part of himself and treat it as if it
were not himself, just as a man may beat his breast or, as Cranmer
the martyr did, thrust his hand into the flames. A man is none the
less himself because his hair is cut or his appendix removed or his
leg amputated.

And take another image. . . . Who bears affection for this or that
spadeful of mud in my garden? Who cares a throb of the heart for
all the tons of chalk in Kent or all the lumps of limestone in
Yorkshire? But men love England, which is made up of such things.

And so we think of God as a synthetic reality, though he has neither
body nor material parts. And so too we may obey him and listen to
him, though we think but lightly of the men whose hands or voices he
sometimes uses. And we may think of him as having moods and
aspects--as a man has--and a consistency we call his character.

These are theorisings about God. These are statements to convey
this modern idea of God. This, we say, is the nature of the person
whose will and thoughts we serve. No one, however, who understands
the religious life seeks conversion by argument. First one must
feel the need of God, then one must form or receive an acceptable
idea of God. That much is no more than turning one's face to the
east to see the coming of the sun. One may still doubt if that
direction is the east or whether the sun will rise. The real coming
of God is not that. It is a change, an irradiation of the mind.
Everything is there as it was before, only now it is aflame.
Suddenly the light fills one's eyes, and one knows that God has
risen and that doubt has fled for ever.


The third thing to be told of the true God is that GOD IS YOUTH.

God, we hold, began and is always beginning. He looks forever into
the future.

Most of the old religions derive from a patriarchal phase. God is
in those systems the Ancient of Days. I know of no Christian
attempt to represent or symbolise God the Father which is not a
bearded, aged man. White hair, beard, bearing, wrinkles, a hundred
such symptoms of senile decay are there. These marks of senility do
not astonish our modern minds in the picture of God, only because
tradition and usage have blinded our eyes to the absurdity of a
time-worn immortal. Jove too and Wotan are figures far past the
prime of their vigour. These are gods after the ancient habit of
the human mind, that turned perpetually backward for causes and
reasons and saw all things to come as no more than the working out
of Fate,--

"Of Man's first disobedience and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world and all our woe."

But the God of this new age, we repeat, looks not to our past but
our future, and if a figure may represent him it must be the figure
of a beautiful youth, already brave and wise, but hardly come to his
strength. He should stand lightly on his feet in the morning time,
eager to go forward, as though he had but newly arisen to a day that
was still but a promise; he should bear a sword, that clean,
discriminating weapon, his eyes should be as bright as swords; his
lips should fall apart with eagerness for the great adventure before
him, and he should be in very fresh and golden harness, reflecting
the rising sun. Death should still hang like mists and cloud banks
and shadows in the valleys of the wide landscape about him. There
should be dew upon the threads of gossamer and little leaves and
blades of the turf at his feet. . . .


One of the sayings about God that have grown at the same time most
trite and most sacred, is that God is Love. This is a saying that
deserves careful examination. Love is a word very loosely used;
there are people who will say they love new potatoes; there are a
multitude of loves of different colours and values. There is the
love of a mother for her child, there is the love of brothers, there
is the love of youth and maiden, and the love of husband and wife,
there is illicit love and the love one bears one's home or one's
country, there are dog-lovers and the loves of the Olympians, and
love which is a passion of jealousy. Love is frequently a mere
blend of appetite and preference; it may be almost pure greed; it
may have scarcely any devotion nor be a whit self-forgetful nor
generous. It is possible so to phrase things that the furtive
craving of a man for another man's wife may be made out to be a
light from God. Yet about all the better sorts of love, the sorts
of love that people will call "true love," there is something of
that same exaltation out of the narrow self that is the essential
quality of the knowledge of God.

Only while the exaltation of the love passion comes and goes, the
exaltation of religious passion comes to remain. Lovers are the
windows by which we may look out of the prison of self, but God is
the open door by which we freely go. And God never dies, nor
disappoints, nor betrays.

The love of a woman and a man has usually, and particularly in its
earlier phases of excitement, far too much desire, far too much
possessiveness and exclusiveness, far too much distrust or forced
trust, and far too great a kindred with jealousy to be like the love
of God. The former is a dramatic relationship that drifts to a
climax, and then again seeks presently a climax, and that may be
satiated or fatigued. But the latter is far more like the love of
comrades, or like the love of a man and a woman who have loved and
been through much trouble together, who have hurt one another and
forgiven, and come to a complete and generous fellowship. There is
a strange and beautiful love that men tell of that will spring up on
battlefields between sorely wounded men, and often they are men who
have fought together, so that they will do almost incredibly brave
and tender things for one another, though but recently they have
been trying to kill each other. There is often a pure exaltation of
feeling between those who stand side by side manfully in any great
stress. These are the forms of love that perhaps come nearest to
what we mean when we speak of the love of God.

