R.T. Malcolm, can you tell me first of all where were the seeds of religion planted in you? Were you brought up in a religious home? Was your childhood in any way surrounded by the idea of God?
M.M. It is very difficult to know exactly what a religious home is. Let me tell you about my home. My father was a pioneer Socialist and Fabian, and if he had a religion that was it. We were brought up to regard Socialism as the one thing that mattered, and it is quite arguable that my very strong reaction against the idea of creating a kingdom of heaven on earth may be a sort of reaction to this, exactly as many people brought up in, say, a strongly Methodist home react the other way. But, of course, my father, like so many of the early Socialists, and in my opinion, the best, was a spill-over from the Chapel. He was a very poor boy; he left school when he was thirteen, and he told me once when he was quite old, and I never forgot it, that from the age of thirteen there were always other people dependent upon him. Well, the Chapel was everything. The Chapel was his university. He went to Mock Parliaments, literary societies and terrible things called Mutual Improvement societies. His Socialism was derived from such activities as these. So he had a sort of Christian background, which I certainly absorbed.
R.T. You mean he expressed this form of Christianity in the home?
M.M. He expressed it in the sense that we were brought up to revere the person of Christ, but we were also brought up to ridicule the Church and dogmas of all kinds, including the Crucifixion. My father often spoke at meetings, and I followed him round even when I was very young. He would sometimes speak at religious meetings, always referring the Christian gospel to his notions of a better world and a better society. That was the religion in which I was brought up and which I accepted.
R.T. But did it include going to Church?
M.M. I did in fact go for a time to a Congregational Church, though primarily, I confess, for social reasons; specifically for the mundane purpose of meeting girls. This may seem strange in the light of the present situation. We were a family of boys, and we never knew any girls, and one of the few occasions when I met girls in a vaguely romantic way was at Chapel. Also there was a rather marvellous old clergyman there, a Congregational minister, a Scotsman called Sanderson. I can see him nowa remarkable old chap with a long white beard, who used to talk about the New Testament in a vivid and picturesque way, especially about fishermen. Having come from the Shetland Islands he knew a lot about fishermen, and he would bring to his exposition of the New Testament a knowledge of fishermen which appealed to me very much. But that was not a very deep impression. I can also trace in myself, when I look back, another strain, and that was a feeling I always had as a child, and have now, of being a stranger in this world; of not being a native. I can remember it so vividly, as almost the first recollection of lifean overpowering feeling that this world is not a place where I really belong.
R.T. When you say this world, do you mean the universe, or do you mean the way man is in the universe?
M.M. I mean my physical existence in time. I couldn't have put it that way then, but I know the inconceivable poignancy with which I first heard the phrase in the Bible 'a stranger in a strange land'. I don't think any phrase I have ever heard gave me such a sense of poignancy.
R.T. Can you fill this out a little bit more so that I can understand clearly what you mean?
M.M. It's not easy because this is, I think now, the essence of mysticism and of a mystical view of lifethis sense that man has of not completely belonging here. He doesn't belong here because his soul belongs to eternity, whereas this is a place of time and bodies. It is the feeling out of which all art, all literature, all mystical concepts, all philosophy, anything like that, has come.
R.T. When did this feeling first come to you?
M.M. I tell you in all honesty, almost the first thing I can remember as a conscious child was this feeling that somehow or another I didn't belong here; chat here is not my home. It was only afterwards when I began to read writers like Blake and Pascal, the writers that I now think are the great luminaries of modern timesalso Tolstoythat I understood the relation between mysticism and feeling a stranger in a strange land. All this business of men's alienation, which is on every tongue now, seems to me to relate directly to this feeling of not belonging here. If I could point to one single basic feeling out of which the structure of my mind and thought and belief grew, it would be thisthat I do not belong here.
R.T. As a young person, did this feeling of estrangement in the world go hand in hand with a feeling that God loved you?
M.M. Not till much later, because God didn't arise in my upbringing. But it did meanand I have to make this clear immediatelythat all the worldly things, essential things, like money and fame and success and sensuality, which even a child is aware of, even though I was greedy for them, decidedly so, perhaps even above the average, I never really liked them, I never thought they were any good.
R.T. And yet at quite a young age you threw yourself wholeheartedly into supporting the Socialist movement.
M.M. Oh, very strongly soabsolutely. But that was partly just love of my father. He was a most delightful man, and I loved him dearly. I not only loved him, but I completely accepted his view of the world. I was absolutely convinced that if my father and his friends took over, which I firmly believed they would, because it all seemed to me to be so reasonable what they said, that everything was going to be fine. It was just a matter of time, and people would see that the capitalist system was useless; that everybody should stay at school until they were sixteen or seventeen, and that leisure time should be devoted to reading Shakespeare instead of going to race meetings, and so on and so on. All this seemed to me to be obvious, and it was just a matter of my father and his friends winning votes and getting into power. The whole thing was as clear as day.
R.T. Where does your mother figure in all this?
M.M. My mother played a very small part in my life strangely enough. She was a terribly nice woman, straight workingclass, whereas my father belonged to the lower middle class. His father was an undertaker who disappeared very early on, and his mother started a second-hand furniture business in Penge, but it was all in terms of the lower, lower middle class. My mother's family lived in Sheffield, in back-to-back houses, and were all steelworkers. My father met her in the Isle of Man when he was on holiday. It was a sort of H. G. Wells episodehe a young clerk holidaying in the Isle of Man, and she a girl from Sheffield, very pretty, very pretty indeed, and he fell in love with her and brought her south. When we used to go and visit her family, whom we adored, the funny thing to me is, looking back, that theoretically, of course, they were the down-trodden and oppressed and we were the up-and-coming, but in actual terms of standard of life, we children always considered that we had a much better 'blow out' with them, and that their house was warmer and their whole manner of life more lavish than ourswhich it was, as a matter of fact, because they spent everything on these comforts.
R.T. A big fire and plenty of food on the table . . .
M.M. Absolutelyand of course in Yorkshire that meant plenty of home-made food of a very high order of excellence. For instance, at Christmas we would be fairly certain a hamper would come to us from Sheffield full of delicacies. Like so many lower middle-class families with their belief in education and all that sort of thing, we lived really very abstemiously, relative to the working classes who didn't give a damn about all that, but just wanted to be comfortable. And comfortable they were in those days.
R.T. Your mother still seems very much a ghostlike figure. You didn't have very much to do with her?
M,M. She wasn't exactly ghostlike, but she was utterly uneducated; she could barely writeI don't mean that she was a fool by any manner of means, but she could barely write, and all my passionate interest in life was centred on books My father was really a very extraordinary man, and having left school at thirteen he taught himself French, and was very well read. He even taught himself to play the piano. He had a passion for learning that men of that type had. He went up to London at about eight o'clock from East Croydon station, and he would return at about six o'clock; he would then engage in several hours of municipal activity because he was a town-councillor committees, meetings. And on top of all that (and how the hell did he do it? one now asks onself) he would educate himself, and continued to do so until the day of his death to read and to think and to make notes. I have got one of his notebooks. On Saturday afternoon, which was his afternoon off, he would maybe go off and bicycle from Croydon to Tunbridge Wells and address a meeting, and then bicycle back. He had fantastic energy, and all my interest was centred on him.
R.T. What did your mother contribute, then?
M.M. She kept the house going, she washed and cleaned and cooked; we had no help of any kind.
R.T. Did she understand you?
M.M. No, not at all. I never had a conversation of mutual understanding with my mother at all. I used to read my father's books precociously, and she once found me reading Rousseau's Confessions, when, God knows, I must have been very young. I shouldn't think I knew what it was about really, but she gave me a frightful dressing down, and said that Rousseau was a bad man. I remember the phrase she used, very typical; she said 'Rousseau was born with his blood boiling.' I had no idea what she meant by this, but I realise now that it was a sort of primitive way of saying that he was sexually obsessed.
R.T. We both know enough about Freud for me to be able to ask: Could not this feeling of estrangement in the universe be due to the lack of a strong link with your mother?
M.M. It could be so, but I think if it were, then all the Christian mystics would have had mothers from whom they were alienatedwhich is very much not the case. Take, for instance, the case of St Augustine, who is a very sympathetic figure to me. His mother was a colossally strong influence on his life. I am exceedingly doubtful about all that psychological stuff, and I don't really believe in it at all. I think Freud produced one of the worst sort of grotesque over-simplifications. After all, what he hit on was very simple and obviousthat sex, the procreative urge, is a basic urge, which can't be left out of account. Well, that's perfectly obvious, and it probably had been left out of account, but I think it now is taken too much into account. It has sometimes occurred to me that Freud and Marx were two Jews who punished us for all we had done to the Jews by, in effect, destroying the Christian religion. Freud destroyed it by taking away any sense of personal responsibility for wrongdoing.
