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´╗┐Title: On the Prospects of Christianity - Bernard Shaw's Preface to Androcles and the Lion
Author: Shaw, Bernard, 1856-1950
Language: English
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By Bernard Shaw



   Why not give Christianity a Trial?
   Why Jesus more than Another?
   Was Jesus a Coward?
   Was Jesus a Martyr?
   The Gospels without Prejudice
   The Gospels now unintelligible to Novices
   Worldliness of the Majority
   Religion of the Minority. Salvationism
   The Difference between Atonement and Punishment
   Salvation at first a Class Privilege; and the Remedy
   Retrospective Atonement; and the Expectation of the Redeemer
   Completion of the Scheme by Luther and Calvin
   John Barleycorn
   Looking for the End of the World
   The Honor of Divine Parentage

   The Annunciation: the Massacre: the Flight
   John the Baptist
   Jesus joins the Baptists
   The Savage John and the Civilized Jesus
   Jesus not a Proselytist
   The Teachings of Jesus
   The Miracles
   Matthew imputes Bigotry to Jesus
   The Great Change
   Jerusalem and the Mystical Sacrifice
   Not this Man but Barabbas
   The Resurrection
   Date of Matthew's Narrative
   Class Type of Matthew's Jesus

   The Women Disciples and the Ascension

   Luke the Literary Artist
   The Charm of Luke's Narrative
   The Touch of Parisian Romance
   Waiting for the Messiah

   A New Story and a New Character
   John the Immortal Eye Witness
   The Peculiar Theology of Jesus
   John agreed as to the Trial and Crucifixion
   Credibility of the Gospels
   Fashions of Belief Credibility and Truth
   Christian Iconolatry and the Peril of the Iconoclast
   The Alternative to Barabbas
   The Reduction to Modern Practice of Christianity
   Modern Communism
   Shall He Who Makes, Own?
   Labor Time
   The Dream of Distribution According to Merit
   Vital Distribution
   Equal Distribution
   The Captain and the Cabin Boy
   The Political and Biological Objections to Inequality
   Jesus as Economist
   Jesus as Biologist
   Money the Midwife of Scientific Communism
   Judge Not
   Limits to Free Will
   Jesus on Marriage and the Family
   Why Jesus did not Marry
   Inconsistency of the Sex Instinct For Better for Worse
   The Remedy
   The Case for Marriage
   Celibacy no Remedy
   After the Crucifixion
   The Vindictive Miracles and the Stoning of Stephen
   Confusion of Christendom
   Secret of Paul's Success
   Paul's Qualities
   Acts of the Apostles
   The Controversies on Baptism and Transubstantiation
   The Alternative Christs
   Credulity no Criterion
   Belief in Personal Immortality no Criterion
   The Secular View Natural, not Rational, therefore Inevitable
   "The Higher Criticism"
   The Perils of Salvationism
   The Importance of Hell in the Salvation Scheme
   The Right to refuse Atonement
   The Teaching of Christianity
   Christianity and the Empire



The question seems a hopeless one after 2000 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. But he
has had one quaint triumph. Barabbas has stolen his name and taken his
cross as a standard. There is a sort of compliment in that. There is
even a sort of loyalty in it, like that of the brigand who breaks every
law and yet claims to be a patriotic subject of the king who makes them.
We have always had a curious feeling that though we crucified Christ on
a stick, he somehow managed to get hold of the right end of it, and that
if we were better men we might try his plan. There have been one or two
grotesque attempts at it by inadequate people, such as the Kingdom of
God in Munster, which was ended by crucifixion so much more atrocious
than the one on Calvary that the bishop who took the part of Annas went
home and died of horror. But responsible people have never made such
attempts. The moneyed, respectable, capable world has been steadily
anti-Christian and Barabbasque since the crucifixion; and the specific
doctrine of Jesus has not in all that time been put into political or
general social practice. I am no more a Christian than Pilate was, or
you, gentle reader; and yet, like Pilate, I greatly prefer Jesus to
Annas and Caiaphas; and I am ready to admit that after contemplating the
world and human nature for nearly sixty years, I see no way out of the
world's misery but the way which would have been found by Christ's will
if he had undertaken the work of a modern practical statesman. Pray
do not at this early point lose patience with me and shut the book. I
assure you I am as sceptical and scientific and modern a thinker as you
will find anywhere. I grant you I know a great deal more about economics
and politics than Jesus did, and can do things he could not do. I am
by all Barabbasque standards a person of much better character and
standing, and greater practical sense. I have no sympathy with vagabonds
and talkers who try to reform society by taking men away from their
regular productive work and making vagabonds and talkers of them too;
and if I had been Pilate I should have recognized as plainly as he the
necessity for suppressing attacks on the existing social order, however
corrupt that order might be, by people with no knowledge of government
and no power to construct political machinery to carry out their views,
acting on the very dangerous delusion that the end of the world was at
hand. I make no defence of such Christians as Savonarola and John of
Leyden: they were scuttling the ship before they had learned how to
build a raft; and it became necessary to throw them overboard to save
the crew. I say this to set myself right with respectable society; but
I must still insist that if Jesus could have worked out the practical
problems of a Communist constitution, an admitted obligation to deal
with crime without revenge or punishment, and a full assumption
by humanity of divine responsibilities, he would have conferred an
incalculable benefit on mankind, because these distinctive demands of
his are now turning out to be good sense and sound economics.

I say distinctive, because his common humanity and his subjection to
time and space (that is, to the Syrian life of his period) involved his
belief in many things, true and false, that in no way distinguish
him from other Syrians of that time. But such common beliefs do not
constitute specific Christianity any more than wearing a beard, working
in a carpenter's shop, or believing that the earth is flat and that
the stars could drop on it from heaven like hailstones. Christianity
interests practical statesmen now because of the doctrines that
distinguished Christ from the Jews and the Barabbasques generally,
including ourselves.


I do not imply, however, that these doctrines were peculiar to Christ.
A doctrine peculiar to one man would be only a craze, unless its
comprehension depended on a development of human faculty so rare that
only one exceptionally gifted man possessed it. But even in this case it
would be useless, because incapable of spreading. Christianity is a step
in moral evolution which is independent of any individual preacher. If
Jesus had never existed (and that he ever existed in any other sense
than that in which Shakespear's Hamlet existed has been vigorously
questioned) Tolstoy would have thought and taught and quarrelled with
the Greek Church all the same. Their creed has been fragmentarily
practised to a considerable extent in spite of the fact that the laws
of all countries treat it, in effect, as criminal. Many of its advocates
have been militant atheists. But for some reason the imagination of
white mankind has picked out Jesus of Nazareth as THE Christ, and
attributed all the Christian doctrines to him; and as it is the doctrine
and not the man that matters, and, as, besides, one symbol is as good as
another provided everyone attaches the same meaning to it, I raise, for
the moment, no question as to how far the gospels are original, and how
far they consist of Greek and Chinese interpolations. The record that
Jesus said certain things is not invalidated by a demonstration that
Confucius said them before him. Those who claim a literal divine
paternity for him cannot be silenced by the discovery that the same
claim was made for Alexander and Augustus. And I am not just now
concerned with the credibility of the gospels as records of fact; for
I am not acting as a detective, but turning our modern lights on to
certain ideas and doctrines in them which disentangle themselves from
the rest because they are flatly contrary to common practice, common
sense, and common belief, and yet have, in the teeth of dogged
incredulity and recalcitrance, produced an irresistible impression that
Christ, though rejected by his posterity as an unpractical dreamer, and
executed by his contemporaries as a dangerous anarchist and blasphemous
madman, was greater than his judges.


I know quite well that this impression of superiority is not produced
on everyone, even of those who profess extreme susceptibility to it.
Setting aside the huge mass of inculcated Christ-worship which has no
real significance because it has no intelligence, there is, among people
who are really free to think for themselves on the subject, a great
deal of hearty dislike of Jesus and of contempt for his failure to save
himself and overcome his enemies by personal bravery and cunning as
Mahomet did. I have heard this feeling expressed far more impatiently by
persons brought up in England as Christians than by Mahometans, who are,
like their prophet, very civil to Jesus, and allow him a place in their
esteem and veneration at least as high as we accord to John the Baptist.
But this British bulldog contempt is founded on a complete misconception
of his reasons for submitting voluntarily to an ordeal of torment and
death. The modern Secularist is often so determined to regard Jesus as a
man like himself and nothing more, that he slips unconsciously into the
error of assuming that Jesus shared that view. But it is quite clear
from the New Testament writers (the chief authorities for believing that
Jesus ever existed) that Jesus at the time of his death believed
himself to be the Christ, a divine personage. It is therefore absurd to
criticize his conduct before Pilate as if he were Colonel Roosevelt or
Admiral von Tirpitz or even Mahomet. Whether you accept his belief in
his divinity as fully as Simon Peter did, or reject it as a delusion
which led him to submit to torture and sacrifice his life without
resistance in the conviction that he would presently rise again in
glory, you are equally bound to admit that, far from behaving like a
coward or a sheep, he showed considerable physical fortitude in going
through a cruel ordeal against which he could have defended himself as
effectually as he cleared the moneychangers out of the temple. "Gentle
Jesus, meek and mild" is a snivelling modern invention, with no warrant
in the gospels. St. Matthew would as soon have thought of applying such
adjectives to Judas Maccabeus as to Jesus; and even St. Luke, who makes
Jesus polite and gracious, does not make him meek. The picture of him
as an English curate of the farcical comedy type, too meek to fight a
policeman, and everybody's butt, may be useful in the nursery to soften
children; but that such a figure could ever have become a centre of the
world's attention is too absurd for discussion; grown men and women may
speak kindly of a harmless creature who utters amiable sentiments and is
a helpless nincompoop when he is called on to defend them; but they will
not follow him, nor do what he tells them, because they do not wish to
share his defeat and disgrace.


