THE local Vicar, known to both the others, came to the conference at the time appointed. It will be well at this point that the personalities and individual views of the three disputants should be distinguished. The discussion so far has revealed the doctor as a man of no ordinary type, inasmuch as though a popular and successful practitioner and a trained man of science, his deepest interest has always been in philosophy and ethics. Herein he resembles the well-known Andrew Clark of fifty years ago. His professional work left him free most afternoons and evenings to pursue the absorbing question--What ought to be the guiding principle of human life? Of theology he had, of course, not read much, but many talks with the Vicar and his own acuteness of mind led him to suspect a radical difference between the two interpretations of the Gospel--the one given throughout the New Testament, the other always in conflict with it and very popular at the present time.
The Vicar, fifty-five years of age, had spent most of his ministerial career among educated people, first as a Tutor at Oxford--where he had achieved a First in Greats--latterly in his present parish, among the villa population of the suburbs. Ethical questions had confronted him throughout, but he came to the conviction, before he was forty, that the central affirmations of the Christian creed are so stupendous and all-embracing that it was childish to consider problems of conduct on the inferior plane of mere expediency, as if the God on whom we all believe were not a God of action: as if the descent of the Creator of the universe down to our planet were an insignificant fact. He had long ceased to treat truths which the Church has always held to be revealed by God to man as if they were presented to us for our intellectual approval; for he held they were rather to be received with awe and thankfulness, and every perplexity of life to be looked at in their light. Withal he was a man of ripe human interests, and was always sympathetic with young men.
S.W., an enthusiastic social worker, opened the conversation with a demand for practical suggestions. He moves through the discussion in a fog--infert se sceptus nebula. He is full of the strenuousness of the man of short vision; impatient of principles and eager for results. The three men, however, are near enough to agreement to be able to argue without risk of acrimony. He joins the Doctor and the Vicar at luncheon, and afterwards attacks the question eagerly.
S.W.--I claim that the scientific invention of mechanical means of conception-control is a definite step forward in our Christian pilgrimage, a bettering of the social life of our very poor, living in our back streets.
D.--We are confronted by hideous conditions such as you, Vicar, I suppose, know of from experience.
V.--To a certain extent. But my work brings me into contact with the "middle and upper" sections of society, where the perplexities are quite as acute and even more complex. Now I gather that you have come to some conclusion as regards slum-dwellers. Before you state it, let me put, as plainly as I can, the precise difficulty that is constantly brought to me by what we call fairly well-to-do people, or, if not well-to-do, educated and well-disposed folk who are feeling the pinch of poverty and the accentuation of the moral problem. Later, perhaps, we may consider the slums.
D.--By all means. The hope is that we shall find the same clue will guide us through two apparently different jungles.
V.--You want me to state briefly what sort of line I should take in dealing with this question, starting from the central doctrines of Christianity--how far, in other words, our view of it will differ from that of a sensible and high-minded citizen. Well, let us be quite clear as to which of the central doctrines have the most direct bearing on the situation. They are hinted at, of course, and exemplified in the only perfect Life we can know. When our Lord said, "Ye are to be perfect," He meant that all His followers everywhere who are in union with Him can grow into fulfilling all His commandments, even the most impossible; and the work of the Holy Spirit is so to unite us to Christ that His divine Life is imparted and His divine view of sin. Further, that growth is arrested if a line is drawn beyond which we think we need not go in self-conquest and self-dedication.
D.--That means, then, that you could not permit the practice in question in any case, no matter how acutely difficult it is?
V.--Yes. But it is not all stark prohibition, as I can show you if we take difficult cases one by one and ponder on them.
D.--That should be the sensible thing to do. But you will be prepared for many of our clients being ready with an objection as soon as they find that you treat those principles as out-and-out true--namely, that they feel no such confidence, and are really guiding their lives independently of their religious creed.
V.--I know it well. But I am glad when they are able to put their case so clearly. My chief trouble is with those who profess to be guided by those principles, and when they find the shoe pinches disown them.
D.--What do they take instead?
V.--Always some form of egoism. Perhaps I had better begin with a typical case by way of illustration. Here is a letter lately received from one of my parishioners, a good solid specimen of the business man, living on something between £1,000 and £1,200 a year; married, one child, a boy. He is thirty-five years old; one of my churchwardens. The letter gives the point of view of a very large number.
"I feel bound to consult you on a difficult problem of modern life, as I find among my friends considerable difference of opinion. Putting it quite shortly it is this: You know how anxious I am to give my boy as good an education as possible--that is, of course, at one of our best Public Schools. To do this on my present income, which is not likely to increase, means careful living and some stiff retrenchment of personal expenditure. It is abundantly clear that we can't afford another child. Do you see anything seriously wrong in the use of contraceptives? Many people are saying nowadays that it is not only not wrong but obviously right. But I cannot help instinctively feeling a repulsion from the practice; and though it is dead against nature to lead an incomplete married life, so far I have not given way to this new fashion. Please tell me what you think.
Well, my answer was to the effect that the practice was certainly wrong for him, and that he himself knew it. If he had not known at the bottom of his heart he would not have mooted the question at all. Also that there are many first-rate schools much cheaper than the big Public Schools, and that an impecunious home is the finest training-ground of character. But what I stressed most of all was the fundamental principle that Christianity is either everything or nothing. If he really believes in Christ he will know that here is a summons to take up his cross. The majority of people are not Christians except so far as is convenient, and that is tantamount to rebellion against God's command; it would be better, indeed, if he acknowledged openly that he meant to have his own way.
S. W.--Ha! that is interesting. What happened next?
V.--From what he said a week or two after it is clear that he has given way and indulges in the practice, though he knows it to be wrong. Of course, he is not at peace within himself, being too good a man to feel easy about the degradation of marriage.
D.--That is very important. Take note in passing that the taking of the line of least resistance results in some cases--indeed, I suspect in a great many--in a steady, persistent violation of conscience. Nobody can say that is a light matter.
V.--Quite true. We will go back to that before we have done. The next case I want to bring before you was much more perplexing. A fellow-parson about thirty-two years old, father of three children, obviously cannot afford a fourth; they are already doing almost without a servant, and the wife has to keep all her strength for household duties. The worst of it is that, being really good and holy people, they resisted the temptation of contraceptives for some few years, and undoubtedly they both seemed to be suffering in mind and body; everybody noticed it. At last some doctor persuaded the man to give way, and the immediate result was an improvement in health and work. This case at first baffled me. If a sincere belief in the Holy Spirit ought to be enough, no matter what the perplexity is, why is it insufficient in the case of so good a man?
There was a pause for a minute or two. Then the Doctor, who had been listening eagerly, asked:
D.--How long had they been married?
V.--Three years, and the children came one each year.
D.--What sort of physique had this couple enjoyed before the difficulty arose?
F.--Oh, good--decidedly good. He was always an energetic man, and of course had to feed well. At the University he was a prominent athlete.
D.--I suppose you were influenced a good deal by the medical opinion?
V.--Yes; and I forgot to tell you that there was more than one doctor who was consulted--two or three possibly--and they were unanimous.
D.--Unanimous in conceding the point at issue? I am not in the least surprised to hear it. I wish to emphasize two facts of great importance to us as we try to get at the truth. First, that a doctor's evidence on the hygienic problem is almost certain to be untrustworthy. Secondly, that ordinary married couples, if one may call them so, do not give themselves a chance of proving by experiment the dominance of the law of self-control. I will explain the expression directly. About the general practitioner first. It surely is indisputable that he is constantly exposed to the most powerful suggestion of error from one year's end to the other.
S.W.--Doctors exposed to error! What do you mean?
D.--Consider the plain facts. Every week a man in full practice is consulted by married people who tell him that they are literally unable to abstain from conjugal intercourse for more than a short time without definite injury to health resulting. That is their invariable contention. Now take notice. There is a very large number of witnesses on the other side--people who have had to exercise the severest self-control for years, and have lived tranquil, happy, busy lives all the same. Do you suppose these people come running to the doctors to tell them so? Not one of them. They have too much reverence for the sanctities of married life to chatter about them to anyone.
S.W.--May I ask how you know this? And would their number be large?
D.--I know it as certainly as anything of the kind can be known--that is, from experience, my own and others'. Soon after I left Cambridge and was finishing my training I made great friends with a married man of about forty, a man of splendid rectitude of character and single-mindedness, who told me what the struggle was in his own case. He married at twenty-four years of age, and his wife was quite young. Several reasons made it necessary to restrict the family as narrowly as possibly; but he used to say that less than three children was not a family at all. So in spite of impecuniosity--he never had more than £500 a year--the two--living, I need not say, in perfect agreement on the subject--so arranged matters that three fine children were born during the first ten years. After that no more. That meant abstinence from intercourse for intervals of two or three years' length, followed by five years when I got to know him. Never have I come across a more ideal home. The life was unspoilt by luxury; their amusements of the simplest; discipline very firm, but light and tempered by beautiful affection.
S. W.--Well, but surely that was a most exceptional case.
D.--Wait a bit. We have to note how far it was exceptional and why. I should mention two things. Both husband and wife had been brought up in homes similar to the one they created themselves. The man's boyhood had been hardy and Spartan. To that I will recur presently. But at the end of a long talk I had with him, on being asked if he had ever thought of using contraceptives, he said: "Most certainly I should have done so if I had not learnt that a Christian means a man who has the Holy Spirit within him, and of course that alters the whole question." As soon as I heard that I felt I was travelling beyond the limits of my own vision, but I could understand enough to see that religious faith still exists, and where it does it makes a huge difference to physical problems; consequently that anyone who is striving towards an impartial and unbalanced view of all the relevant facts must take in that it is grossly unscientific to ignore psychology in this complex question. I mean that whereas many doctors, judging from ridiculously one-sided evidence, pronounce dogmatically that abstinence is impossible or very injurious, all the time there are scores of instances to the contrary round about them; and that one explanation of the victorious self-control of the one group is that they do not start by saying it is impossible, but rather, as Virgil put it, possunt quia posse videntur. The information given me by my mentor in my young days, coupled with my own subsequent personal experience, convinces me that the number of people who do or at least might abstain for long periods is very large; and whether it be dwindling or not it affords evidence which it is criminal to ignore. I am pleading, please observe, not as a preacher, but as a man of science.
S. W.--That certainly makes it necessary to beware of hasty generalizations.
D.--Yes; and it is further to be said that when once a doctor has begun to be influenced by the stream of one-sided suggestion he often gets into hard work, and has no time to correct his faulty impressions. Hence many medical men of fine calibre and high character are grievously misled. Men of inferior morale with egoistic aims in view are sure to follow the line of least resistance. It seems to pay them to say smooth things, and in some cases, no doubt, they wish to justify their own private conduct. I always feel that I was peculiarly privileged to be the recipient of information which directed my attention to what I am now convinced is the truth.
V.--Your second point was that ordinary folk who adopt lax practice have never given themselves a chance. Would you explain?
D.--Certainly. I will give you facts culled from my patients and from observation of modern social life. Let it be noted first that we are considering whether a certain high standard of self-control is possible and desirable as an object to be set before us by the Churches and aimed at by normal married people. By all consent the attainment of it will, in nearly all cases, be very difficult indeed. Now note next that it is a matter of subjugation of appetite, the demand for which is generally made on men and women between thirty and fifty years old; and it is an obvious truth that the antecedents of each individual must have an almost paramount influence on the choice subsequently made. A human being is called upon to deal with this matter of appetite at a very early age indeed. It is of the utmost importance that a child should take enough food. Everybody knows that. It is of quite as great importance that he should not take too much. Only a few people are fully aware of that, because the mischief resulting from excess is not so patent or so immediate as that which follows on malnutrition. So the young child's feeding is taken in hand by the parent or nurse. But as he grows to boyhood he is allowed freedom to pamper or control his appetite for food. If he learns by twelve to keep his desires in subjection to a higher law, he will be fairly well equipped for the momentous struggle which begins at fourteen, and in some cases is not entirely fought out till nearly eighty. But if he has been led to believe that there is no reason he should stop eating till satiety is reached, imagine his helplessness in presence of the far more violent onsets of sexual temptation, which in many cases are formidable enough before marriage, but after marriage in all normal cases make a demand on the will, on the faith in principle which only the strongest characters can hope to meet. Now, in youth the struggle against sensuality is immensely intensified if, all along, indulgence in food has been unchecked. But public opinion, though apparently waning, still demands pre-nuptial continence, and a considerable number muddle along till marriage without fatal collapse.
S. W.--Well, after all, is that not a considerable fact?
D.--Yes, but what are we talking about? I assert without the slightest hesitation that the folly of good and estimable women in respect of pampering their boys' appetites is enough to make any honest patriot tear his hair. There was a correspondence a few years ago in the daily Press about underfeeding in schools, which showed that among the mass of parents of to-day blindness, prejudice, insensate obstinacy of ignorance, reign supreme. The schoolmasters are powerless. There is not a preparatory school in the country which could stand for six months against a rumour of underfeeding. The fact is gluttony is a national vice of ours; and foreigners are under no delusion on the matter. We disapprove of it mildly in middle-aged or old men, but among boys and youths it is encouraged. Note meantime that the effect of this tragic state of things is not primarily physical. It is the attitude towards things of appetite adopted by boys and girls alike which is determined solely by inclination and later on determines conduct. We men believe that girls' appetites are under better control than those of boys. I am not sure. But the point is that all alike are trained to think of bodily desires, varying, of course, in strength, as impulses to be gratified. Against fornication Mrs. Grundy's voice is growing feebler every year. Against unchecked gratification after marriage it is apparently hushed for all time.
S. W.--You would say, then, that among boys overeating is as inflammatory of the passions as overdrinking.
D.--Certainly. But please discriminate. There is the plain palpable physical effect of a heavy meat meal in the evening. The public have been warned for forty years, and about one in ten have tried to modify their practice. The rest allow fuel to be piled on the flame, and later, when there is a conflagration, wring their hands and gnash their teeth as if the Creator had dealt unfairly with them.
