« PreviousContinue »
ulterior motives. He is permitted a certain play of con-
I hope it is clear that I am not attempting to divide men
"G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p. 67.
follows that these moods may confront one another dramatically both in individual life and in the history of society. There is a party of theory and a party of belief, with a loyalty to each. It may be that in our own time, for example, there is more need of emphasizing the motive of belief. We live in a rationalistic age, many of us in a rationalistic fellowship or community, and incline to the party of theory. It is the mark of such partisanship to suppose that advocates of established belief are moved to suspect or resist innovation only by stubbornness or inertia. On the contrary, conservatism is not less passionate than radicalism, nor less moved by the love of good. For the advocate of established belief is the advocate of established life; of that present adjustment of interests which is daily tested and proved, and to which the great majority of men are wholly and irrevocably committed. It is less enlightened to despise him as the enemy of truth than to pay him some respect as the friend of peace and order.
$ 4. We shall not understand the strength of the motive of belief, or the part which it plays in the vital economy, The Solidarity until we recognize its corporate character. An of Belief established belief possesses a value proportional to the number of interest invested in it. And this solidarity of belief manifests itself on every scale, individual, social, and historical. It has been said that every man of action is a fatalist. This is due to the need of a permanence of belief, if the several acts of an individual life are to contribute to one end. A plan of action, in proportion to its scope, requires time and manifold agencies for its execution, and must be adhered to from moment to moment and from act to act. Every plan of action is based on innumerable assumptions concerning the natural and social environment; and if these assumptions be questioned, the plan is virtually suspended. Action is efficient in proportion to its range, and the greater its range the more necessary is it that its components should be rigid and stable. Assumptions must be trusted implicitly in order that one may be
free to leave them behind one's back and face the work to
The larger the enterprise, the greater the need of a fixed
There remains one further proof of the solidarity of belief. If society is to act effectively, it must remain in agreement with itself not only breadthwise but also lengthwise. The temporal continuity of civilization is the indispensable condition of progress. When fundamental convictions are altered, it is much like moving to a new planet; the work must be begun all over again. Apparently the conquests of civilization are gained by swift and sudden victories. But revolution is only the beginning of reformation. It is the slow process of reorganization and education that saves the fruits of such victories, and constitutes that steady if almost imperceptible advance on which the hope of civilization must mainly rely. In order that this shall be possible, it is necessary that beliefs should be transmitted together with problems and opportunities. Unless the burden is to fall, the young must not only grasp what the old have let go, but they must obtain the same foothold.
There are, then, systems of belief which condition effective, concerted, and progressive living. Such systems, it may be further remarked, have their more and their less vital parts. There are some beliefs which, like the keystone of the arch or the base of the pyramid, cannot be dislodged without overthrowing the whole structure. If there be a good in all belief, that good will be greater in such beliefs; and if there be a motive which rallies men to the support of any belief, men will be moved most passionately when such beliefs are at stake. For these are the beliefs most built upon, to which men are most committed, and in which they have invested all their possessions. When they are shaken, it is like the trembling of the solid earth.
8 5. Unless, in spite of all prepossessions to the contrary, in spite of a justifiable impatience with every obstacle to Galileo and progress, we can see a certain rightness and the Inquisition sound loyalty in conservatism, we shall remain blind to the meaning of the great transitional eras. Thus we are swift to condemn the Inquisition of the seventeenth century, and the compromises of Galileo and Descartes.
The catholic orthodoxy of the time has been proved wrong, cruelly and fatuously wrong; and Galileo and Descartes doubtless lost an opportunity of displaying the heroism of Bruno and Spinoza. But a powerful motive of the drama will have been reduced to a nullity, if it be supposed that the Holy Office was prompted only by malice, or Galileo and Descartes by cowardice.
Galileo, it will be remembered, was convicted of holding that the earth moved. This doctrine was declared to be “absurd, heretical, contrary to the text of Scripture”; and Galileo was compelled to repudiate it. He defended himself on the ground that Scripture was not science. “Hence it appears,” he said, "that when we have to do with natural effects brought under our eyes by the experience of our senses, or deduced fron absolute demonstrations, these can in no wise be called in question on the strength of Scripture texts that are susceptible of a thousand different interpretations, for the words of Scripture are not so strictly limited in their significance as the phenomena of nature."? But this defence left out of consideration what was referred to in the charge as the "absurdity” and “heretical" character of the new theory. It was not its contradiction of Scripture texts that made it dangerous, but its contradiction of the prevailing belief. This was definitely committed to the immobility of the earth; and in concluding that the Copernican theory, advocated by Galileo, was a menace to it, the Holy Office was not mistaken. But why should the immobility of the earth be a cherished
a belief, to be protected by the penalty of death? Men are not soberly burned at the stake or submitted to torment by due process of law, out of sheer bloodthirstiness, or on account of trivial offences. It must all appear childish and wanton, unless we can learn to recognize the immense human importance which once attached to what is now
• Quoted by Mézières, “Trial of Galileo,” Popular Science Monthly, vol. X, 1877, p. 389.