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Title: God and Mr. Wells - A Critical Examination of 'God the Invisible King'
Author: Archer, William, 1856-1924
Language: English
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  GOD AND MR. WELLS

  A CRITICAL EXAMINATION OF
  "GOD THE INVISIBLE KING"



  GOD AND MR. WELLS

  A CRITICAL EXAMINATION OF
  "GOD THE INVISIBLE KING"

  By WILLIAM ARCHER


  NEW YORK · ALFRED A. KNOPF · 1917


  COPYRIGHT, 1917, BY
  ALFRED A. KNOPF
  _Published, September, 1917_


  PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



FOREWORD


As I look through the proofs of this little treatise, a twinge of
compunction comes upon me. That humane philosopher Mr. Dooley has
somewhere a saying to this effect: "When an astronomer tells me that
he has discovered a new planet, I would be the last man to brush the
fly off the end of his telescope." Would not this have been a good
occasion for a similar exercise of urbanity? Nay, may it not be said
that my criticism of _God the Invisible King_ is a breach of
discipline, like duelling in the face of the enemy? I am proud to
think that Mr. Wells and I are soldiers in the same army; ought we not
at all costs to maintain a united front? On the destructive side
(which I have barely touched upon) his book is brilliantly effective;
on the constructive side, if unconvincing, it is thoughtful,
imaginative, stimulating, a thing on the whole to be grateful for.
Ought one not rather to hold one's peace than to afford the common
enemy the encouragement of witnessing a squabble in the ranks?

But we must not yield to the obsession of military metaphor. It is not
what the enemy thinks or what Mr. Wells or I think that matters--it is
what the men of the future ought to think, as being consonant with
their own nature and with the nature of things. Ideas, like organisms,
must abide the struggle for existence, and if the Invisible King is
fitted to survive, my criticism will reinforce and not invalidate him.
Even if he should come to life in a way one can scarcely anticipate,
his proceedings will have to be carefully watched. He cannot claim the
reticences of a "party truce." He will be all the better for a candid,
though I hope not captious, Opposition.

I thought of printing on my title-page a motto from Mr. Bernard Shaw;
but it will perhaps come better here. "The fact," says Mr. Shaw, "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."

Besides, it has yet to be proved that the believer in the Invisible
King is happier than the sceptic.

  LONDON, _May_ 24, 1917.



CONTENTS


    I The Great Adventurer                                         1
   II A God Who "Growed"                                           3
  III New Myths for Old                                            8
   IV The Apostle's Creed                                         32
    V When Is a God Not a God?                                    47
   VI For and Against Personification                             73
  VII Back to the Veiled Being                                   101



GOD AND MR. WELLS



I

THE GREAT ADVENTURER


When it was known that Mr. H. G. Wells had set forth to discover God,
all amateurs of intellectual adventure were filled with pleasurable
excitement and anticipation. For is not Mr. Wells the great Adventurer
of latter-day literature? No quest is too perilous for him, no
forlorn-hope too daring. He led the first explorers to the moon. He
it was who lured the Martians to earth and exterminated them with
microbes. He has ensnared an angel from the skies and expiscated a
mermaid from the deep. He has mounted a Time Machine (of his own
invention) and gone careering down the vistas of the Future. But these
were comparatively commonplace feats. After all, there had been a
Jules Verne, there had been a Gulliver and a Peter Wilkins, there had
been a More, a Morris and a Bellamy. It might be that he was fitted
for far greater things. "There remains," we said to ourselves, "the
blue ribbon of intellectual adventure, the unachieved North Pole of
spiritual exploration. He has had countless predecessors in the
enterprise, some of whom have loudly claimed success; but their
log-books have been full of mere hallucinations and nursery tales.
What if it should be reserved for Mr. Wells to bring back the first
authentic news from a source more baffling than that of Nile or
Amazon--the source of the majestic stream of Being? What if it should
be given him to sign his name to the first truly-projected chart of
the scheme of things?"

We almost held our breath in eager anticipation, just as we did when
there came from America a well-authenticated rumor that the problem of
flying had at last been solved. Were we on the brink of another and
much more momentous discovery? Was Mr. Wells to be the Peary of the
great quest? Or only the last of a thousand Dr. Cooks?



II

A GOD WHO "GROWED"


Our excitement, our suspense, were so much wasted emotion. Mr. Wells's
enterprise was not at all what we had figured it to be.

  GOD
  THE INVISIBLE KING

is a very interesting, and even stimulating disquisition, full of a
fine social enthusiasm, and marked, in many passages, by deep poetic
feeling. But it is not a work of investigation into the springs of
Being. Mr. Wells explicitly renounces from the outset any dealings
with "cosmogony." It is a description of a way of thinking, a system
of nomenclature, which Mr. Wells declares to be extremely prevalent in
"the modern mind," from which he himself extracts much comfort and
fortification, and which he believes to be destined to regenerate the
world.

But Mr. Wells will not have it that what is involved is a mere system
of nomenclature. He avers that he, in common with many other
like-minded persons, has achieved, not so much an intellectual
discovery as an emotional realisation, of something actual and
objective which he calls God. He does not, so far as I remember, use
the term "objective"; but as he insists that God is "a spirit, a
person, a strongly marked and knowable personality" (p. 5), "a single
spirit and a single person" (p. 18), "a great brother and leader of
our little beings" (p. 24) with much more to the same purpose, it
would seem that he must have in his mind an object external to us, no
mere subjective "stream of tendency," or anything of that sort. It
would of course be foolish to doubt the sincerity of the conviction
which he so constantly and so eagerly asserts. Nevertheless, one
cannot but put forward, even at this stage, the tentative theory that
he is playing tricks with his own mind, and attributing reality and
personality to something that was in its origin a figure of speech. He
has been hypnotized by the word God:

  As when we dwell upon a word we know,
  Repeating, till the word we know so well
  Becomes a wonder, and we know not why.

At all events, "God the Invisible King" is not the creator and
sustainer of the universe. As to the origin of things Mr. Wells
professes the most profound agnosticism. "At the back of all known
things," he says, "there is an impenetrable curtain; the ultimate of
existence is a Veiled Being, which seems to know nothing of life or
death or good or ill.... The new religion does not pretend that the
God of its life is that Being, or that he has any relation of control
or association with that Being. It does not even assert that God knows
all, or much more than we do, about that ultimate Being" (p. 14). Very
good; but--here is the first question which seems to arise out of the
Wellsian thesis--are we not entitled to ask of "the new religion" some
more definite account of the relation between "God" and "the Veiled
Being"? Surely it is not enough that it should simply refrain from
"asserting" anything at all on the subject. If "God" is outside
ourselves ("a Being, not us but dealing with us and through us," p. 6)
we cannot leave him hanging in the void, like the rope which the
Indian conjurer is fabled to throw up into the air till it hooks
itself on to nothingness. If we are to believe in him as a lever for
the righting of a world that has somehow run askew, we want to know
something of his fulcrum. Is it possible thus to dissociate him from
the Veiled Being, and proclaim him an independent, an agnostic God? Do
we really get over any difficulty--do we not rather create new
difficulties,--by saying, as Mr. Wells practically does, "Our God is
no metaphysician. He does not care, and very likely does not know, how
this tangle of existence came into being. He is only concerned to
disentangle it a little, to reduce the chaos of the world to some sort
of seemliness and order"? Is it an idle and presumptuous curiosity
which enquires whether we are to consider him co-ordinate with the
Veiled Being, and in that case probably hostile, or subordinate, and
in that case instrumental? Are we, in a word, to consider the earth a
little rebel state in the gigantic empire of the universe, working out
its own salvation under its Invisible King? Or are we to regard God as
the Viceroy of the Veiled Being, to whom, in that case, our ultimate
allegiance is due?

I talked the other day to a young Australian who had been breaking new
land for wheat-growing. "What do you do?" I asked, "with the stumps of
the trees you fell? It must be a great labour to clear them out." "We
don't clear them out," he replied. "We use ploughs that automatically
rise when they come to a stump, and take the earth again on the other
side." I cannot but conjecture that Mr. Wells's thinking apparatus is
fitted with some such automatic appliance for soaring gaily over the
snags that stud the ploughlands of theology.



III

NEW MYTHS FOR OLD


Before examining the particular attributes and activities of the
Invisible King, let us look a little more closely into the question
whether a God detached alike from man below and (so to speak) from
heaven above, is a thinkable God in whom any satisfaction can be
found. Mr. Wells must not reply (he probably would not think of doing
so) that "satisfaction" is no test: that he asserts an objective truth
which exists, like the Nelson Column or the Atlantic Ocean, whether we
find satisfaction in it or not. Though he does not mention the word
"pragmatism," his standards are purely pragmatist. He offers no jot or
tittle of evidence for the existence of the Invisible King, except
that it is a hypothesis which he finds to work extremely well.
Satisfaction and nothing else is the test he applies. So we have every
right to ask whether the renunciation of all concern about the Veiled
Being, and concentration upon the thought of a finite God, practically
unrelated to the infinite, can bring us any reasonable sense of
reconciliation to the nature of things. For that, I take it, is the
essence of religion.

It was in no spirit of irony that I began this essay by expressing the
lively interest with which I learned that Mr. Wells was setting out on
the quest for God. The dogmatic agnosticism which declares it
impossible ever to know anything about the whence, how and why of the
universe does not seem to me more rational than any other dogma which
jumps from "not yet" to "never." Mr. Wells himself disclaims that
dogma. He says: "It may be that minds will presently appear among us
of such a quality that the face of that Unknown will not be altogether
hidden" (p. 108). And in another place (p. 15) he suggests that "our
God, the Captain of Mankind," may one day enable us to "pierce the
black wrappings," or, in other words, to get behind the veil. There is
nothing, then, unreasonable or absurd in man's incurable
inquisitiveness as to God, in the non-Wellsian sense of the term. God
simply means the key to the mystery of existence; and though the keys
hitherto offered have all either jammed or turned round and round
without unlocking anything, it does not follow that no real key exists
within the reach of human investigation or speculation. Therefore one
naturally feels a little stirring of hope at the news that a fresh and
keen intellect, untrammelled by the folk-lore theologies of the past,
is applying itself to the problem. It is always possible, however
improbable, that we may be helped a little forwarder on the path
towards realization. One comes back to the before-mentioned analogy of
flying. We had been assured over and over again, on the highest
authority, that it was an idle dream. When we wanted to express the
superlative degree of the impossible, we said "I can no more do it
than I can fly." But the irrepressible spirit of man was not to be
daunted by _à priori_ demonstrations of impossibility. One day there
came the rumour that the thing had been achieved, followed soon by
ocular demonstration; and now we rub shoulders every day with men who
have outsoared the eagle, and--alas!--carried death and destruction
into the hitherto stainless empyrean.

It would seem, then, that there is no reason absolutely to despair of
some advance towards a conception of the nature and reason of the
universe. And it is certain that Mr. Wells's God would stand a better
chance of satisfying the innate needs of the human intelligence if he
had not (apparently) given up as a bad job the attempt to relate
himself to the causal plexus of the All. Is he outside that causal
plexus, self-begotten, self-existent? Then he is the miracle of
miracles, a second mystery superimposed on the first. If, on the other
hand, he falls within the system, he might surely manage to convey to
his disciples some glimmering notion of his place in it. The
birth-stories of Gods are always grotesque and unedifying, but that is
because they belong to folk-lore. If this God does not belong to
folk-lore, surely his relation to the Veiled Being might be indicated
without impropriety. Mr. Wells, as we have seen, hints that his
reticence may be due to the fact that he does not know. In that case
this "modern" God is suspiciously like all the ancient Gods, whose
most unfortunate characteristic was that they never knew anything more
than their worshippers. The reason was not far to seek--namely, that
they were mere projections of the minds of these worshippers,
fashioned in their own image. But Mr. Wells assures us that this is
not the case of the Invisible King.

Mr. Wells will scarcely deny that if it were possible to compress his
mythology and merge his Invisible King in his Veiled Being, the result
would be a great simplification of the problem. But this is not, in
fact, possible; for it would mean the positing of an all-good and
all-powerful Creator, which is precisely the idea which Mr. Wells
rebels against,[1] in common with every one who realizes the facts of
life and the meaning of words. Short of this, however, is no other
simplification possible? Would it not greatly clarify our thought if
we could bring the Invisible King into action, not, indeed, as the
creator of all things, but as the organizer and director of the
surprising and almost incredible epiphenomenon which we call life? Our
scheme would then take this shape: an inconceivable unity behind the
veil, somehow manifesting itself, where it comes within our ken, in
the dual form of a great Artificer and a mass of terribly recalcitrant
matter--the only medium in which he can work. In other words, the
Veiled Being would be as inscrutable as ever, but the Invisible King,
instead of dropping in with a certain air of futility, like a doctor
arriving too late at the scene of a railway accident, would be placed
at the beginning, not of the universe at large, but of the atomic
re-arrangements from which consciousness has sprung. Can we, on this
hypothesis (which is practically that of Manichæanism) hazard any
guess at the motives or forces actuating the Invisible King,--or, to
avoid confusion, let us say the Artificer--which should acquit him of
the charge of being a callous and mischievous demon rather than a
well-willing God? Can we not only place pain and evil (a tautology) to
the account of sluggish, refractory matter, but also conjecture a
sufficient reason why the Artificer should have started the painful
evolution of consciousness, instead of leaving the atoms to whirl
insentiently in the figures imposed on them by the stupendous
mathematician behind the veil?

    [1] In _Mr. Britling Sees It Through_, which is in some sense
    a prologue to _God the Invisible King_, we find an emphatic
    renunciation of the all-good and all-powerful God. "The
    theologians," says Mr. Britling, "have been extravagant about
    God. They have had silly, absolute ideas--that he is all
    powerful. That he's omni-everything.... Why! if I thought
    there was an omnipotent God who looked down on battles and
    deaths and all the waste and horror of this war--able to
    prevent these things--doing them to amuse himself--I would
    spit in his empty face" (p. 406).

A complete answer to this question would be a complete solution of the
riddle of existence. That, if it be ever attainable, is certainly far
enough off. But there are some considerations, not always sufficiently
present to our minds, which may perhaps help us, not to a solution,
but to a rational restatement, of the riddle.

It is possible to suppose, in the first place, that the Artificer,
though entirely well-meaning, was not a free agent. We can construct a
myth in which an Elder Power should announce to a Younger Power his
intention of setting a number of sentient puppets dancing for his
amusement, and regaling himself with the spectacle of their antics, in
utter heedlessness of the agonies they must endure, which would,
indeed, lend an additional savor to the diversion. This Elder Power,
with the "sportsman's" preference for pigeons as against clay balls,
would be something like the God of Mr. Thomas Hardy. Then we can
imagine the Younger Power, after a vain protest demanding, as it were,
the vice-royalty of the new kingdom, in order that he might shape its
polity to high and noble ends, educe from tragic imperfection some
approach to perfection, and, in short, make the best of a bad
business. We should thus have (let us say) Marcus Aurelius claiming a
proconsulate under Nero, and, with very limited powers, gradually
substituting order and humanity for oppression and rapine. This
fairy-tale is not unlike Mr. Wells's; but I submit that it has the
advantage of placing the Invisible King, or his equivalent, in a
conceivable relation to the whole mundane process.

Now let us proceed to the alternative hypothesis. Let us suppose that
the Artificer was a free agent, and that he voluntarily, and in full
view of the consequences, engineered the conjunction of atoms from
which consciousness arose. He could have let it alone, he could have
suffered life to remain an abortive, slumbering potentiality, like the
fire in a piece of flint; yet he deliberately clashed the flint and
steel and kindled the torch which was to be handed on, not only from
generation to generation, but from species to species, through all the
stages of a toilsome, slaughterous, immeasurable ascent. If we accept
this hypothesis, can we acquit the Artificer of wanton cruelty? Can we
view his action with approval, even with gratitude? Or must we, like
Mr. Wells, if we wish to find an outlet for religious emotion,
postulate another, subsequent, intermeddling Power--like, say, an
American consul at the scene of the Turkish massacre--wholly guiltless
of the disaster of life, and doing his little best to mitigate and
remedy it?

In the present state of our knowledge, it is certainly very difficult
to see how the kindler of the _vitai lampada_, supposing him to have
been responsible for his actions, can claim from a jury of human
beings a verdict of absolute acquittal. But we can, even now, see
certain extenuating circumstances, which evidence not yet available
may one day so powerfully reinforce as to enable him to leave the
Court without a stain on his character.

