Back to Methuselah eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 333 pages of information about Back to Methuselah.
might feel as deeply as they could that a God with body, parts, and passions could be nothing but an anthropomorphic idol:  no matter:  people at large could not conceive a God who was not anthropomorphic:  they stood by the Old Testament legends of a God whose parts had been seen by one of the patriarchs, and finally set up as against the Church a God who, far from being without body, parts, or passions, was composed of nothing else, and of very evil passions too.  They imposed this idol in practice on the Church itself, in spite of the First Article, and thereby homeopathically produced the atheist, whose denial of God was simply a denial of the idol and a demonstration against an unbearable and most unchristian idolatry.  The idol was, as Shelley had been expelled from Oxford for pointing out, an almighty fiend, with a petty character and unlimited power, spiteful, cruel, jealous, vindictive, and physically violent.  The most villainous schoolmasters, the most tyrannical parents, fell far short in their attempts to imitate it.  But it was not its social vices that brought it low.  What made it scientifically intolerable was that it was ready at a moment’s notice to upset the whole order of the universe on the most trumpery provocation, whether by stopping the sun in the valley of Ajalon or sending an atheist home dead on a shutter (the shutter was indispensable because it marked the utter unpreparedness of the atheist, who, unable to save himself by a deathbed repentance, was subsequently roasted through all eternity in blazing brimstone).  It was this disorderliness, this refusal to obey its own laws of nature, that created a scientific need for its destruction.  Science could stand a cruel and unjust god; for nature was full of suffering and injustice.  But a disorderly god was impossible.  In the Middle Ages a compromise had been made by which two different orders of truth, religious and scientific, had been recognized, in order that a schoolman might say that two and two make four without being burnt for heresy.  But the nineteenth century, steeped in a meddling, presumptuous, reading-and-writing, socially and politically powerful ignorance inconceivable by Thomas Aquinas or even Roger Bacon, was incapable of so convenient an arrangement; and science was strangled by bigoted ignoramuses claiming infallibility for their interpretation of the Bible, which was regarded, not as a literature nor even as a book, but partly as an oracle which answered and settled all questions, and partly as a talisman to be carried by soldiers in their breast pockets or placed under the pillows of persons who were afraid of ghosts.  The tract shops exhibited in their windows bullet-dinted testaments, mothers’ gifts to their soldier sons whose lives had been saved by it; for the muzzle-loaders of those days could not drive a projectile through so many pages.


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