You can't be too careful, by H. G. Wells

Chapter 2

Philosophical-Theological

AND now for a philosophical-theological interlude. Some sort of promise was made in the Introduction to avoid “Ideers .” In spirit, if not to the letter, this promise has been kept. I have done my best to keep to simple, straightforward description, but one thing has led to another; it was less and less possible to keep the background out of the picture if the story was to remain permanently comprehensible. And even at this point there still remain issues that have been raised without deliberate malice, but which must be dealt with, if this account is to be really complete.

But be it noted that from first to last my method has been descriptive. Not one single “Ideer” of my own has been thrust upon the reader. He has not been put upon. I have observed. I have recorded. Simply.

In the preceding chapter, for example, as part of that description, the declaration comes out simply and necessarily that there can be only one philosophy and only one religion in a civilised world order. There may be readers who will be disposed to regard this as an opinion rather than a statement of fact. They will murmur such names as Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, William James, Bergson, Maritain, Santayana, Croce, Pavlov, Russell, the Behaviourists and so forth and so on. They will wave towards a vast literature of commentary, over-elaboration, misrepresentation and the like. But if they will, come and stand a little aloof in an attitude of entirely disrespectful attention, they will begin to realise how much of this cerebration is as superfluous as the caps, gowns, titles, ceremonies and pretensions with which it is associated. Let us blow away what we can of this almost overwhelming froth and s^e whether there really is at bottom more than one philosophical reality for the purposes and within the limitations of Homo sapiens.

People who, like Edward Albert, have grown up in an atmosphere of unqualified partisan monotheism in which God is, so to speak, everything; originating and sustaining everything and accounting for everything, have scarcely a suspicion of the immense unsoundness of this-assumption. It is not even justified by Holy Scripture. Therein it is plainly admitted that the whole religious process arose out of a dual system, — like the Zoroastrian antagonism of Ormazd and his twin brother and undying opponent, Ahriman. Satan confronts God at the outset of the Jewish–Christian story, and has his way with Man, Eden is lost and God’s goodness is defeated. God is exasperated and takes it out of Man. Read your Bible. Only gradually does the story weaken down to a predestinate servitude to an invincible Deity. Islam, Judaism, Christianity, are all, so to speak, apostate dualisms that have taken sides and declared outright for one Supreme Being, and a very large part of the philosophical turmoil of the past two hundred years has been a confused return first to an essential and incurable dualism and then, going further, to a polytheistic universe, after the long predominance of one unlimited god,

Yet from the formulation of the so-called Apostles’ Creed onward, there have been signs of an uneasiness about the soundness of this assertion of omnipotence, betrayals of a feeling on the part of the faithful that perhaps they were professing just a little too much. Throughout the centuries the Church has never desisted completely from explaining the Almighty, just as Stalin for the past score of years has never completely desisted from explaining the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. And for quite parallel reasons any denial of the Dictatorship of God in Christendom or the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Russia has been discouraged as strenuously as possible — all the more strenuously because they are fundamentally unsound dogmas and cannot stand examination.

Directly the dispassionate student of theology sets out to rescue the idea of God from the partisan extravagances of the pious, it becomes manifest that the idea of His omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence must be abandoned. These terms are entirely incompatible with the idea of a personal God with whom anyone or anything can have a relationship in time and space, A God who knows everything must be entirely stagnant mentally. How can he think, since everything is there in his mind already? And if he fills all space, then he is fixed for ever. How can he move? He cannot think; he has thought it all; he cannot move; he is there already. And since he is incapable of mental or physical change, then so far from being omnipotent he is powerless, he is fixed rigidly in an everlasting strait-jacket. Theology can only become a science of Godship when it abandons these preposterous absolutes.

But having abandoned these absolutes, the fresh-minded theologian can go on to some very entertaining considerations. According to any intelligent theological teaching, God, in some manner altogether mysterious and incomprehensible, came into Being in time and space, and our universe began. That is beyond understanding. He had withdrawn himself from an inconceivable infinitude in order to have relationships with creatures outside himself. He opened proceedings by saying: “Let there be light.” And having manifested himself by light, in that moment he must have cast a shadow, coterminous and reciprocal to himself, the anti-God, Satan, his Zoroastrian twin. Before ever he began to knead the red earth into Adam, the opponent was beside him ready to wreck the work. How else could it have been?