For one thing, we are too much impressed and oppressed by the ideas of
magnitude and multitude. Since we have realized the unspeakable
insignificance of the earth in relation to the unimaginable vastness
of star-sown space, we have come to feel such a disproportion between
the mechanism of life and its upshot, as known in our own experience,
that we have a vague sense of maleficence, or at any rate of brutal
carelessness, in the responsible Power, whoever that may be. "What is
it all," we say, "but a trouble of ants in the gleam of a million
million of suns?" We feel like insects whom the foot of a heedless
giant may at any moment crush. We dream of the swish of a comet's tail
wiping out organic life on the planet, and we see, as a matter of
fact, great natural convulsions, such as the earthquake of Lisbon or
the eruption of Mont Pélée, treating human communities just as an
elephant might treat an ant-hill. It is this sense of the immeasurable
disproportion in things that a pessimist poet has expressed in the
well-known sonnet:--

  Know you, my friend, the sudden ecstasy
    Of thought that time and space annihilates,
    Creation in a moment uncreates,
  And whirls the mind, from secular habit free,
  Beyond the spheres, beyond infinity,
    Beyond the empery of the eternal Fates,
    To where the Inconceivable ruminates,
  The unthinkable "To be or not to be?"
  Then, as Existence flickers into sight,
    A marsh-flame in the night of Nothingness--
  The great, soft, restful, dreamless, fathomless night--
  We know the Affirmative the primal curse,
    And loathe, with all its imbecile strain and stress,
  This ostentatious, vulgar Universe.

The mood here recorded is one that must be familiar to most thinking
people. "The undevout astronomer is mad," said eighteenth-century
deism: to-day we are more apt to think that the uncritical astronomer
is dense. There is a sort of colossal stupidity about the stars in
their courses that overpowers and disquiets us. If (as Alfred Russel
Wallace has argued) the geocentric theory was not so far out after
all, and the earth, holding a specially favored place in the universe,
is the only home of life, then the disproportion of mechanism to
result seems absolutely appalling. If, on the other hand, all the
million million of suns are pouring out vital heat to a like number
of inhabited planetary systems, the sheer quantity of life, of
struggle, of suffering implied, seems a thought at which to shudder.
We are inclined to say to the inventor of sentience: "Since this
ingenious combination of yours was at best such a questionable boon,
surely you might have been content with one experiment."

But all such criticism rests upon a fallacy, or rather a brace of
interrelated fallacies. There can be no disproportion between
consciousness and the unconscious, because they are absolutely
incommensurable; and number, in relation to consciousness, is an
illusion. Consciousness, wherever it exists, is single, indivisible,
inextensible; and other consciousnesses, and the whole external
universe, are, to the individual percipient, but shapes in a more or
less protracted dream.

Why should we trouble about vastness--mere extension in space? There
is a sense in which the infinitesimally small is more marvellous, more
disquieting, than the infinitely great. The ant, the flea, nay, the
phagocyte in our blood, is really a more startling phenomenon than all
the mechanics and chemistry of the heavens. In worrying about the
bigness and the littleness of things, we are making the human body
our standard--the body whose dimensions are no doubt determined by
convenience in relation to terrestrial conditions, but have otherwise
no sort of sanctity or superiority, rightness or fitness. It happens
to be the object to which is attached the highest form of
consciousness we know; but consciousness itself has neither parts nor
magnitude. And consciousness itself is essentially greater than the
very vastness which appals us, seeing that it embraces and envelops
it. Enormous depths of space are pictured in my brain, through my
optic nerve; and what eludes the magic mirror of my retina, my mind
can conceive, apprehend, make its own. It is not even true to say that
the mind cannot conceive infinity--the real truth (if I may for once
be Chestertonian), the real truth is that it can conceive nothing
else. "When Berkeley said there was no matter"--it mattered greatly
what he said. Nothing can be more certain than that, apart from
percipience, there is no matter that matters. From the point of view
of pantheism (the only logical theism) God, far from being a Veiled
Being, or an Invisible King, is precisely the mind which translates
itself into the visible, sensible universe, and impresses itself, in
the form of a never-ending pageant, upon our cognate minds. It has
been thought that human consciousness may have come into being because
God wanted an audience. He was tired of being a cinematograph-film
unreeling before empty benches. Some people have even carried the
speculation further, and wondered whether the attachment of
percipience to organized matter, as in the case of human beings, may
not be a necessary stage in the culture of a pure percipience, capable
of furnishing the pageant of the universe with a permanent and
appreciative audience. In that case the Scottish Catechism would be
justified, which asks "What is the chief end of man?" and answers (as
Stevenson says) nobly if obscurely: "To glorify God and to enjoy Him
forever." But enough of these idle fantasies. What is certain is that
we can hold up our heads serenely among the immensities, knowing that
we are immenser than they. Even if they were malevolent--and that they
do not seem to be--they are no more terrible than the familiar dangers
of our homely earth. They cannot hurt us more than we can be hurt--an
obvious truism but one which is often overlooked. And this brings us
to the consideration of the second fallacy which sometimes warps our
judgment as to the responsibility of the Power which invented life.

We are all apt to speak and think as though sentience were an article
capable of accumulation, like money or merchandise, in enormous
aggregates--as though pleasure, and more particularly pain, were
subject to the ordinary rules of arithmetic, so that minor quantities,
added together, might mount up to an indefinitely gigantic total.
Poets and philosophers, time out of mind, have been heartbroken over
the enormous mass of evil in the world, and have spoken as though
animated nature were one great organism, with a brain in which every
pang that afflicted each one of its innumerable members was piled up
into a huge, pyramidal agony. But this is obviously not so. That very
"individuation" which to some philosophies is the primal curse--the
condition by all means to be annulled and shaken off[2]--forbids the
adding up of units of sentience. If "individuation" is the source of
human misery (which seems a rather meaningless proposition) it is
beyond all doubt its boundary and limit. We are each of us his own
universe. With each of us the universe is born afresh; with each of us
it dies--assuming, that is to say, that consciousness is extinguished
at death. There never has been and never can be in the world more
suffering than a single organism can sustain--which is another way of
saying that nothing can hurt us more than we can be hurt. Is this an
optimistic statement? Far from it. The individual is capable of great
extremities of suffering; and though not all men, or even most, are
put to the utmost test in this respect, there are certainly cases not
a few in which a man may well curse the day he was born, and see in
the universe that was born with him nothing but an instrument of
torture. But such an one must speak for himself. It is evident that,
take them all round, men accept life as no such evil gift. It cannot
even be said that, in handing it on to others, they are driven by a
fatal instinct which they know in their hearts to be cruel, and would
resist if they could. The vast majority have been, and still are,
entirely light-hearted about the matter, thus giving the best possible
proof that they cherish no grudge against the source of being, but
find it, on the balance, acceptable enough. If it be said that this is
due to stupidity, then stupidity is one of the factors in the case
which the great Artificer must be supposed to have foreseen and
reckoned upon. All these considerations must be taken into account
when we try to sum up the responsibility of an organizer and director
of life, acting of his own free will, although he knew that the
conditions under which he had to work would make the achievement of
any satisfactory result a slow, laborious and painful business.

    [2] Mr. Wells himself is not far from this view. See _God the
    Invisible King_, pp. 73, 76, and this book, pp. 39-40.

"But sympathy!" it may be said--"You have left sympathy out of the
reckoning. Unless we are not only 'individuals' but iron-clad
egotists, we suffer with others more keenly, sometimes, than in our
own persons." Sympathy, no doubt, is, like the summer sun and the
frost of winter, a fact of common experience causing us alternate joy
and pain; but it means no sort of breach in the wall of
"individuation." Our nearest and dearest are simply factors in our
environment, most influential factors, but as external to us as the
trees or the stars. We cannot, in any real sense, draw away their
pains and add them to our own, any more than they, in their turn, can
relieve us of our toothache or our sciatica. They are the points,
doubtless, at which our environment touches us most closely, but
neither incantation nor Act of Parliament, neither priest nor
registrar, can make even man and wife really "one flesh." It was
necessary for the conservation of the species that a strict limit
should be set to the operation of sympathy. Had that emotion been
able to pierce the shell of individuality, so that one being could
actually add the sufferings of another, or of many others, to his own,
life would long ago have come to an end. As it is, sympathy implies an
imaginative extension of individuality, which is of enormous social
value. But we remain, none the less, isolated each in his own
universe, and our fellow-men and women are but shapes in the panorama,
the strange, fantastic dream, which the Veiled Showman unrolls before
us.

In these post-Darwinian days, moreover, we are inclined to give way to
certain morbid and sentimental exaggerations of sympathy, which do
some injustice to the great Artificer whom we are for the moment
assuming to be responsible for sentient life. Many of us are much
concerned about "nature, red in tooth and claw." It is a sort of
nightmare to us to think of the tremendous fecundity of swamp and
jungle, warren and pond, and of the ruthless struggle for existence
which has made earth, air, and sea one mighty battle-ground. In this
we are again letting the fallacy of number take hold of us. There can
be no aggregate of suffering among lower, any more than among higher,
organisms; and the amount of pain which individual animals have to
endure--even animals of those species which we can suppose to possess
a certain keenness of sensibility--is probably, in the vast majority
of cases, very trifling. Half the anguish of humanity proceeds from
the power of looking before and after. The animal, though he may
suffer from fear of imminent, visible danger, cannot know the torture
of long-drawn apprehension. For most of his life he is probably aware
of a vague well-being; then of a longer or shorter--often a very
short--spell of vague ill-being; and so, the end. Nor is it possible
to doubt that the experience of some animals includes a great deal of
positive rapture. If the lark be not really the soul of joy, he is the
greatest hypocrite under the sun. Many insects seem to be pin-points
of vibrant vitality which we can scarcely believe to be unaccompanied
by pleasurable sensation. The mosquito which I squash on the back of
my hand, and which dies in a bath of my own blood, has had a short
life but doubtless a merry one. The moths which, in a tropic night,
lie in calcined heaps around the lamp, have probably perished in
pursuit of some ecstatic illusion. It does not seem, on the whole,
that we need expend much pity on the brute creation, or make its
destinies a reproach to the great Artificer. Which is not to say, of
course, that we ought not to detest and try with all our might to
abolish the cruelties of labor, commerce, sport and war.

Again, as to the great calamities--the earthquakes, shipwrecks,
railway accidents, even the wars--which are often made a leading count
in the arraignment of the Author of Sentience, we must not let
ourselves be deceived by the fallacy of number. Their spectacular,
dramatic aspect naturally attracts attention; but the death-roll of a
great shipwreck is in fact scarcely more terrible than the daily bills
of mortality of a great city. It is true that a violent death,
overtaking a healthy man, is apt to involve moments, perhaps hours, of
acute distress which he might have escaped had he died of gradual
decay or of ordinary well-tended disease; and a very short space of
the agony sometimes attendant upon (say) a railway accident, probably
represents itself to the sufferer as an eternity. But there is also
another side to the matter. Instantaneous death in a great catastrophe
must be reckoned as mere euthanasia; and even short of this, the
attendant excitement has often the effect of an anodyne. In the
upshot, no doubt, such occurrences are rightly called disasters, since
their tendency is to cause needlessly painful death, under
circumstances, which in the main, enhance its terrors; but the
sufferings of the victims cannot be added together because they occur
within a limited area, any more than if they had been spread over an
indefinite tract of space. As for war, it increases the liability of
every individual who comes within its wide-flung net to intense bodily
and mental suffering, and to premature and painful death. Moreover, it
destroys social values which _can_ be added up. In this respect it
leaves the world face to face with an appalling deficit. But we must
not let it weigh upon us too heavily, or make it too great a reproach
to the Artificer of human destiny. For the soldier, like every other
sentient organism, is immured in his own universe, and his individual
debit-and-credit account with the Power which placed him there would
be no whit different if he were indeed the only real existence, and
the world around him were naught but a dance of shadows.

If there were a country of a hundred million people, in which every
citizen was born to an allowance of five pounds, which in all his life
he could not possibly increase, or invest in joint-stock enterprises,
though he might leave some of it unexpended--we should not, in spite
of the £500,000,000 of its capital, call that a wealthy country. Its
effective wealth would be precisely a five-pound note. Similarly,
given a world in which every one is born with a limited capacity of
sentience, inalienable, incommunicable, unique, we should do wrong to
call that world a multi-millionaire in misery, even if it could be
proved that in each individual account the balance of sensation was on
the wrong side of the ledger. It is true that if, in one man's
account, the balance were largely to the bad, he would be entitled to
reproach the Veiled Banker, even though five hundred or five thousand
of his fellows declared themselves satisfied with the result of their
audit. But if the Banker, in opening business, had good reason to
think that, in the long run, the contents would largely outvote the
non-contents, we could scarcely blame him for going ahead. And what
if, for contents and malcontents alike, he had an uncovenanted bonus
up his sleeve?

       *       *       *       *       *

In this disquisition, with its shifting personifications, its
Artificer, Author, Banker and the like, we may seem to have wandered
far away from Mr. Wells and his Invisible King; but I hope the reader
has not wholly lost the clue. Let us recapitulate. Starting from the
idea that its total renunciation of metaphysics, its incuriousness as
to causation, was a weakness in Mr. Wells's system, inasmuch as an
eager curiosity as to these matters is an inseparable part of our
intellectual outfit, we set about enquiring whether it might not be
possible to abandon the notions of omnipotence, omniscience and
omni-benevolence, and yet to conceive a doctrine of origins into which
a well-willing God should enter, not, like the Invisible King, as a
sort of remedial afterthought, but as a prime mover in this baffling
business of life. We put forward two hypotheses, each of which seemed
more thinkable, less in the air, so to speak, than Mr. Wells's scheme
of things. We imagined a wholly callous, unpitying Power, wantonly
setting up combinations in matter which it knew would work out in
cruelty and misery, and another co-ordinate though not quite equal
Power interfering from the first to introduce into the combinations of
the Elder Deity a slow but sure bias towards the good. Then we
proposed an alternative hypothesis, logically simpler, though more
difficult from the moral point of view. We conceived at the source of
organic life an intelligent and well-willing Power constrained, by
some necessity "behind the veil," to carry out his purposes through
the sluggish, refractory, hampering medium of matter. Supposing this
Power free to act or to refrain from acting, we asked whether he could
take the affirmative course--choose the "Everlasting Yea" as Carlyle
would phrase it--without forfeiting our esteem and disqualifying for
the post of Invisible King in the Wellsian sense of the term. In a
tentative way, not exempt, perhaps, from a touch of special pleading,
we advanced certain considerations which seemed to suggest that his
decision to kindle the torch of life might, after all, be justified.
Our provisional conclusion was that though, as at present advised, we
might not quite see our way to hail him as a beneficent Invisible
King, yet we need not go to the opposite extreme of writing him down a
mere Ogre God, indifferent to the vast and purposeless process of
groaning and travail, begetting and devouring, which he had wantonly
initiated. That is the point at which we have now arrived.

I hope it need not be said I do not attribute any substantive value to
the hypothetical myths here put forward and discussed--that I do not
accept either of them, or propose that anyone else should accept it,
as a probable adumbration of what actually occurred "in the
beginning"--a first chapter in a new Book of Genesis. My purpose was
simply, since myth-making was the order of the day, to hint a
criticism of Mr. Wells's myth, by placing beside it one or two other
fantasies, perhaps as plausible as his, which had the advantage of not
entirely eluding the question of origins. I submit, with great
respect, that my Artificer comes a little less out of the blue than
his Invisible King--that is all I claim for him.

But here Mr. Wells puts in a protest, not without indignation.
Myth-making, he declares, is _not_ the order of the day. Had he wanted
to indulge in myth-making, he could easily have found some
metaphysical affiliation for his Invisible King. What he has done is
to record a profound spiritual experience, common to himself and many
other good men and true, which has culminated in the recognition of an
actual Power, objectively extant in the world, to which he has felt it
a sacred duty to bear witness. Very good; so be it; let us now look
more in detail into the gospel according to Wells.



IV

THE APOSTLE'S CREED


A gospel it is, in all literalness; an evangel; a message of glad
tidings. It is not merely _a_ truth, it is "the Truth" (p. 1). Let
there be no mistake about it: Mr. Wells's ambition is to rank with St.
Paul and Mahomet, as the apostle of a new world-religion. He does not
in so many words lay claim to inspiration, but it is almost inevitably
deducible from his premises. He is uttering the first clear and
definite tidings of a God who is endowed with personality, character,
will and purpose. To that Deity he has submitted himself in
enthusiastic devotion. If the God does not seize the opportunity to
speak through such a marvellously suitable, such an ideal, mouthpiece,
then practical common-sense cannot be one of his attributes. Which of
the other Gods who have announced themselves from time to time has
found such a megaphone to reverberate his voice? St. Paul was a poor
tent-maker, whose sermons were not even reported in the religious
press, while his letters probably counted their public by scores, or
at most by hundreds. Mr. Wells, from the outset of his mission, has
the ear of two hemispheres.

What, then, does he tell us of his God? The first characteristic which
differentiates him from all the other Gods with a big G--for of course
we pay no heed to the departmental gods of polytheism--the first fact
we must grasp and hold fast to, is that he lays no claim to infinity.
"This new faith ... worships _a finite God_" (p. 5; Mr. Wells's
italics). "He has begun and he never will end" (p. 18). "He is within
time and not outside it" (p. 7). Nothing can be more definite than
that. There was a time when God did not exist; and then somehow,
somewhen, he came into being.

