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Why not give Christianity a Trial?
Why Jesus more than Another?
Was Jesus a Coward?
Was Jesus a Martyr?
The Gospels without Prejudice
The Gospels now unintelligible to Novices
Worldliness of the Majority
Religion of the Minority. Salvationism
The Difference between Atonement and Punishment
Salvation at first a Class Privilege; and the Remedy
Retrospective Atonement; and the Expectation of the Redeemer
Completion of the Scheme by Luther and Calvin
John Barleycorn
Looking for the End of the World
The Honor of Divine Parentage

The Annunciation: the Massacre: the Flight
John the Baptist
Jesus joins the Baptists
The Savage John and the Civilized Jesus
Jesus not a Proselytist
The Teachings of Jesus
The Miracles
Matthew imputes Bigotry to Jesus
The Great Change
Jerusalem and the Mystical Sacrifice
Not this Man but Barabbas
The Resurrection
Date of Matthew's Narrative
Class Type of Matthew's Jesus

The Women Disciples and the Ascension

Luke the Literary Artist
The Charm of Luke's Narrative
The Touch of Parisian Romance
Waiting for the Messiah

A New Story and a New Character
John the Immortal Eye Witness
The Peculiar Theology of Jesus
John agreed as to the Trial and Crucifixion
Credibility of the Gospels
Fashions of Belief Credibility and Truth
Christian Iconolatry and the Peril of the Iconoclast
The Alternative to Barabbas
The Reduction to Modern Practice of Christianity
Modern Communism
Shall He Who Makes, Own?
Labor Time
The Dream of Distribution According to Merit
Vital Distribution
Equal Distribution
The Captain and the Cabin Boy
The Political and Biological Objections to Inequality
Jesus as Economist
Jesus as Biologist
Money the Midwife of Scientific Communism
Judge Not
Limits to Free Will
Jesus on Marriage and the Family
Why Jesus did not Marry
Inconsistency of the Sex Instinct For Better for Worse
The Remedy
The Case for Marriage
Celibacy no Remedy
After the Crucifixion
The Vindictive Miracles and the Stoning of Stephen
Confusion of Christendom
Secret of Paul's Success
Paul's Qualities
Acts of the Apostles
The Controversies on Baptism and Transubstantiation
The Alternative Christs
Credulity no Criterion
Belief in Personal Immortality no Criterion
The Secular View Natural, not Rational, therefore Inevitable
“The Higher Criticism”
The Perils of Salvationism
The Importance of Hell in the Salvation Scheme
The Right to refuse Atonement
The Teaching of Christianity
Christianity and the Empire



The question seems a hopeless one after 2000 years of resolute
adherence to the old cry of “Not this man, but Barabbas.” Yet it
is beginning to look as if Barabbas was a failure, in spite of
his strong right hand, his victories, his empires, his millions
of money, and his moralities and churches and political
constitutions. “This man” has not been a failure yet; for nobody
has ever been sane enough to try his way. But he has had one
quaint triumph. Barabbas has stolen his name and taken his cross
as a standard. There is a sort of compliment in that. There is
even a sort of loyalty in it, like that of the brigand who breaks
every law and yet claims to be a patriotic subject of the king
who makes them. We have always had a curious feeling that though
we crucified Christ on a stick, he somehow managed to get hold of
the right end of it, and that if we were better men we might try
his plan. There have been one or two grotesque attempts at it by
inadequate people, such as the Kingdom of God in Munster, which
was ended by crucifixion so much more atrocious than the one on
Calvary that the bishop who took the part of Annas went home and
died of horror. But responsible people have never made such
attempts. The moneyed, respectable, capable world has been
steadily anti-Christian and Barabbasque since the crucifixion;
and the specific doctrine of Jesus has not in all that time been
put into political or general social practice. I am no more a
Christian than Pilate was, or you, gentle reader; and yet, like
Pilate, I greatly prefer Jesus to Annas and Caiaphas; and I am
ready to admit that after contemplating the world and human
nature for nearly sixty years, I see no way out of the world's
misery but the way which would have been found by Christ's will
if he had undertaken the work of a modern practical statesman.
Pray do not at this early point lose patience with me and shut
the book. I assure you I am as sceptical and scientific and
modern a thinker as you will find anywhere. I grant you I know a
great deal more about economics and politics than Jesus did, and
can do things he could not do. I am by all Barabbasque standards
a person of much better character and standing, and greater
practical sense. I have no sympathy with vagabonds and talkers
who try to reform society by taking men away from their regular
productive work and making vagabonds and talkers of them too; and
if I had been Pilate I should have recognized as plainly as he
the necessity for suppressing attacks on the existing social
order, however corrupt that order might be, by people with no
knowledge of government and no power to construct political
machinery to carry out their views, acting on the very dangerous
delusion that the end of the world was at hand. I make no defence
of such Christians as Savonarola and John of Leyden: they were
scuttling the ship before they had learned how to build a raft;
and it became necessary to throw them overboard to save the crew.
I say this to set myself right with respectable society; but I
must still insist that if Jesus could have worked out the
practical problems of a Communist constitution, an admitted
obligation to deal with crime without revenge or punishment, and
a full assumption by humanity of divine responsibilities, he
would have conferred an incalculable benefit on mankind, because
these distinctive demands of his are now turning out to be good
sense and sound economics.

I say distinctive, because his common humanity and his subjection
to time and space (that is, to the Syrian life of his period)
involved his belief in many things, true and false, that in no
way distinguish him from other Syrians of that time. But such
common beliefs do not constitute specific Christianity any more
than wearing a beard, working in a carpenter's shop, or believing
that the earth is flat and that the stars could drop on it from
heaven like hailstones. Christianity interests practical
statesmen now because of the doctrines that distinguished Christ
from the Jews and the Barabbasques generally, including


I do not imply, however, that these doctrines were peculiar to
Christ. A doctrine peculiar to one man would be only a craze,
unless its comprehension depended on a development of human
faculty so rare that only one exceptionally gifted man possessed
it. But even in this case it would be useless, because incapable
of spreading. Christianity is a step in moral evolution which is
independent of any individual preacher. If Jesus had never
existed (and that he ever existed in any other sense than that in
which Shakespear's Hamlet existed has been vigorously questioned)
Tolstoy would have thought and taught and quarrelled with the
Greek Church all the same. Their creed has been fragmentarily
practised to a considerable extent in spite of the fact that the
laws of all countries treat it, in effect, as criminal. Many of
its advocates have been militant atheists. But for some reason
the imagination of white mankind has picked out Jesus of Nazareth
as THE Christ, and attributed all the Christian doctrines to him;
and as it is the doctrine and not the man that matters, and, as,
besides, one symbol is as good as another provided everyone
attaches the same meaning to it, I raise, for the moment, no
question as to how far the gospels are original, and how far they
consist of Greek and Chinese interpolations. The record that
Jesus said certain things is not invalidated by a demonstration
that Confucius said them before him. Those who claim a literal
divine paternity for him cannot be silenced by the discovery that
the same claim was made for Alexander and Augustus. And I am not
just now concerned with the credibility of the gospels as records
of fact; for I am not acting as a detective, but turning our
modern lights on to certain ideas and doctrines in them which
disentangle themselves from the rest because they are flatly
contrary to common practice, common sense, and common belief, and
yet have, in the teeth of dogged incredulity and recalcitrance,
produced an irresistible impression that Christ, though rejected
by his posterity as an unpractical dreamer, and executed by his
contemporaries as a dangerous anarchist and blasphemous madman,
was greater than his judges.


I know quite well that this impression of superiority is not
produced on everyone, even of those who profess extreme
susceptibility to it. Setting aside the huge mass of inculcated
Christ-worship which has no real significance because it has no
intelligence, there is, among people who are really free to think
for themselves on the subject, a great deal of hearty dislike of
Jesus and of contempt for his failure to save himself and
overcome his enemies by personal bravery and cunning as Mahomet
did. I have heard this feeling expressed far more impatiently by
persons brought up in England as Christians than by Mahometans,
who are, like their prophet, very civil to Jesus, and allow him a
place in their esteem and veneration at least as high as we
accord to John the Baptist. But this British bulldog contempt is
founded on a complete misconception of his reasons for submitting
voluntarily to an ordeal of torment and death. The modern
Secularist is often so determined to regard Jesus as a man like
himself and nothing more, that he slips unconsciously into the
error of assuming that Jesus shared that view. But it is quite
clear from the New Testament writers (the chief authorities for
believing that Jesus ever existed) that Jesus at the time of his
death believed himself to be the Christ, a divine personage. It
is therefore absurd to criticize his conduct before Pilate as if
he were Colonel Roosevelt or Admiral von Tirpitz or even Mahomet.
Whether you accept his belief in his divinity as fully as Simon
Peter did, or reject it as a delusion which led him to submit to
torture and sacrifice his life without resistance in the
conviction that he would presently rise again in glory, you are
equally bound to admit that, far from behaving like a coward or a
sheep, he showed considerable physical fortitude in going through
a cruel ordeal against which he could have defended himself as
effectually as he cleared the moneychangers out of the temple.
“Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” is a snivelling modern invention,
with no warrant in the gospels. St. Matthew would as soon have
thought of applying such adjectives to Judas Maccabeus as to
Jesus; and even St. Luke, who makes Jesus polite and gracious,
does not make him meek. The picture of him as an English curate
of the farcical comedy type, too meek to fight a policeman, and
everybody's butt, may be useful in the nursery to soften
children; but that such a figure could ever have become a centre
of the world's attention is too absurd for discussion; grown men
and women may speak kindly of a harmless creature who utters
amiable sentiments and is a helpless nincompoop when he is called
on to defend them; but they will not follow him, nor do what he
tells them, because they do not wish to share his defeat and


It is important therefore that we should clear our minds of the
notion that Jesus died, as some are in the habit of declaring,
for his social and political opinions. There have been many
martyrs to those opinions; but he was not one of them, nor, as
his words show, did he see any more sense in martyrdom than
Galileo did. He was executed by the Jews for the blasphemy of
claiming to be a God; and Pilate, to whom this was a mere piece
of superstitious nonsense, let them execute him as the cheapest
way of keeping them quiet, on the formal plea that he had
committed treason against Rome by saying that he was the King of
the Jews. He was not falsely accused, nor denied full
opportunities of defending himself. The proceedings were quite
straightforward and regular; and Pilate, to whom the appeal lay,
favored him and despised his judges, and was evidently willing
enough to be conciliated. But instead of denying the charge,
Jesus repeated the offence. He knew what he was doing: he had
alienated numbers of his own disciples and been stoned in the
streets for doing it before. He was not lying: he believed
literally what he said. The horror of the High Priest was
perfectly natural: he was a Primate confronted with a heterodox
street preacher uttering what seemed to him an appalling and
impudent blasphemy. The fact that the blasphemy was to Jesus a
simple statement of fact, and that it has since been accepted as
such by all western nations, does not invalidate the proceedings,
nor give us the right to regard Annas and Caiaphas as worse men
than the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Head Master of Eton. If
Jesus had been indicted in a modern court, he would have been
examined by two doctors; found to be obsessed by a delusion;
declared incapable of pleading; and sent to an asylum: that is
the whole difference. But please note that when a man is charged
before a modern tribunal (to take a case that happened the other
day) of having asserted and maintained that he was an officer
returned from the front to receive the Victoria Cross at the
hands of the King, although he was in fact a mechanic, nobody
thinks of treating him as afflicted with a delusion. He is
punished for false pretences, because his assertion is credible
and therefore misleading. Just so, the claim to divinity made by
Jesus was to the High Priest, who looked forward to the coming of
a Messiah, one that might conceivably have been true, and might
therefore have misled the people in a very dangerous way. That
was why he treated Jesus as an imposter and a blasphemer where we
should have treated him as a madman.


All this will become clear if we read the gospels without
prejudice. When I was young it was impossible to read them
without fantastic confusion of thought. The confusion was so
utterly confounded that it was called the proper spirit to read
the Bible in. Jesus was a baby; and he was older than creation.
He was a man who could be persecuted, stoned, scourged, and
killed; and he was a god, immortal and all-powerful, able to
raise the dead and call millions of angels to his aid. It was a
sin to doubt either view of him: that is, it was a sin to reason
about him; and the end was that you did not reason about him, and
read about him only when you were compelled. When you heard the
gospel stories read in church, or learnt them from painters and
poets, you came out with an impression of their contents that
would have astonished a Chinaman who had read the story without
prepossession. Even sceptics who were specially on their guard,
put the Bible in the dock, and read the gospels with the object
of detecting discrepancies in the four narratives to show that
the writers were as subject to error as the writers of
yesterday's newspaper.

All this has changed greatly within two generations. Today the
Bible is so little read that the language of the Authorized
Version is rapidly becoming obsolete; so that even in the United
States, where the old tradition of the verbal infallibility of
“the book of books” lingers more strongly than anywhere else
except perhaps in Ulster, retranslations into modern English have
been introduced perforce to save its bare intelligibility. It is
quite easy today to find cultivated persons who have never read
the New Testament, and on whom therefore it is possible to try
the experiment of asking them to read the gospels and state what
they have gathered as to the history and views and character of


But it will not do to read the gospels with a mind furnished only
for the reception of, say, a biography of Goethe. You will not
make sense of them, nor even be able without impatient weariness
to persevere in the task of going steadily through them, unless
you know something of the history of the human imagination as
applied to religion. Not long ago I asked a writer of
distinguished intellectual competence whether he had made a study
of the gospels since his childhood. His reply was that he had
lately tried, but “found it all such nonsense that I could not
stick it.” As I do not want to send anyone to the gospels with
this result, I had better here give a brief exposition of how
much of the history of religion is needed to make the gospels and
the conduct and ultimate fate of Jesus intelligible and


The first common mistake to get rid of is that mankind consists
of a great mass of religious people and a few eccentric atheists.
It consists of a huge mass of worldly people, and a small
percentage of persons deeply interested in religion and concerned
about their own souls and other peoples'; and this section
consists mostly of those who are passionately affirming the
established religion and those who are passionately attacking it,
the genuine philosophers being very few. Thus you never have a
nation of millions of Wesleys and one Tom Paine. You have a
million Mr. Worldly Wisemans, one Wesley, with his small
congregation, and one Tom Paine, with his smaller congregation.
The passionately religious are a people apart; and if they were
not hopelessly outnumbered by the worldly, they would turn the
world upside down, as St. Paul was reproached, quite justly, for
wanting to do. Few people can number among their personal
acquaintances a single atheist or a single Plymouth Brother.
Unless a religious turn in ourselves has led us to seek the
little Societies to which these rare birds belong, we pass our
lives among people who, whatever creeds they may repeat, and in
whatever temples they may avouch their respectability and wear
their Sunday clothes, have robust consciences, and hunger and
thirst, not for righteousness, but for rich feeding and comfort
and social position and attractive mates and ease and pleasure
and respect and consideration: in short, for love and money. To
these people one morality is as good as another provided they are
used to it and can put up with its restrictions without
unhappiness; and in the maintenance of this morality they will
fight and punish and coerce without scruple. They may not be the
salt of the earth, these Philistines; but they are the substance
of civilization; and they save society from ruin by criminals and
conquerors as well as by Savonarolas and Knipperdollings. And as
they know, very sensibly, that a little religion is good for
children and serves morality, keeping the poor in good humor or
in awe by promising rewards in heaven or threatening torments in
hell, they encourage the religious people up to a certain point:
for instance, if Savonarola only tells the ladies of Florence
that they ought to tear off their jewels and finery and sacrifice
them to God, they offer him a cardinal's hat, and praise him as a
saint; but if he induces them to actually do it, they burn him as
a public nuisance.


The religion of the tolerated religious minority has always been
essentially the same religion: that is why its changes of name
and form have made so little difference. That is why, also, a
nation so civilized as the English can convert negroes to their
faith with great ease, but cannot convert Mahometans or Jews. The
negro finds in civilized Salvationism an unspeakably more
comforting version of his crude creed; but neither Saracen nor
Jew sees any advantage in it over his own version. The Crusader
was surprised to find the Saracen quite as religious and moral as
himself, and rather more than less civilized. The Latin Christian
has nothing to offer the Greek Christian that Greek Christianity
has not already provided. They are all, at root, Salvationists.

Let us trace this religion of Salvation from its beginnings. So
many things that man does not himself contrive or desire are
always happening: death, plagues, tempests, blights, floods,
sunrise and sunset, growths and harvests and decay, and Kant's
two wonders of the starry heavens above us and the moral law
within us, that we conclude that somebody must be doing it all,
or that somebody is doing the good and somebody else doing the
evil, or that armies of invisible persons, benefit-cut and
malevolent, are doing it; hence you postulate gods and devils,
angels and demons. You propitiate these powers with presents,
called sacrifices, and flatteries, called praises. Then the
Kantian moral law within you makes you conceive your god as a
judge; and straightway you try to corrupt him, also with presents
and flatteries. This seems shocking to us; but our objection to
it is quite a recent development: no longer ago than Shakespear's
time it was thought quite natural that litigants should give
presents to human judges; and the buying off of divine wrath by
actual money payments to priests, or, in the reformed churches
which discountenance this, by subscriptions to charities and
church building and the like, is still in full swing. Its
practical disadvantage is that though it makes matters very easy
for the rich, it cuts off the poor from all hope of divine favor.
And this quickens the moral criticism of the poor to such an
extent, that they soon find the moral law within them revolting
against the idea of buying off the deity with gold and gifts,
though they are still quite ready to buy him off with the paper
money of praise and professions of repentance. Accordingly, you
will find that though a religion may last unchanged for many
centuries in primitive communities where the conditions of life
leave no room for poverty and riches, and the process of
propitiating the supernatural powers is as well within the means
of the least of the members as within those of the headman, yet
when commercial civilization arrives, and capitalism divides the
people into a few rich and a great many so poor that they can
barely live, a movement for religious reform will arise among the
poor, and will be essentially a movement for cheap or entirely
gratuitous salvation. To understand what the poor mean by
propitiation, we must examine for a moment what they mean by


The primitive idea of justice is partly legalized revenge and
partly expiation by sacrifice. It works out from both sides in
the notion that two blacks make a white, and that when a wrong
has been done, it should be paid for by an equivalent suffering.
It seems to the Philistine majority a matter of course that this
compensating suffering should be inflicted on the wrongdoer for
the sake of its deterrent effect on other would-be wrongdoers;
but a moment's reflection will show that this utilitarian
application corrupts the whole transaction. For example, the
shedding of innocent blood cannot be balanced by the shedding of
guilty blood. Sacrificing a criminal to propitiate God for the
murder of one of his righteous servants is like sacrificing a
mangy sheep or an ox with the rinderpest: it calls down divine
wrath instead of appeasing it. In doing it we offer God as a
sacrifice the gratification of our own revenge and the protection
of our own lives without cost to ourselves; and cost to ourselves
is the essence of sacrifice and expiation. However much the
Philistines have succeeded in confusing these things in practice,
they are to the Salvationist sense distinct and even contrary.
The Baronet's cousin in Dickens's novel, who, perplexed by the
failure of the police to discover the murderer of the baronet's
solicitor, said “Far better hang wrong fellow than no fellow,”
was not only expressing a very common sentiment, but trembling on
the brink of the rarer Salvationist opinion that it is much
better to hang the wrong fellow: that, in fact, the wrong fellow
is the right fellow to hang.

The point is a cardinal one, because until we grasp it not only
does historical Christianity remain unintelligible to us, but
those who do not care a rap about historical Christianity may be
led into the mistake of supposing that if we discard revenge, and
treat murderers exactly as God treated Cain: that is, exempt them
from punishment by putting a brand on them as unworthy to be
sacrificed, and let them face the world as best they can with
that brand on them, we should get rid both of punishment and
sacrifice. It would not at all follow: on the contrary, the
feeling that there must be an expiation of the murder might quite
possibly lead to our putting some innocent person–the more
innocent the better–to a cruel death to balance the account with
divine justice.


Thus, even when the poor decide that the method of purchasing
salvation by offering rams and goats or bringing gold to the
altar must be wrong because they cannot afford it, we still do
not feel “saved” without a sacrifice and a victim. In vain do we
try to substitute mystical rites that cost nothing, such as
circumcision, or, as a substitute for that, baptism. Our sense of
justice still demands an expiation, a sacrifice, a sufferer for
our sins. And this leaves the poor man still in his old
difficulty; for if it was impossible for him to procure rams and
goats and shekels, how much more impossible is it for him to find
a neighbor who will voluntarily suffer for his sins: one who will
say cheerfully “You have committed a murder. Well, never mind: I
am willing to be hanged for it in your stead?”

