God's Funeral: The Decline of Faith in Western Civilization (1999)
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I saw a slowly-stepping train --
Lined on the brows, scoop-eyed and bent and hoar --
Following in files across a twilit plain
A strange and mystic form the foremost bore
And by contagious throbs of thought
Or latent knowledge that within me lay
And had already stirred me, I was wrought
To consciousness of sorrow even as they.
The fore-borne shape, to my blurred eyes,
At first seemed man-like, and anon to change
To an amorphous cloud of marvellous size,
At times endowed with wings of glorious range.
And this phantasmal variousness
Ever possessed it as they drew along:
Yet throughout all it symboled none the less
Potency vast and loving-kindness strong.
Almost before I knew I bent
Towards the moving columns without a word;
They, growing in bulk and numbers as they went,
Struck out sick thought that could be overheard:-
'O man-projected Figure, of late
Imaged as we, thy knell who shall survive?
Whence came it we were tempted to create
One whom we can no longer keep alive?
'Framing him jealous, fierce, at first,
We gave him justice as the ages rolled,
Will to bless those by circumstance accurst,
And long suffering, and mercies manifold.
'And tricked by our own early dream
And need of solace, we grew self-deceived,
Our making soon our maker did we deem,
And what we had imagined we believed.
'Till, in Time's stayless stealthy swing,
Uncompromising rude reality
Mangled the Monarch of our fashioning,
Who quavered, sank; and now has ceased to be.
'So, toward our myth's oblivion,
Darkling, and languid-lipped, we creep and grope
Sadlier than those who wept in Babylon,
Whose Zion was a still abiding hope.
'How sweet it was in years far hied
To start the wheels of day with trustful prayer,
To lie down liegely at the eventide
And feel a blest assurance he was there!
'And who or what shall fill his place?
Whither will wanderers turn distracted eyes
For some fixed star to stimulate their pace
Towards the goal of their enterprise?' ...
Some in the background then I saw,
Sweet women, youths, men, all incredulous,
Who chimed: 'This is a counterfeit of straw,
This requiem mockery! Still he lives to us!'
I could not buoy their faith: and yet
Many I had known: with all I sympathized;
And though struck speechless, I did not forget
That what was mourned for, I, too, long had prized.
Still, how to hear such loss I deemed
The insistent question for each animate mind,
And gazing, to my growing sight there seemed
A pale yet positive gleam low down behind,
Whereof, to life the general night,
A certain few who stood aloof had said,
'See you upon the horizon that small light --
Swelling somewhat?' Each mourner shook his head.
And they composed a crowd of whom
Some were right good, and many nigh the best ...
Thus dazed and puzzled 'twixt the gleam and gloom
Mechanically I followed with the rest.
The God-question does not go away. (Preface)
The English poet Thomas Hardy, some time between 1908 and 1910, wrote a poem in which he imagined himself attending God's funeral.
It is not wise to generalize. We do not know whether the 'Victorian' Father, so heavy-handed and so odious, was any more prevalent in the nineteenth century than in previous ages; but it was one of the perceptions which literary Victorians had of themselves – from Mr. Barrett of Wimpole Street to the Marquess of Queensbury, it seems like a century peopled with fathers making impossible emotional demands on their sons and daughters, Lear-like demands for affection which cannot possibly be forthcoming, and which in any event belongs elsewhere. (p.248)
Of course, if we accepted any of these broad-brush impressions and dignified them with the name of argument, we could see that they work both ways. On the one hand you could say that God the Father was the ultimate projection of a phantasmagoric psycho-figure from our pre-pubescent nightmares. But, equally, you could argue that the desire to discard God is not a rational thing; it is part of one's Oedipal need to assert oneself. We tell ourselves that God is dead, when what we mean is God is Dad, and we wish him dead. (p.249)
It could be argued that the ideas of Freud have been more socially disruptive than those of Marx. [... Freud's] diagnosis of what made [humanity] unhappy was family life. He taught us that in order to become sane, we must undermine and question what for most of us is the bedrock of our social and emotional security – our trust in, and love for, our parents. By teaching that neurosis can only be eliminated by overt hatred of our parents, he re-drew the inner map of millions of European and American human beings, making what had been a safe place into a battlefield. (p.252)
Nadezhda Mandelsram told us (in Hope Against Hope) that it was Stalin's achievement to make everyone in the Soviet Union distrust one another. Freudianism was a cultural revolution on this scale of success. He created a generation who not only believed that the virtues of his ancestral religion – to honour father and mother – were vices, but who also subscribed to the view that our inner selves are inescapable: the story which we believe might be alterable by effort or luck has already been written in the forgotten or half-forgotten years of infancy. (p.252)
[Matthew Arnold's] famous essay on Culture and Anarchy envisaged perpetual warfare between, on one hand, cultivated fellows like himself, who read Homer and Dante and who, if they wished to have a breath of modern culture, rushed off to France and Germany; and contemporary England, which was largely populated by the Philistines (that is to say, the governing aristocratic class) and the rising class – the class Arnold himself was trying to educate – whom he flattering called the Barbarians. (p. 258)
God might very well have shared Matthew Arnold's worry that, having rejected the possibility of miracles, so many philosophers and scientists should have regarded Christianity as a mere 'cheat' or 'imposture'. […] God will surely have been grateful to Arnold, however, for thinking that it was still vitally important that religion, in some form or another, should survive. […] God, however, might have felt tempted, as He began His review, to point out that Arnold showed not the smallest glimmering of understanding of religious emotion detached from morality or 'uplift'. […] The sense of the holy, the sense of the numinous, the feeling that humankind is not alone but, rather, watched over by a Presence [...] Arnold does not really have this sense at all […] he does not believe that God is a person. […] He [God] does not do anything quite so coarse, quite so Philistine […] as to exist. (pp. 261-263) [Wilson imagines God reviewing Matthew Arnold's Literature and Dogma (1873)]