It is important therefore that we should clear our minds of the notion
that Jesus died, as some are in the habit of declaring, for his social
and political opinions. There have been many martyrs to those opinions;
but he was not one of them, nor, as his words show, did he see any more
sense in martyrdom than Galileo did. He was executed by the Jews for the
blasphemy of claiming to be a God; and Pilate, to whom this was a mere
piece of superstitious nonsense, let them execute him as the cheapest
way of keeping them quiet, on the formal plea that he had committed
treason against Rome by saying that he was the King of the Jews. He was
not falsely accused, nor denied full opportunities of defending himself.
The proceedings were quite straightforward and regular; and Pilate,
to whom the appeal lay, favored him and despised his judges, and was
evidently willing enough to be conciliated. But instead of denying the
charge, Jesus repeated the offence. He knew what he was doing: he had
alienated numbers of his own disciples and been stoned in the streets
for doing it before. He was not lying: he believed literally what he
said. The horror of the High Priest was perfectly natural: he was a
Primate confronted with a heterodox street preacher uttering what seemed
to him an appalling and impudent blasphemy. The fact that the blasphemy
was to Jesus a simple statement of fact, and that it has since been
accepted as such by all western nations, does not invalidate the
proceedings, nor give us the right to regard Annas and Caiaphas as worse
men than the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Head Master of Eton. If
Jesus had been indicted in a modern court, he would have been examined
by two doctors; found to be obsessed by a delusion; declared incapable
of pleading; and sent to an asylum: that is the whole difference. But
please note that when a man is charged before a modern tribunal (to take
a case that happened the other day) of having asserted and maintained
that he was an officer returned from the front to receive the Victoria
Cross at the hands of the King, although he was in fact a mechanic,
nobody thinks of treating him as afflicted with a delusion. He is
punished for false pretences, because his assertion is credible and
therefore misleading. Just so, the claim to divinity made by Jesus was
to the High Priest, who looked forward to the coming of a Messiah, one
that might conceivably have been true, and might therefore have misled
the people in a very dangerous way. That was why he treated Jesus as an
imposter and a blasphemer where we should have treated him as a madman.


All this will become clear if we read the gospels without prejudice.
When I was young it was impossible to read them without fantastic
confusion of thought. The confusion was so utterly confounded that it
was called the proper spirit to read the Bible in. Jesus was a baby;
and he was older than creation. He was a man who could be persecuted,
stoned, scourged, and killed; and he was a god, immortal and
all-powerful, able to raise the dead and call millions of angels to his
aid. It was a sin to doubt either view of him: that is, it was a sin to
reason about him; and the end was that you did not reason about him, and
read about him only when you were compelled. When you heard the gospel
stories read in church, or learnt them from painters and poets, you came
out with an impression of their contents that would have astonished a
Chinaman who had read the story without prepossession. Even sceptics who
were specially on their guard, put the Bible in the dock, and read
the gospels with the object of detecting discrepancies in the four
narratives to show that the writers were as subject to error as the
writers of yesterday's newspaper.

All this has changed greatly within two generations. Today the Bible is
so little read that the language of the Authorized Version is rapidly
becoming obsolete; so that even in the United States, where the old
tradition of the verbal infallibility of "the book of books"
lingers more strongly than anywhere else except perhaps in Ulster,
retranslations into modern English have been introduced perforce to
save its bare intelligibility. It is quite easy today to find cultivated
persons who have never read the New Testament, and on whom therefore it
is possible to try the experiment of asking them to read the gospels and
state what they have gathered as to the history and views and character
of Christ.


But it will not do to read the gospels with a mind furnished only for
the reception of, say, a biography of Goethe. You will not make sense of
them, nor even be able without impatient weariness to persevere in the
task of going steadily through them, unless you know something of the
history of the human imagination as applied to religion. Not long ago I
asked a writer of distinguished intellectual competence whether he had
made a study of the gospels since his childhood. His reply was that he
had lately tried, but "found it all such nonsense that I could not stick
it." As I do not want to send anyone to the gospels with this result,
I had better here give a brief exposition of how much of the history of
religion is needed to make the gospels and the conduct and ultimate fate
of Jesus intelligible and interesting.


The first common mistake to get rid of is that mankind consists of a
great mass of religious people and a few eccentric atheists. It consists
of a huge mass of worldly people, and a small percentage of persons
deeply interested in religion and concerned about their own souls
and other peoples'; and this section consists mostly of those who
are passionately affirming the established religion and those who are
passionately attacking it, the genuine philosophers being very few. Thus
you never have a nation of millions of Wesleys and one Tom Paine.
You have a million Mr. Worldly Wisemans, one Wesley, with his small
congregation, and one Tom Paine, with his smaller congregation.
The passionately religious are a people apart; and if they were not
hopelessly outnumbered by the worldly, they would turn the world upside
down, as St. Paul was reproached, quite justly, for wanting to do. Few
people can number among their personal acquaintances a single atheist or
a single Plymouth Brother. Unless a religious turn in ourselves has led
us to seek the little Societies to which these rare birds belong, we
pass our lives among people who, whatever creeds they may repeat, and
in whatever temples they may avouch their respectability and wear their
Sunday clothes, have robust consciences, and hunger and thirst, not for
righteousness, but for rich feeding and comfort and social position and
attractive mates and ease and pleasure and respect and consideration:
in short, for love and money. To these people one morality is as good
as another provided they are used to it and can put up with its
restrictions without unhappiness; and in the maintenance of this
morality they will fight and punish and coerce without scruple. They
may not be the salt of the earth, these Philistines; but they are the
substance of civilization; and they save society from ruin by criminals
and conquerors as well as by Savonarolas and Knipperdollings. And as
they know, very sensibly, that a little religion is good for children
and serves morality, keeping the poor in good humor or in awe by
promising rewards in heaven or threatening torments in hell, they
encourage the religious people up to a certain point: for instance, if
Savonarola only tells the ladies of Florence that they ought to tear
off their jewels and finery and sacrifice them to God, they offer him
a cardinal's hat, and praise him as a saint; but if he induces them to
actually do it, they burn him as a public nuisance.


The religion of the tolerated religious minority has always been
essentially the same religion: that is why its changes of name and form
have made so little difference. That is why, also, a nation so civilized
as the English can convert negroes to their faith with great ease,
but cannot convert Mahometans or Jews. The negro finds in civilized
Salvationism an unspeakably more comforting version of his crude creed;
but neither Saracen nor Jew sees any advantage in it over his own
version. The Crusader was surprised to find the Saracen quite as
religious and moral as himself, and rather more than less civilized.
The Latin Christian has nothing to offer the Greek Christian that
Greek Christianity has not already provided. They are all, at root,

Let us trace this religion of Salvation from its beginnings. So
many things that man does not himself contrive or desire are always
happening: death, plagues, tempests, blights, floods, sunrise and
sunset, growths and harvests and decay, and Kant's two wonders of the
starry heavens above us and the moral law within us, that we conclude
that somebody must be doing it all, or that somebody is doing the good
and somebody else doing the evil, or that armies of invisible persons,
benefit-cut and malevolent, are doing it; hence you postulate gods and
devils, angels and demons. You propitiate these powers with presents,
called sacrifices, and flatteries, called praises. Then the Kantian
moral law within you makes you conceive your god as a judge; and
straightway you try to corrupt him, also with presents and flatteries.
This seems shocking to us; but our objection to it is quite a recent
development: no longer ago than Shakespear's time it was thought quite
natural that litigants should give presents to human judges; and the
buying off of divine wrath by actual money payments to priests, or, in
the reformed churches which discountenance this, by subscriptions to
charities and church building and the like, is still in full swing. Its
practical disadvantage is that though it makes matters very easy for
the rich, it cuts off the poor from all hope of divine favor. And this
quickens the moral criticism of the poor to such an extent, that they
soon find the moral law within them revolting against the idea of buying
off the deity with gold and gifts, though they are still quite ready
to buy him off with the paper money of praise and professions of
repentance. Accordingly, you will find that though a religion may
last unchanged for many centuries in primitive communities where the
conditions of life leave no room for poverty and riches, and the process
of propitiating the supernatural powers is as well within the means
of the least of the members as within those of the headman, yet when
commercial civilization arrives, and capitalism divides the people
into a few rich and a great many so poor that they can barely live, a
movement for religious reform will arise among the poor, and will be
essentially a movement for cheap or entirely gratuitous salvation. To
understand what the poor mean by propitiation, we must examine for a
moment what they mean by justice.


The primitive idea of justice is partly legalized revenge and partly
expiation by sacrifice. It works out from both sides in the notion that
two blacks make a white, and that when a wrong has been done, it should
be paid for by an equivalent suffering. It seems to the Philistine
majority a matter of course that this compensating suffering should be
inflicted on the wrongdoer for the sake of its deterrent effect on
other would-be wrongdoers; but a moment's reflection will show that this
utilitarian application corrupts the whole transaction. For example, the
shedding of innocent blood cannot be balanced by the shedding of guilty
blood. Sacrificing a criminal to propitiate God for the murder of one of
his righteous servants is like sacrificing a mangy sheep or an ox with
the rinderpest: it calls down divine wrath instead of appeasing it.
In doing it we offer God as a sacrifice the gratification of our own
revenge and the protection of our own lives without cost to ourselves;
and cost to ourselves is the essence of sacrifice and expiation.
However much the Philistines have succeeded in confusing these things in
practice, they are to the Salvationist sense distinct and even contrary.
The Baronet's cousin in Dickens's novel, who, perplexed by the failure
of the police to discover the murderer of the baronet's solicitor, said
"Far better hang wrong fellow than no fellow," was not only expressing
a very common sentiment, but trembling on the brink of the rarer
Salvationist opinion that it is much better to hang the wrong fellow:
that, in fact, the wrong fellow is the right fellow to hang.

The point is a cardinal one, because until we grasp it not only does
historical Christianity remain unintelligible to us, but those who do
not care a rap about historical Christianity may be led into the mistake
of supposing that if we discard revenge, and treat murderers exactly
as God treated Cain: that is, exempt them from punishment by putting a
brand on them as unworthy to be sacrificed, and let them face the world
as best they can with that brand on them, we should get rid both of
punishment and sacrifice. It would not at all follow: on the contrary,
the feeling that there must be an expiation of the murder might quite
possibly lead to our putting some innocent person--the more innocent the
better--to a cruel death to balance the account with divine justice.


Thus, even when the poor decide that the method of purchasing salvation
by offering rams and goats or bringing gold to the altar must be wrong
because they cannot afford it, we still do not feel "saved" without a
sacrifice and a victim. In vain do we try to substitute mystical rites
that cost nothing, such as circumcision, or, as a substitute for that,
baptism. Our sense of justice still demands an expiation, a sacrifice,
a sufferer for our sins. And this leaves the poor man still in his old
difficulty; for if it was impossible for him to procure rams and goats
and shekels, how much more impossible is it for him to find a neighbor
who will voluntarily suffer for his sins: one who will say cheerfully
"You have committed a murder. Well, never mind: I am willing to be
hanged for it in your stead?"

Our imagination must come to our rescue. Why not, instead of driving
ourselves to despair by insisting on a separate atonement by a separate
redeemer for every sin, have one great atonement and one great redeemer
to compound for the sins of the world once for all? Nothing easier,
nothing cheaper. The yoke is easy, the burden light. All you have to do
when the redeemer is once found (or invented by the imagination) is to
believe in the efficacy of the transaction, and you are saved. The rams
and goats cease to bleed; the altars which ask for expensive gifts and
continually renewed sacrifices are torn down; and the Church of the
single redeemer and the single atonement rises on the ruins of the old
temples, and becomes a single Church of the Christ.


