THE LEVITES

Nov 1, 1913

THE LEVITES

SOMEONE, we believe, has divided the human race into three sexes—men, women, and clergymen. The great ages of the world have been those in which the men and women regarded the clergymen with suspicion. The gloomy ages of the world have been those in which they bowed down and worshipped them. At present most of us do neither the one nor the other— we are simply indifferent to them. It is to be hoped that the conduct of the priests in Dublin during the past week will wake a few of the old suspicions into flame again. There the priests have been leading mobs in the streets who have cried names like “kidnappers” and “White-slavers” at gentle ladies who wished to take the children of poor strikers away to homes where they would be fed. Fathers have been assaulted and prevented from sending their children beyond the clutch of starvation; mothers have been terrified by the roar of hell into tossing their infants back into hunger as into the mouths of wolves. Our hatred of the black piety of the priests who looked on and directed this reign of terror is not a whit the less because we believe the ladies to have been imprudent, and to have acted in ignorance of Irish history, nationality, and various other things that cannot be left out of account. Further, we have no doubt that, in similar circumstances, the Protestant clergy would have behaved in very much the same way. One has only to imagine a movement during a strike in Belfast to send the children of the strikers away to be cared for in a Catholic country in order to realise what a fury there would be of parsons banging on the doors of the Orange lodges and calling on the drums for help. Perhaps, even in England—Christian England, as we call it, to distinguish it from pagan territory like France, Ireland or Mexico—even in England, where the eyelids of the churches are a little weary, it would not be as easy as sinning to ship Protestant children by the boatload to France or Spain without at least a letter of horror to the papers from the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Rev. F. B. Meyer.
To many people this habit of interference is the damning vice of the clergy. For ourselves, we are not inclined to blame the clergy for interfering. We wish they would interfere a great deal oftener and a great deal earlier and a great deal otherwise. We would like to see them interfering morning, noon, and night with those whom the Daily Herald has made alive for our comic sense as the Fat Men. We would gladly see them interfering with emperors, judges and stockbrokers. But somehow or other we simply cannot whip up the required enthusiasm when we see them interfering with a starving child. They may assert, of course, that the child’s soul is in danger, and so, no doubt, it is. But then so is the emperor’s, and the judge’s, and the stockbroker’s. All our souls are in danger, but never that we have heard of have the clergy raised riots in the streets on that account. So far as we can see, the difference between the starving child and the stuffed stockbroker lies not in the fact that the soul of one is in greater danger than the soul of the other, but that the one is a little revolutionary portent, while the other is a monument of acquiescence. Let us not be unfair to the clergy. Once upon a time they did interfere with emperors and rich men, asserting that the power of the clergy was as much superior to the power of kings as the soul was superior to the body. But the kings, who found that the divorce laws of the Church constituted an unwarrantable interference with home life, fought the clergy on that point and beat them. Since which time kings and clergy have been as thick as Boer and Briton. One does not accuse the clergy of timidity, however; one accuses them merely—there are, of course, thousands of exceptions to the charge—of unrighteous acceptance of things as they are. More readily even than laymen they have accepted our law-and-order system, our industrial system, and various other expressions of human imperfection in the gross, as something permanent and therefore quasi-divine. They have almost consistently throughout the centuries contributed a black regiment to the army that goes on fighting for the past against the future. They have made an idol of yesterday and denied tomorrow with oaths. If they despised today and tomorrow, as the saints have done, owing to some blinding vision of a world that to most of us is invisible, we should have no ground of complaint.