S.W.--Nay, but do you really think so huge a proportion of our people are blind?
D.--There ought to be another word for blindness when it is wilful. The physical effects of greediness are visible to the senses. I remember years ago hearing a headmaster, looking gravely at his little boy of nine playing the fool after the Sunday dinner, remark: "The effects of food on the child are similar to those of drink on the adult." Now if your city-man father is confronted with this phenomenon he cannot fail to see it, but of course the truth is he doesn't care. What that means ethically I leave to the Vicar, though I could say a good deal myself.
F.--But, Doctor, I should say there are a good many men whose besetting temptation is not to sensuality, but to less gross forms of lawlessness--pride, ambition, cold-heartedness, and so forth.
D.--I admit that. But take note. There may be some 50 per cent, of men who have no great difficulty in controlling, their sensual appetites before marriage, but if they do not find much greater difficulty after marriage they may be almost classified as abnormal. Further, I must repeat that their conduct as husbands is the outcome, not merely of physical desire, but of a vitiated belief about all bodily appetites: that if they are strong they need not be denied. I think you will now admit that as to the problem of conjugal self-mastery the majority of men and women have had little or no chance given them. The problem of conduct becomes a totally different thing according as there has been antecedently preparation for it or not. Whose fault it is that they are not prepared is another question, which I leave again to our friend here.
V.--Before we come to that let me put this question. You have shown us that the settlement one way or another of the matrimonial problem is often predetermined by laxity or strictness before marriage. Now I have noticed among my people a considerable difference in the rapidity with which children are born. That, I suppose, is a matter bearing closely on our question?
D.--Well, of course that is only another phase of the terrible habit of people to flounder quite heedlessly into a position where they are not free. Suppose four children have been born in rapid succession, and there should be no more. Self-mastery has been banished deliberately and unintermittently from two lives, till, say, at thirty-five years old the serious fact is realized: thus far and no further. If right conduct is now impossible whose fault is it?
S. W.--It seems to me that the perplexity in regard to the educated or semi-educated part of the population is even more complex and baffling than it is among the poor unshepherded slum-dwellers. But I hope you will have something like good counsel to give me on their behalf.
D.--I was just going to say that it is time for the Vicar to take up his parable; but, if you will allow me, I want to point out a further very important part of the large question, What is practically the right thing for ordinary married people to do? What I have said so far is evidence for the broad indictment against us all, that we are incapable of ordinary prudence, and that, owing to that shortness of sight and entire lack of preparation, it does look as if real self-mastery in married life is in very many cases impossible. Neglect of simple precautions alters the problem for the worse. I must mention one other in passing. Supposing a man knows that by temperament and for other reasons he will be subjected after marriage to the severest trial, he would do well to marry rather late. That, combined with long intervals between the births, would strip the position of its desperate character. But anything like adequate preparation involves some stern self-mastery, and, of course, is difficult; but as far as I can see, in proportion as we think good living is easy we proceed to live badly. Now have you the patience to listen to one more statement of prevailing wrong-headedness, whereby right conduct in married life is made to appear impossible?
V.--By all means go on.
D.--This is a matter of elementary psychology. In all ordinary debates about any difficult task laid upon an individual or a group as to whether success in the endeavour is possible or not, people habitually leave out of account, the presupposition with which the effort is begun. Think of what M. Coue* taught us--viz., that the implanting at first of a certain belief makes the whole difference as to the achievement. The weak point in his method was that he suggested an initial belief which all the educated among his patients could not help suspecting to be untrue. Hence his successes were restricted mainly to peasants and children, people who know no scepticism. But as to our problem there is no reason whatever to dabble in untruth. The broad fact remains that abstinence is possible except to those who keep on saying it is not. You can make any project hopeless if you tell yourself often enough, and all your friends tell you too, that there is no hope; and that is true even when you start with some desire to do the thing. How much more when your strong desire is not to do it?
S. W.--But must we not admit that among the advocates of the practice there are many who say, because they sincerely believe, that the opposite is really impossible?
D.--Yes, but are they talking of themselves or others? If of themselves, then I affirm that they are juggling with the truth, unless they have done what is incredibly difficult to do and what they hardly ever dream of doing. Have they tried abstinence for a long time with a really open mind?
S.W.--What do you mean by an open mind?
D.--Why, a mind entirely free of any bias in favour of the opposite, no matter how strong the inclination may be in that direction. I maintain that when the mind decides for inclination nobody can be certain that it has not been influenced by desire against the voice of conscience. If, on the other hand, the decision is against inclination, there is ground for believing the mind has been really open, except, of course, in the case of cranks and poseurs.
S. W.--I am afraid I find it difficult to follow you.
D.--My good sir, I am only answering your objection. You said many of those who advocate laxity of conduct are sincere in their belief that it is unavoidable, implying that they are just as likely to be right as I am. I reply that if they sincerely believe a proposition which they have never tested, though they might have tested it, they are wilfully and culpably irrational. They are discarding the divine gift of Reason, and yet they would be angry if you upbraided them with living like animals.
S. W.--They would say that the proposition requires no testing because it is self-evident.
D.--Ah! but think a moment. If the proposition were self-evident, why do they come to me in such numbers to ask my opinion? They don't come to me or to anyone else to ask if we believe that two and two make four. That reminds me, by the way, that Professor Whitehead remarks it must have taken millions of years of development before that mathematical truth became self-evident to intuition. Since then it has become a dogma. Now the dogma that the use of contraceptives is right and inevitable, a mark of progress, a milestone in the upward march of evolution, and an expression of the mind of youth, etc., is not so old as the dogma that two and two make four. The latter in its earliest stages is lost in the mist of prehistoric antiquity, the other can hardly be called a dogma yet, as it is in this country not older than the days of C. Bradlaugh; and though strongly asserted in words by some and put into practice by very many more, it has never been formulated or unquestioned. It is not yet added to the varied curricula of our secondary schools. Why not? Because among those who indulge in the practice there are many who began it with reluctance and hesitation, many, again, who only go on with it to a minimum extent, and many who show, by their eager affirmations as to its rightness and truth, that they cannot get rid of the suspicion that it is neither right nor true, and that if it is neither of these, it is a horrible hallucination. So a conventional father says nothing about it to his adolescent son, but does not object if someone else does. How different is our attitude towards the mathematical proposition! Suppose an honest citizen of our acquaintance, say John Doe, the alderman, were to request an interview with Richard Roe, the mathematical lecturer, and ask him his opinion as to two and two making five, and further indicated that his object in raising the question was so to add up the two pages in his bankbook as to diminish in theory his overdraft, and meantime point to a multitude of other people who were doing the same, would not Richard be justified in thinking that the British people were losing their common sense, especially if he knew, as, of course, he would know, that another section of the public never dreamt of questioning the old dogma, but acted on it all through their lives, and that these included in their ranks, not some, but all who were known as the best and most successful men of the day? . . . But need I say more? May we not agree that no one in his senses can think of the proposition, that the use of contraceptives is right and a mark of progress, as self-evident?
S. W.--Well, I suppose we must.
D.--Very well, then. Let us next face the position fairly and squarely. If it is not self-evident, is it anything at all? Is it not rather a dubious assertion intended to justify conduct which many people have determined to pursue on grounds utterly remote from logic or rationality or intuition or even common sense?
V.--You mean that the determination as to conduct is made first, the arguments for the conduct determined on are built up afterwards?
D.--Yes; and that the more eagerly the arguments are used the clearer it is that there is an irremovable doubt in the minds of those who use them. But there is a further fact in this connexion which is very serious. There are many who give themselves to the practice unwillingly--that is, after persuading themselves that they cannot help it, but who are never able to shake off the misgiving that they might help it if they liked. Now all these people continue for years acting a part, which is, we are told, the meaning of the Scriptural word "hypocrisy." The uneasiness of mind which results from this they try to allay by getting a warrant from a doctor. If one doctor will not give it they go on to another. Several of my own patients are quite satisfied with me on every other subject but this one. As to this one, they tell each other that I am a crank, and that Dr. X., of North London, is a more levelheaded man. Some, again--and all of these groups I know of personally--deliberately set themselves to stifle their consciences. It takes some of them a long time, but if they stick to it they can succeed. What we ought to think of that, perhaps the Vicar will tell us presently.
F.--I will, gladly; and meantime thank you for the information.
D.--There is still one group of people who must not be omitted from my category. Married people in perplexity often speak to me of friends of theirs who have tried abstinence consistently for many months and have found that the health of both husband and wife has deteriorated, their work suffers, and the conjugal relation is grievously strained. Now as to the ethics of the matter I don't feel able to speak very positively, but as a humble walker in the paths of Science I have to point out to these questioners that what they talk of as evidence is no evidence at all, unless we know much more as to the spirit, the temper, in which the experiment has been undertaken, as well as the antecedent lives and training of the two individuals concerned. I have said enough as to the second point, but the first is the more important. Suppose there has been abstinence for a year, and the whole of that time both parties have repeatedly told each other that it is bound to be a failure, and that the ill-effects are not only grievous privation for the time, but nervous trouble, etc., in the future. Added to this, let us throw in the most criminal want of preparation antecedent to and for some years after marriage, and you have a state of things which makes the so-called experiment of abstinence a wretched travesty of evidence, such as ought never to be spoken of as evidence or indeed mentioned at all save in shame and penitence. Be sure that your classification makes provision for at least one subdivision of each group: (1) Of the continent, divided into (a) those who know the joy of self-mastery, and (b) those who persist in exaggerating its pain and denying its reward. (2) The incontinent, using contraceptives--(a) those who continue throughout to feel the stings of conscience, (b) those who have succeeded in quenching its voice. But there is one other peculiarly perplexing group. What are we to say when there is a sharp divergence of feeling and opinion between husband and wife? The commonest case is where the man insists on mechanical devices and the woman refuses from conscientious reasons. If she gives way it is because appeal is made to her desire to keep her husband's love.
V.--Such cases are too common to be called abnormal. But I cannot for a moment allow that they are to be exceptions from the Church's general exhortation to the higher life. Such a man as you mention actually contemplates seducing his partner from, allegiance to her conscience, not because his true affection for her would otherwise be imperilled, but because his physical appetites cannot otherwise be gratified. If his affection for her were anything higher than physical desire, it would not be imperilled--quite the reverse--by the wife's loyalty to principle. She has every inducement to be lax, but her stedfastness is simply the taking up of the cross which he, on his part, flatly refuses to do. The man has not begun to be a Christian if he can harbour a doubt on the subject. The case is really much simpler than the others we have considered.
D.--Yes, but let us suppose there is no such divergence. The two agree there must be no more children. They try the method of living apart, and come to me complaining that they each begin to feel their affection for the other is endangered or is being subjected to a violent strain.
V.--Do you believe them?
D.--To a certain extent, but not in their use of the word "affection." You see, nearly all of those who urge this particular argument have passed through the passionate erotic stage, which in the large majority of cases is very transient. That stage ought to give place to the agape, or profound reverence for the life's partner, who, like him, is endowed with an immortal soul: in other words, for a love which, while it is less kindled by juvenile passion, is more and more based on the spiritual and less and less on the physical. But I can assure you that such an appeal as I have sketched would merely exasperate such fellows as I have in mind.
V.--I have no doubt it would. Such men have not the slightest wish to follow Christ. If they are really in perplexity, then they are feebly trying to break their fetters, and one might help them by the Gospel appeal. Not unless.
S.W.--I gather, then, that you do not denounce the practice as wrong, nor have you given us your own opinion on that point. Yet that is the very question which is perpetually being asked in every corner of the land.
D.--Quite true. The reason is that though I certainly believe it to be wrong, I have long ago learnt that mere denunciation very seldom deters an adult man or woman from sin. For the most part, if I succeed in turning a couple into the right course it is by persuading them to go and "have it out" with the Vicar. He can give them positive teaching, and will tell us presently how he does it. My job I take to be pointing out to people the gross and wilful entanglement of thought in which they, for the most part, habitually move--paltering with logic, misconceiving facts, caricaturing evidence, lying to themselves, and all the time with minds made up. I sometimes correct their blunders, and if they listen at all to what I say I send them on to the Vicar. But for the most part it would be obviously futile to say anything more than "Don't quote me as saying the practice is innocuous to health, as many of us think it is injurious. Also don't be surprised if you find that the physical pleasure of the sexual act, under these mechanical conditions, dwindles. I see that nothing I or anyone else could say would deter you, so I wish you good-morning." Those are the people for whom I feel real pity. They have scruples, but have resolved to disregard them, and their consulting anyone is mere self-deception. Outside of these is a large horde of what the Bible calls the carnally minded, who take good care to give a wide berth both to the Vicar and me.
S.W.--Doctor, I am greatly obliged to you. What you have said is profoundly interesting, and gives one "furiously to think." But before we separate I hope either you or our friend here will give a practical hint on the problem of my slum-dwellers.
D.--I am afraid I have nothing more definite to say than I have said. Perhaps the Vicar may have something to add more positive and constructive than I have been able to contribute.
V. (after a pause).--Let me see clearly what it is exactly that you wish me to talk about. Not mainly the reasons why I think the practice wrong and injurious to society, but positively what is there to commend the austere line of conduct which is directed to perfect self-mastery and the highest sanctifying of married life? Is that it?
