The New Word, by Allen Upward, , at sacred-texts.com
The New Religion.—1. White and Black. 2. African Tales.—3. The End of the World.—4. Prophecy.—5. The Heretic.
EVIDENTLY it is not the business of Idealism to furnish mankind with a new religion. The new religion is already with us. It has been with us for some hundreds of years. It is no longer struggling for a footing. It is partly established by law. It has always had its heretics, and it has for some time been persecuting them. Men are being sent to jail in England, while I write, for fidelity towards Christianity, and infidelity towards Science.
The old religion bade men, when their friends were ill, to pray to the Man Outside in words. The new religion bids them to pray in drugs. And when they obey the old religion, and disobey the new, and their friends happen to die, the law sends them to prison.
The new religion has won its way over the old by sheer business merit. Its spells are stronger than those of the old religion. They work better. They bind the Man Outside more surely. The prayers of the new religion are more often answered.
[paragraph continues] The priests of the old religion themselves have learnt that. When they want to bind the Man Outside not to strike their church with lightning, they no longer trust to the prayers written in their book. They borrow the iron prayer of Science; and that prayer climbs above the church; and, like a trail of ivy, sucks the strength out of the church.
The new spells are stronger than the old spells because they are braver. They do not treat the Man Outside as though he were a half-savage tyrant, ruling by fits and starts, and swayed this way and that by the flatteries of his courtiers. They treat him as a Man who, on the whole, knows his own mind, and means us to know it, and gives his prizes for discernment and not for flattery. And so the new prayer does not cast itself on its knees saying,—"Thy will be done": it lifts its iron finger to the skies with the proud challenge,—"Touch me if you can!"
The new prayers are more businesslike than the old, because they are written to please the Man Outside and not the Man Inside. And they use the language which the Man Outside seems to understand best, the language of deeds, not words.
They are sincere prayers. They ask for what men really want, and not for what they pretend to want, or fear the Man Outside wants them to want. Hence they are not so often put up out of vanity, and so as to be heard of men, as the old prayers.
Above all they are truthful prayers. They are
not attempts to hoodwink the Man Outside. The plumber does not lay down a dummy drain, and hope the Man Outside will mistake it for a real drain. He may break the sanitary laws, but he does not think he can break the Law of Health.
And the new prayers have all these merits because they try, on the whole, to be true prayers. Verihood is the foundation of the new religion. The Man Outside is revealing himself to us by a new name, and Verihood is that name.
Between these two religions how does the Idealist stand?
It is significant that the new religion comes from the North. It breathes the sheer courage and intense love of life of those old Vikings who prayed to die in battle, and not a cow's death on the straw. It is on the whole the rebellion of the Baltic against the Mediterranean mind.
For that reason the Idealist will not want it to end in the harsh conquest of the Mediterranean by the Baltic mind. We have heard too much of world religions. The world can do very well without another Catholic Church. The Northern folk are the White folk. What we are dealing with is the White Man's religion.
By one of those Rhymes which the seeing eye sees everywhere, and which only stupefy the stupid eye,
the Papal party in the new Rome call themselves the Blacks. Anyone who has ever lived among the real Blacks, in the land of the Black River, can understand why. Europe, as I have said, is an African colony conquered from Asia. And Christendom has been its reconquest by Africa, a great spiritual jacquerie not yet over, so that more than one White king is still cowering at Canossa, doing homage to that Black Caesar out of the Catacombs.
As I have said, the task of the Idealist is not only to free White men from the Black religion, but to save Black men from the White religion.
I myself spend so much time in the thirtieth century that the latter task sometimes seems to me the most pressing. But perhaps the two tasks are really one and the same.
Nothing is more painful and bewildering to the White mind than what seems to it the reckless lying, the utter indifference to verihood, of the Black mind. That literature of the Black Age, those legends and romances, have not their very names become our words for falsehood; by a Roman tale, do we not mean a tale that is not supposed to be true? It is not till we come to the Icelandic sagas that we seem to find men making any effort at all to tell the story as it really might have happened.
And yet all the time the fault has been partly our own. There has been a misunderstanding. We have partly mistaken poetry for prose.
