[Excepted from “The Dogma Is the Drama,” 1939]
… Judging by what my young friends tell me and also by what is said on the subject in anti-Christian literature written by people who ought to have taken a little trouble to find out what they are attacking before attacking it, I have come to the conclusion that a short examination paper on the Christian religion might be very generally answered as follows:
Q.: What does the Church think of God the Father?
A.: He is omnipotent and holy. He created the world and imposed on man conditions impossible of fulfilment; He is very angry if these are not carried out. He sometimes interferes by means of arbitrary judgments and miracles, distributed with a good deal of favouritism. He likes to be truckled to and is always ready to pounce on anybody who trips up over a difficulty in the Law, or is having a bit of fun. He is rather like a Dictator, only larger and more arbitrary.
Q.: What does the Church think of God the Son?
A.: He is in some way to be identified with Jesus of Nazareth. It was not His fault that the world was made like this, and, unlike God the Father, He is friendly to man and did His best to reconcile man to God (see Atonement). He has a good deal of influence with God, and if you want anything done, it is best to apply to Him.
Q.: What does the Church think of God the Holy Ghost?
A.: I don’t know exactly. He was never seen or heard of till Whit-Sunday. There is a sin against Him which damns you for ever, but nobody knows what it is.
Q.: What is the doctrine of the Trinity?
A.: “The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the whole thing incomprehensible.” Something put in by theologians to make it more difficult—nothing to do with daily life or ethics.
Q.: What was Jesus Christ like in real life?
A.: He was a good man—so good as to be called the Son of God. He is to be identified in some way with God the Son (q.v.). He was meek and mild and preached a simple religion of love and pacifism. He had no sense of humour … If we try to live like Him, God the Father will let us off being damned hereafter and only have us tortured in this life instead.
Q.: What is meant by the Atonement?
A.: God wanted to damn everybody, but His vindictive sadism was sated by the crucifixion of His own Son, who was quite innocent, and therefore a particularly attractive victim. He now only damns people who don’t follow Christ or who never heard of Him.
Q.: What does the Church think of sex?
A.: God made it necessary to the machinery of the world, and tolerates it, provided the parties (a) are married, and (b) get no pleasure out of it.
Q.: What does the Church call Sin?
A.: Sex (otherwise than as excepted above); getting drunk; saying “damn”; murder, and cruelty to dumb animals; not going to church; most kinds of amusement. “Original sin” means that anything we enjoy doing is wrong.
Q.: What is faith?
A.: Resolutely shutting your eyes to scientific fact.
Q.: What is the human intellect?
A.: A barrier to faith.
Q.: What are the seven Christian virtues?
A.: Respectability; childishness; mental timidity; dulness; sentimentality; censoriousness; and depression of spirits.
Q.: Wilt thou be baptised in this faith?
A.: No fear!
… Let us, in Heaven’s name, drag out the Divine Drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slip-shod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much the worse for the pious—others will pass into the Kingdom of Heaven before them. If all men are offended because of Christ, let them be offended; but where is the sense of their being offended at something that is not Christ and is nothing like Him? We do Him singularly little honour by watering down His personality till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the Church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ.
It is the dogma that is the drama—not beautiful phrases, nor comforting sentiments, nor vague aspirations to loving-kindness and uplift, nor the promise of something nice after death—but the terrifying assertion that the same God Who made the world lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death. Show that to the heathen, and they may not believe it; but at least they may realise that here is something that a man might be glad to believe.