D. and S.W.--Yes; that is just what we want.
V.--Bear with me, then, if it takes some time. You see, of course, that if the positive side of victorious self-control is fairly stated and apprehended, we shall then, and only then, be in a position to deal with the two crucial problems: how to combat cruelty and lust in the slums, and among the educated self-deception and disloyalty to conscience. For it is a very striking fact that in all large ethical questions we have to pass from the outward action to the inward motive, and an honest consideration of that brings us up against what is spiritual--i.e., of a higher order than the natural. But it is with great reluctance and with many backslidings that we struggle up to a higher point of view. The marvel of it is that we are able even to conceive that there is a higher point of view: for we are strongly and defiantly disposed to believe that in the ordering of our lives any stage that we have reached is far enough. But if we try to help a perplexed fellow-pilgrim to reach our particular stage by telling him that we are on it and are satisfied with it, we merely delude him, and he very soon suspects the delusion and quietly ignores our advice. That is to say, he argues that the stage he has reached is as good as the one which we say we have reached, and that the preference of the one stage to the other is a matter of temperament. So in the ethical problem we are discussing he will soon reply to your admonitions that, though there is something he can't help admiring in the gallant struggle whereby you have been enabled to reach the higher level, yet to him with his particular temperament any such attainment is plainly impossible. Moreover, he invariably contends that he has already done enough, and that for him the lower level of conduct is not only sufficient, but, being possible, is actually better than the higher; anyhow, better in practice, whatever the other may be in theory.
S.W.--On my word, you have hit the nail on the head. That contention is surely unanswerable.
V.--Quite, except for one fact which must not be ignored. If the lower level is as good as, or even better than, the higher, how are we to explain the startling unanimity with which we all, "high and low, rich and poor," recognizing the other attainment as the higher, contradict our own estimate, even though the progress to it is marked invariably by "many a sorrow, many a labour, many a tear"?
D.--If we are honest we must admit that we can't. It seems to me that there must be some falsehood in the notion that at any time and at any stage we may stand still.
V.--It must indeed be so. But notice how the falsehood is exposed. Imagine one of us, A., an ordinary man, looking up with unfeigned admiration to B., who is a long way ahead of us on the path of virtue, till one day we discern in him some clear evidence of self-satisfaction, self-congratulation. We come upon him unexpectedly as he is engaged in patting himself on his own back, or, as Liddon said of Cicero, "like a big tom-cat, purring his own praises"; and in an instant our admiration for him begins to die, losing all spontaneity, and shrivelling into a poor grudging tribute which he can hardly call respect or esteem. But in virtue of what principle do we do this? If B. is right in thinking he has striven high enough, has he not reached alevel which entitles him to say: "I have done well; I thank God I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust," etc.? There must be some deep law which forbids the assumption that in our time on earth we are ever entitled to fold the hands and let things slide: in other words, take the line of least resistance. Do you not agree, Doctor?
D.--Yes, but cannot the almost univeral practice of the more lenient principle be held to be some warrant for its truth?
V.--No, because the practice is of no importance compared with the fact that the saint and the hero are never satisfied. We reverenced our Tommies in thw ar because they stuck at nothing. If Christ had not drunk the cup to the dregs we should never have heard His name.
D.--Your argument, then, is that as soon as a married couple avail themselves of this modern invention they are refusing to press on to a higher level of self-mastery than they have hitherto attained--in short, they are drawing the line beyond which they need not go. They would grant you they are renouncing the higher and choosing the lower, preferring the conventional to the heroic. But suppose they ask you why not? Are all men called to be saints and heroes?
V.--That question brings me to my main contention. If I can bring a parishioner along to the point we have reached, I have to ask him if he is a professing Christian. He probably answers in the affirmative. I then go on to say: "My good sir, your creed makes your question superfluous. You profess to honour Christ as God and to reverence especially His teaching. Did not he say: 'Ye are to be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect'? And does not St. Paul talk of his converts as on their way to the fullness of the stature of Christ?
D.--Yes, but though I can guess what you are going to say, there are thoughtful and earnest people who cannot tolerate such maxims as part of the Gospel. Many a good man says honestly 'I don't profess to be a saint.' Are we to suppose they are all disobedient to Christ? The law of Moses was far too difficult for men and women of old, but the law of the Christian life is infinitely more severe. It is the most thoughtful and earnest-minded of my clients who speak in this strain, and I tell them candidly that I know there is an answer, which certainly is not anything like an easy concession, but I haven't felt able to put it clearly.
V.--Notice how the words of Christ which I have quoted chime in with all His teaching--"Moses said unto you . . . but I say unto you. . . "; then follows the law, "Thou shalt not kill," spiritualized--i.e., changed from something quite aloof from all ordinary lives into something piercing into the thoughts of the heart, intimate, beyond words, exacting, and awfully severe. But we dare not repudiate the commandment.
But we dare not repudiate the commandment. Again, "Love your enemies." There is a precept which, as we all know who are over thirty years of age, was wholly impossible--anyhow, for a time--to nearly all right-minded people in England, France and Belgium who were capable of righteous indignation. I saw wholly impossible. But why did we not then forbid the words to be read in church? Or take two of the most appealing of the miracles--"I say unto thee, Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thy house." To whom did He speak that injunction? To a poor fellow whose first thought must have been "I am the one sufferer in all this city to whom this order is most manifestly a mockery"; and suppose he had remained brooding on that thought! Or, more arresting still, in the story--honoured in three ways with a special distinction--"give ye them to eat," imagine the cynical contempt with which Iscariot--the practical man of the party--received the order! [It is the only miracle (1) recorded by all four evangelists, (2) mentioned by our Lord after it was worked, (3) chosen more than once in our Prayer-Book as the Gospel for the week.] And so on all through. If it is possible top pick out any words of Christ which have stamped themselves on our hearts as a message of imperishable beauty and truth, it would be those that most plainly transcend our powers, and for that reason, mark you, are acknowledged to be the greatest of the sayings and the most gracious. For instance, "Be not anxious what ye shall eat"; "Take up thy cross"; "He that will be my disciple must deny (forget) himself"; and a few more. Moreover, think of the Lord's moral example to which many of my lay friends appeal with enthusiasm as the guide to their lives. They would be the first to say that the example is one of transcendent perfection and therefore beyond their horizon. But if it is really beyond our horizon it is a terribly mockery of human aspiration that God ever allowed it to be manifested down on this earth of ours. If it is not beyond our horizon, but in any sense attainable, then the striving upwards, the growth into it, must be the beginning of heaven upon earth.
D.--I was consulted last year about a pitiable yet grotesque case of lunacy. A tall, very handsome man was asked to pose for a model of a picture of Christ. The expression of his eyes was mild yet dignified. He had a short, auburn beard--a very rare thing--and there was marked stateliness in his movements. But the poor fellow got his head completely turned. He now goes about fancying himself to be the Messiah, Christ Himself. I have even seen him in church obviously taking to himself the homage of the congregation. A very lamentable case.
V.--Yes, indeed. But lamentable because of its unspeakable absurdity, and hence what we call madness. Think what that means. Here we have a record of one whom all Christians and nearly all heathen and infidels acknowledge as adorable, not only for the sublimity of His character, but for the love He showed in bidding us follow and imitate Him. Stripped of that injunction, that implication which runs through all His words and deeds, the Gospel is a mere dangling before our eyes of an unapproachable ideal. In other words, if He had not bidden us do the impossible we should not worship Him. Yet--not the paradox--no sooner does a poor fellow come along claiming to have found fulfillment of the Saviour's words, "Ye are to be perfect," than we recognize a real lunatic!
D.--And what is so weird about it is that, granting his one premiss, he is not blameworthy but quite logical. Someone acutely remarked that all the jokes in Alice in Wonderland were strict logic a little misapplied. I sometimes think the more logical a man's life is the more likely he is to go mad; but that is not because he is logical, but because he starts from the wrong premises, which is always some form of egoism.
V.--That would be an interesting subject of debate. But we must keep our problem in view, and I want to get your hearty agreement to the proposition that for a true Christian this matrimonial problem offers no insoluble difficulty whatever.
S.W.--I wish I could assent to that. If I am allowed to call myself a Christian--I trust I may--I am certainly not free from perplexity on the subject: not yet, though much of what the Doctor has said puts the problem in a somewhat fresh light.
V.--For a sincere believer in the Apostles' Creed--or, let us say, one who cannot help admiring the Te Deum--it is not possible to consider this or any other problem without remembering that he is at least inclined to believe (a) that our Creator has revealed in Christ His infinite love for man and for the world. That means He is always dealing with us for our salvation. Hence He never commands what is really impossible; for every command contains a promise of power; and, further, every command is consonant with and illustrated by the character of Christ. (b) That the response which God always requires to His mighty overture to man is not simply obedience, but glad and willing self-surrender in a spirit of unfeigned thankfulness. All sin is ingratitude in action. (c) That as the Love revealed is infinite, so the judgment in store for those who reject it is "unspeakably awful." So the Prince of Love repeatedly taught. (d) That the adversary of man frequently spoken of by Christ tempts, in countless different ways, all men, especially those who have some love of goodness, to introduce some element of bargaining or watering down or minimizing of God's law. An example of this deadly sin is given by the story of Balaam in the Old testament; by the Pharisees in the New. Balaam was what Liddon called a "minimizer of duty," and it is significant that he is the only typical rebel against God who is mentioned in later books of Holy Writ and aalways as a supremely bad man. The congeniality to human nature of the same sin exhibited by the Pharisees explains the appalling severity of our Lord's denunciation. (e) That God's commands are always given in hints, which cannot be understood, still less acted on, by those whose first aim is worldly prosperity, friends, fame, etc., not the love of God and His law. I cannot conceive of anyone who thinks of these propositions as approximately true contemplating the least concession to the lower appetites, whereby there is any risk whatever of the sanctity of Christian marriage being defiled.
D.--I am beginning to understand you. But you notice that you lay the whole stress of your argument on the assumption that the voice of conscience is clear and undisputed. Now, of course, as you know, there is an outcry nowadays against any such assumption being made. We are perpetually challenged to show that the practice under discussion is wrong. But in your exposition of principle you are disposed to deal sparely with that part of the subject and emphasize rather the heroism of self-sacrifice, promptitude of obedience, and so forth. Yet it is not unlikely that the people we have in mind are unable to understand this positive teaching, but may be disposed to come to terms on the negative question: Why is the thing wrong?
V.--Well, note carefully what I have to say here. The question shows that our friends are dealing with an ethical question as if it could be dissociated from the theory of life, which must be at the back of it. It has often been remarked that every man, woman, and child in the world has a theory of why we are in the world--not, mark you, how we got here--and on that theory proceeds to live. Now there are two theories which Christ designated as God and Mammon. They point in opposite directions and lead to goals very much further than the poles asunder. The one is that we are in the world to live in the pursuit of happiness as it presents itself to each individual ego. That is to say, some individuals aim at their own particular happiness, others at promoting the happiness of their neighbours, some of these latter being beautifully free from egoism, and having been reckoned as blending with the other group I have to mention. But the dominating characteristic which distinguishes one group from the other is that--(1) it allows life to be ordered on the principle of egoism, whether the activities be altruistic or not. For philanthropy may be, and sometimes is, a living by inclination--that is, following the line of least resistance. (2) On the other hand, the other main group subordinates all forms of egoism to a higher law, which prescribes very often a ruthless snubbing of natural desires, and deeply mistrusts the line of least resistance; and more than that, faces the dread element in life we call Suffering, not only as a comparatively trivial incident in life, but as something to be welcomed, because it is the very common--nay, indispensable--concomitant of all excellence in achievement and of all inspiring example. Do you agree so far?
D.--Assuredly. I would add, also, that a law is plainly at work which forbids these two theories to be held simultaneously in equal balance. One, at any given moment, must be first, the other second or nowhere. Ye cannot serve both God and Mammon together, though there is not a soul alive, I suppose, who does not repeatedly try to, in spite of the mass of evidence that all such attempts come to worse than nothing.
V.--Quite so. Now, don't you see, if that is the relation between the two theories, it is obviously futile to start off discussing whether a course of action is wrong? You have to ascertain first what is the theory of life behind it. For, note this: though one theory leads, as you and I believe, to life and the other to ruin, yet it is far better that life should be lived honestly in accordance with the wrong theory than that it should be a perpetual wobbling between the two. If, therefore, a course of action in reference to a particular individual is being discussed, the first question to be settled is, Is it consistent with the theory of life which he tries to live by when he is at his best?
D.--H'm. Rather awkward, won't it be, for busy people like you and me to begin every interview by putting that very intimate question?
V.--The proceeding may be shortened as much as you please, but the question must be faced--does the applicant meant to look at the problem as a Christian who believes in God's grace or not as a Christian? The shortest way, I suggest, would be to say: "Look here, sir, you come to consult me as to the rightness or wrongness of contraception. That shows, I suppose, that you have some scruples against it?" He will probably say "Yes"; then I should ask if he believed those scruples to be the voice of the Spirit of God.
D.--He would probably answer that he supposed so, as there was nothing else that could account for the phenomenon.
V.--Very well. Then get him to see that he has been endowed by God with that belief, and that the whole drama of his life's pilgrimage consists in the choice always before him of acting promptly and gladly on that belief or shilly-shallying with it. If it is true, it is everything; if it is untrue, it is a peculiarly troublesome superstition.
D.--Suppose he prefers the shilly-shallying and calls it enlightenment?
V.--Tell him not to waste your time further but go. If he admits the former, you can show him how to interpret the problem on good, ordinary moral grounds; but tell him the five propositions just stated--why not give them to him on a card?--and if he seriously considers them I think I could show him whither they point. You do a great service to a man if you get him to face the question, Am I or am I not a follower of Christ? instead of playing with it; and even though you don't pursue the matter further into the supernatural region yourself, you give him a push in that direction. If you rescue a single married life from defilement you may be saving two souls.
D.--Well that must be true unless the Day of Judgment is a grim and terrifying delusion, and that I can never admit.
V.--It is certain that our problem would never have assumed its present dimensions unless all teaching on that tremendous subject had practically ceased for the last fifty years. But, as we agree on that matter so far, let us postpone further consideration of it to-day, profoundly important though it be. For the nonce, let us note that the most comprehensive and, I think, conclusive summary of the case against contraception is that the main and only excuse for so repellent a practice is in the supposed impossibility of the alternative. But no Christian can admit the impossibility. Indeed, from the rational or scientific point of view it is found to be doubtful.