Our imagination must come to our rescue. Why not, instead of
driving ourselves to despair by insisting on a separate atonement
by a separate redeemer for every sin, have one great atonement
and one great redeemer to compound for the sins of the world once
for all? Nothing easier, nothing cheaper. The yoke is easy, the
burden light. All you have to do when the redeemer is once found
(or invented by the imagination) is to believe in the efficacy of
the transaction, and you are saved. The rams and goats cease to
bleed; the altars which ask for expensive gifts and continually
renewed sacrifices are torn down; and the Church of the single
redeemer and the single atonement rises on the ruins of the old
temples, and becomes a single Church of the Christ.


But this does not happen at once. Between the old costly religion
of the rich and the new gratuitous religion of the poor there
comes an interregnum in which the redeemer, though conceived by
the human imagination, is not yet found. He is awaited and
expected under the names of the Christ, the Messiah, Baldur the
Beautiful, or what not; but he has not yet come. Yet the sinners
are not therefore in despair. It is true that they cannot say, as
we say, “The Christ has come, and has redeemed us;” but they can
say “The Christ will come, and will redeem us,” which, as the
atonement is conceived as retrospective, is equally consoling.
There are periods when nations are seething with this expectation
and crying aloud with prophecy of the Redeemer through their
poets. To feel that atmosphere we have only to take up the Bible
and read Isaiah at one end of such a period and Luke and John at
the other.


We now see our religion as a quaint but quite intelligible
evolution from crude attempts to propitiate the destructive
forces of Nature among savages to a subtle theology with a costly
ritual of sacrifice possible only to the rich as a luxury, and
finally to the religion of Luther and Calvin. And it must be said
for the earlier forms that they involved very real sacrifices.
The sacrifice was not always vicarious, and is not yet
universally so. In India men pay with their own skins, torturing
themselves hideously to attain holiness. In the west, saints
amazed the world with their austerities and self-scourgings and
confessions and vigils. But Luther delivered us from all that.
His reformation was a triumph of imagination and a triumph of
cheapness. It brought you complete salvation and asked you for
nothing but faith. Luther did not know what he was doing in the
scientific sociological way in which we know it; but his instinct
served him better than knowledge could have done; for it was
instinct rather than theological casuistry that made him hold so
resolutely to Justification by Faith as the trump card by which
he should beat the Pope, or, as he would have put it, the sign in
which he should conquer. He may be said to have abolished the
charge for admission to heaven. Paul had advocated this; but
Luther and Calvin did it.


There is yet another page in the history of religion which must
be conned and digested before the career of Jesus can be fully
understood. people who can read long books will find it in
Frazer's Golden Bough. Simpler folk will find it in the peasant's
song of John Barleycorn, now made accessible to our drawingroom
amateurs in the admirable collections of Somersetshire Folk Songs
by Mr. Cecil Sharp. From Frazer's magnum opus you will learn how
the same primitive logic which makes the Englishman believe today
that by eating a beefsteak he can acquire the strength and
courage of the bull, and to hold that belief in the face of the
most ignominious defeats by vegetarian wrestlers and racers and
bicyclists, led the first men who conceived God as capable of
incarnation to believe that they could acquire a spark of his
divinity by eating his flesh and drinking his blood. And from the
song of John Barleycorn you may learn how the miracle of the
seed, the growth, and the harvest, still the most wonderful of
all the miracles and as inexplicable as ever, taught the
primitive husbandman, and, as we must now affirm, taught him
quite rightly, that God is in the seed, and that God is immortal.
And thus it became the test of Godhead that nothing that you
could do to it could kill it, and that when you buried it, it
would rise again in renewed life and beauty and give mankind
eternal life on condition that it was eaten and drunk, and again
slain and buried, to rise again for ever and ever. You may, and
indeed must, use John Barleycorn “right barbarouslee,” cutting
him “off at knee” with your scythes, scourging him with your
flails, burying him in the earth; and he will not resist you nor
reproach you, but will rise again in golden beauty amidst a great
burst of sunshine and bird music, and save you and renew your
life. And from the interweaving of these two traditions with the
craving for the Redeemer, you at last get the conviction that
when the Redeemer comes he will be immortal; he will give us his
body to eat and his blood to drink; and he will prove his
divinity by suffering a barbarous death without resistance or
reproach, and rise from the dead and return to the earth in glory
as the giver of life eternal.


Yet another persistent belief has beset the imagination of the
religious ever since religion spread among the poor, or, rather,
ever since commercial civilization produced a hopelessly poor
class cut off from enjoyment in this world. That belief is that
the end of this world is at hand, and that it will presently pass
away and be replaced by a kingdom of happiness, justice, and
bliss in which the rich and the oppressors and the unjust shall
have no share. We are all familiar with this expectation: many of
us cherish some pious relative who sees in every great calamity a
sign of the approaching end. Warning pamphlets are in constant
circulation: advertisements are put in the papers and paid for by
those who are convinced, and who are horrified at the
indifference of the irreligious to the approaching doom. And
revivalist preachers, now as in the days of John the Baptist,
seldom fail to warn their flocks to watch and pray, as the great
day will steal upon them like a thief in the night, and cannot be
long deferred in a world so wicked. This belief also associates
itself with Barleycorn's second coming; so that the two events
become identified at last.

There is the other and more artificial side of this belief, on
which it is an inculcated dread. The ruler who appeals to the
prospect of heaven to console the poor and keep them from
insurrection also curbs the vicious by threatening them with
hell. In the Koran we find Mahomet driven more and more to this
expedient of government; and experience confirms his evident
belief that it is impossible to govern without it in certain
phases of civilization. We shall see later on that it gives a
powerful attraction to the belief in a Redeemer, since it adds to
remorse of conscience, which hardened men bear very lightly, a
definite dread of hideous and eternal torture.


One more tradition must be noted. The consummation of praise for
a king is to declare that he is the son of no earthly father, but
of a god. His mother goes into the temple of Apollo, and Apollo
comes to her in the shape of a serpent, or the like. The Roman
emperors, following the example of Augustus, claimed the title of
God. Illogically, such divine kings insist a good deal on their
royal human ancestors. Alexander, claiming to be the son of
Apollo, is equally determined to be the son of Philip. As the
gospels stand, St. Matthew and St. Luke give genealogies (the two
are different) establishing the descent of Jesus through Joseph
from the royal house of David, and yet declare that not Joseph
but the Holy Ghost was the father of Jesus. It is therefore now
held that the story of the Holy Ghost is a later interpolation
borrowed from the Greek and Roman imperial tradition. But
experience shows that simultaneous faith in the descent from
David and the conception by the Holy Ghost is possible. Such
double beliefs are entertained by the human mind without
uneasiness or consciousness of the contradiction involved. Many
instances might be given: a familiar one to my generation being
that of the Tichborne claimant, whose attempt to pass himself off
as a baronet was supported by an association of laborers on the
ground that the Tichborne family, in resisting it, were trying to
do a laborer out of his rights. It is quite possible that Matthew
and Luke may have been unconscious of the contradiction: indeed
the interpolation theory does not remove the difficulty, as the
interpolators themselves must have been unconscious of it. A
better ground for suspecting interpolation is that St. Paul knew
nothing of the divine birth, and taught that Jesus came into the
world at his birth as the son of Joseph, but rose from the dead
after three days as the son of God. Here again, few notice the
discrepancy: the three views are accepted simultaneously without
intellectual discomfort. We can provisionally entertain half a
dozen contradictory versions of an event if we feel either that
it does not greatly matter, or that there is a category
attainable in which the contradictions are reconciled.

But that is not the present point. All that need be noted here is
that the legend of divine birth was sure to be attached sooner or
later to very eminent persons in Roman imperial times, and that
modern theologians, far from discrediting it, have very logically
affirmed the miraculous conception not only of Jesus but of his

With no more scholarly equipment than a knowledge of these habits
of the human imagination, anyone may now read the four gospels
without bewilderment, and without the contemptuous incredulity
which spoils the temper of many modern atheists, or the senseless
credulity which sometimes makes pious people force us to shove
them aside in emergencies as impracticable lunatics when they ask
us to meet violence and injustice with dumb submission in the
belief that the strange demeanor of Jesus before Pilate was meant
as an example of normal human conduct. Let us admit that without
the proper clues the gospels are, to a modern educated person,
nonsensical and incredible, whilst the apostles are unreadable.
But with the clues, they are fairly plain sailing. Jesus becomes
an intelligible and consistent person. His reasons for going
“like a lamb to the slaughter” instead of saving himself as
Mahomet did, become quite clear. The narrative becomes as
credible as any other historical narrative of its period.



Let us begin with the gospel of Matthew, bearing in mind that it
does not profess to be the evidence of an eyewitness. It is a
chronicle, founded, like other chronicles, on such evidence and
records as the chronicler could get hold of. The only one of the
evangelists who professes to give first-hand evidence as an
eyewitness naturally takes care to say so; and the fact that
Matthew makes no such pretension, and writes throughout as a
chronicler, makes it clear that he is telling the story of Jesus
as Holinshed told the story of Macbeth, except that, for a reason
to be given later on, he must have collected his material and
completed his book within the lifetime of persons contemporary
with Jesus. Allowance must also be made for the fact that the
gospel is written in the Greek language, whilst the first-hand
traditions and the actual utterances of Jesus must have been in
Aramaic, the dialect of Palestine. These distinctions were
important, as you will find if you read Holinshed or Froissart
and then read Benvenuto Cellini. You do not blame Holinshed or
Froissart for believing and repeating the things they had read or
been told, though you cannot always believe these things
yourself. But when Cellini tells you that he saw this or did
that, and you find it impossible to believe him, you lose
patience with him, and are disposed to doubt everything in his
autobiography. Do not forget, then, that Matthew is Holinshed and
not Benvenuto. The very first pages of his narrative will put
your attitude to the test.

Matthew tells us that the mother of Jesus was betrothed to a man
of royal pedigree named Joseph, who was rich enough to live in a
house in Bethlehem to which kings could bring gifts of gold
without provoking any comment. An angel announces to Joseph that
Jesus is the son of the Holy Ghost, and that he must not accuse
her of infidelity because of her bearing a son of which he is not
the father; but this episode disappears from the subsequent
narrative: there is no record of its having been told to Jesus,
nor any indication of his having any knowledge of it. The
narrative, in fact, proceeds in all respects as if the
annunciation formed no part of it.

Herod the Tetrarch, believing that a child has been born who will
destroy him, orders all the male children to be slaughtered; and
Jesus escapes by the flight of his parents into Egypt, whence
they return to Nazareth when the danger is over. Here it is
necessary to anticipate a little by saying that none of the other
evangelists accept this story, as none of them except John, who
throws over Matthew altogether, shares his craze for treating
history and biography as mere records of the fulfillment of
ancient Jewish prophecies. This craze no doubt led him to seek
for some legend bearing out Hosea's “Out of Egypt have I called
my son,” and Jeremiah's Rachel weeping for her children: in fact,
he says so. Nothing that interests us nowadays turns on the
credibility of the massacre of the innocents and the flight into
Egypt. We may forget them, and proceed to the important part of
the narrative, which skips at once to the manhood of Jesus.


At this moment, a Salvationist prophet named John is stirring the
people very strongly. John has declared that the rite of
circumcision is insufficient as a dedication of the individual to
God, and has substituted the rite of baptism. To us, who are
accustomed to baptism as a matter of course, and to whom
circumcision is a rather ridiculous foreign practice of no
consequence, the sensational effect of such a heresy as this on
the Jews is not apparent: it seems to us as natural that John
should have baptized people as that the rector of our village
should do so. But, as St. Paul found to his cost later on, the
discarding of circumcision for baptism was to the Jews as
startling a heresy as the discarding of transubstantiation in the
Mass was to the Catholics of the XVI century.


Jesus entered as a man of thirty (Luke says) into the religious
life of his time by going to John the Baptist and demanding
baptism from him, much as certain well-to-do young gentlemen
forty years ago “joined the Socialists.” As far as established
Jewry was concerned, he burnt his boats by this action, and cut
himself off from the routine of wealth, respectability, and
orthodoxy. He then began preaching John's gospel, which, apart
from the heresy of baptism, the value of which lay in its
bringing the Gentiles (that is, the uncircumcized) within the
pale of salvation, was a call to the people to repent of their
sins, as the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Luke adds that he
also preached the communism of charity; told the surveyors of
taxes not to over-assess the taxpayers; and advised soldiers to
be content with their wages and not to be violent or lay false
accusations. There is no record of John going beyond this.


Jesus went beyond it very rapidly, according to Matthew. Though,
like John, he became an itinerant preacher, he departed widely
from John's manner of life. John went into the wilderness, not
into the synagogues; and his baptismal font was the river Jordan.
He was an ascetic, clothed in skins and living on locusts and
wild honey, practising a savage austerity. He courted martyrdom,
and met it at the hands of Herod. Jesus saw no merit either in
asceticism or martyrdom. In contrast to John he was essentially a
highly-civilized, cultivated person. According to Luke, he
pointed out the contrast himself, chaffing the Jews for
complaining that John must be possessed by the devil because he
was a teetotaller and vegetarian, whilst, because Jesus was
neither one nor the other, they reviled him as a gluttonous man
and a winebibber, the friend of the officials and their
mistresses. He told straitlaced disciples that they would have
trouble enough from other people without making any for
themselves, and that they should avoid martyrdom and enjoy
themselves whilst they had the chance. “When they persecute you
in this city,” he says, “flee into the next.” He preaches in the
synagogues and in the open air indifferently, just as they come.
He repeatedly says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” meaning
evidently to clear himself of the inveterate superstition that
suffering is gratifying to God. “Be not, as the Pharisees, of a
sad countenance,” he says. He is convivial, feasting with Roman
officials and sinners. He is careless of his person, and is
remonstrated with for not washing his hands before sitting down
to table. The followers of John the Baptist, who fast, and who
expect to find the Christians greater ascetics than themselves,
are disappointed at finding that Jesus and his twelve friends do
not fast; and Jesus tells them that they should rejoice in him
instead of being melancholy. He is jocular and tells them they
will all have as much fasting as they want soon enough, whether
they like it or not. He is not afraid of disease, and dines with
a leper. A woman, apparently to protect him against infection,
pours a costly unguent on his head, and is rebuked because what
it cost might have been given to the poor. He poohpoohs that
lowspirited view, and says, as he said when he was reproached for
not fasting, that the poor are always there to be helped, but
that he is not there to be anointed always, implying that you
should never lose a chance of being happy when there is so much
misery in the world. He breaks the Sabbath; is impatient of
conventionality when it is uncomfortable or obstructive; and
outrages the feelings of the Jews by breaches of it. He is apt to
accuse people who feel that way of hypocrisy. Like the late
Samuel Butler, he regards disease as a department of sin, and on
curing a lame man, says “Thy sins are forgiven” instead of “Arise
and walk,” subsequently maintaining, when the Scribes reproach
him for assuming power to forgive sin as well as to cure disease,
that the two come to the same thing. He has no modest
affectations, and claims to be greater than Solomon or Jonah.
When reproached, as Bunyan was, for resorting to the art of
fiction when teaching in parables, he justifies himself on the
ground that art is the only way in which the people can be
taught. He is, in short, what we should call an artist and a
Bohemian in his manner of life.


A point of considerable practical importance today is that be
expressly repudiates the idea that forms of religion, once
rooted, can be weeded out and replanted with the flowers of a
foreign faith. “If you try to root up the tares you will root up
the wheat as well.” Our proselytizing missionary enterprises are
thus flatly contrary to his advice; and their results appear to
bear him out in his view that if you convert a man brought up in
another creed, you inevitably demoralize him. He acts on this
view himself, and does not convert his disciples from Judaism to
Christianity. To this day a Christian would be in religion a Jew
initiated by baptism instead of circumcision, and accepting Jesus
as the Messiah, and his teachings as of higher authority than
those of Moses, but for the action of the Jewish priests, who, to
save Jewry from being submerged in the rising flood of
Christianity after the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction
of the Temple, set up what was practically a new religious order,
with new Scriptures and elaborate new observances, and to their
list of the accursed added one Jeschu, a bastard magician, whose
comic rogueries brought him to a bad end like Punch or Til
Eulenspiegel: an invention which cost them dear when the
Christians got the upper hand of them politically. The Jew as
Jesus, himself a Jew, knew him, never dreamt of such things, and
could follow Jesus without ceasing to be a Jew.


So much for his personal life and temperament. His public career
as a popular preacher carries him equally far beyond John the
Baptist. He lays no stress on baptism or vows, and preaches
conduct incessantly. He advocates communism, the widening of the
private family with its cramping ties into the great family of
mankind under the fatherhood of God, the abandonment of revenge
and punishment, the counteracting of evil by good instead of by a
hostile evil, and an organic conception of society in which you
are not an independent individual but a member of society, your
neighbor being another member, and each of you members one of
another, as two fingers on a hand, the obvious conclusion being
that unless you love your neighbor as yourself and he
reciprocates you will both be the worse for it. He conveys all
this with extraordinary charm, and entertains his hearers with
fables (parables) to illustrate them. He has no synagogue or
regular congregation, but travels from place to place with twelve
men whom he has called from their work as he passed, and who have
abandoned it to follow him.


He has certain abnormal powers by which he can perform miracles.
He is ashamed of these powers, but, being extremely
compassionate, cannot refuse to exercise them when afflicted
people beg him to cure them, when multitudes of people are
hungry, and when his disciples are terrified by storms on the
lakes. He asks for no reward, but begs the people not to mention
these powers of his. There are two obvious reasons for his
dislike of being known as a worker of miracles. One is the
natural objection of all men who possess such powers, but have
far more important business in the world than to exhibit them, to
be regarded primarily as charlatans, besides being pestered to
give exhibitions to satisfy curiosity. The other is that his view
of the effect of miracles upon his mission is exactly that taken
later on by Rousseau. He perceives that they will discredit him
and divert attention from his doctrine by raising an entirely
irrelevant issue between his disciples and his opponents.

Possibly my readers may not have studied Rousseau's Letters
Written From The Mountain, which may be regarded as the classic
work on miracles as credentials of divine mission. Rousseau
shows, as Jesus foresaw, that the miracles are the main obstacle
to the acceptance of Christianity, because their incredibility
(if they were not incredible they would not be miracles) makes
people sceptical as to the whole narrative, credible enough in
the main, in which they occur, and suspicious of the doctrine
with which they are thus associated. “Get rid of the miracles,”
said Rousseau, “and the whole world will fall at the feet of
Jesus Christ.” He points out that miracles offered as evidence of
divinity, and failing to convince, make divinity ridiculous. He
says, in effect, there is nothing in making a lame man walk:
thousands of lame men have been cured and have walked without any
miracle. Bring me a man with only one leg and make another grow
instantaneously on him before my eyes; and I will be really
impressed; but mere cures of ailments that have often been cured
before are quite useless as evidence of anything else than desire
to help and power to cure.

Jesus, according to Matthew, agreed so entirely with Rousseau,
and felt the danger so strongly, that when people who were not
ill or in trouble came to him and asked him to exercise his
powers as a sign of his mission, he was irritated beyond measure,
and refused with an indignation which they, not seeing Rousseau's
point, must have thought very unreasonable. To be called “an evil
and adulterous generation” merely for asking a miracle worker to
give an exhibition of his powers, is rather a startling
experience. Mahomet, by the way, also lost his temper when people
asked him to perform miracles. But Mahomet expressly disclaimed
any unusual powers; whereas it is clear from Matthew's story that
Jesus (unfortunately for himself, as he thought) had some powers
of healing. It is also obvious that the exercise of such powers
would give rise to wild tales of magical feats which would expose
their hero to condemnation as an impostor among people whose good
opinion was of great consequence to the movement started by his

But the deepest annoyance arising from the miracles would be the
irrelevance of the issue raised by them. Jesus's teaching has
nothing to do with miracles. If his mission had been simply to
demonstrate a new method of restoring lost eyesight, the miracle
of curing the blind would have been entirely relevant. But to say
“You should love your enemies; and to convince you of this I will
now proceed to cure this gentleman of cataract” would have been,
to a man of Jesus's intelligence, the proposition of an idiot. If
it could be proved today that not one of the miracles of Jesus
actually occurred, that proof would not invalidate a single one
of his didactic utterances; and conversely, if it could be proved
that not only did the miracles actually occur, but that he had
wrought a thousand other miracles a thousand times more
wonderful, not a jot of weight would be added to his doctrine.
And yet the intellectual energy of sceptics and divines has been
wasted for generations in arguing about the miracles on the
assumption that Christianity is at stake in the controversy as to
whether the stories of Matthew are false or true. According to
Matthew himself, Jesus must have known this only too well; for
wherever he went he was assailed with a clamor for miracles,
though his doctrine created bewilderment.

So much for the miracles! Matthew tells us further, that Jesus
declared that his doctrines would be attacked by Church and
State, and that the common multitude were the salt of the earth
and the light of the world. His disciples, in their relations
with the political and ecclesiastical organizations, would be as
sheep among wolves.