But this does not happen at once. Between the old costly religion of
the rich and the new gratuitous religion of the poor there comes
an interregnum in which the redeemer, though conceived by the human
imagination, is not yet found. He is awaited and expected under the
names of the Christ, the Messiah, Baldur the Beautiful, or what not; but
he has not yet come. Yet the sinners are not therefore in despair. It
is true that they cannot say, as we say, "The Christ has come, and has
redeemed us;" but they can say "The Christ will come, and will redeem
us," which, as the atonement is conceived as retrospective, is equally
consoling. There are periods when nations are seething with this
expectation and crying aloud with prophecy of the Redeemer through their
poets. To feel that atmosphere we have only to take up the Bible and
read Isaiah at one end of such a period and Luke and John at the other.


We now see our religion as a quaint but quite intelligible evolution
from crude attempts to propitiate the destructive forces of Nature among
savages to a subtle theology with a costly ritual of sacrifice possible
only to the rich as a luxury, and finally to the religion of Luther and
Calvin. And it must be said for the earlier forms that they involved
very real sacrifices. The sacrifice was not always vicarious, and is
not yet universally so. In India men pay with their own skins, torturing
themselves hideously to attain holiness. In the west, saints amazed the
world with their austerities and self-scourgings and confessions and
vigils. But Luther delivered us from all that. His reformation was
a triumph of imagination and a triumph of cheapness. It brought you
complete salvation and asked you for nothing but faith. Luther did not
know what he was doing in the scientific sociological way in which we
know it; but his instinct served him better than knowledge could have
done; for it was instinct rather than theological casuistry that made
him hold so resolutely to Justification by Faith as the trump card by
which he should beat the Pope, or, as he would have put it, the sign in
which he should conquer. He may be said to have abolished the charge for
admission to heaven. Paul had advocated this; but Luther and Calvin did


There is yet another page in the history of religion which must be
conned and digested before the career of Jesus can be fully understood.
people who can read long books will find it in Frazer's Golden Bough.
Simpler folk will find it in the peasant's song of John Barleycorn, now
made accessible to our drawingroom amateurs in the admirable collections
of Somersetshire Folk Songs by Mr. Cecil Sharp. From Frazer's magnum
opus you will learn how the same primitive logic which makes the
Englishman believe today that by eating a beefsteak he can acquire the
strength and courage of the bull, and to hold that belief in the face
of the most ignominious defeats by vegetarian wrestlers and racers
and bicyclists, led the first men who conceived God as capable of
incarnation to believe that they could acquire a spark of his divinity
by eating his flesh and drinking his blood. And from the song of John
Barleycorn you may learn how the miracle of the seed, the growth,
and the harvest, still the most wonderful of all the miracles and as
inexplicable as ever, taught the primitive husbandman, and, as we must
now affirm, taught him quite rightly, that God is in the seed, and that
God is immortal. And thus it became the test of Godhead that nothing
that you could do to it could kill it, and that when you buried it, it
would rise again in renewed life and beauty and give mankind eternal
life on condition that it was eaten and drunk, and again slain and
buried, to rise again for ever and ever. You may, and indeed must, use
John Barleycorn "right barbarouslee," cutting him "off at knee" with
your scythes, scourging him with your flails, burying him in the earth;
and he will not resist you nor reproach you, but will rise again in
golden beauty amidst a great burst of sunshine and bird music, and
save you and renew your life. And from the interweaving of these two
traditions with the craving for the Redeemer, you at last get the
conviction that when the Redeemer comes he will be immortal; he will
give us his body to eat and his blood to drink; and he will prove his
divinity by suffering a barbarous death without resistance or reproach,
and rise from the dead and return to the earth in glory as the giver of
life eternal.


Yet another persistent belief has beset the imagination of the religious
ever since religion spread among the poor, or, rather, ever since
commercial civilization produced a hopelessly poor class cut off from
enjoyment in this world. That belief is that the end of this world is at
hand, and that it will presently pass away and be replaced by a kingdom
of happiness, justice, and bliss in which the rich and the oppressors
and the unjust shall have no share. We are all familiar with this
expectation: many of us cherish some pious relative who sees in every
great calamity a sign of the approaching end. Warning pamphlets are in
constant circulation: advertisements are put in the papers and paid for
by those who are convinced, and who are horrified at the indifference of
the irreligious to the approaching doom. And revivalist preachers, now
as in the days of John the Baptist, seldom fail to warn their flocks to
watch and pray, as the great day will steal upon them like a thief in
the night, and cannot be long deferred in a world so wicked. This belief
also associates itself with Barleycorn's second coming; so that the two
events become identified at last.

There is the other and more artificial side of this belief, on which it
is an inculcated dread. The ruler who appeals to the prospect of heaven
to console the poor and keep them from insurrection also curbs the
vicious by threatening them with hell. In the Koran we find Mahomet
driven more and more to this expedient of government; and experience
confirms his evident belief that it is impossible to govern without it
in certain phases of civilization. We shall see later on that it gives
a powerful attraction to the belief in a Redeemer, since it adds to
remorse of conscience, which hardened men bear very lightly, a definite
dread of hideous and eternal torture.


One more tradition must be noted. The consummation of praise for a king
is to declare that he is the son of no earthly father, but of a god. His
mother goes into the temple of Apollo, and Apollo comes to her in the
shape of a serpent, or the like. The Roman emperors, following the
example of Augustus, claimed the title of God. Illogically, such divine
kings insist a good deal on their royal human ancestors. Alexander,
claiming to be the son of Apollo, is equally determined to be the son of
Philip. As the gospels stand, St. Matthew and St. Luke give genealogies
(the two are different) establishing the descent of Jesus through Joseph
from the royal house of David, and yet declare that not Joseph but the
Holy Ghost was the father of Jesus. It is therefore now held that the
story of the Holy Ghost is a later interpolation borrowed from the Greek
and Roman imperial tradition. But experience shows that simultaneous
faith in the descent from David and the conception by the Holy Ghost is
possible. Such double beliefs are entertained by the human mind
without uneasiness or consciousness of the contradiction involved. Many
instances might be given: a familiar one to my generation being that of
the Tichborne claimant, whose attempt to pass himself off as a baronet
was supported by an association of laborers on the ground that the
Tichborne family, in resisting it, were trying to do a laborer out of
his rights. It is quite possible that Matthew and Luke may have been
unconscious of the contradiction: indeed the interpolation theory does
not remove the difficulty, as the interpolators themselves must have
been unconscious of it. A better ground for suspecting interpolation is
that St. Paul knew nothing of the divine birth, and taught that Jesus
came into the world at his birth as the son of Joseph, but rose from
the dead after three days as the son of God. Here again, few notice
the discrepancy: the three views are accepted simultaneously without
intellectual discomfort. We can provisionally entertain half a dozen
contradictory versions of an event if we feel either that it does not
greatly matter, or that there is a category attainable in which the
contradictions are reconciled.

But that is not the present point. All that need be noted here is that
the legend of divine birth was sure to be attached sooner or later
to very eminent persons in Roman imperial times, and that modern
theologians, far from discrediting it, have very logically affirmed the
miraculous conception not only of Jesus but of his mother.

With no more scholarly equipment than a knowledge of these habits of
the human imagination, anyone may now read the four gospels without
bewilderment, and without the contemptuous incredulity which spoils
the temper of many modern atheists, or the senseless credulity which
sometimes makes pious people force us to shove them aside in emergencies
as impracticable lunatics when they ask us to meet violence and
injustice with dumb submission in the belief that the strange demeanor
of Jesus before Pilate was meant as an example of normal human conduct.
Let us admit that without the proper clues the gospels are, to a modern
educated person, nonsensical and incredible, whilst the apostles are
unreadable. But with the clues, they are fairly plain sailing. Jesus
becomes an intelligible and consistent person. His reasons for going
"like a lamb to the slaughter" instead of saving himself as Mahomet
did, become quite clear. The narrative becomes as credible as any other
historical narrative of its period.



Let us begin with the gospel of Matthew, bearing in mind that it does
not profess to be the evidence of an eyewitness. It is a chronicle,
founded, like other chronicles, on such evidence and records as the
chronicler could get hold of. The only one of the evangelists who
professes to give first-hand evidence as an eyewitness naturally takes
care to say so; and the fact that Matthew makes no such pretension, and
writes throughout as a chronicler, makes it clear that he is telling the
story of Jesus as Holinshed told the story of Macbeth, except that, for
a reason to be given later on, he must have collected his material and
completed his book within the lifetime of persons contemporary with
Jesus. Allowance must also be made for the fact that the gospel is
written in the Greek language, whilst the first-hand traditions and the
actual utterances of Jesus must have been in Aramaic, the dialect of
Palestine. These distinctions were important, as you will find if you
read Holinshed or Froissart and then read Benvenuto Cellini. You do not
blame Holinshed or Froissart for believing and repeating the things they
had read or been told, though you cannot always believe these things
yourself. But when Cellini tells you that he saw this or did that, and
you find it impossible to believe him, you lose patience with him, and
are disposed to doubt everything in his autobiography. Do not forget,
then, that Matthew is Holinshed and not Benvenuto. The very first pages
of his narrative will put your attitude to the test.

Matthew tells us that the mother of Jesus was betrothed to a man of
royal pedigree named Joseph, who was rich enough to live in a house in
Bethlehem to which kings could bring gifts of gold without provoking any
comment. An angel announces to Joseph that Jesus is the son of the Holy
Ghost, and that he must not accuse her of infidelity because of her
bearing a son of which he is not the father; but this episode disappears
from the subsequent narrative: there is no record of its having been
told to Jesus, nor any indication of his having any knowledge of it.
The narrative, in fact, proceeds in all respects as if the annunciation
formed no part of it.

Herod the Tetrarch, believing that a child has been born who will
destroy him, orders all the male children to be slaughtered; and Jesus
escapes by the flight of his parents into Egypt, whence they return to
Nazareth when the danger is over. Here it is necessary to anticipate a
little by saying that none of the other evangelists accept this story,
as none of them except John, who throws over Matthew altogether, shares
his craze for treating history and biography as mere records of the
fulfillment of ancient Jewish prophecies. This craze no doubt led him to
seek for some legend bearing out Hosea's "Out of Egypt have I called my
son," and Jeremiah's Rachel weeping for her children: in fact, he says
so. Nothing that interests us nowadays turns on the credibility of the
massacre of the innocents and the flight into Egypt. We may forget them,
and proceed to the important part of the narrative, which skips at once
to the manhood of Jesus.