All these old Mediterranean men did not always mean to deceive. The man who wrote, without one doubt or hesitation,—"They called his name Jesus that the prophecy might be fulfilled: They shall call his name Immanuel"—that man does not seem to have been trying to deceive anybody. He tells us fairly enough what the prophecy said, and what the event said. He thought the two tallied, and so have we thought down to the present day. He wrote in his sleep, and we have read in our sleep. Now, if a modern reporter, describing a christening, were to say the child was named John to carry out the request of his godfather that he should be named Alfred, we should see the discrepancy. Those old writers and readers saw no discrepancy. And so they put forward as part of their apology a statement that the modern apologist has to apologise for. Surely it is using bad language to say that the old apologists were trying to deceive us. As one of themselves has put it, they deceived themselves, and the truth was not in them.
The grand mistake of the White mind has been to take the Black mind literally, or rather to mistake Letters for Things. The old painters who painted their heroes with yellow plates around their heads did not mean to tell us that they really went about wearing yellow plates, as a Frenchman wears
his red ribbon, but only that they were very good men—that they deserved to wear yellow plates. The White mind has been believing that the yellow plates were really there. Now it has been much the same with the Roman tales.
I have before me a Roman tale, a fair specimen of the Black book. It is called the "Life of Saint Francis Borgia, S. J.", a very good man, related to a Pope of Rome who was not a very good man. It is published in the Anglo-Irish town of Dublin, and it bears the following strange inscriptions:—"Nihil obstat. Edwardus Kelly, S. J., Cens. Dep." and "Imprimatur. Gulielmus, Archiepiscopus Dublinensis, Hiberniae Primas." We see at once that it is a thoroughly Mediterranean book, about fifteen hundred years behind the times. It tells the story of a General of the Jesuit Society, who had the good fortune to be deified in the year 1671, and it goes on to say,—
"In connection with this occasion there is an incident on record which shows how deeply God resents an affront against the honour of his faithful servants. In a remote town of Spain a number of persons were discussing the recent canonisation, and remarking on the virtues and miracles of the saint, when an unhappy heretic, overhearing them, exclaimed—'You make very sure that the famous Duke of Gandia is in heaven, in spite of his absurd superstitions and miracles; rather than believe it I call on God to send me down to hell this moment,
body and soul.' Scarcely had the blasphemy passed his lips when the awe-stricken and terrified beholders saw the fulfilment of his impious wish, for the earth immediately opened beneath his feet, and, engulphing him in its depths, reclosed for ever over him."
Now when the White Man reads tales like that they do him harm. But they do not harm Archbishop Gulielmus and Edwardus Kelly, S. J., and their friends. They understand them. All that is merely their Mediterranean way of saying that Francis Borgia was a very good man. It does not help us to think any better of this worthy Jesuit to be told that the earth opened in "a remote town" of Spain, and that a Baltic-minded man disappeared into the bowels of our planet; but it helps them. They do not mean that if we should speak disrespectfully of Archbishop Gulielmus the pavement of Dublin or elsewhere would open beneath our feet, and engulph us. If we should offer £8,000, or 8,000 times £8,000,000 to Archbishop Gulielmus on condition that the earth should open in some town not too remote to have a name, and engulph an unhappy heretic, he would answer quite fairly that we had not understood his little book. In the same way, when I lived in Dublin, my Black friends used to assure me that this very Archbishop Gulielmus could, if he wished, strike every heretic in the city dead. I am not sure if this power of his is even limited to his own diocese, but in any case it is formidable
enough. Now in telling me that, my friends were not trying to deceive me. It was an African tale, that was all, and I have heard tales like it since, in Africa. My friends would have been quite as much surprised as I, if the archbishop really had struck any heretics dead. It was only their African way of saying that he was a very respectable man. It helped them to respect him, to talk like that, but it did not help me.
That is how, I think, we must bring ourselves to regard this language of theirs. It seems to us bad language, but the meaning is not always bad. I found the men who used it on the whole very good men. I even found some of them very tolerant men, often more so than their white neighbours. Even Archbishop Gulielmus is tolerant, because, after all, he never does strike anybody dead. He does not abuse his power.
The art of writing truly is so high an art, so far beyond our present reach, that those who have essayed it most will think most charitably of the poor Blacks who have given it up.
