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Preface to Androcles and the Lion by George Bernard Shaw

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teachings could not possibly have been realized by a series of
independent explosions of personal righteousness on the part of
the separate units of the population. Jerusalem could not have
done what even a village community cannot do, and what Robinson
Crusoe himself could not have done if his conscience, and the
stern compulsion of Nature, had not imposed a common rule on the
half dozen Robinson Crusoes who struggled within him for not
wholly compatible satisfactions. And what cannot be done in
Jerusalem or Juan Fernandez cannot be done in London, New York,
Paris, and Berlin. In short, Christianity, good or bad, right or
wrong, must perforce be left out of the question in human affairs
until it is made practically applicable to them by complicated
political devices; and to pretend that a field preacher under the
governorship of Pontius Pilate, or even Pontius Pilate himself in
council with all the wisdom of Rome, could have worked out
applications of Christianity or any other system of morals for
the twentieth century, is to shelve the subject much more
effectually than Nero and all its other persecutors ever
succeeded in doing. Personal righteousness, and the view that you
cannot make people moral by Act of Parliament, is, in fact, the
favorite defensive resort of the people who, consciously or
subconsciously, are quite determined not to have their property
meddled with by Jesus or any other reformer.


Now let us see what modern experience and modern sociology has to
say to the teaching of Jesus as summarized here. First, get rid
of your property by throwing it into the common stock. One can
hear the Pharisees of Jerusalem and Chorazin and Bethsaida
saying, "My good fellow, if you were to divide up the wealth of
Judea equally today, before the end of the year you would have
rich and poor, poverty and affluence, just as you have today; for
there will always be the idle and the industrious, the thrifty
and the wasteful, the drunken and the sober; and, as you yourself
have very justly observed, the poor we shall have always with
us." And we can hear the reply, "Woe unto you, liars and
hypocrites; for ye have this very day divided up the wealth of
the country yourselves, as must be done every day (for man liveth
not otherwise than from hand to mouth, nor can fish and eggs
endure for ever); and ye have divided it unjustly; also ye have
said that my reproach to you for having the poor always with you
was a law unto you that this evil should persist and stink in the
nostrils of God to all eternity; wherefore I think that Lazarus
will yet see you beside Dives in hell." Modern Capitalism has
made short work of the primitive pleas for inequality. The
Pharisees themselves have organized communism in capital. Joint
stock is the order of the day. An attempt to return to individual
properties as the basis of our production would smash
civilization more completely than ten revolutions. You cannot get
the fields tilled today until the farmer becomes a co-operator.
Take the shareholder to his railway, and ask him to point out to
you the particular length of rail, the particular seat in the
railway carriage, the particular lever in the engine that is his
very own and nobody else's; and he will shun you as a madman,
very wisely. And if, like Ananias and Sapphira, you try to hold
back your little shop or what not from the common stock,
represented by the Trust, or Combine, or Kartel, the Trust will
presently freeze you out and rope you in and finally strike you
dead industrially as thoroughly as St. Peter himself. There is no
longer any practical question open as to Communism in production:
the struggle today is over the distribution of the product: that
is, over the daily dividing-up which is the first necessity of
organized society.


Now it needs no Christ to convince anybody today that our system
of distribution is wildly and monstrously wrong. We have
million-dollar babies side by side with paupers worn out by a
long life of unremitted drudgery. One person in every five dies
in a workhouse, a public hospital, or a madhouse. In cities like
London the proportion is very nearly one in two. Naturally so
outrageous a distribution has to be effected by violence pure and
simple. If you demur, you are sold up. If you resist the selling
up you are bludgeoned and imprisoned, the process being
euphemistically called the maintenance of law and order. Iniquity
can go no further. By this time nobody who knows the figures of
the distribution defends them. The most bigoted British
Conservative hesitates to say that his king should be much poorer
than Mr. Rockefeller, or to proclaim the moral superiority of
prostitution to needlework on the ground that it pays better. The
need for a drastic redistribution of income in all civilized
countries is now as obvious and as generally admitted as the need
for sanitation.


It is when we come to the question of the proportions in which we
are to redistribute that controversy begins. We are bewildered by
an absurdly unpractical notion that in some way a man's income
should be given to him, not to enable him to live, but as a sort
of Sunday School Prize for good behavior. And this folly is
complicated by a less ridiculous but quite as unpractical belief
that it is possible to assign to each person the exact portion of
the national income that he or she has produced. To a child it
seems that the blacksmith has made a horse-shoe, and that
therefore the horse-shoe is his. But the blacksmith knows that
the horse-shoe does not belong solely to him, but to his
landlord, to the rate collector and taxgatherer, to the men from
whom he bought the iron and anvil and the coals, leaving only a
scrap of its value for himself; and this scrap he has to exchange
with the butcher and baker and the clothier for the things that
he really appropriates as living tissue or its wrappings, paying
for all of them more than their cost; for these fellow traders of
his have also their landlords and moneylenders to satisfy. If,
then, such simple and direct village examples of apparent
individual production turn out on a moment's examination to be
the products of an elaborate social organization, what is to be
said of such products as dreadnoughts, factory-made pins and
needles, and steel pens? If God takes the dreadnought in one hand
and a steel pen in the other, and asks Job who made them, and to
whom they should belong by maker's right, Job must scratch his
puzzled head with a potsherd and be dumb, unless indeed it
strikes him that God is the ultimate maker, and that all we have
a right to do with the product is to feed his lambs.


So maker's right as an alternative to taking the advice of Jesus
would not work. In practice nothing was possible in that
direction but to pay a worker by labor time so much an hour or
day or week or year. But how much? When that question came up,
the only answer was "as little as he can be starved into
accepting," with the ridiculous results already mentioned, and
the additional anomaly that the largest share went to the people
who did not work at all, and the least to those who worked
hardest. In England nine-tenths of the wealth goes into the
pockets of one-tenth of the population.


Against this comes the protest of the Sunday School theorists
"Why not distribute according to merit?" Here one imagines Jesus,
whose smile has been broadening down the ages as attempt after
attempt to escape from his teaching has led to deeper and deeper
disaster, laughing outright. Was ever so idiotic a project mooted
as the estimation of virtue in money? The London School of
Economics is, we must suppose, to set examination papers with
such questions as, "Taking the money value of the virtues of
Jesus as 100, and of Judas Iscariot as zero, give the correct
figures for, respectively, Pontius Pilate, the proprietor of the
Gadarene swine, the widow who put her mite in the poor-box, Mr.
Horatio Bottomley, Shakespear, Mr. Jack Johnson, Sir Isaac
Newton, Palestrina, Offenbach, Sir Thomas Lipton, Mr. Paul
Cinquevalli, your family doctor, Florence Nightingale, Mrs.
Siddons, your charwoman, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the
common hangman." Or "The late Mr. Barney Barnato received as his
lawful income three thousand times as much money as an English
agricultural laborer of good general character. Name the
principal virtues in which Mr. Barnato exceeded the laborer three
thousandfold; and give in figures the loss sustained by
civilization when Mr. Barnato was driven to despair and suicide
by the reduction of his multiple to one thousand." The Sunday
School idea, with its principle "to each the income he deserves"
is really too silly for discussion. Hamlet disposed of it three
hundred years ago. "Use every man after his deserts, and who
shall scape whipping?" Jesus remains unshaken as the practical
man; and we stand exposed as the fools, the blunderers, the
unpractical visionaries. The moment you try to reduce the Sunday
School idea to figures you find that it brings you back to the
hopeless plan of paying for a man's time; and your
examination paper will read "The time of Jesus was worth nothing
(he complained that the foxes had holes and the birds of the air
nests whilst he had not a place to lay his head). Dr. Crippen's
time was worth, say, three hundred and fifty pounds a year.
Criticize this arrangement; and, if you dispute its justice,
state in pounds, dollars, francs and marks, what their relative
time wages ought to have been." Your answer may be that the
question is in extremely bad taste and that you decline to answer
it. But you cannot object to being asked how many minutes of a
bookmaker's time is worth two hours of an astronomer's?


In the end you are forced to ask the question you should have
asked at the beginning. What do you give a man an income for?
Obviously to keep him alive. Since it is evident that the first
condition on which he can be kept alive without enslaving
somebody else is that he shall produce an equivalent for what it
costs to keep him alive, we may quite rationally compel him to
abstain from idling by whatever means we employ to compel him to
abstain from murder, arson, forgery, or any other crime. The one
supremely foolish thing to do with him is to do nothing; that is,
to be as idle, lazy, and heartless in dealing with him as he is
in dealing with us. Even if we provided work for him instead of
basing, as we do, our whole industrial system on successive
competitive waves of overwork with their ensuing troughs of
unemployment, we should still sternly deny him the alternative of
not doing it; for the result must be that he will become poor and
make his children poor if he has any; and poor people are cancers
in the commonwealth, costing far more than if they were
handsomely pensioned off as incurables. Jesus had more sense than
to propose anything of the sort. He said to his disciples, in
effect, "Do your work for love; and let the other people lodge
and feed and clothe you for love." Or, as we should put it
nowadays, "for nothing." All human experience and all natural
uncommercialized human aspiration point to this as the right
path. The Greeks said, "First secure an independent income; and
then practise virtue." We all strive towards an independent
income. We all know as well as Jesus did that if we have to take
thought for the morrow as to whether there shall be anything to
eat or drink it will be impossible for us to think of nobler
things, or live a higher life than that of a mole, whose life is
from beginning to end a frenzied pursuit of food. Until the
community is organized in such a way that the fear of bodily want
is forgotten as completely as the fear of wolves already is in
civilized capitals, we shall never have a decent social life.
Indeed the whole attraction of our present arrangements lies in
the fact that they do relieve a handful of us from this fear; but
as the relief is effected stupidly and wickedly by making the
favored handful parasitic on the rest, they are smitten with the
degeneracy which seems to be the inevitable biological penalty of
complete parasitism, and corrupt culture and statecraft instead
of contributing to them, their excessive leisure being as
mischievous as the excessive toil of the laborers. Anyhow, the
moral is clear. The two main problems of organized society, how
to secure the subsistence of all its members, and how to prevent
the theft of that subsistence by idlers, should be entirely
dissociated; and the practical failure of one of them to
automatically achieve the other recognized and acted on. We may
not all have Jesus's psychological power of seeing, without any
enlightenment from more modern economic phenomena, that they must
fail; but we have the hard fact before us that they do fail. The
only people who cling to the lazy delusion that it is possible to
find a just distribution that will work automatically are those
who postulate some revolutionary change like land
nationalization, which by itself would obviously only force into
greater urgency the problem of how to distribute the product of
the land among all the individuals in the community.