At this moment, a Salvationist prophet named John is stirring the
people very strongly. John has declared that the rite of circumcision
is insufficient as a dedication of the individual to God, and has
substituted the rite of baptism. To us, who are accustomed to baptism
as a matter of course, and to whom circumcision is a rather ridiculous
foreign practice of no consequence, the sensational effect of such a
heresy as this on the Jews is not apparent: it seems to us as natural
that John should have baptized people as that the rector of our
village should do so. But, as St. Paul found to his cost later on, the
discarding of circumcision for baptism was to the Jews as startling a
heresy as the discarding of transubstantiation in the Mass was to the
Catholics of the XVI century.


Jesus entered as a man of thirty (Luke says) into the religious life of
his time by going to John the Baptist and demanding baptism from him,
much as certain well-to-do young gentlemen forty years ago "joined the
Socialists." As far as established Jewry was concerned, he burnt his
boats by this action, and cut himself off from the routine of wealth,
respectability, and orthodoxy. He then began preaching John's gospel,
which, apart from the heresy of baptism, the value of which lay in its
bringing the Gentiles (that is, the uncircumcized) within the pale of
salvation, was a call to the people to repent of their sins, as the
kingdom of heaven was at hand. Luke adds that he also preached the
communism of charity; told the surveyors of taxes not to over-assess the
taxpayers; and advised soldiers to be content with their wages and not
to be violent or lay false accusations. There is no record of John going
beyond this.


Jesus went beyond it very rapidly, according to Matthew. Though, like
John, he became an itinerant preacher, he departed widely from John's
manner of life. John went into the wilderness, not into the synagogues;
and his baptismal font was the river Jordan. He was an ascetic, clothed
in skins and living on locusts and wild honey, practising a savage
austerity. He courted martyrdom, and met it at the hands of Herod. Jesus
saw no merit either in asceticism or martyrdom. In contrast to John
he was essentially a highly-civilized, cultivated person. According
to Luke, he pointed out the contrast himself, chaffing the Jews for
complaining that John must be possessed by the devil because he was a
teetotaller and vegetarian, whilst, because Jesus was neither one nor
the other, they reviled him as a gluttonous man and a winebibber,
the friend of the officials and their mistresses. He told straitlaced
disciples that they would have trouble enough from other people without
making any for themselves, and that they should avoid martyrdom and
enjoy themselves whilst they had the chance. "When they persecute you in
this city," he says, "flee into the next." He preaches in the synagogues
and in the open air indifferently, just as they come. He repeatedly
says, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice," meaning evidently to clear
himself of the inveterate superstition that suffering is gratifying to
God. "Be not, as the Pharisees, of a sad countenance," he says. He is
convivial, feasting with Roman officials and sinners. He is careless of
his person, and is remonstrated with for not washing his hands before
sitting down to table. The followers of John the Baptist, who fast, and
who expect to find the Christians greater ascetics than themselves, are
disappointed at finding that Jesus and his twelve friends do not fast;
and Jesus tells them that they should rejoice in him instead of being
melancholy. He is jocular and tells them they will all have as much
fasting as they want soon enough, whether they like it or not. He is
not afraid of disease, and dines with a leper. A woman, apparently to
protect him against infection, pours a costly unguent on his head, and
is rebuked because what it cost might have been given to the poor.
He poohpoohs that lowspirited view, and says, as he said when he was
reproached for not fasting, that the poor are always there to be helped,
but that he is not there to be anointed always, implying that you should
never lose a chance of being happy when there is so much misery in the
world. He breaks the Sabbath; is impatient of conventionality when it is
uncomfortable or obstructive; and outrages the feelings of the Jews
by breaches of it. He is apt to accuse people who feel that way
of hypocrisy. Like the late Samuel Butler, he regards disease as
a department of sin, and on curing a lame man, says "Thy sins are
forgiven" instead of "Arise and walk," subsequently maintaining, when
the Scribes reproach him for assuming power to forgive sin as well as
to cure disease, that the two come to the same thing. He has no modest
affectations, and claims to be greater than Solomon or Jonah. When
reproached, as Bunyan was, for resorting to the art of fiction when
teaching in parables, he justifies himself on the ground that art is
the only way in which the people can be taught. He is, in short, what we
should call an artist and a Bohemian in his manner of life.


A point of considerable practical importance today is that he expressly
repudiates the idea that forms of religion, once rooted, can be weeded
out and replanted with the flowers of a foreign faith. "If you try to
root up the tares you will root up the wheat as well." Our proselytizing
missionary enterprises are thus flatly contrary to his advice; and their
results appear to bear him out in his view that if you convert a man
brought up in another creed, you inevitably demoralize him. He acts on
this view himself, and does not convert his disciples from Judaism
to Christianity. To this day a Christian would be in religion a Jew
initiated by baptism instead of circumcision, and accepting Jesus as the
Messiah, and his teachings as of higher authority than those of Moses,
but for the action of the Jewish priests, who, to save Jewry from being
submerged in the rising flood of Christianity after the capture of
Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, set up what was
practically a new religious order, with new Scriptures and elaborate
new observances, and to their list of the accursed added one Jeschu, a
bastard magician, whose comic rogueries brought him to a bad end like
Punch or Til Eulenspiegel: an invention which cost them dear when the
Christians got the upper hand of them politically. The Jew as Jesus,
himself a Jew, knew him, never dreamt of such things, and could follow
Jesus without ceasing to be a Jew.


So much for his personal life and temperament. His public career as a
popular preacher carries him equally far beyond John the Baptist. He
lays no stress on baptism or vows, and preaches conduct incessantly.
He advocates communism, the widening of the private family with its
cramping ties into the great family of mankind under the fatherhood of
God, the abandonment of revenge and punishment, the counteracting of
evil by good instead of by a hostile evil, and an organic conception of
society in which you are not an independent individual but a member of
society, your neighbor being another member, and each of you members one
of another, as two fingers on a hand, the obvious conclusion being that
unless you love your neighbor as yourself and he reciprocates you will
both be the worse for it. He conveys all this with extraordinary charm,
and entertains his hearers with fables (parables) to illustrate them.
He has no synagogue or regular congregation, but travels from place to
place with twelve men whom he has called from their work as he passed,
and who have abandoned it to follow him.


He has certain abnormal powers by which he can perform miracles. He
is ashamed of these powers, but, being extremely compassionate, cannot
refuse to exercise them when afflicted people beg him to cure them, when
multitudes of people are hungry, and when his disciples are terrified by
storms on the lakes. He asks for no reward, but begs the people not
to mention these powers of his. There are two obvious reasons for his
dislike of being known as a worker of miracles. One is the natural
objection of all men who possess such powers, but have far more
important business in the world than to exhibit them, to be regarded
primarily as charlatans, besides being pestered to give exhibitions to
satisfy curiosity. The other is that his view of the effect of miracles
upon his mission is exactly that taken later on by Rousseau. He
perceives that they will discredit him and divert attention from his
doctrine by raising an entirely irrelevant issue between his disciples
and his opponents.

Possibly my readers may not have studied Rousseau's Letters Written From
The Mountain, which may be regarded as the classic work on miracles as
credentials of divine mission. Rousseau shows, as Jesus foresaw, that
the miracles are the main obstacle to the acceptance of Christianity,
because their incredibility (if they were not incredible they would not
be miracles) makes people sceptical as to the whole narrative, credible
enough in the main, in which they occur, and suspicious of the doctrine
with which they are thus associated. "Get rid of the miracles," said
Rousseau, "and the whole world will fall at the feet of Jesus Christ."
He points out that miracles offered as evidence of divinity, and failing
to convince, make divinity ridiculous. He says, in effect, there is
nothing in making a lame man walk: thousands of lame men have been cured
and have walked without any miracle. Bring me a man with only one leg
and make another grow instantaneously on him before my eyes; and I will
be really impressed; but mere cures of ailments that have often been
cured before are quite useless as evidence of anything else than desire
to help and power to cure.

Jesus, according to Matthew, agreed so entirely with Rousseau, and felt
the danger so strongly, that when people who were not ill or in trouble
came to him and asked him to exercise his powers as a sign of
his mission, he was irritated beyond measure, and refused with an
indignation which they, not seeing Rousseau's point, must have thought
very unreasonable. To be called "an evil and adulterous generation"
merely for asking a miracle worker to give an exhibition of his powers,
is rather a startling experience. Mahomet, by the way, also lost his
temper when people asked him to perform miracles. But Mahomet expressly
disclaimed any unusual powers; whereas it is clear from Matthew's story
that Jesus (unfortunately for himself, as he thought) had some powers of
healing. It is also obvious that the exercise of such powers would give
rise to wild tales of magical feats which would expose their hero to
condemnation as an impostor among people whose good opinion was of great
consequence to the movement started by his mission.

But the deepest annoyance arising from the miracles would be the
irrelevance of the issue raised by them. Jesus's teaching has nothing
to do with miracles. If his mission had been simply to demonstrate a new
method of restoring lost eyesight, the miracle of curing the blind would
have been entirely relevant. But to say "You should love your enemies;
and to convince you of this I will now proceed to cure this gentleman
of cataract" would have been, to a man of Jesus's intelligence, the
proposition of an idiot. If it could be proved today that not one of the
miracles of Jesus actually occurred, that proof would not invalidate a
single one of his didactic utterances; and conversely, if it could be
proved that not only did the miracles actually occur, but that he had
wrought a thousand other miracles a thousand times more wonderful, not
a jot of weight would be added to his doctrine. And yet the intellectual
energy of sceptics and divines has been wasted for generations in
arguing about the miracles on the assumption that Christianity is at
stake in the controversy as to whether the stories of Matthew are false
or true. According to Matthew himself, Jesus must have known this
only too well; for wherever he went he was assailed with a clamor for
miracles, though his doctrine created bewilderment.

So much for the miracles! Matthew tells us further, that Jesus declared
that his doctrines would be attacked by Church and State, and that the
common multitude were the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
His disciples, in their relations with the political and ecclesiastical
organizations, would be as sheep among wolves.


Matthew, like most biographers, strives to identify the opinions and
prejudices of his hero with his own. Although he describes Jesus as
tolerant even to carelessness, he draws the line at the Gentile, and
represents Jesus as a bigoted Jew who regards his mission as addressed
exclusively to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." When a woman of
Canaan begged Jesus to cure her daughter, he first refused to speak
to her, and then told her brutally that "It is not meet to take the
children's bread and cast it to the dogs." But when the woman said,
"Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their
master's table," she melted the Jew out of him and made Christ a
Christian. To the woman whom he had just called a dog he said, "O woman,
great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt." This is somehow
one of the most touching stories in the gospel; perhaps because the
woman rebukes the prophet by a touch of his own finest quality. It is
certainly out of character; but as the sins of good men are always out
of character, it is not safe to reject the story as invented in the
interest of Matthew's determination that Jesus shall have nothing to do
with the Gentiles. At all events, there the story is; and it is by no
means the only instance in which Matthew reports Jesus, in spite of the
charm of his preaching, as extremely uncivil in private intercourse.