Perhaps to ask "When?" would be to trespass on the department of
origins, from which we are explicitly warned off. It would be to
trench upon "cosmogony." Yet we are not quite without guidance. "The
renascent religion," we are told, "has always been here; it has always
been visible to those that had eyes to see" (p. 1). "Always," in this
context, can only mean during the whole course of human history.
Therefore God must have come into being some time between the issue
of the creative fiat and the appearance of man on the planet. This is
a pretty wide margin, but it is something to go upon. He may have been
contemporary with the amoeba, or with the ichthyosaurus, or haply
with the earliest quadrumana. At the very latest (if "always" is
accurate) he must have made his appearance exactly at the same time as
man; and if I were to give my opinion, I should say that was extremely
probable. At all events, even if he preceded man by a few thousand or
million years, we are compelled to assume that he came in preparation
for the advent of the human species, determined to be on hand when
wanted. For we do not gather that the lower animals stand in need of
his services, or are capable of benefiting by them. One might be
tempted to conceive him as guiding the course of evolution and
hastening its laggard process; but (as we shall see) he scorns the
rôle of Providence, and resolutely abstains from any intromission in
organic or meteorological concerns. It would be pleasant to think that
he had something to do with (for instance) the retreat of the ice-cap
in the northern hemisphere; but we are not encouraged to indulge in
any such speculation. It would appear that the activity of God is
purely psychical and moral--that he has no interest in biology, except
as it influences, and is influenced by, sociology. In short, from all
that one can make out, this God is strictly correlative to Man; and
that is a significant fact which we shall do well to bear in mind.

As we have already seen, the Infinite (or Veiled) Being is not God (p.
13); nor is God the Life Force, the "impulse thrusting through matter
and clothing itself in continually changing material forms ... the
Will to Be" (pp. 15-16). As we have also seen, Mr. Wells refuses to
define the relation of his God, this "spirit," this "single spirit and
single person," to either of these inscrutable entities. "God," he
says, "comes to us neither out of the stars nor out of the pride of
life, but as a still small voice within" (p. 18). It is by "faith"
that we "find" him (p. 13); but Mr. Wells "doubts if faith can be
complete and enduring if it is not secured by the definite knowledge
of the true God" (p. 135). What, then, is "faith" in this context? It
would be too much to say, with the legendary schoolboy, that it is
"believing what you know isn't true." The implication seems rather to
be that if you begin by believing on inadequate grounds, you will
presently attain to belief on adequate grounds, or, in other words,
knowledge. Thus, when you go to a spiritual séance in a sceptical
frame of mind, the chill of your aura frightens the spirits away, and
you obtain no manifestations; but if you go in a mood of faith, which
practically means confident expectation, the phenomena follow, and you
depart a convert. I use this illustration in no scoffing spirit. The
presupposition is not irrational. It amounts, in effect, to saying
that you must go some way to meet God before God can or will come to
you. This seems a curious coyness; but as God is finite and
conditioned, a bit of a character ("a strongly marked and knowable
personality," p. 5), there is nothing contradictory in it. Even when
we read that "the true God goes through the world like fifes and drums
and flags, calling for recruits along the street" (p. 40), we must not
seize upon the letter of a similitude, and talk about inconsistency.
You must go out to meet even the Salvation Army. It offers you
salvation in vain if you obstinately bolt your door, and insist that
an Englishman's house is his castle.

The finding of this God is very like what revivalists call
"conversion" (p. 21). You are oppressed by "the futility of the
individual life"; you fall into "a state of helpless self-disgust"
(p. 21); you are, in short, in the condition described by Hamlet when
he says: "It goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly
frame the earth seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent
canopy the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this
majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why it appears no other
thing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors." The
condition may result, as in Hamlet's case, from an untoward
conjunction of outward circumstances; or it may be of physiological
(liverish) origin. The methods of treatment are many--some of them
(such as the administration of alcohol in large doses) disastrously
unwise. In some states of society and periods of history, religion is
the popular specific; and there have been, and are, forms of religion
to which alcohol would be preferable. Fortunately, one can say without
a shadow of hesitancy that "the modern religion" lies under no such
suspicion. As dispensed by Mr. Wells, it is entirely wholesome. If it
is found to cheer, it will certainly not inebriate. Indeed, the doubt
one feels as to its popular success lies in the very fact that it
contains but an innocuous proportion of alcohol.

You find yourself, then, in the distressful case described by Hamlet
and Mr. Wells. "Man delights you not, no, nor woman neither." You
cannot muster up energy even to kill King Claudius. You go about
gloomily soliloquizing on suicide and kindred topics. Then, "in some
way the idea of God comes into the distressed mind" (p. 21). It
develops through various stages, outlined by Mr. Wells in the passage
cited. In the modern man, it would seem, one great difficulty lies in
"a curious resistance to the suggestion that God is truly a person"
(p. 22). It is here, no doubt, that faith comes in; at all events, you
ultimately get over this stumbling-block. "Then suddenly, in a little
while, in his own time, God comes. The cardinal experience is an
undoubting immediate sense of God. It is the attainment of an absolute
certainty that one is not alone in oneself" (p. 23). You have come, in
fact, to the gate of Damascus. You have found salvation.

Yes, salvation!--there is no other word for it. Mr. Wells does not
hesitate to use both that word and its correlative, damnation. From
what, then, are you saved? Why, from quite a number of things. You are
saved "from the purposelessness of life" (p. 18). God's immortality
has "taken the sting from death" (p. 22). You have escaped "from the
painful accidents and chagrins of individuation" (p. 73). "Salvation
is to lose oneself" (p. 73); it is "a complete turning away from self"
(p. 84). "Damnation is really over-individuation, and salvation is
escape from self into the larger being of life" (p. 76). In another
place we are told that salvation is "escape from the individual
distress at disharmony and the individual defeat by death, into the
Kingdom of God, and damnation can be nothing more and nothing less
than the failure or inability or disinclination to make that escape"
(p. 148). On the next page we have another definition of damnation
(borrowed, it would seem, from Mr. Clutton Brock), with which I hasten
to express my cordial and enthusiastic agreement: "_Satisfaction with
existing things is damnation._" I have always thought that hell was
the headquarters of conservatism, and am delighted to find such
influential backing for that pious opinion.

As for sin, it seems to be a falling away from the state of grace
attained through conversion. You can and do sin while you are still
unconverted; for we are told that "repentance is the beginning and
essential of the religious life" (p. 165). Probably (though this is
not clear) your unregenerate condition is in itself sinful,
"individuation" being not very different from the Original Sin of the
theologians. But it is sin after regeneration that really matters.
"Salvation leaves us still disharmonious, and adds not one inch to our
spiritual and moral nature" (p. 146). "It is the amazing and
distressful discovery of every believer so soon as the first
exaltation of belief is past, that one does not remain always in touch
with God" (p. 149). One backslides. One reverts to one's unregenerate
type. The old Adam makes disquieting resurgences in the swept and
garnished mansion from which he seemed to have been for ever cast out.
"This is the personal problem of Sin. _Here prayer avails; here God
can help us_" (p. 150). And what is still more consoling, "though you
sin seventy times seven times, God will still forgive the poor rest of
you.... There is no sin, no state that, being regretted and repented
of, can stand between God and man" (p. 156).

We shall have to consider later what useful purpose (if any) is served
by this free-and-easy use of the dialect of revivalism. In the
meantime, one would be sorry to seem to write without respect of the
depth of conviction which Mr. Wells throws into his account of the
supreme spiritual experience of finding God. "Thereafter," he says,
"one goes about the world like one who was lonely and has found a
lover, like one who was perplexed and has found a solution" (pp.
23-24). God is a "huge friendliness, a great brother and leader of our
little beings" (p. 24). "He is a stimulant; he makes us live
immortally and more abundantly. I have compared him to the sensation
of a dear strong friend who comes and stands quietly beside one,
shoulder to shoulder" (p. 39). It certainly takes some courage for a
modern Englishman, not by profession a licensed dealer in spiritual
sentimentality, to write like this.

And now comes the question, What does God do? What does he aim at? And
how does he effect his purposes? The answer seems to be that, in a
literal, tangible sense, he does nothing. He operates solely in and
through the mind of man; and even through the mind of man he does not
influence external events. This, it may be said, is impossible, since
all those external events which we call human conduct flow from the
mind of man. Perhaps it would be correct to say (for here Mr. Wells
gives us no explicit guidance) that external events are only a
by-product of the influence of God: that, having begotten a certain
spiritual state which he feels to be generally desirable, he takes no
responsibility for the particular consequences that are likely to flow
from it. So, at least, one can best interpret Mr. Wells's repeated
disclaimer of the idea that "God is Magic or God is Providence" (p.
27), that "all the time, incalculably, he is pulling about the order
of events for our personal advantages" (p. 35-6). Commenting on Mr.
Edwyn Bevan's phrase for God, "the Friend behind phenomena," Mr. Wells
insists that the expression "carries with it no obligation whatever to
believe that this Friend is in control of the phenomena" (p. 87).
Perhaps not; but it is a question for after consideration whether
lucidity is promoted by giving the name God to a Power which has no
power--which does not seem even to make directly purposive use of the
influence which it possesses over the minds of believers. Once, in a
coasting steamer on the Pacific, I nearly died of sea-sickness. A
friend was with me, the soul of kindness, such a lovable old man that
I write this down partly for the pleasure of recalling him. He used to
come to my cabin every hour or so, shake his head mournfully, and go
away again. I felt his good will and was grateful for it; but it would
be affectation to pretend that I would not have been still more
grateful had he possessed some "control of phenomena"--had he brought
with him a remedy. Since those days, more than one efficacious
preventive of sea-sickness has been discovered; and I own to counting
the nameless chemists who have achieved this marvel among the most
authentic friends to poor humanity of whom we have any knowledge.
Where is the God (as Mr. Zangwill has pertinently enquired) who will
give us a cure for cancer?

This, however, is a digression, or at any rate an anticipation. What
the Invisible King actually does, without meddling with phenomena, is
to assume the "captaincy" of the "racial adventure" in which we are
engaged (p. 76). "God must love his followers as a great captain loves
his men ... whose faith alone makes him possible. It is an austere
love. The Spirit of God will not hesitate to send us to torment and
bodily death" (p. 67). And what is this "racial adventure"? It is, in
the first place, the achievement of Mr. Wells's political ideals--an
object which has all my sympathy, since they happen to be, generally
speaking, my own. "As a knight in God's service," says Mr. Wells, "I
take sides against injustice, disorder, and against all those
temporal kings, emperors, princes, landlords, and owners, who set
themselves up against God's rule and worship" (p. 97). By all means!
Only one does not see how, if the kings, emperors and landlords
declare that they, too, have found God, and found him on the side of
monarchy and landlordism, this contention of theirs is to be confuted.
If God does not control phenomena, the actual controllers of events
will be able to maintain in the future, as in the past, that he is on
the side of the big battalions--an argument which it will be hard to
meet, except by raising bigger battalions. In the meantime we have to
note that God's political opinions are only provisional, and that he
himself is open to conviction. "The first purpose of God is the
attainment of clear knowledge, of knowledge as a means to more
knowledge, and of knowledge as a means to power" (p. 98-9). And the
object to which he will apply this power is "the conquest of death:
first the overcoming of death in the individual by the incorporation
of the motives of his life into an undying purpose, and then the
defeat of that death which seems to threaten our species upon a
cooling planet beneath a cooling sun" (p. 99). Ultimately, then, it
would seem that God does intend to undertake the control of
phenomena. Dealing with ice-caps is not so entirely outside his
province as one had hastily assumed. The Invisible King is not, after
all, a _roi fainéant_. He will begin to do things as soon as he knows
how: any other course would be obviously rash. One would like to live
a few hundred thousand years, to see him come into overt action. Yet,
in this far-reaching program, there seems to lurk a certain
contradiction, or at least an ambiguity. If, for the believer in God,
death has, here and now, lost its sting--if "we come staggering
through into the golden light of his kingdom, to fight for his kingdom
henceforth, until, at last, we are altogether taken up into his being"
(p. 68)--one does not quite see the reason for this long campaign
against death. Surely the logical consummation would be an ultimate
racial euthanasia, an absorption of humanity into God, a vast
apotheosis-nirvana, after which the earth and sun could go on cooling
at their leisure.

       *       *       *       *       *

Apart from one or two irrepressible "asides," I have attempted in this
chapter to let Mr. Wells speak for himself, proclaim the faith that is
in him, and draw the portrait of his God. Many details are of course
omitted, for which the reader must turn to the original text. He will
find it a pleasant and profitable task. The remainder of my present
undertaking falls into three parts. First I must ask the reader to
consider with me whether Mr. Wells's gospel can be accepted as a real
addition to knowledge, like (say) the discovery of radium, or whether
it is only a re-description in new language (or old language slightly
refurbished) of familiar facts of spiritual experience. In the second
place, assuming that we have to fall back on the latter alternative,
we shall enquire whether anything would be gained by the general
acceptance of this new-old, highly emotionalized terminology. Thirdly,
I shall venture to suggest that when Mr. Wells says "The first purpose
of God is the attainment of clear knowledge, of knowledge as a means
to more knowledge, and of knowledge as a means to power," he is only
choosing a mythological way of expressing the fact that if God (in the
ordinary, non-Wellsian sense of the word) is ever to be found, it must
be through patient investigation of the phenomena in which he clothes
himself.



V

WHEN IS A GOD NOT A GOD?


Though many of Mr. Wells's asseverations of the substantive reality of
his Invisible King have been quoted above, it would be easy to
lengthen their array. There is nothing on which he is so insistent.
For example, "God is no abstraction nor trick of words....[3] He is as
real as a bayonet thrust or an embrace" (p. 56). And again, on the
same page: "He feels us and knows us; he is helped and gladdened by
us. He hopes and attempts." There is no limit to the anthropomorphism
of the language which Mr. Wells currently employs. Or rather, there is
only one limit: he disclaims the notion that his God is actually
existent in space, that he has parts and dimensions, and inhabits a
form in any way analogous to ours. He is the Invisible King, not
merely, like the Spanish Fleet, because he "is not yet in sight," but
because he has no material or "astral" integument. Being outside space
(though inside time) he can be omnipresent (p. 61). But of course Mr.
Wells would not pretend that no deity can be called anthropomorphic
who is not actually conceived as incarnate in the visible figure of a
man. An anthropomorphic God is one who reflects the mental
characteristics of his worshippers; and that Mr. Wells's God does, if
ever God did in this world.

    [3] The words here omitted, "no Infinite," are nothing to the
    present purpose. Mr. Wells has started by making this
    declaration, which we accept without difficulty. No one will
    suspect the Invisible King of being an "Infinite" in
    disguise.

Yet almost in the same breath in which he is claiming for his God the
fullest independent reality--thinking of him "as having moods and
aspects, as a man has, and a consistency we call his character" (p.
63)--he will use language implying that he is that very abstraction of
the better parts of human nature which has been proposed for worship
in all the various "religions of humanity," "ethical churches," and so
forth, for two or three generations past. Listen to this: "Though he
does not exist in matter or space, he exists in time, just as a
current of thought may do; he changes and becomes more even as a man's
thought gathers itself together; somewhere in the dawning of mankind
he had a beginning, an awakening, and as mankind grows he grows....
_He is the undying human memory, the increasing human will_" (p. 61).
When, in the last chapter, I discussed the date of the divinity's
birth, I had overlooked this text. Here we have it in black and white
that he did not precede mankind--that, of course, would have implied
independence--but began with the "dawning" of the race, and has grown
with its growth. Moreover, the analogy of a "current of thought" is
expressly suggested--reinforcing the suspicion which has all along
haunted us that the God of Mr. Wells is nothing else than what is
known to less mythopoeic thinkers as a "stream of tendency." But Mr.
Wells will by no means have it so. Indeed he evidently regards this as
the most annoying, and perhaps damnable, of heresies. On the very next
page he proceeds to rule out the suggestion that "God is the
collective mind and purpose of the human race." "You may declare," he
says, "that this is no God, but merely the sum of mankind. But those
who believe in the new ideas very steadfastly deny that. God is, they
say, not an aggregate but a synthesis." And he goes on to suggest
various analogies: a temple is more than a gathering of stones, a
regiment more than an accumulation of men: we do not love the soil of
our back garden, or the chalk of Kent, or the limestone of Yorkshire;
yet we love England, which is made up of these things. So God is more
than the sum or essence of the nobler impulses of the race: he is a
spirit, a person, a friend, a great brother, a captain, a king: he "is
love and goodness" (p 80); and without him the Service of Man is "no
better than a hobby, a sentimentality or a hypocrisy" (p. 95).

