The New Word, by Allen Upward, , at sacred-texts.com
Talk about God.—1. Applied Theology.—2. Legal Definition of God.—3. The Birth of Mind. 4. The Story of God.—5. Bad Language about God.—6. The Idol.
IDEALISTIC science measures from the Strength Within towards the Strength Without. But it is still measuring relations. Like Materialistic science, it can only measure strength by measuring the ways of strength.
The attempt to measure the Inner Strength by itself is that science so unwittingly christened by Andrónikos of Rhodes, which is not science but only talk.
The attempt to measure the Over Strength by itself is fittingly named Talk about God,—the Mediterranean word is Theology.
It is significant that the best talker about men who ever lived, never talked about God. Of Kung the Master, whom the Babus name Confucius, it is recorded that one of the subjects which he never would discuss with his followers was the appointments of Heaven. Once, when he was asked concerning our duty towards the spirits, he refused to answer, saying, "Let us first learn our duty towards men; then it will be time enough to talk about our
duty towards the spirits." Only on one occasion we are told, when he was in danger in K‘wang, he told his followers,—"If Heaven has lodged the cause of Truth in my person, what can the people of K‘wang do to me?"
The best talkers about God who have ever lived were the Hindus. And after talking for a long time, and using very many words, they reached this conclusion, that the only word which safely could be used about God was No:—No. That was the end of their talk about God; so that they left off where Kung the Master had begun.
The worst talkers about God who have ever lived, because the most positive and circumstantial talkers, were the Catholics. Their ablest talker, one of the ablest talkers I have heard of, was a Mediterranean man named Thomas Aquinas, who wrote a book called the Sum of Theology, or the Height of Talk about God. His book stands out as the highwatermark of the human mind in the Dark Ages. It is theology at its best, or worst.
Aquinas was by no means a man of weak or narrow mind. Within the revolving cage of Andronican words there has toiled no braver nor truer-minded squirrel. That High Talk of his sounded so like verihood that to many of those who listened
to it Aquinas seemed to be an atheist, while to others he seemed to be a saint. 'With truer instinct than Kant, and therefore with better reason, he wished to set out from the two words God and the Soul. But for Aquinas these words were fixed words, fixed by the authority, or as the Babu hath it, the ipse dixit, of the Catholic Church; and thus his eyes were shut to the metastrophe between them. So this great sleep-walker never did set out, he only walked in his sleep, but never really left his starting-point. Such questions as came before his mind he examined truthfully, setting out the arguments on both sides, but always giving judgment in the words of the Church. So we may see the mesmerised subject exercising his reason freely where it has been left free; but as soon as he is brought up by the suggestion of the mesmerist, his mind ceases to work, and he repeats the mesmerist's will.
The Churchmen had no doubt that Aquinas was a saint. They applied a simple test, and found that, however impartial might be the summing up, the verdict was always in their favour.
To-day this book, the greatest book of Catholic Theology, ranks as a curiosity rather than as literature. And that is not because, like the book of Copernicus, it has done its work, but because no one any longer hopes that it can do any work. It has no going strength. It is like a disused incantation, which the spirit has left off obeying. The spell is still there, but the spirit has fled.
The failure of such a theologian is the failure of theology. If his Talk about God be not worth reading, no such Talk about God is likely to be worth reading. For my part, whenever I have tried to read any of this Talk, I have been brought up by sayings like these: God is almighty; God created the world; God is wholly good; the world is mostly evil." And that kind of talk has not helped me to know anything about God. The words have seemed to me to unsay each other. They have gone round and round me, but they have not taken me an inch nearer to God.
Let us see how this Talk about God works out in practice. Here is a specimen of Applied Theology.