So far the history is that of a man sane and interesting apart from his
special gifts as orator, healer, and prophet. But a startling change
occurs. One day, after the disciples have discouraged him for a long
time by their misunderstandings of his mission, and their speculations
as to whether he is one of the old prophets come again, and if so,
which, his disciple Peter suddenly solves the problem by exclaiming,
"Thou are the Christ, the son of the living God." At this Jesus is
extraordinarily pleased and excited. He declares that Peter has had
a revelation straight from God. He makes a pun on Peter's name, and
declares him the founder of his Church. And he accepts his destiny as a
god by announcing that he will be killed when he goes to Jerusalem;
for if he is really the Christ, it is a necessary part of his legendary
destiny that he shall be slain. Peter, not understanding this, rebukes
him for what seems mere craven melancholy; and Jesus turns fiercely on
him and cries, "Get thee behind me, Satan."

Jesus now becomes obsessed with a conviction of his divinity, and talks
about it continually to his disciples, though he forbids them to mention
it to others. They begin to dispute among themselves as to the position
they shall occupy in heaven when his kingdom is established. He rebukes
them strenuously for this, and repeats his teaching that greatness
means service and not domination; but he himself, always instinctively
somewhat haughty, now becomes arrogant, dictatorial, and even abusive,
never replying to his critics without an insulting epithet, and even
cursing a fig-tree which disappoints him when he goes to it for fruit.
He assumes all the traditions of the folk-lore gods, and announces that,
like John Barleycorn, he will be barbarously slain and buried, but
will rise from the earth and return to life. He attaches to himself the
immemorial tribal ceremony of eating the god, by blessing bread and wine
and handing them to his disciples with the words "This is my body: this
is my blood." He forgets his own teaching and threatens eternal fire
and eternal punishment. He announces, in addition to his Barleycorn
resurrection, that he will come to the world a second time in glory
and establish his kingdom on earth. He fears that this may lead to the
appearance of impostors claiming to be himself, and declares explicitly
and repeatedly that no matter what wonders these impostors may perform,
his own coming will be unmistakable, as the stars will fall from heaven,
and trumpets be blown by angels. Further he declares that this will take
place during the lifetime of persons then present.


In this new frame of mind he at last enters Jerusalem amid great popular
curiosity; drives the moneychangers and sacrifice sellers out of the
temple in a riot; refuses to interest himself in the beauties and
wonders of the temple building on the ground that presently not a stone
of it shall be left on another; reviles the high priests and elders
in intolerable terms; and is arrested by night in a garden to avoid a
popular disturbance. He makes no resistance, being persuaded that it is
part of his destiny as a god to be murdered and to rise again. One of
his followers shows fight, and cuts off the ear of one of his captors.
Jesus rebukes him, but does not attempt to heal the wound, though he
declares that if he wished to resist he could easily summon twelve
million angels to his aid. He is taken before the high priest and by him
handed over to the Roman governor, who is puzzled by his silent refusal
to defend himself in any way, or to contradict his accusers or their
witnesses, Pilate having naturally no idea that the prisoner conceives
himself as going through an inevitable process of torment, death, and
burial as a prelude to resurrection. Before the high priest he has also
been silent except that when the priest asks him is he the Christ, the
Son of God, he replies that they shall all see the Son of Man sitting
at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven. He
maintains this attitude with frightful fortitude whilst they scourge
him, mock him, torment him, and finally crucify him between two thieves.
His prolonged agony of thirst and pain on the cross at last breaks his
spirit, and he dies with a cry of "My God: why hast Thou forsaken me?"


Meanwhile he has been definitely rejected by the people as well as by
the priests. Pilate, pitying him, and unable to make out exactly what he
has done (the blasphemy that has horrified the high priest does not move
the Roman) tries to get him off by reminding the people that they have,
by custom, the right to have a prisoner released at that time, and
suggests that he should release Jesus. But they insist on his releasing
a prisoner named Barabbas instead, and on having Jesus crucified.
Matthew gives no clue to the popularity of Barabbas, describing him
simply as "a notable prisoner." The later gospels make it clear, very
significantly, that his offence was sedition and insurrection; that he
was an advocate of physical force; and that he had killed his man. The
choice of Barabbas thus appears as a popular choice of the militant
advocate of physical force as against the unresisting advocate of mercy.


Matthew then tells how after three days an angel opened the family vault
of one Joseph, a rich man of Arimathea, who had buried Jesus in it,
whereupon Jesus rose and returned from Jerusalem to Galilee and resumed
his preaching with his disciples, assuring them that he would now be
with them to the end of the world. At that point the narrative abruptly
stops. The story has no ending.


One effect of the promise of Jesus to come again in glory during the
lifetime of some of his hearers is to date the gospel without the aid
of any scholarship. It must have been written during the lifetime of
Jesus's contemporaries: that is, whilst it was still possible for the
promise of his Second Coming to be fulfilled. The death of the last
person who had been alive when Jesus said "There be some of them that
stand here that shall in no wise taste death till they see the Son
of Man coming in his kingdom" destroyed the last possibility of the
promised Second Coming, and bore out the incredulity of Pilate and the
Jews. And as Matthew writes as one believing in that Second Coming,
and in fact left his story unfinished to be ended by it, he must have
produced his gospel within a lifetime of the crucifixion. Also, he must
have believed that reading books would be one of the pleasures of the
kingdom of heaven on earth.


One more circumstance must be noted as gathered from Matthew. Though he
begins his story in such a way as to suggest that Jesus belonged to the
privileged classes, he mentions later on that when Jesus attempted to
preach in his own country, and had no success there, the people said,
"Is not this the carpenter's son?" But Jesus's manner throughout is that
of an aristocrat, or at the very least the son of a rich bourgeois, and
by no means a lowly-minded one at that. We must be careful therefore
to conceive Joseph, not as a modern proletarian carpenter working for
weekly wages, but as a master craftsman of royal descent. John the
Baptist may have been a Keir Hardie; but the Jesus of Matthew is of the
Ruskin-Morris class.

This haughty characterization is so marked that if we had no other
documents concerning Jesus than the gospel of Matthew, we should not
feel as we do about him. We should have been much less loth to say,
"There is a man here who was sane until Peter hailed him as the Christ,
and who then became a monomaniac." We should have pointed out that
his delusion is a very common delusion among the insane, and that such
insanity is quite consistent with the retention of the argumentative
cunning and penetration which Jesus displayed in Jerusalem after his
delusion had taken complete hold of him. We should feel horrified at the
scourging and mocking and crucifixion just as we should if Ruskin had
been treated in that way when he also went mad, instead of being cared
for as an invalid. And we should have had no clear perception of any
special significance in his way of calling the Son of God the Son of
Man. We should have noticed that he was a Communist; that he regarded
much of what we call law and order as machinery for robbing the poor
under legal forms; that he thought domestic ties a snare for the soul;
that he agreed with the proverb "The nearer the Church, the farther from
God;" that he saw very plainly that the masters of the community should
be its servants and not its oppressors and parasites; and that though he
did not tell us not to fight our enemies, he did tell us to love them,
and warned us that they who draw the sword shall perish by the sword.
All this shows a great power of seeing through vulgar illusions, and
a capacity for a higher morality than has yet been established in any
civilized community; but it does not place Jesus above Confucius or
Plato, not to mention more modern philosophers and moralists.



Let us see whether we can get anything more out of Mark, whose gospel,
by the way, is supposed to be older than Matthew's. Mark is brief; and
it does not take long to discover that he adds nothing to Matthew except
the ending of the story by Christ's ascension into heaven, and the
news that many women had come with Jesus to Jerusalem, including Mary
Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. On the other hand Mark
says nothing about the birth of Jesus, and does not touch his career
until his adult baptism by John. He apparently regards Jesus as a native
of Nazareth, as John does, and not of Bethlehem, as Matthew and Luke do,
Bethlehem being the city of David, from whom Jesus is said by Matthew
and Luke to be descended. He describes John's doctrine as "Baptism of
repentance unto remission of sins": that is, a form of Salvationism.
He tells us that Jesus went into the synagogues and taught, not as the
Scribes but as one having authority: that is, we infer, he preaches his
own doctrine as an original moralist is instead of repeating what
the books say. He describes the miracle of Jesus reaching the boat by
walking across the sea, but says nothing about Peter trying to do the
same. Mark sees what he relates more vividly than Matthew, and gives
touches of detail that bring the event more clearly before the reader.
He says, for instance, that when Jesus walked on the waves to the boat,
he was passing it by when the disciples called out to him. He seems
to feel that Jesus's treatment of the woman of Canaan requires some
apology, and therefore says that she was a Greek of Syrophenician
race, which probably excused any incivility to her in Mark's eyes. He
represents the father of the boy whom Jesus cured of epilepsy after the
transfiguration as a sceptic who says "Lord, I believe: help thou mine
unbelief." He tells the story of the widow's mite, omitted by Matthew.
He explains that Barabbas was "lying bound with them that made
insurrection, men who in the insurrection had committed murder." Joseph
of Arimathea, who buried Jesus in his own tomb, and who is described by
Matthew as a disciple, is described by Mark as "one who also himself
was looking for the kingdom of God," which suggests that he was an
independent seeker. Mark earns our gratitude by making no mention of the
old prophecies, and thereby not only saves time, but avoids the absurd
implication that Christ was merely going through a predetermined ritual,
like the works of a clock, instead of living. Finally Mark reports
Christ as saying, after his resurrection, that those who believe in
him will be saved and those who do not, damned; but it is impossible
to discover whether he means anything by a state of damnation beyond a
state of error. The paleographers regard this passage as tacked on by a
later scribe. On the whole Mark leaves the modern reader where Matthew
left him.



When we come to Luke, we come to a later storyteller, and one with a
stronger natural gift for his art. Before you have read twenty lines
of Luke's gospel you are aware that you have passed from the chronicler
writing for the sake of recording important facts, to the artist,
telling the story for the sake of telling it. At the very outset he
achieves the most charming idyll in the Bible: the story of Mary crowded
out of the inn into the stable and laying her newly-born son in the
manger, and of the shepherds abiding in the field keeping watch over
their flocks by night, and how the angel of the Lord came upon them, and
the glory of the Lord shone around them, and suddenly there was with the
angel a multitude of the heavenly host. These shepherds go to the stable
and take the place of the kings in Matthew's chronicle. So completely
has this story conquered and fascinated our imagination that most of us
suppose all the gospels to contain it; but it is Luke's story and his
alone: none of the others have the smallest hint of it.