R.T. I don't go along with you in what you say about being a stranger here. I would say that here I have no continuing dwelling-place, but I feel at home in the universe. I feel that it is a friendly place, I don't think that I am alienated from the universe.
M.M. I love it. I love it. Every day I live in the world I love it more. Every time I look out of that window, I love it, every leaf, every colour, and the more I feel myself a stranger the more I love it. Because I know that the whole of this has a much larger dimension than my eye can pick out.
R.T. I see, you don't feel alienated from the universe?
M.M. I feel only that I don't live here. I am visiting.
R.T. Oh yes, yes, but you can feel at home here?
M.M. Yes, I am having a delightful time, but I'm making a brief visit, and
therefore all plans that are based on the idea that we live permanently here, and that this is the beginning and end of life, seem to me ludicrous.
R.T. When did this business about religion and the possible truth of what Jesus Christ was teaching, when did this come back to you in a big way?
M.M, I don't think there was ever a dramatic moment when it came back. I have often thought about this. It's something well, put it this wayit has always seemed to me that thc most interesting thing in the world is to try and understand what life is about. This is the only pursuit that could possibly engage a serious personwhat is life about ? And of course it is a continuing pursuit. As I have realised the fallacy of all materialist philosophies and materialist utopias, and of the politics of utopianism, so I have come to feel more and more strongly that the answer to life does not lie in materialism. In seeking the other transcendental answer I have inevitably and increasingly been driven to the conclusion, almost against my own will, that for a West European whose life and background and tradition are in terms of Western European Christian civilisation, the only answer lies in the person and life and teaching of Christ. Here, and here only, the transcendental answer is expressed adequately and appropriately. Now that is not the kind of conclusion that involves anything like a Damascus Road experience. It is a process of continuing realisation. On the other hand, of course, one reaches a point when one comes out into the open about it. For me that was delayed because I felt it was necessary that my personal life should not be a disgrace to the Christian religion when I avowed it. There were certain things which I had to do about my personal life. In my particular caseand I am not laying this down as any kind of a rulethis involved abstemiousness and asceticism, and the mastery of self-indulgence.
R.T. Can you give me some instances?
M.M. The most trivial ones are drinking and smoking, both of which I indulged in fairly lavishly. These are obvious enough, as is over-eating. The most important of all is sexI mean indulgence in promiscuity. That is more difficult because sex is, of all forms of self-indulgence, the one which makes the most appeal to the imagination. Greed, cupidity and related pursuits are really rather vulgar and make very little appeal to the imagination. But sexual indulgence makes a considerable appeal. Therefore, it is the hardest to conquer, but in my opinion it is absolutely essential that it should be conquered.
R.T. You are saying to me that before you could avow that you were a Christian these things had to be renounced.
M.M. Yes. I felt very strongly that I couldn't take on something for which I had such a respect as I have for the Christian religion if I was liable to disgrace it. I believe that no moral proposition is worth propounding unless it is also expressed in terms of personal conduct. If I say that all men are my brothers, the first thing I have to be sure of is that I do veritably feel them to be so, and behave accordingly. If I don't, better not to say it.
R.T. And act on it.
M.M. And act on it. If I don't do that, better keep quiet. Thus, for instance, in the case of the racial problem in the United States, I feel in many ways more comfortable about it in the Southern States than in the North, because in the South the arrangement which prevails, vicious though it is, at least expresses the actual state of mind of people, and is therefore more bearable. Moral propositions without action are as sick as sex without procreation. That's precisely what's wrong with liberalismthe basic ideology of our society. So it seems to me that all moral feelings that one might have, and all moral propositions one might wish to propound, must be related to personal conduct. If you take the basic Christian view of life that one must die in the flesh in order to be rebornthen one must be master of one's flesh, and it is quite impossible to combine that with self-indulgence, especially sexual self-indulgence, whether outside or inside matrimony. I think it is also a base thing to seek to perpetuate sex once the actual urge is passed. So all this had to be dealt with. For me it was like a man who wanted to apply to join a particular club or, better, religious order. First of all he had to be sure that he could fulfil the requirements. That took me a certain amount of time and effort. It would be very wicked of any man to say that he had completely achieved mastery of his fleshly appetites, but I felt able to declare myself a Christian when I was reasonably sure that a scrutiny of my life would not disgrace the inconceivably high standards that Christians I admirelike Tolstoy and Pascalhave set.
R.T. But what about fame? You have more fame now than you ever had. Isn't this a form of indulgence?
M.M. I suppose it would be if one cared much about it, but I don't. I think I am being genuine. I don't say that occasionally, if I know that people are aware of me, there isn't a sort of satisfactionbut there is also a sort of dissatisfaction. If tomorrow such fame as I enjoy were to be completely obliterated, it wouldn't worry me; it wouldn't worry me at all, it wouldn't cost me a pang. But I agree, of course, that it is a thing you have to watch, because one's ego is indestructible, and the devil is always there working on this ego. The old-fashioned idea that there is a force in us of wickedness which is the Devil, is, in my opinion, completely true. And of course, the ego, the Devil's instrument, is always there to his hand. But fame - is not a thing to which I attach much value; neither to fame nor to money. I attach perhaps excessive value to being good at my chosen workwhich is writing or communicating. If someone says to me: 'That was a marvellous thing you wrote,' or, 'I was enormously impressed by what you said,' this gives me a glow of pleasure, and I don't think a wholly unworthy one because, although it is connected with vanity, the pleasure in it is more I hope and believe, the sense that one has communicated something to someone which was worthy. You know that marvellous saying of Christ's, 'Let your light shine'; well, when one feels that one has shone a little light, that is what gives satisfaction. I should still like to stress that I do not believe in asceticism for asceticism's own sake. In other words, I am not a Puritan in any sense. I don't think there is virtue in self-denial as such. If I want to do something, and I stop myself doing it, I don't think that is virtuous, though it may be wise or well-advised. For myself, personally, I have found that I can only concentrate my thoughts and activities on Christianity and everything connected with itwhich is the one object I care about in life nowif I don't indulge my senses. This applies even to over-eating, which is quite a harmless thing.
R.T. What do you mean when you say over-eating?
M.M. I simply mean eating a lot. Actually, I am a vegetarian nowadays and eat rather little. If I eat a lot, still more if I drink a lot, or smoke a lot, or indulge in sexual activities a lot, this means to me personally, with my sort of make-up, that I am shut off from the sight of God. The image which I use to myself is taken from driving. If it's too hot inside the car, if the temperatures outside and inside are ill-adjusted, then the windscreen mists over and and you can't see. In the same sort of way, if I allow myself to become preoccupied with my bodily appetites, my soul's window gets misted over and I can't see out. I do not in any way criticise people who don't feel similarly. I do not think that abstinence is essential to the pursuit of truth through Christianity, though I notice that the figures in the past whom I most admire, and whose writings and thoughts most appeal to me, usually did take that way. So there must be some connection. Even so, I would never preach abstinence to people as such; I would point out to them that my experience of life, such as it is, suggests that an integral part of looking at the spiritual reality of life is divorcing yourself as far as possible from involvement in the sensual or physical part. I make one exception to that. For me, in my life, there has been only one sensual experience which has carried spiritual undertones, and that is the ecstasy of physical passion when one is young and when it is associated with love. That is an experience which has, I think, spiritual undertones. It explains why in literature it is the only sensual passion which has produced great art. Other forms of indulgence have not; they have produced oddities of writing, or perversions of writing, but they have not produced great literature. That particular experience has, and it is the one exception. But I would emphasise the point that it belongs to youth, and that efforts to protract it and to apply it in middle age or old age usually produce horror and distortion. Money as a pursuit is, in my opinion, about the most contemptible of all. On the other hand we need money to live, and I don't think as a factor in life it is in itself either good or bad. After all, it is only a means of exchange. I have never pursued money; most of my life I have been relatively poor. In the years before the 1939-45 war, as a free-lance writer, I seldom earned as much as £20 a week. That, with a wife and four children, was certainly not affluence. Yet it is a time I look back on with great satisfaction. I think that people who are poor and have to live modestly and bring up children at considerable sacrifice to themselves are fortunate, not unfortunate. It is the others who are unfortunate. They are missing out on something very exhilarating and delightful.
R.T. Can you develop that a little bit?