Let us reflect a little upon these analogies, and see whether they
rest on any solid basis. Why is a temple more than a heap of stones?
Because human intelligence and skill have entered into the stones and
organized them to serve a given purpose or set of purposes: to delight
the eye, to elevate the mind, to express certain ideas, to afford
shelter for worshippers against wind, rain and sun. Why is a regiment
more than a mob? Again because it has been deliberately and
elaborately organized to fulfil certain functions. Why is England more
than the mere rocks of which it is composed? Because these materials
have been grouped, partly by nature, but very largely by the labor of
untold generations of our fathers, into forms which give pleasure to
the eye and appeal to our most intimate and cherished associations.
Besides, when we speak of "England," we do not think only or mainly
of its physical aspects. We think of it as a great community, with an
ancient, and in some ways admirable, tradition of political life, with
a splendid record of achievement in both material and spiritual
things, with a great past, and (we hope) a greater future. In all
these cases the parts have been fused into a whole by human effort,
either consciously or instinctively applied; and it is in virtue of
this effort alone that the whole transcends its parts. But in the case
of a God "synthetized" out of the thought and feeling of untold
generations of men, the analogy breaks down at every point. To assume
that portions of psychic experience are capable of vital coalescence,
is to beg the whole question. We know that stone can be piled on
stone, that men can be trained to form a platoon, a cohort, a phalanx;
but that detached fragments of mind are capable of any sort of
cohesion and organization we do not know at all. And, even if this
point could be granted, where is the organizing power? We should have
to postulate another God to serve as the architect or the
drill-sergeant of our synthetic divinity. Nor would it help matters to
suggest that the God (as it were) crystallized himself; for that is to
assume structural potentialities in his component parts which must
have come from somewhere, so that again we have to presuppose another
God. It is true, no doubt, that portions of thought and feeling can be
collected, arranged, edited, in some sense organized, by human effort;
but the result is an encyclopædia, a thesaurus, an anthology, a
liturgy, a bible--not a God. It may, like the Vedas, the Hebrew
Scriptures and the Koran, become an object of idolatry; but even its
idolaters see in it only an emanation from God, not the God himself.
All this argument may strike the reader as extremely nebulous, but I
submit that the fault is not mine. It was not I who sought to
demonstrate the reality of a figure of speech by placing it on all
fours with a cathedral and a regiment. The whole contention is so
baffling that reason staggers and flounders as in a quicksand. It
rests upon a mixture of categories, as palpable and yet as elusive as
anything in _The Hunting of the Snark_.

If you tell me that Public Opinion is a God, I am quite willing to
consider whether the metaphor is a luminous and helpful one. But if
you protest that it is no metaphor at all, but a literal statement of
fact, like the statement that Mr. Woodrow Wilson is President of the
United States, I no longer know where we are. Mr. Wells's "undying
human memory and increasing human will" cannot exactly be identified
with Public Opinion, but it belongs to the same order of ideas. Here
there is an actual workable analogy. But there is no practicable
analogy between a purely mental concept and a physical construction.
You will not help me to believe in (say) the doctrine of Original Sin,
by assuring me that it is built, like the Tower Bridge, on the
cantilever principle.

It is quite certain that, if passionate conviction and the free use of
anthropomorphic language can make a figure of speech a God, the
Invisible King is an individual entity, as detached from Mr. Wells as
Michelangelo's Moses from Michelangelo. Paradoxically enough, he has
put on "individuation" that his worshippers may escape from it. Mr.
Wells's book teems with expressions--I have given many examples of
them--which are wholly inapplicable to any metaphor, however
galvanized into a semblance of life by ecstatic contemplation in the
devotional mind. For example, when we are told that it is doubtful
whether "God knows all, or much more than we do, about the ultimate
Being," the mere assertion of a doubt implies the possibility of
knowledge of a quite different order from any that exists in the human
intelligence. Mr. Wells explicitly assures us that knowledge of the
Veiled Being is (for the present at any rate) inaccessible to our
faculties; but he implies that such knowledge _may_ be possessed by
the Invisible King; and as knowledge cannot possibly be a synthesis of
ignorances, it follows that the Invisible King has powers of
apprehension quite different from, and independent of, any operation
of the human brain. These powers may not, as a matter of fact, have
solved the enigma of existence; but it is clearly implied that they
might conceivably do so; and indeed the text positively asserts that
God knows _something_ more of the Veiled Being than we do, though
perhaps not "much." In view of this passage, and many others of a like
nature, we cannot fall back on the theory that Mr. Wells is merely
trying, by dint of highly imaginative writing, to infuse life into a
deliberate personification, like Robespierre's Goddess of Reason or
Matthew Arnold's Zeitgeist. However difficult it may be, we must
accustom ourselves to the belief that his assertions of the personal
existence of his God represent the efficient element in his thought,
and that if other passages seem inconsistent with that idea--seem to
point to mere abstraction or allegorization of the mind of the
race--it is these passages, and not the more full-blooded
pronouncements, that must be cancelled as misleading or inadequate.
There can be no doubt that the God to whom Mr. Wells seeks to convert
us is (in his apostle's conception) much more of a President Wilson
than of a Zeitgeist.

       *       *       *       *       *

It would be possible, of course, for a God, however dubious and even
inconceivable the method of his "synthesis," to manifest himself in
his effects--to prove his existence by his actions. But this, as we
have seen, the Invisible King scorns to do. His adherents, we are
told, "advance no proof whatever of the existence of God but their
realization of him" (p. 98). There is a sort of implication that the
Deity will not descend to vulgar miracle-working. "An evil and
adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be
given to it"--not even "the sign of Jonah the prophet."

But to ask for some sort of visible or plausibly conjecturable effect
is not at all the same thing as to ask for miracles. Mr. Wells
proclaims with all his might that the Invisible King works the most
marvellous and beneficent changes in the minds of his devotees; why,
then, do these changes produce no recognizable effect on the course of
events? The God who can work upon the human mind has the key to the
situation in his hands--why, then, does he make such scant use of it?
Is God only a luxury for the intellectually wealthy? The champagne of
the spiritual life? A stimulant and anodyne highly appreciated in the
best circles, but inaccessible to the man of small spiritual means,
whether he be a dweller in palaces or in the slums?

To say that a given Power can and does potently affect the human mind,
and yet cannot, or at least does not, produce any appreciable or
demonstrable effect on the external aspects of human life, is like
asking us to believe that a man is a heaven-born conductor who can get
nothing out of his orchestra but discords and cacophonies.

Mr. Wells may perhaps reply that his God _does_ recognizably influence
the course of events--indeed, that everything in history which we see
to be good and desirable is the work of the Invisible King--but that
he does not advance this fact as a proof of God's existence, because
it is discernible only to the eye of faith and cannot be brought home
to unregenerate reason. I do not imagine that he will take this line,
for it would come dangerously near to identifying God with
Providence--a heresy which he abhors. But supposing some other adept
in "modern religion" were to make this claim on behalf of the
Invisible King, would it go any way towards persuading us that we owe
him our allegiance?

The assumption would be, as I understand it, that of a finite God,
unable to modify the operations of matter, but with an unlimited, or
at any rate a very great, power of influencing the workings of the
human mind. He would have no control over meteorological conditions:
he could not "ride in the whirlwind and direct the storm"; he could
not subdue the earthquake or prevent the Greenland glacier from
"calving" icebergs into the Atlantic. He could not release the human
body from the rhythms of growth and decay; he could not eradicate that
root of all evil, the association of consciousness with a mechanism
requiring to be constantly stoked with a particular sort of fuel which
exists only in limited quantities. If God could arrange for life to be
maintained on a diet of inorganic substances--if he could enable
animals, like plants, to go direct to minerals and gases for their
sustenance, instead of having it, so to speak, half-digested in the
vegetable kingdom--or even if, under the present system, he could make
fecundity, in any given species, automatically proportionate to the
supply of food--he would at one stroke refashion earthly life in an
extremely desirable sense. But this we assume to be beyond his
competence: the Veiled Being has autocratically imposed the struggle
for existence as an inexorable condition of the Invisible King's
activities, except in so far as it can be eluded by and through the
human intelligence. His problem, then, will be to guide the minds of
men towards a realization that their higher destiny lies in using
their intelligence to substitute ordered co-operation for the
sanguinary competition above which merely instinctive organism are
incapable of rising.

Observe that in exercising this power of psychical influence there
would be no sort of miracle-working, no interference with the order of
nature. The influence of mind upon mind, even without the intervention
of words or other symbols, is a part of the order of nature which no
one to-day dreams of questioning. Hypnotic suggestion is a department
of orthodox medical practice, and telepathy is more and more widely
admitted, if only as a refuge from the hypothesis of survival after
death. If, then, we have a divine mind applying itself to the problems
of humanity, and capable of suggesting ideas to the mind of
man--appealing, as a "still small voice" (p. 18), to his
intelligence, his emotions and his will--one cannot but figure its
power for good as almost illimitable. What is to prevent it from
achieving a very rapid elimination of the ape and the tiger, the
Junker and the Tory, and substituting social enthusiasms for
individual passions as the motive-power of human conduct? We may admit
that the brain of man must first be developed up to a certain point
before divine suggestion could effectively work upon it. But we know
that men and races of magnificent brainpower must have existed on the
planet thousands and thousands of years ago. What, then, has the
Invisible King made of his opportunities?

Frankly, he has made a terrible hash of them. It is hard to see how
the progress of the race could possibly have been slower, more
laborious, more painful than in fact it has been. No doubt there have
been a few splendid spurts, which we may, if we please, trace to the
genial goading of the Invisible King. But all the great movements have
dribbled away into frustration and impotence. There was, for example,
the glorious intellectual efflorescence of Greece. There, you may say,
the Invisible King was almost visibly at work. But, after all, what a
flash-in-the-pan it was! Hellas was a little island of light
surrounded by gloomy immensities of barbarism; yet, instead of
stablishing and fortifying a political cosmos, its leading men had
nothing better to do than to plunge into the bloody chaos of the
Peloponnesian War, and set back the clock of civilization by untold
centuries. What was the Invisible King about when that catastrophe
happened? Similarly, the past two centuries, and especially the past
seventy-five years, have witnessed a marvellous onrush in man's
intellectual apprehension of the universe and mastery over the latent
energies of matter. But because moral and political development has
lagged hopelessly behind material progress, the world is plunged into
a war of unexampled magnitude and almost unexampled fury, wherein the
heights of the air and depths of the sea are pressed into the service
of slaughter. Where was the Invisible King in July, 1914? Or, for that
matter, what has he been doing since July, 1870? "Either he was
musing, or he was on a journey, or peradventure he slept." Truly it
would seem that he might have advised Mr. Wells to wait for the "Cease
fire!" before proclaiming his godhead.

Of course Mr. Wells will remind me that he claims for him no material
potency; and I must own that no happier moment could have been chosen
for the annunciation of an impotent God. But the plea does not quite
tally with the facts. In the first place (as we have seen) the
Invisible King is _going_ to do things--he is going to do very
remarkable things as soon as he knows how. And in the second place it
is impossible to conceive that the tremendous psychical influence
which is claimed for this God can be exercised without producing
external reactions. Why, he is actually stated to be--like another
God, his near relative, whom he rather unkindly disowns--he is stated
to be "the light of the world" (p. 18). Is there any meaning in such a
statement if it be not pertinent to ask what sort of light has led the
world into the ghastly quagmire in which it is to-day agonizing? The
truth is that Mr. Wells attributes to his God powers which, even if he
had no greater knowledge than Mr. Wells himself possesses, could be
used to epoch-making advantage. Fancy an omnipresent H. G. Wells, able
to speak in a still small voice to all men of good-will throughout the
world! What a marvellous revolution might he not effect! Mr. Wells
himself has outlined such a revolution in one of his most thoughtful
romances, _In the Days of the Comet_. From the fact that it does not
occur, may we not fairly suspect that the Invisible King is a creation
of the same mythopoeic faculty which engendered the wonder-working
comet with its aura of sweet-reasonableness?

If we turn to Mr. Britling, we find that that eminent publicist was
distressed by a sense of the difficulty of conveying God's message to
the world; only he modestly attributed it to defects in his own
equipment rather than to powerlessness on the part of God. We read on
page 427:--"Never had it been so plain to Mr. Britling that he was a
weak, silly, ill-informed and hasty-minded writer, and never had he
felt so invincible a conviction that the Spirit of God was in him, and
that it fell to him to take some part in the establishment of a new
order of living upon the earth.... Always he seemed to be on the verge
of some illuminating and beautiful statement of his cause; always he
was finding his writing inadequate, a thin treachery to the impulse of
his heart." Have we not in such an experience an irrefutable proof of
the inefficacy of Mr. Britling's God? Always the world has been all
ears for a clear, convincing, compulsive message from God; always, or
at any rate for many thousands of years, there have been men who
seemed the predestined mouthpieces of such a message; always what
purported to be the word of God has proved to be either powerless to
make itself heard, or powerful only to the begetting of hideous moral
and social corruptions. God spoke (it is said) through the Vedic
_rishis_, the sages of the Himalayas--and the result has been caste,
cow-worship, suttee, abominations of asceticism, and nameless orgies
of sensuality. God spoke through Moses, and the result was--Judaism!
God spoke through Jesus, and the result was Arianism and
Athanasianism, the Papacy, the Holy Office, the Thirty Years' War,
massacres beyond computation, and the slowly calcined flesh of an
innumerable army of martyrs. All this, no doubt, was due to gross and
palpable misunderstanding of the message delivered through Jesus; but
since it was so fatally open to misunderstanding, would it not better
have remained undelivered? Could the world have been appreciably worse
off without it? The question is rather an idle one, since it turns on
"might have beens." That the element of good in the message of Jesus
has been to some extent efficient, no one would deny. But the alloy of
potential evil has made itself so overpoweringly actual that to strike
a balance between the two forces is impossible, and the question is
generally decided by throwing a solid chunk of prejudice into one
scale or the other.

There has never been a time when a really well-informed revelation,
uttered with charm and power, might not have revolutionized the world.
"A well-informed revelation!" the reader may cry: "What terrible
bathos!" Mr. Wells, moreover, speaks slightingly of revelation (pp.
19, 163) in a tone that seems to imply that "modern religion" would
have nothing to do with it even if it could. But the demand for a
revelation is eminently reasonable and justified; and the only trouble
about the historic revelations is that they have all been so
shockingly ill-informed, and have revealed nothing to the purpose.
Robert Louis Stevenson anticipated Mr. Wells's view of the matter when
he wrote ironically:--

  It's a simple thing that I demand,
    Though humble as can be--
  A statement fair in my Maker's hand
    To a gentleman like me--

  A clean account, writ fair and broad,
    And a plain apologee--
  Or deevil a ceevil word to God
    From a gentleman like me.

But why this irony? What an infinity of trouble and pain would have
been saved if such a "clean account, writ fair and broad," had been
vouchsafed, and had been found to tally with the facts! Nor have the
reputedly wise and good of this world seen any presumption in desiring
such a _communiqué_. Most of them thought they had received it, and
many wasted half their lives in attempting to reconcile new knowledge
with old ignorance, promulgated under the guarantee of God. I cannot
but think that the poet got nearer the heart of the matter who
wrote:--

  Was Moses upon Sinai taught
  How Sinai's mighty ribs were wrought?
  Did Buddha, 'neath the bo-tree's shade,
  Learn how the stars were poised and swayed?

  Did Jesus still pain's raging storm,
  And dower the world with chloroform?
  Or Mahomet a jehad decree
  'Gainst microbe-harboring gnat and flea?

  Has revelation e'er revealed
  Aught from its age and hour concealed?
  Or miracle, since time began,
  Conferred a single boon on Man?

Truly, we may agree with Mr. Wells that the Invisible King was
probably not in the secrets of the Veiled Being, else he could
scarcely have kept them so successfully. But have we any use for a God
who can teach us nothing? who has to be taught by us before he can do
anything worth mentioning? The old Gods who professed to teach were
much more rational in theory, if only their teaching had not been all
wrong. Man has built up his knowledge of the universe he lives in by
slow, laborious degrees, not helped, but constantly and cruelly
hindered, by his Gods. Yet Mr. Wells will surely not deny that an
approximately true conception of the process of nature, and of his own
origin and history, was an indispensable basis for all right and
lasting social construction. What colossal harm has been wrought, for
instance, by the fairy-tale of the Fall, and all its theological
consequences! Yet, age after age, the Invisible King did nothing to
shake its calamitous prestige. Of late it is true that the progress of
knowledge has seemed no longer slow, but amazingly rapid; but that is
because the amount of energy devoted to it has been multiplied a
hundredfold. Each new step is still a very short one: it is generally
found that several investigators have independently arrived at the
verge of a new discovery, and it is often a matter of chance which of
them first crosses the line and is lucky enough to associate his name
with the completed achievement. All this means that to-day, as from
the beginning, man has to wring her secrets from Nature in the sweat
of his brain, and without the smallest assistance from any Invisible
King or other potentate. To-day there are doubtless beneficent secrets
under our very noses, so to speak, which one word of a still small
voice might enable us to grasp, but which may remain undiscovered, to
our great detriment, for centuries to come. There is, in short, no
single point, either in history or in contemporary life, where "the
light of the world" can be shown, or plausibly conjectured, to have
lighted us to any practical purpose. And it is futile to urge, I
repeat, that it could not have done so without a miraculous
disturbance of the order of nature. The influence of mind upon mind,
however conveyed, is the most natural thing in the world; and, short
of transplanting mountains, inhibiting earthquakes, and teaching
people to subsist on air, there is nothing that mind cannot do.