If Arnold had written a poem about his wife's bath-water, running out while he awaited her arrival in the bedroom, this might better have provided the imagery he was after: the image of water which is running out never to return. It is clear from the poem [Dover Beach], […] that he sees no more hope of a religious revival among the cultivated classes than he does for a revival of the feudal system. So he is not really thinking of Faith as a Sea. [...] Tides turn. The sea comes back in. Arnold appears not to have noticed this rather simple bidiurnal fact. (p.264)
To read the defenders of the religious status quo in the nineteenth century is to be persuaded that Marx had a point, particularly when these defenders make it quite clear that they do not believe in religion themselves; they merely regard it as a useful vehicle for preserving what is beautiful from our European past (Gothic cathedrals, for example) while giving the simpletons a little romance in their lives. Some Aberglaube. (p.265)
[…] Ruskin saw nothing wrong with being working-class, nothing wrong with being ignorant – but a great deal wrong with being idle, being exploited, with being polluted by smoke and industrialization, and a great deal wrong with being alienated from one's roots. As well as one of the proto-socialists, he was right to call himself a 'violent Tory of the old school.' As well as having doubts about religion, he was the first Victorian to have serious and intelligent doubts about science. (p.266)
The liberal Protestant way had its charms. It involved minimalism in doctrinal observance, vagueness in theological definition, and cloudiness of expression when anything so dangerous as a definition was required. Its difficulty was one of historical plausibility. […] And the other trouble with the liberal Protestant approach, whether we conduct it in English or in German, is that it leaves the religious believer on his or her own; whereas, if this book has established anything, it is that religious experience is not merely individual, but collective. (p.338)
Perhaps only those who have known the peace of God which passes all understanding can have any conception of what was lost between a hundred and a hundred and fifty years ago when the human race in Western Europe began to discard Christianity. The loss was not merely an intellectual change, the discarding of one proposition in favour of another. Indeed, though many intellectual justifications for religious faith-loss were to be found in the fields of science, philosophy, political thought, biblical scholarship, or psychology. This is the story of bereavement as much as of adventure. (p. 4)
As far as the Pope was concerned, not methods were too dirty to use in expunging the Modernist disease -- the mal francese, as he called it, with his coarse wit.* 'Kindness is for fools,' he once retorted when someone begged him to show pity for a Modernist. 'They want to be treated with oil, soap, and caresses. But they should be beaten with fists,' said Pius X, the only twentieth-century pope, so far to be canonized.
*That is, the French disease: Italian slang for VD.
The paperback edition, Ballantine Books (2000), includes a Foreword in which the author comments on the reactions that he received, and says that while he chose the title from Hardy's poem, unfortunately people took it in a way he didn't intend.
References to this work on external resources.
Wikipedia in English
Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393047458, Hardcover)
is A.N. Wilson's account of the decline of orthodox Christianity in Victorian Britain. The most popular explanation for this widely-recognized phenomenon is the acceptance by intellectuals of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. To disprove the notion that Darwin singlehandedly committed deicide, Wilson describes a host of secularizing predecessors and accomplices such as Hume, Gibbon, John Stuart Mill, Hegel, Marx, and Carlyle. All play major roles in Wilson's brilliantly staged reconstruction of the so-called death of God. God's Funeral
also takes account of the pain and confusion these intellectuals brought upon themselves when their great achievements helped erode the social and intellectual foundations of their lives. Furthermore, Wilson shows how their crises of faith relate to our own. Like our Victorian forebears, contemporary readers still must ask, "Is our personal religion that which links us to the ultimate reality, or is it the final human fantasy...?" and, "Is there a world of value outside ourselves, or do we, collectively and individually, invent what we call The Good?" God's Funeral
helps readers learn to ask these questions in smarter and sharper ways by giving them a clearer sense of how Western society reached its current state of confusion.
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:23 -0400)
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By the end of the nineteenth century, almost all the great writers, artists, and intellectuals had abandoned Christianity; many had abandoned belief in God altogether. This was in part the result of scientific discovery, particularly the work of Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species and the controversy that followed. But the doubt about religion had many sources. A. N. Wilson demonstrates in this synthesis of biography and intellectual history that the real destruction of religions belief had been achieved well before Darwin's momentous publication. Yet despite the fact that the church had essentially become an edifice empty of faith, it survived into our century because so few of the fascinating, tortured people Wilson portrays could face the brutal consequences of their own logic. Whether or not God was dead, they still needed to believe, hence the great spiritual angst of their culture which is now echoed in ours.--Publisher description.… (more)
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