War and the Christian Faith/The Blind

The Blind

There are people who are tone-deaf. They have not merely what is called "a bad ear for music"; they lack altogether the power of distinguishing between one note and another. I remember an instance of this incapacity—on the stage of all places! The tone-deaf person was quite unable to reproduce the intonations that the stage-manager gave her for this speech and that.

Then there are colour-blind people who confuse red and green. There are people, again, whose palates cannot distinguish between beef and mutton; they lack the sense of taste. And so, going higher, there are many people, and by no means stupid people, who would never dream of taking down Shakespeare and reading him for the pleasure of it. Nay, there are excellent folk who would say, if they dared to speak the truth, that they preferred a good novelette before all that Shakespeare, Cervantes, Milton and Wordsworth have written.

Now the tone-deaf and the colour-blind and those who are unable to distinguish one flavour from another evidently cannot help themselves; and I wonder how far this is true of the people who find "Lycidas" a bore? Could these, by submitting to the dogmas of the Church of Letters, and by doing their very best to discern the beauties that were pointed out to them, come at last to appreciate these beauties? I suppose that the answer is, some could, and others couldn't. There must be many people, it seems probable, who are born without the sense of literature, who are utterly incapable of relishing the exquisite savours of "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," or of that great chapter which is intituled, "How they Chirruped over their Cups."

Very well; it is a great pity, and we are sorry for them. We know that they miss a great deal of the pleasures of life—which are none too many. We will not, perhaps, go all the way with Shakespeare, and declare them fit for murders, treasons, stratagems, and spoils; though, by the way, Shakespeare usually knew what he was talking about. But we, not having the title to use the high wrath of Shakespeare, are sorry for those poor people who say they "see nothing" in this masterpiece, and can't understand "why people make such a fuss" over that, and are "bored to tears" by the other. We are sorry for them; but if they called their state of mind Freethought, I believe we should feel somewhat cross with them.

Yet it seems to me that a great deal of that attitude of mind towards the divine mysteries of life and death which is dignified by the title of Freethought is exactly answerable to that attitude of mind which "sees nothing" in one masterpiece and is "bored to tears" by the other. There is in each case a total lack of interest in certain exquisite and beautiful things, perhaps a total incapacity to discern these things. But as a rule, the man who doesn't like the masterpiece of literature or of art is content to keep silence, if you will only leave him alone. But the man who is convinced that the early martyrs were designing and crafty rogues is, often for some obscure reason, anxious to proclaim his conviction to the world, whereby he becomes a burden and a bore. Let me distinguish. The Freethought of which I speak is not that natural hesitation to accept the unprovable—the Faith is unprovable, or else it would not bear the name of the Faith—which is often found in devout and humble minds, which is found to some extent in all minds save in the two extremes of Saints and Simpletons. The Freethought I have in view is the freethought of the tone-deaf man who insists on becoming a musical critic, so that he may prove to the world that there is no such thing as music, and that the people who say they enjoy music are fools or knaves or both. We could pity him for his lack of one of the most exquisite—and irrational—of pleasures, if he would but hold his tongue. But the Freethinker will not hold his tongue. He is not content to keep silence and shrug his shoulders, wondering internally "what on earth these people see in it all." He is not even content to say out loud, "Well, I see nothing in it at all, and that's an end of it." He will invent reasons, which are not real reasons, to justify his own incapacity. He is not able to relish a good dinner; so he finds out all kinds of "reasons" to prove that dinner is nonsense, and poisonous nonsense at that. He will write long and learned books to show that savages in all ages liked their dinner; that people who believed in ghosts have always believed in dinner; that the dining propensities of the Samoyeds have always been notorious; that dinners were constantly eaten in the Minoan age; that the cave dwellers and the lake-dwellers were confirmed diners.

For an example:—I was saying that music is one of the most exquisite and irrational of pleasures. But, if you come to think of it, you will find that all the exquisite things of life, even the exquisite things of material life, are irrational, or, at all events, a-rational; beyond the bounds and limits of the reason. For example; if you kill the fatted calf and wish your friends to share in the feast, you set them at a table covered with the fairest linen, you set flowers and lights about the board, and you and they alike put on a sacred vestment, called "evening dress." Are these ceremonies rational adjuncts to the devouring of roast veal?

And is dancing irrational? And, mounting higher, are romance and poetry rational? Is it reasonable to spend time in reading about Mr. Pickwick, who never existed? Yet, without these and many other irrational habits, interests, ceremonies, life would degenerate into brutish and intolerable savagery, or what is worse—Gradgrindery. Very good; but the most frequent of the sham arguments of our Freethinker is that the Faith is irrational. Of course it is irrational; like all the things of life which are worth anything, or worth talking about. The truth is that, whether we like it or not, we live, if we live well, in and by and through mysteries. We do not live by bread alone, even so far as mere bread, and our mere physical nourishment and well-being are concerned, but by bread eaten in cheerfulness and with charity. We call a good dinner a feast; but it is no feast at all—save to a hog—if joy and mirth be absent from it.

Freethought would say that we live by proteins and calories; wherein, as in other and higher matters, Freethought falls far short of the truth.