Matthew, like most biographers, strives to identify the opinions
and prejudices of his hero with his own. Although he describes
Jesus as tolerant even to carelessness, he draws the line at the
Gentile, and represents Jesus as a bigoted Jew who regards his
mission as addressed exclusively to “the lost sheep of the house
of Israel.” When a woman of Canaan begged Jesus to cure her
daughter, he first refused to speak to her, and then told her
brutally that “It is not meet to take the children's bread and
cast it to the dogs.” But when the woman said, “Truth, Lord; yet
the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table,”
she melted the Jew out of him and made Christ a Christian. To
the woman whom he had just called a dog he said, “O woman, great
is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” This is somehow
one of the most touching stories in the gospel; perhaps because
the woman rebukes the prophet by a touch of his own finest
quality. It is certainly out of character; but as the sins of
good men are always out of character, it is not safe to reject
the story as invented in the interest of Matthew's determination
that Jesus shall have nothing to do with the Gentiles. At all
events, there the story is; and it is by no means the only
instance in which Matthew reports Jesus, in spite of the charm of
his preaching, as extremely uncivil in private intercourse.


So far the history is that of a man sane and interesting apart
from his special gifts as orator, healer, and prophet. But a
startling change occurs. One day, after the disciples have
discouraged him for a long time by their misunderstandings of his
mission, and their speculations as to whether he is one of the
old prophets come again, and if so, which, his disciple Peter
suddenly solves the problem by exclaiming, “Thou are the Christ,
the son of the living God.” At this Jesus is extraordinarily
pleased and excited. He declares that Peter has had a revelation
straight from God. He makes a pun on Peter's name, and declares
him the founder of his Church. And he accepts his destiny as a
god by announcing that he will be killed when he goes to
Jerusalem; for if he is really the Christ, it is a necessary part
of his legendary destiny that he shall be slain. Peter, not
understanding this, rebukes him for what seems mere craven
melancholy; and Jesus turns fiercely on him and cries, “Get thee
behind me, Satan.”

Jesus now becomes obsessed with a conviction of his divinity, and
talks about it continually to his disciples, though he forbids
them to mention it to others. They begin to dispute among
themselves as to the position they shall occupy in heaven when
his kingdom is established. He rebukes them strenuously for this,
and repeats his teaching that greatness means service and not
domination; but he himself, always instinctively somewhat
haughty, now becomes arrogant, dictatorial, and even abusive,
never replying to his critics without an insulting epithet, and
even cursing a fig-tree which disappoints him when he goes to it
for fruit. He assumes all the traditions of the folk-lore gods,
and announces that, like John Barleycorn, he will be barbarously
slain and buried, but will rise from the earth and return to
life. He attaches to himself the immemorial tribal ceremony of
eating the god, by blessing bread and wine and handing them to
his disciples with the words “This is my body: this is my blood.”
He forgets his own teaching and threatens eternal fire and
eternal punishment. He announces, in addition to his Barleycorn
resurrection, that he will come to the world a second time in
glory and establish his kingdom on earth. He fears that this may
lead to the appearance of impostors claiming to be himself, and
declares explicitly and repeatedly that no matter what wonders
these impostors may perform, his own coming will be unmistakable,
as the stars will fall from heaven, and trumpets be blown by
angels. Further he declares that this will take place during the
lifetime of persons then present,


In this new frame of mind he at last enters Jerusalem amid great
popular curiosity; drives the moneychangers and sacrifice sellers
out of the temple in a riot; refuses to interest himself in the
beauties and wonders of the temple building on the ground that
presently not a stone of it shall be left on another; reviles the
high priests and elders in intolerable terms; and is arrested by
night in a garden to avoid a popular disturbance. He makes no
resistance, being persuaded that it is part of his destiny as a
god to be murdered and to rise again. One of his followers shows
fight, and cuts off the ear of one of his captors. Jesus rebukes
him, but does not attempt to heal the wound, though he declares
that if he wished to resist he could easily summon twelve million
angels to his aid. He is taken before the high priest and by him
handed over to the Roman governor, who is puzzled by his silent
refusal to defend himself in any way, or to contradict his
accusers or their witnesses, Pilate having naturally no idea that
the prisoner conceives himself as going through an inevitable
process of torment, death, and burial as a prelude to
resurrection. Before the high priest he has also been silent
except that when the priest asks him is he the Christ, the Son of
God, he replies that they shall all see the Son of Man sitting at
the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven. He
maintains this attitude with frightful fortitude whilst they
scourge him, mock him, torment him, and finally crucify him
between two thieves. His prolonged agony of thirst and pain on
the cross at last breaks his spirit, and he dies with a cry of
“My God: why hast Thou forsaken me?”


Meanwhile he has been definitely rejected by the people as well
as by the priests. Pilate, pitying him, and unable to make out
exactly what he has done (the blasphemy that has horrified the
high priest does not move the Roman) tries to get him off by
reminding the people that they have, by custom, the right to have
a prisoner released at that time, and suggests that he should
release Jesus. But they insist on his releasing a prisoner named
Barabbas instead, and on having Jesus crucified. Matthew gives no
clue to the popularity of Barabbas, describing him simply as “a
notable prisoner.” The later gospels make it clear, very
significantly, that his offence was sedition and insurrection;
that he was an advocate of physical force; and that he had killed
his man. The choice of Barabbas thus appears as a popular choice
of the militant advocate of physical force as against the
unresisting advocate of mercy.


Matthew then tells how after three days an angel opened the
family vault of one Joseph, a rich man of Arimathea, who had
buried Jesus in it, whereupon Jesus rose and returned from
Jerusalem to Galilee and resumed his preaching with his
disciples, assuring them that he would now be with them to the
end of the world. At that point the narrative abruptly stops. The
story has no ending.


One effect of the promise of Jesus to come again in glory during
the lifetime of some of his hearers is to date the gospel without
the aid of any scholarship. It must have been written during the
lifetime of Jesus's contemporaries: that is, whilst it was still
possible for the promise of his Second Coming to be fulfilled.
The death of the last person who had been alive when Jesus said
“There be some of them that stand here that shall in no wise
taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”
destroyed the last possibility of the promised Second Coming, and
bore out the incredulity of Pilate and the Jews. And as Matthew
writes as one believing in that Second Coming, and in fact left
his story unfinished to be ended by it, he must have produced his
gospel within a lifetime of the crucifixion. Also, he must have
believed that reading books would be one of the pleasures of the
kingdom of heaven on earth.


One more circumstance must be noted as gathered from Matthew.
Though he begins his story in such a way as to suggest that Jesus
belonged to the privileged classes, he mentions later on that
when Jesus attempted to preach in his own country, and had no
success there, the people said, “Is not this the carpenter's
son?” But Jesus's manner throughout is that of an aristocrat, or
at the very least the son of a rich bourgeois, and by no means a
lowly-minded one at that. We must be careful therefore to
conceive Joseph, not as a modern proletarian carpenter working
for weekly wages, but as a master craftsman of royal descent.
John the Baptist may have been a Keir Hardie; but the Jesus of
Matthew is of the Ruskin-Morris class.

This haughty characterization is so marked that if we had no
other documents concerning Jesus than the gospel of Matthew, we
should not feel as we do about him. We should have been much less
loth to say, “There is a man here who was sane until Peter hailed
him as the Christ, and who then became a monomaniac.” We should
have pointed out that his delusion is a very common delusion
among the insane, and that such insanity is quite consistent with
the retention of the argumentative cunning and penetration which
Jesus displayed in Jerusalem after his delusion had taken
complete hold of him. We should feel horrified at the scourging
and mocking and crucifixion just as we should if Ruskin had been
treated in that way when he also went mad, instead of being cared
for as an invalid. And we should have had no clear perception of
any special significance in his way of calling the Son of God the
Son of Man. We should have noticed that he was a Communist; that
he regarded much of what we call law and order as machinery for
robbing the poor under legal forms; that he thought domestic ties
a snare for the soul; that he agreed with the proverb “The nearer
the Church, the farther from God;” that he saw very plainly that
the masters of the community should be its servants and not its
oppressors and parasites; and that though he did not tell us not
to fight our enemies, he did tell us to love them, and warned us
that they who draw the sword shall perish by the sword. All this
shows a great power of seeing through vulgar illusions, and a
capacity for a higher morality than has yet been established in
any civilized community; but it does not place Jesus above
Confucius or Plato, not to mention more modern philosophers and



Let us see whether we can get anything more out of Mark, whose
gospel, by the way, is supposed to be older than Matthew's. Mark
is brief; and it does not take long to discover that he adds
nothing to Matthew except the ending of the story by Christ's
ascension into heaven, and the news that many women had come with
Jesus to Jerusalem, including Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had
cast seven devils. On the other hand Mark says nothing about the
birth of Jesus, and does not touch his career until his adult
baptism by John. He apparently regards Jesus as a native of
Nazareth, as John does, and not of Bethlehem, as Matthew and Luke
do, Bethlehem being the city of David, from whom Jesus is said by
Matthew and Luke to be descended. He describes John's doctrine as
“Baptism of repentance unto remission of sins”: that is, a form
of Salvationism. He tells us that Jesus went into the synagogues
and taught, not as the Scribes but as one having authority: that
is, we infer, he preaches his own doctrine as an original moral-
ist instead of repeating what the books say. He describes the
miracle of Jesus reaching the boat by walking across the sea, but
says nothing about Peter trying to do the same. Mark sees what he
relates more vividly than Matthew, and gives touches of detail
that bring the event more clearly before the reader. He says, for
instance, that when Jesus walked on the waves to the boat, he was
passing it by when the disciples called out to him. He seems to
feel that Jesus's treatment of the woman of Canaan requires some
apology, and therefore says that she was a Greek of Syrophenician
race, which probably excused any incivility to her in Mark's
eyes. He represents the father of the boy whom Jesus cured of
epilepsy after the transfiguration as a sceptic who says “Lord, I
believe: help thou mine unbelief.” He tells the story of the
widow's mite, omitted by Matthew. He explains that Barabbas was
“lying bound with them that made insurrection, men who in the
insurrection had committed murder.” Joseph of Arimathea, who
buried Jesus in his own tomb, and who is described by Matthew as
a disciple, is described by Mark as “one who also himself was
looking for the kingdom of God,” which suggests that he was an
independent seeker. Mark earns our gratitude by making no mention
of the old prophecies, and thereby not only saves time, but
avoids the absurd implication that Christ was merely going
through a predetermined ritual, like the works of a clock,
instead of living. Finally Mark reports Christ as saying, after
his resurrection, that those who believe in him will be saved and
those who do not, damned; but it is impossible to discover
whether he means anything by a state of damnation beyond a state
of error. The paleographers regard this passage as tacked on by a
later scribe. On the whole Mark leaves the modern reader where
Matthew left him.



When we come to Luke, we come to a later storyteller, and one
with a stronger natural gift for his art. Before you have read
twenty lines of Luke's gospel you are aware that you have passed
from the chronicler writing for the sake of recording important
facts, to the artist, telling the story for the sake of telling
it. At the very outset he achieves the most charming idyll in the
Bible: the story of Mary crowded out of the inn into the stable
and laying her newly-born son in the manger, and of the shepherds
abiding in the field keeping watch over their flocks by night,
and how the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of
the Lord shone around them, and suddenly there was with the angel
a multitude of the heavenly host. These shepherds go to the
stable and take the place of the kings in Matthew's chronicle.
So completely has this story conquered and fascinated our
imagination that most of us suppose all the gospels to contain
it; but it is Luke's story and his alone: none of the others have
the smallest hint of it.


Luke gives the charm of sentimental romance to every incident.
The Annunciation, as described by Matthew, is made to Joseph, and
is simply a warning to him not to divorce his wife for
misconduct. In Luke's gospel it is made to Mary herself, at much
greater length, with a sense of the ecstasy of the bride of the
Holy Ghost. Jesus is refined and softened almost out of
recognition: the stern peremptory disciple of John the Baptist,
who never addresses a Pharisee or a Scribe without an insulting
epithet, becomes a considerate, gentle, sociable, almost urbane
person; and the Chauvinist Jew becomes a pro-Gentile who is
thrown out of the synagogue in his own town for reminding the
congregation that the prophets had sometimes preferred Gentiles
to Jews. In fact they try to throw him down from a sort of
Tarpeian rock which they use for executions; but he makes his way
through them and escapes: the only suggestion of a feat of arms
on his part in the gospels. There is not a word of the
Syrophenician woman. At the end he is calmly superior to his
sufferings; delivers an address on his way to execution with
unruffled composure; does not despair on the cross; and dies with
perfect dignity, commending his spirit to God, after praying for
the forgiveness of his persecutors on the ground that “They know
not what they do.” According to Matthew, it is part of the
bitterness of his death that even the thieves who are crucified
with him revile him. According to Luke, only one of them does
this; and he is rebuked by the other, who begs Jesus to remember
him when he comes into his kingdom. To which Jesus replies, “This
day shalt thou be with me in Paradise,” implying that he will
spend the three days of his death there. In short, every device
is used to get rid of the ruthless horror of the Matthew
chronicle, and to relieve the strain of the Passion by touching
episodes, and by representing Christ as superior to human
suffering. It is Luke's Jesus who has won our hearts.


Luke's romantic shrinking from unpleasantness, and his
sentimentality, are illustrated by his version of the woman with
the ointment. Matthew and Mark describe it as taking place in the
house of Simon the Leper, where it is objected to as a waste of
money. In Luke's version the leper becomes a rich Pharisee; the
woman becomes a Dame aux Camellias; and nothing is said about
money and the poor. The woman washes the feet of Jesus with her
tears and dries them with her hair; and he is reproached for
suffering a sinful woman to touch him. It is almost an adaptation
of the unromantic Matthew to the Parisian stage. There is a
distinct attempt to increase the feminine interest all through.
The slight lead given by Mark is taken up and developed. More is
said about Jesus's mother and her feelings. Christ's following of
women, just mentioned by Mark to account for their presence at
his tomb, is introduced earlier; and some of the women are named;
so that we are introduced to Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's
steward, and Susanna. There is the quaint little domestic episode
between Mary and Martha. There is the parable of the Prodigal
Son, appealing to the indulgence romance has always shown to
Charles Surface and Des Grieux. Women follow Jesus to the cross;
and he makes them a speech beginning “Daughters of Jerusalem.”
Slight as these changes may seem, they make a great change in the
atmosphere. The Christ of Matthew could never have become what is
vulgarly called a woman's hero (though the truth is that the
popular demand for sentiment, as far as it is not simply human,
is more manly than womanly); but the Christ of Luke has made
possible those pictures which now hang in many ladies' chambers,
in which Jesus is represented exactly as he is represented in the
Lourdes cinematograph, by a handsome actor. The only touch of
realism which Luke does not instinctively suppress for the sake
of producing this kind of amenity is the reproach addressed to
Jesus for sitting down to table without washing his hands; and
that is retained because an interesting discourse hangs on it.


Another new feature in Luke's story is that it begins in a world
in which everyone is expecting the advent of the Christ. In
Matthew and Mark, Jesus comes into a normal Philistine world like
our own of today. Not until the Baptist foretells that one
greater than himself shall come after him does the old Jewish
hope of a Messiah begin to stir again; and as Jesus begins as a
disciple of John, and is baptized by him, nobody connects him
with that hope until Peter has the sudden inspiration which
produces so startling an effect on Jesus. But in Luke's gospel
men's minds, and especially women's minds, are full of eager
expectation of a Christ not only before the birth of Jesus, but
before the birth of John the Baptist, the event with which Luke
begins his story. Whilst Jesus and John are still in their
mothers' wombs, John leaps at the approach of Jesus when the two
mothers visit one another. At the circumcision of Jesus pious men
and women hail the infant as the Christ.

The Baptist himself is not convinced; for at quite a late period
in his former disciple's career he sends two young men to ask
Jesus is he really the Christ. This is noteworthy because Jesus
immediately gives them a deliberate exhibition of miracles, and
bids them tell John what they have seen, and ask him what he
thinks now: This is in complete contradiction to what I have
called the Rousseau view of miracles as inferred from Matthew.
Luke shows all a romancer's thoughtlessness about miracles; he
regards them as “signs”: that is, as proofs of the divinity of
the person performing them, and not merely of thaumaturgic
powers. He revels in miracles just as he revels in parables: they
make such capital stories. He cannot allow the calling of Peter,
James, and John from their boats to pass without a comic
miraculous overdraft of fishes, with the net sinking the boats
and provoking Peter to exclaim, “Depart from me; for I am a
sinful man, O Lord,” which should probably be translated, “I want
no more of your miracles: natural fishing is good enough for my

There are some other novelties in Luke's version. Pilate sends
Jesus to Herod, who happens to be in Jerusalem just then, because
Herod had expressed some curiosity about him; but nothing comes
of it: the prisoner will not speak to him. When Jesus is ill
received in a Samaritan village James and John propose to call
down fire from heaven and destroy it; and Jesus replies that he
is come not to destroy lives but to save them. The bias of Jesus
against lawyers is emphasized, and also his resolution not to
admit that he is more bound to his relatives than to strangers.
He snubs a woman who blesses his mother. As this is contrary to
the traditions of sentimental romance, Luke would presumably have
avoided it had he not become persuaded that the brotherhood of
Man and the Fatherhood of God are superior even to sentimental
considerations. The story of the lawyer asking what are the two
chief commandments is changed by making Jesus put the question to
the lawyer instead of answering it.

As to doctrine, Luke is only clear when his feelings are touched.
His logic is weak; for some of the sayings of Jesus are pieced
together wrongly, as anyone who has read them in the right order
and context in Matthew will discover at once. He does not make
anything new out of Christ's mission, and, like the other
evangelists, thinks that the whole point of it is that Jesus was
the long expected Christ, and that he will presently come back to
earth and establish his kingdom, having duly died and risen again
after three days. Yet Luke not only records the teaching as to
communism and the discarding of hate, which have, of course,
nothing to do with the Second Coming, but quotes one very
remarkable saying which is not compatible with it, which is, that
people must not go about asking where the kingdom of heaven is,
and saying “Lo, here!” and “Lo, there!” because the kingdom of
heaven is within them. But Luke has no sense that this belongs to
a quite different order of thought to his Christianity, and
retains undisturbed his view of the kingdom as a locality as
definite as Jerusalem or Madagascar.