Antonio Perez, the disgraced minister of Philip II, was seized by the Holy Inquisition, on a charge of heresy, for having threatened to cut off God's nose. The holy inquisitors did not proceed against Perez for the threat, but for the anthropomorphism. The heresy lay in saying that God has a nose, not in railing against God. In the view of the Holy Office it was worse to think falsely about God than to be angry with God. But now, let us look into this. Antonio Perez would not have railed against God unless he had thought God was going to treat him badly. So that in uttering his threat he was denying the goodness of God. Again, in threatening to injure God, he was denying God's omnipotence. Therefore in the view of the inquisitors it was worse to think falsely about God's shape than about
[paragraph continues] God's Character. To use their own language, they were exalting the species above the essence. The curious thing is that all this while their own Book told them that God had made man in his own image. However, as we know from history, the inquisitors were thinking really, not about God, but about Philip II, who was using them as the ministers of his revenge on Perez. The talk about God was only a blind; perhaps that also was a kind of heresy.
It does not look as though Andronican language about God were ever likely to be of material benefit to mankind.
By way of contrast, let us look at another kind of talk about God, a bit of rule-of-thumb theology. It happens that there is to be found in English law-books a working definition of God, that is to say, a definition good enough to dispose of a sum of money. It was made in this way.
Merchants and shipowners have a form of agreement which they call a charter-party. In this agreement they say that the shipowner is to carry the cargo safely, but that he is not to be liable for losses brought about by, among other causes, "the act of God." It was not the lawyers who first wrote those curious, medieval words; it was the shipowners and merchants. But of course they very
soon quarrelled over their meaning, and so they came to the lawyers, and said—"Tell us what we mean by our words."
It is noteworthy that they did not go to the theologians. They did not turn to the pages of that famous Sum of Theology, to ascertain the meaning of the words "Act of God." The theologians had been talking about God, and trying to explain God, for hundreds and hundreds of years; and yet when these plain, business men wanted an answer to their question, it never struck them that the theologians could be of the least use to them. You see the reason. There was a sum of money at stake; and so they wanted a real answer, an answer that would settle who was to pay for the lost cargo; they did not want Mediterranean words that went round and round.
So they went to the lawyers. And the answer of the lawyers was a very practical one. They said that God sent the big storms, but not the little ones.
To the logical and theological mind that answer will sound very foolish. But let us look into it. The lawyers were not thinking about God, really, any more than the inquisitors had been; they were thinking about who was to pay the sum of money. They had to find the strength underlying the words, and they were wise enough to look for it in the minds of the shipowners and merchants. As soon as they did that they saw that what the words meant was
nothing more than that the shipowner must do his utmost to carry the cargo safely. If it was lost in some little storm, when the shipowner's care might have saved it, then he was to pay, because he had not done his utmost; if it was lost in some great storm, after the shipowner had done his utmost, then he was not to pay. It came to this, that there were two strengths, as it were, working against one another, the strength of the shipowner and the Strength Outside; and there was a measure up to which the strength of the shipowner could prevail.—The balance of the Strength Outside over the shipowner's strength was God.
What can the Sum of Theology add to that?
What can be added to that by all who have ever reasoned-
the task which Milton, the poet in him triumphing over the theologian, has given to the damned spirits in Hell.
What can be added to it by all those poor, tired, stupid, angry folks who are always trying to apologise for God, to vindicate the ways of God to man, to explain to us that God is not so bad as he seems?
Most of their trouble is self-made. They look around them and deem what they see to be Evil,
and then they begin to find excuses for God. Yet all the time they are not agreed among themselves as to what is evil. One says that pain is an evil, another that pleasure is an evil; one tells us that labour is the primal curse, another that idleness is a yet greater curse. One or another think that marriage, or that celibacy, or that money-making, or that losing money or that drinking wine, or that eating meat, or knowledge, or ignorance, or not going to church, or going to the rival church, is evil; and so they set to work to excuse God for not being more like themselves. Each of them is doing much what the Aragonese inquisitors were doing, making God a stalking-horse. When they ought to say "I," they say "God." When they ought to say, "I hate this or that, and therefore I will punish my neighbours for doing it," they say, "God hates."
