O WHERE are the terraced gardens of Babylon, with their mighty groves towering up amongst the clouds? O where is the sun-god of Rhodes, whose golden brow was wont to blush with the first fire of dawn, whilst yet the waters at his feet were wrapped in the mists of night? O where is the Temple of Ephesus, and those who cried unto Diana? O where is the gleaming eye of Pharos that shone as a star of hope over the wild waters of the sea? Children of monsters and of gods, how have ye fallen! for a whirlwind hath arisen and swept through the gates of Heaven, and rushed down on the kingdoms of Earth, and as a tongue of consuming flame hath it licked up the handicrafts of man and cloaked all in the dust of decay. A yoke hath been laid on the shoulders of the ancient lands; and where once the white feet of Semiramis gleamed amongst the lilies and roses of Babylon there now the wild goats leap, and browse the sparse rank grass which sprouts in tufts from the red and yellow sand-heaps, those silent memorial mounds which mark the spot where once stood palaces of marble, and of jasper, and of jade. O woe! O woe! for all is dust and ruin; the flood-gates of the years have been opened, and Time has swept away as a mighty wind the embattled castles of kings with the mud-daubed {178} huts of shepherds. Merodach has gone, and so has Ea, and no longer doth Istar flame in the night, or cast down her kisses on the sparkling goblets in the palace of Belshazzar. Isis, dark-veiled, hath departed, and Nu no longer uplifteth the Sun-bark with the breath of dawn. O Amen, bull fair of face, where is thy glory? Thebes is in ruins! O Lord of joy, O mighty one of diadems! The Sekhet crown has fallen from thy brow, and the strength of thy life hath departed, and thine eyes are as the shrouded shadows of night. Olympus is but a barren hill, and Asgard a land of sullen dreams. Alone in the desert of years still crouches the Sphinx, unanswered, unanswerable, inscrutable, age-worn, coeval with the aeons of eld; even facing the east and thirsting for the first rays of the rising sun. She was there when Cheops and Khephren builded the pyramids, and there will she sit when Yahveh has taken his appointed seat in the silent halls of Oblivion.

The fool hath said in his heart, “There is no God!” Yet the wise man has sat trembling over the ruins of the past, and has watched with fearful eyes the bankruptcy of Splendour, and all the glory of man fall victim to the usury of Time.

O God, what art Thou that Thou dost abandon the kingdoms of this world, as a wanton woman her nightly lovers; and that they depart from Thee, and remember and regret Thee not? Yet thou art so vast that I cannot grasp Thee; Time flees before Thee, and Space is as a bauble in thine hands. O monstrous vacancy of vastness! Thou surpassest me, and I am lost in the contemplation of Thy greatness.

The old gods slew Ymer the giant; and from his blood they poured out the seas; and from his flesh they dug the {179} land; and the rocks were fashioned out of his bones; and Asgard, fair dwelling-house of gods, was builded from the brows of his eyes; and from his skull was wrought the purple vault of Immensity; and from his brains were woven the fleecy clouds of heaven. But thou art more than Ymer; Thy feet are planted deeper than the roots of Igdrasil, and the hair of Thine head sweepeth past the helm of thought. Nay, more, vastly more; for Thou art bloodless, and fleshless, and without bones; Thou (O my God!) art nothing — nothing that I can grasp can span Thee. Yea! nothing art Thou, beyond the Nothingness of the Nothingness of Eternity!

Thus men grew to believe in NO-GOD, and to worship NO-GOD, and to be persecuted for NO-GOD, and to suffer and to die for NO-GOD. And now they torture themselves for him, as they had of yore gashed themselves with flints at the footstool of God His Father; and to the honour of His name, and as a proof of His existence, have they not built up great towers of Science, bastions of steam and of flame, and set a-singing the wheels of Progress, and all the crafts and the guiles and the artifices of Knowledge? They have contained the waters with their hands; and the earth they have set in chains; and the fire they have bound up as a wisp of undried straw; even the winds they have ensnared as an eagle in a net; — yet the Spirit liveth and is free, and they know it not, as they gaze down from their Babel of Words upon the soot-grimed fields, and the felled forests, and the flowerless banks of their rivers of mud, lit by the sun which glows red through the hooded mists of their magic.