MM Judging from my own friends and people that I have known, those who escape these difficulties miss a great deal. Christians are often accused of being morbid when they talk of the joy of sacrificing. I think it is one of the deepest truths of the Christian religion. Far from being a source of sadness, sacrifice is a great joy and source of illuminationperhaps the greatest of all. I also think that to live modestly is always a richer experience, because you are living like the majority of people; the trouble with the rich, as I have known them, is not really that they are bad people, but that they are cut off from an essential experience they don't understand. For ninety-nine per cent of human beings their lives are governed by the struggle to acquire the means to live. This is how the arrangement is, and if you don't experience that you miss a great deal. I don't think I ever had a bank passbook in black until I was well into my forties. With four children there were always unexpected expenses, and so one was always in the red.
R.T. Did this make you anxious?
M.M. I have been anxious about money, yes, and I think the bad side of poverty is the fear that it creates, but I would certainly think that the unreality of life for the rich, and ultimately the boredom of life for them, is a worse misfortune. Lately I have earned a lot, and I have had to confront the question of what I should do about it, Here again abstemiousness is a help. At least I can say that expenditure on myself is now minimal. The idea of a big house, servants, that sort of thing, would be in any case abhorrent; my own present personal scale of living is certainly no higher than it would be if I had retired on a small pension. This seems to me preferable to falling into the sort of ethical and financial shifts that Tolstoy's efforts to have no property or earnings at all involved. At the same time, of course, I have to recognise that whatever financial stringency I have known in the past, it has never been at all comparable with the grinding poverty which, to our shame, continues to exist in the affluent societies of America and Western Europe; still less with the ever worsening poverty of Africa and Asia. Nor, I know, is my way of life, however abstemious, other than privileged by comparison with the great majority of my fellow-men. I often wish it were otherwise; the only uniform I have ever looked at with envy is that of a lay-brother. A phrase used by St Francis of Assisi that I once read has continued to echo in my mind'naked on the naked earth.' So placed, even in this cruel and unjust world, one could live and sleep in peace.
R.T. Asceticism, as you have described it to me, is not an end in itself, but is a means of clearing the way for a deeper communion with God. Malcolm, what do you imagine about God? I know this is a ridiculous and impossible question, but up to not long ago people had an image of God, and then we were told we mustn't have images of God, that God was the ground of our being, God wasn't out there, God was in here, and so on. I find it almost impossible to pray to God, talk about God, imagine God, without imagining something. I would like you, if you would, to wrestle with this; when you are addressing God, or when the subject of God comes up in conversation, what happens in your mind? What do you think about?
M.M. I can answer that because it is something that I think about a great deal. I may not answer it as definitely as many might hope, but I will answer it as truthfully as possible. How do I arrive first of all at the notion of God? For me the notion of God comes primarily from a sense, probably the deepest spiritual experience that I have ever had, of the oneness of life. Everything, I am profoundly convinced, is connected with everything else; the universe, my life, the past, the future, all this is a oneness, in which each part bears a relation to each other part. Now, it is inconceivable to me that there could be this oneness without a One: a unitary spirit behind it. I see in the world, the phenomenal world, in nature which I love very much in the achievements of men which I admire very much, in myself, in my responses and reactions to the world, I see this mysterious connection, this oneness, which to me presupposes one being, a oneness behind all life. Nothing that could happen in exploring the universe, or finding out about life, affects that idea; on the contrary, each new discovery embellishes, enlarges, it. There is no conflict at all. I have also noticed that the greatest scientists, men like Einstein, are more than anyone else aware of this, because they see scientifically what we see intuitively this fact that there is nothing which you can explore in the universe which is not related to everything else. As Blake indicates majestically, if we could understand perfectly a grain of sand we should understand the universe. That, to me, says God. Now then, how do I see this God ? If it were not for the Christian religion, I should see no more of God than that. I should content myself with saying that there is a oneness, a spirit animating this universe.
R.T. You have talked about a God who unified, but this could be just an impersonal force.
M.M. The next step is one of faith, but one which, I contend, is borne out by the very shape and colour and flavour of the universe, as well as by everything that has been experienced about it. That spirit is a loving spirit, not a hating spirit, or an indifferent spirit; a creative, not a destructive, spirit. We recognise its hand in all the creativity of men, and we recognise its opposite in all the destructiveness of men; we recognise its hand in art, because art is an image of this unity of the universe. So we now arrive at the point that there is a spirit, and this spirit is a spirit of love, not of hate or indifference, a spirit of creativity, not of destructiveness. If it were not for the Gospels, there I should stop, and I shouldn't mind stopping there. Christianity is not something I needed in this sense, because I could perfectly comfortably and happily live and die on the basis of what I have just said.
R.T. How, before the Gospels, or in spite of the Gospels, or instead of the Gospels, did you come to the conclusion that this spirit was loving? On what evidence?
M.M. On the evidence first of all of the actual world itself. I mean its colours, its scents, its seasons, all the things that I find enchanting; these are, to me, an expression of love. Then again, not always, but in one's highest moments, so are one's closest and truest human relationships. If you are capable, if a man is capable of this emotion of love, which we all recognise, as every civilisation has recognised, and as even savages recognise, as the highest impulse which we can feel about another human being, to the point that we prefer another human being's interests to our own, this suggests to me at oncemore than suggests, involves the assumptionthat the spirit which has created us partakes of the nature of this love because it could only partake of the highest, not the lowest. I once read in a book by some Flemish mystic that hunger presupposes the existence of bread; similarly, I think that this longing that all men have had since the beginning of time, and in all circumstances, and will always have until the end of time, whatever may happenthat this longing presupposes the existence of what is longed for. But as I say, if it were not for the Christian Gospels, there the matter would rest, and there it would rest perfectly happily and contentedly so far as I am concerned.
Shortcuts to other parts of this Chapter
R. T. Malcolm, have you had what could be described as a present-day mystical experience of Jesus Christ?
M.M. I can't say 'no' to that, although I wish to explain that I am by temperament an extremely sceptical person. I don't believe in a lot that people say about their religious experiences. I'm very sceptical about the fantasies of mysticism altogether. I don't believe in visions myself, since I have never had one, but on the other hand, as I have continued to think about the Christian religion, begun to read the Gospels and related literature, particularly contemporary writings, I have had a sense of the presence of Christ. Perhaps the particular moment was when I was making some films in the Holy Land for television; on the road to Emmaus I understood, in a particularly vivid and personal way, that there is someone else, a third man, who will join one and help one along the way. On his own, no human being can hope to overcome the wickedness and selfishness inherent in his nature. It's absolutely impossible. Yet Christians have been able to do this because there is this help available. I know that this help is available; I know I can call on it myself. To realise this is a very different thing from a Damascus Road experience, or the kind of visions and voices that have been seen and heard. The person who put it best for me was the writer whose work, to me, is the most perfect expression of Christianity in our timethough she herself was not a Christian in any formal sense. I mean Simone Weil. Describing a moment of illumination she says that Christ came down and took possession of her. I can understand that, because there is a point when the captivation of Christ, and of his teaching, is so great that it is exactly like being obsessed with someone else. One is, as Simone Weil puts it, in the most literal sense possessed.
R.T. That is an interesting phrasethat Christ came down and captivated her. Do you believe that Christians are those people whom he has captivated, or those who have sought his captivation?
M.M. I would not be dogmatic about that, because I am absolutely convinced that there are many routes to Christ and his mercies. I think that all any man can do is to try to find his own way, and, if he is capable of communicating, perhaps to tell others about his adventures, so that he may conceivably help them. But I think there are an infinite number of ways, from the absolutely simple illumination that we associate with the saints, past and present, to the agonising struggle of someone like Kierkegaard to attain the sort of understanding of Christ and relationship with him that he longed for.
R.T. What triggers it off in a man, though? This is a wild generalisation, but I think of the masses and masses of people who never give a thought to God or Jesus Christ or eternity, and then of the others that do. I know I am hovering here on a Calvinistic notion, but is it God who chooses a few, or is this something that can happen for all of us? What I am wondering about here is what starts it in a man, what awakens a man to the possibility that life is more than what he just sees on this earth?