When that problem is at last faced, the question of the
proportion in which the national income shall be distributed can
have only one answer. All our shares must be equal. It has always
been so; it always will be so. It is true that the incomes of
robbers vary considerably from individual to individual; and the
variation is reflected in the incomes of their parasites. The
commercialization of certain exceptional talents has also
produced exceptional incomes, direct and derivative. Persons who
live on rent of land and capital are economically, though not
legally, in the category of robbers, and have grotesquely
different incomes. But in the huge mass of mankind variation Of
income from individual to individual is unknown, because it is
ridiculously impracticable. As a device for persuading a
carpenter that a judge is a creature of superior nature to
himself, to be deferred and submitted to even to the death, we
may give a carpenter a hundred pounds a year and a judge five
thousand; but the wage for one carpenter is the wage for all the
carpenters: the salary for one judge is the salary for all the


Nothing, therefore, is really in question, or ever has been, but
the differences between class incomes. Already there is economic
equality between captains, and economic equality between cabin
boys. What is at issue still is whether there shall be economic
equality between captains and cabin boys. What would Jesus have
said? Presumably he would have said that if your only object is
to produce a captain and a cabin boy for the purpose of
transferring you from Liverpool to New York, or to manoeuvre a
fleet and carry powder from the magazine to the gun, then you
need give no more than a shilling to the cabin boy for every
pound you give to the more expensively trained captain. But if in
addition to this you desire to allow the two human souls which
are inseparable from the captain and the cabin boy, and which
alone differentiate them from the donkey-engine, to develop all
their possibilities, then you may find the cabin boy costing
rather more than the captain, because cabin boy's work does not
do so much for the soul as captain's work. Consequently you will
have to give him at least as much as the captain unless you
definitely wish him to be a lower creature, in which case the
sooner you are hanged as an abortionist the better. That is the
fundamental argument.


But there are other reasons for objecting to class stratification
of income which have heaped themselves up since the time of
Jesus. In politics it defeats every form of government except
that of a necessarily corrupt oligarchy. Democracy in the most
democratic modern republics: Prance and the United States for
example, is an imposture and a delusion. It reduces justice and
law to a farce: law becomes merely an instrument for keeping the
poor in subjection; and accused workmen are tried, not by a jury
of their peers, but by conspiracies of their exploiters. The
press is the press of the rich and the curse of the poor: it
becomes dangerous to teach men to read. The priest becomes the
mere complement of the policeman in the machinery by which the
countryhouse oppresses the village. Worst of all, marriage
becomes a class affair: the infinite variety of choice which
nature offers to the young in search of a mate is narrowed to a
handful of persons of similar income; and beauty and health
become the dreams of artists and the advertisements of quacks
instead of the normal conditions of life. Society is not only
divided but actually destroyed in all directions by inequality of
income between classes: such stability as it has is due to the
huge blocks of people between whom there is equality of income.


It seems therefore that we must begin by holding the right to an
income as sacred and equal, just as we now begin by holding the
right to life as sacred and equal. Indeed the one right is only a
restatement of the other. To hang me for cutting a dock laborer's
throat after making much of me for leaving him to starve when I
do not happen to have a ship for him to unload is idiotic; for as
he does far less mischief with his throat cut than when he is
starving, a rational society would esteem the cutthroat more
highly than the capitalist. The thing has become so obvious, and
the evil so unendurable, that if our attempt at civilization is
not to perish like all the previous ones, we shall have to
organize our society in such a way as to be able to say to every
person in the land, "Take no thought, saying What shall we eat?
or What shall we drink? or Wherewithal shall we be clothed?" We
shall then no longer have a race of men whose hearts are in their
pockets and safes and at their bankers. As Jesus said, where your
treasure is, there will your heart be also. That was why he
recommended that money should cease to be a treasure, and that we
should take steps to make ourselves utterly reckless of it,
setting our minds free for higher uses. In other words, that we
should all be gentlemen and take care of our country because our
country takes care of us, instead of the commercialized cads we
are, doing everything and anything for money, and selling our
souls and bodies by the pound and the inch after wasting half the
day haggling over the price. Decidedly, whether you think Jesus
was God or not, you must admit that he was a first-rate political


He was also, as we now see, a first-rate biologist. It took a
century and a half of evolutionary preachers, from Buffon and
Goethe to Butler and Bergson, to convince us that we and our
father are one; that as the kingdom of heaven is within us we
need not go about looking for it and crying Lo here! and Lo
there!; that God is not a picture of a pompous person in white
robes in the family Bible, but a spirit; that it is through this
spirit that we evolve towards greater abundance of life; that we
are the lamps in which the light of the world burns: that, in
cohort, we are gods though we die like men. All that is today
sound biology and psychology; and the efforts of Natural
Selectionists like Weismann to reduce evolution to mere
automatism have not touched the doctrine of Jesus, though they
have made short work of the theologians who conceived God as a
magnate keeping men and angels as Lord Rothschild keeps buffaloes
and emus at Tring.


It may be asked here by some simple-minded reader why we should
not resort to crude Communism as the disciples were told to do.
This would be quite practicable in a village where production was
limited to the supply of the primitive wants which nature imposes
on all human beings alike. We know that people need bread and
boots without waiting for them to come and ask for these things
and offer to pay for them. But when civilization advances to the
point at which articles are produced that no man absolutely needs
and that only some men fancy or can use, it is necessary that
individuals should be able to have things made to their order and
at their own cost. It is safe to provide bread for everybody
because everybody wants and eats bread; but it would be absurd to
provide microscopes and trombones, pet snakes and polo mallets,
alembics and test tubes for everybody, as nine-tenths of them
would be wasted; and the nine-tenths of the population who do not
use such things would object to their being provided at all. We
have in the invaluable instrument called money a means of
enabling every individual to order and pay for the particular
things he desires over and above the things he must consume in
order to remain alive, plus the things the State insists on his
having and using whether he wants to or not; for example,
clothes, sanitary arrangements, armies and navies. In large
communities, where even the most eccentric demands for
manufactured articles average themselves out until they can be
foreseen within a negligible margin of error, direct communism
(Take what you want without payment, as the people do in Morris's
News From Nowhere) will, after a little experience, be found not
only practicable but highly economical to an extent that now
seems impossible. The sportsmen, the musicians, the physicists,
the biologists will get their apparatus for the asking as easily
as their bread, or, as at present, their paving, street lighting,
and bridges; and the deaf man will not object to contribute to
communal flutes when the musician has to contribute to communal
ear trumpets. There are cases (for example, radium) in which the
demand may be limited to the merest handful of laboratory
workers, and in which nevertheless the whole community must pay
because the price is beyond the means of any individual worker.
But even when the utmost allowance is made for extensions of
communism that now seem fabulous, there will still remain for a
long time to come regions of supply and demand in which men will
need and use money or individual credit, and for which,
therefore, they must have individual incomes. Foreign travel is
an obvious instance. We are so far from even national communism
still, that we shall probably have considerable developments of
local communism before it becomes possible for a Manchester man
to go up to London for a day without taking any money with him.
The modern practical form of the communism of Jesus is therefore,
for the present, equal distribution of the surplus of the
national income that is not absorbed by simple communism.


In dealing with crime and the family, modern thought and
experience have thrown no fresh light on the views of Jesus. When
Swift had occasion to illustrate the corruption of our
civilization by making a catalogue of the types of scoundrels it
produces, he always gave judges a conspicuous place alongside of
them they judged. And he seems to have done this not as a
restatement of the doctrine of Jesus, but as the outcome of his
own observation and judgment. One of Mr. Gilbert Chesterton's
stories has for its hero a judge who, whilst trying a criminal
case, is so overwhelmed by the absurdity of his position and the
wickedness of the things it forces him to do, that he throws off
the ermine there and then, and goes out into the world to live
the life of an honest man instead of that of a cruel idol. There
has also been a propaganda of a soulless stupidity called
Determinism, representing man as a dead object driven hither and
thither by his environment, antecedents, circumstances, and so
forth, which nevertheless does remind us that there are limits to
the number of cubits an individual can add to his stature morally
or physically, and that it is silly as well as cruel to torment a
man five feet high for not being able to pluck fruit that is
within the reach of men of average height. I have known a case of
an unfortunate child being beaten for not being able to tell the
time after receiving an elaborate explanation of the figures on a
clock dial, the fact being that she was short-sighted and
could not see them. This is a typical illustration of the
absurdities and cruelties into which we are led by the
counter-stupidity to Determinism: the doctrine of Free Will. The
notion that people can be good if they like, and that you should
give them a powerful additional motive for goodness by tormenting
them when they do evil, would soon reduce itself to absurdity if
its application were not kept within the limits which nature sets
to the self-control of most of us. Nobody supposes that a man
with no ear for music or no mathematical faculty could be
compelled on pain of death, however cruelly inflicted, to hum all
the themes of Beethoven's symphonies or to complete Newton's work
on fluxions.


Consequently such of our laws as are not merely the intimidations
by which tyrannies are maintained under pretext of law, can be
obeyed through the exercise of a quite common degree of reasoning
power and self-control. Most men and women can endure the
ordinary annoyances and disappointments of life without
committing murderous assaults. They conclude therefore that any
person can refrain from such assaults if he or she chooses to,
and proceed to reinforce self-control by threats of severe
punishment. But in this they are mistaken. There are people, some
of them possessing considerable powers of mind and body, who can
no more restrain the fury into which a trifling mishap throws
them than a dog can restrain himself from snapping if he is
suddenly and painfully pinched. People fling knives and lighted
paraffin lamps at one another in a dispute over a dinner-table.
Men who have suffered several long sentences of penal servitude
for murderous assaults will, the very day after they are
released, seize their wives and cast them under drays at an
irritating word. We have not only people who cannot resist an
opportunity of stealing for the sake of satisfying their wants,
but even people who have a specific mania for stealing, and do it
when they are in no need of the things they steal. Burglary
fascinates some men as sailoring fascinates some boys. Among
respectable people how many are there who can be restrained by
the warnings of their doctors and the lessons of experience from
eating and drinking more than is good for them? It is true that
between self-controlled people and ungovernable people there is a
narrow margin of moral malingerers who can be made to behave
themselves by the fear of consequences; but it is not worth while
maintaining an abominable system of malicious, deliberate, costly
and degrading ill-treatment of criminals for the sake of these
marginal cases. For practical dealing with crime, Determinism or
Predestination is quite a good working rule. People without
self-control enough for social purposes may be killed, or may be
kept in asylums with a view to studying their condition and
ascertaining whether it is curable. To torture them and give
ourselves virtuous airs at their expense is ridiculous and
barbarous; and the desire to do it is vindictive and cruel. And
though vindictiveness and cruelty are at least human qualities
when they are frankly proclaimed and indulged, they are loathsome
when they assume the robes of Justice. Which, I take it, is why
Shakespear's Isabella gave such a dressing-down to Judge Angelo,
and why Swift reserved the hottest corner of his hell for judges.
Also, of course, why Jesus said "Judge not that ye be not judged"
and "If any man hear my words and believe not, I judge him not"
because "he hath one that judgeth him": namely, the Father who is
one with him.