As soon as we leave off reading these old books as if they were newspapers published in New York, we shall begin to understand them. It is almost time, indeed, to leave off refuting and apologising,
and to begin interpreting. To say that two thousand years ago men suddenly went out of their minds and began mistaking a mosaic of Egyptian mythology for a page of Josephus may be true, and yet it may be the most idle thing that can be said about Christianity. Because it does not tell us why the Mediterranean mind turned inside out.
To-day there is no science so exact as astronomy. It is only one remove from Pure Mathematics. The very Zodiac has been nailed to the sun, as far as words can do it, so that we still speak of the sun as in the Sign of Aries, while he is actually rising in the star-group of the Fishes. And there is no Cinderella so despised as astrology. Darwin has pointed out in a footnote that our descent from the little tidal creature called the Ascidian may account for the moon-pulse in all warm-blooded life. But even he only ventured to put that in a footnote, perhaps for fear of the astronomers, which is the key to astrology, and was the beginning of astronomy.
Exact science is so busy with her exact measures that she is apt to turn a little angrily from any attempt to apply those measures for the material benefit of mankind. But for the old astrologers the measures were only means to an end. They wanted to make the stars useful. These Signs of theirs were weather signs. They did not know there were extinct volcanoes in the moon, but they knew all about that moon-pulse in themselves.
[paragraph continues] Their science, like our science, was their religion. And thus they drew no hard and fast line between the lore of heaven and the lore of Heaven. We see they could not, before writing was invented.
We learn from their mistakes. We see them trying, like other scientists, to be too exact. They tried to make the stars work overtime. They made their picture book in the sky, and then sought to read too much in it, mistaking their own pothooks and hangers for the Cuneiform of God. The strange thing is that they did not always, and altogether, read it wrong.
They had a great deal of trouble with the stars. Those stars are like men, they will not always go as they ought. You build your temple, your long stone telescope, pointing to where a star ought to rise, and lo! after a thousand years or so, it rises somewhere else, and you have to build a new temple. But what is this greatest change of all? Lo! Heaven itself is on the move, the eternal Picture- Book is turning over one by one its mighty leaves, the immortal Sun himself after two thousand years deserts his mansion in the sky, and passes from Sign to Sign.
This was the change which so shook the mind of those old learners that in their mystic speech they named it the End of an Age, the beginning of a New Heaven and a New Earth. And when their words came into the streets, when they were peddled in chapbooks, and caught up by every sufferer longing
for better things, by every captive in a dungeon and by every slave bleeding under the lash, and by every Idealist dreaming dreams of Righteousness, what wonder if they fulfilled themselves.
We catch the echo of this far-famed prediction all round the Mediterranean shores. Alexander thought of it. Caesar thought of it. Plato wrote of it. Virgil wrote of it. It passed from Jewry into the catacombs. The Book of Daniel breathes of it. The Book of Enoch is full of it. The Apocalypse is it. The Roman slaves drew the mysterious Fish of the New Covenant on the ground as their secret password long before any one had begun to draw a Cross. When they were shown that its Greek name, i-c-th-u-s was an acrostic on the name of Jesus Christ, they had nothing more to ask. The Sign of Jonah had been given to them. The early Christians were called Little Fishes, and the early preachers Fishermen.
What strikes me under it all is that, whatever words they used, the old astrologers were right. Their world did come to an end.
Before their time the White man, whom we know as Zarathustra, had reached the first great generalisation which brought order out of the chaos of mythology. He had polarised idolatry in two Antagonists who played the same parts as our Energy and Force. He had identified them, not by the words Bright and Might, but as the Bright One and the Dark One. And, going on to use the two words
that seem to me the most shifty of meaning in all human speech, he had declared the Bright One to be Good, and the Dark One, Evil. His theology was the theology of conquerors. And it was this theology that Christianity overthrew. It was the Bright One that fell from Heaven, and was bound for a thousand years, while the Dark One ascended into Heaven, and reigned during the Dark Age.
It was metastrophe. It was hope turning inside out.
The world did end. That old, bright pagan world did end. The old Gods vanished from their Olympus. The oracles grew dumb. The great Pan lay dead. We can see men sinking down and falling asleep all round the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. We see the rulers drooping, and wearying of their task. We see the scholars ceasing to write, and the soldiers ceasing to fight. We see the hunted slaves creeping out of their sewers with their old mysteries and shocking rites. The books of science are burned. The schools are closed. The Idiots put down the Gnostics. The beautiful literature is lost, or scrawled over with senseless legends that read like the talk of men in a nightmare. We see the Northern folks descending on the exhausted southern lands, only to fall under the spell. It is the Gospel—God's Spell. The mind of man has turned inside out. It is the Reign of the Saints. The world has gone to sleep for a thousand years. It is Ragnarok—the Twilight of the Gods.