M.M, We don't know. We say that there are millions of people who never think of God, but we don't know; we can never really know. It appears like that, but we can never tell. One gets some very strange surprises. I firmly believe that there is a divine light in every human being ever born or to be born. I don't think any life can be lived in total darkness, but of course I agree with you that the actual gift of experiencing the light consciously, and still more of being able to convey the nature of that light, is a somewhat rare thing. This is part of the general mystery of our being, but I am absolutely sure that when we do understand we shall see that, first of all, the illumination was much more widespread than appears to us to be the case, and, secondly, that it was necessary for this light to shine through certain individuals whose particular role this has just happened to be. I have never myself met a soul in total darkness, except for those who are mad. Unfortunately, when people are madand our civilisation is ever producing more who are madthen you have a feeling of their being in total darkness. Even with them, though, you never know. My eldest son, a dedicated Christian if ever there was one, worked for a while as a helper in an institution which cares for the incurably mentally sick. I asked him whether he was ever afraid, especially when dealing with homicidal cases. No, he said; they too, were God's children. What could he do for them? I asked. He told me that he read the New Testament to them in the hope that a phrase, or even a word, some little glimmer of its light, might reach them. Surely, God would not let so sweet a hope quite fail. On that same visit to the Holy Land I came to feel quite certain that not even Judas had irretrievably cut himself off from the love of God.
R.T. We come now to the Gospels and the incredible event of Jesus Christ.
M.M. Yes. The Gospels as I have grown to understand them, and this is a later thing . . .
R.T. How late exactly?
M.M. I should have said that it was only in the last ten years that I have come to understand how, through the Gospels, we can see God in the shape of a man, and a man in the shape of God, thereby grasping what I think is the most wonderful concept of all of God as a father and of the human race as a family; not equal as political idealists like to pretend, not at all, but equal as brothers and sisters in a family are equal. Some are clever, some are stupid, some are attractive, some are boring, some are ugly, some are beautiful; all this is true, but the moment that you have a sense of a family and a father these differences become insignificant, as they do in a family, and all are equal. No one in a family would say that a plain sister is inferior to a pretty one; not inside a family, only outside. If this Christian notion is correct, and I am profoundly convinced that it is, then it answers the question of the relationship between man and man. From the Christian Gospels, and their presentation of Christ's captivating personality, then, I have been able to fathom the mysterious circumstances that he was God, and that in him God became man. These are assumptions that I find no difficulty over at all. They are not even particularly miraculous; certainly no more so than much else that we take for granted about the material universe. There is, in any case, a massive weight of evidence in support of them which one can read in the lives of people who have accepted their ·alidity, and been transformed thereby.
R.T. What do you mean when you say that this man was God ?
M.M. I mean that through the character of this man and the teaching of this man I may understand God, and I may understand what God wants for and from man.
R.T. What is it about Jesus Christ that convinces you of this difference in him?
M.M. The Jesus who emerges from the Gospels is this man who tells me, who explains to me, the ways of God, and, I also think, who explains to God the ways of man. In other words, he is an intermediary between God and men who reveals in his person and in his life the unity that we have sensed, and who translates it into individual terms.
R.T. What individual acts or attitudes of his show this?
M.M. Primarily, of course, his death. That is the essential thing; if that hadn't happened, then he would only have been one more wonderful teacher; but his death and all that followed from it seems to me clearly to establish the relationship between God and his creation.
R. T. Talk to me about his death. What do you think was going on at Calvary?
M.M. I think that men had to be shown that the way to revelation was through suffering; not, as they may have been inclined to think, that the way was through happiness. A great image revelatory of this was absolutely essential. They had also to be shown that what they must worship is, in earthly terms, defeat, not, as they thought, victory; that they must worship what in earthly terms is weak, not what has hitherto been thought of as strength; that this image of a man dying because of the truth that he embodied, established for ever what truth issomething you die for.
R.T. The cross was a great counterblast, then, against the view that this world is complete in itself or an end in itself ?
M.M. That is why, coinciding as it did with that fantastic Roman Empire, and stating the exact opposite proposition to what that empire was built onthat is why it swept through men's hearts, why it had this incredible effect on them, as it still does because it is a great illumination. You see it's a natural impulse in man, the jungle man, to think that he must attach himself to power, because that would defend him; that he must accumulate wealth, because that will win him respect; that he must make men afraid of him, because then they will do what he wants. Now the exact opposite proposition had to be established, and Christ established itthat the exact opposite of the jungle man's assumption was the truth.
R.T. And this is how you understand the Atonement?
M.M. Absolutely. Absolutely.
R.T. You are quite sure there was a Resurrection?
M.M. I am sure there was a Resurrection, but I don't in the least care whether the stone was moved or not moved, or what anybody saw, or anything like that. I am absolutely indifferent to that. But there must have been a Resurrection because Christ is alive now. Christ is alive now, two thousand years later. There is no question at all about that.
R.T. What do you mean when you say that he is alive now?
M.M. He is alive now in the sense that he exists now as a person who can be reached.
R.T. You believe you can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ now?
M.M. I believe that Jesus Christ is alive now, that, as it were, his life is still valid, so that it is possible, not only to hear and learn, but experience, the truths that he propounded. Now you may say that this is not quite what Christians mean, and I daresay it isn't, but I really can't help that. I know absolutely, without any question, that you can derive strength and illumination from a relationship with the man in the Gospels which you cannot achieve, we'll say for instance with Socrates, who was a very wise and good man who also died.
R.T. There is a sense that Jesus is alive now, in a way that Socrates is not alive now?
M.M. Socrates is not alive now, although I can read Socrates and know his thoughts, which are very elevating thoughts, and read about his death, which was a very noble death.
R.T. But there is the very mysterious presence of Jesus Christ now?
M.M. Yes, and that is the Resurrection; that is what I, at any rate, mean by the living Christ. In some unique way the thought and teaching and persona of this man are still here, although there are plenty of people from whom, in an earthly sense, one might learn more because they are more sophisticated and complicated. With Jesus there is some unique quality which has inspired our civilisation. If this inspiration ever dried up, then our civilisation would be over.
R.T. Does the element of the miraculous in the Gospels worry you at all?
M.M. Not at all. I don't find the miracles in any way puzzling. Christ used to say to the people he miraculously cured that their sins were forgiven them; in other words, he relieved them of their guilt. If you relieve people of their guilt, you also relieve them of their sickness, because physical imperfections are only a manifestation of spiritual imperfection. I find the miracles much more realistic than much modern medicine, and than all modern psychiatry. I think that Christ was a great healer because he was a man of infinite wisdom who understood exactly what life was about in a way that nobody else ever has. His method of dealing with the sick and infirm was a completely comprehensible one. He understood that what is the matter with men, whether mentally, physically or spiritually, is their fear and guilt, and that if you deliver them from fear and guilt they become well. Now you may say that this couldn't apply to every sick person, and it's quite possible it couldn't; but it certainly applied to the people Christ cured and made whole. For instance, a lot of the sick that he dealt with were off their heads, mad, and he described them as being possessed by evil spirits. And many today, in the light of their own experience of dealing with the mentally afflicted, know that madness is possession by an evil spirit. If you can exorcise that evil spirit, and drive it away by introducing the opposite principlewhich is the principle of love and harmony rather than of violence and disharmonya cure automatically follows.
R.T. Is evil personal, as good is personal in God ?
M.M. Oh, I think so. There is a devila spirit of evil in us tugging at us to make us animals rather than angels.
R.T. Couldn't this just be the fact that evolutionarily we are still very much nearer the jungle?
M.M. It could be, yes. But even if that was so it wouldn't alter the situation. That situation may have arisen as a result of an evolutionary process, but it's still the same situation.
R.T. But it would cancel out the need to have a personal devil.
M.M. I am not particular about a personal devil. I shan't be distressed if there isn't one, but I am absolutely sure that there is a great spirit or force of evil to which men can succumb, individually and collectively, and that this force makes them animals rather than spiritual beings, makes them kill and destroy rather than love and create.
R.T. Do you think that Jesus was a product of evolution, or do you think that this was a miraculous intervention?
M.M. I am always allergic to miraculous interventions because I don't observe them in life, and I don't think that it makes Jesus any more remarkable if he represents a miraculous intervention than if a process which began when we were created found its culmination in him. It's again a matter of no great moment as far as I am concerned. The thing that matters to me is that he lived and lives.
R.T. So the Virgin Birth doesn't really figure?
M.M. Not in the least. It's understandable, of course, that people were awed, and rightly awed, by this man; by the influence he exerted, and by the stupendous effect of his words and thoughts, transforming the world's darkness into light. So, naturally, they thought he couldn't have come into the world as we did. I can't see that it's of any importance really; it's a natural thought, but how Christ came into the world doesn't matter.
R.T. It matters to me, Malcolm, in this sense, that if Jesus is, shall we say, the apex of an evolutionary process, why has there only ever been one of him, or one of his quality? I know myself well enough to realise that even if I lived to be a hundred, I shall still want to get down on my knees and say 'Lord' to him, and yet two thousand years have passed, and we haven't another Jesus Christ.
