Only a year ago he had bounded forth to welcome Mr Hawke’s sermon; since then he had bounded after a College of Spiritual Pathology; now he was in full cry after rationalism pure and simple; how could he be sure that his present state of mind would be more lasting than his previous ones? He could not be certain, but he felt as though he were now on firmer ground than he had ever been before, and no matter how fleeting his present opinions might prove to be, he could not but act according to them till he saw reason to change them. How impossible, he reflected, it would have been for him to do this, if he had remained surrounded by people like his father and mother, or Pryer and Pryer’s friends, and his rector. He had been observing, reflecting, and assimilating all these months with no more consciousness of mental growth than a school-boy has of growth of body, but should he have been able to admit his growth to himself, and to act up to his increased strength if he had remained in constant close connection with people who assured him solemnly that he was under a hallucination? The combination against him was greater than his unaided strength could have broken through, and he felt doubtful how far any shock less severe than the one from which he was suffering would have sufficed to free him.
As he lay on his bed day after day slowly recovering he woke up to the fact which most men arrive at sooner or later, I mean that very few care two straws about truth, or have any confidence that it is righter and better to believe what is true than what is untrue, even though belief in the untruth may seem at first sight most expedient. Yet it is only these few who can be said to believe anything at all; the rest are simply unbelievers in disguise. Perhaps, after all, these last are right. They have numbers and prosperity on their side. They have all which the rationalist appeals to as his tests of right and wrong. Right, according to him, is what seems right to the majority of sensible, well-to-do people; we know of no safer criterion than this, but what does the decision thus arrived at involve? Simply this, that a conspiracy of silence about things whose truth would be immediately apparent to disinterested enquirers is not only tolerable but righteous on the part of those who profess to be and take money for being par excellence guardians and teachers of truth.
Ernest saw no logical escape from this conclusion. He saw that belief on the part of the early Christians in the miraculous nature of Christ’s Resurrection was explicable, without any supposition of miracle. The explanation lay under the eyes of anyone who chose to take a moderate degree of trouble; it had been put before the world again and again, and there had been no serious attempt to refute it. How was it that Dean Alford for example who had made the New Testament his speciality, could not or would not