When we are robbed we generally appeal to the criminal law, not
considering that if the criminal law were effective we should not
have been robbed. That convicts us of vengeance.

I need not elaborate the argument further. I have dealt with it
sufficiently elsewhere. I have only to point out that we have
been judging and punishing ever since Jesus told us not to; and I
defy anyone to make out a convincing case for believing that the
world has been any better than it would have been if there had
never been a judge, a prison, or a gallows in it all that time.
We have simply added the misery of punishment to the misery of
crime, and the cruelty of the judge to the cruelty of the
criminal. We have taken the bad man, and made him worse by
torture and degradation, incidentally making ourselves worse in
the process. It does not seem very sensible, does it? It would
have been far easier to kill him as kindly as possible, or to
label him and leave him to his conscience, or to treat him as an
invalid or a lunatic is now treated (it is only of late years, by
the way, that madmen have been delivered from the whip, the
chain, and the cage; and this, I presume, is the form in which
the teaching of Jesus could have been put into practice.)


When we come to marriage and the family, we find Jesus making the
same objection to that individual appropriation of human beings
which is the essence of matrimony as to the individual
appropriation of wealth. A married man, he said, will try to
please his wife, and a married woman to please her husband,
instead of doing the work of God. This is another version of
"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Eighteen
hundred years later we find a very different person from Jesus,
Talleyrand to wit, saying the same thing. A married man with a
family, said Talleyrand, will do anything for money. Now this,
though not a scientifically precise statement, is true enough to
be a moral objection to marriage. As long as a man has a right to
risk his life or his livelihood for his ideas he needs only
courage and conviction to make his integrity unassailable. But he
forfeits that right when he marries. It took a revolution to
rescue Wagner from his Court appointment at Dresden; and his wife
never forgave him for being glad and feeling free when he lost it
and threw her back into poverty. Millet might have gone on
painting potboiling nudes to the end of his life if his wife had
not been of a heroic turn herself. Women, for the sake of their
children and parents, submit to slaveries and prostitutions that
no unattached woman would endure.

This was the beginning and the end of the objection of Jesus to
marriage and family ties, and the explanation of his conception
of heaven as a place where there should be neither marrying nor
giving in marriage. Now there is no reason to suppose that when
he said this he did not mean it. He did not, as St. Paul did
afterwards in his name, propose celibacy as a rule of life; for
he was not a fool, nor, when he denounced marriage, had he yet
come to believe, as St. Paul did, that the end of the world was
at hand and there was therefore no more need to replenish the
earth. He must have meant that the race should be continued
without dividing with women and men the allegiance the individual
owes to God within him. This raises the practical problem of how
we are to secure the spiritual freedom and integrity of the
priest and the nun without their barrenness and uncompleted
experience. Luther the priest did not solve the problem by
marrying a nun: he only testified in the most convincing and
practical way to the fact that celibacy was a worse failure than


To all appearance the problem oppresses only a few exceptional
people. Thoroughly conventional women married to thoroughly
conventional men should not be conscious of any restriction: the
chain not only leaves them free to do whatever they want to do,
but greatly facilitates their doing it. To them an attack on
marriage is not a blow struck in defence of their freedom but at
their rights and privileges. One would expect that they would not
only demur vehemently to the teachings of Jesus in this matter,
but object strongly to his not having been a married man himself.
Even those who regard him as a god descended from his throne in
heaven to take on humanity for a time might reasonably declare
that the assumption of humanity must have been incomplete at its
most vital point if he were a celibate. But the facts are flatly
contrary. The mere thought of Jesus as a married man is felt to
be blasphemous by the most conventional believers; and even those
of us to whom Jesus is no supernatural personage, but a prophet
only as Mahomet was a prophet, feel that there was something more
dignified in the bachelordom of Jesus than in the spectacle of
Mahomet lying distracted on the floor of his harem whilst his
wives stormed and squabbled and henpecked round him. We are not
surprised that when Jesus called the sons of Zebedee to follow
him, he did not call their father, and that the disciples, like
Jesus himself, were all men without family entanglements. It is
evident from his impatience when people excused themselves from
following him because of their family funerals, or when they
assumed that his first duty was to his mother, that he had found
family ties and domestic affections in his way at every turn, and
had become persuaded at last that no man could follow his inner
light until he was free from their compulsion. The absence of any
protest against this tempts us to declare on this question of
marriage there are no conventional people; and that everyone of
us is at heart a good Christian sexually.


But the question is not so simple as that. Sex is an exceedingly
subtle and complicated instinct; and the mass of mankind neither
know nor care much about freedom of conscience, which is what
Jesus was thinking about, and are concerned almost to obsession
with sex, as to which Jesus said nothing. In our sexual natures
we are torn by an irresistible attraction and an overwhelming
repugnance and disgust. We have two tyrannous physical passions:
concupiscence and chastity. We become mad in pursuit of sex: we
become equally mad in the persecution of that pursuit. Unless we
gratify our desire the race is lost: unless we restrain it we
destroy ourselves. We are thus led to devise marriage
institutions which will at the same time secure opportunities for
the gratification of sex and raise up innumerable obstacles to
it; which will sanctify it and brand it as infamous; which will
identify it with virtue and with sin simultaneously. Obviously it
is useless to look for any consistency in such institutions; and
it is only by continual reform and readjustment, and by a
considerable elasticity in their enforcement, that a tolerable
result can be arrived at. I need not repeat here the long and
elaborate examination of them that I prefixed to my play entitled
Getting Married. Here I am concerned only with the views of Jesus
on the question; and it is necessary, in order to understand the
attitude of the world towards them, that we should not attribute
the general approval of the decision of Jesus to remain unmarried
as an endorsement of his views. We are simply in a state of
confusion on the subject; but it is part of the confusion that we
should conclude that Jesus was a celibate, and shrink even from
the idea that his birth was a natural one, yet cling with
ferocity to the sacredness of the institution which provides a
refuge from celibacy.


Jesus, however, did not express a complicated view of marriage.
His objection to it was quite simple, as we have seen. He
perceived that nobody could live the higher life unless money and
sexual love were obtainable without sacrificing it; and he saw
that the effect of marriage as it existed among the Jews (and as
it still exists among ourselves) was to make the couples
sacrifice every higher consideration until they had fed and
pleased one another. The worst of it is that this dangerous
preposterousness in marriage, instead of improving as the general
conduct of married couples improves, becomes much worse. The
selfish man to whom his wife is nothing but a slave, the selfish
woman to whom her husband is nothing but a scapegoat and a
breadwinner, are not held back from spiritual or any other
adventures by fear of their effect on the welfare of their mates.
Their wives do not make recreants and cowards of them: their
husbands do not chain them to the cradle and the cooking range
when their feet should be beautiful on the mountains. It is
precisely as people become more kindly, more conscientious, more
ready to shoulder the heavier part of the burden (which means
that the strong shall give way to the weak and the slow hold back
the swift), that marriage becomes an intolerable obstacle to
individual evolution. And that is why the revolt against marriage
of which Jesus was an exponent always recurs when civilization
raises the standard of marital duty and affection, and at the
same time produces a greater need for individual freedom in
pursuit of a higher evolution. This, fortunately, is only one
side of marriage; and the question arises, can it not be
eliminated? The reply is reassuring: of course it can. There is
no mortal reason in the nature of things why a married couple
should be economically dependent on one another. The Communism
advocated by Jesus, which we have seen to be entirely
practicable, and indeed inevitable if our civilization is to be
saved from collapse, gets rid of that difficulty completely. And
with the economic dependence will go the force of the outrageous
claims that derive their real sanction from the economic pressure
behind them. When a man allows his wife to turn him from the best
work he is capable of doing, and to sell his soul at the highest
commercial prices obtainable; when he allows her to entangle him
in a social routine that is wearisome and debilitating to him, or
tie him to her apron strings when he needs that occasional
solitude which is one of the most sacred of human rights, he does
so because he has no right to impose eccentric standards of
expenditure and unsocial habits on her, and because these
conditions have produced by their pressure so general a custom of
chaining wedded couples to one another that married people are
coarsely derided when their partners break the chain. And when a
woman is condemned by her parents to wait in genteel idleness and
uselessness for a husband when all her healthy social instincts
call her to acquire a profession and work, it is again her
economic dependence on them that makes their tyranny effective.


Thus, though it would be too much to say that everything that is
obnoxious in marriage and family life will be cured by Communism,
yet it can be said that it will cure what Jesus objected to in
these institutions. He made no comprehensive study of them: he
only expressed his own grievance with an overwhelming sense that
it is a grievance so deep that all the considerations on the
other side are as dust in the balance. Obviously there are such
considerations, and very weighty ones too. When Talleyrand said
that a married man with a family is capable of anything, he meant
anything evil; but an optimist may declare, with equal half
truth, that a married man is capable of anything good; that
marriage turns vagabonds into steady citizens; and that men and
women will, for love of their mates and children, practise
virtues that unattached individuals are incapable of. It is true
that too much of this domestic virtue is self-denial, which is
not a virtue at all; but then the following of the inner light at
all costs is largely self-indulgence, which is just as suicidal,
just as weak, just as cowardly as self-denial. Ibsen, who takes
us into the matter far more resolutely than Jesus, is unable to
find any golden rule: both Brand and Peer Gynt come to a bad end;
and though Brand does not do as much mischief as Peer, the
mischief he does do is of extraordinary intensity.