Besides, when we come to think of it, why this prejudice against
miracles? Why is Mr. Wells so sternly opposed to the bare idea of
Providence? "Fear and feebleness," he says, "go straight to the
Heresies that God is Magic or that God is Providence" (p. 27)--as
though it were disgracefully pusillanimous to prefer a well-governed
to an ungoverned world. God, in the ordinary sense of the word, the
sense we all understand, is unquestionably magic, whether we like it
or not. He is none the less magic because he works through one great
spell, and not through a host of minor, petti-fogging miracles. Upon
the matter of fact we are all agreed, Mr. Chesterton only dissenting;
but Mr. Wells writes as if it were an essentially godlike thing, and
greatly to the credit of any and every God, to give Nature its head,
and take no further trouble about the matter. I cannot share that
view. My only objection to Providence is that it manifestly does not
exist. If it did exist, and made the world an appreciably better place
to live in, why should we grudge it a few miracles? There is a touch
of the sour-grapes philosophy in the rationalist attitude on this
matter which Mr. Wells attributes to his Invisible King. Because we
can't have any miracles, we say we don't want them. Also, no doubt, we
see that the alleged miracles of the past were childish futilities,
doing at most a little temporary good to individuals, never rendering
any permanent service to a city or a nation, and much less to mankind
at large. They were a sort of niggardly alms from omnipotence, not a
generous endowment or a liberal compensation. But is that any reason
why an intelligent Power should be unable to devise a really helpful
miracle? Another plausible objection is that, even if we could admit
the justice of a system of rewards and punishments, good and evil are
so inextricably intermixed in this world that it is impossible to
distribute benefits on a satisfactory moral scheme. It is impossible
to manipulate the rainfall so that the righteous farmer shall have
just what he wants at the appropriate seasons, while his wicked
neighbour suffers from alternate drought and floods; nor can it be
arranged that the midday express shall convey all the good people
safely, while the 4.15, which is wrecked, carries none but undesirable
characters. To this it might be replied that the inconceivable
complexity of the chess-board of the world exists only in relation to
our human faculties; but what is far more to the point is the
indubitable fact that many salutary miracles might be wrought which
would raise no question whatever as to the moral merits or defects of
the beneficiaries. Miracles of alleged justice may reasonably be
deprecated; but where is the objection to miracles of mercy, falling,
like the blessed rain from heaven, on both just and unjust?

The haughty soul of Mr. Wells may prefer a deity who offers us no
tangible bribes--who not only does not work miracles, but will not
even utilize to material ends that great system of wireless telegraphy
between his mind and ours which he has, by hypothesis, at his
disposal. Mine, I confess, is a humbler spirit. I should be perfectly
willing to accept even thaumaturgic benefits if only they came in my
way; and I cannot regard it as a merit in a God that he should
carefully abstain from using even his powers of suggestion to do some
practical good in the world, and, incidentally, to demonstrate his own
existence.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is difficult, in the course of a long discussion, to keep the
attention fixed on the precise point at issue. I therefore sum up in a
few words the argument of this chapter.

In the first place, I have shown that, if words mean anything, Mr.
Wells does actually wish us to believe that his God is not a figure of
speech, but a person, an individual, as real and independent an entity
as the Kaiser or President Wilson. In the second place, I have
enquired whether anything he says enables us to conceive _à priori_
the possibility of such an entity disengaging itself from the mind of
the race, and have regretfully been led to the conclusion that the
genesis of this God remains at least as insoluble a mystery as that of
any other God ever placed before a confiding public. Thirdly, I have
approached the question _à posteriori_ and enquired whether history or
present experience offers any evidence from which we can reasonably
infer the existence and activity of such a God--arriving once more at
a negative conclusion. With the best will in the world, I can discover
nothing in this Invisible King but a sort of new liqueur--or old
liqueur with a new label--suited, no doubt, to the constitutions of
certain very exceptional people. Mr. Wells avers that he himself finds
it supremely grateful and comforting, and further appeals to the
testimony of a number of other (unnamed) believers--"English,
Americans, Bengalis, Russians, French ... Positivists, Baptists,
Sikhs, Mohammedans" (p. 4)--a quaint Pentecostal gathering. It is
true, of course, that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and
of the liqueur in the drinking. But some of us are inveterately
sceptical of the virtues of alcohol, even in non-intoxicant doses, and
are apt to think that the man who discovers a remedy for sea-sickness
or a prophylactic against typhoid is a greater benefactor of the race
than a God whose special characteristic it is to be not only invisible
himself but equally imperceptible in his workings.



VI

FOR AND AGAINST PERSONIFICATION


For those of us who cannot accept Mr. Wells's Invisible King as a God
in any useful or even comprehensible sense of the term, there remains
the question whether he is a useful figure of speech. Metaphors and
personifications are often things of great potency, whether for good
or evil. It might quite well happen that, if we wholly rejected Mr.
Wells's gospel, on account of a mere squabble as to the meaning of the
word "God," we should thereby lose something which might have been of
the utmost value to us. Let us not run the risk of throwing out the
baby with the bath-water.

Take the case of a very similar personification with which we are all
familiar--to wit, John Bull. Is he a helpful or a detrimental
"synthesis"? It is not quite easy to say. There is a certain
geniality, a bluff wholesomeness, a downright honesty about him, which
has doubtless its value; but on the other hand he is the incarnation
of Philistinism and Toryism, the perfect expression of the average
sensual man. I am told that in one of his avatars he has something
like two million worshippers, on whom his influence is of the most
questionable, precisely because they have implicit "faith" in him, and
regard him as a "Friend behind phenomena," a "great brother," a
"strongly marked and knowable personality, loving, inspiring, and
lovable." That is an illustration of the dangers which may lurk in
prosopopoeia. But in the main we can regard John Bull without too
much misgiving, because we cannot regard him seriously. His worship
will always be seasoned with the saving grace of humor. He can do
service in two capacities--sometimes as an ideal, often as a
deterrent. Whatever religious revolutions may await us, we are not
likely to see St. Paul's Cathedral solemnly re-dedicated to the
worship of John Bull. He and his sister divinity, Mrs. Grundy, have
never lacked adorers in that basilica; but their cult is probably not
on the increase.

The Invisible King, on the other hand, is a personage to be taken with
the utmost seriousness. If he has anything like the success Mr. Wells
anticipates for him, it is quite on the cards that he might oust the
present Reigning Family from one or all of the cathedrals. It is true
that Mr. Wells deprecates any ritual worship; but "religious thought
finely expressed" would always be in order; and he "does not see why
there should not be, under God, associations for building cathedrals
and such like great still places urgent with beauty, into which men
and women may go to rest from the clamor of the day's confusions" (p.
168). If cathedrals may be built, all the more clearly may they be
appropriated--if you can convert or evict the dean and chapter. If the
Invisible King should take the fancy of the nation and the world, as
Mr. Wells would have us think that he is already doing, he is bound to
become the object of a formal cult. We shall very soon see a
prayer-book of the "modern religion" with marriage, funeral and
perhaps baptismal services, with daily lessons, and with suitable
forms of prayer for persons who cannot trust themselves to extempore
communings even with a "great brother."

Well, there might be no great harm in this. Some solemn form for the
expression of cosmic, and even of mundane or political, emotion would
doubtless be useful; and if the "modern religion" could be saved from
degenerating into a hysterical superstition on the one hand, or a
petrified, persecuting orthodoxy on the other, it would certainly be a
vast improvement on many of the religions of to-day.

But the ambitions of the Invisible King go far beyond the mere
presidency of an Ethical Church on an extended scale. He is to be a
King and no mistake; not even a King of Kings, but "sole Monarch of
the universal earth." Autocracies, oligarchies, and democracies are
alike to be swept out of his path. The "implicit command" of the
modern religion "to all its adherents is to make plain the way to the
world theocracy" (p. 97). How the fiats of the Invisible King are to
be issued, we are not informed. If through the ballot-box--"vox
populi, vox dei"--then the distinction between theocracy and democracy
will scarcely be apparent to the naked eye. And one does not see how,
in the transition stage at any rate, recourse to the ballot-box is to
be avoided, if only as a lesser evil than recourse to howitzers, tanks
and submarines. We read that "if you do not feel God then there is no
persuading you of him"; but if you do, "you will realize more and more
clearly, that thus and thus and no other is his method and intention"
(p. 98). Now, assuming (no slight assumption) that the oracles of
God, the message of the still small voice, will be identically
interpreted by all believers, the unbelievers, those who "do not feel
God," have still to be dealt with; and, as they are not open to
persuasion, it would seem that the faithful must be prepared either to
shoot them down or to vote them down--whereof the latter seems the
humaner alternative. It is true that Mr. Wells's God is a man of war;
like that other whom he disowns but strangely resembles, "he brings
mankind not rest but a sword" (p. 96). But we may confidently hold
that this, at any rate, is but a manner of speaking. Even if the God
is real, his sword is metaphoric. Mr. Wells is not seriously proposing
to take his cue from his Mohammedan friends, raise the cry of "Allahu
Akbar!" and propagate his gospel scimitar in hand. It is hard to see,
then, what other method there can be of dealing with the heathen,
except the method of the ballot-box--of course with proportional
representation. When there are no more heathen--when the whole world
can read the will of God by direct intuition, as though it were
written in letters of fire across the firmament--then, indeed, the
ballot-box may join the throne, sceptre and crown in the historical
museum. But even the robust optimism of the _gottestrunken_ Mr. Wells
can scarcely conceive this millennium to be at hand. So that in the
meantime it seems unwise to speak slightingly of democracy, lest we
thereby help the Powers, both here and elsewhere, which are fighting
for something very much worse. For I take it that the worst enemy of
the Wellsian God is the Superman, who has quite a sporting chance of
coming out on top, if not actually in this War, at least in the welter
that will succeed it.

But seriously, is any conceivable sort of theocracy a desirable ideal?
Or, to put the same question in more general terms, is it wise of Mr.
Wells to make such play with the word "God"? He himself admits that
"God trails with him a thousand misconceptions and bad associations:
his alleged infinite nature, his jealousy, his strange preferences,
his vindictive Old Testament past" (p. 8)--and, it may fairly be
added, his blood-boltered, Kultur-stained present. Is it possible to
deodorize a word which comes to us redolent of "good, thick stupefying
incense-smoke," mingled with the reek of the auto-da-fé? Can we beat
into a ploughshare the sword of St. Bartholomew, and a thousand other
deeds of horror? God has been by far the most tragic word in the whole
vocabulary of the race--a spell to conjure up all the worst fiends in
human nature: arrogance and abjectness, fanaticism, hatred and
atrocity. Religious reformers--with Jesus at their head--have time and
again tried to divest it of some, at least, of its terrors, but they
have invariably failed. Will Mr. Wells succeed any better? Is it not
apparent in the foregoing discussion that, even if the word had no
other demerits, it leads us into regions in which the mind can find no
firm foothold? I have done my best to accept Mr. Wells's definitions,
but I am sure he feels that I have constantly slipped from the strait
and narrow path. Has he himself always kept to it? I think not. And,
waiving that point, is it at all likely that people in general will be
more successful than I have been in grasping and holding fast to the
differentiating attributes of Mr. Wells's divinity? If the word is at
best a confusion and at worst a war-whoop, should we not try to
dispense with it, to avoid it, to find a substitute which should more
accurately, if less truculently, express our idea? Is it wise or kind
to seek to impose on the future an endless struggle with its sinister
ambiguities?

There are, no doubt, regions of thought from which it is extremely
difficult to exclude the word; but these, fortunately, are regions in
which it is almost necessarily divested of its historical
associations. As a term of pure philosophy, if safeguarded by careful
definition, it is a convenient piece of shorthand, obviating the
necessity for a constant recourse to cumbrous formulas. But politics
is not one of these regions of thought; and it is precisely in
politics that the intervention of God has from of old been most
disastrous. "Theocracy" has always been the synonym for a bleak and
narrow, if not a fierce and blood-stained, tyranny. Why seek to revive
and rehabilitate a word of such a dismal connotation? I suggest that
even if the Invisible King _were_ a God, it would be tactful to
pretend that he was not. As he is _not_ a God, in any generally
understood sense of the term, it seems a curious perversity to pretend
that he is.

       *       *       *       *       *

Even in the region of morals it is a backward step to restore God to
the supremacy from which he has with the utmost difficulty been
deposed. I am sure Mr. Wells does not in his heart believe that any
theological sanction is required for the plain essentials of social
well-doing, or any theological stimulus for the rare sublimities of
virtue. Incalculable mischief has been wrought by the clerical
endeavour to set up a necessary association between right conduct and
orthodoxy, between heterodoxy and vice. This Mr. Wells knows as well
as I do; yet he can use such phrases as "Without God, the 'Service of
Man' is no better than a hobby or a sentimentality or a hypocrisy." No
doubt he has carefully explained that he does not mean by God or
religion what the clergy mean; but can he be sure that by imitating
their phrases he may not imperceptibly slide into their frame of mind?
or at any rate tempt the weaker brethren to do so? In using such an
expression he comes perilously near the attitude adopted by the Bishop
of London in a recent address to the sailors of the Grand Fleet. His
Lordship told his hearers--we have it on his own authority--that
"there was in everyone a good man and a bad man. And I have not known
a case," he added, "where the good man conquered the bad man without
religion." Can there be any doubt that the Bishop was either
telling--well, not the truth--or shamelessly playing with words? Of
course it may be said that any man who keeps his lower instincts in
control does so by aid of a feeling that there are higher values in
life than sensual gratification or direct self-gratification of any
sort; and we may, if we are so minded, call this feeling religion. But
it is a very inconvenient meaning to attach to the word, and we cannot
take it to be the meaning the Bishop had in view. What he meant, in
all probability--what he desired his simple-minded hearers to
understand--was that he had never known a good man who did not
believe, if not in all the dogmas of the Church of England, at any
rate in the Christian Trinity, the fall of man, redemption from sin,
and the inspiration of the Scriptures. He meant that no man could be
good who did not believe that God has given us in writing a synopsis
of his plan of world-government, and has himself sojourned on earth
and submitted to an appearance of death, some two thousand years ago,
in fulfilment of the said plan. If he did _not_ mean that, he was, I
repeat, playing with words and deceiving his hearers, who would
certainly understand him to mean something to that effect; and if he
_did_ mean that, he departed very palpably from the truth. The Bishop
of London is no recluse, shut up in a monastery among men of his own
faith. He is a man of the modern world, and he must know, and know
that he knows, scores of men as good as himself who have no belief in
anything that he would recognize as religion. Perhaps he was not
directly conscious of telling a falsehood, for "faith" plays such
havoc with the intellect that men cease to attach any living meaning
to words, and come to deal habitually in those unrealized phrases
which we call cant. But whatever may have been his excuses to his
conscience, he was saying a very noxious thing to the simple, gallant
souls who heard him. Many of them must have been well aware that they
had no faith that would have satisfied the Bishop of London, and that
whatever religious ideas lurked in their minds were of very little use
to them in struggling with the temptations of a sailor's life. Where
was the sense in telling them that the ordinary motives which make for
good conduct--prudence, self-respect, loyalty, etc., etc.--are of no
avail, and that they must inevitably be bad men if they had not "found
religion"? If such talk does no positive harm, it is only because men
have learnt to discount the patter of theology. Yet here we find Mr.
Wells, after vigorously disclaiming any participation in the Bishop's
beliefs, falling into the common form of episcopal patter, and telling
me, for example--a benighted but quite well-intentioned heathen--that
I can do no good in my generation unless I believe in a God whom he
and a number of Eastern sages, Parthians, Medes, Elamites and dwellers
in Mesopotamia, have recently "synthetized" out of their inner
consciousnesses! It is not Mr. Wells's fault if I do not abandon the
steep and thorny track of austerity which I have hitherto pursued,
invest all my spare cash either in whiskey or in whiskey shares, and
go for my philosophy in future to the inspiring author of _Musings
without Method_ in "Blackwood."

It is not quite clear why Mr. Wells should accept so large a part of
the Christian ethic and yet refuse to identify his Invisible King with
Christ. One would have supposed it quite as easy to divest the
Christ-figure of any inconvenient attributes as to eliminate
omniscience and omnipotence from the God-idea. Mr. Wells constantly
allows his thoughts to run into the stereotype moulds of biblical
phraseology. We have seen how he talks of "the still small voice," of
"the light of the world," "taking the sting from death" and of God
coming "in his own time" and bringing "not rest but a sword." To those
instances may be added such phrases as "death will be swallowed up in
victory" (p. 39), "by the grace of the true God" (p. 44), "God is
Love" (p. 65), "the Son of Man" (p. 86), "I become my brother's
keeper" (p. 97), "he it is who can deliver us 'from the body of this
death'" (p. 99). But the clearest indication of Christian influence is
to be found in Mr. Wells's unhesitating and emphatic adoption of the
idea that "Salvation is indeed to lose oneself" (p. 73). "The
difference," he says, "between ... the unbeliever and the servant of
the true God is this ... that the latter has experienced a complete
turning away from self. This only difference is all the difference in
the world" (p. 84). It is curious what a fascination this turn of
phrase has exercised upon many and diverse intelligences. Mr. Bernard
Shaw, for instance, adopts it with enthusiasm. Henrik Ibsen--if it is
ever possible to tie a true dramatist down to a doctrine--preaches in
_Peer Gynt_ that "to be thyself is to slay thyself." Mr. Wells has a
cloud of witnesses to back him up; and yet it is very doubtful whether
the turn of phrase is a really helpful one--whether it does not rather
get in the way of the natural man in his quest for a sound rule of
life.