The talk about God ends, as we see, in theological hatred. Whenever in its history the Ithuriel spear of any truth-seeker has touched it, Theology has been revealed in its true shape. And it is a Fiery Shape indeed.
In these latter days a branch of learning has sprung up amongst us, almost unawares, and is growing as fast as theology is decaying. It was at first called folk-lore; but as soon as learned men noticed it, they felt that they could only know it by
a learned name, and they christened it Anthropology, which is to say, Talk about Man. Now this science tells us the ways in which man has talked about God. It is the history of Theology that the learned men have somehow named Anthropology.
In reading the painful gibberish which good men are not afraid to write about their God, we sometimes come on sayings of this kind:—All savages have a belief in God; therefore there is such a person as God.—And over against them we come on other sayings of this kind:—No savages have a belief in God; therefore the book which tells us that there is such a person must have been written by God.
We need not ask which of these sayings makes the greater nonsense, because of course we learn from folk-lore what we have already learned from word-lore, that no one has ever lived without being aware of the Outer-Strength, as well as of the Inner. There were no Bishop Berkeleys among the early men, whose thought we partly learn from their language. No one who ever felt hot and cold by turns believed himself to be alone in Everything. From that we begin; the history starts there.
Everywhere, as far back as we can go, we find men in communication with the Strength Outside, measuring it by measuring themselves against it, listening to it, talking to it, talking about it, not only in words, but in songs and dances, in signs and
symbols, in all the languages in which they talked with one another. And in their language we read the growth of their belief; and see it is no other than the natural growth of mind, or wakefulness, or consciousness, or by whatever name it may be called.
Because the story is a double story, the story of a double understanding. Man's knowledge of the Inner and the Outer Strengths kept pace together. As we have seen, he could not learn of one without the other, because he had to measure one by the other. Mind is Matter. It is the meeting place of these two strengths. The seat of Mind is, verily speaking, in the skin; the brain itself is a fold of skin-stuff caught between the bone-stuff, by the turning inside out of the life-seed while it is yet in the womb. And so the story of the mind is the story of the slow awakening of the Self, from what seems to our scant measures the whole sleep of the lower life, upward through the dream-like instinct of the beast, to the distincter sight and carefuller reckoning of man.
It is the Life Within being awakened by the Life Without.
In books not much less painful to read than the good men's books, though written by much brighter men, we come on these strange thoughts:—The
savage's belief in God is drawn from his belief in ghosts; and as there are no ghosts, so there is no God. And again:—One savage had no pronoun save he, and therefore he called the sun He; and therefore another savage, who overheard the first one, believed the sun was a He.
Now our forefathers were not out of their senses, nor out of their minds. Their senses were keener than ours, and their minds less keen. The mind was less keen because the senses were more keen; the counting-house in the brain kept too many books; it reckoned in sounds and scents and tastes, and other forgotten notations which we have dropped. Our mind works better because it tends to use only one notation, that of sight. But in dropping the other notations we have partly dropped the knowledge they expressed. The early mind was more round than ours. What we have gained in clearness we have lost in verihood.
The early language has been scrawled over by later generations, much as the child's language is scrawled over by the schoolmasters, and the wild man's of to-day by the missionaries of to-day. Yet on the whole we can make sense of it; and it comes to this, that our forefathers were doing what we are still doing, thinking of other strength in terms of their own strength, and figuring it as a Man Outside.
They did this more openly than we do it. They treated the Man Outside as one of themselves.
[paragraph continues] When they wanted to bribe him they offered the bribe frankly; and when they were angry with him, they punished him; and though they were often afraid of him, they were often not afraid to fight him; and if, like us, they sometimes tried to hoodwink him, they did not, like us, try to hoodwink themselves at the same time.