D.--Let me see, then: you would say that the Christian affirmations, if accepted, make the whole difference to the will to achieve--by inspiring a great hope and suggesting also the awfulness of man's responsibility.
V.--Yes; and, further, that the facts of the case, fairly examined, yield plenty of instances of victorious self-mastery which make it more than doubtful if in this subject the word "impossible" ought ever to be used. Now, ethically speaking, there is nothing whatever praiseworthy in the combination of a professed reverence for the Christian faith, and conduct which implies denial of its central lesson. That lesson is that the blessedness spoken of through the Psalms, and, indeed, all through the Bible, belongs to a love of God's law, and that love is destroyed as soon as we pare down the law in one single particular. Does not St. James say so? But what I am concerned with now is not only what guilt means, but what blessedness means. Blessedness means growth in holiness--growth which is not wilfully checked in any single department or detail of ordinary life.
S.W.--But is not that too severe for ordinary folk?
V.--Are you not forgetting again the fact of the Holy Spirit within us? Can anything be too great for Him? Look what transformations of lives have gone on for 2,000 years, each one an incredible portent, except as being the operation of the Divine Person Himself. The really astounding fact is not the evil of the world but the good. When we assume the reality of the one and shape our lives by it we perish. By surrendering ourselves to the other we receive now and here the beginnings of Eternal Life. But it must be a surrender, mind you, not a bargain.
"High Heaven rejects the lore
Of nicely calculated less or more."
Perhaps the most illuminating episode in the Gospel story is that of the rich young ruler who claimed that he had kept the moral law from his childhood onwards: in other words, he was strongly disposed to believe that he had made enough effort. Yet he was not quite sure; if he had been either he would not have come to Christ or would have received no answer. (Cf. "Neither tell I you . . .") He was in precisely the position of those who give way to the lure of contraception, but not without scruple and misgiving. The Lord's demand on the young man was that he should open his eyes and look forwards, for every step forward on the narrow way opens out new regions of thought and endeavour. If it does not it must be a step backward. There is no such thing as standing still and counting your gains in the spiritual life. We must remember that the searching and severe demand made by Christ was prompted by His infinite love and sympathy with him. Christ saw that in him there were misgivings, hesitation, and lingering self-distrust: exactly the state of mind of those who in the married state are either hovering on the brink of lawlessness or have given way to it in disquietude of heart.
There was a long pause. At last the Doctor resumed:
D.--That is certainly a view of religion which suggests an infinite hope. But I suppose everything depends on how far it is applicable to everyday problems. Let us honestly bring these grand principles to bear on our friend's slum trouble. If the principle be true, it will work. If not, it will not work.
V.--Very true. But note that by "working" we do not mean such immediate and visible success as we naturally expect and crave. What we all clamour for is the speedy removal of the problem; but there is grave doubt if anything speedy is part of God's scheme, which normally works very slowly, being throughout retarded by man's indifference.
S.W.--Well, I am bound to say there is truth in that. If people do not care you can get nothing done. But how are we to make them care?
V.--Again ask yourself if you are considering the matter as a Christian or not. But we have thrashed out that question pretty well. Let us take up the Doctor's challenge. Christian principles, as I think you would agree, forbid the use of contraceptives as a normal practice, because if not, then the Church would be countenancing on an indefinitely large scale a course of life which is only tolerable to those who habitually discard our Lord's teaching as to the Holy Spirit working in the Christian society.
D.--Why, then, do our bishops not condemn it as the authorities of the Roman Church do?
F.--Because there is a difference of opinion among them about the cases which I call abnormal--that is, as S.W. has told us, in the slums there is an appalling amount of bestial cruelty and suffering and reckless breeding. Can a device be condemned offhand which promises to check this intolerable state of things?
S.W.--No wonder there is doubt as to the answer to that question.
F.--Some hesitate as to whether it is right to apply lofty Christian principles when you are dealing with people in a state of degradation, who cannot imagine what the principles mean.
D.--That is a parallel to the complicated issue before our Government in 1914. War, which would be a flagitious outrage if nations were equally civilized, becomes almost righteous if you are dealing with a nation who have never advanced beyond the aphorism that Might is Right.
F.--Well, anyhow, this is my suggestion. Let the Church make it plain that no one who tries to regulate his life on Christian principles can consistently think of adopting mechanical or artificial preventives of conception, but that in the lowest strata of society, such devices may be allowed in rare cases as a possible preventive of a public danger. What do you think of that, Doctor?
D.--I should thoroughly approve of the prohibition being enforced as far as possible on all who are professing Christians, definitely members of some Christian denomination. But, as everybody knows, among the submerged tenth it is often impossible to know if various individuals are professing any principles whatever, except that they are in this world to resist the pressure of circumstances. Indeed, this applies to higher sections of society, too. Your suggestion requires a community accustomed, not as ours nominally is, to persuasion, but to drill and dragooning like the Prussians, or to a clearly defined ecclesiastical system like the Roman Church. We talk tall about the liberty of the individual, but what we achieve is a vast hugger-mugger.
V.--Nobody could dispute what you say. It is a waste of time to call for the moon--that is to say, for a populace ready to do what they are told. The British people have never been of that sort. Nevertheless, it is the Church's business to assert the principle that married life is in most cases a supreme test of character. In other words, it calls more clearly, more urgently than any other frequent experience for the subjugation--not the suppression--of the ego and all its claims--that is, self-denial in its true sense. Is there any reason why that should not be made part of a regular preparation for marriage just as we have a preparation for Confirmation?
S.W.--Now that is a sound idea. You are getting to the heart of the matter. We might expect not an abolition of our difficulties but a lessening of them. There would still be many hard cases, but not so many as now.
D.--I see no objection whatever so far as the proposal goes. But note that something can be done to make agreement as to the main practical question as far-reaching as possible. Serious-minded people are really unanimous in the conviction that in a very special way the married relation calls for self-mastery and joint consensus on fundamental principles. The conviction implies a condemnation of any such repudiation of the Cross of Christ, of the ideal, I mean, as is involved in any heedless adoption of contraceptives. In other words, right-minded people do really agree in condemning the practice per se. Where they differ is, as to the number of cases which are so complex as to present an alternative of two hideous evils: cither the continuance of unnameable horrors in the slums, or the facilitation of the very self-indulgence which has caused the horrors.
S.W.--How do you know that they do agree?
D.--Not many months ago I joined a strong committee, informally, I think, appointed to report on this question. The majority were clearly in favour of contraceptives being encouraged in certain crucial cases--not specified, and the objection that the stern attitude taken throughout was not compatible with the concessions made here and there was not pressed. The fact is that a minority, four in number, were unable to sign because of these very concessions. So the majority report was left containing many strong expressions condemnatory of the practice, which show distinctly that deep in the minds even of persons recommending its use in difficult cases there was an undeniable instinct against these mechanical devices. Further, it is worth noting that some preliminary draft reports were written by the chairman, aiming at a unanimous report, rather lax, I thought, at the start, but decidedly stiffened as the discussion proceeded. I inferred that the moral condemnation was based on a conviction too widespread and too irrefragable to be set aside. It surely means that there must be thousands of people all over the country who are using contraceptives in spite of their own disapproval.
V.--My experience corroborates what you say.
D.--Then look at it a little closer. If instinct and conscience are against it, what remains for its support?
S.W.--Why, I suppose nothing except the exceeding difficulty of the alternative.
D.--You must be right. Well, if the case for concession rests entirely on the strength of inclination, notice how desperately it is in conflict with the whole trend of the Vicar's statement as to the difficulty or suffering involved in a course of action. So little, he contended, from a Christian point of view, can suffering be an argument against a high moral standard of conduct, that in reality it is as strongly in its favour. On rational grounds I should support that proposition. For if, in spite of severe suffering involved, a certain course of action is approved and practised by sane men who cannot be called fanatical or strait-laced or silly, it is to be inferred by any Christian that our admiration for their heroism is based on the divine warrant. But as to the opposite course in this case, a deliberate concession to inclination, not the strongest advocate for it in his most heated moment has ever dared to claim there is anything divine about it whatever.
S. W.--What had your opponents on the committee to say to that?
D.--It was not pressed forcibly upon them. For myself, I confess I did not at the time see the point clearly till I had some talk with the Vicar. But I can't help remembering a pithy and terrifying remark of James Hinton: "When a majority of the population consider suffering to be a greater evil than sin, damnation has begun." Now, are we to suppose that the general assent which is given to that and similar affirmations can be the unprompted outcome of the man's self-indulgent heart, or is it prompted from some odier quarter? If so, from whence?
S. W.--Does that make it any easier to deal with my poor friends in the back streets of Haggerston?
V.--No. If our assent to the statement made our course easier I should suspect it. What it does do is to make it plain that the difference between the two lines of conduct is simply the difference between good and evil, heaven or hell.
D.--True; but a Christian who has not thought rather deeply on what the claim of his religion really is would not assent to that. But one word more before following up that diread. We are going to think whether any relaxation whatever of the severest claim might be made in the direction which S.W. began by suggesting. Now there is a consideration which must, I think, alter the angle from which we contemplate the question. It is ordinarily put in this way. Here is a mass of festering evil in our big towns and elsewhere. An obvious palliative presents itself. Some pious and old-fashioned folk think the palliative wrong. Other good people cannot agree. Meantime the evil continues, so philanthropic folk are taking the bull by the horns and teaching the use of contraceptives in the slums and elsewhere. But it never occurs to them that they are ignoring, or rather trying to reverse, the law whereby Christianity,has gripped the heart of mankind. That Christianity is still alive is a stupendous marvel: for nearly 2,000 years the Church's teaching has been uniformly a summons to her children to subdue their very strongest instincts to the claims of a higher law than self-gratification. Nothing, one would suppose, would have tended so surely to destroy the Church's influence than the insisting on so unpalatable a message. But, lo! in proportion as members of the Church, lay and clerical, have preached that law and acted on it in their daily life the strength of Christianity has waxed and religion has lifted the lives of thousands far and near. But the moment Christians have climbed down from that austere standard which I have indicated, the world turns its reverence into scorn; and the alienation of the working classes to-day from institutional religion is due to a deep suspicion--not altogether ill-grounded--that the Church in various ways is making terms with the vast multitude who want a manageable religion, the immense party of the line of least resistance. Let that be in our minds when we are asked to countenance a concession to inclination, which is advocated almost entirely because of the pains and privations offered by the alternative.
S.W.--I cannot argue with you on these large subjects, but there is one point we ought to make clear. Have you not both of you assumed too readily that you know what God's will is? I mean that your conviction that contraceptives are always wrong makes you infer that some other plan of action is right. Well, then, let us know what that other plan is. So far I have gathered nothing.
V.--Pardon me, that is not exactly the question before us--at least, not at present. We are prepared to admit that we have to make a choice between two evils. That seems certain. But if so, we are in danger of discussing the matter ad infinitum unless we can agree in our estimate of the desirability, or the reverse, in itself of the remedy proposed. That means we must be at one if possible on the question whether we are to attack the symptom or the cause. Hence you see our long discussion has not been irrelevant. You agree, Doctor?
D.--Yes. As to the choice between two evils, I heard the other day a delightful definition of a pessimist: "He is a man who, when confronted with a choice between two evils, chooses both." We are applying a remedy which we cannot approve of to an intolerable state of things. The so-called remedy is more and more in vogue, and the horrible state of things shows no signs of being diminished. Modern society is pessimistic indeed.
S. W.--Oh, but surely we are better than we were.
V.--Certainly, in so far as there is more desire than there was to do something. But how invariably it has been the case that remedies hastily applied have been superficial, and where they are superficial they always aggravate the disorder. In this matter before us the disorder is group selfishness, or the bondage of the many to inclination. The symptoms are what we see. I do not deprecate our grappling with the symptoms. For one thing, there are very many among us who cannot see below the surface, but are really eager to do something. It is better they should expend their energies than do nothing; but those who can see below the surface ought to warn them against doing the wrong thing. Further, it ought to be manifest that the wrong-ness of a remedy applied shows itself in two ways. It often diminishes the symptoms for a time while yet the disorder works increasingly underneath.
S.W.--The upshot of that, then, will be let it alone. You can hardly mean that?
D.--No; he means that, in the words of a prayer composed in times when there was something of the vanished quality of patience in men's minds, we must try to think and do always such things as be rightful. Remember, for most Englishmen the line of least resistance nowadays is to act without thinking. Once it was to do neither, or, rather, our forefathers bandaged each other's eyes and ate and drank--very largely both--married and were given in marriage. To-day we are just as careful about bandaging our eyes; but that is an irrelevant precaution when the trouble is that we are running our heads against one brick wall after another.
S.W.--I think I see what you mean. Have you any suggestion, then, as to our avoiding the wrong remedy?
D.--Well, the problem is always twofold in character. While we are dealing with symptoms we must always act so as to teach the principle of self-control. The symptoms are evidences of the devastating effects of self-gratification pursued for centuries by groups of men. So the Church should make it abundantly clear that the normal life for all her children is to be a life dedicated not merely to making this world a pleasanter place to live in, but to the service of God--that is, a life surrendered first to the will of God, who calls us to be trained by discipline for another world, not primarily to be happy in this. Officially, therefore, and openly the Church must forbid the practice, and join with other Christian denominations in witnessing to their firm belief in the gift of grace and its power. What think you, Vicar?
V.--I heartily agree.
D.--Yet there is a peculiarly tough argument looming before us in reference to results. It must be faced squarely, and I should put it as follows: Endless difficulties arise, but the Vicar is clearly right in saying that as much difference as possible should be made between the flock who are trying to learn what the infinite promise of the Christian's privilege is and those who don't care--that is the first practical aim. I have only recently come to see that a religion which guarantees and ratifies our moral aspirations is totally different from a kind of unprincipled worldly prudence, which at one moment recognizes the divine law as sublime because it is difficult, and then makes its difficulty an excuse for disobeying it. Suppose the Church takes action, as it has done in France: what happens? I heard many years ago, and have had it corroborated lately, that the filthiest form of contraception is very often insisted on by the man, and the woman has been told by the priest that it is wrong and she believes it. Now is there any possible way of dealing with that hideous evil--I mean for the Church?