Luke gives the charm of sentimental romance to every incident. The
Annunciation, as described by Matthew, is made to Joseph, and is simply
a warning to him not to divorce his wife for misconduct. In Luke's
gospel it is made to Mary herself, at much greater length, with a sense
of the ecstasy of the bride of the Holy Ghost. Jesus is refined and
softened almost out of recognition: the stern peremptory disciple of
John the Baptist, who never addresses a Pharisee or a Scribe without
an insulting epithet, becomes a considerate, gentle, sociable, almost
urbane person; and the Chauvinist Jew becomes a pro-Gentile who
is thrown out of the synagogue in his own town for reminding the
congregation that the prophets had sometimes preferred Gentiles to Jews.
In fact they try to throw him down from a sort of Tarpeian rock which
they use for executions; but he makes his way through them and escapes:
the only suggestion of a feat of arms on his part in the gospels.
There is not a word of the Syrophenician woman. At the end he is calmly
superior to his sufferings; delivers an address on his way to execution
with unruffled composure; does not despair on the cross; and dies with
perfect dignity, commending his spirit to God, after praying for the
forgiveness of his persecutors on the ground that "They know not what
they do." According to Matthew, it is part of the bitterness of his
death that even the thieves who are crucified with him revile him.
According to Luke, only one of them does this; and he is rebuked by the
other, who begs Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom.
To which Jesus replies, "This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise,"
implying that he will spend the three days of his death there. In short,
every device is used to get rid of the ruthless horror of the Matthew
chronicle, and to relieve the strain of the Passion by touching
episodes, and by representing Christ as superior to human suffering. It
is Luke's Jesus who has won our hearts.


Luke's romantic shrinking from unpleasantness, and his sentimentality,
are illustrated by his version of the woman with the ointment. Matthew
and Mark describe it as taking place in the house of Simon the Leper,
where it is objected to as a waste of money. In Luke's version the leper
becomes a rich Pharisee; the woman becomes a Dame aux Camellias; and
nothing is said about money and the poor. The woman washes the feet of
Jesus with her tears and dries them with her hair; and he is reproached
for suffering a sinful woman to touch him. It is almost an adaptation
of the unromantic Matthew to the Parisian stage. There is a distinct
attempt to increase the feminine interest all through. The slight lead
given by Mark is taken up and developed. More is said about Jesus's
mother and her feelings. Christ's following of women, just mentioned by
Mark to account for their presence at his tomb, is introduced earlier;
and some of the women are named; so that we are introduced to Joanna the
wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna. There is the quaint little
domestic episode between Mary and Martha. There is the parable of the
Prodigal Son, appealing to the indulgence romance has always shown to
Charles Surface and Des Grieux. Women follow Jesus to the cross; and he
makes them a speech beginning "Daughters of Jerusalem." Slight as these
changes may seem, they make a great change in the atmosphere. The Christ
of Matthew could never have become what is vulgarly called a woman's
hero (though the truth is that the popular demand for sentiment, as far
as it is not simply human, is more manly than womanly); but the Christ
of Luke has made possible those pictures which now hang in many ladies'
chambers, in which Jesus is represented exactly as he is represented
in the Lourdes cinematograph, by a handsome actor. The only touch of
realism which Luke does not instinctively suppress for the sake of
producing this kind of amenity is the reproach addressed to Jesus for
sitting down to table without washing his hands; and that is retained
because an interesting discourse hangs on it.


Another new feature in Luke's story is that it begins in a world in
which everyone is expecting the advent of the Christ. In Matthew and
Mark, Jesus comes into a normal Philistine world like our own of today.
Not until the Baptist foretells that one greater than himself shall come
after him does the old Jewish hope of a Messiah begin to stir again; and
as Jesus begins as a disciple of John, and is baptized by him, nobody
connects him with that hope until Peter has the sudden inspiration which
produces so startling an effect on Jesus. But in Luke's gospel men's
minds, and especially women's minds, are full of eager expectation of a
Christ not only before the birth of Jesus, but before the birth of John
the Baptist, the event with which Luke begins his story. Whilst Jesus
and John are still in their mothers' wombs, John leaps at the approach
of Jesus when the two mothers visit one another. At the circumcision of
Jesus pious men and women hail the infant as the Christ.

The Baptist himself is not convinced; for at quite a late period in
his former disciple's career he sends two young men to ask Jesus is he
really the Christ. This is noteworthy because Jesus immediately gives
them a deliberate exhibition of miracles, and bids them tell John what
they have seen, and ask him what he thinks now: This is in complete
contradiction to what I have called the Rousseau view of miracles as
inferred from Matthew. Luke shows all a romancer's thoughtlessness about
miracles; he regards them as "signs": that is, as proofs of the divinity
of the person performing them, and not merely of thaumaturgic powers. He
revels in miracles just as he revels in parables: they make such capital
stories. He cannot allow the calling of Peter, James, and John from
their boats to pass without a comic miraculous overdraft of fishes, with
the net sinking the boats and provoking Peter to exclaim, "Depart from
me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord," which should probably be translated,
"I want no more of your miracles: natural fishing is good enough for my

There are some other novelties in Luke's version. Pilate sends Jesus
to Herod, who happens to be in Jerusalem just then, because Herod
had expressed some curiosity about him; but nothing comes of it:
the prisoner will not speak to him. When Jesus is ill received in a
Samaritan village James and John propose to call down fire from heaven
and destroy it; and Jesus replies that he is come not to destroy lives
but to save them. The bias of Jesus against lawyers is emphasized, and
also his resolution not to admit that he is more bound to his relatives
than to strangers. He snubs a woman who blesses his mother. As this is
contrary to the traditions of sentimental romance, Luke would presumably
have avoided it had he not become persuaded that the brotherhood of
Man and the Fatherhood of God are superior even to sentimental
considerations. The story of the lawyer asking what are the two chief
commandments is changed by making Jesus put the question to the lawyer
instead of answering it.

As to doctrine, Luke is only clear when his feelings are touched. His
logic is weak; for some of the sayings of Jesus are pieced together
wrongly, as anyone who has read them in the right order and context
in Matthew will discover at once. He does not make anything new out of
Christ's mission, and, like the other evangelists, thinks that the whole
point of it is that Jesus was the long expected Christ, and that he will
presently come back to earth and establish his kingdom, having duly died
and risen again after three days. Yet Luke not only records the teaching
as to communism and the discarding of hate, which have, of course,
nothing to do with the Second Coming, but quotes one very remarkable
saying which is not compatible with it, which is, that people must not
go about asking where the kingdom of heaven is, and saying "Lo, here!"
and "Lo, there!" because the kingdom of heaven is within them. But Luke
has no sense that this belongs to a quite different order of thought to
his Christianity, and retains undisturbed his view of the kingdom as a
locality as definite as Jerusalem or Madagascar.



The gospel of John is a surprise after the others. Matthew, Mark and
Luke describe the same events in the same order (the variations in Luke
are negligible), and their gospels are therefore called the synoptic
gospels. They tell substantially the same story of a wandering preacher
who at the end of his life came to Jerusalem. John describes a preacher
who spent practically his whole adult life in the capital, with
occasional visits to the provinces. His circumstantial account of the
calling of Peter and the sons of Zebedee is quite different from
the others; and he says nothing about their being fishermen. He says
expressly that Jesus, though baptized by John, did not himself practise
baptism, and that his disciples did. Christ's agonized appeal against
his doom in the garden of Gethsemane becomes a coldblooded suggestion
made in the temple at a much earlier period. Jesus argues much more;
complains a good deal of the unreasonableness and dislike with which
he is met; is by no means silent before Caiaphas and Pilate; lays much
greater stress on his resurrection and on the eating of his body
(losing all his disciples except the twelve in consequence); says many
apparently contradictory and nonsensical things to which no ordinary
reader can now find any clue; and gives the impression of an educated,
not to say sophisticated mystic, different both in character and
schooling from the simple and downright preacher of Matthew and Mark,
and the urbane easy-minded charmer of Luke. Indeed, the Jews say of him
"How knoweth this man letters, having never learnt?"


John, moreover, claims to be not only a chronicler but a witness.
He declares that he is "the disciple whom Jesus loved," and that he
actually leaned on the bosom of Jesus at the last supper and asked in
a whisper which of them it was that should betray him. Jesus whispered
that he would give a sop to the traitor, and thereupon handed one to
Judas, who ate it and immediately became possessed by the devil. This
is more natural than the other accounts, in which Jesus openly indicates
Judas without eliciting any protest or exciting any comment. It also
implies that Jesus deliberately bewitched Judas in order to bring about
his own betrayal. Later on John claims that Jesus said to Peter "If I
will that John tarry til I come, what is that to thee?"; and John,
with a rather obvious mock modesty, adds that he must not claim to
be immortal, as the disciples concluded; for Christ did not use that
expression, but merely remarked "If I will that he tarry till I come."
No other evangelist claims personal intimacy with Christ, or even
pretends to be his contemporary (there is no ground for identifying
Matthew the publican with Matthew the Evangelist); and John is the only
evangelist whose account of Christ's career and character is hopelessly
irreconcilable with Matthew's. He is almost as bad as Matthew, by the
way, in his repeated explanations of Christ's actions as having no
other purpose than to fulfil the old prophecies. The impression is more
unpleasant, because, as John, unlike Matthew, is educated, subtle, and
obsessed with artificial intellectual mystifications, the discovery
that he is stupid or superficial in so simple a matter strikes one
with distrust and dislike, in spite of his great literary charm, a good
example of which is his transfiguration of the harsh episode of the
Syrophenician woman into the pleasant story of the woman of Samaria.
This perhaps is why his claim to be John the disciple, or to be a
contemporary of Christ or even of any survivor of Christ's generation,
has been disputed, and finally, it seems, disallowed. But I repeat,
I take no note here of the disputes of experts as to the date of the
gospels, not because I am not acquainted with them, but because, as the
earliest codices are Greek manuscripts of the fourth century A.D., and
the Syrian ones are translations from the Greek, the paleographic expert
has no difficulty in arriving at whatever conclusion happens to suit
his beliefs or disbeliefs; and he never succeeds in convincing the other
experts except when they believe or disbelieve exactly as he does.
Hence I conclude that the dates of the original narratives cannot be
ascertained, and that we must make the best of the evangelists' own
accounts of themselves. There is, as we have seen, a very marked
difference between them, leaving no doubt that we are dealing with four
authors of well-marked diversity; but they all end in an attitude of
expectancy of the Second Coming which they agree in declaring Jesus to
have positively and unequivocally promised within the lifetime of his
contemporaries. Any believer compiling a gospel after the last of
these contemporaries had passed away, would either reject and omit the
tradition of that promise on the ground that since it was not fulfilled,
and could never now be fulfilled, it could not have been made, or else
have had to confess to the Jews, who were the keenest critics of
the Christians, that Jesus was either an impostor or the victim of
a delusion. Now all the evangelists except Matthew expressly declare
themselves to be believers; and Matthew's narrative is obviously not
that of a sceptic. I therefore assume as a matter of common sense that,
interpolations apart, the gospels are derived from narratives written in
the first century A.D. I include John, because though it may be claimed
that he hedged his position by claiming that Christ, who specially loved
him, endowed him with a miraculous life until the Second Coming, the
conclusion being that John is alive at this moment, I cannot believe
that a literary forger could hope to save the situation by so outrageous
a pretension. Also, John's narrative is in many passages nearer to the
realities of public life than the simple chronicle of Matthew or the
sentimental romance of Luke. This may be because John was obviously more
a man of the world than the others, and knew, as mere chroniclers and
romancers never know, what actually happens away from books and desks.
But it may also be because he saw and heard what happened instead of
collecting traditions about it. The paleographers and daters of first
quotations may say what they please: John's claim to give evidence as an
eyewitness whilst the others are only compiling history is supported by
a certain verisimilitude which appeals to me as one who has preached
a new doctrine and argued about it, as well as written stories. This
verisimilitude may be dramatic art backed by knowledge of public life;
but even at that we must not forget that the best dramatic art is the
operation of a divinatory instinct for truth. Be that as it may, John
was certainly not the man to believe in the Second Coming and yet give
a date for it after that date had passed. There is really no escape
from the conclusion that the originals of all the gospels date from the
period within which there was still a possibility of the Second Coming
occurring at the promised time.