M.M. Rather than seeing him as the apex of an evolutionary process, I prefer to regard him as a consequence of the creation of life. We don't know how life began, or when it began. But creation presupposes a Creator whom we call God. As a part of some divine purpose Jesus was born, Jesus lived, Jesus taught, Jesus died. If you call that the apex of an evolutionary process, you demean it in actual fact. Nor would it follow at all. Evolution has at best proved to be a very rough-and-ready sketchy kind of a half-guess at something. I don't think it amounts to more than that, though, as usual, much too much importance has been attributed to it. For instance, man has deduced from th~ theory of evolution such absurdities as the survival of th fittest, which is patently ridiculous. Likewise, the whol~ system of evolutionary economics which is now a com pletely exploded myth.
R.T. Evolution in morals?
M,M. Certainly, in moralsprobably the most ludicrous deduction of all.
R.T. But hasn't the same thing been done with Christianity?
M.M. Curiously enough, no, doubtless because the essential truth of Christianity is so strong. There are a certain number of legends associated with Christianity certainly, of a fairly harmless nature, but in modern times no one has been forced to believe in them, or been thought any the worst of for not believing in them. In my opinion these legendc are much less harmful than scientific fallacies because they have no implications. If you say to me that St Bernadette saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in the grotto at Lourdes, I might agree or not agree, but it's a perfectly harmless thing, anyway. If you say to me that men are so made that the strongest kicks the weakest in the teeth and then the strongest survive, and go on to argue that if you apply this to economics you will get a happy society, you have done an irreparable wrong as we know, as we have seen. I think the legend is far less harmful than the fallacy; by comparison it's relatively charming.
R.T. You said that your religious position arose out of asking the question: 'What is it all about ?' When I asked Marghanita Laski about this she said: 'There is no possible answer to that, so l do not tease my brain asking the question.' Do you feel that it is possible for us ever to come to any kind of answer that can be satisfactory?
M.M. Yes. I think Christ provides an answer, which I find completely satisfying.
R.T. What is that?
M.M. That we live to the extent that we die. That the purpose of life is to love God and love our neighbour. That in so far as we achieve this we establish a relationship with our Creator, with the essential purpose of being here, and with the extraordinary individual, Jesus Christ, who came into the world and explained this.
R.T. What is the guarantee that what you think you are finding is valid, is right?
M.M. In a wordfaith, in which I profoundly believe. In this I have with me all the wise men of our civilisation who ever lived. I do not think that the intellect, reason, can produce an answer to life, and I don't know of any person for whom I have any respect, including many scientists, among them the greatest, who has not seen that reason is an inadequate instrument, and that one can only appreciate what life is about through this other dimension which we call faith.
R.T. How is this corroborated? Or does it need to be corroborated ?
M.M. It is self-corroborating, because we know it, and if we don't know it we haven't got faith.
R,T. You mean this is an absolute knowledge?
M.M. To me, yes. It is of course supported by the fact that there are all these others who had this faith, and that it would be rather extraordinary if each one of them was simply a self-deluded fool, considering that such people are by universal consent the most creative minds and spirits of our civilisation. That in itself is not a proof. There is also the fact that people one has known who strike one as good and true are people who in some degree or another have this faith. The inadequacy of the mind alone is something that is absolutely and dramatically illustrated at every point; everything is built on faith, and faith is the essence of everything.
R.T. But Malcolm, it was asking a tremendous lot when Jesus said to the young rich ruler, 'Sell all you have and follow me.' The demand was total. Aren't people entitled to some kind of assurance that what they are doing is either sane or sensible or reasonable or right?
M.M, Yes, they are entitled to that assurance. The assurance is provided, because to thc degree that they have this faith they know it's true. In other words, as Pascal says: 'Whoever looks for God has found him.' Faith contains its own justification. There is also a mountain of confirmatory evidence in the innumerable cases of all sorts and conditions of people, from the most simple and unsophisticated to the most complicated intelligences that have ever been, who have all reached the same conclusion and found the same certainty. No man that I know of has been able to live a whole life without faith, on a basis of the intellect solely. I doubt if there has ever been a single case of it.
R.T. When you say this faith, what is this faith, what is it faith in?
M.M. In my particular case, it is in and about the Christian religion.
R.T. Let us talk about what it is for you.
M.M. For me it is the Christian religion, as contained in the Gospels.
R.T. What is contained?
M.M. The message that Christ came to tell usthat we are children of God, and as children of God we are brothers and sisters in one human family; that this human family has a destiny which is beyond the world of time and space and mortality, but which is yet realisable through the experience of living in the world; and that if we live according to the terms that Christ proposed we may know and participate in this destiny. Such was Christ's message, enunciated after him so clearly by the Apostles, and subsequently elaborated and fulfilled through the tradition of the Christian religion at its besta tradition which, with innumerable lapses into wickedness and abysmal horror, has somehow been carried on. In other words, through the illumination that Christ provided in his life, we can become new men and find a new happiness and a new zest and a new understanding. That's the Christian religion in brief to me. I read about it and continue to think about it, and note its presentation from generation to generation. In our time, for me it has been presented by people like Simone Weil and Bonhoeffer and Kierkegaardnew presentations of the same everlasting gospel. It's quite conceivable, in my opinion, that within the next decades what is called Western civilisation may finally expire, as other civilisations have before it, and that institutional Christianity will be extinguished with it. If this were so, and it may well be so, it wouldn't alter my feeling in the slightest degree. I know that Christianity is true, I believe it. I would venture to put my own interpretation on some of its aspects, but essentially it's true. I propose through my remaining years to attempt to live by it and for it. In so far as I am able to communicate with my fellows, it is what I will communicate to them; this little light, if I am spared the strength to keep it going, will continue to shine.
R.T. I want to talk now about death. I imagine, Malcolm, that you have had to face this in your personal experience. What do you think about dying? What do you think happens to people when they die? There are all kinds of theories in Christian theologyyou go to sleep and you wake up at the Last Judgment, or the Nonconformist view, sudden death, sudden glory. Here we are with somebody that we love and they die. Now the human mind wants to make sense of this. I have been in the position many, many times as a clergyman of ministering to people who want to know if the dead person whom they loved is alive. Is he all right, will they see him, will they be together again? These are very simple questions, but very, very important human questions, and I think the Church, or maybe the Christian faith itself, has been so nebulous here that the hungry sheep have looked up and haven't been fed.
M.M, Of course, this is one of the fundamental things. Death is essentially the reason for religion. We could probably rub along if it wasn't for death, but we can't because of the fact of death. First of all, my own feeling about it is thisthat it is impossible to know. There are certain things we can never know, and the exact circumstances of dying, and what happens afterwards, are among them. Secondly, I have an absolute conviction, without any qualification whatsoever, that this life that we live in time and space for threescore years and ten is not the whole story; that it is only part of a larger story. Therefore, death cannot be for others, or for one's self, an end, any more than birth is a beginning. Death is part of a larger pattern; it fits into a larger, eternal scale, not simply a time scale. This is something I know. Whether the ego, or what we call the personality, remains intact, or remains at all, whether the separate individuality as we know it remains, are questions to which I don't know the answers. No one knows, and no one ever will know. I think of my own death as something which will transform my way of living into another mode of living rather than as an end; and one thinks of others whom one has loved and who have died as equally participating in that other existence, in that larger dimension. To me this is completely satisfying. I don't want to know any more than this. I'm perfectly content with it. I can honestly say that I have never been afraid of death, and I am less afraid of it now than ever. I just look forward to it as something that will happen. I should like to be spared, obviously, from mental collapse, because I should hate to be that kind of burden on people, but even so I am perfectly certain that if one were so afflicted, it would somehow be part of this larger plan, and as such must be acceptable. I think the most important sentence in the whole Christian religion, devotionally speaking, is 'Thy will be done.' This is the essential sentence to be able to say, especially in relation to death.
R.T. Have you any kind of a glimpse, though, into a kind of life that doesn't include self-consciousness or awareness? When I hear people say, as you have said, that after death we get caught up in some new dimension, to me the whole glory of human beings is that we are each a different being, and I am only just beginning to explore the wonder and the mystery of human relationship, of me being related to you, another human being, and it seems to me a little glib when people say, well, I could well do without this, or I wouldn't mind if this was all lost. It seems to me that we are cutting something out here that is very important.
M.M. What I said was that to me it's obvious that this existence in a body, in time, on the earth, in this tiny corner of the universe, is part of a larger existence, and that one's relationship to that larger existence will be manifest when one dies here. I think that you are making the mistake of applying a false yardstick. You say that we can only comprehend life in terms of our own egos, and of course that is so, because you are so living at this moment, but if you imagine yourself not living in that way, then some other mode of existence becomes equally comprehensible.