We must, I think, regard the protest of Jesus against marriage
and family ties as the claim of a particular kind of individual
to be free from them because they hamper his own work
intolerably. When he said that if we are to follow him in the
sense of taking up his work we must give up our family ties, he
was simply stating a fact; and to this day the Roman Catholic
priest, the Buddhist lama, and the fakirs of all the eastern
denominations accept the saying. It is also accepted by the
physically enterprising, the explorers, the restlessly energetic
of all kinds, in short, by the adventurous. The greatest
sacrifice in marriage is the sacrifice of the adventurous
attitude towards life: the being settled. Those who are born
tired may crave for settlement; but to fresher and stronger
spirits it is a form of suicide. Now to say of any institution
that it is incompatible with both the contemplative and
adventurous life is to disgrace it so vitally that all the
moralizings of all the Deans and Chapters cannot reconcile our
souls to its slavery. The unmarried Jesus and the unmarried
Beethoven, the unmarried Joan of Arc, Clare, Teresa, Florence
Nightingale seem as they should be; and the saying that there is
always something ridiculous about a married philosopher becomes
inevitable. And yet the celibate is still more ridiculous than
the married man: the priest, in accepting the alternative of
celibacy, disables himself; and the best priests are those who
have been men of this world before they became men of the world
to come. But as the taking of vows does not annul an existing
marriage, and a married man cannot become a priest, we are again
confronted with the absurdity that the best priest is a reformed
rake. Thus does marriage, itself intolerable, thrust us upon
intolerable alternatives. The practical solution is to make the
individual economically independent of marriage and the family,
and to make marriage as easily dissoluble as any other
partnership: in other words, to accept the conclusions to which
experience is slowly driving both our sociologists and our
legislators. This will not instantly cure all the evils of
marriage, nor root up at one stroke its detestable tradition of
property in human bodies. But it will leave Nature free to effect
a cure; and in free soil the root may wither and perish.

This disposes of all the opinions and teachings of Jesus which are
still matters of controversy. They are all in line with the best
modern thought. He told us what we have to do; and we have had to
find the way to do it. Most of us are still, as most were in his
own time, extremely recalcitrant, and are being forced along that
way by painful pressure of circumstances, protesting at every
step that nothing will induce us to go; that it is a ridiculous
way, a disgraceful way, a socialistic way, an atheistic way, an
immoral way, and that the vanguard ought to be ashamed of
themselves and must be made to turn back at once. But they find
that they have to follow the vanguard all the same if their lives
are to be worth living.


Let us now return to the New Testament narrative; for what
happened after the disappearance of Jesus is instructive.
Unfortunately, the crucifixion was a complete political success.
I remember that when I described it in these terms once before, I
greatly shocked a most respectable newspaper in my native town,
the Dublin Daily Express, because my journalistic phrase showed
that I was treating it as an ordinary event like Home Rule or the
Insurance Act: that is (though this did not occur to the editor),
as a real event which had really happened, instead of a portion
of the Church service. I can only repeat, assuming as I am that
it was a real event and did actually happen, that it was as
complete a success as any in history. Christianity as a specific
doctrine was slain with Jesus, suddenly and utterly. He was
hardly cold in his grave, or high in his heaven (as you please),
before the apostles dragged the tradition of him down to the
level of the thing it has remained ever since. And that thing
the intelligent heathen may study, if they would be instructed in
it by modern books, in Samuel Butler's novel, The Way of All


Take, for example, the miracles. Of Jesus alone of all the
Christian miracle workers there is no record, except in certain
gospels that all men reject, of a malicious or destructive
miracle. A barren fig-tree was the only victim of his anger.
Every one of his miracles on sentient subjects was an act of
kindness. John declares that he healed the wound of the man whose
ear was cut off (by Peter, John says) at the arrest in the
garden. One of the first things the apostles did with their
miraculous power was to strike dead a wretched man and his wife
who had defrauded them by holding back some money from the common
stock. They struck people blind or dead without remorse, judging
because they had been judged. They healed the sick and raised the
dead apparently in a spirit of pure display and advertisement.
Their doctrine did not contain a ray of that light which reveals
Jesus as one of the redeemers of men from folly and error. They
cancelled him, and went back straight to John the Baptist and his
formula of securing remission of sins by repentance and the rite
of baptism (being born again of water and the spirit). Peter's
first harangue softens us by the human touch of its exordium,
which was a quaint assurance to his hearers that they must
believe him to be sober because it was too early in the day to
get drunk; but of Jesus he had nothing to say except that he was
the Christ foretold by the prophets as coming from the seed of
David, and that they must believe this and be baptized. To this
the other apostles added incessant denunciations of the Jews for
having crucified him, and threats of the destruction that would
overtake them if they did not repent: that is, if they did not
join the sect which the apostles were now forming. A quite
intolerable young speaker named Stephen delivered an oration to
the council, in which he first inflicted on them a tedious sketch
of the history of Israel, with which they were presumably as well
acquainted as he, and then reviled them in the most insulting
terms as "stiffnecked and uncircumcized." Finally, after boring
and annoying them to the utmost bearable extremity, he looked up
and declared that he saw the heavens open, and Christ standing on
the right hand of God. This was too much: they threw him out of
the city and stoned him to death. It was a severe way of
suppressing a tactless and conceited bore; but it was pardonable
and human in comparison to the slaughter of poor Ananias and


Suddenly a man of genius, Paul, violently anti-Christian, enters
on the scene, holding the clothes of the men who are stoning
Stephen. He persecutes the Christians with great vigor, a sport
which he combines with the business of a tentmaker. This
temperamental hatred of Jesus, whom he has never seen, is a
pathological symptom of that particular sort of conscience and
nervous constitution which brings its victims under the tyranny
of two delirious terrors: the terror of sin and the terror of
death, which may be called also the terror of sex and the terror
of life. Now Jesus, with his healthy conscience on his higher
plane, was free from these terrors. He consorted freely with
sinners, and was never concerned for a moment, as far as we know,
about whether his conduct was sinful or not; so that he has
forced us to accept him as the man without sin. Even if we reckon
his last days as the days of his delusion, he none the less gave
a fairly convincing exhibition of superiority to the fear of
death. This must have both fascinated and horrified Paul, or
Saul, as he was first called. The horror accounts for his fierce
persecution of the Christians. The fascination accounts for the
strangest of his fancies: the fancy for attaching the name of
Jesus Christ to the great idea which flashed upon him on the road
to Damascus, the idea that he could not only make a religion of
his two terrors, but that the movement started by Jesus offered
him the nucleus for his new Church. It was a monstrous idea; and
the shocks of it, as he afterwards declared, struck him blind for
days. He heard Jesus calling to him from the clouds, "Why
persecute me?" His natural hatred of the teacher for whom Sin and
Death had no terrors turned into a wild personal worship of him
which has the ghastliness of a beautiful thing seen in a false

The chronicler of the Acts of the Apostles sees nothing of the
significance of this. The great danger of conversion in all ages
has been that when the religion of the high mind is offered to
the lower mind, the lower mind, feeling its fascination without
understanding it, and being incapable of rising to it, drags it
down to its level by degrading it. Years ago I said that the
conversion of a savage to Christianity is the conversion of
Christianity to savagery. The conversion of Paul was no
conversion at all: it was Paul who converted the religion that
had raised one man above sin and death into a religion that
delivered millions of men so completely into their dominion that
their own common nature became a horror to them, and the
religious life became a denial of life. Paul had no intention of
surrendering either his Judaism or his Roman citizenship to the
new moral world (as Robert Owen called it) of Communism and
Jesuism. Just as in the XIX century Karl Marx, not content to
take political economy as he found it, insisted on rebuilding it
from the bottom upwards in his own way, and thereby gave a new
lease of life to the errors it was just outgrowing, so Paul
reconstructed the old Salvationism from which Jesus had vainly
tried to redeem him, and produced a fantastic theology which is
still the most amazing thing of the kind known to us. Being
intellectually an inveterate Roman Rationalist, always discarding
the irrational real thing for the unreal but ratiocinable
postulate, he began by discarding Man as he is, and substituted a
postulate which he called Adam. And when he was asked, as he
surely must have been in a world not wholly mad, what had become
of the natural man, he replied "Adam IS the natural man." This
was confusing to simpletons, because according to tradition Adam
was certainly the name of the natural man as created in the
garden of Eden. It was as if a preacher of our own time had
described as typically British Frankenstein's monster, and called
him Smith, and somebody, on demanding what about the man in the
street, had been told "Smith is the man in the street." The thing
happens often enough; for indeed the world is full of these Adams
and Smiths and men in the street and average sensual men and
economic men and womanly women and what not, all of them
imaginary Atlases carrying imaginary worlds on their
unsubstantial shoulders.

The Eden story provided Adam with a sin: the "original sin" for
which we are all damned. Baldly stated, this seems ridiculous;
nevertheless it corresponds to something actually existent not
only in Paul's consciousness but in our own. The original sin was
not the eating of the forbidden fruit, but the consciousness of
sin which the fruit produced. The moment Adam and Eve tasted the
apple they found themselves ashamed of their sexual relation,
which until then had seemed quite innocent to them; and there is
no getting over the hard fact that this shame, or state of sin,
has persisted to this day, and is one of the strongest of our
instincts. Thus Paul's postulate of Adam as the natural man was
pragmatically true: it worked. But the weakness of Pragmatism is
that most theories will work if you put your back into making
them work, provided they have some point of contact with human
nature. Hedonism will pass the pragmatic test as well as
Stoicism. Up to a certain point every social principle that is
not absolutely idiotic works: Autocracy works in Russia and
Democracy in America; Atheism works in France, Polytheism in
India, Monotheism throughout Islam, and Pragmatism, or No-ism, in
England. Paul's fantastic conception of the damned Adam,
represented by Bunyan as a pilgrim with a great burden of sins on
his back, corresponded to the fundamental condition of evolution,
which is, that life, including human life, is continually
evolving, and must therefore be continually ashamed of itself and
its present and past. Bunyan's pilgrim wants to get rid of his
bundle of sins; but he also wants to reach "yonder shining
light;" and when at last his bundle falls off him into the
sepulchre of Christ, his pilgrimage is still unfinished and his
hardest trials still ahead of him. His conscience remains uneasy;
"original sin" still torments him; and his adventure with Giant
Despair, who throws him into the dungeon of Doubting Castle, from
which he escapes by the use of a skeleton key, is more terrible
than any he met whilst the bundle was still on his back. Thus
Bunyan's allegory of human nature breaks through the Pauline
theology at a hundred points. His theological allegory, The Holy
War, with its troops of Election Doubters, and its cavalry of
"those that rode Reformadoes," is, as a whole, absurd,
impossible, and, except in passages where the artistic old Adam
momentarily got the better of the Salvationist theologian, hardly