That is man's love of God, but there is also something else; there
is the love God bears for man in the individual believer. Now this
is not an indulgent, instinctive, and sacrificing love like the love
of a woman for her baby. It is the love of the captain for his men;
God must love his followers as a great captain loves his men, who
are so foolish, so helpless in themselves, so confiding, and yet
whose faith alone makes him possible. It is an austere love. The
spirit of God will not hesitate to send us to torment and bodily
death. . . .

And God waits for us, for all of us who have the quality to reach
him. He has need of us as we of him. He desires us and desires to
make himself known to us. When at last the individual breaks
through the limiting darknesses to him, the irradiation of that
moment, the smile and soul clasp, is in God as well as in man. He
has won us from his enemy. We come staggering through into the
golden light of his kingdom, to fight for his kingdom henceforth,
until at last we are altogether taken up into his being.




It is a curious thing that while most organised religions seem to
drape about and conceal and smother the statement of the true God,
the honest Atheist, with his passionate impulse to strip the truth
bare, is constantly and unwittingly reproducing the divine likeness.
It will be interesting here to call a witness or so to the extreme
instability of absolute negation.

Here, for example, is a deliverance from Professor Metchnikoff, who
was a very typical antagonist of all religion. He died only the
other day. He was a very great physiologist indeed; he was a man
almost of the rank and quality of Pasteur or Charles Darwin. A
decade or more ago he wrote a book called "The Nature of Man," in
which he set out very plainly a number of illuminating facts about
life. They are facts so illuminating that presently, in our
discussion of sin, they will be referred to again. But it is not
Professor Metchnikoff's intention to provide material for a
religious discussion. He sets out his facts in order to overthrow
theology as he conceives it. The remarkable thing about his book,
the thing upon which I would now lay stress, is that he betrays no
inkling of the fact that he has no longer the right to conceive
theology as he conceives it. The development of his science has
destroyed that right.

He does not realise how profoundly modern biology has affected our
ideas of individuality and species, and how the import of theology
is modified through these changes. When he comes from his own world
of modern biology to religion and philosophy he goes back in time.
He attacks religion as he understood it when first he fell out with
it fifty years or more ago.

Let us state as compactly as possible the nature of these changes
that biological science has wrought almost imperceptibly in the
general scheme and method of our thinking.

The influence of biology upon thought in general consists
essentially in diminishing the importance of the individual and
developing the realisation of the species, as if it were a kind of
super-individual, a modifying and immortal super-individual,
maintaining itself against the outer universe by the birth and death
of its constituent individuals. Natural History, which began by
putting individuals into species as if the latter were mere
classificatory divisions, has come to see that the species has its
adventures, its history and drama, far exceeding in interest and
importance the individual adventure. "The Origin of Species" was
for countless minds the discovery of a new romance in life.

The contrast of the individual life and this specific life may be
stated plainly and compactly as follows. A little while ago we
current individuals, we who are alive now, were each of us
distributed between two parents, then between four grandparents, and
so on backward, we are temporarily assembled, as it were, out of an
ancestral diffusion; we stand our trial, and presently our
individuality is dispersed and mixed again with other
individualities in an uncertain multitude of descendants. But the
species is not like this; it goes on steadily from newness to
newness, remaining still a unity. The drama of the individual life
is a mere episode, beneficial or abandoned, in this continuing
adventure of the species. And Metchnikoff finds most of the trouble
of life and the distresses of life in the fact that the species is
still very painfully adjusting itself to the fluctuating conditions
under which it lives. The conflict of life is a continual pursuit
of adjustment, and the "ills of life," of the individual life that
is, are due to its "disharmonies." Man, acutely aware of himself as
an individual adventure and unawakened to himself as a species,
finds life jangling and distressful, finds death frustration. He
fails and falls as a person in what may be the success and triumph
of his kind. He does not apprehend the struggle or the nature of
victory, but only his own gravitation to death and personal

Now Professor Metchnikoff is anti-religious, and he is anti-
religious because to him as to so many Europeans religion is
confused with priest-craft and dogmas, is associated with
disagreeable early impressions of irrational repression and
misguidance. How completely he misconceives the quality of
religion, how completely he sees it as an individual's affair, his
own words may witness:

"Religion is still occupied with the problem of death. The
solutions which as yet it has offered cannot be regarded as
satisfactory. A future life has no single argument to support it,
and the non-existence of life after death is in consonance with the
whole range of human knowledge. On the other hand, resignation as
preached by Buddha will fail to satisfy humanity, which has a
longing for life, and is overcome by the thought of the
inevitability of death."