But the fact is, they have again and again shown themselves stout protectors of the visible world against those who in the enthusiasm of faith have announced the possibility of the Kingdom of Heaven. Their very allegiance to old forms of words, old forms of dress, is suggestive of their desperate error in confounding the stale things of men with what has been called the good news of the Kingdom—custom with revelation. This error has been the source of their strange action in nearly all modern revolutions. In France, in Italy, in Ireland, they have again and again at a crisis taken sides with the powers against the people. One remembers as an instance Bishop Moriarty’s famous declaration that Hell was not hot enough nor eternity long enough to punish the Fenians. This, again, we would not have minded if he had said something similar about Cabinet Ministers and the good husbands and sons who guard law-and-order in its den at Dublin Castle. In the same way we would not object to the way in which the priests refused to admit Fenians to the confessional, or to marry them, if they had been as rigorous with policemen and landlords. But they notoriously used the terrors of religion to help those who wanted to keep the world as it was against those who wanted to change it. One feels that their attitude during the present Dublin strike is but one more example of the subservience of the clergy to things as they are. When the rich Catholic employers of Dublin brought out the vile armoury of famine against the poor, not a single priestly voice was raised in denunciation of this old-fashioned piece of devilishness. But when the poor took their children up in their skinny arms to carry them to safety outside the lines of hunger, lo, then the black army swept into the streets, defenders of the faith that had tolerated hunger and filth and overcrowding all these years with hardly a protest. It was as if the Levite had not only passed by on the other side, but had afterwards returned and cracked the head of the Good Samaritan. One would not have minded this if the bishops of the Church had been the rivals in open purses of the ladies who wished to take the children away and feed them. But they were not. They endured the sufferings of the poor with unexampled heroism. Here, again, let us be sure, there were scores of priests who felt every injury to helpless women and children as a wound in their own bodies. But they did not interfere against the masters as the others did against the men. The clergy had at hand, in the New Testament, a far better collection of texts for use against the rich employers than against the famished workers. But in Dublin those texts are swords that have rusted in their scabbards. It is more difficult to draw the sword of religion than to blow the poisoned darts of sectarianism.
For is it not the merest sectarianism when the clergy endure the sins of the rich in silence, but become mob-orators when the children of the poor take shelter in the homes of those who profess another creed? Is it not sectarianism when a church spends its energies in suspicion of other churches instead of in suspicion of the Devil? The explanation, of course, is simple enough. It is that the clergy do not always know the Devil when they see him. And there is this also to be remembered: the clergy are among the last people in the world to develop a social conscience. For they are almost as much a close corporation, exclusively concerned with the interests of the corporation, as a board of railway directors. It is, as it were, company interests, not social interests, that come first with them. Now, the great gift of the nineteenth century to the world was the gift of a social conscience—a mere baby of a conscience as yet, perhaps, but a child of infinite promise. Literature accepted the social conscience, and the world of Shakespeare became the world of Ibsen. Politics was invaded by the social conscience, and we got Socialism as an alternative to the old family quarrel of Whig and Tory. Religion—has religion been touched by the social conscience? Clearly, to some extent, it has. Every church congress, Catholic or Protestant, is a proof of this. But on the whole the clergy are behind the politicians and the men of letters in this matter. In Dublin, at least, they do not yet seem to have discovered the fact that one of the aims of religion, as of politics and literature, is the redemption of society. They prefer to regard themselves as members, not of society, but of a bureaucracy. True there is nobody like the clergy for denouncing Socialism as a system of universal bureaucracy, a world of officialism. As a matter of fact, Socialism would mean an end to the evils of officialism; for it would mean not so much a world in which every citizen would be an official as a world in which every official would be a citizen. Your clergyman, on the other hand, is as a rule himself the merest official in a uniform, who has not yet learned the A B C of citizenship. So much is this the case that there are some men who would not give the clergy votes. On the day on which the priests of the various denominations become citizens, religion will experience as magical a revival as literature and politics did in the last century. One will find men of genius in the churches to set beside Ibsen and Tolstoi and Mazzini. In those days the clergy will no longer be in so large a measure the little brothers of the rich. They will be lovers of the equalities, haters of the tyranny of hunger, enemies of the enemies of society, builders of the perfect city on equal terms with grocers, dockers and seamstresses.

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