R,T. But I can't imagine myself living in any other way than being myself, or being me.
M.M. Clearly, but that doesn't mean that you won't live in another way: it only means that you can't imagine it.
R.T. But in the New Testament it states that Jesus rose from the dead, and he was the same Jesus that the disciples had known before he died, and he said 'God is not the God of the dead but of the living, he is the God of Abraham and Isaac.' There seems to be implied in the New Testament some kind of self-continuity. Life after death will obviously be more self-less, it obviously will not be egocentric, but it seems to me that there is a question here that has to be faced.
M.M. I don't see it that way. Obviously, the disciples when they saw Christ, could only see him as they knew him, because they had no other shape in which they could possibly see him, but that doesn't mean that after his death and his Resurrection he was the same person. It only means that they saw him in that way. If Shakespeare kills off one of his characters, and then brings him in as a ghost, it is just as he was in life. This is the only way he can connect the ghost on the stage with the man who was killed.
I think that if you can accept the incredible notion of being here for so short a while, and not knowing how you got here, you ought to be able to accept the mystery of life after death. We are like one of these insects that fly round a lamp, and inside twenty-four hours they have come and gonethis is our earthly life. We haven't the faintest notion what we are at, where we come from, where we are going, if anywhere. We live on a tiny corner of a vast universe whichI am no use at these things stretches for thousands and thousands of light-years, etc. If we can accept that, we can accept anything, and we have to accept that, because that is in fact our situation.
What it all boils down to is: Do we believe that the significance of our being is exhausted by this experience of living? I say it cannot be. I am convinced that the evidence against this is overwhelming. Plenty of people have said that I say this because I have a big ego. I don't think it is only that; but even if it were, all right then we have been born into this world as little tiny creatures with big egos, and the fact that we have big egos must in itself have some significance. But if these people we love were gone for ever we wouldn't wish to love them any less, we wouldn't part from them in any different way, we wouldn't think of them any differently. I believe that we must trust in God, which I do. I believe that in being here, we are fulfilling some purpose of his; whatever that purpose is it is the best purpose that we can have. If that purpose involves meeting again after death as we have known one another here, then we shall meet again: if it is not God's purpose, then we shan't. In eternity we shall have no worries about it. I think that is all there is really to say about it. I have seen people dead in war. I think it's a dreadful thing that we in our wickedness should kill those who are young, those whose lives are not fulfilled, but the actual fact of death is not a terrifying thing at all.
Shortcuts to other parts of this Chapter
R.T. What experiences give you now the deepest joyI'm not talking about happiness, but joy?
M.M. I can answer that very easily. For me the only great joy is understanding. This means being attuned to God, to the moral purpose of the universe, to the destiny of the human race that I Wong to, to the things that are goodthis is joy, and it is of course an experience. I find it sometimes in, for instance, music; now that I am older I find that music is the most appealing of the arts. I usen't to, but now I do.
R.T. I'm so pleased to hear that, because music hasn't happened to me yet.
M.M. Well it will. You will find that, because music is so detached from everything else, through it you touch God. That's joy. Misery is to be shut off and in darkness, and of course, alas, there is still no way of avoiding that. Suddenly it's gone; the light of awareness, gone; as you might suddenly lose your love for a person. It's gone, blotted out, and you are in darkness, confined in that terrible little dungeon of the ego, that little dark dungeon down there, tortured by fears, appetites, frustrations, ambitions, greed all these things crowd in on you like invisible devils, and there you arelost. That's hell. People ask what hell is. I say that is hell, and that's what it's going to be like. Then suddenly, equally unaccountably, through maybe a sight of nature, or of a loved face, or maybe a snatch of music, or just through thinking, being perceptive, it comes backsnapalmost like thatyou are in tune, you are in communion; you are back in relationship with God and the moral nature of the universe, and everything is clear; there is nothing to be afraid of, and there is only joy, and only love; it's quite extraordinary.
R.T. So we reach a stage where God is personal, where Jesus is personal, where Jesus is alive and you are in relationship with God and with Jesus Christ. Now what form does your communion with God and Jesus Christ take ? In other words how do you understand praying?
M.M. I should have had great difficulty in answering that at one time. I take the view that everybody prays. There is nobody who doesn't pray, and there is nobody who doesn't spare some little moment in his life to look outside his ego. But of late I have learnt more about this. Let's be perfectly factual. I wake up in the morning, and I like to begin the day by thinking what life is about, rather than plunging into the sort of things one is going to have to do. So I like to read the Gospels, the Epistles, St Augustine, the metaphysical poets like George Herbert, whom I consider to be the most exquisite religious poet in the English language. I read a bit, and then my mind dwells on what I've read, and this I consider to be prayer. Yes, that is prayer. It doesn't for some reason appeal to me to make any specific requests about my personal affairs because I do not consider they are likely to be of any great interest, but I don't criticise those who do.
R.T. But what about this struggle with sin, with worldliness? You said earlier that we need the help that God can give us. Are you never conscious that you need to turn to God and say 'Look I am in a hopeless condition, incapable and powerless?'
M.M. My impulse, when the darkness sweeps me up, is not to say: 'Please let me out of the darkness,' but to seek the light which I know is there. I am frightened like a child in a dark room; I look for the window, and Christ is the window. That's the thing; he is a window, and when you look, out there is a wonderful vista. What's the darkness now?
R.T. Malcolm, do you ever address God?
M.M. Yes I do sometimes, but not in the sense of requests. I wrote a little prayer recently and I'll read it to you 'O God, stay with me; let no word cross my lips that is not Your word, no thoughts enter my mind that are not Your thoughts, no deed ever be done or entertained by me that is not Your deed, Amen.'
That was my own prayer, and its form is an exception. That is why I wrote it down, because I don't very often feel induced to address my Creator in that sort of way. To me prayer is a sort of understanding . . .
R.T. What I am after here, Malcolm, is that St Paul said: 'In him I live and move and have my being;' other people say: 'I enjoy God.' What I want to know from you is thisDo you believe that God is addressable?
M.M. Oh, certainly.
R.T. Can you address God in a way that is different from addressing nature?
M.M. My little prayer is addressed to God, but it so happens that it's not my own practice to make this kind of personal address, but of course I believe in God as personal. Otherwise prayer wouldn't work; it wouldn't have any meaning.
R.T. God has suffficiently objective reality, that although you don't know his form, his nature, and so on, God is such that you can say 'O God'?
M.M. Most certainly. God is the father, we are a family.
R.T. Malcolm, you know something of the mystics, and one of the things they talk about which fascinates me, fascinates me with horror almost, is what they describe as 'the dark night of the soul'. Not that I have suffered in this way, but I know what it is like to be in the darkness which you described earlier. I have known what it is like to go for months with no sense of God. God has gone; religion is an illusion; I have been a fool for believing it; this life is all there is; it's all crazy and mad. This is terribly deep, and fills me with despair. Then the light breaks through again, but the mystics seem to be saying, yes, these are simple forms of this kind of spiritual suffering, but the time will come when, in order to be fashioned as God wants you to be fashioned, you must go through 'the dark night of the soul,' and I must say that if it's infinitely worse than what I have already experienced this frightens me.
M.M. First of all I'm sure it's not, because I am sure that what you have described, and what we all recognise, is 'the dark night of the soul'. As I understand it from St John of the Cross, and he went most deeply into this, it is something that comes always shortly before a moment of illumination, so that I don't think you have any occasion to fear. Of course it's the only thing to fear; there is nothing else to fear at all, nothing at all. Nobody can hurt us, nobody can rob us, not in any real way; but we can be shut off, alas, from the love of God, and if we are, better not to have been born.
R.T. I'm going to be a little bit complicated now. When I go through a time now when God seems to have gone, because I have a lot of experience from the past when it has been like that, but he has come back again, so I can face, shall I say, these wilderness experiences now, and hold on to my faith, and say that all I have to do is to hold on because the darkness will pass. Now I sometimes wonder if the 'dark night of the soul' is the time when that consolation is taken from you, so that you are left without hope altogether?
M.M. But surely that is where Christ comes in. He's always standing by; his help is always available.
R.T. You don't think there is a specific dark night of the soul? You think there are many dark nights?
M.M. Yes, and if there was a specific one it would only be an intensification of what has already been experienced. Because of Christ there can never be a dark night that doesn't end. The darkness always comes to an end because Christ is here with us now. If he weren't, then when this darkness came down we might never emerge from it.
R.T. You have said that you use the Bible in your prayer times. Why is it that the Bible for most peopleagain a wild generalisationis a boring book that is just never read?