Paul's theory of original sin was to some extent idiosyncratic.
He tells us definitely that he finds himself quite well able to
avoid the sinfulness of sex by practising celibacy; but he
recognizes, rather contemptuously, that in this respect he is not
as other men are, and says that they had better marry than burn,
thus admitting that though marriage may lead to placing the
desire to please wife or husband before the desire to please God,
yet preoccupation with unsatisfied desire may be even more
ungodly than preoccupation with domestic affection. This view of
the case inevitably led him to insist that a wife should be
rather a slave than a partner, her real function being, not to
engage a man's love and loyalty, but on the contrary to release
them for God by relieving the man of all preoccupation with sex
just as in her capacity of a housekeeper and cook she relieves
his preoccupation with hunger by the simple expedient of
satisfying his appetite. This slavery also justifies itself
pragmatically by working effectively; but it has made Paul the
eternal enemy of Woman. Incidentally it has led to many foolish
surmises about Paul's personal character and circumstance, by
people so enslaved by sex that a celibate appears to them a sort
of monster. They forget that not only whole priesthoods, official
and unofficial, from Paul to Carlyle and Ruskin, have defied the
tyranny of sex, but immense numbers of ordinary citizens of both
sexes have, either voluntarily or under pressure of circumstances
easily surmountable, saved their energies for less primitive

Howbeit, Paul succeeded in stealing the image of Christ crucified
for the figure-head of his Salvationist vessel, with its Adam
posing as the natural man, its doctrine of original sin, and its
damnation avoidable only by faith in the sacrifice of the cross.
In fact, no sooner had Jesus knocked over the dragon of
superstition than Paul boldly set it on its legs again in the
name of Jesus.


Now it is evident that two religions having such contrary effects
on mankind should not be confused as they are under a common
name. There is not one word of Pauline Christianity in the
characteristic utterances of Jesus. When Saul watched the clothes
of the men who stoned Stephen, he was not acting upon beliefs
which Paul renounced. There is no record of Christ's having ever
said to any man: "Go and sin as much as you like: you can
put it all on me." He said "Sin no more," and insisted that he
was putting up the standard of conduct, not debasing it, and that
the righteousness of the Christian must exceed that of the Scribe
and Pharisee. The notion that he was shedding his blood in order
that every petty cheat and adulterator and libertine might wallow
in it and come out whiter than snow, cannot be imputed to him on
his own authority. "I come as an infallible patent medicine for
bad consciences" is not one of the sayings in the gospels. If
Jesus could have been consulted on Bunyan's allegory as to that
business of the burden of sin dropping from the pilgrim's back
when he caught sight of the cross, we must infer from his
teaching that he would have told Bunyan in forcible terms that he
had never made a greater mistake in his life, and that the
business of a Christ was to make self-satisfied sinners feel the
burden of their sins and stop committing them instead of assuring
them that they could not help it, as it was all Adam's fault, but
that it did not matter as long as they were credulous and
friendly about himself. Even when he believed himself to be a
god, he did not regard himself as a scapegoat. He was to take
away the sins of the world by good government, by justice and
mercy, by setting the welfare of little children above the pride
of princes, by casting all the quackeries and idolatries which
now usurp and malversate the power of God into what our local
authorities quaintly call the dust destructor, and by riding on
the clouds of heaven in glory instead of in a thousand-guinea
motor car. That was delirious, if you like; but it was the
delirium of a free soul, not of a shamebound one like Paul's.
There has really never been a more monstrous imposition
perpetrated than the imposition of the limitations of Paul's soul
upon the soul of Jesus.


Paul must soon have found that his followers had gained peace of
mind and victory over death and sin at the cost of all moral
responsibility; for he did his best to reintroduce it by making
good conduct the test of sincere belief, and insisting that
sincere belief was necessary to salvation. But as his system was
rooted in the plain fact that as what he called sin includes sex
and is therefore an ineradicable part of human nature (why else
should Christ have had to atone for the sin of all future
generations?) it was impossible for him to declare that sin, even
in its wickedest extremity, could forfeit the sinner's salvation
if he repented and believed. And to this day Pauline Christianity
is, and owes its enormous vogue to being, a premium on sin. Its
consequences have had to be held in check by the worldlywise
majority through a violently anti-Christian system of criminal
law and stern morality. But of course the main restraint is human
nature, which has good impulses as well as bad ones, and refrains
from theft and murder and cruelty, even when it is taught that it
can commit them all at the expense of Christ and go happily to
heaven afterwards, simply because it does not always want to
murder or rob or torture.

It is now easy to understand why the Christianity of Jesus failed
completely to establish itself politically and socially, and was
easily suppressed by the police and the Church, whilst Paulinism
overran the whole western civilized world, which was at that time
the Roman Empire, and was adopted by it as its official faith,
the old avenging gods falling helplessly before the new Redeemer.
It still retains, as we may see in Africa, its power of bringing
to simple people a message of hope and consolation that no other
religion offers. But this enchantment is produced by its spurious
association with the personal charm of Jesus, and exists only for
untrained minds. In the hands of a logical Frenchman like Calvin,
pushing it to its utmost conclusions, and devising "institutes"
for hardheaded adult Scots and literal Swiss, it becomes the most
infernal of fatalisms; and the lives of civilized children
are blighted by its logic whilst negro piccaninnies are rejoicing
in its legends.


Paul, however, did not get his great reputation by mere
imposition and reaction. It is only in comparison with Jesus (to
whom many prefer him) that he appears common and conceited.
Though in The Acts he is only a vulgar revivalist, he comes out
in his own epistles as a genuine poet,--though by flashes only.
He is no more a Christian than Jesus was a Baptist; he is a
disciple of Jesus only as Jesus was a disciple of John. He does
nothing that Jesus would have done, and says nothing that Jesus
would have said, though much, like the famous ode to charity,
that he would have admired. He is more Jewish than the Jews, more
Roman than the Romans, proud both ways, full of startling
confessions and self-revelations that would not surprise us if
they were slipped into the pages of Nietzsche, tormented by an
intellectual conscience that demanded an argued case even at the
cost of sophistry, with all sorts of fine qualities and
occasional illuminations, but always hopelessly in the toils of
Sin, Death, and Logic, which had no power over Jesus. As we have
seen, it was by introducing this bondage and terror of his into
the Christian doctrine that he adapted it to the Church and State
systems which Jesus transcended, and made it practicable by
destroying the specifically Jesuist side of it. He would have
been quite in his place in any modern Protestant State; and he,
not Jesus, is the true head and founder of our Reformed Church,
as Peter is of the Roman Church. The followers of Paul and Peter
made Christendom, whilst the Nazarenes were wiped out.


Here we may return to the narrative called The Acts of the
Apostles, which we left at the point where the stoning of Stephen
was followed by the introduction of Paul. The author of The Acts,
though a good story-teller, like Luke, was (herein also like
Luke) much weaker in power of thought than in imaginative
literary art. Hence we find Luke credited with the authorship of
The Acts by people who like stories and have no aptitude for
theology, whilst the book itself is denounced as spurious by
Pauline theologians because Paul, and indeed all the apostles,
are represented in it as very commonplace revivalists,
interesting us by their adventures more than by any qualities of
mind or character. Indeed, but for the epistles, we should have a
very poor opinion of the apostles. Paul in particular is
described as setting a fashion which has remained in continual
use to this day. Whenever he addresses an audience, he dwells
with great zest on his misdeeds before his pseudo conversion,
with the effect of throwing into stronger relief his present
state of blessedness; and he tells the story of that conversion
over and over again, ending with exhortations to the hearers to
come and be saved, and threats of the wrath that will overtake
them if they refuse. At any revival meeting today the same thing
may be heard, followed by the same conversions. This is natural
enough; but it is totally unlike the preaching of Jesus, who
never talked about his personal history, and never "worked up" an
audience to hysteria. It aims at a purely nervous effect; it
brings no enlightenment; the most ignorant man has only to become
intoxicated with his own vanity, and mistake his
self-satisfaction for the Holy Ghost, to become qualified as an
apostle; and it has absolutely nothing to do with the
characteristic doctrines of Jesus. The Holy Ghost may be at work
all round producing wonders of art and science, and strengthening
men to endure all sorts of martyrdoms for the enlargement of
knowledge, and the enrichment and intensification of life ("that
ye may have life more abundantly"); but the apostles, as
described in The Acts, take no part in the struggle except as
persecutors and revilers. To this day, when their successors get
the upper hand, as in Geneva (Knox's "perfect city of Christ")
and in Scotland and Ulster, every spiritual activity but
moneymaking and churchgoing is stamped out; heretics are
ruthlessly persecuted; and such pleasures as money can purchase
are suppressed so that its possessors are compelled to go on
making money because there is nothing else to do. And the
compensation for all this privation is partly an insane conceit
of being the elect of God, with a reserved seat in heaven, and
partly, since even the most infatuated idiot cannot spend his
life admiring himself, the less innocent excitement of punishing
other people for not admiring him, and the nosing out of the sins
of the people who, being intelligent enough to be incapable of
mere dull self-righteousness, and highly susceptible to the
beauty and interest of the real workings of the Holy Ghost, try
to live more rational and abundant lives. The abominable
amusement of terrifying children with threats of hell is another
of these diversions, and perhaps the vilest and most mischievous
of them. The net result is that the imitators of the apostles,
whether they are called Holy Willies or Stigginses in derision,
or, in admiration, Puritans or saints, are, outside their own
congregations, and to a considerable extent inside them, heartily
detested. Now nobody detests Jesus, though many who have been
tormented in their childhood in his name include him in their
general loathing of everything connected with the word religion;
whilst others, who know him only by misrepresentation as a
sentimental pacifist and an ascetic, include him in their general
dislike of that type of character. In the same way a student who
has had to "get up" Shakespear as a college subject may hate
Shakespear; and people who dislike the theatre may include
Moliere in that dislike without ever having read a line of his or
witnessed one of his plays; but nobody with any knowledge of
Shakespear or Moliere could possibly detest them, or read without
pity and horror a description of their being insulted, tortured,
and killed. And the same is true of Jesus. But it requires the
most strenuous effort of conscience to refrain from crying "Serve
him right" when we read of the stoning of Stephen; and nobody has
ever cared twopence about the martyrdom of Peter: many better men
have died worse deaths: for example, honest Hugh Latimer, who was
burned by us, was worth fifty Stephens and a dozen Peters. One
feels at last that when Jesus called Peter from his boat, he
spoiled an honest fisherman, and made nothing better out of the
wreck than a salvation monger.