The gospel of John is a surprise after the others. Matthew, Mark
and Luke describe the same events in the same order (the
variations in Luke are negligible), and their gospels are
therefore called the synoptic gospels. They tell substantially
the same story of a wandering preacher who at the end of his life
came to Jerusalem. John describes a preacher who spent
practically his whole adult life in the capital, with occasional
visits to the provinces. His circumstantial account of the
calling of Peter and the sons of Zebedee is quite different from
the others; and he says nothing about their being fishermen. He
says expressly that Jesus, though baptized by John, did not
himself practise baptism, and that his disciples did. Christ's
agonized appeal against his doom in the garden of Gethsemane
becomes a coldblooded suggestion made in the temple at a much
earlier period. Jesus argues much more; complains a good deal of
the unreasonableness and dislike with which he is met; is by no
means silent before Caiaphas and Pilate; lays much greater stress
on his resurrection and on the eating of his body (losing all his
disciples except the twelve in consequence); says many apparently
contradictory and nonsensical things to which no ordinary reader
can now find any clue; and gives the impression of an educated,
not to say sophisticated mystic, different both in character and
schooling from the simple and downright preacher of Matthew and
Mark, and the urbane easy-minded charmer of Luke. Indeed, the
Jews say of him “How knoweth this man letters, having never


John, moreover, claims to be not only a chronicler but a witness.
He declares that he is “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and that
he actually leaned on the bosom of Jesus at the last supper and
asked in a whisper which of them it was that should betray him.
Jesus whispered that he would give a sop to the traitor, and
thereupon handed one to Judas, who ate it and immediately became
possessed by the devil. This is more natural than the other
accounts, in which Jesus openly indicates Judas without eliciting
any protest or exciting any comment. It also implies that Jesus
deliberately bewitched Judas in order to bring about his own
betrayal. Later on John claims that Jesus said to Peter “If I
will that John tarry til I come, what is that to thee?”; and
John, with a rather obvious mock modesty, adds that he must not
claim to be immortal, as the disciples concluded; for Christ did
not use that expression, but merely remarked “If I will that he
tarry till I come.” No other evangelist claims personal intimacy
with Christ, or even pretends to be his contemporary (there is no
ground for identifying Matthew the publican with Matthew the
Evangelist); and John is the only evangelist whose account of
Christ's career and character is hopelessly irreconcilable with
Matthew's. He is almost as bad as Matthew, by the way, in his
repeated explanations of Christ's actions as having no other
purpose than to fulfil the old prophecies. The impression is more
unpleasant, because, as John, unlike Matthew, is educated,
subtle, and obsessed with artificial intellectual mystifications,
the discovery that he is stupid or superficial in so simple a
matter strikes one with distrust and dislike, in spite of his
great literary charm, a good example of which is his
transfiguration of the harsh episode of the Syrophenician woman
into the pleasant story of the woman of Samaria. This perhaps is
why his claim to be John the disciple, or to be a contemporary of
Christ or even of any survivor of Christ's generation, has been
disputed, and finally, it seems, disallowed. But I repeat, I take
no note here of the disputes of experts as to the date of the
gospels, not because I am not acquainted with them, but because,
as the earliest codices are Greek manuscripts of the fourth
century A.D., and the Syrian ones are translations from the
Greek, the paleographic expert has no difficulty in arriving at
whatever conclusion happens to suit his beliefs or disbeliefs;
and he never succeeds in convincing the other experts except when
they believe or disbelieve exactly as he does. Hence I conclude
that the dates of the original narratives cannot be ascertained,
and that we must make the best of the evangelists' own accounts
of themselves. There is, as we have seen, a very marked
difference between them, leaving no doubt that we are dealing
with four authors of well-marked diversity; but they all end in
an attitude of expectancy of the Second Coming which they agree
in declaring Jesus to have positively and unequivocally promised
within the lifetime of his contemporaries. Any believer compiling
a gospel after the last of these contemporaries had passed away,
would either reject and omit the tradition of that promise on the
ground that since it was not fulfilled, and could never now be
fulfilled, it could not have been made, or else have had to
confess to the Jews, who were the keenest critics of the
Christians, that Jesus was either an impostor or the victim of a
delusion. Now all the evangelists except Matthew expressly
declare themselves to be believers; and Matthew's narrative is
obviously not that of a sceptic. I therefore assume as a matter
of common sense that, interpolations apart, the gospels are
derived from narratives written in the first century A.D. I
include John, because though it may be claimed that he hedged his
position by claiming that Christ, who specially loved him,
endowed him with a miraculous life until the Second Coming, the
conclusion being that John is alive at this moment, I cannot
believe that a literary forger could hope to save the situation
by so outrageous a pretension. Also, John's narrative is in many
passages nearer to the realities of public life than the simple
chronicle of Matthew or the sentimental romance of Luke. This may
be because John was obviously more a man of the world than the
others, and knew, as mere chroniclers and romancers never know,
what actually happens away from books and desks. But it may also
be because he saw and heard what happened instead of collecting
traditions about it. The paleographers and daters of first
quotations may say what they please: John's claim to give
evidence as an eyewitness whilst the others are only compiling
history is supported by a certain verisimilitude which appeals to
me as one who has preached a new doctrine and argued about it, as
well as written stories. This verisimilitude may be dramatic art
backed by knowledge of public life; but even at that we must not
forget that the best dramatic art is the operation of a
divinatory instinct for truth. Be that as it may, John was
certainly not the man to believe in the Second Coming and yet
give a date for it after that date had passed. There is really no
escape from the conclusion that the originals of all the gospels
date from the period within which there was still a possibility
of the Second Coming occurring at the promised time.


In spite of the suspicions roused by John's idiosyncrasies, his
narrative is of enormous importance to those who go to the
gospels for a credible modern religion. For it is John who adds
to the other records such sayings as that “I and my father are
one”; that “God is a spirit”; that the aim of Jesus is not only
that the people should have life, but that they should have it
“more abundantly” (a distinction much needed by people who think
a man is either alive or dead, and never consider the important
question how much alive he is); and that men should bear in mind
what they were told in the 82nd Psalm: that they are gods, and
are responsible for the doing of the mercy and justice of God.
The Jews stoned him for saying these things, and, when he
remonstrated with them for stupidly stoning one who had done
nothing to them but good works, replied “For a good work we stone
thee not; but for blasphemy, because that thou, being a man,
makest thyself God.” He insists (referring to the 82nd psalm)
that if it is part of their own religion that they are gods on
the assurance of God himself, it cannot be blasphemy for him,
whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, to say “I am
the son of God.” But they will not have this at any price; and he
has to escape from their fury. Here the point is obscured by the
distinction made by Jesus between himself and other men. He says,
in effect, “If you are gods, then, a fortiori, I am a god.” John
makes him say this, just as he makes him say “I am the light of
the world.” But Matthew makes him say to the people “Ye are the
light of the world.” John has no grip of the significance of
these scraps which he has picked up: he is far more interested in
a notion of his own that men can escape death and do even more
extraordinary things than Christ himself: in fact, he actually
represents Jesus as promising this explicitly, and is finally led
into the audacious hint that he, John, is himself immortal in the
flesh. Still, he does not miss the significant sayings
altogether. However inconsistent they may be with the doctrine he
is consciously driving at, they appeal to some sub-intellectual
instinct in him that makes him stick them in, like a child
sticking tinsel stars on the robe of a toy angel.

John does not mention the ascension; and the end of his narrative
leaves Christ restored to life, and appearing from time to time
among his disciples. It is on one of these occasions that John
describes the miraculous draught of fishes which Luke places at
the other end of Christ's career, at the call of the sons of


Although John, following his practice of showing Jesus's skill as
a debater, makes him play a less passive part at his trial, he
still gives substantially the same account of it as all the rest.
And the question that would occur to any modern reader never
occurs to him, any more than it occurred to Matthew, Mark, or
Luke. That question is, Why on earth did not Jesus defend
himself, and make the people rescue him from the High Priest? He
was so popular that they were unable to prevent him driving the
money-changers out of the temple, or to arrest him for it. When
they did arrest him afterwards, they had to do it at night in a
garden. He could have argued with them as he had often done in
the temple, and justified himself both to the Jewish law and to
Caesar. And he had physical force at his command to back up his
arguments: all that was needed was a speech to rally his
followers; and he was not gagged. The reply of the evangelists
would have been that all these inquiries are idle, because if
Jesus had wished to escape, he could have saved himself all that
trouble by doing what John describes him as doing: that is,
casting his captors to the earth by an exertion of his miraculous
power. If you asked John why he let them get up again and torment
and execute him, John would have replied that it was part of the
destiny of God to be slain and buried and to rise again, and that
to have avoided this destiny would have been to repudiate his
Godhead. And that is the only apparent explanation. Whether you
believe with the evangelists that Christ could have rescued
himself by a miracle, or, as a modern Secularist, point out that
he could have defended himself effectually, the fact remains that
according to all the narratives he did not do so. He had to die
like a god, not to save himself “like one of the princes.” *

* Jesus himself had refered to that psalm (LXXII) in which
men who have judged unjustly and accepted the persons of the
wicked (including by anticipation practically all the white
inhabitants of the British Isles and the North American
continent, to mention no other places) are condemned in the
words, “I have said, ye are gods; and all of ye are children
of the Most High; but ye shall die like men, and fall like
one of the princes.”

The consensus on this point is important, because it proves the
absolute sincerity of Jesus's declaration that he was a god. No
impostor would have accepted such dreadful consequences without
an effort to save himself. No impostor would have been nerved to
endure them by the conviction that he would rise from the grave
and live again after three days. If we accept the story at all,
we must believe this, and believe also that his promise to return
in glory and establish his kingdom on earth within the lifetime
of men then living, was one which he believed that he could, and
indeed must fulfil. Two evangelists declare that in his last
agony he despaired, and reproached God for forsaking him. The
other two represent him as dying in unshaken conviction and
charity with the simple remark that the ordeal was finished. But
all four testify that his faith was not deceived, and that he
actually rose again after three days. And I think it unreasonable
to doubt that all four wrote their narratives in full faith that
the other promise would be fulfilled too, and that they
themselves might live to witness the Second Coming.


It will be noted by the older among my readers, who are sure to
be obsessed more or less by elderly wrangles as to whether the
gospels are credible as matter-of-fact narratives, that I have
hardly raised this question, and have accepted the credible and
incredible with equal complacency. I have done this because
credibility is a subjective condition, as the evolution of
religious belief clearly shows. Belief is not dependent on
evidence and reason. There is as much evidence that the miracles
occurred as that the battle of Waterloo occurred, or that a large
body of Russian troops passed through England in 1914 to take
part in the war on the western front. The reasons for believing
in the murder of Pompey are the same as the reasons for believing
in the raising of Lazarus. Both have been believed and doubted by
men of equal intelligence. Miracles, in the sense of phenomena we
cannot explain, surround us on every hand; life itself is the
miracle of miracles. Miracles in the sense of events that violate
the normal course of our experience are vouched for every day:
the flourishing Church of Christ Scientist is founded on a
multitude of such miracles. Nobody believes all the miracles:
everybody believes some of them. I cannot tell why men who will
not believe that Jesus ever existed yet believe firmly that
Shakespear was Bacon. I cannot tell why people who believe that
angels appeared and fought on our side at the battle of Mons, and
who believe that miracles occur quite frequently at Lourdes,
nevertheless boggle at the miracle of the liquefaction of the
blood of St. Januarius, and reject it as a trick of priestcraft.
I cannot tell why people who will not believe Matthew's story of
three kings bringing costly gifts to the cradle of Jesus, believe
Luke's story of the shepherds and the stable. I cannot tell why
people, brought up to believe the Bible in the old literal way as
an infallible record and revelation, and rejecting that view
later on, begin by rejecting the Old Testament, and give up the
belief in a brimstone hell before they give up (if they ever do)
the belief in a heaven of harps, crowns, and thrones. I cannot
tell why people who will not believe in baptism on any terms
believe in vaccination with the cruel fanaticism of inquisitors.
I am convinced that if a dozen sceptics were to draw up in
parallel columns a list of the events narrated in the gospels
which they consider credible and incredible respectively, their
lists would be different in several particulars. Belief is
literally a matter of taste.


Now matters of taste are mostly also matters of fashion. We are
conscious of a difference between medieval fashions in belief and
modern fashions. For instance, though we are more credulous than
men were in the Middle Ages, and entertain such crowds of
fortunetellers, magicians, miracle workers, agents of
communication with the dead, discoverers of the elixir of life,
transmuters of metals, and healers of all sorts, as the Middle
Ages never dreamed of as possible, yet we will not take our
miracles in the form that convinced the Middle Ages. Arithmetical
numbers appealed to the Middle Ages just as they do to us,
because they are difficult to deal with, and because the greatest
masters of numbers, the Newtons and Leibnitzes, rank among the
greatest men. But there are fashions in numbers too. The Middle
Ages took a fancy to some familiar number like seven; and because
it was an odd number, and the world was made in seven days, and
there are seven stars in Charles's Wain, and for a dozen other
reasons, they were ready to believe anything that had a seven or
a seven times seven in it. Seven deadly sins, seven swords of
sorrow in the heart of the Virgin, seven champions of
Christendom, seemed obvious and reasonable things to believe in
simply because they were seven. To us, on the contrary, the
number seven is the stamp of superstition. We will believe in
nothing less than millions. A medieval doctor gained his
patient's confidence by telling him that his vitals were being
devoured by seven worms. Such a diagnosis would ruin a modern
physician. The modern physician tells his patient that he is ill
because every drop of his blood is swarming with a million
microbes; and the patient believes him abjectly and instantly.
Had a bishop told William the Conqueror that the sun was
seventy-seven miles distant from the earth, William would
have believed him not only out of respect for the Church, but
because he would have felt that seventy-seven miles was the
proper distance. The Kaiser, knowing just as little about it as
the Conqueror, would send that bishop to an asylum. Yet he (I
presume) unhesitatingly accepts the estimate of ninety-two and
nine-tenths millions of miles, or whatever the latest big figure
may be.


And here I must remind you that our credulity is not to be
measured by the truth of the things we believe. When men believed
that the earth was flat, they were not credulous: they were using
their common sense, and, if asked to prove that the earth was
flat, would have said simply, “Look at it.” Those who refuse to
believe that it is round are exercising a wholesome scepticism.
The modern man who believes that the earth is round is grossly
credulous. Flat Earth men drive him to fury by confuting him with
the greatest ease when he tries to argue about it. Confront him
with a theory that the earth is cylindrical, or annular, or
hour-glass shaped, and he is lost. The thing he believes may be
true, but that is not why he believes it: he believes it because
in some mysterious way it appeals to his imagination. If you ask
him why he believes that the sun is ninety-odd million miles off,
either he will have to confess that he doesn't know, or he will
say that Newton proved it. But he has not read the treatise in
which Newton proved it, and does not even know that it was
written in Latin. If you press an Ulster Protestant as to why he
regards Newton as an infallible authority, and St. Thomas Aquinas
or the Pope as superstitious liars whom, after his death, he will
have the pleasure of watching from his place in heaven whilst
they roast in eternal flame, or if you ask me why I take into
serious consideration Colonel Sir Almroth Wright's estimates of
the number of streptococci contained in a given volume of serum
whilst I can only laugh at the earlier estimates of the number of
angels that can be accommodated on the point of a needle, no
reasonable reply is possible except that somehow sevens and
angels are out of fashion, and billions and streptococci are all
the rage. I simply cannot tell you why Bacon, Montaigne, and
Cervantes had a quite different fashion of credulity and
incredulity from the Venerable Bede and Piers Plowman and the
divine doctors of the Aquinas-Aristotle school, who were
certainly no stupider, and had the same facts before them. Still
less can I explain why, if we assume that these leaders of
thought had all reasoned out their beliefs, their authority
seemed conclusive to one generation and blasphemous to another,
neither generation having followed the reasoning or gone into the
facts of the matter for itself at all.

It is therefore idle to begin disputing with the reader as to
what he should believe in the gospels and what he should
disbelieve. He will believe what he can, and disbelieve what he
must. If he draws any lines at all, they will be quite arbitrary
ones. St. John tells us that when Jesus explicitly claimed divine
honors by the sacrament of his body and blood, so many of his
disciples left him that their number was reduced to twelve. Many
modern readers will not hold out so long: they will give in at
the first miracle. Others will discriminate. They will accept the
healing miracles, and reject the feeding of the multitude. To
some the walking on the water will be a legendary exaggeration of
a swim, ending in an ordinary rescue of Peter; and the raising of
Lazarus will be only a similar glorification of a commonplace
feat of artificial respiration, whilst others will scoff at it as
a planned imposture in which Lazarus acted as a confederate.
Between the rejection of the stories as wholly fabulous and the
acceptance of them as the evangelists themselves meant them to be
accepted, there will be many shades of belief and disbelief, of
sympathy and derision. It is not a question of being a Christian
or not. A Mahometan Arab will accept literally and without
question parts of the narrative which an English Archbishop has
to reject or explain away; and many Theosophists and lovers of
the wisdom of India, who never enter a Christian Church except as
sightseers, will revel in parts of John's gospel which mean
nothing to a pious matter-of-fact Bradford manufacturer. Every
reader takes from the Bible what he can get. In submitting a
precis of the gospel narratives I have not implied any estimate
either of their credibility or of their truth. I have simply
informed him or reminded him, as the case may be, of what those
narratives tell us about their hero.


I must now abandon this attitude, and make a serious draft on the
reader's attention by facing the question whether, if and when
the medieval and Methodist will-to-believe the Salvationist and
miraculous side of the gospel narratives fails us, as it plainly
has failed the leaders of modern thought, there will be anything
left of the mission of Jesus: whether, in short, we may not throw
the gospels into the waste-paper basket, or put them away on the
fiction shelf of our libraries. I venture to reply that we shall
be, on the contrary, in the position of the man in Bunyan's
riddle who found that “the more he threw away, the more he had.
“We get rid, to begin with, of the idolatrous or iconographic
worship of Christ. By this I mean literally that worship which is
given to pictures and statues of him, and to finished and
unalterable stories about him. The test of the prevalence of this
is that if you speak or write of Jesus as a real live person, or
even as a still active God, such worshippers are more horrified
than Don Juan was when the statue stepped from its pedestal and
came to supper with him. You may deny the divinity of Jesus; you
may doubt whether he ever existed; you may reject Christianity
for Judaism, Mahometanism, Shintoism, or Fire Worship; and the
iconolaters, placidly contemptuous, will only classify you as a
freethinker or a heathen. But if you venture to wonder how Christ
would have looked if he had shaved and had his hair cut, or what
size in shoes he took, or whether he swore when he stood on a
nail in the carpenter's shop, or could not button his robe when
he was in a hurry, or whether he laughed over the repartees by
which he baffled the priests when they tried to trap him into
sedition and blasphemy, or even if you tell any part of his story
in the vivid terms of modern colloquial slang, you will produce
an extraordinary dismay and horror among the iconolaters. You
will have made the picture come out of its frame, the statue
descend from its pedestal, the story become real, with all the
incalculable consequences that may flow from this terrifying
miracle. It is at such moments that you realize that the
iconolaters have never for a moment conceived Christ as a real
person who meant what he said, as a fact, as a force like
electricity, only needing the invention of suitable political
machinery to be applied to the affairs of mankind with
revolutionary effect.

Thus it is not disbelief that is dangerous in our society: it is
belief. The moment it strikes you (as it may any day) that Christ
is not the lifeless harmless image he has hitherto been to you,
but a rallying centre for revolutionary influences which all
established States and Churches fight, you must look to
yourselves; for you have brought the image to life; and the mob
may not be able to bear that horror.


But mobs must be faced if civilization is to be saved. It did not
need the present war to show that neither the iconographic Christ
nor the Christ of St. Paul has succeeded in effecting the
salvation of human society. Whilst I write, the Turks are said to
be massacring the Armenian Christians on an unprecedented scale;
but Europe is not in a position to remonstrate; for her
Christians are slaying one another by every device which
civilization has put within their reach as busily as they are
slaying the Turks. Barabbas is triumphant everywhere; and the
final use he makes of his triumph is to lead us all to suicide
with heroic gestures and resounding lies. Now those who, like
myself, see the Barabbasque social organization as a failure, and
are convinced that the Life Force (or whatever you choose to call
it) cannot be finally beaten by any failure, and will even
supersede humanity by evolving a higher species if we cannot
master the problems raised by the multiplication of our own
numbers, have always known that Jesus had a real message, and
have felt the fascination of his character and doctrine. Not that
we should nowadays dream of claiming any supernatural authority
for him, much less the technical authority which attaches to an
educated modern philosopher and jurist. But when, having entirely
got rid of Salvationist Christianity, and even contracted a
prejudice against Jesus on the score of his involuntary
connection with it, we engage on a purely scientific study of
economics, criminology, and biology, and find that our practical
conclusions are virtually those of Jesus, we are distinctly
pleased and encouraged to find that we were doing him an
injustice, and that the nimbus that surrounds his head in the
pictures may be interpreted some day as a light of science rather
than a declarations of sentiment or a label of idolatry.

The doctrines in which Jesus is thus confirmed are, roughly, the

1. The kingdom of heaven is within you. You are the son of God;
and God is the son of man. God is a spirit, to be worshipped in
spirit and in truth, and not an elderly gentleman to be bribed
and begged from. We are members one of another; so that you
cannot injure or help your neighbor without injuring or helping
yourself. God is your father: you are here to do God's work; and
you and your father are one.

2. Get rid of property by throwing it into the common stock.
Dissociate your work entirely from money payments. If you let a
child starve you are letting God starve. Get rid of all anxiety
about tomorrow's dinner and clothes, because you cannot serve two
masters: God and Mammon.

S. Get rid of judges and punishment and revenge. Love your
neighbor as yourself, he being a part of yourself. And love your
enemies: they are your neighbors.

4. Get rid of your family entanglements. Every mother you meet is
as much your mother as the woman who bore you. Every man you meet
is as much your brother as the man she bore after you. Don't
waste your time at family funerals grieving for your relatives:
attend to life, not to death: there are as good fish in the sea
as ever came out of it, and better. In the kingdom of heaven,
which, as aforesaid, is within you, there is no marriage nor
giving in marriage, because you cannot devote your life to two
divinities: God and the person you are married to.

Now these are very interesting propositions; and they become more
interesting every day, as experience and science drive us more
and more to consider them favorably. In considering them, we
shall waste our time unless we give them a reasonable
construction. We must assume that the man who saw his way through
such a mass of popular passion and illusion as stands between us
and a sense of the value of such teaching was quite aware of all
the objections that occur to an average stockbroker in the first
five minutes. It is true that the world is governed to a
considerable extent by the considerations that occur to
stockbrokers in the first five minutes; but as the result is that
the world is so badly governed that those who know the truth can
hardly bear to live in it, an objection from an average
stockbroker constitutes in itself a prima facie case for any
social reform.