M.M. Partly because many people unfortunately are illiterate. Our education system is making everyone more and more illiterate. Once people knew the Bible and loved the Bible as children; not just as Christians, but because it is one of the greatest works of literature which exist. If the Christian religion and everything connected with it disappeared, the Authorised Version of the Bible would still be among the three or four supremely great books in the English language. That is absolutely certain. Unfortunately, I suppose it's the way it's presented to people, the way it's read to them, particularly in these new translations. Nowadays when I go to church I have to take an Authorised Version with me in order not to listen to the dreadful gibberish that's liable to be read out to me. It may seem like a paradox, but, in my opinion, looking for the Bible's meaning has destroyed the Bible. The Bible is more than meaning, and if you take a passage and look only for its meaning you lose so much. If poetry were to be approached in a similar way everybody would say it was a very philistine thing to do.
R.T. But meaning is important.
M.M. Yes, meaning is important; and the meaning is there, capable of being grasped. But the moment you make the meaning identical with the words, and get some tenth-rate writer to extract the meaning and put it down, you are making, I think, a great mistake, and taking away from people the joy of the Bible. You know here we needn't be talking about religion at all. With people of little or no education beautiful cadences came into their speech because they knew this one great book, the Authorised Version of the Bible. Think of Bunyan, a writer of supreme and unique genius who knew no other book. The Bible is considered to be something which is out-of-date. It is a most extraordinary idea. I heard a man on the radio complaining that the God of Westminstff Abbey is a mediaeval God. But God can't be mediaeval, or modern, or ancient; he's eternal or nothing. It's as though people of the Middle Ages had complained that the God of thc New Testament is a Judaic God, and therefore they were not interested in him. They wanted a mediaeval God. This notion of the out of-dateness of the Bible is utterly absurd, but is implanted in people's minds, I regret to say, to a great extent by the clergy. People say that the Bible is a boring book, that it belongs to the past, but they don't say that about Shakespeare because the people who teach Shakespeare are zealous for Shakespeare.
R.T. It doesn't worry you when people say that our selves, our self-consciousness, who we are, everything we are, is all a manifestation of that piece of matter which exists in our head that we call a brain, and when the brain disintegrates that is the total disintegration of us?
MM. It doesn't worry me at all, because if that turns out to be true I shall not be in a position to realise that I had been wrong, but I think that every single thing I know or have observed suggests the contrarythat I am more than my nervous system, and on that supposition I live. If it could be shown that I have been making a mistake, even then, if it were possible to form a judgment on it, I should prefer to have lived on a basis of this mistake. I shall never be in a position to reach a conclusion about this, but even if you could prove to me to your satisfaction, that what you say might be true, is true, I would still think it better to live on the assumption that it wasn't, with a strong feeling that I should be correct in doing that.
R.T. You are not at all bothered by these people who say that we are just animated lumps of matter?
M.M. I'm not, because I am quite sure that animated lumps of matter don't write the plays of Shakespeare; they don't discover the Theory of Relativity, and since man has done this it is evidently untrue that we are only animated lumps of matter.
R.T. How do you reconcile your belief in the loving purposes of God with the birth of Mongol children and mentally defective children. We have just heard that Helen Keller has died who was born deaf, dumb and blind. Do you think that these tragedies are due to the stupidity of man at some point?
M.M. Not at all. I think it is part of the pattern of life. What's more I think it's an essential part. Imagine human life being drained of suffering! If you could find some means of doing that, you would not ennoble it; you would demean it. Everything I have learnt, whatever it might be very little I fearhas been learnt through suffering.
R.T. Would you be willing to tell me in what way, or is that too personal?
M.M. Not at all. I learned not to lose my temper through the grief and contrition which afI3icted me when I became violently angry with someone infinitely dear to me who had gone temporarily mad. I lost my temper, which is a very easy thing to do, and I marvel, incidentally, that people who look after the mentally sick are able to restrain themselves as they do.
R.T. You mean the fact that this person was mentally ill made you angry with the person.
M.M. Yes, because I hate the unreason, the animality, the almost bestiality of people when they are mad. I lost my temper, and then I realised that this was an utterly evil thing to do, that it was a thing which damaged me, that it could only add to the pain and anguish of someone I loved sorely pressed by a terrible misfortune. I decided that it must never occur again.
R.T. Did it damage the other person?
M.M. Certainly. It always does damage the other person, but of course the thing that one is conscious of is the damage it does to one's self. This was a situation in which someone was sick. If the person had been sick with a broken leg or lung trouble, one would have been ashamed to be other than solicitous, but because it was this scourge of our society, mental disturbance, it produced in me violent anger. I realised in a moment of absolute illumination which could never have come in any other way, that I had done an utterly despicable thing, and furthermore, that all anger in all circumstances is equally wicked. Of course I have been angry again, but I have never been as angry. You know there are few things one can point to in one's nature which really change, but thenceforth I was completely changed in that respect, and I could never have learnt it in any other way than through this utterly desolating experience.
Another example occurs to me. There was one point in my life when I decided to kill myself, and I swam out to sea, resolved for a variety of reasons that I didn't want to live any more. Partly it was a mood of deep depression, and partly actual diffficulties. I swam out to sea until I felt myself sinking; you get a strange kind of sleepiness that afflicts you, as if you were just about to fall into a deep sleep. I thought that I would take one last look at the coast, and that would be the end. I saw the lights along the coast; and I suddenly realised that that was my home, the earththe earth my home, and that I must stay on the earth because I belonged there until my life had run its course. Then somehow, I don't know how, I swam back. Now that was a time of great trouble for me, and it was very sad that I was forced to contemplate so contemptible an act. At the same time, it was a terrific turning point. I have never doubted since then that in all circumstances, whatever one's condition may be, or the condition of the society one lives in, or the condition of the world, life is good, and that to gain from this experience of living what has to be gained, and to learn what has to be learned, it is necessary to live out one's life to the end until the moment comes for one's release. Then, and only then, can one truly rejoice in that moment. There is no catastrophe, as it seems to me, that can befall human beings which is not an illumination, and no illumination which is not in some sense a catastrophe. It's in an age like ours, an age of great superficiality of thought, that people ask how, if God makes a Mongol, he can be a loving God. It's a very superficial thought, because a Mongol child is part of the process whereby man exists, and we can't judge how that comes about, or what are its full consequences. All we can say is that it's part of the experience of living, and, like all other parts, it can shed light or it can shed darkness. Suffering is an essential element in the Christian religion, as it is in life. After all, the cross itself is the supreme example. If Christ hadn't suffered, do you imagine that anyone would have paid the slightest attention to the religion he founded? Not at all.
R.T. But it is a mystery that the only way in which God can make us grow up, or help us to grow up, is through suffering.
M.M. It s a mystery in a sense, but just imagine the opposite. Supposing you eliminated suffering, what a dreadful place the world would be! I would almost rather eliminate happiness. The world would be the most ghastly place because everything that corrects the tendency of this unspeakable little creature, man, to feel over-important and over-pleased with himself would disappear. He's bad enough now but he would be absolutely intolerable if he never suffered. However, we needn't fear that.
R.T. What have you been like as a parent? I have found that being a parent is far from easy.
M.M. Far from easy, but at the same time one of the absolutely major things in life. I find it difficult to think of any human circumstances which would make life intolerable, but I think to be childless would be a truly dreadful catastrophe. Now I've got grandchildren and I find it all very delightful. But bringing my children up was by no means easy, partly because of deficiencies in myself, partly because of the war.
R.T. Give me some instances of deficiency.
M.M. Oh, well, being too egotistic.
R.T. What does that mean?
M.M. Being too concerned with my own interests. Quarrelling, losing my temperall the things I despise and hate which I have done. Not sympathising with them when they failed or when they were inadequate. Of course I married when I was quite young, when I was twenty-four. We were terrific wanderers, which I think was a bad thing really in bringing up children. My wife says she has set up house twenty-two times in the course of our marriage in all sorts of countries.
R.T. What were your aims as a parent? Did you have any idea how you should behave in relation to the children?
M.M. I didn't have any conscious aims. I don't have any now. I think the only thing you can do with children is to love them, and when they are grown up provide them with a rest camp; somewhere they can withdraw to from the battle and rest if they happen to be wounded or exhausted.
R.T. What about discipline?
M.M. We were poor, and poor people have to have discipline. We had four youngish children rather near in age, and unless you can afford to employ people to keep them in orderwhich we couldn'tyou can't cope unless you have discipline. But it was only discipline imposed for practical reasons; it wasn't a theory. I have no theory for bringing up children at all.
R.T. You didn't want to make them into anything?
M.M. No, I didn't at all, except I wanted them to be good men and women, and I am happy to say they are.