Meanwhile the inevitable effect of dropping the peculiar
doctrines of Jesus and going back to John the Baptist, was to
make it much easier to convert Gentiles than Jews; and it was by
following the line of least resistance that Paul became the
apostle to the Gentiles. The Jews had their own rite of
initiation: the rite of circumcision; and they were fiercely
jealous for it, because it marked them as the chosen people of
God, and set them apart from the Gentiles, who were simply the
uncircumcized. When Paul, finding that baptism made way faster
among the Gentiles than among the Jews, as it enabled them to
plead that they too were sanctified by a rite of later and higher
authority than the Mosaic rite, he was compelled to admit that
circumcision did not matter; and this, to the Jews, was an
intolerable blasphemy. To Gentiles like ourselves, a good deal of
the Epistle to the Romans is now tedious to unreadableness
because it consists of a hopeless attempt by Paul to evade the
conclusion that if a man were baptized it did not matter a rap
whether he was circumcized or not. Paul claims circumcision as an
excellent thing in its way for a Jew; but if it has no efficacy
towards salvation, and if salvation is the one thing needful--and
Paul was committed to both propositions--his pleas in mitigation
only made the Jews more determined to stone him.

Thus from the very beginning of apostolic Christianity, it was
hampered by a dispute as to whether salvation was to be attained
by a surgical operation or by a sprinkling of water: mere rites
on which Jesus would not have wasted twenty words. Later on, when
the new sect conquered the Gentile west, where the dispute had no
practical application, the other ceremony--that of eating the
god--produced a still more disastrous dispute, in which a
difference of belief, not as to the obligation to perform the
ceremony, but as to whether it was a symbolic or a real ingestion
of divine substance, produced persecution, slaughter, hatred, and
everything that Jesus loathed, on a monstrous scale.

But long before that, the superstitions which had fastened on the
new faith made trouble. The parthenogenetic birth of Christ,
simple enough at first as a popular miracle, was not left so
simple by the theologians. They began to ask of what substance
Christ was made in the womb of the virgin. When the Trinity was
added to the faith the question arose, was the virgin the mother
of God or only the mother of Jesus? Arian schisms and Nestorian
schisms arose on these questions; and the leaders of the
resultant agitations rancorously deposed one another and
excommunicated one another according to their luck in enlisting
the emperors on their side. In the IV century they began to burn
one another for differences of opinion in such matters. In the
VIII century Charlemagne made Christianity compulsory by killing
those who refused to embrace it; and though this made an end of
the voluntary character of conversion, Charlemagne may claim to
be the first Christian who put men to death for any point of
doctrine that really mattered. From his time onward the history
of Christian controversy reeks with blood and fire, torture and
warfare. The Crusades, the persecutions in Albi and elsewhere,
the Inquisition, the "wars of religion" which followed the
Reformation, all presented themselves as Christian phenomena; but
who can doubt that they would have been repudiated with horror by
Jesus? Our own notion that the massacre of St. Bartholomew's was
an outrage on Christianity, whilst the campaigns of Gustavus
Adolphus, and even of Frederick the Great, were a defence of it,
is as absurd as the opposite notion that Frederick was Antichrist
and Torquemada and Ignatius Loyola men after the very heart of
Jesus. Neither they nor their exploits had anything to do with
him. It is probable that Archbishop Laud and John Wesley died
equally persuaded that he in whose name they had made themselves
famous on earth would receive them in Heaven with open arms. Poor
Fox the Quaker would have had ten times their chance; and yet Fox
made rather a miserable business of life.

Nevertheless all these perversions of the doctrine of Jesus
derived their moral force from his credit, and so had to keep his
gospel alive. When the Protestants translated the Bible into the
vernacular and let it loose among the people, they did an
extremely dangerous thing, as the mischief which followed proves;
but they incidentally let loose the sayings of Jesus in open
competition with the sayings of Paul and Koheleth and David and
Solomon and the authors of Job and the Pentateuch; and, as we
have seen, Jesus seems to be the winning name. The glaring
contradiction between his teaching and the practice of all the
States and all the Churches is no longer hidden. And it may be
that though nineteen centuries have passed since Jesus was born
(the date of his birth is now quaintly given as 7 B.C., though
some contend for 100 B.C.), and though his Church has not yet
been founded nor his political system tried, the bankruptcy of
all the other systems when audited by our vital statistics, which
give us a final test for all political systems, is driving us
hard into accepting him, not as a scapegoat, but as one who was
much less of a fool in practical matters than we have hitherto
all thought him.


Let us now clear up the situation a little. The New Testament
tells two stories for two different sorts of readers. One is the
old story of the achievement of our salvation by the sacrifice
and atonement of a divine personage who was barbarously slain and
rose again on the third day: the story as it was accepted by the
apostles. And in this story the political, economic, and moral
views of the Christ have no importance: the atonement is
everything; and we are saved by our faith in it, and not by works
or opinions (other than that particular opinion) bearing on
practical affairs.

The other is the story of a prophet who, after expressing several
very interesting opinions as to practical conduct, both personal
and political, which are now of pressing importance, and
instructing his disciples to carry them out in their daily life,
lost his head; believed himself to be a crude legendary form of
god; and under that delusion courted and suffered a cruel
execution in the belief that he would rise from the dead and come
in glory to reign over a regenerated world. In this form, the
political, economic and moral opinions of Jesus, as guides to
conduct, are interesting and important: the rest is mere
psychopathy and superstition. The accounts of the resurrection,
the parthenogenetic birth, and the more incredible miracles are
rejected as inventions; and such episodes as the conversation
with the devil are classed with similar conversations recorded of
St. Dunstan, Luther, Bunyan, Swedenborg, and Blake.


This arbitrary acceptance and rejection of parts of the gospel is
not peculiar to the Secularist view. We have seen Luke and John
reject Matthew's story of the massacre of the innocents and the
flight into Egypt without ceremony. The notion that Matthew's
manuscript is a literal and infallible record of facts, not
subject to the errors that beset all earthly chroniclers, would
have made John stare, being as it is a comparatively modern fancy
of intellectually untrained people who keep the Bible on the same
shelf, with Napoleon's Book of Fate, Old Moore's Almanack, and
handbooks of therapeutic herbalism. You may be a fanatical
Salvationist and reject more miracle stories than Huxley did; and
you may utterly repudiate Jesus as the Savior and yet cite him as
a historical witness to the possession by men of the most
marvellous thaumaturgical powers. "Christ Scientist" and Jesus
the Mahatma are preached by people whom Peter would have struck
dead as worse infidels than Simon Magus; and the Atonement; is
preached by Baptist and Congregationalist ministers whose views
of the miracles are those of Ingersoll and Bradlaugh. Luther, who
made a clean sweep of all the saints with their million miracles,
and reduced the Blessed Virgin herself to the status of an idol,
concentrated Salvationism to a point at which the most execrable
murderer who believes in it when the rope is round his neck,
flies straight to the arms of Jesus, whilst Tom Paine and Shelley
fall into the bottomless pit to burn there to all eternity. And
sceptical physicists like Sir William Crookes demonstrate by
laboratory experiments that "mediums" like Douglas Home can make
the pointer of a spring-balance go round without touching the
weight suspended from it.


Nor is belief in individual immortality any criterion.
Theosophists, rejecting vicarious atonement so sternly that they
insist that the smallest of our sins brings its Karma, also
insist on individual immortality and metempsychosis in order to
provide an unlimited field for Karma to be worked out by the
unredeemed sinner. The belief in the prolongation of individual
life beyond the grave is far more real and vivid among
table-rapping Spiritualists than among conventional Christians.
The notion that those who reject the Christian (or any other)
scheme of salvation by atonement must reject also belief in
personal immortality and in miracles is as baseless as the notion
that if a man is an atheist he will steal your watch.

I could multiply these instances to weariness. The main
difference that set Gladstone and Huxley by the ears is not one
between belief in supernatural persons or miraculous events and
the sternest view of such belief as a breach of intellectual
integrity: it is the difference between belief in the efficacy of
the crucifixion as an infallible cure for guilt, and a congenital
incapacity for believing this, or (the same thing) desiring to
believe it.


It must therefore be taken as a flat fundamental modern fact,
whether we like it or not, that whilst many of us cannot believe
that Jesus got his curious grip of our souls by mere
sentimentality, neither can we believe that he was John
Barleycorn. The more our reason and study lead us to believe that
Jesus was talking the most penetrating good sense when he
preached Communism; when he declared that the reality behind the
popular belief in God was a creative spirit in ourselves, called
by him the Heavenly Father and by us Evolution, Elan Vital, Life
Force and other names; when he protested against the claims of
marriage and the family to appropriate that high part of our
energy that was meant for the service of his Father, the more
impossible it becomes for us to believe that he was talking
equally good sense when he so suddenly announced that he was
himself a visible concrete God; that his flesh and blood were
miraculous food for us; that he must be tortured and slain in the
traditional manner and would rise from the dead after three days;
and that at his second coming the stars would fall from heaven
and he become king of an earthly paradise. But it is easy and
reasonable to believe that an overwrought preacher at last went
mad as Swift and Ruskin and Nietzsche went mad. Every asylum has
in it a patient suffering from the delusion that he is a god, yet
otherwise sane enough. These patients do not nowadays declare
that they will be barbarously slain and will rise from the dead,
because they have lost that tradition of the destiny of godhead;
but they claim everything appertaining to divinity that is within
their knowledge.

Thus the gospels as memoirs and suggestive statements of
sociological and biological doctrine, highly relevant to modern
civilization, though ending in the history of a psycopathic
delusion, are quite credible, intelligible, and interesting to
modern thinkers. In any other light they are neither credible,
intelligible, nor interesting except to people upon whom the
delusion imposes.