Man did not begin by saying to himself that there was another man in the stones and trees and stars he coaxed or threatened, any more than the child who strikes his head against a table says to himself that there is another child in the table. He cries out because he is hurt, and he beats the table because he is angry with it. Feeling comes before thought, and emotion before explanation.
The early man, we see, could not find the Man Outside, till he had found the Man Inside. He was in his way a Darwinian; he recognised the beasts as his kinsmen, and some of them as greater than himself. Thus for a long time he seems to have figured the unknown strength outside as beast strength. He talks to the Kangaroo in the moon, and to the Crocodile in the river, and to the Dragon in the sun. To this day the Elder Gods, who have fallen from Heaven, retain the mark of the Beast Outside in tail and pointed ears and cloven hoof.
By slow degrees, as man went on measuring his own life against the life outside, both became more distinct to him. He raised himself, partly emerging
from the beast, as in the old Assyrian sculptures we see the man's head emerging from the body of the bull. The Sphynx is his prophecy of evolution. The Assyrian bull is a yet loftier prophecy. For on its shoulders are wings, and in our later art the wings have lifted up the face, and carried it away from the brute's body, and the kharab has become the cherub.
Dreaming and guessing, hoping and measuring, man climbed upward by such ladders to the knowledge of everlasting Life. Doubtless the ghost guided him towards the great interpretation. Was it not, too, a magic letter in the mysterious handwriting of the Man Outside? And so at length the words become clear and beautiful for us. The man finds himself in the marble. The woman sees herself in the well. There is a Man in the sun, and a Woman in the moon.
All this was not a nightmare; it was an awakening. Superstition passes into science. The Woman in the moon sways the great tides of the sea, and the more secret tides in man's own blood, and brings the child to birth at the appointed time. The Man in the sun, most wonderful of all these Men, goes round the world a conqueror, driving the four Seasons in his yoke, and bringing seed time and harvest.
Had they no voices, these Men Outside? They had voices; there were idealists in those days interpreting the ways of Heaven by the heart of man.
[paragraph continues] Did not that Bright One in the sun say by his prophets in Egypt and Syria and Asia and Greece:—"What, are ye anointing a man at Easter, and slaying him, and burying him in your cornfields, that his life may give life to the seed, and his flesh be your bread! Ye know not what you do. It is I who give life to the seed, I who give you your daily bread. Cease your cruel rites, for I am a merciful God, delighting not in the death of a sinner."—Real Prophets, we may learn from the legends of Linus and Atys and Adonis, a real Herakles, whether by that name or any other, went round the Mediterranean coasts, preaching the Gospel of the Sun, and snatching the victim from the cross.
That old Talk about the Gods, which is called mythology, is confused in many ways, partly because all language is confused, partly because it is a layer of many languages. When the talkers no longer used the beast as an idol, they used it as a symbol, in short a word; when they no longer slew the real Christ at Easter, they named the sun at Easter, Christ. Their language is tangled and twisted beyond our power wholly to unravel, because it was beyond their power; because it began as a tangle, when man's mind was still a blur, and he saw men as trees walking, and trees as men standing still.—
[paragraph continues] How hard the old cloistered scholarship, to which the Nobels of a bygone age gave their endowments, has toiled to understand the word glaukopis, given to the goddess Athene. Did it mean blue-eyed, or gray-eyed, or—by the aid of Sanskrit—merely glare-eyed? And all the time they had not only the word glaux staring them in the face, as the Athenian name for owl, and the name of ox-eyed Hera to guide them, but they had the owl itself cut at the foot of every statue of Athene, and stamped on every coin of Athens, to tell them that she was the owl-eyed goddess, the lightning that blinks like an owl. For what is characteristic of the owl's eyes is not that they glare, but that they suddenly leave off glaring, like lighthouses whose light is shut off. We may see the shutter of the lightning in that mask that overhangs Athene's brow, and hear its click in the word glaukos. And the leafage of the olive, whose writhen trunk bears, as it were, the lightning's brand, does not glare, but glitters, the pale under face of the leaves alternating with the dark upper face, and so the olive is Athene's tree, and is called glaukos. Why need we carry owls to Oxford?