In spite of the suspicions roused by John's idiosyncrasies, his
narrative is of enormous importance to those who go to the gospels for
a credible modern religion. For it is John who adds to the other records
such sayings as that "I and my father are one"; that "God is a spirit";
that the aim of Jesus is not only that the people should have life, but
that they should have it "more abundantly" (a distinction much needed by
people who think a man is either alive or dead, and never consider the
important question how much alive he is); and that men should bear in
mind what they were told in the 82nd Psalm: that they are gods, and
are responsible for the doing of the mercy and justice of God. The Jews
stoned him for saying these things, and, when he remonstrated with them
for stupidly stoning one who had done nothing to them but good works,
replied "For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy, because
that thou, being a man, makest thyself God." He insists (referring to
the 82nd psalm) that if it is part of their own religion that they are
gods on the assurance of God himself, it cannot be blasphemy for him,
whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, to say "I am the son
of God." But they will not have this at any price; and he has to escape
from their fury. Here the point is obscured by the distinction made by
Jesus between himself and other men. He says, in effect, "If you are
gods, then, a fortiori, I am a god." John makes him say this, just as he
makes him say "I am the light of the world." But Matthew makes him say
to the people "Ye are the light of the world." John has no grip of the
significance of these scraps which he has picked up: he is far more
interested in a notion of his own that men can escape death and do even
more extraordinary things than Christ himself: in fact, he actually
represents Jesus as promising this explicitly, and is finally led into
the audacious hint that he, John, is himself immortal in the flesh.
Still, he does not miss the significant sayings altogether. However
inconsistent they may be with the doctrine he is consciously driving
at, they appeal to some sub-intellectual instinct in him that makes him
stick them in, like a child sticking tinsel stars on the robe of a toy

John does not mention the ascension; and the end of his narrative leaves
Christ restored to life, and appearing from time to time among his
disciples. It is on one of these occasions that John describes the
miraculous draught of fishes which Luke places at the other end of
Christ's career, at the call of the sons of Zebedee.


Although John, following his practice of showing Jesus's skill as a
debater, makes him play a less passive part at his trial, he still gives
substantially the same account of it as all the rest. And the question
that would occur to any modern reader never occurs to him, any more than
it occurred to Matthew, Mark, or Luke. That question is, Why on earth
did not Jesus defend himself, and make the people rescue him from the
High Priest? He was so popular that they were unable to prevent him
driving the money-changers out of the temple, or to arrest him for it.
When they did arrest him afterwards, they had to do it at night in
a garden. He could have argued with them as he had often done in the
temple, and justified himself both to the Jewish law and to Caesar. And
he had physical force at his command to back up his arguments: all that
was needed was a speech to rally his followers; and he was not gagged.
The reply of the evangelists would have been that all these inquiries
are idle, because if Jesus had wished to escape, he could have saved
himself all that trouble by doing what John describes him as doing: that
is, casting his captors to the earth by an exertion of his miraculous
power. If you asked John why he let them get up again and torment and
execute him, John would have replied that it was part of the destiny of
God to be slain and buried and to rise again, and that to have avoided
this destiny would have been to repudiate his Godhead. And that is the
only apparent explanation. Whether you believe with the evangelists
that Christ could have rescued himself by a miracle, or, as a modern
Secularist, point out that he could have defended himself effectually,
the fact remains that according to all the narratives he did not do so.
He had to die like a god, not to save himself "like one of the princes."

    * Jesus himself had refered to that psalm (LXXII) in which
      men who have judged unjustly and accepted the persons of the
      wicked (including by anticipation practically all the white
      inhabitants of the British Isles and the North American
      continent, to mention no other places) are condemned in the
      words, "I have said, ye are gods; and all of ye are children
      of the Most High; but ye shall die like men, and fall like
      one of the princes."

The consensus on this point is important, because it proves the absolute
sincerity of Jesus's declaration that he was a god. No impostor would
have accepted such dreadful consequences without an effort to save
himself. No impostor would have been nerved to endure them by the
conviction that he would rise from the grave and live again after three
days. If we accept the story at all, we must believe this, and believe
also that his promise to return in glory and establish his kingdom on
earth within the lifetime of men then living, was one which he believed
that he could, and indeed must fulfil. Two evangelists declare that in
his last agony he despaired, and reproached God for forsaking him. The
other two represent him as dying in unshaken conviction and charity with
the simple remark that the ordeal was finished. But all four testify
that his faith was not deceived, and that he actually rose again after
three days. And I think it unreasonable to doubt that all four wrote
their narratives in full faith that the other promise would be fulfilled
too, and that they themselves might live to witness the Second Coming.


It will be noted by the older among my readers, who are sure to be
obsessed more or less by elderly wrangles as to whether the gospels are
credible as matter-of-fact narratives, that I have hardly raised this
question, and have accepted the credible and incredible with equal
complacency. I have done this because credibility is a subjective
condition, as the evolution of religious belief clearly shows. Belief is
not dependent on evidence and reason. There is as much evidence that
the miracles occurred as that the battle of Waterloo occurred, or that a
large body of Russian troops passed through England in 1914 to take part
in the war on the western front. The reasons for believing in the murder
of Pompey are the same as the reasons for believing in the raising
of Lazarus. Both have been believed and doubted by men of equal
intelligence. Miracles, in the sense of phenomena we cannot explain,
surround us on every hand; life itself is the miracle of miracles.
Miracles in the sense of events that violate the normal course of our
experience are vouched for every day: the flourishing Church of Christ
Scientist is founded on a multitude of such miracles. Nobody believes
all the miracles: everybody believes some of them. I cannot tell why
men who will not believe that Jesus ever existed yet believe firmly that
Shakespear was Bacon. I cannot tell why people who believe that angels
appeared and fought on our side at the battle of Mons, and who believe
that miracles occur quite frequently at Lourdes, nevertheless boggle
at the miracle of the liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius, and
reject it as a trick of priestcraft. I cannot tell why people who will
not believe Matthew's story of three kings bringing costly gifts to the
cradle of Jesus, believe Luke's story of the shepherds and the stable.
I cannot tell why people, brought up to believe the Bible in the old
literal way as an infallible record and revelation, and rejecting that
view later on, begin by rejecting the Old Testament, and give up the
belief in a brimstone hell before they give up (if they ever do) the
belief in a heaven of harps, crowns, and thrones. I cannot tell
why people who will not believe in baptism on any terms believe in
vaccination with the cruel fanaticism of inquisitors. I am convinced
that if a dozen sceptics were to draw up in parallel columns a list
of the events narrated in the gospels which they consider credible
and incredible respectively, their lists would be different in several
particulars. Belief is literally a matter of taste.


Now matters of taste are mostly also matters of fashion. We are
conscious of a difference between medieval fashions in belief and modern
fashions. For instance, though we are more credulous than men were in
the Middle Ages, and entertain such crowds of fortunetellers, magicians,
miracle workers, agents of communication with the dead, discoverers of
the elixir of life, transmuters of metals, and healers of all sorts, as
the Middle Ages never dreamed of as possible, yet we will not take
our miracles in the form that convinced the Middle Ages. Arithmetical
numbers appealed to the Middle Ages just as they do to us, because they
are difficult to deal with, and because the greatest masters of numbers,
the Newtons and Leibnitzes, rank among the greatest men. But there are
fashions in numbers too. The Middle Ages took a fancy to some familiar
number like seven; and because it was an odd number, and the world was
made in seven days, and there are seven stars in Charles's Wain, and for
a dozen other reasons, they were ready to believe anything that had a
seven or a seven times seven in it. Seven deadly sins, seven swords
of sorrow in the heart of the Virgin, seven champions of Christendom,
seemed obvious and reasonable things to believe in simply because they
were seven. To us, on the contrary, the number seven is the stamp of
superstition. We will believe in nothing less than millions. A medieval
doctor gained his patient's confidence by telling him that his vitals
were being devoured by seven worms. Such a diagnosis would ruin a modern
physician. The modern physician tells his patient that he is ill because
every drop of his blood is swarming with a million microbes; and the
patient believes him abjectly and instantly. Had a bishop told William
the Conqueror that the sun was seventy-seven miles distant from the
earth, William would have believed him not only out of respect for the
Church, but because he would have felt that seventy-seven miles was
the proper distance. The Kaiser, knowing just as little about it as
the Conqueror, would send that bishop to an asylum. Yet he (I presume)
unhesitatingly accepts the estimate of ninety-two and nine-tenths
millions of miles, or whatever the latest big figure may be.