It is a commonplace that the entirely self-centred man--the Robinson
Crusoe of a desert island of egoism--is unhappy. At least if he is not
he belongs to a low intellectual and moral type: the proof being that
all development above the level of the oyster and the slug has
involved more or less surrender of the immediate claims of "number
one" to some larger unity. Progress has always consisted, and still
consists, in the widening of the ideal concept which appeals to our
loyalty. Is it not Mr. Wells's endeavour in this very book to claim
our devotion for the all-embracing and ultimate ideal--the human race?
So far, we are all at one. But when we are told that "conversion" or
"salvation" consists in a "_complete_ turning away from self," common
sense revolts. It is not true either in every-day life or in larger
matters of conduct. In every-day life the incurably "unselfish" person
is an intolerable nuisance. Here the common-sense rule is very simple:
you have no right to seek your own "salvation," or, in non-theological
terms, your own self-approval, at the cost of other people's; you have
no business to offer sacrifices which the other party ought not to
accept. It is true that in the application of this simple rule
difficult problems may arise; but a little tact will generally go a
long way towards solving them. In these matters an ounce of tact is
worth a pound of casuistry. And in our every-day England, in all
classes, it is my profound conviction that a reasonable selflessness
is very far from uncommon, very far from being confined to the
"converted" of any religion. For forty years I have watched it growing
and spreading before my very eyes. Reading the other way _The
Roundabout Papers_, I was greatly struck by the antiquated cast of the
manners therein described. Of course Thackeray, in his day, was
reputed a cynic, and supposed to have an over-partiality for studying
the seamy side of things. But even if that had been true (which I do
not believe) it would not have accounted for all the difference
between the world he saw and that in which we move to-day. I suggest,
then, that so far as the minor moralities are concerned, no new
religion is required, and we have only to let things pursue their
natural trend.

And what of the great selflessnesses? What of the ideal loyalties?
What of the long-accumulated instincts which tell a man, in tones
which brook no contradiction, that the shortest life and the cruellest
death are better than the longest life of sensual self-contempt? Here,
as it seems to me, Mr. Wells's apostolate of a new religion is very
conspicuously superfluous--much more so than it would have been five
years ago. For have not he and I been privileged to witness one of the
most beautiful sights that the world ever saw--the flocking of Young
England, in its hundreds upon hundreds of thousands, to endure the
extremity of hardship and face the high probability of a cruel death,
not for England alone, not even for England, France and Belgium, but
for what they obscurely but very potently felt to be the highest
interests of the very same ideal entity which Mr. Wells proposes to
our devotion--the human race? I am sure he would be the last to
minimize the significance of that splendid uprising. No doubt there
were other motives at work: in some, the mere love of change and
adventure; in others, the pressure of public opinion. But my own
observation assures me that, on the whole, these unideal motives
played a very small part. The young men simply felt that he who held
back was unfaithful to his fathers and unworthy of his sons; and they
"turned away from self" without a moment's hesitation, and streamed to
the colors with all the more eagerness the longer the casualty-lists
grew, and the more clearly the horrors they had to face were brought
home to them. Has there been any voluntary "slaying of self" on so
huge a scale since the world began? I have not heard of it. And Mr.
Wells will scarcely tell me that these young men went through the
experiences he describes as "conversion," and escaped from the burden
of "over-individuation" by throwing themselves into the arms of a
synthetic God! Many of them, no doubt, would have expressed their
idealism, had they expressed it at all, in terms of Christianity; but
that, we are told, is a delusion, and the only true God is the
Invisible King. If that be so, the conclusion would seem to be that,
in the present stage of the evolution of human character, no God at
all is needed to enable millions of men, in whom the blood runs high
and the joy of life is at its keenest, to achieve the conquest of self
in one of its noblest forms. Or (what comes to the same thing) any
sort of God will serve the purpose. Your God (divested of metaphysical
attributes) is simply a name for your own better instincts and
impulses. Many people, perhaps most, share Mr. Wells's tendency to
externalize, objectivate, personify these impulses; and there may be
no harm in doing so. But when it comes to asserting that your own
personification is the only true one, then--I am not so sure.

Finally there arises the question whether the personification of the
Invisible King can really, in any comprehensible sense, and for any
considerable number of normal human beings, rob death of its sting,
the grave of its victory? On this point discussion cannot possibly be
conclusive, for the ultimate test is necessarily a personal one. If
any sane and sincere person tells me that a certain idea, or emotion,
or habit of mind, or even any rite or incantation, has deprived death
of its terrors for him, I can only congratulate him, even if I have to
confess that my own experience gives me no clue to his meaning. It is
not even very profitable to enquire whether a man can be confident of
his own attitude towards death unless he has either come very close to
its brink himself, or known what it means to witness the extinction of
a life on which his whole joy in the present and hope for the future
depended. All one can do is to try to ascertain as nearly as possible
what the contemner of death really means, and to consider whether his
individual experience or feeling is, or is likely to become, typical.

One thing we must plainly realize, and that is that, for the purposes
of his present argument, Mr. Wells conceives death to be a real
extinction of the individual consciousness. He does not formally
commit himself to a denial of personal immortality, but it is a
contingency which he declines to take into account. Oddly enough, in
trying to acclimatize our minds to the idea of such an absolutely
incorporeal and immaterial, yet really existent, being as his
Invisible King, he comes near to clearing away the one great obstacle
to belief in survival after death. "From the earliest ages," he says,
"man's mind has found little or no difficulty in the idea of something
essential to the personality, a soul or a spirit or both, existing
apart from the body and continuing after the destruction of the body,
and being still a person and an individual" (p. 59). He does not
actually say that there _is_ no difficulty about this conception: he
only says that, as a matter of history, the great mass of men have
found it easy and natural to believe in ghosts. But it is hard to see
any force in his argument at this point unless he means to imply that
he himself finds "little or no difficulty" in conceiving the continued
existence of a spiritual consciousness and individuality after the
dissolution of the body to which it has been attached; and if he does
mean this, it is hard to see why he does not take his stand beside Sir
Oliver Lodge on the spiritist platform. To many of us, the extreme
difficulty of such a conception is the one great barrier to the
acceptance of the spiritist theory, for which remarkable evidence can
certainly be adduced. This, however, is a digression. So far as _God
the Invisible King_ is concerned, Mr. Wells must be taken as ignoring,
if not rejecting, the idea of personal immortality.

The victory over death, then, which the Invisible King is said to
achieve, does not consist in its abolition. It may probably be best
defined as the perfect reconcilement of the believer to the extinction
of his individual consciousness. And what are the grounds of that
reconcilement? Let us search the scriptures. Where the steps are
described by which the catechumen approaches the full realization of
God, it is said that at that stage he feels that "if there were such a
being he would supply the needed consolation and direction, his
continuing purpose would knit together the scattered effort of life,
_his immortality would take the sting from death_" (p. 21-22). A
little further on, the idea is elaborated in a high strain of
mysticism. God, who "captains us but does not coddle us" (p. 42), will
by no means undertake to hold the believer scatheless among the
pitfalls and perils that beset our earthly pilgrimage. "But God will
be with you nevertheless. In the reeling aeroplane, or the dark
ice-cave, God will be your courage. Though you suffer or are killed,
it is not an end. He will be with you as you face death; he will die
with you as he has died already countless myriads of brave deaths. He
will come so close to you that at the last you will not know whether
it is you or he who dies, and the present death will be swallowed up
in his victory" (p. 39). The passage has already been quoted in which
it is written that, at the end of the fight for God's Kingdom, "we are
altogether taken up into his being" (p. 68). In a discussion of "the
religion of atheists" we are told that unregenerate man is "acutely
aware of himself as an individual and unawakened to himself as a
species," wherefore he "finds death frustration." His mistake is in
not seeing that his own frustration "may be the success and triumph of
his kind" (p. 72). At the point where we are told that "the first
purpose of God is the attainment of clear knowledge," we are further
informed that "he will apprehend more fully as time goes on" the
purpose to which this knowledge is to be applied. But already it is
possible to define "the broad outlines" of his purpose. "It is the
conquest of death; first the overcoming of death in the individual _by
the incorporation of the motives of his life into an undying purpose_"
(p. 99), and then, as we saw before, the defeat of the threatened
extinction of life through the cooling of the planet. These, I think,
are the chief texts bearing directly on this particular matter; but
there is one other remark which must not be overlooked. "A convicted
criminal, frankly penitent," we are told, "... may still die well and
bravely on the gallows, to the glory of God. He may step straight from
that death into the immortal being of God."

To what, now, does all this amount? Is there any more substantial
solace in it than in the "Oh, may I join the Choir Invisible"
aspiration of mid-nineteenth-century positivism? Far be it from me to
speak contemptuously of that aspiration. It gives a new orientation
and consistency to thought and effort during life; and to the man who
feels that his little note will melt into the world-harmony that is to
be, that thought may impart a certain serenity under the shadow of the
end. It is certainly better to feel at night, "I have done a fair
day's work," than to lie down with the confession, "My day has been
wasted, and worse." No one wants, I suppose, to say with Peer Gynt:--

  Thou beautiful earth, be not angry with me,
  That I trampled thy grasses to no avail;
  Thou beautiful sun, thou hast squandered away
  Thy glory of light in an empty hut.
  Beautiful sun and beautiful earth,
  You were foolish to bear and give light to my mother.

But there is also another side to the question. The more surely you
believe that "through the ages one increasing purpose runs"--the more
intimately you have merged your individual will in what Mr. Wells
would call the will of the Invisible King--the less do you relish the
thought that you can never see that will worked out. The intenser your
interest in the play, the greater your disinclination to leave the
theatre just as the plot is thickening. Nor does it afford much
consolation to know that the Producer is just (as it were) getting
into his stride, and that, if the house should become too cold for
comfort, arrangements will be made for the transference of the
production to another theatre, with a better heating-apparatus.

Is there any real escape from the fact that for each of us the one
thing that actually exists is our individual consciousness? It is our
universe; and if its trembling flame is blown out, that particular
universe is no more. If its limits of "individuation" are
irrecoverably lost, what avails it to tell us that the flame is
absorbed into the light of the world or the dayspring on high? Is it
possible to imagine that the rain-drop which falls in the Atlantic
thrills with a great rapture as its molecules disperse in the moment
of coalescence, because it is now part of an infinite and immortal
entity? Yes, it is possible to imagine it rejoicing that its "chagrins
of egotism," as an individual drop, are now over; in fact, this is
precisely the sort of thing that some poets love to imagine; but has
it any real relevance to our sublunary lot? Can it minister any
substantial comfort or fortification to the normal man in the moment
of peril or agony? I ask; I do not answer. Can Mr. Wells put in the
witness-box any flight-lieutenant who will swear that in his reeling
aeroplane, as death seemed on the point of engulfing him, he felt
uncertain whether it was God or he that was about to die, and
gloriously certain that in any case he was about to "step straight
into the immortal being of God"? And even if, in the excitement of
violent action, such hallucinations do mean something to a peculiar
type of mind, has any one dying of pneumonia or Bright's disease been
known to declare that, though his mortal spark was on the point of
extinction, he felt that "by the incorporation of the motives of his
life into an undying purpose" he had triumphed over death and the
grave? The simple soul who says "We shall meet in Heaven" no doubt
enjoys such a triumph--and even if he fails to keep the appointment,
no one is any the worse. But where are the men and women who feel the
immortality of God, however we define or construct him, a rich
compensation for their own mortality?

It may be said that I am applying shockingly terrestrial tests to Mr.
Wells's soaring transcendentalisms. I am simply asking: "Will they
work?" A world-religion cannot be what I have called a luxury for the
intellectually wealthy. It must be within the reach of plain men and
women; and plain men and women cannot, as the French say, "pay
themselves with words." Take them all round, they do not make too much
of death. With or without the aid of religion, they generally meet it
with tolerable fortitude. But it will be hard to persuade them that
annihilation is a thing to be faced with rapture, because a synthetic
God is indestructible; or that death is not death because other people
will be alive a hundred or a thousand years hence. Even if you cannot
offer them another life, you may tell them of the grave as a place
where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest, and
they will understand. But will they understand if you tell them that
we triumph over the grave because God dies with us and yet never dies?
I fear it will need something clearer and more credible than this to
make the undertaker a popular functionary.

The doctrines of "the modern religion" may give us a new motive for
living; but how can they at the same time diminish our distaste for
dying? That might be their effect, no doubt, in cases where we felt
that our death was promoting some great and sacred cause more than our
life could have done; but such cases must always be extremely rare.
Even the soldier on the battlefield will help his country more by
living than by dying, if he can do so without failing in his duty. His
death is not a triumph, but only a lesser evil than cowardice and
disgrace. And what shall we say, for example, of the case of a young
biologist who dies of blood-poisoning on the eve of a great and
beneficent discovery? Is not this a case in which the modern God might
with advantage have swerved from his principles and (for once) played
the part of Providence? It is better, no doubt, to die in a good cause
than to throw away life in the pursuit of folly or vice; but is it
not playing with words to say that even the end of a martyr to science
like Captain Scott, or a martyr to humanity like Edith Cavell, is a
triumph over death and the grave? It is a triumph over cowardice,
baseness, the love of ease and safety, all the paltrier aspects of our
nature; but a triumph over death it is not. If it be true (which I do
not believe) that German soldiers sign a declaration devoting the
glycerine in their dead bodies to their country's service, one may
imagine that some of them feel a species of satisfaction in resolving
upon this final proof of patriotism; but it will be a gloomy
satisfaction at best; there will be a lack of exhilaration about it;
if the Herr Hauptmann who witnesses their signatures congratulates
them on having triumphed over death, they will be apt to think it a
rather empty form of words. If they had had the advantage of reading
Jane Austen, they would probably say with Mr. Bennet, "Let us take a
more cheerful view of the subject, and suppose that I survive."

I fear that not even the companionship offered by the modern God in
the act of dissolution will make death a cheerful experience, or
induce ordinary, unaffected mortals to glory in their mortality. It
is too much the habit of Gods to pretend to die when they don't really
die at all--when, in fact, the whole idea is a mere intellectual
hocus-pocus.



VII

BACK TO THE VEILED BEING


Why has Mr. Wells partly goaded and partly hypnotized himself into the
belief that he is the predestined prolocutor of a new hocus-pocus?
Rightly or wrongly, I diagnose his case thus: What he really cares for
is the future of humanity, or, in more concrete language, social
betterment. He suffers more than most of us from the spectacle of the
world of to-day, because he has the constructive imagination which can
place alongside of that chaos of cupidities and stupidities a vision
of a rational world-order which seems easily attainable if only some
malignant spell could be lifted from the spirit of man. But he finds
himself impotent in face of the crass inertia of things-as-they-are.
Except the gift of oratory, he has all possible advantages for the
part of a social regenerator. He has the pen of a ready and sometimes
very impressive writer; he has a fair training in science; he has a
fertile and inventive brain; his works of fiction have won for him a
great public, both in Europe and America; yet he feels that his social
philosophy, his ardent and enlightened meliorism, makes no more
impression than the buzzing of a gnat in the ear of a drowsy mastodon.
At the same time he has persuaded himself, whether on internal or on
external evidence--partly, I daresay, on both--that men cannot thrive,
either as individuals or as world-citizens, without some relation of
reverence and affection to something outside and above themselves. He
foresees that Christianity will come bankrupt out of the War, and yet
that the huge, shattering experience will throw the minds of men open
to spiritual influences. At the same time (of this one could point to
several incidental evidences) he has come a good deal in contact with
Indian religiosity, and learnt to know a type of mind to which God, in
one form or another, is indeed an essential of life, while the
particular form is a matter of comparative indifference. Then the idea
strikes him: "Have we not here a great opportunity for placing the
motive-power of spiritual fervor behind, or within, the sluggish
framework of social idealism? Here it lies, well thought-out,
carefully constructed, but inert, like an aeroplane without an
engine. By giving the glow of supernaturalism, of the worship of a
personal God, to the good old Religion of Humanity, may we not impart
to our schemes for a well-ordered world precisely the uplift they at
present lack? It was all very well for chilly New England
transcendentalism to 'hitch its waggon to a star,' but the result is
that Boston is governed by a Roman Catholic Archbishop. It is really
much easier and more effective to hitch our waggon to God, who, being
a synthesis of our own higher selves, will naturally pull it in
whatever direction we want. Thus the mass of mankind will escape from
that spiritual loneliness which is so discomfortable to them, and will
find, in one and the same personification, a deity to listen to their
prayers, and a 'boss,' in the Tammany sense of the term, to herd them
to the polling-booths. What we want is collectivism touched with
emotion. By proclaiming it to be the will of God, and identifying
sound politics with ecstatic piety, we may shorten by several
centuries the path to a new world-order."