Historical research and paleographic criticism will no doubt
continue their demonstrations that the New Testament, like the
Old, seldom tells a single story or expounds a single doctrine,
and gives us often an accretion and conglomeration of widely
discrete and even unrelated traditions and doctrines. But these
disintegrations, though technically interesting to scholars, and
gratifying or exasperating, as the case may be, to people who are
merely defending or attacking the paper fortifications of the
infallibility of the Bible, have hardly anything to do with the
purpose of these pages. I have mentioned the fact that most of
the authorities are now agreed (for the moment) that the date of
the birth of Jesus may be placed at about 7 B.C.; but they do not
therefore date their letters 1923, nor, I presume, do they expect
me to do so. What I am engaged in is a criticism (in the Kantian
sense) of an established body of belief which has become an
actual part of the mental fabric of my readers; and I should be
the most exasperating of triflers and pedants if I were to
digress into a criticism of some other belief or no-belief which
my readers might conceivably profess if they were erudite
Scriptural paleographers and historians, in which case, by the
way, they would have to change their views so frequently that the
gospel they received in their childhood would dominate them after
all by its superior persistency. The chaos of mere facts in which
the Sermon on the Mount and the Ode to Charity suggest nothing
but disputes as to whether they are interpolations or not, in
which Jesus becomes nothing but a name suspected of belonging to
ten different prophets or executed persons, in which Paul is only
the man who could not possibly have written the epistles
attributed to him, in which Chinese sages, Greek philosophers,
Latin authors, and writers of ancient anonymous inscriptions are
thrown at our heads as the sources of this or that scrap of the
Bible, is neither a religion nor a criticism of religion: one
does not offer the fact that a good deal of the medieval building
in Peterborough Cathedral was found to be flagrant jerry-building
as a criticism of the Dean's sermons. For good or evil, we have
made a synthesis out of the literature we call the Bible; and
though the discovery that there is a good deal of jerry-building
in the Bible is interesting in its way, because everything about
the Bible is interesting, it does not alter the synthesis very
materially even for the paleographers, and does not alter it at
all for those who know no more about modern paleography than
Archbishop Ussher did. I have therefore indicated little more of
the discoveries than Archbishop Ussher might have guessed for
himself if he had read the Bible without prepossessions.

For the rest, I have taken the synthesis as it really lives and
works in men. After all, a synthesis is what you want: it is the
case you have to judge brought to an apprehensible issue for you.
Even if you have little more respect for synthetic biography than
for synthetic rubber, synthetic milk, and the still unachieved
synthetic protoplasm which is to enable us to make different
sorts of men as a pastry cook makes different sorts of tarts, the
practical issue still lies as plainly before you as before the
most credulous votaries of what pontificates as the Higher


The secular view of Jesus is powerfully reinforced by the
increase in our day of the number of people who have had the
means of educating and training themselves to the point at which
they are not afraid to look facts in the face, even such
terrifying facts as sin and death. The result is greater
sternness in modern thought. The conviction is spreading that to
encourage a man to believe that though his sins be as scarlet he
can be made whiter than snow by an easy exercise of self-conceit,
is to encourage him to be a rascal. It did not work so badly when
you could also conscientiously assure him that if he let himself
be caught napping in the matter of faith by death, a red-hot hell
would roast him alive to all eternity. In those days a sudden
death--the most enviable of all deaths--was regarded as the most
frightful calamity. It was classed with plague, pestilence, and
famine, battle and murder, in our prayers. But belief in that
hell is fast vanishing. All the leaders of thought have lost it;
and even for the rank and file it has fled to those parts of
Ireland and Scotland which are still in the XVII century. Even
there, it is tacitly reserved for the other fellow.


The seriousness of throwing over hell whilst still clinging to
the Atonement is obvious. If there is no punishment for sin there
can be no self-forgiveness for it. If Christ paid our score, and
if there is no hell and therefore no chance of our getting into
trouble by forgetting the obligation, then we can be as wicked as
we like with impunity inside the secular law, even from
self-reproach, which becomes mere ingratitude to the Savior. On
the other hand, if Christ did not pay our score, it still stands
against us; and such debts make us extremely uncomfortable. The
drive of evolution, which we call conscience and honor, seizes on
such slips, and shames us to the dust for being so low in the
scale as to be capable of them. The "saved" thief experiences an
ecstatic happiness which can never come to the honest atheist: he
is tempted to steal again to repeat the glorious sensation. But
if the atheist steals he has no such happiness. He is a thief and
knows that he is a thief. Nothing can rub that off him. He may
try to sooth his shame by some sort of restitution or equivalent
act of benevolence; but that does not alter the fact that he did
steal; and his conscience will not be easy until he has conquered
his will to steal and changed himself into an honest man by
developing that divine spark within him which Jesus insisted on
as the everyday reality of what the atheist denies.

Now though the state of the believers in the atonement may thus
be the happier, it is most certainly not more desirable from the
point of view of the community. The fact that a believer is
happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that
a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of
credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality of happiness, and by
no means a necessity of life. Whether Socrates got as much
happiness out of life as Wesley is an unanswerable question; but
a nation of Socrateses would be much safer and happier than a
nation of Wesleys; and its individuals would be higher in the
evolutionary scale. At all events it is in the Socratic man and
not in the Wesleyan that our hope lies now.


Consequently, even if it were mentally possible for all of us to
believe in the Atonement, we should have to cry off it, as we
evidently have a right to do. Every man to whom salvation is
offered has an inalienable natural right to say "No, thank you: I
prefer to retain my full moral responsibility: it is not good for
me to be able to load a scapegoat with my sins: I should be less
careful how I committed them if I knew they would cost me
nothing." Then, too, there is the attitude of Ibsen: that iron
moralist to whom the whole scheme of salvation was only an
ignoble attempt to cheat God; to get into heaven without paying
the price. To be let off, to beg for and accept eternal life as a
present instead of earning it, would be mean enough even if we
accepted the contempt of the Power on whose pity we were trading;
but to bargain for a crown of glory as well! that was too much
for Ibsen: it provoked him to exclaim, "Your God is an old man
whom you cheat," and to lash the deadened conscience of the XIX
century back to life with a whip of scorpions.


And there I must leave the matter to such choice as your nature
allows you. The honest teacher who has to make known to a novice
the facts about Christianity cannot in any essential regard, I
think, put the facts otherwise than as I have put them. If
children are to be delivered from the proselytizing atheist on
the one hand, and the proselytizing nun in the convent school on
the other, with all the other proselytizers that lie between
them, they must not be burdened with idle controversies as to
whether there was ever such a person as Jesus or not. When Hume
said that Joshua's campaigns were impossible, Whately did not
wrangle about it: he proved, on the same lines, that the
campaigns of Napoleon were impossible. Only fictitious characters
will stand Hume's sort of examination: nothing will ever make
Edward the Confessor and St. Louis as real to us as Don Quixote
and Mr. Pickwick. We must cut the controversy short by declaring
that there is the same evidence for the existence of Jesus as for
that of any other person of his time; and the fact that you may
not believe everything Matthew tells you no more disproves the
existence of Jesus than the fact that you do not believe
everything Macaulay tells you disproves the existence of William
III. The gospel narratives in the main give you a biography which
is quite credible and accountable on purely secular grounds when
you have trimmed off everything that Hume or Grimm or Rousseau or
Huxley or any modern bishop could reject as fanciful. Without
going further than this, you can become a follower of Jesus just
as you can become a follower of Confucius or Lao Tse, and may
therefore call yourself a Jesuist, or even a Christian, if you
hold, as the strictest Secularist quite legitimately may, that
all prophets are inspired, and all men with a mission, Christs.

The teacher of Christianity has then to make known to the child,
first the song of John Barleycorn, with the fields and seasons as
witness to its eternal truth. Then, as the child's mind matures,
it can learn, as historical and psychological phenomena, the
tradition of the scapegoat, the Redeemer, the Atonement, the
Resurrection, the Second Coming, and how, in a world saturated
with this tradition, Jesus has been largely accepted as the long
expected and often prophesied Redeemer, the Messiah, the Christ.
It is open to the child also to accept him. If the child is built
like Gladstone, he will accept Jesus as his Savior, and Peter and
John the Baptist as the Savior's revealer and forerunner
respectively. If he is built like Huxley, he will take the
secular view, in spite of all that a pious family can do to
prevent him. The important thing now is that the Gladstones and
Huxleys should no longer waste their time irrelevantly and
ridiculously wrangling about the Gadarene swine, and that they
should make up their minds as to the soundness of the secular
doctrines of Jesus; for it is about these that they may come to
blows in our own time.


Finally, let us ask why it is that the old superstitions have so
suddenly lost countenance that although, to the utter disgrace of
the nation's leaders and rulers, the laws by which persecutors
can destroy or gag all freedom of thought and speech in these
matters are still unrepealed and ready to the hand of our bigots
and fanatics (quite recently a respectable shopkeeper was
convicted of "blasphemy" for saying that if a modern girl
accounted for an illicit pregnancy by saying she had conceived of
the Holy Ghost, we should know what to think: a remark which
would never have occurred to him had he been properly taught how
the story was grafted on the gospel), yet somehow they are used
only against poor men, and that only in a half-hearted way. When
we consider that from the time when the first scholar ventured to
whisper as a professional secret that the Pentateuch could not
possibly have been written by Moses to the time within my own
recollection when Bishop Colenso, for saying the same thing
openly, was inhibited from preaching and actually excommunicated,
eight centuries elapsed (the point at issue, though technically
interesting to paleographers and historians, having no more
bearing on human welfare than the controversy as to whether
uncial or cursive is the older form of writing); yet now, within
fifty years of Colenso's heresy, there is not a Churchman of any
authority living, or an educated layman, who could without
ridicule declare that Moses wrote the Pentateuch as Pascal wrote
his Thoughts or D'Aubigny his History of the Reformation, or that
St. Jerome wrote the passage about the three witnesses in the
Vulgate, or that there are less than three different accounts of
the creation jumbled together in the book of Genesis. Now the
maddest Progressive will hardly contend that our growth in wisdom
and liberality has been greater in the last half century than in
the sixteen half centuries preceding: indeed it would be easier
to sustain the thesis that the last fifty years have witnessed a
distinct reaction from Victorian Liberalism to Collectivism which
has perceptibly strengthened the State Churches. Yet the fact
remains that whereas Byron's Cain, published a century ago, is a
leading case on the point that there is no copyright in a
blasphemous book, the Salvation Army might now include it among
its publications without shocking anyone.