All the same, we must reduce the ethical counsels and proposals
of Jesus to modern practice if they are to be of any use to us.
If we ask our stockbroker to act simply as Jesus advised his
disciples to act, he will reply, very justly, “You are advising
me to become a tramp.” If we urge a rich man to sell all that he
has and give it to the poor, he will inform us that such an
operation is impossible. If he sells his shares and his lands,
their purchaser will continue all those activities which oppress
the poor. If all the rich men take the advice simultaneously the
shares will fall to zero and the lands be unsaleable. If one man
sells out and throws the money into the slums, the only result
will be to add himself and his dependents to the list of the
poor, and to do no good to the poor beyond giving a chance few of
them a drunken spree. We must therefore bear in mind that
whereas, in the time of Jesus, and in the ages which grew darker
and darker after his death until the darkness, after a brief
false dawn in the Reformation and the Renascence, culminated in
the commercial night of the nineteenth century, it was believed
that you could not make men good by Act of Parliament, we now
know that you cannot make them good in any other way, and that a
man who is better than his fellows is a nuisance. The rich man
must sell up not only himself but his whole class; and that can
be done only through the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The dis-
ciple cannot have his bread without money until there is bread
for everybody without money; and that requires an elaborate
municipal organization of the food supply, rate supported. Being
members one of another means One Man One Vote, and One Woman One
Vote, and universal suffrage and equal incomes and all sorts of
modern political measures. Even in Syria in the time of Jesus his
teachings could not possibly have been realized by a series of
independent explosions of personal righteousness on the part of
the separate units of the population. Jerusalem could not have
done what even a village community cannot do, and what Robinson
Crusoe himself could not have done if his conscience, and the
stern compulsion of Nature, had not imposed a common rule on the
half dozen Robinson Crusoes who struggled within him for not
wholly compatible satisfactions. And what cannot be done in
Jerusalem or Juan Fernandez cannot be done in London, New York,
Paris, and Berlin. In short, Christianity, good or bad, right or
wrong, must perforce be left out of the question in human affairs
until it is made practically applicable to them by complicated
political devices; and to pretend that a field preacher under the
governorship of Pontius Pilate, or even Pontius Pilate himself in
council with all the wisdom of Rome, could have worked out
applications of Christianity or any other system of morals for
the twentieth century, is to shelve the subject much more
effectually than Nero and all its other persecutors ever
succeeded in doing. Personal righteousness, and the view that you
cannot make people moral by Act of Parliament, is, in fact, the
favorite defensive resort of the people who, consciously or
subconsciously, are quite determined not to have their property
meddled with by Jesus or any other reformer.


Now let us see what modern experience and modern sociology has to
say to the teaching of Jesus as summarized here. First, get rid
of your property by throwing it into the common stock. One can
hear the Pharisees of Jerusalem and Chorazin and Bethsaida
saying, “My good fellow, if you were to divide up the wealth of
Judea equally today, before the end of the year you would have
rich and poor, poverty and affluence, just as you have today; for
there will always be the idle and the industrious, the thrifty
and the wasteful, the drunken and the sober; and, as you yourself
have very justly observed, the poor we shall have always with
us.” And we can hear the reply, “Woe unto you, liars and
hypocrites; for ye have this very day divided up the wealth of
the country yourselves, as must be done every day (for man liveth
not otherwise than from hand to mouth, nor can fish and eggs
endure for ever); and ye have divided it unjustly; also ye have
said that my reproach to you for having the poor always with you
was a law unto you that this evil should persist and stink in the
nostrils of God to all eternity; wherefore I think that Lazarus
will yet see you beside Dives in hell.” Modern Capitalism has
made short work of the primitive pleas for inequality. The
Pharisees themselves have organized communism in capital. Joint
stock is the order of the day. An attempt to return to individual
properties as the basis of our production would smash
civilization more completely than ten revolutions. You cannot get
the fields tilled today until the farmer becomes a co-operator.
Take the shareholder to his railway, and ask him to point out to
you the particular length of rail, the particular seat in the
railway carriage, the particular lever in the engine that is his
very own and nobody else's; and he will shun you as a madman,
very wisely. And if, like Ananias and Sapphira, you try to hold
back your little shop or what not from the common stock,
represented by the Trust, or Combine, or Kartel, the Trust will
presently freeze you out and rope you in and finally strike you
dead industrially as thoroughly as St. Peter himself. There is no
longer any practical question open as to Communism in production:
the struggle today is over the distribution of the product: that
is, over the daily dividing-up which is the first necessity of
organized society.


Now it needs no Christ to convince anybody today that our system
of distribution is wildly and monstrously wrong. We have
million-dollar babies side by side with paupers worn out by a
long life of unremitted drudgery. One person in every five dies
in a workhouse, a public hospital, or a madhouse. In cities like
London the proportion is very nearly one in two. Naturally so
outrageous a distribution has to be effected by violence pure and
simple. If you demur, you are sold up. If you resist the selling
up you are bludgeoned and imprisoned, the process being
euphemistically called the maintenance of law and order. Iniquity
can go no further. By this time nobody who knows the figures of
the distribution defends them. The most bigoted British
Conservative hesitates to say that his king should be much poorer
than Mr. Rockefeller, or to proclaim the moral superiority of
prostitution to needlework on the ground that it pays better. The
need for a drastic redistribution of income in all civilized
countries is now as obvious and as generally admitted as the need
for sanitation.


It is when we come to the question of the proportions in which we
are to redistribute that controversy begins. We are bewildered by
an absurdly unpractical notion that in some way a man's income
should be given to him, not to enable him to live, but as a sort
of Sunday School Prize for good behavior. And this folly is
complicated by a less ridiculous but quite as unpractical belief
that it is possible to assign to each person the exact portion of
the national income that he or she has produced. To a child it
seems that the blacksmith has made a horse-shoe, and that
therefore the horse-shoe is his. But the blacksmith knows that
the horse-shoe does not belong solely to him, but to his
landlord, to the rate collector and taxgatherer, to the men from
whom he bought the iron and anvil and the coals, leaving only a
scrap of its value for himself; and this scrap he has to exchange
with the butcher and baker and the clothier for the things that
he really appropriates as living tissue or its wrappings, paying
for all of them more than their cost; for these fellow traders of
his have also their landlords and moneylenders to satisfy. If,
then, such simple and direct village examples of apparent
individual production turn out on a moment's examination to be
the products of an elaborate social organization, what is to be
said of such products as dreadnoughts, factory-made pins and
needles, and steel pens? If God takes the dreadnought in one hand
and a steel pen in the other, and asks Job who made them, and to
whom they should belong by maker's right, Job must scratch his
puzzled head with a potsherd and be dumb, unless indeed it
strikes him that God is the ultimate maker, and that all we have
a right to do with the product is to feed his lambs.


So maker's right as an alternative to taking the advice of Jesus
would not work. In practice nothing was possible in that
direction but to pay a worker by labor time so much an hour or
day or week or year. But how much? When that question came up,
the only answer was “as little as he can be starved into
accepting,” with the ridiculous results already mentioned, and
the additional anomaly that the largest share went to the people
who did not work at all, and the least to those who worked
hardest. In England nine-tenths of the wealth goes into the
pockets of one-tenth of the population.


Against this comes the protest of the Sunday School theorists
“Why not distribute according to merit?” Here one imagines Jesus,
whose smile has been broadening down the ages as attempt after
attempt to escape from his teaching has led to deeper and deeper
disaster, laughing outright. Was ever so idiotic a project mooted
as the estimation of virtue in money? The London School of
Economics is, we must suppose, to set examination papers with
such questions as, “Taking the money value of the virtues of
Jesus as 100, and of Judas Iscariot as zero, give the correct
figures for, respectively, Pontius Pilate, the proprietor of the
Gadarene swine, the widow who put her mite in the poor-box, Mr.
Horatio Bottomley, Shakespear, Mr. Jack Johnson, Sir Isaac
Newton, Palestrina, Offenbach, Sir Thomas Lipton, Mr. Paul
Cinquevalli, your family doctor, Florence Nightingale, Mrs.
Siddons, your charwoman, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the
common hangman.” Or “The late Mr. Barney Barnato received as his
lawful income three thousand times as much money as an English
agricultural laborer of good general character. Name the
principal virtues in which Mr. Barnato exceeded the laborer three
thousandfold; and give in figures the loss sustained by
civilization when Mr. Barnato was driven to despair and suicide
by the reduction of his multiple to one thousand.” The Sunday
School idea, with its principle “to each the income he deserves”
is really too silly for discussion. Hamlet disposed of it three
hundred years ago. “Use every man after his deserts, and who
shall scape whipping?” Jesus remains unshaken as the practical
man; and we stand exposed as the fools, the blunderers, the
unpractical visionaries. The moment you try to reduce the Sunday
School idea to figures you find that it brings you back to the
hopeless plan of paying for a man's time; and your
examination paper will read “The time of Jesus was worth nothing
(he complained that the foxes had holes and the birds of the air
nests whilst he had not a place to lay his head). Dr. Crippen's
time was worth, say, three hundred and fifty pounds a year.
Criticize this arrangement; and, if you dispute its justice,
state in pounds, dollars, francs and marks, what their relative
time wages ought to have been.” Your answer may be that the
question is in extremely bad taste and that you decline to answer
it. But you cannot object to being asked how many minutes of a
bookmaker's time is worth two hours of an astronomer's?


In the end you are forced to ask the question you should have
asked at the beginning. What do you give a man an income for?
Obviously to keep him alive. Since it is evident that the first
condition on which he can be kept alive without enslaving
somebody else is that he shall produce an equivalent for what it
costs to keep him alive, we may quite rationally compel him to
abstain from idling by whatever means we employ to compel him to
abstain from murder, arson, forgery, or any other crime. The one
supremely foolish thing to do with him is to do nothing; that is,
to be as idle, lazy, and heartless in dealing with him as he is
in dealing with us. Even if we provided work for him instead of
basing, as we do, our whole industrial system on successive
competitive waves of overwork with their ensuing troughs of
unemployment, we should still sternly deny him the alternative of
not doing it; for the result must be that he will become poor and
make his children poor if he has any; and poor people are cancers
in the commonwealth, costing far more than if they were
handsomely pensioned off as incurables. Jesus had more sense than
to propose anything of the sort. He said to his disciples, in
effect, “Do your work for love; and let the other people lodge
and feed and clothe you for love.” Or, as we should put it
nowadays, “for nothing.” All human experience and all natural
uncommercialized human aspiration point to this as the right
path. The Greeks said, “First secure an independent income; and
then practise virtue.” We all strive towards an independent
income. We all know as well as Jesus did that if we have to take
thought for the morrow as to whether there shall be anything to
eat or drink it will be impossible for us to think of nobler
things, or live a higher life than that of a mole, whose life is
from beginning to end a frenzied pursuit of food. Until the
community is organized in such a way that the fear of bodily want
is forgotten as completely as the fear of wolves already is in
civilized capitals, we shall never have a decent social life.
Indeed the whole attraction of our present arrangements lies in
the fact that they do relieve a handful of us from this fear; but
as the relief is effected stupidly and wickedly by making the
favored handful parasitic on the rest, they are smitten with the
degeneracy which seems to be the inevitable biological penalty of
complete parasitism, and corrupt culture and statecraft instead
of contributing to them, their excessive leisure being as
mischievous as the excessive toil of the laborers. Anyhow, the
moral is clear. The two main problems of organized society, how
to secure the subsistence of all its members, and how to prevent
the theft of that subsistence by idlers, should be entirely
dissociated; and the practical failure of one of them to
automatically achieve the other recognized and acted on. We may
not all have Jesus's psychological power of seeing, without any
enlightenment from more modern economic phenomena, that they must
fail; but we have the hard fact before us that they do fail. The
only people who cling to the lazy delusion that it is possible to
find a just distribution that will work automatically are those
who postulate some revolutionary change like land
nationalization, which by itself would obviously only force into
greater urgency the problem of how to distribute the product of
the land among all the individuals in the community.


When that problem is at last faced, the question of the
proportion in which the national income shall be distributed can
have only one answer. All our shares must be equal. It has always
been so; it always will be so. It is true that the incomes of
robbers vary considerably from individual to individual; and the
variation is reflected in the incomes of their parasites. The
commercialization of certain exceptional talents has also
produced exceptional incomes, direct and derivative. Persons who
live on rent of land and capital are economically, though not
legally, in the category of robbers, and have grotesquely
different incomes. But in the huge mass of mankind variation Of
income from individual to individual is unknown, because it is
ridiculously impracticable. As a device for persuading a
carpenter that a judge is a creature of superior nature to
himself, to be deferred and submitted to even to the death, we
may give a carpenter a hundred pounds a year and a judge five
thousand; but the wage for one carpenter is the wage for all the
carpenters: the salary for one judge is the salary for all the


Nothing, therefore, is really in question, or ever has been, but
the differences between class incomes. Already there is economic
equality between captains, and economic equality between cabin
boys. What is at issue still is whether there shall be economic
equality between captains and cabin boys. What would Jesus have
said? Presumably he would have said that if your only object is
to produce a captain and a cabin boy for the purpose of
transferring you from Liverpool to New York, or to manoeuvre a
fleet and carry powder from the magazine to the gun, then you
need give no more than a shilling to the cabin boy for every
pound you give to the more expensively trained captain. But if in
addition to this you desire to allow the two human souls which
are inseparable from the captain and the cabin boy, and which
alone differentiate them from the donkey-engine, to develop all
their possibilities, then you may find the cabin boy costing
rather more than the captain, because cabin boy's work does not
do so much for the soul as captain's work. Consequently you will
have to give him at least as much as the captain unless you
definitely wish him to be a lower creature, in which case the
sooner you are hanged as an abortionist the better. That is the
fundamental argument.


But there are other reasons for objecting to class stratification
of income which have heaped themselves up since the time of
Jesus. In politics it defeats every form of government except
that of a necessarily corrupt oligarchy. Democracy in the most
democratic modern republics: Prance and the United States for
example, is an imposture and a delusion. It reduces justice and
law to a farce: law becomes merely an instrument for keeping the
poor in subjection; and accused workmen are tried, not by a jury
of their peers, but by conspiracies of their exploiters. The
press is the press of the rich and the curse of the poor: it
becomes dangerous to teach men to read. The priest becomes the
mere complement of the policeman in the machinery by which the
countryhouse oppresses the village. Worst of all, marriage
becomes a class affair: the infinite variety of choice which
nature offers to the young in search of a mate is narrowed to a
handful of persons of similar income; and beauty and health
become the dreams of artists and the advertisements of quacks
instead of the normal conditions of life. Society is not only
divided but actually destroyed in all directions by inequality of
income between classes: such stability as it has is due to the
huge blocks of people between whom there is equality of income.


It seems therefore that we must begin by holding the right to an
income as sacred and equal, just as we now begin by holding the
right to life as sacred and equal. Indeed the one right is only a
restatement of the other. To hang me for cutting a dock laborer's
throat after making much of me for leaving him to starve when I
do not happen to have a ship for him to unload is idiotic; for as
he does far less mischief with his throat cut than when he is
starving, a rational society would esteem the cutthroat more
highly than the capitalist. The thing has become so obvious, and
the evil so unendurable, that if our attempt at civilization is
not to perish like all the previous ones, we shall have to
organize our society in such a way as to be able to say to every
person in the land, “Take no thought, saying What shall we eat?
or What shall we drink? or Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” We
shall then no longer have a race of men whose hearts are in their
pockets and safes and at their bankers. As Jesus said, where your
treasure is, there will your heart be also. That was why he
recommended that money should cease to be a treasure, and that we
should take steps to make ourselves utterly reckless of it,
setting our minds free for higher uses. In other words, that we
should all be gentlemen and take care of our country because our
country takes care of us, instead of the commercialized cads we
are, doing everything and anything for money, and selling our
souls and bodies by the pound and the inch after wasting half the
day haggling over the price. Decidedly, whether you think Jesus
was God or not, you must admit that he was a first-rate political


He was also, as we now see, a first-rate biologist. It took a
century and a half of evolutionary preachers, from Buffon and
Goethe to Butler and Bergson, to convince us that we and our
father are one; that as the kingdom of heaven is within us we
need not go about looking for it and crying Lo here! and Lo
there!; that God is not a picture of a pompous person in white
robes in the family Bible, but a spirit; that it is through this
spirit that we evolve towards greater abundance of life; that we
are the lamps in which the light of the world burns: that, in
cohort, we are gods though we die like men. All that is today
sound biology and psychology; and the efforts of Natural
Selectionists like Weismann to reduce evolution to mere
automatism have not touched the doctrine of Jesus, though they
have made short work of the theologians who conceived God as a
magnate keeping men and angels as Lord Rothschild keeps buffaloes
and emus at Tring.


It may be asked here by some simple-minded reader why we should
not resort to crude Communism as the disciples were told to do.
This would be quite practicable in a village where production was
limited to the supply of the primitive wants which nature imposes
on all human beings alike. We know that people need bread and
boots without waiting for them to come and ask for these things
and offer to pay for them. But when civilization advances to the
point at which articles are produced that no man absolutely needs
and that only some men fancy or can use, it is necessary that
individuals should be able to have things made to their order and
at their own cost. It is safe to provide bread for everybody
because everybody wants and eats bread; but it would be absurd to
provide microscopes and trombones, pet snakes and polo mallets,
alembics and test tubes for everybody, as nine-tenths of them
would be wasted; and the nine-tenths of the population who do not
use such things would object to their being provided at all. We
have in the invaluable instrument called money a means of
enabling every individual to order and pay for the particular
things he desires over and above the things he must consume in
order to remain alive, plus the things the State insists on his
having and using whether he wants to or not; for example,
clothes, sanitary arrangements, armies and navies. In large
communities, where even the most eccentric demands for
manufactured articles average themselves out until they can be
foreseen within a negligible margin of error, direct communism
(Take what you want without payment, as the people do in Morris's
News From Nowhere) will, after a little experience, be found not
only practicable but highly economical to an extent that now
seems impossible. The sportsmen, the musicians, the physicists,
the biologists will get their apparatus for the asking as easily
as their bread, or, as at present, their paving, street lighting,
and bridges; and the deaf man will not object to contribute to
communal flutes when the musician has to contribute to communal
ear trumpets. There are cases (for example, radium) in which the
demand may be limited to the merest handful of laboratory
workers, and in which nevertheless the whole community must pay
because the price is beyond the means of any individual worker.
But even when the utmost allowance is made for extensions of
communism that now seem fabulous, there will still remain for a
long time to come regions of supply and demand in which men will
need and use money or individual credit, and for which,
therefore, they must have individual incomes. Foreign travel is
an obvious instance. We are so far from even national communism
still, that we shall probably have considerable developments of
local communism before it becomes possible for a Manchester man
to go up to London for a day without taking any money with him.
The modern practical form of the communism of Jesus is therefore,
for the present, equal distribution of the surplus of the
national income that is not absorbed by simple communism.


In dealing with crime and the family, modern thought and
experience have thrown no fresh light on the views of Jesus. When
Swift had occasion to illustrate the corruption of our
civilization by making a catalogue of the types of scoundrels it
produces, he always gave judges a conspicuous place alongside of
them they judged. And he seems to have done this not as a
restatement of the doctrine of Jesus, but as the outcome of his
own observation and judgment. One of Mr. Gilbert Chesterton's
stories has for its hero a judge who, whilst trying a criminal
case, is so overwhelmed by the absurdity of his position and the
wickedness of the things it forces him to do, that he throws off
the ermine there and then, and goes out into the world to live
the life of an honest man instead of that of a cruel idol. There
has also been a propaganda of a soulless stupidity called
Determinism, representing man as a dead object driven hither and
thither by his environment, antecedents, circumstances, and so
forth, which nevertheless does remind us that there are limits to
the number of cubits an individual can add to his stature morally
or physically, and that it is silly as well as cruel to torment a
man five feet high for not being able to pluck fruit that is
within the reach of men of average height. I have known a case of
an unfortunate child being beaten for not being able to tell the
time after receiving an elaborate explanation of the figures on a
clock dial, the fact being that she was short-sighted and
could not see them. This is a typical illustration of the
absurdities and cruelties into which we are led by the
counter-stupidity to Determinism: the doctrine of Free Will. The
notion that people can be good if they like, and that you should
give them a powerful additional motive for goodness by tormenting
them when they do evil, would soon reduce itself to absurdity if
its application were not kept within the limits which nature sets
to the self-control of most of us. Nobody supposes that a man
with no ear for music or no mathematical faculty could be
compelled on pain of death, however cruelly inflicted, to hum all
the themes of Beethoven's symphonies or to complete Newton's work
on fluxions.