Much of this olden language is with us still. It is bad language, not because it was always bad. like theology, but because it is out of date, and we repeat it without understanding it, like the Latin-school boys, and their Oxford schoolmasters. There is another Mediterranean building, standing
beside the school and proudly looking down on it, inside which grown men and women are saying what sounds to me like Hic haec hoc. They are saying it to the Man Outside, and hoping it will sound better in his ears than it does in their own. But words are two-edged tools, and while they are talking to the Man Outside in the words of savages, they are partly thinking of him as if he were a savage, and they are partly behaving like savages, when they come out into the open air.
The old savages, we have seen, thought of the Man Outside as many men; and their descendants sometimes talk as if they thought there were two Men, ruling over them by two contradictory rules, which they foolishly label Science and Religion.
The Man Outside does indeed speak to us by two voices; but if they seem to contradict each other, that shows that we are not listening carefully. Hope is not less the word of God than Sense, and one word has to be interpreted by the other. In these days men seem to be divided into two parties, each listening carefully to one word, and shutting their ears against the other with Mediterranean cotton-wool. That is the sin of this age; it is that way madness lies.
If Idealism has any business on earth it is here. Nobel has left his Third Bequest for the cure of bodily suffering: he has offered his Fourth Bequest to whomsoever can minister to the mind diseased.
There is another, and a true distinction, which will be always with us while we live, however we may strive to do away with it, between the Man Outside and the Idol whom we ignorantly worship.
Life, says one of those idealists who are expelled from Oxford, and exiled from England, and denied the alms of Royal Literary Funds,—
[paragraph continues] So does the stained-glass window of the church debar our vision of the sun; so is the Winged Figure it reveals, and that whether we spell its name Idol or Ideal, a false likeness of the Man Outside. Until that is learnt, nothing is truly learnt about God.
God is the right name of that Figure on the painted window, a Figure made by man's hands, however honourably and beautifully; and whosoever confounds it with That of which it is the symbol is the heretic of the True Church.
It is not the business of the Idealist to break the painted window, but rather to make it. In so far as he is an artist as well as a scientist, window-making is his calling and his craft. The eye of man can seldom bear to look into the burning core of
[paragraph continues] Verihood, and cannot bear it long. Light tempered to his need is strained through yonder shining Falsehood, dyed in the paints of the blue sky and green earth and foaming sea, the yellow day, the violet night, the red of blood, the glory of all creation's golden wheels.
The falsehood is always there, the Figure changes. It is the calling of the Idealist to cleanse and change it, and to make ever fairer and fairer Figures, better and better likenesses of the Man Outside.—The word idealist does not mean idolator, but idol-maker, after all.
The Idealist is called to make windows; let them look to it who will not give him leave. Let them look to it who imprison him in their temples, so that he must needs begin his work by breaking theirs. Every Catholic Church is a jail for the Idealist, whether it be built in Rome, or in Mecca, or in Pekin, or in Benares. And it does not lie with them who are sending out into the four corners of the earth to break windows, some of them older and more nobly painted than their own, to cry out when their own come under the glazier's hands. They who live in glass houses ought not to throw stones. The bloodiest iconoclasts the world has ever seen ought not to whine so miserably when their own Idol is being washed.
The Window-Cleaner on his side, must heed neither whining nor stoning. The Idealist has a Master whom he serves, and that Master is the
[paragraph continues] Man Outside. He must go whither he is sent, suffering no man to hinder him, for he has a great privilege. He cannot be stayed, neither can he be turned back, neither can any man lay hold of him to his hurt, for he is the ambassador of a great King.
If Heaven has lodged the cause of Truth in his person, what can the people of K‘wang do to him?