V.--The Roman practice is not to insist on separation, but to charge the wife to protest pertinaciously.
D.--Can anyone conceive a fouler state of things? A man uses the power given him by the sacred ordinance of matrimony to coerce into an unspeakable slavery the woman whom he professes to love. The commonest prostitute is not treated so vilely.
V.--Yet I suppose many of those men would fashion some kind of excuse for their action?
D.--No doubt they would. But is not the problem of Church action more perplexed than ever? You and I have been inclined to envy the Romans their definite regulations, their power in the confessional, and so on. But their strictness seems to produce a worse state of things than our laxity.
V.--Yes, but that is no argument for or against either the one or the other. The more honestly and freshly any truth is pressed upon any group of mankind, the more open and unabashed the antagonism it arouses. The better sort are made better, the worse are made worse, and that is an indication of moral progress, if Martensen is right.
D.--That view of things is surely difficult to understand. What does the Danish thinker say?
V.--He says that the consummation of things we call the end of the world cannot come about till all the latent mass of evil in man's poisoned nature has worked itself out, so that all can see what has been overcome by Christ in heaven working through the sons of men. Meantime both groups and individuals may become warnings, and so hasten forward the coming of the Kingdom. But let us beware of using possible results as tests of conduct. Think of the Lord's Incarnation, how it has increased the guilt of the majority, who don't disbelieve it but are afraid of it.
D.--Well, I suppose something of that sort will happen in England if the Church speaks out. It is a sickening prospect, but better, I really believe, than the present welter of the lukewarm and double-minded. What I mean by hard cases in the slums are those in which the difficulty of the situation has been enormously aggravated by neglect, by want of preparation for marriage, and utter debasement of character and understanding. They are people I call abnormal because they have been artificially degraded and have become a public danger.
V.--If they are abnormal they fall outside the range of the Church's prohibition, and must be dealt with as morbid cases, demanding special medical treatment. But if the people concerned are members of the Church and known to be, it ought to be made clear to them that if contraceptives should seem to be the only possible way, it is a delusion. Not a word of concession should be breathed, lest it should remain uncertain whether being baptized into the Church makes any difference or not. Either these people have been promised the Holy Spirit of God or they have not. We ought not to dream of appealing to baptized Christians in the same tone as to "those without."
S.W.--What, then, are you going to do with those outsiders, and the large floating horde who are wholly ignorant of what Church membership means?
V.--It is not my business to say what is to be done with the professed outsiders who have never been members or have abjured membership.
S.W.--Then your action would be determined by the possibility of separating off Christians from non-Christians?
V.--Rather let us say the separation is the inevitable result of any faithful insisting on the Gospel truths. Well, what I am now going to say demands consideration from all the immense multitude who have some respect for what is morally right, and along with that a certain, often vague idea that Christ really was a Saviour, and His story a Gospel of good tidings. The present chaos is due to the truth having been feebly, confusedly taught or not taught at all. If you can't get teachers and workers who will consistently proclaim the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the living hope of the Christian conflict, the "stern joy" of the warrior who attacks impossibilities and subdues the flesh to the spirit, the present welter of different ideals will continue. But notice, there is some loyalty to principle shown by the public bodies who refuse to encourage the propagation of mechanical devices for dealing with moral evils. I don't say that they lessen thereby the present confusion and distress--probably nothing can do that--but they show that where the results of policy are all uncertain the only hope is to stick firmly to what you know to be the higher course of action.
S. W.--I am afraid I must leave you now. So much I have gathered and will report to my committee--namely, that in these overcrowded areas the first thing to do is to reaffirm the strict law of life for all who are definitely Christians. And as to the outsiders, you have nothing particular to say.
D.--No, excepting that the negative moral reasons which I put before you at the beginning are worth attending to, and I think your committee will understand them. They really are common sense. The theological foundation for them is deeper and more difficult, and I would not force it upon their notice just yet.
S. W.--I will not, partly because I could not put it into words myself. But I will do my best. Many thanks to you both. Good-evening.
The Doctor and the Vicar separated, but, meeting shortly afterwards, resumed the discussion as to what message the Church has to give to the multitude of educated civilized men and women who are at present sorely baffled by contradictory appeals made from all sides on their worldly prudence and on their consciences, and also by the silence maintained1 by the Bishops and the Nonconformist leaders alike, from whom they had been expecting some guidance.
The Vicar was encouraged in his view as to the connexion between ethics and the Christian creed--by finding the Doctor coming into closer agreement with him each time they looked into the matter together. Both of them, however, were indisposed to lay down the law in any spirit of harsh dogmatism--that was not their tone in counselling S.W. Still less with regard to the complex problems of the educated and comparatively civilized sections of society.
V.--Good-morning, Doctor. I hope our good friend S.W. was not plunged into still further bewilderment by our talk with him the other day.
D.--I fancy not. He anyhow sees that it is dangerous to plead practical difficulties as a final argument against any proposal.
V.--I have been thinking on the matter, and wish to put before you some considerations which bear upon the problem of civilized society no less than on that of the slum-dwellers. Each time we come upon the essential requirement of the life that is to be a following of Christ, a progress, and a living by His Spirit; I mean, of course, self-mastery. I am reminded of a remarkable book written by a German who was converted to Christianity from atheism when he realized that to Christianity was due the best social institution on earth--namely, Monogamy. It would be interesting to trace the connexion between the two, but not to-day. I mention it here because exactly the same principle is at work now as when monogamy began. In itself the institution makes a stern demand on self-dedication to a higher law than appetite--too stern, alas! for many of our countrymen in these times. There must have been many a protest of old from those who thought it was too difficult. Christianity preached the ideal as being within man's reach, not because the majority of Christians would answer the call, but because the social change was according to the "mind of Christ." Had the Church quailed before the angry murmurs of all who wish to banish the Cross of Christ from sexual relations, think where we should be by now! That same murmur is heard again to-day. What answer will the Church give? I hope and pray the Bishops will clearly see that to burke the question is simply impossible. They may speak or keep silence. By the former they would say, "The thing is forbidden"; by the latter they would show they don't care.
D.--May I interpose at this point? I want to be quite sure we are doing full justice to the scruples which cause hesitation in the minds of some of our best men. Not long ago I heard through an intermediary of the state of mind of one of our leaders--I must leave it in the dark whether he is Churchman or Nonconformist--who has been greatly influenced by his wife. She, I must tell you, is one of those women whom it does good to a coarse, common fellow like me to meet, if only for ten minutes once in a way. There is an expression of purity in her face which makes one infer how deep and instinctive must be her shrinking from evil, her loyalty to good. Very rarely one comes across a man of this particular native guile-lessness, a Nathanael drawn to Christ by love at first sight. But Shakespeare has portrayed several women endowed with this inward chastity--the beautiful thing which has not been won by effort but tranquilly accepted as a temperamental gift from heaven. Now this man has heard from this lady, his wife, of the precise nature of the difficulty with which sundry excellent and holy people are confronted. She is, as you would expect, of a deeply sensitive and compassionate spirit, and feels profoundly for the distress, the mental upset, the harassing nervous trouble of certain friends of hers who have been struggling in noble conscientiousness against a course of living such as they cannot approve of. They cannot, yet one by one they give way, and their report is that they have been blessed with better health, more equable spirits, and minds set at rest. The wife has reported this kind of thing to her husband, and you cannot be surprised at his hesitation.
V.--I am not indeed. But are you not forgetting that we have already considered these crucially difficult cases, agreeing, first, that they are very few in number, and then showing how, by unswerving trust in God, the vexing antinomy of conduct disappears? Let me say further that if we look the facts steadily in the face we must acknowledge that in some of our choicest spirits there is a beautiful innocence which, though it is a witness to the kingdom of heaven on this defiled earth of ours, is actually a disqualification for the office of counsellor in some of the problems of chastity--as to the offering of our bodies a living sacrifice to God. Are they not like a rather distant beacon-light shining across a peculiarly dangerous tract of morass over which we pilgrims, between the cradle and the grave, have painfully to pick our way? They show the direction in which we must press on, but they tell us nothing as to the intervening quagmire, because they somehow have reached firm ground without having to be vigilant about every single step in their journeying. They do not know that at any moment the dim track in the quaky bogland may be hidden from our scrutiny, and tnat unawares we may plunge into a gulf from which alas! vestigia nulla retrorsum, no "place of repentance, though it be sought for with tears." One holy poet of old sang, "Keep innocency, and do the thing which is right"; but what if the innocency has been forfeited long ago? In other poems we have the answer: "Thou hast delivered my soul from the nethermost hell"; or "Thou hast set my feet on the rock and ordered my goings"; or again, "Come near . . . and I will tell you what He hath done for my soul." Of old it was known that the "wayfaring man, though fool," has learnt that a wisdom not his own keeps his feet from destruction, and that without it or when he has for a time forgotten it he has always found that his foot has slipped, but that always he is able to add, "Thy mercy, O God, hath held me up." How much more certainly should we know it to-day! Among those rescued ones you will find the most skilled guides, for they know how treacherous are the "moor and fen," the "crag and torrent" of our pilgrimage. It is sometimes--not always--their consolation to be able to say with far greater assurance than the heathen seer: Non ignara mali, miseris succurrere disco. Pardon my prolixity, Doctor. I only meant to point out that the very purity of some temperaments is a disqualification for the office of counsellor to the wanderers and the bewildered; for the innocent cannot know what it is to feel the "waters rolling in over the soul." Only the Christ has known perfect innocence and the full deadliness of sin.
D. (after a pause).--I am bound to say that such psychology as I have learnt corroborates the intuitions of the Hebrew singers.
V.--It is the one thing that lets me hope that psychology is, after all, a science, that it slowly verifies the truth of the Psalms.
D.--I must tell you in passing how one notices on all sides the recognition of the glory of the teaching of Christ even among those who have professedly lost their faith in the Creed.
V.--That is markedly so since the war. But note that with all this talk about the teaching of Christ being the one hope for the world, there are at least two fallacious assumptions habitually made, either of which would leave you where you were before, no matter how closely you scrutinized the recorded sayings in the Gospel. The first is that the teaching is only valuable if it is applicable to the problem before us of clearing away social evils and eliminating suffering out of life. That problem thus baldly stated is not religious but secular. In its object it is clearly not only alien to Christianity, but antagonistic to it. It is a religion of civilization without God. The test, therefore, to be applied to any supposed remedy is not whether it will eliminate suffering, but will it enable us to understand suffering and bear it and even welcome it? Any other test is plainly profane and quite contrary to Christ's teaching instead of being, as is often claimed, good practical Christianity. The second assumption is that while talking tall about the sublimity of the Gospel ethics, we may cut out all that tells of a final judgment--that is, roughly about one-third of the whole.
D.--Yes. Those assumptions are very generally made. What do you infer from them as to the difficulty before us?
V.--Why, that the mass of mankind have lost the faculty of seeing what the Divine judgment is and of recognizing it when it works. As we listened to that good, compassionate fellow, S.W., harping on the same old theme, "Here are horrors going on; let us wipe them out for ever," it occurred to me to ask--but he wouldn't have understood--Suppose these horrors are the judgment itself, which we have brought on this generation by our refusal to understand them or to care, by our blind irresponsibility and forgetfulness that we were dealing with immortal souls committed to our care: how could we imagine that God would not visit for these things? Remember, men cannot be coerced into loving their Creator; but some of them can be moved first by fear, when they learn that the less we think of the next world the more hideous we make this. Some of us have learnt so much since the war, but I maintain we must apply the principle of judgment not only to calamities but to perplexities such as these which we have brought on ourselves in regard to marriage.
D.--Stay a moment! The line of thought is new to me, but if I am right in my interpretation I see a rich promise in it. You say God's judgments are the working out of inviolable laws laid down for us in love?
V.--Yes. That means that if the laws are laid down in love their operation is a method of saving us from our egoism and forgetfulness of Him.
D.--But they operate apparently according to natural law. The old idea of calamity was that it was the intervention of an angry Deity upsetting His own laws arbitrarily to punish His wilful children. How immensely more illuminating is this new doctrine! God working by the operation of eternal, unbreakable laws! From the philosophic side we can discern in that principle the direction in which thought will ultimately reconcile Science and Religion.
V.--Yes. It explains, too, why in the Psalms the most awful judgments are always sung of as a theme of praise. And our reverence for the Psalms shows that the teaching corresponds with our deepest convictions.
D.--Oh, if only our children could be taught that doctrine of law! Eternal and inviolable ordinances! Why, this baffling problem we are considering would never have arisen. Now if we face the difficulty in practical life, we find thousands of cases of married people unable to be really law-abiding, halting between two principles--the one easy to apply, fashionable, simple, promising; the other extremely painful, promising no relief from struggle, no ease or comfort. A vast number follow the easy course, some of them--not all--vexed with scruples to the last. A minority, thinking of the "kindly light" they are tempted to leave, sternly refuse to ignore the scruples, as they cannot but feel that the very pain is a salutary indication that they are on the right road as long as they follow the light. Before they are able to make up their minds the temptation to drift with the multitude is extraordinarily strong. It is that large group, so described, whom we are called upon to help.
V.--Just so. Now tell me what you have gathered from your experience so far.
D.--Well, of the people who come to consult me there are roughly three groups. Some are frankly unmoral, and have made up their minds not to enter on any kind of resistance to inclination. They tell me of this, and seem to wish that I should protest. Of course I do not, not because it would be unprofessional, but simply because I cannot afford to waste time. I could possibly argue them into silence, but why should I? It is not the understanding or the deep instincts that are wanting, but the will. So they continue to live as they have always lived, quite selfishly, which means in many cases as animals; in others as more refined voluptuaries.