Upon this idea Nietzsche seized, and presented the world with a modern version of the Zoroastrian. (He found it more picturesque and impressive to call it in “Old Persian” the the “Zarathustrian” idea.) A lot he knew of Old Persian! Literary artistry, erudition, classical pretentiousness, and a dislike for Jews gave his writing its peculiar qualities. He swallowed Persian dualism uncritically and took the side of Satan, because it was the most emphatic way of repudiatingY the orthodoxies and ungentlemanly beliefs about him. He drew his contrast. God wanted to keep man a naked respectful slave in the Garden of Eden, amidst a great boredom of carnivores and suchlike frustrated creatures. Satan wanted to get him to eat the tree of knowledge and go out into the great world. Eden meant “Safety First”; Satan whispered “Live dangerously.” That was the current of revolt. It was not very original. It followed the drift of the period. There is indeed about one week of clear hard thinking in the whole of the Nietzschean bubble. After that he just blew and blew.

Years before him, Hegel had been developing a philosophy that had a close relationship to that same necessary association of light and shadow. After the manner of philosophers, he exaggerated and universalised his bright idea until he saw the whole universe as a system of copulating contrasts. If a definite thing exists, said he, its opposite exists and struggles to replace it, and out of the conflict comes a synthesis. He spent an industrious life, like Og, King of Bashan, fitting everything to his universal formula.

Schopenhauer, in the same spirit of laborious revolt against established values that had become intolerable to him, insisted that the one thing stirring under the fabric of appearances was Will; the Will to live or the Will for Nirvana. He spun the web of this thread of thought to impressive dimensions, and it lived on in Shaw’s Life Force, Bergson’s Elan Vital and the sustaining spirits of Thomas Hardy. But elsewhere hardly at all.

The revolt of the modern mind against the idea of a professedly benevolent divine autocrat responsible for its infinite confusion, has now gone much further than that sort of thing. William James put up a case for polytheism, and Pavlov and the Behaviourists produced excellent reasons why we should regard the individual man as no more than a still very incompletely assembled bundle of conditioned reflexes.

None of this multitude of thinkers and their satellites brought his thoughts into really conclusive contact with the others. To do it would have been to discover much practical identity and so lose distinction. After their fashion, each bombinated abundantly with only the slightest regard to other bombinators. We cannot be too disrespectful at their stupendous, fussy and often quite disingenuous voluminousness. We who are looking on can perceive that the common effect of this tidal flow is to strip off any conceptions of good or evil from our interpretation of the world. Philosophical synthesis is mainly a process of cancellation and denudation. The net result of the philosophical-theological activities of mankind up to date has been almost entirely destructive; it has been a cleansing and not an accumulation; it has swept away a vast amount of interpretations and imperatives from life, and left it bare for us to do what we like with.

That freedom is the one universal philosophy to which the world is evidently coming. As I have said in the previous chapter, a gathering number of people, stirred by a great variety of motives, are resolved upon a world revolution and a new ordering of the world that will save Homo Tewler from putting an end to himself and carry him on to Homo sapient. But they do that wilfully and dogmatically. And there is no absolute imperative to prevent anyone having a hate of them, deciding to be Satanic to them and opposing them openly or betraying them secretly. You can easily persuade yourself that you prefer destruction and death to life. Many people do nowadays. The thought of happier generations fills you with malicious envy. It may please you to do what you can to destroy not simply human hope but the whole race. It may gratify your craving for power to think you are doing that.

But then it will be will against will. Possibly you may win. But if you lose and the world revolution gets the upper hand of you, there is nothing to prevent it declaring you, quite dogmatically, a criminal or a lunatic. It may try to alter you if that can be arranged. It may have to kill you. Some killing may be absolutely necessary if there are too many implacables. A rationalised world cannot turn sane, good men into warders and asylum attendants for the implacable, Or you may come over to us, for, like yourself, the revolutionaries will be Tewler and you must be stirred by fluctuations and concentrations of motive, closely similar to theirs. They are in no way superior to yourself, only they have had the luck to catch the light and crystallise about a comprehensive, unifying, infectious system of1 new ideas, sooner than you have done.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30