I suggest that the causes which have produced this sudden
clearing of the air include the transformation of many modern
States, notably the old self-contained French Republic and the
tight little Island of Britain, into empires which overflow the
frontiers of all the Churches. In India, for example, there are
less than four million Christians out of a population of three
hundred and sixteen and a half millions. The King of England is
the defender of the faith; but what faith is now THE faith? The
inhabitants of this island would, within the memory of persons
still living, have claimed that their faith is surely the faith
of God, and that all others are heathen. But we islanders are
only forty-five millions; and if we count ourselves all as
Christians, there are still seventy-seven and a quarter million
Mahometans in the Empire. Add to these the Hindoos and Buddhists,
Sikhs and Jains, whom I was taught in my childhood, by way of
religious instruction, to regard as gross idolators consigned to
eternal perdition, but whose faith I can now be punished for
disparaging by a provocative word, and you have a total of over
three hundred and forty-two and a quarter million heretics to
swamp our forty-five million Britons, of whom, by the way, only
six thousand call themselves distinctively "disciples of Christ,"
the rest being members of the Church of England and other
denominations whose discipleship is less emphatically affirmed.
In short, the Englishman of today, instead of being, like the
forefathers whose ideas he clings to, a subject of a State
practically wholly Christian, is now crowded, and indeed
considerably overcrowded, into a corner of an Empire in which the
Christians are a mere eleven per cent of the population; so that
the Nonconformist who allows his umbrella stand to be sold up
rather than pay rates towards the support of a Church of England
school, finds himself paying taxes not only to endow the Church
of Rome in Malta, but to send Christians to prison for the
blasphemy of offering Bibles for sale in the streets of Khartoum.
Turn to France, a country ten times more insular in its
pre-occupation with its own language, its own history, its own
character, than we, who have always been explorers and colonizers
and grumblers. This once self-centred nation is forty millions
strong. The total population of the French Republic is about one
hundred and fourteen millions. The French are not in our hopeless
Christian minority of eleven per cent; but they are in a minority
of thirty-five per cent, which is fairly conclusive. And, being a
more logical people than we, they have officially abandoned
Christianity and declared that the French State has no specific

Neither has the British State, though it does not say so. No
doubt there are many innocent people in England who take
Charlemagne's view, and would, as a matter of course, offer our
eighty-nine per cent of "pagans, I regret to say" the alternative
of death or Christianity but for a vague impression that these
lost ones are all being converted gradually by the missionaries.
But no statesman can entertain such ludicrously parochial
delusions. No English king or French president can possibly
govern on the assumption that the theology of Peter and Paul,
Luther and Calvin, has any objective validity, or that the Christ
is more than the Buddha, or Jehovah more than Krishna, or Jesus
more or less human than Mahomet or Zoroaster or Confucius. He is
actually compelled, in so far as he makes laws against blasphemy
at all, to treat all the religions, including Christianity, as
blasphemous, when paraded before people who are not accustomed to
them and do not want them. And even that is a concession to a
mischievous intolerance which an empire should use its control of
education to eradicate.

On the other hand, Governments cannot really divest themselves of
religion, or even of dogma. When Jesus said that people should
not only live but live more abundantly, he was dogmatizing; and
many Pessimist sages, including Shakespear, whose hero begged his
friend to refrain from suicide in the words "Absent thee from
felicity awhile," would say dogmatizing very perniciously. Indeed
many preachers and saints declare, some of them in the name of
Jesus himself, that this world is a vale of tears, and that our
lives had better be passed in sorrow and even in torment, as a
preparation for a better life to come. Make these sad people
comfortable; and they baffle you by putting on hair shirts.
None the less, governments must proceed on dogmatic assumptions,
whether they call them dogmas or not; and they must clearly be
assumptions common enough to stamp those who reject them as
eccentrics or lunatics. And the greater and more heterogeneous
the population the commoner the assumptions must be. A Trappist
monastery can be conducted on assumptions which would in
twenty-fours hours provoke the village at its gates to
insurrection. That is because the monastery selects its people;
and if a Trappist does not like it he can leave it. But a subject
of the British Empire or the French Republic is not selected; and
if he does not like it he must lump it; for emigration is
practicable only within narrow limits, and seldom provides an
effective remedy, all civilizations being now much alike.
To anyone capable of comprehending government at all it must be
evident without argument that the set of fundamental assumptions
drawn up in the thirty-nine articles or in the Westminster
Confession are wildly impossible as political constitutions for
modern empires. A personal profession of them by any person
disposed to take such professions seriously would practically
disqualify him for high imperial office. A Calvinist Viceroy of
India and a Particular Baptist Secretary of State for Foreign
Affairs would wreck the empire. The Stuarts wrecked even the
tight little island which was the nucleus of the empire by their
Scottish logic and theological dogma; and it may be sustained
very plausibly that the alleged aptitude of the English for
self-government, which is contradicted by every chapter of their
history, is really only an incurable inaptitude for theology, and
indeed for co-ordinated thought in any direction, which makes
them equally impatient of systematic despotism and systematic
good government: their history being that of a badly governed and
accidentally free people (comparatively). Thus our success in
colonizing, as far as it has not been produced by exterminating
the natives, has been due to our indifference to the salvation of
our subjects. Ireland is the exception which proves the rule; for
Ireland, the standing instance of the inability of the English to
colonize without extermination of natives, is also the one
country under British rule in which the conquerors and colonizers
proceeded on the assumption that their business was to establish
Protestantism as well as to make money and thereby secure at
least the lives of the unfortunate inhabitants out of whose labor
it could be made. At this moment Ulster is refusing to accept
fellowcitizenship with the other Irish provinces because the
south believes in St. Peter and Bossuet, and the north in St.
Paul and Calvin. Imagine the effect of trying to govern India or
Egypt from Belfast or from the Vatican!

The position is perhaps graver for France than for England,
because the sixty-five per cent of French subjects who are
neither French nor Christian nor Modernist includes some thirty
millions of negroes who are susceptible, and indeed highly
susceptible, of conversion to those salvationist forms of
pseudo-Christianity which have produced all the persecutions and
religious wars of the last fifteen hundred years. When the late
explorer Sir Henry Stanley told me of the emotional grip which
Christianity had over the Baganda tribes, and read me their
letters, which were exactly like medieval letters in their
literal faith and everpresent piety, I said "Can these men handle
a rifle?" To which Stanley replied with some scorn "Of course
they can, as well as any white man." Now at this moment (1915) a
vast European war is being waged, in which the French are using
Senegalese soldiers. I ask the French Government, which, like our
own Government, is deliberately leaving the religious instruction
of these negroes in the hands of missions of Petrine Catholics
and Pauline Calvinists, whether they have considered the
possibility of a new series of crusades, by ardent African
Salvationists, to rescue Paris from the grip of the modern
scientific "infidel," and to raise the cry of "Back to the
Apostles: back to Charlemagne!"

We are more fortunate in that an overwhelming majority of our
subjects are Hindoos, Mahometans and Buddhists: that is, they
have, as a prophylactic against salvationist Christianity, highly
civilized religions of their own. Mahometanism, which Napoleon at
the end of his career classed as perhaps the best popular
religion for modern political use, might in some respects have
arisen as a reformed Christianity if Mahomet had had to deal with
a population of seventeenth-century Christians instead of Arabs
who worshipped stones. As it is, men do not reject Mahomet for
Calvin; and to offer a Hindoo so crude a theology as ours in
exchange for his own, or our Jewish canonical literature as an
improvement on Hindoo scripture, is to offer old lamps for older
ones in a market where the oldest lamps, like old furniture in
England, are the most highly valued.

Yet, I repeat, government is impossible without a religion: that
is, without a body of common assumptions. The open mind never
acts: when we have done our utmost to arrive at a reasonable
conclusion, we still, when we can reason and investigate no more,
must close our minds for the moment with a snap, and act
dogmatically on our conclusions. The man who waits to make an
entirely reasonable will dies intestate. A man so reasonable as
to have an open mind about theft and murder, or about the need
for food and reproduction, might just as well be a fool and a
scoundrel for any use he could be as a legislator or a State
official. The modern pseudo-democratic statesman, who says that
he is only in power to carry out the will of the people, and
moves only as the cat jumps, is clearly a political and
intellectual brigand. The rule of the negative man who has no
convictions means in practice the rule of the positive mob.
Freedom of conscience as Cromwell used the phrase is an excellent
thing; nevertheless if any man had proposed to give effect to
freedom of conscience as to cannibalism in England, Cromwell
would have laid him by the heels almost as promptly as he would
have laid a Roman Catholic, though in Fiji at the same moment he
would have supported heartily the freedom of conscience of a
vegetarian who disparaged the sacred diet of Long Pig.

Here then come in the importance of the repudiation by Jesus of
proselytism. His rule "Don't pull up the tares: sow the wheat: if
you try to pull up the tares you will pull up the wheat with it"
is the only possible rule for a statesman governing a modern
empire, or a voter supporting such a statesman. There is nothing
in the teaching of Jesus that cannot be assented to by a Brahman,
a Mahometan, a Buddhist or a Jew, without any question of their
conversion to Christianity. In some ways it is easier to
reconcile a Mahometan to Jesus than a British parson, because the
idea of a professional priest is unfamiliar and even monstrous to
a Mahometan (the tourist who persists in asking who is the dean
of St. Sophia puzzles beyond words the sacristan who lends him a
huge pair of slippers); and Jesus never suggested that his
disciples should separate themselves from the laity: he picked
them up by the wayside, where any man or woman might follow him.
For priests he had not a civil word; and they showed their sense
of his hostility by getting him killed as soon as possible. He
was, in short, a thoroughgoing anti-Clerical. And though, as we
have seen, it is only by political means that his doctrine can be
put into practice, he not only never suggested a sectarian
theocracy as a form of Government, and would certainly have
prophesied the downfall of the late President Kruger if he had
survived to his time, but, when challenged, he refused to teach
his disciples not to pay tribute to Caesar, admitting that
Caesar, who presumably had the kingdom of heaven within him as
much as any disciple, had his place in the scheme of things.
Indeed the apostles made this an excuse for carrying subservience
to the State to a pitch of idolatry that ended in the theory of
the divine right of kings, and provoked men to cut kings' heads
off to restore some sense of proportion in the matter. Jesus
certainly did not consider the overthrow of the Roman empire or
the substitution of a new ecclesiastical organization for the
Jewish Church or for the priesthood of the Roman gods as part of
his program. He said that God was better than Mammon; but he
never said that Tweedledum was better than Tweedledee; and that
is why it is now possible for British citizens and statesmen to
follow Jesus, though they cannot possibly follow either
Tweedledum or Tweedledee without bringing the empire down with a
crash on their heads. And at that I must leave it.

LONDON, December 1915.

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