V.--Yes; but none of those belong to the more difficult sort.
D.--True. Then there are the men--they are mostly men who come--with scruples. Some--not many--have adopted the practice in question, but are disappointed to find that it is attended by a gradual loss of pleasure. One of them railed at the Universe as being out of joint--he was the victim of a general tyranny of injustice, life was not worth living, and so forth. I told him that I was not surprised, because those who seek pleasure for pleasure's sake are always disappointed when they reach it, especially when it is not a lofty form of pleasure to start with. "Well, then, tell me what to do," says he. I said: "If you are determined to be a pleasure-seeker I have no suggestion to offer. Unless you change your whole view of life I prophesy for you an unhappy old age." He quitted the room very gloomily. Next day another came whose scruples were much more worthy of respect. He was about thirty-two years old. Three children in four years; could not afford any more, but found abstinence intolerably difficult. I asked him why he did not use contraceptives straight off without coming to consult me. He said his wife objected to them, mainly on moral grounds, having been set against them by an old family friend, a solicitor's wife, some years ago, and, to tell the truth, he could not get over a certain repulsion to the practice himself. So I inquired if he really was desirous of doing what was right. "Yes." "Then it is clear that mechanical devices are against your conscience. In other words, if you can't help thinking they are wrong, they are wrong; anyhow, to you. But much depends on whether you take that fact much to heart. Does it disturb you at all?" "Well, I can't say it does very much; but I thought you might tell me if you thought it wrong." "My dear sir, what I think about it is nothing to the point. You are responsible for the decision you make, and though you know how difficult it would be you are well aware that self-control and abstinence for a long time would be the higher and better course to adopt." I then urged him to consult you, Vicar, and I shouldn't wonder if he has been already. I told him there were some very important things you could say to him better than I could.
V.--I know the man you mean. He was quite honest and above board, and I am thankful to say he is acting on my counsel with good hopes of all going well. But did you not explain to him how imprudent he had been in his antecedents?
D.--Yes, I forgot to tell you that. He told me how he had been a normal healthy boy with a good appetite, but not particularly greedy as boys go; very moderate in alcohol; and that the rapidity with which the children came was due to no one having cautioned him on the subject. Meantime he was not a heavy feeder, but of course the ascetic alternative of abstinence was exceedingly difficult. May I ask what line you took with him? Though let me say first that I have gone already quite as far as professional etiquette allows in talking freely about this case. But the fact is I consider myself bound to take counsel and compare notes with you because the matter is of vital importance, and I am only just beginning to see my way clear. So if I withhold names I lay on myself no further embargo.
V.--Well, on my side I could, of course, tell you nothing if it were a matter of confession to a priest. But this was an ordinary consultation. I asked him at once if he wished to decide as a Christian or not. He said: "Certainly as a Christian." Thereupon I reminded him of his Baptism and Confirmation, and how that all the good in him was owing to his having often prayed for the help of the Holy Spirit and been helped to do what was right but often was painful. That living as a Christian meant pressing on and on, ever upwards, growing in the love of God and man and in the conviction that every command of His, especially the most impossible, contains in it the promise of the Divine help for the fulfilling of it.
D.--I am not surprised. The man genuinely desired to do right. A great many have that desire hardly at all, or only as smoking flax well-nigh quenched by a persistent sense of self-importance. When they are told they have the power to do right they don't believe it; they are moral neurasthenics. I had to deal two years ago with a poor lady who was convinced she had lost all power in her back and legs, and lay in bed consumed with self-pity and ruining her husband's life by insisting on his attendance, though ultimately she could only bear his company for five minutes daily! She dragged him out to the Italian lakes, and lay there in presence of the most superb scenery this world has to show. After seven years of self-deception she died. All the time she betrayed an obstinate selfishness quite contrary to her true nature, and, indeed, the whole story was a most pitiful tragedy. You note that the trouble began by her yielding to a false suggestion--namely, that she was weak when in truth she was quite strong and sound. Ever so many contraceptionists are in the same box, only their decay is not physically so visible. But to go back to the desire to do right. In your last case the couple were agreed, but how when they don't agree?
V.--Stay a moment. I hope you are not bringing forward one of the excuses for self-indulgence made by many silly women, that if they "defraud" their husbands they will drive them into adultery. I can't discuss any such. If a man is only kept from adultery by forcing his wife to degrade herself and him, he has abandoned all attempts to live on any principle whatever. The wife is not saving his soul but helping it on down the road to ruin.
D.--l quite agree with you. Let us note in passing that such distinct cases are to be settled on grounds of social morality and common sense. But a very large number are impossible to touch except by the appeal to live the supernatural life steadfastly and unflinchingly to the last. My difficult case was that of a woman who detested the notion of artificial preventives, but was married to a man who consulted me on this matter, being in a very special difficulty indeed. He had been subject to a very rare infirmity since boyhood which undeniably made continence for him injurious to health. This was just as much the case before marriage as after. In spite of his severe trouble he lived a chaste life till twenty-four, when he married. After two children were born the physician told the wife that another child would probably be fatal to her life. What was to be done? The husband was only thirty, and badly crippled in health, obviously being hampered in his professional work and suffering from constant headaches--a pathological and most perplexing case.
V.--Yes, the man you mean came on to me. He differed from all less acute cases in that there was no question, as there nearly always is, of unchastity or self-indulgence or heedlessness, but a trial like St. Paul's, brought upon two people not in any way through their own fault. There is really no insoluble problem when that is the fact. You have only to exhort them to continue following the guidance of the Spirit.
D.--I am afraid I don't understand.
V.--This is what has happened. A. consults B. on this problem, asseverating positively that abstinence is seriously injurious to health, etc. B. tests him, and finds it is one of the very few cases where the opinion formed of the impossibility of abstinence has not been determined either by the presumption of the impossibility or by the strong desire that abstinence should be ruled out. In short, that A. is as certain of the fact, as he is that it is his duty not to practise asceticism in food and drink so far as to weaken his bodily and mental faculties. "Very well, then," says B. "You now have the indication that for you further abstinence would be wrong. Your duty, then, is to recognize the Holy Spirit's hint and act upon it. Come together again and leave the issue in God's hands. That line of action will show a more robust faith in God's present guidance than ever before, and in the long run no harm ever comes of doing right." [This principle was emphatically asserted by one of the most refined gentlemen saints that ever I have known--Father Russell of St. Alban's, Holborn. His stern view of the wrongness of contraceptives was strongly corroborated by a very different type of modernist, Archbishop Temple. I cannot imagine two more clear-sighted and convincing witnesses.]
D. (after a pause).--H'm. Have you found any couple ready to act on that?
V.--Yes, three in the course of some twenty years. You will ask, What came of it? The first followed the advice, and a child was born. This couple were applicants on plea of poverty. They had to economize more strictly than ever, but the result was, for the children, a home training of the very best type--deeply pious, very manly and Spartan, but festive with happiness always. The three boys and one girl are growing to be real salt of the earth. Years after they thanked me warmly. I have always found the plea of impecuniosity the easiest to ignore. For character-training there is nothing like a really poor but refined and pious English home. That explains the striking number of great men of all kinds who were sons of country parsons.
D.--Good. That is the right note to strike. You do a service to the country there.
V.--The second acted as advised, of course always with willing restraint, and no child1 was born. It generally turns out that right conduct in view of eternity is at least harmless from the point of view of this world, and very often is manifestly beneficial. If we could see further we should know it is always so.
D.--Is that really true? Supposing the wife has been pronounced incapable of any more childbirths, and the result of your advice was that she died and the child also?
V.--It is astonishing how seldom that happens. But it did in the third of my three cases. Did I repent of my advice? No; and for this reason. The man and wife acted in full agreement. Owing to abstinence--his was the pathological case you passed on--the husband's health was gravely menaced; his work was already impaired; the wife was more than willing to run the risk; both were deeply religious people, and were convinced that they were acting in obedience to the Divine dictation.
D.--I remember, also, that he married with his eyes open as to the risk. I put it to him as plainly as I could; but he said he had his reasons, and was quite satisfied that he was doing right.
V.--I can certify that throughout he strove to follow the Saviour's footsteps. Moreover, when they found themselves constrained to discontinue abstinence the resumption of intercourse was on the barest minimum scale. There was, as far as could be guaranteed, no element of mere physical indulgence in it; nor, again, was it a case of hasty or unreflecting concession to a special bodily infirmity. It was a case of abstinence involving splendid self-conquest, and only modified by the smallest possible concession to duty, not to weakness.
D.--But the wife, you say, died?
V.--Yes, and the way he bore it was a signal instance of the power of a true Christian. Mind you, it was not that he believed things others did not, but that he had such a living hold on what he did believe, on the fundamental fact which had transformed human life for 2,000 years--namely, that the Creator has at infinite cost to Himself manifested His love and saving power to all men, and thereafter asks for the response of gratitude. Others have borne similar bereavements (his wife, you may remember, was in her prime and he was devoted to her), but take it for all in all I have never known so fine a triumph of faith in any "ordinary" man of the world. Of course, it was misunderstood. In fact, I don't believe any one of his friends knows the secret of his peace. He told me he never had--before his loss--felt so near to Christ.
D.--Certainly a most striking tale. But tell me: you only give that advice to a very select few of the applicants?
V.--Not to so very few. I have set it before a fair number as an ideal, and to some it has revealed their own self-deception. They had been persuading themselves that the continuance of abstinence was an impossibility. But the really single-hearted among them re-examined the situation, and felt that there was no real necessity in the case--difficulty, of course, crucial difficulty, artificially accentuated by antecedent heedlessness and want of preparation. But, thank God, some of them recognized the summons, called confidently upon God for help, and found their previous misgivings were simply "fear where no fear was." You remember the expression "an honest and good heart" in the Parable of the Sower?
D.--And the others?
V.--All took to contraceptives--at least, so I infer from their avoiding the subject afterwards. Only one admitted the fact, and as compared with the single-hearted I have mentioned, they all evinced more or less distinctly an arrest in the growth of character. They became very like the Sadducees, conformed as they thought to a tame workaday religion, but in reality it was a profession of a Christianity from which all hope was eliminated; for, as you notice, they had no conception that when God gives a command, He gives it in love, and that means it wraps up a promise within it of infinite power offered, and of "joy in believing." Hence the Church would be justified in promulgating the principle of self-control, based on faith in Christ, without a hint of concession. Indeed, there is a very formidable practical objection to anything of the kind.
D.--You mean that concessions once made by religious advisers would get about far and wide and general demoralization ensue?
D.--But, my dear sir, it has spread enormously during the last thirty years, and very few people ascribe the increase to the right cause. It is heedlessly said that the problem is a social and economic one; that we have a great inheritance of incontinence passed down to us from our forbears; that the necessity for small families is a new thing; that the old do not understand the young; and so on and so on, all irrelevant or untrue. Then when it is known that the plea is being acted on far and wide, that among really religious people many thousands--nay, nearly all--are completely bewildered by the silence of the Church, what is the certain, quite inevitable result? Remember that the trial of real fortitude, clearness of vision, sense of eternity, gratitude to God, is in all ordinary lives at its most acute stage in the problems presented by the married relation, and especially in this one. I suppose every doctor knows that men who have passed triumphantly through the severest tests of their chastity during boyhood and youth are aghast at the tremendousness of the demand which they suddenly find is laid upon them after marriage. Very often the drear prospect of self-denial, which means the cutting off of the most intense physical gratification known to man and the probable marring of the happy conjugal union, stretches before them for twenty years or more. What influence is there which can make them face it? They don't face it, and the number of those who even consider the question is diminishing. Among the married men who avoid the Xise of these disgusting mechanical devices are a certain number of people of chilly temperament and low vitality, whose married life is a poor thing from the start; added to them are the real soldiers of Christ, who are the true witnesses to the higher life present and powerful among us still. But till you told me of them I only knew of one instance of this high and heroic fortitude, which, as invariably happens, is jeered at, misunderstood, and decried by the voice of the multitude. And more than this. What of the swarms of boys and girls who have no particular wish or opportunity for marriage, but are beset by acute sexual temptation, aggravated by all sorts of new social influences and the blurring of the distinction between freedom and license? They, too, are faced by the question: "Here are we in love with each other and cannot marry; nature impels us to the great gratification. Why should we not indulge? Our married elders use these things and make all safe. Who will be the worse? Who will know?" Against these diabolical suggestions there is no intelligible argument whatever for these miserably deluded young folk, who have never heard of the Holy Spirit actively at work to-day and only dimly are aware of the story of the Cross. Again--and this appalling fact must not be left out--the number of people tempted to unnatural vice is far greater than anyone knows save those whose professional work brings them into some sort of contact with the underworld of a corrupt civilization. Public opinion is doubtless a kind of deterrent so far, but there is no likelihood of its maintaining itself as the Christian sanctions and prohibitions are gradually undermined. The old infernal plea prevails: "They all give way to the same thing in different ways. If they liked this method better than their own they would of course adopt it."
V.--That is, of course, a terrific indictment against the modern practice. Through our talk we have avoided the side of the subject on which most serious-minded people are eloquent. When people ask you, "Is it wrong?" what else do you say?
D.--Well, the fact is I have ceased to lay stress on the wrongness of the one course of conduct, and tried to indicate the inherent Tightness of the other. But I have felt weak on the constructive side, and am hoping to be a little firmer in future after the talk we have had. There are four other indictments against the practice of contraception which I used to urge, but found that it is of no use to deter a person who has virtually made up his mind to take the line of least resistance. I used to point out that the mechanical means were (i) mostly disgusting; (2) uncertain; (3) often meant in actual fact the destruction of nascent life, the transmission of which is perhaps the most wonderful of all the endowments that God has given to man; (4) there is a good deal of medical opinion that the practice is injurious to health. For my part, I am convinced it is when it is carried on in spite of scruples. This is a plain psychological fact. As long as it goes on, conduct which means disobedience to conscience produces a disharmony in the inner being, which tells directly on the nervous system. I leave out of account those frankly and avowedly self-indulgent people who are so far in bondage to their lower desires that the conscience is completely deadened. Of course, I see little or nothing of those. They have no questions to ask of anyone.