Consequently such of our laws as are not merely the intimidations
by which tyrannies are maintained under pretext of law, can be
obeyed through the exercise of a quite common degree of reasoning
power and self-control. Most men and women can endure the
ordinary annoyances and disappointments of life without
committing murderous assaults. They conclude therefore that any
person can refrain from such assaults if he or she chooses to,
and proceed to reinforce self-control by threats of severe
punishment. But in this they are mistaken. There are people, some
of them possessing considerable powers of mind and body, who can
no more restrain the fury into which a trifling mishap throws
them than a dog can restrain himself from snapping if he is
suddenly and painfully pinched. People fling knives and lighted
paraffin lamps at one another in a dispute over a dinner-table.
Men who have suffered several long sentences of penal servitude
for murderous assaults will, the very day after they are
released, seize their wives and cast them under drays at an
irritating word. We have not only people who cannot resist an
opportunity of stealing for the sake of satisfying their wants,
but even people who have a specific mania for stealing, and do it
when they are in no need of the things they steal. Burglary
fascinates some men as sailoring fascinates some boys. Among
respectable people how many are there who can be restrained by
the warnings of their doctors and the lessons of experience from
eating and drinking more than is good for them? It is true that
between self-controlled people and ungovernable people there is a
narrow margin of moral malingerers who can be made to behave
themselves by the fear of consequences; but it is not worth while
maintaining an abominable system of malicious, deliberate, costly
and degrading ill-treatment of criminals for the sake of these
marginal cases. For practical dealing with crime, Determinism or
Predestination is quite a good working rule. People without
self-control enough for social purposes may be killed, or may be
kept in asylums with a view to studying their condition and
ascertaining whether it is curable. To torture them and give
ourselves virtuous airs at their expense is ridiculous and
barbarous; and the desire to do it is vindictive and cruel. And
though vindictiveness and cruelty are at least human qualities
when they are frankly proclaimed and indulged, they are loathsome
when they assume the robes of Justice. Which, I take it, is why
Shakespear's Isabella gave such a dressing-down to Judge Angelo,
and why Swift reserved the hottest corner of his hell for judges.
Also, of course, why Jesus said “Judge not that ye be not judged”
and “If any man hear my words and believe not, I judge him not”
because “he hath one that judgeth him”: namely, the Father who is
one with him.

When we are robbed we generally appeal to the criminal law, not
considering that if the criminal law were effective we should not
have been robbed. That convicts us of vengeance.

I need not elaborate the argument further. I have dealt with it
sufficiently elsewhere. I have only to point out that we have
been judging and punishing ever since Jesus told us not to; and I
defy anyone to make out a convincing case for believing that the
world has been any better than it would have been if there had
never been a judge, a prison, or a gallows in it all that time.
We have simply added the misery of punishment to the misery of
crime, and the cruelty of the judge to the cruelty of the
criminal. We have taken the bad man, and made him worse by
torture and degradation, incidentally making ourselves worse in
the process. It does not seem very sensible, does it? It would
have been far easier to kill him as kindly as possible, or to
label him and leave him to his conscience, or to treat him as an
invalid or a lunatic is now treated (it is only of late years, by
the way, that madmen have been delivered from the whip, the
chain, and the cage; and this, I presume, is the form in which
the teaching of Jesus could have been put into practice.)


When we come to marriage and the family, we find Jesus making the
same objection to that individual appropriation of human beings
which is the essence of matrimony as to the individual
appropriation of wealth. A married man, he said, will try to
please his wife, and a married woman to please her husband,
instead of doing the work of God. This is another version of
“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Eighteen
hundred years later we find a very different person from Jesus,
Talleyrand to wit, saying the same thing. A married man with a
family, said Talleyrand, will do anything for money. Now this,
though not a scientifically precise statement, is true enough to
be a moral objection to marriage. As long as a man has a right to
risk his life or his livelihood for his ideas he needs only
courage and conviction to make his integrity unassailable. But he
forfeits that right when he marries. It took a revolution to
rescue Wagner from his Court appointment at Dresden; and his wife
never forgave him for being glad and feeling free when he lost it
and threw her back into poverty. Millet might have gone on
painting potboiling nudes to the end of his life if his wife had
not been of a heroic turn herself. Women, for the sake of their
children and parents, submit to slaveries and prostitutions that
no unattached woman would endure.

This was the beginning and the end of the objection of Jesus to
marriage and family ties, and the explanation of his conception
of heaven as a place where there should be neither marrying nor
giving in marriage. Now there is no reason to suppose that when
he said this he did not mean it. He did not, as St. Paul did
afterwards in his name, propose celibacy as a rule of life; for
he was not a fool, nor, when he denounced marriage, had he yet
come to believe, as St. Paul did, that the end of the world was
at hand and there was therefore no more need to replenish the
earth. He must have meant that the race should be continued
without dividing with women and men the allegiance the individual
owes to God within him. This raises the practical problem of how
we are to secure the spiritual freedom and integrity of the
priest and the nun without their barrenness and uncompleted
experience. Luther the priest did not solve the problem by
marrying a nun: he only testified in the most convincing and
practical way to the fact that celibacy was a worse failure than


To all appearance the problem oppresses only a few exceptional
people. Thoroughly conventional women married to thoroughly
conventional men should not be conscious of any restriction: the
chain not only leaves them free to do whatever they want to do,
but greatly facilitates their doing it. To them an attack on
marriage is not a blow struck in defence of their freedom but at
their rights and privileges. One would expect that they would not
only demur vehemently to the teachings of Jesus in this matter,
but object strongly to his not having been a married man himself.
Even those who regard him as a god descended from his throne in
heaven to take on humanity for a time might reasonably declare
that the assumption of humanity must have been incomplete at its
most vital point if he were a celibate. But the facts are flatly
contrary. The mere thought of Jesus as a married man is felt to
be blasphemous by the most conventional believers; and even those
of us to whom Jesus is no supernatural personage, but a prophet
only as Mahomet was a prophet, feel that there was something more
dignified in the bachelordom of Jesus than in the spectacle of
Mahomet lying distracted on the floor of his harem whilst his
wives stormed and squabbled and henpecked round him. We are not
surprised that when Jesus called the sons of Zebedee to follow
him, he did not call their father, and that the disciples, like
Jesus himself, were all men without family entanglements. It is
evident from his impatience when people excused themselves from
following him because of their family funerals, or when they
assumed that his first duty was to his mother, that he had found
family ties and domestic affections in his way at every turn, and
had become persuaded at last that no man could follow his inner
light until he was free from their compulsion. The absence of any
protest against this tempts us to declare on this question of
marriage there are no conventional people; and that everyone of
us is at heart a good Christian sexually.


But the question is not so simple as that. Sex is an exceedingly
subtle and complicated instinct; and the mass of mankind neither
know nor care much about freedom of conscience, which is what
Jesus was thinking about, and are concerned almost to obsession
with sex, as to which Jesus said nothing. In our sexual natures
we are torn by an irresistible attraction and an overwhelming
repugnance and disgust. We have two tyrannous physical passions:
concupiscence and chastity. We become mad in pursuit of sex: we
become equally mad in the persecution of that pursuit. Unless we
gratify our desire the race is lost: unless we restrain it we
destroy ourselves. We are thus led to devise marriage
institutions which will at the same time secure opportunities for
the gratification of sex and raise up innumerable obstacles to
it; which will sanctify it and brand it as infamous; which will
identify it with virtue and with sin simultaneously. Obviously it
is useless to look for any consistency in such institutions; and
it is only by continual reform and readjustment, and by a
considerable elasticity in their enforcement, that a tolerable
result can be arrived at. I need not repeat here the long and
elaborate examination of them that I prefixed to my play entitled
Getting Married. Here I am concerned only with the views of Jesus
on the question; and it is necessary, in order to understand the
attitude of the world towards them, that we should not attribute
the general approval of the decision of Jesus to remain unmarried
as an endorsement of his views. We are simply in a state of
confusion on the subject; but it is part of the confusion that we
should conclude that Jesus was a celibate, and shrink even from
the idea that his birth was a natural one, yet cling with
ferocity to the sacredness of the institution which provides a
refuge from celibacy.


Jesus, however, did not express a complicated view of marriage.
His objection to it was quite simple, as we have seen. He
perceived that nobody could live the higher life unless money and
sexual love were obtainable without sacrificing it; and he saw
that the effect of marriage as it existed among the Jews (and as
it still exists among ourselves) was to make the couples
sacrifice every higher consideration until they had fed and
pleased one another. The worst of it is that this dangerous
preposterousness in marriage, instead of improving as the general
conduct of married couples improves, becomes much worse. The
selfish man to whom his wife is nothing but a slave, the selfish
woman to whom her husband is nothing but a scapegoat and a
breadwinner, are not held back from spiritual or any other
adventures by fear of their effect on the welfare of their mates.
Their wives do not make recreants and cowards of them: their
husbands do not chain them to the cradle and the cooking range
when their feet should be beautiful on the mountains. It is
precisely as people become more kindly, more conscientious, more
ready to shoulder the heavier part of the burden (which means
that the strong shall give way to the weak and the slow hold back
the swift), that marriage becomes an intolerable obstacle to
individual evolution. And that is why the revolt against marriage
of which Jesus was an exponent always recurs when civilization
raises the standard of marital duty and affection, and at the
same time produces a greater need for individual freedom in
pursuit of a higher evolution. This, fortunately, is only one
side of marriage; and the question arises, can it not be
eliminated? The reply is reassuring: of course it can. There is
no mortal reason in the nature of things why a married couple
should be economically dependent on one another. The Communism
advocated by Jesus, which we have seen to be entirely
practicable, and indeed inevitable if our civilization is to be
saved from collapse, gets rid of that difficulty completely. And
with the economic dependence will go the force of the outrageous
claims that derive their real sanction from the economic pressure
behind them. When a man allows his wife to turn him from the best
work he is capable of doing, and to sell his soul at the highest
commercial prices obtainable; when he allows her to entangle him
in a social routine that is wearisome and debilitating to him, or
tie him to her apron strings when he needs that occasional
solitude which is one of the most sacred of human rights, he does
so because he has no right to impose eccentric standards of
expenditure and unsocial habits on her, and because these
conditions have produced by their pressure so general a custom of
chaining wedded couples to one another that married people are
coarsely derided when their partners break the chain. And when a
woman is condemned by her parents to wait in genteel idleness and
uselessness for a husband when all her healthy social instincts
call her to acquire a profession and work, it is again her
economic dependence on them that makes their tyranny effective.


Thus, though it would be too much to say that everything that is
obnoxious in marriage and family life will be cured by Communism,
yet it can be said that it will cure what Jesus objected to in
these institutions. He made no comprehensive study of them: he
only expressed his own grievance with an overwhelming sense that
it is a grievance so deep that all the considerations on the
other side are as dust in the balance. Obviously there are such
considerations, and very weighty ones too. When Talleyrand said
that a married man with a family is capable of anything, he meant
anything evil; but an optimist may declare, with equal half
truth, that a married man is capable of anything good; that
marriage turns vagabonds into steady citizens; and that men and
women will, for love of their mates and children, practise
virtues that unattached individuals are incapable of. It is true
that too much of this domestic virtue is self-denial, which is
not a virtue at all; but then the following of the inner light at
all costs is largely self-indulgence, which is just as suicidal,
just as weak, just as cowardly as self-denial. Ibsen, who takes
us into the matter far more resolutely than Jesus, is unable to
find any golden rule: both Brand and Peer Gynt come to a bad end;
and though Brand does not do as much mischief as Peer, the
mischief he does do is of extraordinary intensity.


We must, I think, regard the protest of Jesus against marriage
and family ties as the claim of a particular kind of individual
to be free from them because they hamper his own work
intolerably. When he said that if we are to follow him in the
sense of taking up his work we must give up our family ties, he
was simply stating a fact; and to this day the Roman Catholic
priest, the Buddhist lama, and the fakirs of all the eastern
denominations accept the saying. It is also accepted by the
physically enterprising, the explorers, the restlessly energetic
of all kinds, in short, by the adventurous. The greatest
sacrifice in marriage is the sacrifice of the adventurous
attitude towards life: the being settled. Those who are born
tired may crave for settlement; but to fresher and stronger
spirits it is a form of suicide. Now to say of any institution
that it is incompatible with both the contemplative and
adventurous life is to disgrace it so vitally that all the
moralizings of all the Deans and Chapters cannot reconcile our
souls to its slavery. The unmarried Jesus and the unmarried
Beethoven, the unmarried Joan of Arc, Clare, Teresa, Florence
Nightingale seem as they should be; and the saying that there is
always something ridiculous about a married philosopher becomes
inevitable. And yet the celibate is still more ridiculous than
the married man: the priest, in accepting the alternative of
celibacy, disables himself; and the best priests are those who
have been men of this world before they became men of the world
to come. But as the taking of vows does not annul an existing
marriage, and a married man cannot become a priest, we are again
confronted with the absurdity that the best priest is a reformed
rake. Thus does marriage, itself intolerable, thrust us upon
intolerable alternatives. The practical solution is to make the
individual economically independent of marriage and the family,
and to make marriage as easily dissoluble as any other
partnership: in other words, to accept the conclusions to which
experience is slowly driving both our sociologists and our
legislators. This will not instantly cure all the evils of
marriage, nor root up at one stroke its detestable tradition of
property in human bodies. But it will leave Nature free to effect
a cure; and in free soil the root may wither and perish.

This disposes of all the opinions and teachings of Jesus which are
still matters of controversy. They are all in line with the best
modern thought. He told us what we have to do; and we have had to
find the way to do it. Most of us are still, as most were in his
own time, extremely recalcitrant, and are being forced along that
way by painful pressure of circumstances, protesting at every
step that nothing will induce us to go; that it is a ridiculous
way, a disgraceful way, a socialistic way, an atheistic way, an
immoral way, and that the vanguard ought to be ashamed of
themselves and must be made to turn back at once. But they find
that they have to follow the vanguard all the same if their lives
are to be worth living.


Let us now return to the New Testament narrative; for what
happened after the disappearance of Jesus is instructive.
Unfortunately, the crucifixion was a complete political success.
I remember that when I described it in these terms once before, I
greatly shocked a most respectable newspaper in my native town,
the Dublin Daily Express, because my journalistic phrase showed
that I was treating it as an ordinary event like Home Rule or the
Insurance Act: that is (though this did not occur to the editor),
as a real event which had really happened, instead of a portion
of the Church service. I can only repeat, assuming as I am that
it was a real event and did actually happen, that it was as
complete a success as any in history. Christianity as a specific
doctrine was slain with Jesus, suddenly and utterly. He was
hardly cold in his grave, or high in his heaven (as you please),
before the apostles dragged the tradition of him down to the
level of the thing it has remained ever since. And that thing
the intelligent heathen may study, if they would be instructed in
it by modern books, in Samuel Butler's novel, The Way of All


Take, for example, the miracles. Of Jesus alone of all the
Christian miracle workers there is no record, except in certain
gospels that all men reject, of a malicious or destructive
miracle. A barren fig-tree was the only victim of his anger.
Every one of his miracles on sentient subjects was an act of
kindness. John declares that he healed the wound of the man whose
ear was cut off (by Peter, John says) at the arrest in the
garden. One of the first things the apostles did with their
miraculous power was to strike dead a wretched man and his wife
who had defrauded them by holding back some money from the common
stock. They struck people blind or dead without remorse, judging
because they had been judged. They healed the sick and raised the
dead apparently in a spirit of pure display and advertisement.
Their doctrine did not contain a ray of that light which reveals
Jesus as one of the redeemers of men from folly and error. They
cancelled him, and went back straight to John the Baptist and his
formula of securing remission of sins by repentance and the rite
of baptism (being born again of water and the spirit). Peter's
first harangue softens us by the human touch of its exordium,
which was a quaint assurance to his hearers that they must
believe him to be sober because it was too early in the day to
get drunk; but of Jesus he had nothing to say except that he was
the Christ foretold by the prophets as coming from the seed of
David, and that they must believe this and be baptized. To this
the other apostles added incessant denunciations of the Jews for
having crucified him, and threats of the destruction that would
overtake them if they did not repent: that is, if they did not
join the sect which the apostles were now forming. A quite
intolerable young speaker named Stephen delivered an oration to
the council, in which he first inflicted on them a tedious sketch
of the history of Israel, with which they were presumably as well
acquainted as he, and then reviled them in the most insulting
terms as “stiffnecked and uncircumcized.” Finally, after boring
and annoying them to the utmost bearable extremity, he looked up
and declared that he saw the heavens open, and Christ standing on
the right hand of God. This was too much: they threw him out of
the city and stoned him to death. It was a severe way of
suppressing a tactless and conceited bore; but it was pardonable
and human in comparison to the slaughter of poor Ananias and


Suddenly a man of genius, Paul, violently anti-Christian, enters
on the scene, holding the clothes of the men who are stoning
Stephen. He persecutes the Christians with great vigor, a sport
which he combines with the business of a tentmaker. This
temperamental hatred of Jesus, whom he has never seen, is a
pathological symptom of that particular sort of conscience and
nervous constitution which brings its victims under the tyranny
of two delirious terrors: the terror of sin and the terror of
death, which may be called also the terror of sex and the terror
of life. Now Jesus, with his healthy conscience on his higher
plane, was free from these terrors. He consorted freely with
sinners, and was never concerned for a moment, as far as we know,
about whether his conduct was sinful or not; so that he has
forced us to accept him as the man without sin. Even if we reckon
his last days as the days of his delusion, he none the less gave
a fairly convincing exhibition of superiority to the fear of
death. This must have both fascinated and horrified Paul, or
Saul, as he was first called. The horror accounts for his fierce
persecution of the Christians. The fascination accounts for the
strangest of his fancies: the fancy for attaching the name of
Jesus Christ to the great idea which flashed upon him on the road
to Damascus, the idea that he could not only make a religion of
his two terrors, but that the movement started by Jesus offered
him the nucleus for his new Church. It was a monstrous idea; and
the shocks of it, as he afterwards declared, struck him blind for
days. He heard Jesus calling to him from the clouds, “Why
persecute me?” His natural hatred of the teacher for whom Sin and
Death had no terrors turned into a wild personal worship of him
which has the ghastliness of a beautiful thing seen in a false

The chronicler of the Acts of the Apostles sees nothing of the
significance of this. The great danger of conversion in all ages
has been that when the religion of the high mind is offered to
the lower mind, the lower mind, feeling its fascination without
understanding it, and being incapable of rising to it, drags it
down to its level by degrading it. Years ago I said that the
conversion of a savage to Christianity is the conversion of
Christianity to savagery. The conversion of Paul was no
conversion at all: it was Paul who converted the religion that
had raised one man above sin and death into a religion that
delivered millions of men so completely into their dominion that
their own common nature became a horror to them, and the
religious life became a denial of life. Paul had no intention of
surrendering either his Judaism or his Roman citizenship to the
new moral world (as Robert Owen called it) of Communism and
Jesuism. Just as in the XIX century Karl Marx, not content to
take political economy as he found it, insisted on rebuilding it
from the bottom upwards in his own way, and thereby gave a new
lease of life to the errors it was just outgrowing, so Paul
reconstructed the old Salvationism from which Jesus had vainly
tried to redeem him, and produced a fantastic theology which is
still the most amazing thing of the kind known to us. Being
intellectually an inveterate Roman Rationalist, always discarding
the irrational real thing for the unreal but ratiocinable
postulate, he began by discarding Man as he is, and substituted a
postulate which he called Adam. And when he was asked, as he
surely must have been in a world not wholly mad, what had become
of the natural man, he replied “Adam IS the natural man.” This
was confusing to simpletons, because according to tradition Adam
was certainly the name of the natural man as created in the
garden of Eden. It was as if a preacher of our own time had
described as typically British Frankenstein's monster, and called
him Smith, and somebody, on demanding what about the man in the
street, had been told “Smith is the man in the street.” The thing
happens often enough; for indeed the world is full of these Adams
and Smiths and men in the street and average sensual men and
economic men and womanly women and what not, all of them
imaginary Atlases carrying imaginary worlds on their
unsubstantial shoulders.