Now here it is clear that by death he means the individual death,
and by a future life the prolongation of individuality. But
Buddhism does not in truth appear ever to have been concerned with
that, and modern religious developments are certainly not under that
preoccupation with the narrower self. Buddhism indeed so far from
"preaching resignation" to death, seeks as its greater good a death
so complete as to be absolute release from the individual's burthen
The deeper one pursues religious thought the more nearly it
approximates to a search for escape from the self-centred life and
over-individuation, and the more it diverges from Professor
Metchnikoff's assertion of its aims. Salvation is indeed to lose
one's self. But Professor Metchnikoff having roundly denied that
this is so, is then left free to take the very essentials of the
religious life as they are here conceived and present them as if
they were the antithesis of the religious life. His book, when it
is analysed, resolves itself into just that research for an escape
from the painful accidents and chagrins of individuation, which is
the ultimate of religion.

At times, indeed, he seems almost wilfully blind to the true
solution round and about which his writing goes. He suggests as his
most hopeful satisfaction for the cravings of the human heart, such
a scientific prolongation of life that the instinct for self-
preservation will be at last extinct. If that is not the very
"resignation" he imputes to the Buddhist I do not know what it is.
He believes that an individual which has lived fully and completely
may at last welcome death with the same instinctive readiness as, in
the days of its strength, it shows for the embraces of its mate. We
are to be glutted by living to six score and ten. We are to rise
from the table at last as gladly as we sat down. We shall go to
death as unresistingly as tired children go to bed. Men are to have
a life far beyond the range of what is now considered their prime,
and their last period (won by scientific self-control) will be a
period of ripe wisdom (from seventy to eighty to a hundred and
twenty or thereabouts) and public service!

(But why, one asks, public service? Why not book-collecting or the
simple pleasure of reminiscence so dear to aged egotists?
Metchnikoff never faces that question. And again, what of the man
who is challenged to die for right at the age of thirty? What does
the prolongation of life do for him? And where are the consolations
for accidental misfortune, for the tormenting disease or the lost

But in his peroration Professor Metchnikoff lapses into pure
religiosity. The prolongation of life gives place to sheer self-
sacrifice as the fundamental "remedy." And indeed what other remedy
has ever been conceived for the general evil of life?

"On the other hand," he writes, "the knowledge that the goal of
human life can be attained only by the development of a high degree
of solidarity amongst men will restrain actual egotism. The mere
fact that the enjoyment of life according to the precepts of Solomon
(Ecelesiastes ix. 7-10)* is opposed to the goal of human life, will
lessen luxury and the evil that comes from luxury. Conviction that
science alone is able to redress the disharmonies of the human
constitution will lead directly to the improvement of education and
to the solidarity of mankind.

* Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a
merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be
always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with
the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity,
which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity
for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou
takest under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with
thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor
wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

"In progress towards the goal, nature will have to be consulted
continuously. Already, in the case of the ephemerids, nature has
produced a complete cycle of normal life ending in natural death.
In the problem of his own fate, man must not be content with the
gifts of nature; he must direct them by his own efforts. Just as he
has been able to modify the nature of animals and plants, man must
attempt to modify his own constitution, so as to readjust its
disharmonies. . . .

"To modify the human constitution, it will be necessary first, to
frame the ideal, and thereafter to set to work with all the
resources of science.

"If there can be formed an ideal able to unite men in a kind of
religion of the future, this ideal must be founded on scientific
principles. And if it be true, as has been asserted so often, that
man can live by faith alone, the faith must be in the power of

Now this, after all the flat repudiations that have preceded it of
"religion" and "philosophy" as remedies for human ills, is nothing
less than the fundamental proposition of the religious life
translated into terms of materialistic science, the proposition that
damnation is really over-individuation and that salvation is escape
from self into the larger being of life. . . .

What can this "religion of the future" be but that devotion to the
racial adventure under the captaincy of God which we have already
found, like gold in the bottom of the vessel, when we have washed
away the confusions and impurities of dogmatic religion? By an
inquiry setting out from a purely religious starting-point we have
already reached conclusions identical with this ultimate refuge of
an extreme materialist.

This altar to the Future of his, we can claim as an altar to our
God--an altar rather indistinctly inscribed.

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