V.--I am not surprised that you have abandoned the one-sided appeal. All emphasis on the wrongness of any particular conduct is liable to lapse into casuistical and controversial pleading, which everybody must know is in its issue abortive. But there is a far weightier objection than that--at least, I hope you will agree with me in thinking so. It amounts to this: When we are roused to a sense of the misery caused by worldliness, we at once exhort our fellow-men to be unworldly, our object being to make the world a pleasanter place to live in--that is, certainly, a less effectual training-place for the next. For this object, which is largely egoistic--in that people dislike the sights and sounds of distress--we use unworldliness or religion as an auxiliary. But, of course, this is ridiculous. You cannot get people to be unworldly merely by showing them that their worldliness lacks intensity. It is the same thing as teaching them that the evils produced by selfishness can be eliminated by our being selfish in a more enlightened or disguised fashion. Unselfishness is our hope, but it must be inspired by and directed towards something above the visible, practical, secular problem--something spiritual and eternal. Otherwise in the effort to cure worldliness you concentrate on this world more than ever, banishing meantime all thoughts of the next.
D.--I fancy Bradley in his book on ethics says something of the kind. But please explain further.
V.--God reveals Himself as the All-loving and man as utterly dependent. Hence the law that obedience should be spontaneous, prompt, and grateful. Not till that is our principle can we cure any evils whatever.
D.--Well, I suppose it is for that reason that if a man makes his bodily or mental health his summum bonum he spoils both. You mean, then, that the self-dedication or self-mastery required for Christian marriage must not be entered upon because it influences others for good, but simply because we are God's children, and live by learning to love Him and His law. Yet it does influence others for good.
V.--Yes; much oftener than we know, but in proportion as it is unconscious--and plainly unegoistic--that is, the outcome of a true relation to the Unseen. How different, how vastly more salutary, is that principle than the morbid questioning whether a course of action to which we are inclined is wrong! In the immortal allegory of the Garden of Eden, Eve was undone as soon as she began to consider how desirable the fruit was. Were we not told that in our childhood? But how difficult it is to apply! There is also a terrifying parallel between the story and our experience. You remember the tempter did not deny the law, but he suggested doubt about the judgment that would follow on its violation--"Ye shall not surely die." Is not that ominously like the tone of the advocates of contraception?
D.--Ha! I never thought of that. Whenever we deliberately do wrong we always admit the law, but somehow persuade ourselves that we are, for the nonce, exceptions. Anyhow, it may be so. The gratification is certain, the penalty is not. So we fall into sin.
V.--Yes; obedience is forgotten the more disobedience is discussed. But here is another illustrative fact. The serpent promised Eve a spiritual good if she gave way. So people tell us, and I have no doubt you have heard it yourself, that the use of contraceptives is the "consummation" of love, or, as some strangely insist, it is treating marriage "sacramentally."
D.--I have heard that phrase more than once. It is the most shameless falsehood ever begotten by the father of lies. Love of what? It ought to be called lust, and then the expression might stand.
Do you remember the bold words of Edward Thring's when to a Church Congress audience he insisted in his harsh nasal tone, but with deep conviction: "It is a great mystery that conjugal intercourse is a pure act." On this a comment was made by a lawyer friend of mine: "We should be in a bad way if it were not." Now if anyone were to say the same thing of contraception I confess I couldn't argue with him. I have lost a patient by expressing my feelings on this point. It is evidently possible for good and sensible people off their guard to humbug themselves and others. Neither Thring nor any other serious-minded man would dream of making that lofty claim for the use of any mechanical device. Such practice would be more correctly described as the consummation of mutual self-abuse. If that phrase is thought indelicate, then I say the action which it describes must be much more so. Even if some soft-headed moralist were to persuade himself that such fleshly indulgence could be called by the name of love (from which hallucination Shelley might have saved him), then the word "consummation" loses its meaning. [Cf. the lines--"One word is too often profaned / For me to profane it."] A contraceptive interrupts consummation by turning a joint act into two separate ones. Almost worse than the moral blindness which decks obscenity with a high-sounding name is the muddle of brain which blurs the most necessary distinctions. The two together make me nearly sick.
V.--On the negative side that must au fond be the reason why so many face the pain of abstinence. You and I find it quite impossible to explain the refusal of refined men to assent to your discriminating estimate except by assuming either an innocent ignorance of animalism or an immensely strong physical desire which they cannot bring themselves to try to control. But the distinction you draw between the two kinds of intercourse explains the readiness of all moralists that I know of to make concession as to intercourse without intention of generation--e.g., after the child-bearing age of the wife. It has often been said to me: "Unless you go to the length of the extremist asceticism and condemn all intercourse except with a definite intention of procreation, you do allow it after child-bearing age or at certain monthly times, when there is no looking forward to a child being born nor any desire for one. That is flat inconsistency." I cannot admit the impeachment. We allow what these advocates contend for, that there is something--undefinable probably--in clean, natural conjugal intercourse, which may be said to hallow it to some extent, apart from its great primary purpose. [Such was emphatically the opinion of Father Russell, alluded to above.] They ought not to impugn that opinion, as it is, I suppose, in harmony with their contention that the physical union is sacramental. But to apply such lofty terms to contraception is to profane our language or, anyhow, to confuse two things, not only very different, but utterly disparate.
D.--Now, Vicar, I am greatly obliged to you for the opportunity given of this talk. I started with the conviction that on any sound system of morality contraception was to be condemned, and that on medical grounds there was little or nothing to be said in its favour. On getting to work, however, I was soon brought up against a sinister fact of human nature--I mean that the majority of people are able to recognize the truth of a principle and the wrongness of the conduct that runs counter to it, but at the same time refuse to admit that the claim on their will and allegiance is absolute. These grant all I say, but leave me in exactly the same state of mind as they were before. I am baffled here, having nothing to say, when they urge that difficulty beyond a certain point contributes a valid reason for pulling up short, for ceasing to strive, for thinking the previous efforts have been enough. But among them are a few characters whom I have not yet mentioned, in their way more difficult to explain dian any. These are they who, without showing traces of a long-continued moral conflict, without being willing or even able to tell you whence their strength proceeds, are possessed by a certain spontaneous loyalty to what is right, pure, lovely, and of good report, especially when they find that in seeking the beautiful and the good they encounter sharp pains and prolonged discomfort and disappointments which bewilder and oppress the spirit. In short, they are strong and lofty characters, yet they seem independent of religion. I come across very few, and not, so to speak, in a first-hand way. For, to tell you the truth, I sometimes set at naught the etiquette which hampers many of my brethren and question my patients on matters apparently remote from the particular matter in hand. When, then, I probe into this delicate matrimonial problem, I discover that to them there is no problem at all. From their childhood days life has been to them a glad surrender to the call of Duty, but all along they are as inarticulate about duty as about religion. They are so unfettered in their choice--cleaving to the good and freed long ago from egoism--that they cannot tell me why they have taken to the painful road of self-sacrifice so promptly and perseveringly; indeed, I cannot help shrinking from pressing any such question upon them. Yet it can hardly be called a religious matter with them. They never seem to depend on much praying or on any particular form of churchmanship. But do you know that their unquestioning promptitude in answering the high claim which we ordinary people only recognize after laborious analysis and self-examination is strangely impressive, and moves me to something like reverence for a thing holy, august, and unearthly? What it comes to in practice is that with all my eagerness to collect facts scientifically, I dare not ask one of these if he has ever thought of contraception. It would be a question that he would not understand, or, if he did, he would feel it as an insult.
V. (after a pause).--It is a real satisfaction to me to find that my deepest convictions as to the theological aspect of this moral problem are shared by a man of scientific training and a psychologist. But you raise a profoundly interesting question in bringing forward apparent exceptions--not many, but very striking--to the broad rule that all successful dealing with this problem proceeds from the central command of Christ, "Ye are to be perfect," accompanied as it was by the gift of the Spirit. Your exceptions, I gather, are people of supremely beautiful character who seem independent of religion, but yet innately free of the taint of egoism--at least, as far as we can judge.
Now I must reluctantly leave that interesting question on one side for the present. For many long years I have turned it over and over in my mind, but to-day I will only point out to you how clear and illuminating are the indications afforded us from your experience of a clue to the obscure but most central part of our subject. I happened to glance at the evidence of one able witness who spoke to the commission or committee of which you were a member, and noticed that he alluded scornfully to those who agree with you and me on this subject as "theologians." The term is curious and woefully inaccurate, but if we note its implications we shall gain light on the mentality of some of those who cannot see eye to eye with you and me. This critic started with the belief that all who took the strict view did so because of certain theological dogmas which they professed to hold and which all enlightened people had long agreed to discard. But you tell me of men whose characters show no trace of being in any way affected by any theological tenet whatever, who show not only an instinctive abhorrence to any doctrine or theory of human life which favours self-indulgence, but whose whole tone and temper indicates an impelling enthusiasm for the life of devotion to an ideal, for the self-surrender to the claims of virtue which draw them ever upwards as eager votaries of a glorious goddess till they almost unwittingly so mortify the manifold dictates of sensuality and pride as to win to a standard of self-forgetfulness whence the most subtle suggestion of self-regard can gain no response whatever. Undoubtedly, to most Englishmen, such moral saints, as we may call them, are more attractive and more deserving of honour than the obviously religious men who draw sustenance for the conflict with evil from mysterious sanctions and warnings connected with a world supposed to be remote from ordinary thought. The kind of man you describe--and the like of him I have known also--possesses a unique fascination for others, and note the reason--their goodness is not Pharisaic; they are strangely uncritical of the lower standards of average humanity, hence they are acceptable to the common run of men and women, who find them sympathetic and free of angles and all asperity. But higher types of people honour them, not so much for their tolerance as for their devotion to all that is pure and noble. Does not that explain how to these their heroes, who cannot stand the most refined and plausible self-pleasing, no one would dare breathe a hint in advocacy of anything so coarse and repellent as contraception? You see the bearing of this on our discussion?
D.--Indeed I do, and a noteworthy point it is. You bring forward a fact which undermines a shallow and very prevalent opinion as to the objectors to the practice being mainly drawn from the narrow orthodox section of Christians, many of whom are vaguely supposed to be not men of like passions with the rest, but in some way anaemic, cold, abnormal. The critic to whom you allude, and whom I well remember, expressed himself subsequently as unwilling to condemn the practice in question because "all pleasure is good" or that "pleasure per se is good." I was surprised at a clearheaded man Using a theory which was riddled by Plato and which postulates an absurdity--that as regards pleasures there is no difference in the scale of values. I mention this in passing that we may compare that outworn sophistry with the sane and noble verdict of men whom we all reverence and admire--a verdict given with a conviction which no subtlety can disturb.
V.--Yes, these simple-hearted, virile fellows are noble witnesses to the truth for which we are contending, and which they cannot put into words. Don't you think we have a glimpse of one of them in the Gospel story? Think of the rich young man who came to Christ with the question, What next? and whom the Lord looked on and loved. Why did He love him? Certainly not for his claim to nave kept the whole moral law, but for his eagerness to press on. What a perfect parable is here! Because Christ loved the man ,He set before him an all but impossible demand: that he should convert his "real" property into cash available for distribution. Desperately difficult, and it staggered him, as Father Damien was staggered when he saw the first faint leprosy mark on his skin. It was not long, however, before he could sing the Te Deum! So I cannot believe the man whom Jesus loved could persist in refusal. Exactly so has Christ always dealt with His Church. He shows His love by the sternness of His demand. He is doing that to-day, and it is for us not to cavil but to sing the Te Deum.
Notice, I beg you, that you are turning the bountiful loving-kindness of God our Saviour into a mockery. You praise God for the Sermon on the Mount, whereby the moral law, "Thou shalt not kill," is spiritualized and so made far more hopeless than ever, in order that we may realize the "unspeakable gift" of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to fulfil it even in its impossible new form; and while you are praising Him for His Gift you are ordering your lives on the assumption that the Gift makes no difference. That is what drove the Apostle Paul to fury when converts, baptized into union with the Risen and Ascended Lord, the Victor over the vast hosts of hell, tried to cajole the Galatians back to the "weak and beggarly elements" of the Law without the Gospel, letting them all the time offer the "sacrifice of thanksgiving" to the "God from whom all blessings flow" except the one without which all the rest are dust and ashes. No symptom of the "darkened understanding" is so manifest as when man turns the promise of the Gospel into the crushing burden of the Law, the blessing into a curse, showing thereby that he knows better than the Father in heaven what a heavenly blessing really is; and while he is mutilating the Gift by whittling down the conditions of its acceptance, he thanks God for offering it to him.
D.--Wait a moment, please. You speak of man "turning the Gospel into the crushing burden of the Law." But surely in this matrimonial problem we are thinking of the new device is intended to make the burden less crushing.
V.--Yes, but the burden, though apparently diminished, is increased a hundredfold. Look at it in this way. We begin by praising God for the gift of His only Son to the world. Even our carnal minds are spellbound by the glory of His teaching, and some few people among us recognize that as He is the Divine Love Incarnate, the severity of His doctrine can only be explained as a perpetual reminder of the promised Comforter. The severity of God's moral claim upon our lives is the first instalment of the blessings of eternity. But, except those few, the huge majority cower in fear before the spiritualized moral law which the Lord revealed. He revealed it as if He said: "This is what the Comforter (Strengthener) will enable you to fulfil."
Bring this to bear upon our problem. Through our consciences, quickened by the Holy Spirit, illuminated by the records of countless saints, whose ears were opened that they might catch the note of love, while others could only say "it thundered"; through our consciences, I say, we married men know that the command to forget ourselves and our inclinations has never been more imperative--that is, more encouraging--than when our hearts were first touched with special affection for another child of God.