The Eden story provided Adam with a sin: the “original sin” for
which we are all damned. Baldly stated, this seems ridiculous;
nevertheless it corresponds to something actually existent not
only in Paul's consciousness but in our own. The original sin was
not the eating of the forbidden fruit, but the consciousness of
sin which the fruit produced. The moment Adam and Eve tasted the
apple they found themselves ashamed of their sexual relation,
which until then had seemed quite innocent to them; and there is
no getting over the hard fact that this shame, or state of sin,
has persisted to this day, and is one of the strongest of our
instincts. Thus Paul's postulate of Adam as the natural man was
pragmatically true: it worked. But the weakness of Pragmatism is
that most theories will work if you put your back into making
them work, provided they have some point of contact with human
nature. Hedonism will pass the pragmatic test as well as
Stoicism. Up to a certain point every social principle that is
not absolutely idiotic works: Autocracy works in Russia and
Democracy in America; Atheism works in France, Polytheism in
India, Monotheism throughout Islam, and Pragmatism, or No-ism, in
England. Paul's fantastic conception of the damned Adam,
represented by Bunyan as a pilgrim with a great burden of sins on
his back, corresponded to the fundamental condition of evolution,
which is, that life, including human life, is continually
evolving, and must therefore be continually ashamed of itself and
its present and past. Bunyan's pilgrim wants to get rid of his
bundle of sins; but he also wants to reach “yonder shining
light;” and when at last his bundle falls off him into the
sepulchre of Christ, his pilgrimage is still unfinished and his
hardest trials still ahead of him. His conscience remains uneasy;
“original sin” still torments him; and his adventure with Giant
Despair, who throws him into the dungeon of Doubting Castle, from
which he escapes by the use of a skeleton key, is more terrible
than any he met whilst the bundle was still on his back. Thus
Bunyan's allegory of human nature breaks through the Pauline
theology at a hundred points. His theological allegory, The Holy
War, with its troops of Election Doubters, and its cavalry of
“those that rode Reformadoes,” is, as a whole, absurd,
impossible, and, except in passages where the artistic old Adam
momentarily got the better of the Salvationist theologian, hardly

Paul's theory of original sin was to some extent idiosyncratic.
He tells us definitely that he finds himself quite well able to
avoid the sinfulness of sex by practising celibacy; but he
recognizes, rather contemptuously, that in this respect he is not
as other men are, and says that they had better marry than burn,
thus admitting that though marriage may lead to placing the
desire to please wife or husband before the desire to please God,
yet preoccupation with unsatisfied desire may be even more
ungodly than preoccupation with domestic affection. This view of
the case inevitably led him to insist that a wife should be
rather a slave than a partner, her real function being, not to
engage a man's love and loyalty, but on the contrary to release
them for God by relieving the man of all preoccupation with sex
just as in her capacity of a housekeeper and cook she relieves
his preoccupation with hunger by the simple expedient of
satisfying his appetite. This slavery also justifies itself
pragmatically by working effectively; but it has made Paul the
eternal enemy of Woman. Incidentally it has led to many foolish
surmises about Paul's personal character and circumstance, by
people so enslaved by sex that a celibate appears to them a sort
of monster. They forget that not only whole priesthoods, official
and unofficial, from Paul to Carlyle and Ruskin, have defied the
tyranny of sex, but immense numbers of ordinary citizens of both
sexes have, either voluntarily or under pressure of circumstances
easily surmountable, saved their energies for less primitive

Howbeit, Paul succeeded in stealing the image of Christ crucified
for the figure-head of his Salvationist vessel, with its Adam
posing as the natural man, its doctrine of original sin, and its
damnation avoidable only by faith in the sacrifice of the cross.
In fact, no sooner had Jesus knocked over the dragon of
superstition than Paul boldly set it on its legs again in the
name of Jesus.


Now it is evident that two religions having such contrary effects
on mankind should not be confused as they are under a common
name. There is not one word of Pauline Christianity in the
characteristic utterances of Jesus. When Saul watched the clothes
of the men who stoned Stephen, he was not acting upon beliefs
which Paul renounced. There is no record of Christ's having ever
said to any man: “Go and sin as much as you like: you can
put it all on me.” He said “Sin no more,” and insisted that he
was putting up the standard of conduct, not debasing it, and that
the righteousness of the Christian must exceed that of the Scribe
and Pharisee. The notion that he was shedding his blood in order
that every petty cheat and adulterator and libertine might wallow
in it and come out whiter than snow, cannot be imputed to him on
his own authority. “I come as an infallible patent medicine for
bad consciences” is not one of the sayings in the gospels. If
Jesus could have been consulted on Bunyan's allegory as to that
business of the burden of sin dropping from the pilgrim's back
when he caught sight of the cross, we must infer from his
teaching that he would have told Bunyan in forcible terms that he
had never made a greater mistake in his life, and that the
business of a Christ was to make self-satisfied sinners feel the
burden of their sins and stop committing them instead of assuring
them that they could not help it, as it was all Adam's fault, but
that it did not matter as long as they were credulous and
friendly about himself. Even when he believed himself to be a
god, he did not regard himself as a scapegoat. He was to take
away the sins of the world by good government, by justice and
mercy, by setting the welfare of little children above the pride
of princes, by casting all the quackeries and idolatries which
now usurp and malversate the power of God into what our local
authorities quaintly call the dust destructor, and by riding on
the clouds of heaven in glory instead of in a thousand-guinea
motor car. That was delirious, if you like; but it was the
delirium of a free soul, not of a shamebound one like Paul's.
There has really never been a more monstrous imposition
perpetrated than the imposition of the limitations of Paul's soul
upon the soul of Jesus.


Paul must soon have found that his followers had gained peace of
mind and victory over death and sin at the cost of all moral
responsibility; for he did his best to reintroduce it by making
good conduct the test of sincere belief, and insisting that
sincere belief was necessary to salvation. But as his system was
rooted in the plain fact that as what he called sin includes sex
and is therefore an ineradicable part of human nature (why else
should Christ have had to atone for the sin of all future
generations?) it was impossible for him to declare that sin, even
in its wickedest extremity, could forfeit the sinner's salvation
if he repented and believed. And to this day Pauline Christianity
is, and owes its enormous vogue to being, a premium on sin. Its
consequences have had to be held in check by the worldlywise
majority through a violently anti-Christian system of criminal
law and stern morality. But of course the main restraint is human
nature, which has good impulses as well as bad ones, and refrains
from theft and murder and cruelty, even when it is taught that it
can commit them all at the expense of Christ and go happily to
heaven afterwards, simply because it does not always want to
murder or rob or torture.

It is now easy to understand why the Christianity of Jesus failed
completely to establish itself politically and socially, and was
easily suppressed by the police and the Church, whilst Paulinism
overran the whole western civilized world, which was at that time
the Roman Empire, and was adopted by it as its official faith,
the old avenging gods falling helplessly before the new Redeemer.
It still retains, as we may see in Africa, its power of bringing
to simple people a message of hope and consolation that no other
religion offers. But this enchantment is produced by its spurious
association with the personal charm of Jesus, and exists only for
untrained minds. In the hands of a logical Frenchman like Calvin,
pushing it to its utmost conclusions, and devising “institutes”
for hardheaded adult Scots and literal Swiss, it becomes the most
infernal of fatalisms; and the lives of civilized children
are blighted by its logic whilst negro piccaninnies are rejoicing
in its legends.


Paul, however, did not get his great reputation by mere
imposition and reaction. It is only in comparison with Jesus (to
whom many prefer him) that he appears common and conceited.
Though in The Acts he is only a vulgar revivalist, he comes out
in his own epistles as a genuine poet,–though by flashes only.
He is no more a Christian than Jesus was a Baptist; he is a
disciple of Jesus only as Jesus was a disciple of John. He does
nothing that Jesus would have done, and says nothing that Jesus
would have said, though much, like the famous ode to charity,
that he would have admired. He is more Jewish than the Jews, more
Roman than the Romans, proud both ways, full of startling
confessions and self-revelations that would not surprise us if
they were slipped into the pages of Nietzsche, tormented by an
intellectual conscience that demanded an argued case even at the
cost of sophistry, with all sorts of fine qualities and
occasional illuminations, but always hopelessly in the toils of
Sin, Death, and Logic, which had no power over Jesus. As we have
seen, it was by introducing this bondage and terror of his into
the Christian doctrine that he adapted it to the Church and State
systems which Jesus transcended, and made it practicable by
destroying the specifically Jesuist side of it. He would have
been quite in his place in any modern Protestant State; and he,
not Jesus, is the true head and founder of our Reformed Church,
as Peter is of the Roman Church. The followers of Paul and Peter
made Christendom, whilst the Nazarenes were wiped out.


Here we may return to the narrative called The Acts of the
Apostles, which we left at the point where the stoning of Stephen
was followed by the introduction of Paul. The author of The Acts,
though a good story-teller, like Luke, was (herein also like
Luke) much weaker in power of thought than in imaginative
literary art. Hence we find Luke credited with the authorship of
The Acts by people who like stories and have no aptitude for
theology, whilst the book itself is denounced as spurious by
Pauline theologians because Paul, and indeed all the apostles,
are represented in it as very commonplace revivalists,
interesting us by their adventures more than by any qualities of
mind or character. Indeed, but for the epistles, we should have a
very poor opinion of the apostles. Paul in particular is
described as setting a fashion which has remained in continual
use to this day. Whenever he addresses an audience, he dwells
with great zest on his misdeeds before his pseudo conversion,
with the effect of throwing into stronger relief his present
state of blessedness; and he tells the story of that conversion
over and over again, ending with exhortations to the hearers to
come and be saved, and threats of the wrath that will overtake
them if they refuse. At any revival meeting today the same thing
may be heard, followed by the same conversions. This is natural
enough; but it is totally unlike the preaching of Jesus, who
never talked about his personal history, and never “worked up” an
audience to hysteria. It aims at a purely nervous effect; it
brings no enlightenment; the most ignorant man has only to become
intoxicated with his own vanity, and mistake his
self-satisfaction for the Holy Ghost, to become qualified as an
apostle; and it has absolutely nothing to do with the
characteristic doctrines of Jesus. The Holy Ghost may be at work
all round producing wonders of art and science, and strengthening
men to endure all sorts of martyrdoms for the enlargement of
knowledge, and the enrichment and intensification of life (“that
ye may have life more abundantly”); but the apostles, as
described in The Acts, take no part in the struggle except as
persecutors and revilers. To this day, when their successors get
the upper hand, as in Geneva (Knox's “perfect city of Christ”)
and in Scotland and Ulster, every spiritual activity but
moneymaking and churchgoing is stamped out; heretics are
ruthlessly persecuted; and such pleasures as money can purchase
are suppressed so that its possessors are compelled to go on
making money because there is nothing else to do. And the
compensation for all this privation is partly an insane conceit
of being the elect of God, with a reserved seat in heaven, and
partly, since even the most infatuated idiot cannot spend his
life admiring himself, the less innocent excitement of punishing
other people for not admiring him, and the nosing out of the sins
of the people who, being intelligent enough to be incapable of
mere dull self-righteousness, and highly susceptible to the
beauty and interest of the real workings of the Holy Ghost, try
to live more rational and abundant lives. The abominable
amusement of terrifying children with threats of hell is another
of these diversions, and perhaps the vilest and most mischievous
of them. The net result is that the imitators of the apostles,
whether they are called Holy Willies or Stigginses in derision,
or, in admiration, Puritans or saints, are, outside their own
congregations, and to a considerable extent inside them, heartily
detested. Now nobody detests Jesus, though many who have been
tormented in their childhood in his name include him in their
general loathing of everything connected with the word religion;
whilst others, who know him only by misrepresentation as a
sentimental pacifist and an ascetic, include him in their general
dislike of that type of character. In the same way a student who
has had to “get up” Shakespear as a college subject may hate
Shakespear; and people who dislike the theatre may include
Moliere in that dislike without ever having read a line of his or
witnessed one of his plays; but nobody with any knowledge of
Shakespear or Moliere could possibly detest them, or read without
pity and horror a description of their being insulted, tortured,
and killed. And the same is true of Jesus. But it requires the
most strenuous effort of conscience to refrain from crying “Serve
him right” when we read of the stoning of Stephen; and nobody has
ever cared twopence about the martyrdom of Peter: many better men
have died worse deaths: for example, honest Hugh Latimer, who was
burned by us, was worth fifty Stephens and a dozen Peters. One
feels at last that when Jesus called Peter from his boat, he
spoiled an honest fisherman, and made nothing better out of the
wreck than a salvation monger.


Meanwhile the inevitable effect of dropping the peculiar
doctrines of Jesus and going back to John the Baptist, was to
make it much easier to convert Gentiles than Jews; and it was by
following the line of least resistance that Paul became the
apostle to the Gentiles. The Jews had their own rite of
initiation: the rite of circumcision; and they were fiercely
jealous for it, because it marked them as the chosen people of
God, and set them apart from the Gentiles, who were simply the
uncircumcized. When Paul, finding that baptism made way faster
among the Gentiles than among the Jews, as it enabled them to
plead that they too were sanctified by a rite of later and higher
authority than the Mosaic rite, he was compelled to admit that
circumcision did not matter; and this, to the Jews, was an
intolerable blasphemy. To Gentiles like ourselves, a good deal of
the Epistle to the Romans is now tedious to unreadableness
because it consists of a hopeless attempt by Paul to evade the
conclusion that if a man were baptized it did not matter a rap
whether he was circumcized or not. Paul claims circumcision as an
excellent thing in its way for a Jew; but if it has no efficacy
towards salvation, and if salvation is the one thing needful–and
Paul was committed to both propositions–his pleas in mitigation
only made the Jews more determined to stone him.

Thus from the very beginning of apostolic Christianity, it was
hampered by a dispute as to whether salvation was to be attained
by a surgical operation or by a sprinkling of water: mere rites
on which Jesus would not have wasted twenty words. Later on, when
the new sect conquered the Gentile west, where the dispute had no
practical application, the other ceremony–that of eating the
god–produced a still more disastrous dispute, in which a
difference of belief, not as to the obligation to perform the
ceremony, but as to whether it was a symbolic or a real ingestion
of divine substance, produced persecution, slaughter, hatred, and
everything that Jesus loathed, on a monstrous scale.

But long before that, the superstitions which had fastened on the
new faith made trouble. The parthenogenetic birth of Christ,
simple enough at first as a popular miracle, was not left so
simple by the theologians. They began to ask of what substance
Christ was made in the womb of the virgin. When the Trinity was
added to the faith the question arose, was the virgin the mother
of God or only the mother of Jesus? Arian schisms and Nestorian
schisms arose on these questions; and the leaders of the
resultant agitations rancorously deposed one another and
excommunicated one another according to their luck in enlisting
the emperors on their side. In the IV century they began to burn
one another for differences of opinion in such matters. In the
VIII century Charlemagne made Christianity compulsory by killing
those who refused to embrace it; and though this made an end of
the voluntary character of conversion, Charlemagne may claim to
be the first Christian who put men to death for any point of
doctrine that really mattered. From his time onward the history
of Christian controversy reeks with blood and fire, torture and
warfare. The Crusades, the persecutions in Albi and elsewhere,
the Inquisition, the “wars of religion” which followed the
Reformation, all presented themselves as Christian phenomena; but
who can doubt that they would have been repudiated with horror by
Jesus? Our own notion that the massacre of St. Bartholomew's was
an outrage on Christianity, whilst the campaigns of Gustavus
Adolphus, and even of Frederick the Great, were a defence of it,
is as absurd as the opposite notion that Frederick was Antichrist
and Torquemada and Ignatius Loyola men after the very heart of
Jesus. Neither they nor their exploits had anything to do with
him. It is probable that Archbishop Laud and John Wesley died
equally persuaded that he in whose name they had made themselves
famous on earth would receive them in Heaven with open arms. Poor
Fox the Quaker would have had ten times their chance; and yet Fox
made rather a miserable business of life.

Nevertheless all these perversions of the doctrine of Jesus
derived their moral force from his credit, and so had to keep his
gospel alive. When the Protestants translated the Bible into the
vernacular and let it loose among the people, they did an
extremely dangerous thing, as the mischief which followed proves;
but they incidentally let loose the sayings of Jesus in open
competition with the sayings of Paul and Koheleth and David and
Solomon and the authors of Job and the Pentateuch; and, as we
have seen, Jesus seems to be the winning name. The glaring
contradiction between his teaching and the practice of all the
States and all the Churches is no longer hidden. And it may be
that though nineteen centuries have passed since Jesus was born
(the date of his birth is now quaintly given as 7 B.C., though
some contend for 100 B.C.), and though his Church has not yet
been founded nor his political system tried, the bankruptcy of
all the other systems when audited by our vital statistics, which
give us a final test for all political systems, is driving us
hard into accepting him, not as a scapegoat, but as one who was
much less of a fool in practical matters than we have hitherto
all thought him.


Let us now clear up the situation a little. The New Testament
tells two stories for two different sorts of readers. One is the
old story of the achievement of our salvation by the sacrifice
and atonement of a divine personage who was barbarously slain and
rose again on the third day: the story as it was accepted by the
apostles. And in this story the political, economic, and moral
views of the Christ have no importance: the atonement is
everything; and we are saved by our faith in it, and not by works
or opinions (other than that particular opinion) bearing on
practical affairs.

The other is the story of a prophet who, after expressing several
very interesting opinions as to practical conduct, both personal
and political, which are now of pressing importance, and
instructing his disciples to carry them out in their daily life,
lost his head; believed himself to be a crude legendary form of
god; and under that delusion courted and suffered a cruel
execution in the belief that he would rise from the dead and come
in glory to reign over a regenerated world. In this form, the
political, economic and moral opinions of Jesus, as guides to
conduct, are interesting and important: the rest is mere
psychopathy and superstition. The accounts of the resurrection,
the parthenogenetic birth, and the more incredible miracles are
rejected as inventions; and such episodes as the conversation
with the devil are classed with similar conversations recorded of
St. Dunstan, Luther, Bunyan, Swedenborg, and Blake.


This arbitrary acceptance and rejection of parts of the gospel is
not peculiar to the Secularist view. We have seen Luke and John
reject Matthew's story of the massacre of the innocents and the
flight into Egypt without ceremony. The notion that Matthew's
manuscript is a literal and infallible record of facts, not
subject to the errors that beset all earthly chroniclers, would
have made John stare, being as it is a comparatively modern fancy
of intellectually untrained people who keep the Bible on the same
shelf, with Napoleon's Book of Fate, Old Moore's Almanack, and
handbooks of therapeutic herbalism. You may be a fanatical
Salvationist and reject more miracle stories than Huxley did; and
you may utterly repudiate Jesus as the Savior and yet cite him as
a historical witness to the possession by men of the most
marvellous thaumaturgical powers. “Christ Scientist” and Jesus
the Mahatma are preached by people whom Peter would have struck
dead as worse infidels than Simon Magus; and the Atonement; is
preached by Baptist and Congregationalist ministers whose views
of the miracles are those of Ingersoll and Bradlaugh. Luther, who
made a clean sweep of all the saints with their million miracles,
and reduced the Blessed Virgin herself to the status of an idol,
concentrated Salvationism to a point at which the most execrable
murderer who believes in it when the rope is round his neck,
flies straight to the arms of Jesus, whilst Tom Paine and Shelley
fall into the bottomless pit to burn there to all eternity. And
sceptical physicists like Sir William Crookes demonstrate by
laboratory experiments that “mediums” like Douglas Home can make
the pointer of a spring-balance go round without touching the
weight suspended from it.


Nor is belief in individual immortality any criterion.
Theosophists, rejecting vicarious atonement so sternly that they
insist that the smallest of our sins brings its Karma, also
insist on individual immortality and metempsychosis in order to
provide an unlimited field for Karma to be worked out by the
unredeemed sinner. The belief in the prolongation of individual
life beyond the grave is far more real and vivid among
table-rapping Spiritualists than among conventional Christians.
The notion that those who reject the Christian (or any other)
scheme of salvation by atonement must reject also belief in
personal immortality and in miracles is as baseless as the notion
that if a man is an atheist he will steal your watch.

I could multiply these instances to weariness. The main
difference that set Gladstone and Huxley by the ears is not one
between belief in supernatural persons or miraculous events and
the sternest view of such belief as a breach of intellectual
integrity: it is the difference between belief in the efficacy of
the crucifixion as an infallible cure for guilt, and a congenital
incapacity for believing this, or (the same thing) desiring to
believe it.


It must therefore be taken as a flat fundamental modern fact,
whether we like it or not, that whilst many of us cannot believe
that Jesus got his curious grip of our souls by mere
sentimentality, neither can we believe that he was John
Barleycorn. The more our reason and study lead us to believe that
Jesus was talking the most penetrating good sense when he
preached Communism; when he declared that the reality behind the
popular belief in God was a creative spirit in ourselves, called
by him the Heavenly Father and by us Evolution, Elan Vital, Life
Force and other names; when he protested against the claims of
marriage and the family to appropriate that high part of our
energy that was meant for the service of his Father, the more
impossible it becomes for us to believe that he was talking
equally good sense when he so suddenly announced that he was
himself a visible concrete God; that his flesh and blood were
miraculous food for us; that he must be tortured and slain in the
traditional manner and would rise from the dead after three days;
and that at his second coming the stars would fall from heaven
and he become king of an earthly paradise. But it is easy and
reasonable to believe that an overwrought preacher at last went
mad as Swift and Ruskin and Nietzsche went mad. Every asylum has
in it a patient suffering from the delusion that he is a god, yet
otherwise sane enough. These patients do not nowadays declare
that they will be barbarously slain and will rise from the dead,
because they have lost that tradition of the destiny of godhead;
but they claim everything appertaining to divinity that is within
their knowledge.

Thus the gospels as memoirs and suggestive statements of
sociological and biological doctrine, highly relevant to modern
civilization, though ending in the history of a psycopathic
delusion, are quite credible, intelligible, and interesting to
modern thinkers. In any other light they are neither credible,
intelligible, nor interesting except to people upon whom the
delusion imposes.