This is a translation into plain English of the thoughts which would
seem to have possessed Mr. Wells's mind during the past year or so. I
do not for a moment mean that he put them to himself in plain
English. That would be to accuse him of insincerity--a thought which I
most sincerely disclaim. I have not the least doubt that the Invisible
King does actually supply a "felt want" in his spiritual outfit, and
that he is perfectly convinced that most other people are similarly
constituted and will welcome this new object of loyalty and devotion.
Time will show whether his psychology is correct. If it is, then he
has indeed made an important discovery. To use a very homely
illustration: a carrot dangled from the end of a stick before a
donkey's nose makes no mechanical difference in the problem of
traction presented by the costermonger's barrow. If anything, it adds
to the weight to be drawn. But if the sight of it cheers, heartens,
and inspires the donkey, helping him to overcome those fits of
lethargy so characteristic of his race, then the carrot may quite
appreciably accelerate the general rate of progress. It all depends on
the psychology of the donkey.

Moses doubtless did very wisely in going up into Mount Sinai and
abiding there forty days and forty nights. Whatever he may have seen
and heard, the semblance of communion with a Higher Power
unquestionably lent a prestige to his scheme of social reform which
it could never have attained had he offered it on its inherent merits,
as the project of a mere human legislator, or (still worse) of a man
of letters. Moses, in fact, knew his Children of Israel. Does Mr.
Wells know his modern Englishmen or Anglo-Americans?

That is the question.

Mr. Bernard Shaw has made a similar and very ingenious attempt, not
exactly to found a new religion, but to place his ideas in a religious
atmosphere. In the preface to _Androcles and the Lion_ (a disquisition
just about as long as _God the Invisible King_) he propounds the
question, "Why not give Christianity a trial?" and opens the
discussion thus: "The question seems a hopeless one after 2,000 years
of resolute adherence to the old cry of 'Not this man, but Barabbas.'
Yet it is beginning to look as if Barabbas was a failure, in spite of
his strong right hand, his victories, his empires, his millions of
money, and his moralities and churches and political constitutions.
'This man' has not been a failure yet; for nobody has ever been sane
enough to try his way." Then he goes on to shew, by a course of very
plausible reasoning, that the teaching of Jesus was, in all
essentials, an exact anticipation of the economic and social
philosophy of G. B. S.; so that, in giving political expression to
that philosophy, we should be, for the first time, establishing the
Kingdom of Christ upon earth. It is true that there are passages in
the Gospels which no more accord with Mr. Shaw's sociology than do
omnipotence and omniscience with the theology of Mr. Wells. But these
passages do not embarrass Mr. Shaw. He simply points out that, at
Matthew xvi, 16, where Peter hailed him as "the Christ, the Son of the
living God," Jesus went mad. Up to that fatal moment "his history is
that of a man sane and interesting apart from his special gifts as
orator, healer and prophet"; but from that point onward he set to work
to live up to "his destiny as a god," part of which was to be killed
and to rise again. Many other prophets have gone mad--for instance,
Ruskin and Nietzsche. Therefore we can have no difficulty in simply
eliminating as a morbid aberration whatever is un-Shavian in the
message of Jesus, and accepting the rest as the sincere milk of the
word. Mr. Shaw's attempt to place his philosophy under divine
patronage is not so serious as Mr. Wells's; for Mr. Shaw can never
take himself quite seriously for five pages together. But the motive,
in each case, in manifestly the same--to obtain for a system of ideas
the prestige, the power of insinuation, penetration, and stimulation,
that attaches to the very name of religion.

The notion is a very tempting one. What every prophet wants, in the
babel of latter-day thought, is a magic sounding-board which shall
make his voice carry to the ends of the earth and penetrate to the
dullest understanding. The more he believes in his own reason, the
more he yearns for some method of out-shouting the unreason of his
neighbours. German philosophy thought it had discovered the ideal
reverberator in the artillery of Herr Krupp von Bohlen; but the world
is curiously indisposed to conversion by cannon, and has retorted in a
still louder roar of high-explosive arguments. God, as a
politico-philosophical ally, is certainly cheaper than Herr Krupp;
and, divested of his mediæval sword and tinder-box, he is decidedly
humaner. But is the glamour of his name quite what it once was? Or can
it be restored to its pristine potency?

On a question, such as this, on which the evidence is too vague, too
voluminous and too complex to be interpreted with any certainty, our
wishes are apt to take control of our thoughts. Making all allowance
for this source of error, I nevertheless venture to suggest to Mr.
Wells that we may perhaps be passing out of, not into, an age of
religiosity. May it not be that the time has come to give the name of
God a rest? Is it not possible, and even probable, that, while the
vast apocalypse of the observatory and the laboratory is proceeding
with unexampled speed, thinking people may prefer to await its
developments, rather than pin their faith to an interim, synthetic
God, whom his own still, small voice must, in moments of candor,
confess to be merely make-believe? Is it the fact that men, or even
women, of our race are, as a rule, absolutely dependent for courage,
energy, self-control and self-devotion, upon some "great brother"
outside themselves, "a strongly-marked personality, loving, inspiring
and lovable," whom they conceive to be always within call? In making
this assumption, is not Mr. Wells ignoring the great mass of paganism
in the world around him--not all of it, or even most of it,
self-conscious and self-confessed, but none the less real on that
account? He makes a curious remark as to the personage whom he calls
"the benevolent atheist," which is, I take it, his nickname for the
man who is not much interested in midway Gods between himself and the
Veiled Being. This hapless fellow-creature, says Mr. Wells, "has not
really given himself or got away from himself. He has no one to whom
he can give himself. _He is still a masterless man_" (p. 83). As Mr.
Wells has evidently read a good deal about Japan, he no doubt takes
this expression from Japanese feudalism, which made a distinct class
of the "ronin" or masterless man, who had, by death or otherwise, lost
his feudal superior. But is it really, to our Western sense, a
misfortune to be a masterless man? Does the healthy human spirit
suffer from having no one to bow down to, no one to relieve it of the
burden of choice, responsibility, self-control? If our feudal
allegiance has terminated through the death of the Gods who asserted a
hereditary claim upon it, must we make haste to build ourselves an
idol, or synthetize a mosaic ikon, to serve as the recipient of our
obeisances, genuflexions, osculations? I cannot believe that this is a
general, and much less a universal, tendency. If any one is irked by
the condition of a "masterless man," the Roman Catholic Church holds
wide its doors for him. It seems very doubtful whether any less
ancient, dogmatic, hieratic, spectacular form of make-believe will
serve his turn.

It has sometimes seemed to me that the one great advantage of Western
Christianity lies in the fact that nobody very seriously believes in
it. "Nobody" is not a mathematically accurate expression, but it is
quite in the line of the truth. You have to go to Asia to find out
what religion means. If you cannot get so far, Russia will serve as a
half-way house; but to study religion on its native heath, so to
speak, you must go to India. Of course there may be some illusion in
the matter, due to one's ignorance of the languages and inability to
estimate the exact spiritual significance of outward manifestations;
but I cannot believe that, anywhere between Suez and Singapore, there
exists that healthy godlessness, that lack of any real effective
dependence on any outward Power "dal tetto in su," which is so common
in and around all Christian churches. In China and Japan it is another
matter. There, I fancy, religious "ronins" are common enough. But in
the lands of the Crescent and the land of "OM," anything like freedom
of the human spirit is probably very rare and very difficult. The
difference does not arise from any lesser stringency in the claims of
Christianity to spiritual dominion, but rather, I imagine, from a
deep-seated divergence in racial heredity. We Western Aryans have
behind us the serene and splendid rationalisms of Greece and Rome. We
are accustomed from childhood to the knowledge that our civilization
was founded by two mighty aristocracies of intellect, to whom the
religions of their day were, as they are to us, nothing but more or
less graceful fairy-tales.[4] We know that many of the greatest men
the world ever saw, while phrasing their relation to the "deus
absconditus" in various ways, were utterly free from that penitential,
supplicatory abjectness which is the mark of Asian salvationism. And
though of course the conscious filiation to Greece and Rome is rare,
the habit of mind which holds up its head in the world and feels no
childish craving to cling to the skirts of a God, is not rare at all.
Therefore I conceive that people who are shaken out of their
conventional, unrealized Christianity by the earthquake of the war
will not, as a rule, be in any hurry to rush into the arms of the
"great brother" constructed for them by Mr. Wells. It is easier to
picture them flocking to the banner of the Fabian Jesus--the Christ
uncrucified, and restored to sanity, of Mr. Bernard Shaw.

    [4] Namque deos didici securum agere aevum,
    nec, siquid miri faciat natura, deos id
    tristes ex alto caeli demittere tecto.
                                  HORACE, _Satires_ I., 5.

       *       *       *       *       *

Does it really seem to Mr. Wells an arid and damnable "atheism" that
finds in the very mystery of existence a subject of contemplation so
inexhaustibly marvellous as to give life the fascination of a
detective story? When Mr. Wells tells us that "the first purpose of
God is the attainment of clear knowledge, of knowledge as a means to
more knowledge, and of knowledge as a means to power," he states what
is, to many of us, the first and last article of religion--only that
we prefer to steer clear of hocus-pocus and substitute "Man" for
"God." If we are almost, or even quite, reconciled to the cruelties
and humiliations of life by the thought of its visual glories, its
intellectual triumphs, and the mysteries with which it is surrounded,
is that frame of mind wholly unworthy to be called religious? If it
is, I, for one, shall not complain; for religion, like God, is a word
that has been--

    Defamed by every charlatan
  And soil'd with all ignoble use.

But it will be difficult to persuade me of the loftier spirituality,
or even the more abiding solace, involved in ecstatic devotion to a
figure of speech.

There are two elements of consolation in life: the things of which we
are sure, and the things of which we are unsure. We are sure that man
has somehow been launched upon the most romantic adventure that mind
can conceive. He has set forth to conquer and subdue the world,
including the stupidities and basenesses of his own nature. At first
his progress was incalculably slow; then he came on with a rush in the
great sub-tropical river basins; and presently, where the brine of the
Ægean got into his blood, he achieved such miracles of thought and art
that his subsequent history, for well-nigh two thousand years, bore
the appearance of retrogression. I have already asked what the
Invisible King was about when he suffered the glory that was Athens to
sink in the fog-bank that was Alexandria. At all events, that
wonderful false-start came to nothing. Rome succeeded to the
world-leadership; and Rome, though energetic and capable, was never
brilliant. With her, European free thought, investigation, science
flickered out, and Asian religion took its place. Truly the slip-back
from antiquity to the dark ages offers a specious argument to the
atheists--the true and irredeemable atheists--who deny the reality of
progress. Specious, but quite insubstantial; for we can analyze the
terrestrial conditions which led to that catastrophe, and assure
ourselves that the bugbear of their recurrence is nothing more than a
bugbear. The printing-press alone is an inestimable safeguard. If the
Greeks had hit upon the idea of movable types--and it is little to the
credit of the Invisible King that they did not--the onrush of
barbarism and Byzantinism would not have been half so disastrous. And
even through the Dark Ages the bias towards betterment is still
perceptible, though its operation was terribly hampered. Then, at
last, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries took up the thread of
progress where antiquity had dropped it. Science revived, and bade
defiance to dogma. The garnering of knowledge began afresh; and true
knowledge has this to distinguish it from pseudo-sciences like
astrology, theology, and philately, that it is instinct with
procreative vigour. Knowledge breeds knowledge with ever-increasing
rapidity; and the result is that the past hundred years have seen
additions to man's control over the powers of nature which outstrip
the wildest imaginings of Eastern romance. When Mr. Gladstone first
went to Rome in 1832, his "transportation" was no swifter and scarcely
more comfortable than that of Cæsar in the fifties before Christ.
Today he could fly over the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa, and then cover
the distance from Milan onwards at the rate of seventy miles an hour
in a limousine as luxurious as an Empress's boudoir. We are piling up
the knowledge which is power at an enormous rate--indeed rather too
rapidly, since we have not yet the sense to discriminate between power
for good and power for evil. But "burnt bairns dread the fire," and
after the present awful experience, there is fair ground for hope that
measures will be taken to provide strait-waistcoats for the criminal
lunatics whose vanity and greed impel them to let loose the powers of
destruction.

Can any thinking man say that the world is quite the same to him since
the invention of wireless telegraphy? True it is only one among the
multitude of phenomena behind which the Veiled Being dissembles
himself. But is it not a phenomenon of a new and perhaps an
epoch-marking order? It may not make the veil more diaphanous, but it
somehow suggests an alteration--perhaps a progressive alteration--in
its texture.

When we say we are sure of the fact of progress, the atheist comes
down on us with the retort that we thereby confess ourselves naïve and
credulous optimists. As well say that when we express our confidence
that the North Western Railway will carry us to Manchester, we thereby
imply the belief that Manchester is the Earthly Paradise. It is quite
possible--any one who is so minded may say it is quite probable--that
progress means advance towards disillusion. What we are sure of is
merely this: that life may be, and ought to be, a very different thing
from what it now is, and that it is in our own power to make it so. We
have not the least doubt that the generations which come after us will
say:--

  We will not cease from mortal strife,
    Nor shall the sword slip from our hand,
  Till we have built Jerusalem
    In England's green and pleasant land.

But whether, when they have built it, they will think Jerusalem worth
the building is quite a different matter. It may be that Leopardi was
right when he said, "Men are miserable by necessity, but resolute in
believing themselves to be miserable by accident." That is a
proposition which the individual can accept or reject so far as his
own little span is concerned, but on which the race, as such, can pass
no valid judgment. Life has never had a fair chance. It has always
been so beset with accidental and corrigible evils that no man can say
what life, in its ultimate essence, really is. All we know is that
many of its miseries are factitious, inessential, eminently curable;
and till these are eradicated, how are we to determine whether there
are other evils too deep-rooted for our surgery? It may be, for
example, that the elimination of Pain would only leave a vacuum for
Tedium to rush in; but how are we to decide this _à priori_? Let us
learn what are the true potentialities of life before we undertake to
declare whether it is worth living or not.

Perhaps I may be allowed to quote at this point some words of my own
which express the idea I am trying to convey as clearly as I am
capable of putting it. They are part of the last paragraph of an
address entitled _Knowledge and Character: The Straight Road in
Education_:[5]

    The great, dominant, all-controlling fact of this life is the
    innate bias of the human spirit, not towards evil, as the
    theologians tell us, but towards good. But for this bias, man
    would never have been man; he would only have been one more
    species of wild animal ranging a savage, uncultivated globe,
    the reeking battle-ground of sheer instinct and appetite. But
    somehow and somewhere there germinated in his mind the idea
    that association, co-operation, would serve his ends better
    than unbridled egoism in the struggle for existence. Instead
    of "each man for himself" his motto became "each man for his
    family, or his tribe, or his nation, or--ultimately--for
    humankind." And, at a very early stage, what made for
    association, co-operation, brotherhood, came to be designated
    "good," while that which sinned against these upward
    tendencies was stigmatized as "evil." From that moment the
    battle was won, and the transfiguration of human life became
    only a matter of time. The prejudice in favour of the idea of
    good is the fundamental fact of our moral nature. It has an
    irresistible, a magical prestige. We have made, and are still
    making, a myriad mistakes--tragic and horrible mistakes--in
    striving for good things which are evils in disguise. A few
    of us (though relatively not very many) try to overcome the
    prejudice altogether, and say, "Evil, be thou my good!" But
    even these recreants and deserters from the great army of
    humanity have to express themselves in terms of good, and to
    take their stand on a sheer contradiction. Evil, as such, has
    simply not a fighting chance. The prestige of good is
    stupendous. We are all hypnotized by it; and the reason we
    are slow in realizing the ideal is, not that we are evil, but
    that we are stupid.

    [5] London: George Allen and Unwin, 1916.

"Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens"--no one had a
better right to say that than a German poet. But though the Invisible
King has made a poor fight against human stupidity, it is not really
unconquerable. If Gods cannot conquer it, men can. Its strongholds
are falling one by one, and, though a long fight is before us, its end
is not in doubt.