We have been living in the New Jerusalem while the Millennium has come and gone.
The words of the old prophets seem senseless enough to us, but so did other hieroglyphs till Champollion had found the key. And neither did the priests, nor did the prophets, write all they knew. Neither were they able to do so; neither is any man able to write all he knows.
Somehow or other, it seems to me that those astrologers were weather-wise, that they foreknew that millennial ebb and flow of heat and light that was to dry up Lake Tchad and unfreeze the Baltic; that giant tidal wave in the sun that was to sweep the empire of Rome before it like an egg-shell, and wash up the wreckage of Thebes and Babel on the shores of Scandinavia. Their memorable prophecy has been memorably fulfilled.
Some day we may be able to see in this the handwriting of the Man Outside, and to take to heart the tremendous Lesson. Some day we may be allowed to show the apologists for Christianity the meaning of the word Christ.
In the meantime the pressing business seems to be to prevent the new shell from hardening.
And it is hardening very fast. The new religion is to-day much more sure of itself than the old religion,
much more positive, more catholic,—in a word, more materialistic. It has already taken over the word faith.
"By faith," cries a distinguished prophet of the new religion, who prophesies in wheels and gases, in the machine, the triangle and the lethal chamber, "by faith we disbelieve!" And what is it that the Materialist so heroically disbelieves? It is the evidence of his senses.
Out of the millions of waves forever flowing in and out of us from the Strength Without, whose best name is Heaven, our little strength-conductors gather a few here and there to keep the body safe, and from these few we try to piece together a Meaning by which we can live, as the bird pieces together sticks and straws to make itself a nest. But the bird's nest is not the dome of Saint Sophia. There are other senses than the celebrated five of Alexandrian lore; and the Siberian shaman in his swoon, the dervish in his dance, the animal in its sleep, the very trees and flowers, feel waves that we have left off feeling, and know what we have forgotten how to know. With us sight has killed second-sight. The Past is too much with us; and the Future not enough.
If we will think roundly and speak sensibly, we shall know that the Beyond is not less real than the Near, the Future not less real than the Past. It is the Present that is unreal, a meeting-point only; and in these lives of ours the metastrophe of Future and
[paragraph continues] Past becomes the metastrophe of Hope and Memory.
Are we nothing but a makeshift between Heredity and Environment? But Hope is the greatest part of our environment. It is the Pull of Heaven. It is the Energy of Longing. It is the Swirl. The story of creation that tries to leave out hope will leave out sense unawares. For the environment of Earth is Heaven.
The Idealist cannot halt between the old and new religions. His face is turned ever towards the east.
The new religion is his; because he foresaw it, he foretold it, he founded it, he witnessed for it, in bonds and in death, what time the very men who are now persecuting Christians were persecuting Scientists, and they who are now carving beasts for Man's sake, were torturing men for God's sake. But the prophet of a new religion cannot be also its priest. As it becomes orthodox, so he will become heterodox. Because the Idealist founded the new religion it will excommunicate him.
Let there be no mistake about this. The Idealist may build temples; he does not dwell in them. He is never an archbishop; he remains ever the prophet. To mankind—and let us believe for the material benefit of mankind, or let us believe the All-Thing an everlasting Hoax—the Idealist is always saying
what Remigius said to the Frankish king,—"Burn what you have learned; learn what you have burned."
Who can make him an archbishop? Who can patronise the Idealist, except some greater Idealist? England will always have fifteen thousand a year for some respectable clergyman; she will never have it for Shelley or Carlyle.
The Idealist on his side knows what he has to expect of mankind. The crucifix set up at the entrance to every Catholic village, Lamartine has written, is Humanity's warning to the Idealist,—a warning given in vain:
In our sun-whirl there is one planet which has a moon which is turning the other way. And if it be strong enough, and last long enough, sooner or later the whole mighty Wheel of Light will return and follow that one little moon. There is the home of the homeless Idealist, in that far-off spot his vantage-ground; that moon is his fiery chariot. For here he has no continuing city, but he seeks one to come.