And here I must remind you that our credulity is not to be measured by
the truth of the things we believe. When men believed that the earth was
flat, they were not credulous: they were using their common sense, and,
if asked to prove that the earth was flat, would have said simply, "Look
at it." Those who refuse to believe that it is round are exercising
a wholesome scepticism. The modern man who believes that the earth
is round is grossly credulous. Flat Earth men drive him to fury by
confuting him with the greatest ease when he tries to argue about it.
Confront him with a theory that the earth is cylindrical, or annular,
or hour-glass shaped, and he is lost. The thing he believes may be
true, but that is not why he believes it: he believes it because in
some mysterious way it appeals to his imagination. If you ask him why
he believes that the sun is ninety-odd million miles off, either he will
have to confess that he doesn't know, or he will say that Newton proved
it. But he has not read the treatise in which Newton proved it, and
does not even know that it was written in Latin. If you press an Ulster
Protestant as to why he regards Newton as an infallible authority, and
St. Thomas Aquinas or the Pope as superstitious liars whom, after his
death, he will have the pleasure of watching from his place in heaven
whilst they roast in eternal flame, or if you ask me why I take into
serious consideration Colonel Sir Almroth Wright's estimates of the
number of streptococci contained in a given volume of serum whilst I can
only laugh at the earlier estimates of the number of angels that can be
accommodated on the point of a needle, no reasonable reply is possible
except that somehow sevens and angels are out of fashion, and billions
and streptococci are all the rage. I simply cannot tell you why Bacon,
Montaigne, and Cervantes had a quite different fashion of credulity and
incredulity from the Venerable Bede and Piers Plowman and the divine
doctors of the Aquinas-Aristotle school, who were certainly no stupider,
and had the same facts before them. Still less can I explain why, if we
assume that these leaders of thought had all reasoned out their beliefs,
their authority seemed conclusive to one generation and blasphemous to
another, neither generation having followed the reasoning or gone into
the facts of the matter for itself at all.

It is therefore idle to begin disputing with the reader as to what he
should believe in the gospels and what he should disbelieve. He will
believe what he can, and disbelieve what he must. If he draws any lines
at all, they will be quite arbitrary ones. St. John tells us that when
Jesus explicitly claimed divine honors by the sacrament of his body and
blood, so many of his disciples left him that their number was reduced
to twelve. Many modern readers will not hold out so long: they will give
in at the first miracle. Others will discriminate. They will accept the
healing miracles, and reject the feeding of the multitude. To some the
walking on the water will be a legendary exaggeration of a swim, ending
in an ordinary rescue of Peter; and the raising of Lazarus will be only
a similar glorification of a commonplace feat of artificial respiration,
whilst others will scoff at it as a planned imposture in which Lazarus
acted as a confederate. Between the rejection of the stories as wholly
fabulous and the acceptance of them as the evangelists themselves meant
them to be accepted, there will be many shades of belief and disbelief,
of sympathy and derision. It is not a question of being a Christian or
not. A Mahometan Arab will accept literally and without question parts
of the narrative which an English Archbishop has to reject or explain
away; and many Theosophists and lovers of the wisdom of India, who never
enter a Christian Church except as sightseers, will revel in parts of
John's gospel which mean nothing to a pious matter-of-fact Bradford
manufacturer. Every reader takes from the Bible what he can get. In
submitting a precis of the gospel narratives I have not implied any
estimate either of their credibility or of their truth. I have simply
informed him or reminded him, as the case may be, of what those
narratives tell us about their hero.


I must now abandon this attitude, and make a serious draft on the
reader's attention by facing the question whether, if and when the
medieval and Methodist will-to-believe the Salvationist and miraculous
side of the gospel narratives fails us, as it plainly has failed the
leaders of modern thought, there will be anything left of the mission
of Jesus: whether, in short, we may not throw the gospels into the
waste-paper basket, or put them away on the fiction shelf of our
libraries. I venture to reply that we shall be, on the contrary, in the
position of the man in Bunyan's riddle who found that "the more he threw
away, the more he had. "We get rid, to begin with, of the idolatrous or
iconographic worship of Christ. By this I mean literally that worship
which is given to pictures and statues of him, and to finished and
unalterable stories about him. The test of the prevalence of this is
that if you speak or write of Jesus as a real live person, or even as a
still active God, such worshippers are more horrified than Don Juan was
when the statue stepped from its pedestal and came to supper with
him. You may deny the divinity of Jesus; you may doubt whether he
ever existed; you may reject Christianity for Judaism, Mahometanism,
Shintoism, or Fire Worship; and the iconolaters, placidly contemptuous,
will only classify you as a freethinker or a heathen. But if you venture
to wonder how Christ would have looked if he had shaved and had his hair
cut, or what size in shoes he took, or whether he swore when he stood on
a nail in the carpenter's shop, or could not button his robe when he was
in a hurry, or whether he laughed over the repartees by which he baffled
the priests when they tried to trap him into sedition and blasphemy,
or even if you tell any part of his story in the vivid terms of modern
colloquial slang, you will produce an extraordinary dismay and horror
among the iconolaters. You will have made the picture come out of its
frame, the statue descend from its pedestal, the story become real, with
all the incalculable consequences that may flow from this terrifying
miracle. It is at such moments that you realize that the iconolaters
have never for a moment conceived Christ as a real person who meant
what he said, as a fact, as a force like electricity, only needing the
invention of suitable political machinery to be applied to the affairs
of mankind with revolutionary effect.

Thus it is not disbelief that is dangerous in our society: it is belief.
The moment it strikes you (as it may any day) that Christ is not the
lifeless harmless image he has hitherto been to you, but a rallying
centre for revolutionary influences which all established States and
Churches fight, you must look to yourselves; for you have brought the
image to life; and the mob may not be able to bear that horror.


But mobs must be faced if civilization is to be saved. It did not need
the present war to show that neither the iconographic Christ nor the
Christ of St. Paul has succeeded in effecting the salvation of human
society. Whilst I write, the Turks are said to be massacring the
Armenian Christians on an unprecedented scale; but Europe is not in a
position to remonstrate; for her Christians are slaying one another by
every device which civilization has put within their reach as busily as
they are slaying the Turks. Barabbas is triumphant everywhere; and the
final use he makes of his triumph is to lead us all to suicide with
heroic gestures and resounding lies. Now those who, like myself, see the
Barabbasque social organization as a failure, and are convinced that the
Life Force (or whatever you choose to call it) cannot be finally beaten
by any failure, and will even supersede humanity by evolving a higher
species if we cannot master the problems raised by the multiplication
of our own numbers, have always known that Jesus had a real message,
and have felt the fascination of his character and doctrine. Not that
we should nowadays dream of claiming any supernatural authority for him,
much less the technical authority which attaches to an educated
modern philosopher and jurist. But when, having entirely got rid of
Salvationist Christianity, and even contracted a prejudice against
Jesus on the score of his involuntary connection with it, we engage on a
purely scientific study of economics, criminology, and biology, and
find that our practical conclusions are virtually those of Jesus, we
are distinctly pleased and encouraged to find that we were doing him an
injustice, and that the nimbus that surrounds his head in the pictures
may be interpreted some day as a light of science rather than a
declarations of sentiment or a label of idolatry.

The doctrines in which Jesus is thus confirmed are, roughly, the

1. The kingdom of heaven is within you. You are the son of God; and God
is the son of man. God is a spirit, to be worshipped in spirit and in
truth, and not an elderly gentleman to be bribed and begged from. We are
members one of another; so that you cannot injure or help your neighbor
without injuring or helping yourself. God is your father: you are here
to do God's work; and you and your father are one.

2. Get rid of property by throwing it into the common stock. Dissociate
your work entirely from money payments. If you let a child starve you
are letting God starve. Get rid of all anxiety about tomorrow's dinner
and clothes, because you cannot serve two masters: God and Mammon.

S. Get rid of judges and punishment and revenge. Love your neighbor as
yourself, he being a part of yourself. And love your enemies: they are
your neighbors.

4. Get rid of your family entanglements. Every mother you meet is as
much your mother as the woman who bore you. Every man you meet is as
much your brother as the man she bore after you. Don't waste your time
at family funerals grieving for your relatives: attend to life, not to
death: there are as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it, and
better. In the kingdom of heaven, which, as aforesaid, is within you,
there is no marriage nor giving in marriage, because you cannot devote
your life to two divinities: God and the person you are married to.

Now these are very interesting propositions; and they become more
interesting every day, as experience and science drive us more and more
to consider them favorably. In considering them, we shall waste our time
unless we give them a reasonable construction. We must assume that the
man who saw his way through such a mass of popular passion and illusion
as stands between us and a sense of the value of such teaching was quite
aware of all the objections that occur to an average stockbroker in
the first five minutes. It is true that the world is governed to a
considerable extent by the considerations that occur to stockbrokers in
the first five minutes; but as the result is that the world is so badly
governed that those who know the truth can hardly bear to live in it,
an objection from an average stockbroker constitutes in itself a prima
facie case for any social reform.


All the same, we must reduce the ethical counsels and proposals of Jesus
to modern practice if they are to be of any use to us. If we ask our
stockbroker to act simply as Jesus advised his disciples to act, he will
reply, very justly, "You are advising me to become a tramp." If we urge
a rich man to sell all that he has and give it to the poor, he will
inform us that such an operation is impossible. If he sells his shares
and his lands, their purchaser will continue all those activities which
oppress the poor. If all the rich men take the advice simultaneously the
shares will fall to zero and the lands be unsaleable. If one man sells
out and throws the money into the slums, the only result will be to add
himself and his dependents to the list of the poor, and to do no good
to the poor beyond giving a chance few of them a drunken spree. We must
therefore bear in mind that whereas, in the time of Jesus, and in the
ages which grew darker and darker after his death until the darkness,
after a brief false dawn in the Reformation and the Renascence,
culminated in the commercial night of the nineteenth century, it was
believed that you could not make men good by Act of Parliament, we now
know that you cannot make them good in any other way, and that a man who
is better than his fellows is a nuisance. The rich man must sell up not
only himself but his whole class; and that can be done only through the
Chancellor of the Exchequer. The disciple cannot have his bread without
money until there is bread for everybody without money; and that
requires an elaborate municipal organization of the food supply, rate
supported. Being members one of another means One Man One Vote, and One
Woman One Vote, and universal suffrage and equal incomes and all sorts
of modern political measures. Even in Syria in the time of Jesus
his teachings could not possibly have been realized by a series of
independent explosions of personal righteousness on the part of the
separate units of the population. Jerusalem could not have done what
even a village community cannot do, and what Robinson Crusoe himself
could not have done if his conscience, and the stern compulsion of
Nature, had not imposed a common rule on the half dozen Robinson Crusoes
who struggled within him for not wholly compatible satisfactions. And
what cannot be done in Jerusalem or Juan Fernandez cannot be done in
London, New York, Paris, and Berlin. In short, Christianity, good or
bad, right or wrong, must perforce be left out of the question in human
affairs until it is made practically applicable to them by complicated
political devices; and to pretend that a field preacher under the
governorship of Pontius Pilate, or even Pontius Pilate himself in
council with all the wisdom of Rome, could have worked out applications
of Christianity or any other system of morals for the twentieth century,
is to shelve the subject much more effectually than Nero and all its
other persecutors ever succeeded in doing. Personal righteousness, and
the view that you cannot make people moral by Act of Parliament, is, in
fact, the favorite defensive resort of the people who, consciously or
subconsciously, are quite determined not to have their property meddled
with by Jesus or any other reformer.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LONDON, December 1915.

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