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More by this Author
In short, Mr. McCabe is under the influence of a primary fallacy
which I have found very common m men of the clerical type.
Numbers of clergymen have from time to time reproached me for
making jokes about religion; and they have almost always invoked
the authority of that very sensible commandment which says,
"Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain."
Of course, I pointed out that I was not in any conceivable sense
taking the name in vain. To take a thing and make a joke out of it
is not to take it in vain. It is, on the contrary, to take it
and use it for an uncommonly good object. To use a thing in vain
means to use it without use. But a joke may be exceedingly useful;
it may contain the whole earthly sense, not to mention the whole
heavenly sense, of a situation. And those who find in the Bible
the commandment can find in the Bible any number of the jokes.
In the same book in which God's name is fenced from being taken in vain,
God himself overwhelms Job with a torrent of terrible levities.
The same book which says that God's name must not be taken vainly,
talks easily and carelessly about God laughing and God winking.
Evidently it is not here that we have to look for genuine
examples of what is meant by a vain use of the name. And it is
not very difficult to see where we have really to look for it.
The people (as I tactfully pointed out to them) who really take
the name of the Lord in vain are the clergymen themselves. The thing
which is fundamentally and really frivolous is not a careless joke.
The thing which is fundamentally and really frivolous is a
careless solemnity. If Mr. McCabe really wishes to know what sort
of guarantee of reality and solidity is afforded by the mere act
of what is called talking seriously, let him spend a happy Sunday
in going the round of the pulpits. Or, better still, let him drop
in at the House of Commons or the House of Lords. Even Mr. McCabe
would admit that these men are solemn--more solemn than I am.
And even Mr. McCabe, I think, would admit that these men are frivolous--
more frivolous than I am. Why should Mr. McCabe be so eloquent
about the danger arising from fantastic and paradoxical writers?
Why should he be so ardent in desiring grave and verbose writers?
There are not so very many fantastic and paradoxical writers.
But there are a gigantic number of grave and verbose writers;
and it is by the efforts of the grave and verbose writers
that everything that Mr. McCabe detests (and everything that
I detest, for that matter) is kept in existence and energy.
How can it have come about that a man as intelligent as Mr. McCabe
can think that paradox and jesting stop the way? It is solemnity
that is stopping the way in every department of modern effort.
It is his own favourite "serious methods;" it is his own favourite
"momentousness;" it is his own favourite "judgment" which stops
the way everywhere. Every man who has ever headed a deputation
to a minister knows this. Every man who has ever written a letter
to the Times knows it. Every rich man who wishes to stop the mouths
of the poor talks about "momentousness." Every Cabinet minister
who has not got an answer suddenly develops a "judgment."
Every sweater who uses vile methods recommends "serious methods."
I said a moment ago that sincerity had nothing to do with solemnity,
but I confess that I am not so certain that I was right.
In the modern world, at any rate, I am not so sure that I was right.
In the modern world solemnity is the direct enemy of sincerity.
In the modern world sincerity is almost always on one side, and solemnity
almost always on the other. The only answer possible to the fierce
and glad attack of sincerity is the miserable answer of solemnity.
Let Mr. McCabe, or any one else who is much concerned that we should be
grave in order to be sincere, simply imagine the scene in some government
office in which Mr. Bernard Shaw should head a Socialist deputation
to Mr. Austen Chamberlain. On which side would be the solemnity?
And on which the sincerity?