Historical research and paleographic criticism will no doubt
continue their demonstrations that the New Testament, like the
Old, seldom tells a single story or expounds a single doctrine,
and gives us often an accretion and conglomeration of widely
discrete and even unrelated traditions and doctrines. But these
disintegrations, though technically interesting to scholars, and
gratifying or exasperating, as the case may be, to people who are
merely defending or attacking the paper fortifications of the
infallibility of the Bible, have hardly anything to do with the
purpose of these pages. I have mentioned the fact that most of
the authorities are now agreed (for the moment) that the date of
the birth of Jesus may be placed at about 7 B.C.; but they do not
therefore date their letters 1923, nor, I presume, do they expect
me to do so. What I am engaged in is a criticism (in the Kantian
sense) of an established body of belief which has become an
actual part of the mental fabric of my readers; and I should be
the most exasperating of triflers and pedants if I were to
digress into a criticism of some other belief or no-belief which
my readers might conceivably profess if they were erudite
Scriptural paleographers and historians, in which case, by the
way, they would have to change their views so frequently that the
gospel they received in their childhood would dominate them after
all by its superior persistency. The chaos of mere facts in which
the Sermon on the Mount and the Ode to Charity suggest nothing
but disputes as to whether they are interpolations or not, in
which Jesus becomes nothing but a name suspected of belonging to
ten different prophets or executed persons, in which Paul is only
the man who could not possibly have written the epistles
attributed to him, in which Chinese sages, Greek philosophers,
Latin authors, and writers of ancient anonymous inscriptions are
thrown at our heads as the sources of this or that scrap of the
Bible, is neither a religion nor a criticism of religion: one
does not offer the fact that a good deal of the medieval building
in Peterborough Cathedral was found to be flagrant jerry-building
as a criticism of the Dean's sermons. For good or evil, we have
made a synthesis out of the literature we call the Bible; and
though the discovery that there is a good deal of jerry-building
in the Bible is interesting in its way, because everything about
the Bible is interesting, it does not alter the synthesis very
materially even for the paleographers, and does not alter it at
all for those who know no more about modern paleography than
Archbishop Ussher did. I have therefore indicated little more of
the discoveries than Archbishop Ussher might have guessed for
himself if he had read the Bible without prepossessions.

For the rest, I have taken the synthesis as it really lives and
works in men. After all, a synthesis is what you want: it is the
case you have to judge brought to an apprehensible issue for you.
Even if you have little more respect for synthetic biography than
for synthetic rubber, synthetic milk, and the still unachieved
synthetic protoplasm which is to enable us to make different
sorts of men as a pastry cook makes different sorts of tarts, the
practical issue still lies as plainly before you as before the
most credulous votaries of what pontificates as the Higher


The secular view of Jesus is powerfully reinforced by the
increase in our day of the number of people who have had the
means of educating and training themselves to the point at which
they are not afraid to look facts in the face, even such
terrifying facts as sin and death. The result is greater
sternness in modern thought. The conviction is spreading that to
encourage a man to believe that though his sins be as scarlet he
can be made whiter than snow by an easy exercise of self-conceit,
is to encourage him to be a rascal. It did not work so badly when
you could also conscientiously assure him that if he let himself
be caught napping in the matter of faith by death, a red-hot hell
would roast him alive to all eternity. In those days a sudden
death–the most enviable of all deaths–was regarded as the most
frightful calamity. It was classed with plague, pestilence, and
famine, battle and murder, in our prayers. But belief in that
hell is fast vanishing. All the leaders of thought have lost it;
and even for the rank and file it has fled to those parts of
Ireland and Scotland which are still in the XVII century. Even
there, it is tacitly reserved for the other fellow.


The seriousness of throwing over hell whilst still clinging to
the Atonement is obvious. If there is no punishment for sin there
can be no self-forgiveness for it. If Christ paid our score, and
if there is no hell and therefore no chance of our getting into
trouble by forgetting the obligation, then we can be as wicked as
we like with impunity inside the secular law, even from
self-reproach, which becomes mere ingratitude to the Savior. On
the other hand, if Christ did not pay our score, it still stands
against us; and such debts make us extremely uncomfortable. The
drive of evolution, which we call conscience and honor, seizes on
such slips, and shames us to the dust for being so low in the
scale as to be capable of them. The “saved” thief experiences an
ecstatic happiness which can never come to the honest atheist: he
is tempted to steal again to repeat the glorious sensation. But
if the atheist steals he has no such happiness. He is a thief and
knows that he is a thief. Nothing can rub that off him. He may
try to sooth his shame by some sort of restitution or equivalent
act of benevolence; but that does not alter the fact that he did
steal; and his conscience will not be easy until he has conquered
his will to steal and changed himself into an honest man by
developing that divine spark within him which Jesus insisted on
as the everyday reality of what the atheist denies.

Now though the state of the believers in the atonement may thus
be the happier, it is most certainly not more desirable from the
point of view of the community. The fact that a believer is
happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that
a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of
credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality of happiness, and by
no means a necessity of life. Whether Socrates got as much
happiness out of life as Wesley is an unanswerable question; but
a nation of Socrateses would be much safer and happier than a
nation of Wesleys; and its individuals would be higher in the
evolutionary scale. At all events it is in the Socratic man and
not in the Wesleyan that our hope lies now.


Consequently, even if it were mentally possible for all of us to
believe in the Atonement, we should have to cry off it, as we
evidently have a right to do. Every man to whom salvation is
offered has an inalienable natural right to say “No, thank you: I
prefer to retain my full moral responsibility: it is not good for
me to be able to load a scapegoat with my sins: I should be less
careful how I committed them if I knew they would cost me
nothing.” Then, too, there is the attitude of Ibsen: that iron
moralist to whom the whole scheme of salvation was only an
ignoble attempt to cheat God; to get into heaven without paying
the price. To be let off, to beg for and accept eternal life as a
present instead of earning it, would be mean enough even if we
accepted the contempt of the Power on whose pity we were trading;
but to bargain for a crown of glory as well! that was too much
for Ibsen: it provoked him to exclaim, “Your God is an old man
whom you cheat,” and to lash the deadened conscience of the XIX
century back to life with a whip of scorpions.


And there I must leave the matter to such choice as your nature
allows you. The honest teacher who has to make known to a novice
the facts about Christianity cannot in any essential regard, I
think, put the facts otherwise than as I have put them. If
children are to be delivered from the proselytizing atheist on
the one hand, and the proselytizing nun in the convent school on
the other, with all the other proselytizers that lie between
them, they must not be burdened with idle controversies as to
whether there was ever such a person as Jesus or not. When Hume
said that Joshua's campaigns were impossible, Whately did not
wrangle about it: he proved, on the same lines, that the
campaigns of Napoleon were impossible. Only fictitious characters
will stand Hume's sort of examination: nothing will ever make
Edward the Confessor and St. Louis as real to us as Don Quixote
and Mr. Pickwick. We must cut the controversy short by declaring
that there is the same evidence for the existence of Jesus as for
that of any other person of his time; and the fact that you may
not believe everything Matthew tells you no more disproves the
existence of Jesus than the fact that you do not believe
everything Macaulay tells you disproves the existence of William
III. The gospel narratives in the main give you a biography which
is quite credible and accountable on purely secular grounds when
you have trimmed off everything that Hume or Grimm or Rousseau or
Huxley or any modern bishop could reject as fanciful. Without
going further than this, you can become a follower of Jesus just
as you can become a follower of Confucius or Lao Tse, and may
therefore call yourself a Jesuist, or even a Christian, if you
hold, as the strictest Secularist quite legitimately may, that
all prophets are inspired, and all men with a mission, Christs.

The teacher of Christianity has then to make known to the child,
first the song of John Barleycorn, with the fields and seasons as
witness to its eternal truth. Then, as the child's mind matures,
it can learn, as historical and psychological phenomena, the
tradition of the scapegoat, the Redeemer, the Atonement, the
Resurrection, the Second Coming, and how, in a world saturated
with this tradition, Jesus has been largely accepted as the long
expected and often prophesied Redeemer, the Messiah, the Christ.
It is open to the child also to accept him. If the child is built
like Gladstone, he will accept Jesus as his Savior, and Peter and
John the Baptist as the Savior's revealer and forerunner
respectively. If he is built like Huxley, he will take the
secular view, in spite of all that a pious family can do to
prevent him. The important thing now is that the Gladstones and
Huxleys should no longer waste their time irrelevantly and
ridiculously wrangling about the Gadarene swine, and that they
should make up their minds as to the soundness of the secular
doctrines of Jesus; for it is about these that they may come to
blows in our own time.


Finally, let us ask why it is that the old superstitions have so
suddenly lost countenance that although, to the utter disgrace of
the nation's leaders and rulers, the laws by which persecutors
can destroy or gag all freedom of thought and speech in these
matters are still unrepealed and ready to the hand of our bigots
and fanatics (quite recently a respectable shopkeeper was
convicted of “blasphemy” for saying that if a modern girl
accounted for an illicit pregnancy by saying she had conceived of
the Holy Ghost, we should know what to think: a remark which
would never have occurred to him had he been properly taught how
the story was grafted on the gospel), yet somehow they are used
only against poor men, and that only in a half-hearted way. When
we consider that from the time when the first scholar ventured to
whisper as a professional secret that the Pentateuch could not
possibly have been written by Moses to the time within my own
recollection when Bishop Colenso, for saying the same thing
openly, was inhibited from preaching and actually excommunicated,
eight centuries elapsed (the point at issue, though technically
interesting to paleographers and historians, having no more
bearing on human welfare than the controversy as to whether
uncial or cursive is the older form of writing); yet now, within
fifty years of Colenso's heresy, there is not a Churchman of any
authority living, or an educated layman, who could without
ridicule declare that Moses wrote the Pentateuch as Pascal wrote
his Thoughts or D'Aubigny his History of the Reformation, or that
St. Jerome wrote the passage about the three witnesses in the
Vulgate, or that there are less than three different accounts of
the creation jumbled together in the book of Genesis. Now the
maddest Progressive will hardly contend that our growth in wisdom
and liberality has been greater in the last half century than in
the sixteen half centuries preceding: indeed it would be easier
to sustain the thesis that the last fifty years have witnessed a
distinct reaction from Victorian Liberalism to Collectivism which
has perceptibly strengthened the State Churches. Yet the fact
remains that whereas Byron's Cain, published a century ago, is a
leading case on the point that there is no copyright in a
blasphemous book, the Salvation Army might now include it among
its publications without shocking anyone.

I suggest that the causes which have produced this sudden
clearing of the air include the transformation of many modern
States, notably the old self-contained French Republic and the
tight little Island of Britain, into empires which overflow the
frontiers of all the Churches. In India, for example, there are
less than four million Christians out of a population of three
hundred and sixteen and a half millions. The King of England is
the defender of the faith; but what faith is now THE faith? The
inhabitants of this island would, within the memory of persons
still living, have claimed that their faith is surely the faith
of God, and that all others are heathen. But we islanders are
only forty-five millions; and if we count ourselves all as
Christians, there are still seventy-seven and a quarter million
Mahometans in the Empire. Add to these the Hindoos and Buddhists,
Sikhs and Jains, whom I was taught in my childhood, by way of
religious instruction, to regard as gross idolators consigned to
eternal perdition, but whose faith I can now be punished for
disparaging by a provocative word, and you have a total of over
three hundred and forty-two and a quarter million heretics to
swamp our forty-five million Britons, of whom, by the way, only
six thousand call themselves distinctively “disciples of Christ,”
the rest being members of the Church of England and other
denominations whose discipleship is less emphatically affirmed.
In short, the Englishman of today, instead of being, like the
forefathers whose ideas he clings to, a subject of a State
practically wholly Christian, is now crowded, and indeed
considerably overcrowded, into a corner of an Empire in which the
Christians are a mere eleven per cent of the population; so that
the Nonconformist who allows his umbrella stand to be sold up
rather than pay rates towards the support of a Church of England
school, finds himself paying taxes not only to endow the Church
of Rome in Malta, but to send Christians to prison for the
blasphemy of offering Bibles for sale in the streets of Khartoum.
Turn to France, a country ten times more insular in its
pre-occupation with its own language, its own history, its own
character, than we, who have always been explorers and colonizers
and grumblers. This once self-centred nation is forty millions
strong. The total population of the French Republic is about one
hundred and fourteen millions. The French are not in our hopeless
Christian minority of eleven per cent; but they are in a minority
of thirty-five per cent, which is fairly conclusive. And, being a
more logical people than we, they have officially abandoned
Christianity and declared that the French State has no specific

Neither has the British State, though it does not say so. No
doubt there are many innocent people in England who take
Charlemagne's view, and would, as a matter of course, offer our
eighty-nine per cent of “pagans, I regret to say” the alternative
of death or Christianity but for a vague impression that these
lost ones are all being converted gradually by the missionaries.
But no statesman can entertain such ludicrously parochial
delusions. No English king or French president can possibly
govern on the assumption that the theology of Peter and Paul,
Luther and Calvin, has any objective validity, or that the Christ
is more than the Buddha, or Jehovah more than Krishna, or Jesus
more or less human than Mahomet or Zoroaster or Confucius. He is
actually compelled, in so far as he makes laws against blasphemy
at all, to treat all the religions, including Christianity, as
blasphemous, when paraded before people who are not accustomed to
them and do not want them. And even that is a concession to a
mischievous intolerance which an empire should use its control of
education to eradicate.

On the other hand, Governments cannot really divest themselves of
religion, or even of dogma. When Jesus said that people should
not only live but live more abundantly, he was dogmatizing; and
many Pessimist sages, including Shakespear, whose hero begged his
friend to refrain from suicide in the words “Absent thee from
felicity awhile,” would say dogmatizing very perniciously. Indeed
many preachers and saints declare, some of them in the name of
Jesus himself, that this world is a vale of tears, and that our
lives had better be passed in sorrow and even in torment, as a
preparation for a better life to come. Make these sad people
comfortable; and they baffle you by putting on hair shirts.
None the less, governments must proceed on dogmatic assumptions,
whether they call them dogmas or not; and they must clearly be
assumptions common enough to stamp those who reject them as
eccentrics or lunatics. And the greater and more heterogeneous
the population the commoner the assumptions must be. A Trappist
monastery can be conducted on assumptions which would in
twenty-fours hours provoke the village at its gates to
insurrection. That is because the monastery selects its people;
and if a Trappist does not like it he can leave it. But a subject
of the British Empire or the French Republic is not selected; and
if he does not like it he must lump it; for emigration is
practicable only within narrow limits, and seldom provides an
effective remedy, all civilizations being now much alike.
To anyone capable of comprehending government at all it must be
evident without argument that the set of fundamental assumptions
drawn up in the thirty-nine articles or in the Westminster
Confession are wildly impossible as political constitutions for
modern empires. A personal profession of them by any person
disposed to take such professions seriously would practically
disqualify him for high imperial office. A Calvinist Viceroy of
India and a Particular Baptist Secretary of State for Foreign
Affairs would wreck the empire. The Stuarts wrecked even the
tight little island which was the nucleus of the empire by their
Scottish logic and theological dogma; and it may be sustained
very plausibly that the alleged aptitude of the English for
self-government, which is contradicted by every chapter of their
history, is really only an incurable inaptitude for theology, and
indeed for co-ordinated thought in any direction, which makes
them equally impatient of systematic despotism and systematic
good government: their history being that of a badly governed and
accidentally free people (comparatively). Thus our success in
colonizing, as far as it has not been produced by exterminating
the natives, has been due to our indifference to the salvation of
our subjects. Ireland is the exception which proves the rule; for
Ireland, the standing instance of the inability of the English to
colonize without extermination of natives, is also the one
country under British rule in which the conquerors and colonizers
proceeded on the assumption that their business was to establish
Protestantism as well as to make money and thereby secure at
least the lives of the unfortunate inhabitants out of whose labor
it could be made. At this moment Ulster is refusing to accept
fellowcitizenship with the other Irish provinces because the
south believes in St. Peter and Bossuet, and the north in St.
Paul and Calvin. Imagine the effect of trying to govern India or
Egypt from Belfast or from the Vatican!

The position is perhaps graver for France than for England,
because the sixty-five per cent of French subjects who are
neither French nor Christian nor Modernist includes some thirty
millions of negroes who are susceptible, and indeed highly
susceptible, of conversion to those salvationist forms of
pseudo-Christianity which have produced all the persecutions and
religious wars of the last fifteen hundred years. When the late
explorer Sir Henry Stanley told me of the emotional grip which
Christianity had over the Baganda tribes, and read me their
letters, which were exactly like medieval letters in their
literal faith and everpresent piety, I said “Can these men handle
a rifle?” To which Stanley replied with some scorn “Of course
they can, as well as any white man.” Now at this moment (1915) a
vast European war is being waged, in which the French are using
Senegalese soldiers. I ask the French Government, which, like our
own Government, is deliberately leaving the religious instruction
of these negroes in the hands of missions of Petrine Catholics
and Pauline Calvinists, whether they have considered the
possibility of a new series of crusades, by ardent African
Salvationists, to rescue Paris from the grip of the modern
scientific “infidel,” and to raise the cry of “Back to the
Apostles: back to Charlemagne!”

We are more fortunate in that an overwhelming majority of our
subjects are Hindoos, Mahometans and Buddhists: that is, they
have, as a prophylactic against salvationist Christianity, highly
civilized religions of their own. Mahometanism, which Napoleon at
the end of his career classed as perhaps the best popular
religion for modern political use, might in some respects have
arisen as a reformed Christianity if Mahomet had had to deal with
a population of seventeenth-century Christians instead of Arabs
who worshipped stones. As it is, men do not reject Mahomet for
Calvin; and to offer a Hindoo so crude a theology as ours in
exchange for his own, or our Jewish canonical literature as an
improvement on Hindoo scripture, is to offer old lamps for older
ones in a market where the oldest lamps, like old furniture in
England, are the most highly valued.

Yet, I repeat, government is impossible without a religion: that
is, without a body of common assumptions. The open mind never
acts: when we have done our utmost to arrive at a reasonable
conclusion, we still, when we can reason and investigate no more,
must close our minds for the moment with a snap, and act
dogmatically on our conclusions. The man who waits to make an
entirely reasonable will dies intestate. A man so reasonable as
to have an open mind about theft and murder, or about the need
for food and reproduction, might just as well be a fool and a
scoundrel for any use he could be as a legislator or a State
official. The modern pseudo-democratic statesman, who says that
he is only in power to carry out the will of the people, and
moves only as the cat jumps, is clearly a political and
intellectual brigand. The rule of the negative man who has no
convictions means in practice the rule of the positive mob.
Freedom of conscience as Cromwell used the phrase is an excellent
thing; nevertheless if any man had proposed to give effect to
freedom of conscience as to cannibalism in England, Cromwell
would have laid him by the heels almost as promptly as he would
have laid a Roman Catholic, though in Fiji at the same moment he
would have supported heartily the freedom of conscience of a
vegetarian who disparaged the sacred diet of Long Pig.

Here then come in the importance of the repudiation by Jesus of
proselytism. His rule “Don't pull up the tares: sow the wheat: if
you try to pull up the tares you will pull up the wheat with it”
is the only possible rule for a statesman governing a modern
empire, or a voter supporting such a statesman. There is nothing
in the teaching of Jesus that cannot be assented to by a Brahman,
a Mahometan, a Buddhist or a Jew, without any question of their
conversion to Christianity. In some ways it is easier to
reconcile a Mahometan to Jesus than a British parson, because the
idea of a professional priest is unfamiliar and even monstrous to
a Mahometan (the tourist who persists in asking who is the dean
of St. Sophia puzzles beyond words the sacristan who lends him a
huge pair of slippers); and Jesus never suggested that his
disciples should separate themselves from the laity: he picked
them up by the wayside, where any man or woman might follow him.
For priests he had not a civil word; and they showed their sense
of his hostility by getting him killed as soon as possible. He
was, in short, a thoroughgoing anti-Clerical. And though, as we
have seen, it is only by political means that his doctrine can be
put into practice, he not only never suggested a sectarian
theocracy as a form of Government, and would certainly have
prophesied the downfall of the late President Kruger if he had
survived to his time, but, when challenged, he refused to teach
his disciples not to pay tribute to Caesar, admitting that
Caesar, who presumably had the kingdom of heaven within him as
much as any disciple, had his place in the scheme of things.
Indeed the apostles made this an excuse for carrying subservience
to the State to a pitch of idolatry that ended in the theory of
the divine right of kings, and provoked men to cut kings' heads
off to restore some sense of proportion in the matter. Jesus
certainly did not consider the overthrow of the Roman empire or
the substitution of a new ecclesiastical organization for the
Jewish Church or for the priesthood of the Roman gods as part of
his program. He said that God was better than Mammon; but he
never said that Tweedledum was better than Tweedledee; and that
is why it is now possible for British citizens and statesmen to
follow Jesus, though they cannot possibly follow either
Tweedledum or Tweedledee without bringing the empire down with a
crash on their heads. And at that I must leave it.

LONDON, December 1915.

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