We have remembered in time of stress how the "faithful and good" servants in the parable did with the beautiful gold coins exactly what their lord bade them, and then were surprised to hear the gracious words, "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."
For the injunction to trust God to the uttermost is most plainly addressed to married people, who find themselves up against the command to obey when every argument seems at first to point towards disobedience, or, rather, to a modification of the order to suit a society of self-willed, faint-hearted individuals. Just so did the "corrupt and hesitating" servant who buried the talent find good common-sense reasons for not going beyond what he could see and feel. He measured the situation with the eye of secular prudence, not with the eye of faith. Prudence required that he should show respect for the coin, so he treated it like a dead thing and buried it. The challenge to us is quite distinctly what it always has been since the day of Pentecost. You have received a Gift from God Himself--a Gift which, like the beautiful gold coin, was meant to be allowed to live and move and circulate; it is the Holy Spirit of the Eternal God Himself, and you have treated it as a dead precept, which you yourself have killed by mutilating it in conformity to your own desires. And you advance the wicked plea that your loving Lord is an austere man, who demands fruit which the soil of your heart cannot yield. It is not true that it cannot. The awful truth is that it will not.
D.--In short, you say that the use of contraceptives is disobedience to revealed law. A hard saying: I mean that is what people will think.
V.--That is exactly the comment made by the Jews on our Lord's discourse on the Bread of Life--a discourse which a great teacher has said changed the whole course of human thought. It is important to notice that He made no attempt to bring the sayings down to the level of their understanding by accommodating them or paring them down by one jot or tittle. We could not conceive of Him doing so. He only acquiesced in many of His hearers leaving Him. Is there no warning in that?
D.--I must think, that over. On another side of the question: have you thought at all of the effect of all this lax teaching on the training of young fellows in chastity?
F.--I have, indeed. A schoolmaster friend of mine who has charge of youngsters up to nineteen wrote me an illuminating but very perturbing letter a few months ago on this very point. He said it had long been his practice to warn the youths as they went out into life on the duty of chastity, and for a time his most effective appeal to them was to get them to think of the ideal of marriage. "'Some day,' I used to say to them, 'probably, you will marry; you know that you will expect your wife to come to you a chaste woman. Will she not have a right to expect you to come to her a chaste man?' But now," he adds, "I hardly dare use that plea. It was effective in keeping many a young man straight in the time of fiery trial. It was very imperfect, as it said nothing about self-mastery after marriage, but it gave an ideal of conduct before as a time of preparation and discipline for the honourable estate of chaste sexual union. Now these young fellows have learnt that the estate of matrimony has sunk into unchastity, and the reason, they hear, is that nuptial incontinence is tacitly sanctioned by the Church, and as they learn that they feel the majestic demands of pre-nuptial chastity have lost their meaning; and, further, the same information tells them how they can cease from the struggle and nobody would know anything about it, and if they did they would not care."
D.--Another outcome of the ostrich policy of the Church is seen in the degeneracy of novel plots and the drama. For the first, success is becoming more and more bound up with the theme of adultery. On the stage this sort of plot has for the first time touched our Public Schools, suggesting to our fine lads that they might vary the monotony of life, when rain prevents cricket, by dallying with the first pretty woman they may meet, even though it should be the wife of one of the masters. This is all squalid and absurd, but it also is an incentive to vice which finds no check in any public utterance whatever except in a few abortive pulpit harangues delivered to groups of pious ladies. But let us be careful to show the connexion between this ebullition of unmoral frivolity and the silence of the Church about the matrimonial problem.
V.--The connexion is very direct. Through the ages mankind has incessantly asserted his right to be "governed from below." The Church's task is to contradict this claim with the utmost pertinacity and vigilance, with no less supreme courage and fidelity than when she warned in clarion tones her children in South Gaul, more than 1,500 years ago, that if they forsook the faith in Christ--about which they had no doubts--in order to escape massacre they would forfeit eternal life.
It was a grand contradiction of the world's self-assertion, and for 1,500 years the conscience of Christendom ratified the action and the application of the message. For the last fifty years in this country the theory of life which Christ preached and practised and bade the Church enforce through thick and thin for all time has been openly or furtively repudiated by all for whom temporal needs are paramount. Manifold excuses have been urged, just as they must have been in A.D. 400.
Now observe: a spirit of submission to temporal claims has been from the first seducing mankind into disobedience to the Divine Law. A very early instance in Christendom was that of a married pair, Ananias and Sapphira, who lied to the Holy Ghost. It is to be feared that many of the excuses put forward by modern contraceptionists are, though less outspoken, quite as untrue, and, like theirs, sins against the Holy Spirit. Is it not the conflict between the same two principles that is presented to the Bishops to-day?
D.--You mean the question whether eternal interests are ever to be subordinated to temporal?
V.--Just so. For, indeed, it is no light or transitory decision which the Church is called on to make. When we remember how marriage in the Gospel story is hallowed, being repeatedly made the symbol of the union of God with man, we recognize a call to invest the "honourable estate of matrimony" with all that we can give it of the spirit of Christ Himself--that is, the spirit of utter self-dedication in answer to the evidence of God's peculiar action in sanctifying and cleansing so earthly a thing as the physical union of man and woman. But if it loses the element of holiness--that is, if the self-dedication is incomplete and self-gratification, foreign to the Christ-life, takes its place in any one permanent detail of conduct--the glamour rapidly fades, the poetry of the relation dies away in cold estrangement, and the final wreckage is the most piteous exhibition of the judgment that waits on all tampering with the law of the Cross. If our Bishop looks this issue steadily in the face, will he not yearn to set before his people a true interpretation of conjugal life utterly based on the love of God and on His Law, which shows His love and guides our infirm footsteps towards eternal life? That reminds me of a relevant illustration from the world of schoolboy life. But, Doctor, am I keeping you too long?
D.--Not at all. Any relevant illustration should be welcome.
V.--Well, you know I have an old college friend who is now headmaster of one of our big Public Schools. His boys are divided into Houses, where the housemaster has a very free hand in government, and the influence on the tone of the boys varies, of course, with the personality of the master. Now every year a lot of the oldest boys leave the school and go out into the world, and sometimes it happens that an unusually sagacious parent, wishing to choose a House for his twelve-year-old son, asks one of these youths which he would recommend. What do you suppose determines the answer? Of course, a good deal of weight would be given to prowess in games and various forms of competition. But the determining factor will always be discipline. No matter what lustre of achievement has adorned the annals of the youth's own House, unless it has been well governed he won't advise that his younger brother be sent there. And that is true even though while he was a boy here he took advantage of every sign of laxity in the government to kick over the traces. His record has been chequered, we will suppose; but his intelligence is still unsophisticated, and he is loyal to the ideal of duty because he is a British-born boy. He may be, and probably is, in a fog about everything else, but in that sphere he knows there lies the secret of true life.
D.--Yes, that is where the spear-point presses home. When I pay a visit to my old University and see something of the flower of British youth still, as you say, unsophisticated, I tremble when I think of the moral trial looming before them, and the large number who will succumb, hearing no clear call to guide them through the shadows. The thing that appals me when I think of my own boys growing up is the atmosphere into which they soon must plunge--an atmosphere in which cant reigns supreme. Think of the self-deception revealed unwittingly on our Commission in London! Did you notice in our Report how it was assumed throughout that the concessions allowed to self-indulgence should be only a minimum? Why only a minimum? Logically, if it is right to use contraceptives at all on the ground, as one witness put it, that all pleasure is good, it is a duty to use them to the uttermost, and to be quite sure that we are doing God service. Nay, we ought as a duty to thank God for the freedom from the Law for which He has given us rich and easy opportunity in these days of scientific inventions; for that is the lofty figure under which the modern Christian describes these ancient obscene devices for the gratification of lust. Think of our married fellow-man at his prayers: "O God, who hast revealed Thyself as 'mighty to save' mankind through suffering willingly borne, I pray Thee of Thy clemency to grant me a thankful heart for the blessing which Thou hast bestowed on Thy faithful servant. I do indeed thank Thee that I am not as other men are, clean-hearted, worthy people, but stupid and out of sympathy with the progressive spirit of to-day. They seem to be obeying Thy Law, and I am bound to be tolerant of even my strait-laced brethren, so I can pray for them that they may be delivered from the superstition which some miscall heroism, that they may share with me in the joy of using contraceptives wisely regulated. For Thou art still our Saviour, who dost grant us a new kind of freedom when Thy Law presses on us too heavily, showing us how to modify Thy commandments, and yet to go on praising Thee for giving them and singing as we alter them:
"'Lord, Thy word abideth
And our footsteps guideth.' "
V.--Blinded, alas! by the father of lies, they cannot see whimer the line of least resistance leads. I very much doubt whether anything could possibly induce the public to change its mind. Christ relied on persuasion. The modern sensualist is not going to be persuaded any more than the Pharisees.
D.--We are apparently going to choose between two forms of sanctioning: either by public pronouncement or by silence.
V.--Yes. One of my schoolmaster friends dryly remarked the other day that the only educational method which the English thoroughly understand is teaching by holding the tongue. When a father pluming himself on his open-mindedness leaves his boys to "find their own religion" and tells them nothing about God nor about prayer, he is practising a method which never fails. The stupidest child learns effectively and permanently that, in the view of one who is to him for a time the chief source of all truth and wisdom, there is no God; or if there is it doesn't matter. My friend went on to say: "When I compare the vast total of abortive effort made by us teachers every day in our classrooms--the doggedness, the sudor, the amazing confusion of aims--with the placid, effortless silence of many millions of John Bulls, I stand aghast. The toil which seems to fail is costly beyond words: the omission, the saying nothing, is so cheap! Truly we are in a mad world!"
D.--You mean, then, that by keeping silence the Church incurs the same sort of responsibility?
V.--I mean that the drawback to this parental method of silence is that it assumes there is no Redeemer-God and no Day of Judgment. Supposing that all the time there are both. What then? Similarly the Church's silence in presence of a vast upheaval of most deadly and most loathsome evil assumes equally that the Bible teaching about national judgment, national perdition, collective responsibility, is all antiquated or early Victorian convention, out of harmony with the "mind of youth." The unfortunate thing about it all is that the Bible has never yet been proved to be wrong, and that we Churchmen are still convinced--though we have long persisted in disobedience--that "we shall all stand at the judgment seat of Christ." Doctor, I cannot help trembling at the prospect. If we keep silence now, shall we not then be "speechless"?
D. (after a pause).--It is a tremendous thought that, though so little is said about it nowadays, the conception of a Day of Judgment lies deep down in every heart.
V.--In every heart which can still echo to the inner Voice. Either our Creator has taught us to expect a final Judgment, or else mankind has invented it and clothed it with all the most awful associations. Whichever theory we prefer, it is madness to banish the subject from our minds.
D.--Well, the persistency of the idea among the multitude of our people is shown, I should say, by the fine response to the call of duty which the mass of the people are ready to make if only the call is clear and the principle asserted is both lofty and sound. Where you have loyalty to duty you have the sense of responsibility, and that, I take it, is the same thing as a sense of impending judgment.
V.--True. That loyalty is a gift to our Fatherland from God Himself. It often evaporates in talk, but given that the call is clearly a summons to fresh self-sacrifice, a beckoning onward, not a letting down to a lower level, it never fails to win recognition. You remember how it was said against our Government in the early part of the war that the country was ready for conscription months before the order came. Now supposing any Government in wartime issued a proclamation that the self-sacrifice for which every true patriot was fully prepared was excessive because the number who could not rise to it was very large, they would have earned the contempt of every right-thinking man in the Empire as having repudiated the responsibility of leadership.
D.--True, quite true. The higher the standard set before the people the higher their endeavours to reach it.
V.--But in the case of the Church, the challenge is far more acute. For not only are we faced with an ethical perplexity, which is devastating the moral life of the community and imperilling the most sacred social institution that we have; not only have tens of thousands looked to the Church to utter and insist upon the true principles of action which they dimly feel belong to its special province, and closely bound up with Christ's teaching, but our leaders have failed to recognize the existence of the grand heritage of dutifulness which has been for centuries the prerogative of our race; and in addition to this they are on the point of letting the world know that they are acquiescing in a lower standard of conduct than that which is insisted on by Rome among the Latin nations, whom we honestly believe to be less morally braced than we are. D.--But don't you forget the Lambeth Resolution. V.--Not one in 20,000 of nominal Church members have heard of it.
D,--As to your plea for a high standard, I came across a striking corroboration of it from an unexpected quarter. One would not readily associate the teaching of the Papists with that of Voltaire; but here is a passage worth quoting, on which the Roman utterances depend; and which asserts the very principle we are discussing. It is in John Morley's book on Voltaire. Pascal had remarked that relaxed opinions are naturally so pleasing to men that it is wonderful that they should ever be displeasing. To which Voltaire had thus retorted: "On the contrary, does not experience prove that influence over men's mind's is only gained by offering them the difficult--nay, the impossible--to perform or believe? Offer only things that are reasonable, and all the world will answer? We knew as much as that. But enjoin things that are hard and impracticable; paint the deity as ever armed with the thunder; make blood run before the altars, and you will win the multitude's ear, and everybody will say of you, He must be right, or he would not so boldly proclaim things so marvellous."
V.--That passage is curiously pertinent. I see that we anyhow agree on the necessity of strictness of official pronouncements and of undeviating loyalty to principle. Voltaire saw deeply enough into human nature to be aware that the only truths which we mortals cannot help acknowledging are not those which a temporary change in social or economic conditions seem to fashion for us, but the eternal principles, which from the beginning God has planted in every human heart. Among them are those with which we have been concerned--namely, that the commands of the general conscience--of the highest minds among us--are the voice of God; that the admonitions are always difficult and often seem impossible; that is because each stern utterance is the expression of divine love and the offer of boundless power.