We may even hope, not without some plausibility, that moral progress
may be all the more rapid in the future because the limit of what
may be called mechanical progress cannot be so very far off. The
conquest of distance is the great material fact that makes for
world-organization; and distance cannot, after all, be more than
annihilated--it cannot be reduced to a minus quantity. Now that we can
whisper round the globe as we whisper round the dome of St. Paul's, we
cannot get much further on that line of advance, until immaterial
thought-transference shall enable us "to flash through one another in
a moment as we will." We may before long have reduced the crossing of
the Atlantic from five days to one, or even less; but in that
direction, too, there is a limit to progress; no invention will enable
us to arrive before we start. The conquest of physical disease seems
to be well within view; the possibilities of intensive cultivation and
selective breeding in plants and animals are likely to be rapidly
developed. When such material problems cease to exercise the first
fascination upon the enquiring mind, the mental sciences, psychology
and sociology, with the great neglected art of education, may come
into their kingdom. Then the atheism which avers that the world stands
still, or moves only in a circle, will no longer be possible. Then all
reasonable men will feel themselves soldiers in "a mighty army which
has won splendid victories (though here and there chequered with
defeats) on its march out of the dim and tragic past, and is clearly
destined to far greater triumphs in the future, if only each man does,
with unflinching loyalty, the duty assigned to him." That loyalty will
then be the conscious and acknowledged rule of life, as it is now in
an instinctive and half-realized fashion. It will help us, more than
all the personifications in the world, to "turn away from self." It
will not take the sting from death, but it will enable us to feel that
we have earned our rest, and brought no disgrace upon the colors of
our regiment.

Is it necessary to protest once more that this assurance of progress
towards the good is not to be confounded with optimism? For it is
clear that "good" is a question-begging word. The only possible
definition of "good" is "that which makes for life"--for life, not
only measured by quantity, but by quality and intensity--"that ye may
have life more abundantly." Why is egoism evil? Because a world in
which it reigned supreme would very soon come to an end, or at any
rate could not support anything like the abundance of life which is
rendered possible by mutual aid and co-operation. Why are order,
justice, courage, humanity good? Because they enable more people to
lead fuller lives than would be possible in the absence of such
guiding principles. But in all this we assume the validity of the
standard--"life"--which is precisely what pessimism denies. And
pessimism may quite conceivably be in the right on't. It is quite
conceivable that, having made the best that can possibly be made of
life, a world-weary race might decide that the best was not good
enough, and deliberately turn away from it. But that is a contingency,
a speculation, which no sane man would allow to affect his action here
and now, or to impair his loyalty to his comrades in the great
terrestrial adventure.

And is not this question of the ultimate value of life precisely one
of the uncertainties which lend--if the flippancy may be excused--a
"sporting interest" to our position? I have said that we have two
elements of consolation: the things which are sure and the things
which are unsure: in other words, the axioms and the mysteries.
Reason is all very well so far as it goes, and we do right to trust to
it; but it may prove, after all, that the things that are behind and
beyond and above reason are the things that really matter. Does this
seem a concession to obscurantism? Not at all--for the things
obscurantism glories in are things beneath reason, which is quite
another affair. At the same time, we are too apt to think that reason
has drawn a complete outline-map of its "sphere of influence," in
which there are many details to be filled in, but no boundaries to be
shifted, no regions wholly unexplored. It is, for instance, very
unreasonable to hold that we can draw a hard and fast line between the
materially possible and impossible. There is certainly a curious
ragged edge to our purely scientific knowledge, and it may well be
that in following up the frayed-out threads we may come upon things
very surprising and important. For example, the question whether
consciousness can exist detached from organized matter, or attached to
some form of matter of which we have no knowledge, I regard as purely
a question of evidence; and I not only admit but assert that the
evidence pointing in that direction is worthy of careful examination.
The interpretation which sees in it a proof of personal immortality
may be wrong, but that does not prove that the right interpretation is
not worth discovering. The spiritist voyagers may not have reached the
Indies of their hopes, yet may have stumbled upon an unsuspected
America. Nor does the fact that they are eager and credulous
invalidate the whole, or anything like the whole, of their evidence.

After all, is it a greater miracle that consciousness should exist
_de_tached from matter than that it should exist _at_tached to matter?
Yet the latter miracle nobody doubts, except in the nursery games of
the metaphysicians.

To define, or rather to adumbrate, the realm of mystery, which is yet
as indisputably real as the realm of reason and sense, we naturally
turn to the poets, the seers. Here is a glimpse of it through the eyes
of Francis Thompson, that creature of transcendent vision who made a
strange pretence of wearing the blinkers of the Roman Catholic Church.
Thus he writes in his "Anthem of Earth":--

                        Ay, Mother! Mother!
  What is this Man, thy darling kissed and cuffed,
  Thou lustingly engender'st,
  To sweat, and make his brag, and rot,
  Crowned with all honour and all shamefulness?
  From nightly towers
  He dogs the secret footsteps of the heavens,
  Sifts in his hands the stars, weighs them as gold-dust,
  And yet is he successive unto nothing
  But patrimony of a little mould,
  And entail of four planks. Thou hast made his mouth
  Avid of all dominion and all mightiness,
  All sorrow, all delight, all topless grandeurs,
  All beauty and all starry majesties,
  And dim transtellar things;--even that it may,
  Filled in the ending with a puff of dust,
  Confess--"It is enough." The world left empty
  What that poor mouthful crams. His heart is builded
  For pride, for potency, infinity,
  All heights, all deeps, and all immensities,
  Arras'd with purple like the house of kings,--
  To stall the grey rat, and the carrion-worm
  Statelily lodge. Mother of mysteries!
  Sayer of dark sayings in a thousand tongues,
  Who bringest forth no saying yet so dark
  As we ourselves, thy darkest!

Surely this is the very truth. Man is a hieroglyph to which reason
supplies no key--nay, reason itself is the heart of the enigma. And
does not this lend a strange fascination to the adventure of life?

Another singer, in a very much simpler strain, puts something of the
same idea:--

  Marooned on an isle of mystery,
    From a stupor of sleep we woke,
  And gazed at each other wistfully,
    A wondering, wildered folk.

  There were flowery valleys and mountains blue,
    And pastures, and herds galore,
  And fruits that were luscious to bite into,
    Though bitter at the core.

  So we plucked up heart, and we dree'd our weird
    Through flickering gleam and gloom,
  And still for rescue we hoped--or feared--
    From our island home and tomb.

  But never over the sailless sea
    Came messenger bark or schooner
  With news from the far-off realm whence we
  Set sail for that isle of mystery,
  Or a whisper of apology
    From our mute, malign marooner.

The strain of pessimism in this is even more marked than in Thompson's
"Anthem"; and indeed it is hard to deny that the resolute silence of
the "Veiled Being," the "Invisible King," and all the Gods and
godlings ever propounded to mortal piety, is one of their most
suspicious characteristics. Yet it may be that this reproach, however
natural, does the Veiled Being--or the Younger Power of our
alternative myth--a measure of injustice. It may be that the great
Dramaturge keeps his plot to himself precisely in order that the
interest may be maintained up to the fall of the curtain. It may be
that its disclosure would upset the conditions of some vast experiment
which he is working out. Where would be the interest of a race if its
result were a foregone conclusion? Where the passion of a battle if
its issue were foreknown? What if we should prove to be somnambulists
treading some dizzy edge between two abysses, and able to reach the
goal only on condition that we are unconscious of the process? Perhaps
the sanest view of the problem is that presented in Bliss Carman's
haunting poem

  THE JUGGLER

  Look how he throws them up and up,
  The beautiful golden balls!
  They hang aloft in the purple air,
  And there never is one that falls.

  He sends them hot from his steady hand,
  He teaches them all their curves;
  And whether the reach be little or long,
  There never is one that swerves.

  Some, like the tiny red one there,
  He never lets go far;
  And some he has sent to the roof of the tent
  To swim without a jar.

  So white and still they seem to hang,
  You wonder if he forgot
  To reckon the time of their return
  And measure their golden lot.

  Can it be that, hurried or tired out,
  The hand of the juggler shook?
  O never you fear, his eye is clear,
  He knows them all like a book.

  And they will home to his hand at last,
  For he pulls them by a cord
  Finer than silk and strong as fate,
  That is just the bid of his word.

  Was ever there such a sight in the world?
  Like a wonderful winding skein,--
  The way he tangles them up together
  And ravels them out again!

       *       *       *       *       *

  If I could have him at the inn
  All by myself some night,--
  Inquire his country, and where in the world
  He came by that cunning sleight!

  Where do you guess he learned the trick
  To hold us gaping here,
  Till our minds in the spell of his maze almost
  Have forgotten the time of year?

  One never could have the least idea.
  Yet why he disposed to twit
  A fellow who does such wonderful things
  With the merest lack of wit?

  Likely enough, when the show is done
  And the balls all back in his hand,
  He'll tell us why he is smiling so,
  And we shall understand.

I am not, perhaps, very firmly assured of this consummation. Yet I am
much more hopeful of one day understanding the Juggler and the Balls
than of ever getting into confidential relations with Mr. Wells's
Invisible King.

       *       *       *       *       *

One is conscious of a sort of churlishness in thus rejecting the
advances of so amiable a character as the Invisible King. But is Mr.
Wells, on his side, quite courteous, or even quite fair, to the Veiled
Being? "Riddle me no riddles!" he seems to say; "I am tired of your
guessing games. Let us have done with 'distressful enquiry into
ultimate origins,' and 'bring our minds to the conception of a
spontaneous and developing God'--one of whose existence and
benevolence we are sure, since we made him ourselves. I want something
to worship, to take me out of myself, to inspire me with brave phrases
about death. How can one worship an insoluble problem? Will an enigma
die with me in a reeling aeroplane? While you lurk obstinately behind
that veil, how can I even know that your political views are sound?
Whereas the Invisible King gives forth oracles of the highest
political wisdom, in a voice which I can scarcely distinguish from my
own. You are a remote, tantalizing entity with nothing comforting or
stimulating about you. But as for my Invisible King, 'Closer is he
than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.'"

A little way back, I compared Mr. Wells to Moses; but, looked at from
another point of view, he and his co-religionists may rather be
likened to the Children of Israel. Tired of waiting for news from the
God on the cloudy mountain-top, did they not make themselves a
synthetic deity, finite, friendly, and very like the Invisible King,
inasmuch as he seems to have worked no miracles, and done, in fact,
nothing whatever? But the God on the mountain-top was wroth, and
accused them of idolatry, surely not without reason. For what is
idolatry if it be not manufacturing a God, whether out of golden
earrings or out of humanitarian sentiments, and then bowing down and
worshipping it?

The wrath of the tribal God against his bovine rival was certainly
excessive--yet we cannot regard idolatry as one of the loftier
manifestations of the religious spirit. The man who can bow down and
worship the work of his hands shows a morbid craving for
self-abasement. It is possible, no doubt, to plead that the graven
image is a mere symbol of incorporeal, supersensible deity; and the
plea is a good one, if, and in so far as, we can believe that the
distinction between the sign and the thing signified is clear to the
mind of the devotee. The difficulty lies in believing that the type of
mind which is capable of focussing its devotion upon a statuette is
also capable of distinguishing between the idea of a symbol and the
idea of a portrait. But when we pass from the work of a man's hands to
the work of his brain--from an actual piece of sculpture to a mental
construction--the plea of symbolism can no longer be advanced. This
graven image of the mind, so to speak, is the veritable God, or it is
nothing; and Mr. Wells, as we have seen, is profuse in his assurances
that it is the veritable God. That is what makes his whole attitude
and argument so baffling. One can understand an idolater who says "I
believe that my God inhabits yonder image," or "Yonder image is only a
convenient point of concentration for the reverence, gratitude, and
love which pass through it to the august and transcendent Spirit whom
it symbolizes." But how are we to understand the idolater who adores,
and claims actual divinity for, an emanation from his own brain and
the brains of a certain number of like-minded persons? Is it not as
though a ventriloquist were to prostrate himself before his own
puppet?

This craving for something to worship points to an almost uncanny
recrudescence of the spirit of Asia in a fine European intelligence.
For my own part, as above stated, I cannot believe Mr. Wells's case to
be typical; but in that I may be mistaken. It is possible that an
epidemic of Asiatic religiosity may be one of the sequels of the War.
If that be so--if there are many people who shrink from the condition
of the spiritual "ronin," and are in search of a respectable "daimio"
to whom to pay their devotion--I beg leave strongly to urge the claims
of the Veiled Being as against the Invisible King.

He has at the outset the not inconsiderable advantage of being an
entity instead of a non-entity. Whoever or whatever he may be, we are
compelled by the very constitution of our minds to assume his (or its)
existence; whereas there is manifestly no compulsion to assume the
existence of the Invisible King.

Then, again, the Veiled Being is entirely unpretentious. There is no
bluster and no cant about him. He does not claim our gratitude for the
doubtful boon of life. He does not pretend to be just, while he is
committing, or winking at, the most intolerable injustices. He does
not set up to be long-suffering, while in fact he is childishly
touchy. He does not profess to be merciful, while the incurable ward,
the battlefield--nay, even the maternity home and the dentist's
parlor--are there to give him the lie. (Here, of course, I am not
contrasting him with the Invisible King, but with more ancient and
still more Asian divinities.) It is the moral pretensions tagged on by
the theologians to metaphysical Godhead that revolt and estrange
reasonable men--Mr. Wells among the rest. If you tell us that behind
the Veil we shall find a good-natured, indulgent old man, who chastens
us only for our good, is pleased by our flatteries (with or without
music), and is not more than suitably vexed at our naughtinesses in
the Garden of Eden and elsewhere--we reply that this is a nursery tale
which has been riddled, time out of mind, not by wicked sceptics, but
by the spontaneous, irrepressible criticism of babes and sucklings.
But if you divest the Veiled Being of all ethical--or in other words
of all human--attributes, then there is no difficulty whatever in
admiring, and even adoring, the marvels he has wrought. Tennyson went
deeper than he realized into the nature of things when he wrote--

  "For merit lives from man to man,
   But not from man, O Lord, to thee."

Once put aside all question of merit and demerit, of praise and blame,
and more especially (but this will shock Mr. Wells) of salvation and
damnation--and nothing can be easier than to pay to the works of the
Veiled Being the meed of an illimitable wonder. When we think of the
roaring vortices of flame that spangle the heavens night by night, at
distances that beggar conception: when we think of our tiny earth,
wrapped in its little film of atmosphere, spinning safely for ages
untold amid all these appalling immensities: and when we think, on the
other hand, of the battles of claw and maw going on, beneath the
starry vault, in that most miraculous of jewels, a drop of water: we
cannot but own that the Power which set all this whirl of atoms agoing
is worthy of all admiration. And approbation? Ah, that is another
matter; for there the moral element comes in. It is possible (and here
lies the interest of the enigma) that the Veiled Being may one day
justify himself even morally. Perhaps he is all the time doing so
behind the veil. But on that it is absolutely useless to speculate.
Light may one day come to us, but it will come through patient
investigation, not through idle pondering and guessing. In the
meantime, poised between the macrocosm and the microcosm, ourselves
including both extremes, and being, perhaps, the most stupendous
miracle of all, we cannot deny to this amazing frame of things the
tribute of an unutterable awe. If that be religion, I profess myself
as religious as Mr. Wells. I am even willing to join him in some
outward, ceremonial expression of that sentiment, if he can suggest
one that shall not be ridiculously inadequate. What about kneeling
through the C Minor Symphony? That seems to me about as near as we can
get. Or I will go with him to Primrose Hill some fine morning (like
the Persian Ambassador fabled by Charles Lamb) and worship the Sun,
chanting to him William Watson's magnificent hymn:--

    "To thee as our Father we bow,
      Forbidden thy Father to see,
  Who is older and greater than thou, as thou
    Art greater and older than we."

The sun, at any rate, is not a figure of speech, and is a symbol which
runs no risk of being mistaken for a portrait. If Mr. Wells would be
content with some such "bright sciential idolatry," I would willingly
declare myself a co-idolater. But alas! he is the hierophant of the
Invisible King, and prayer to that impotent potentate is to me a moral
impossibility. I would rather face damnation, especially in the mild
form threatened by Mr. Wells, which consists (pp. 148-149) in not
knowing that you are damned.

And if Mr. Wells maintains that in the worship of the non-moral Veiled
Being there is no practical, pragmatic comfort, I reply that I am not
so sure of that. When all is said and done, is there not more hope,
more solace, in an enigma than in a _façon de parler_? I should be
quite willing to accept the test of the reeling aeroplane. The aviator
can say to his soul: "Here am I, one of the most amazing births of
time, the culmination of an endless series of miracles. Perhaps I am
on the verge of extinction--if so, what does it all matter? But
perhaps, on the contrary, I am about to plunge into some new
adventure, as marvellous as this. More marvellous it cannot be, but
it may perhaps be more agreeable. At all events, there is something
fascinating in this leap in the dark. Good bye, my soul! Good-bye,
my memory!

  'If we should meet again, why, we shall smile;
   If not, why then this parting was well made.'"

I cannot but think that there is as much religion and as much solace
in such a shaking-off of "the bur o' the world" as in the thought that
the last new patent God is going to die with you, and that you,
unconsciously and indistinguishably merged in him, are going to live
for ever.



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TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES


1. Passages in italics are surrounded by _underscores_.

2. The words amoeba, mythopoeic and prosopopoeia use "oe" ligature in
the original text.

3. The following misprints have been corrected:
     "blackslides" corrected to "backslides" (page 40)
     "annhilated" corrected to "annihilated" (page 119)

4. Other than the corrections listed above, printer's inconsistencies
in spelling, punctuation, hyphenation, and ligature usage have been
retained.





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