Yet he who gazeth into the heavens, and crieth in a loud voice, “There is NO-GOD,” is as a prophet unto mankind; {180} for he is as one drunken on the vastness of Deity. Better to have no opinion of God than such an opinion as is unworthy of Him. Better to be wrapped in the black robe of unbelief than to dance in the stinking rags of blasphemy. So they learnt to cry, “For the children, belief and obedience; for us men, solitude” — the monarchy of Mind, the pandemoniacal majesty of Matter!

“A Bible on the centre-table in a cottage pauperises the monarchical imagination of man”; but a naked woman weeping in the wilderness, or singing songs of frenzy unto Istar in the night, from the ruined summit of Nineveh, invoking the elemental powers of the Abyss, and casting the dust of ages about her, and crying unto Bel, and unto Assur, and unto Nisroch, and smiting flames from the sun-scorched bones of Sennacherib with the age-worn sword of Sharezer and Adrammelech, is a vision which intoxicates the brain with the sparkling wine of imagination, and sets the teeth a-rattling in the jaws, and the tongue a-cleaving to the palate of the mouth.

But the book-men have slain the Great God, and the twitterers of words have twisted their squeaking screws into his coffin. The first Christians were called Atheists; yet they believed in God: the last Christians are called Theists; yet they believe not in God. So the first Freethinkers were called Atheists; yet they believed in NO-GOD: and the last Freethinkers will be called Theists; for they will believe not in NO-GOD. Then indeed in these latter days may we again find the Great God, that God who liveth beyond the twittering of man’s lips, and the mumblings of his mouth.

Filled with the froth of words, have these flatulent fools argued concerning God. Not as the bard sung of Ymer; {181} but as the cat purrs to the strangling mouse: “Since God is First Cause, therefore he possesses existence “a se;” therefore he must be both necessary and absolute, and cannot be determined by anything else.” Nevertheless these wise doctors discuss him as if he were a corpse on the tables of their surgeries, and measure his length with their foot-rules, and stretch and lop him to fit the bed of their Procrustean metaphysic. Thus he is absolutely unlimited from without, and unlimited also from within, for limitation is non-being, and God is being itself, and being is all-things, and all-things is no-thing. And so we find Epicurus walking arm in arm, from the temple of windy words, with Athanasius, and enter the market-place of life, and the throng of the living — that great tongueless witness of God’s bounty; and mingle with the laughing boys, showering rose-leaves on Doris and Bacchis, and blowing kisses to Myrtale and Evardis.

God or No-God — so let it be! Still the Sun rises and sets, and the night-breeze blows the red flames of our tourches athwart the palm-trees, to the discomfiture of the stars. Look! — in the distance between the mighty paws of the silent Sphinx rests a cubical temple whose god has been called Ra Harmakhis, the Great God, the Lord of the Heaven, but who in truth is nameless and beyond name, for he is the Eternal Spirit of Life.

Hush — the sistrum sounds from across the banks of the dark waters. The moon rises, and all is as silver and mother-of-pearl. A shepherd’s pipe shrills in the distance — a kid has strayed from the fold. … O stillness … O mystery of God … how soft is Thy skin … how fragrant is Thy breath! Life as a strong wine flames through me. The {182} frenzy of resistance, the rapture of the struggle — ah! the ecstasy of Victory. … The very soul of life lies ravished, and the breath has left me. … A small warm hand touches my lips — O fragrance of love! O Life! … Is there a God?


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Part I: Index | Preface | The Black Watch-Tower | The Miser | The Spendthrift | The Bankrupt | The Prude | The Child | The Wanton | The Slave | The Warrior | The King | The White Watch-Tower

The Temple of Solomon the King | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX


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