R.T. How have you found this whole business of being married? The mystery of another human being, living with another human being. I have found this one of the most demanding experiences of my life, one of the most valuable and profitable experiences and I would say that marriage is not a thing to be treated lightly or easily.
M.M. Oh certainly not. That is why I am against making divorce any easier; very much against it, because I think that in every marriage there are plenty of occasions when you could easily bust it up. If it had been easy to bust it up I probably should have done so, and then how I should have regretted it! I have been married for over forty years, and I am more contented with my marriage now than when it started. Marriage is very difficult; it has many troubles. Sex, I think, is a frightful trouble, and I consider myself that marriage only becomes bearable when that element is largely eliminated. I think sex for procreation is a marvellous thing, and when one is young passion is a marvellous thing, but not to build on. I don't think any marriage built on sex can possibly last, because sex doesn't last and can't last, and it would be obscene if it did. If there is one thing I completely loathe in the contemporary world it is this unashamed effort to devise means to protract physical desire when in the normal way it has disappeared. Marriage, in any case, is an enormously difficult relationship, particularly if, as in our case, the individuals concerned aren't Christians. If the Christian scale of values isn't accepted then all the questions of jealousy, infidelity and so on arise and have to be fought through, and sometimes with great pain and strife.
R.T. When you said Christians weren't, you mean at that stage you weren't consciously a Christian?
M.M. Or even unconsciously. I didn't accept the Christian view of marriage at all when I married. Marriage, in our eyes, was a purely legal arrangement.
R.T. Why did you bother to struggle through?
M.M. Well, because I loved my wife, for no other reason; and if there is one single thing I feel grateful for at this moment it would be that, more than anything else at all; far transcending anything in the way of success (utterly bogus anyway) that I might be considered to have had.
R.T. But there were times when you hated her.
M.M. I don't know that I hated, but there were times of strife, and this is a terrible thing. Marriage without the comfort of Christian morality is a stormy affair. But it can be survived.
R.T. I believe, when the storms come in my own marriage, because I believe in an eternal reference to this relationship, that it is worth working through; struggling with or being patient with the present situation, because I believe there is an end to work towards and this is part of my being a Christian.
M.M. I entirely agree with that.
R.T. What was your motivation to make your marriage work when you didn't have this eternal reference?
M,M. Without being a Christian? First of all the simple fact again of poverty, and I would here mention that I belong to a minority who think that the poor really are blessed as the New Testament tells us. There is a great blessing in poverty which is very little realised today. If you are poor, and you have children, and you accept at any rate the idea that you owe a duty to those children to bring them up, that you can't just jettison them, then to a great extent you are committed to a matrimonial relationship. Now I don't think this is bad, I think it is good. I approve of it, and I pity the rich who are always in the position that they have no material obstacles to shedding relationships, whether with a wife, children or anyone else. There is, of course, also the fact of love, which is a very real thing, and which endures, contrary to the modern view. I do not at all identify love and sexual desire. I think the two things coincide for a glorious period of youth, but otherwise they are separate.
R.T. What do you say to people who would like easy divorce because of people who are married before they grow up almost, before they understand. They go through the ceremony that locks them together, and yet they are completely unsuitable, and all that can accrue from such marriages will be frustration, hatred, aggressiveness. Don't you think that people ought to be allowed to break these marriages up?
M.M. Yes, I think that in the last resort they should, but if my advice was sought my advice would always be in the direction of going on trying, of saying that the difficulty is not incompatibility really but vanity, egotism, and the answer to this, as to so many things, is to escape from this prison of the ego. I would also accept the idea that in the last resort there are cases, many fewer than are commonly supposed, in which two people have definitely made a mistake; they bring out the worst in each other, and in those circumstances, with the utmost reluctance and caution, I would say it's right to break it. But they are few.
R.T. I would say, as a Christian, if only people were Christian very few marriages need to break.
M.M. I agree with that. Very, very few, surprisingly few, but I think there still would be a few. There would be people who would find it impossible to live together, because of a sort of chemistry, but they are few.
Shortcuts to other parts of this Chapter
R.T. What we are doing with divorce is making it possible to go from one failure to another failure.
M.M. We are establishing a system of promiscuity, a deliberate system of promiscuity, which I think will not make for happiness at all. In fact it will make for great misery, and I try to tell that to young people, but of course they don't usually listen.
R.T. It can be said of you that it is because physical passion no longer interests you that you are condemning it. People could say, it's all very well for him, he used to enjoy these things, but now he is telling us that we mustn't. People could feel that this is a very odd position to take.
M.M. This is frequently said, and I sympathise with the thought. Some people would put it more bluntly than you politely put it. They say: Here is an old debauchee who has got sick of the senses, particularly of sex, and who therefore turns round and says it's no good. Now, I see the point, but it's not true. Nor is it true that I no longer appreciate the senses. When you are old you still appreciate the senses, as much as ever really, but in a rather different way. But I have never thought, even in the most ardent moments, that the senses could give one any ultimate satisfaction. I have always thought they were delusive, and I think so now more than ever. The reason that one tends to stress this point more now is not merely because one's old, but because society itself is so stridently insisting on the opposite propositionincluding a lot of Christians and churchmen. They are all insisting that physical sex is in fact a wholly satisfactory way of achieving satisfaction. I contend with St Paul and all the Christian mystics that it's not, but that doesn't mean that in itself sex is bad, or in itself undesirable. It is undesirable as an end, not as a means. Everything that we perceive or appreciate involves the senses; this natural scene outside my window that I love so much is connected with the senses. If I couldn't smell and touch and feel, I shouldn't be able to appreciate it. But if you say to me that the significance of it is its sensual appeal, and if you go on insisting that is so, as is done with this particular aspect of sensuality which is sex, so that it becomes obsessive, then it is necessary, as it seems to me, to protest, and one protests by saying this is a delusion, a fantasy, which will not even bring the passing satisfaction promised.
R.T. You have said things earlier that have led me to believe that finally for you sex should only be used for procreation. You seem to eliminate the idea of sex as enjoyment. M.M. Yes I do. I think that the idea of sex as enjoyment is a very dangerous one. The purpose of it is procreation, the justification of it is love; if you separate sex from procreation and love, very rapidly you turn it into a horror.
R.T. But supposing you separated it from procreation but kept enjoyment within love?
M.M. Well yes, I think that is possible, but of course the fact that you are forced, in order to do that, to cut off its procreative function, in other words to sterilise it, will tend, in my opinion, in most cases to produce quite quickly a sense of nausea. Then of course, one's attitude to this depends upon one's attitude to marriage, the family and the home. I consider that some form of marriageand I think that monogamous marriage is probably the highest formbut some form of marriage is essential to civilisation and for bringing up children. I think the family is, and ever must be, the basic and true unit of society. If you base a relationship between two people on their achieving mutual pleasure out of it, it will very soon happen that they don't achieve mutual pleasure out of it at all. This is a fact of life which we all know, and then if they persist, using these various, to me highly disgusting, erotica of various kinds, they will very soon loathe each other, and this is what is going on in our society.
R.T. What about over-population though?
M.M. To me this is a fantasy. You see, when I was young, people used to say the poor had too many children. Or, at the time of the famine in Ireland, they would say that the Irish had too many children. We were taking the food from Ireland, and the Irish were starving, and we said they were starving because they had too many children. Now we who are sated, who have to adopt the most extravagant and ridiculous devices to consume what we produce, while watching whole vast populations getting hungrier and hungrier, overcome our feelings of guilt by persuading ourselves that these others are too numerous, have too many children. They ask for bread and we give them contraceptives! In future history books it will be said, and it will be a very ignoble entry, that just at the moment in our history when we, through our scientific and technical ingenuity, could produce virtually as much food as we wanted to, just when we were opening up and exploring the universe, we set up a great whimpering and wailing, and said there were too many people in the world. It's pitiful.
R.T. Now, Malcolm, I want to ask you about the Church. It is my strong feeling that the Church is no longer doing the job it was set up to do. The world is passing it by. People are passing it by. The life seems to have gone out of it; the relevance seems to have gone from it.
M.M. I think this is an irrefutable fact, of course. It so happens that I never really belonged to any Church, so that institutional Christianity hasn't meant very much to me. But, of course, I absolutely agree with you. If you take the Church of England, I think it's really about as moribund as it could be. If it wasn't an Established Church, many of its parish churches would just cease to exist. Similarly, Nonconformity is steadily declining, and now I think the Roman Church is beginning to run down in the same sort of way. This may be an inevitable development. It wouldn't really affect anything as far as I personally am concerned, although one must remember that whatever deficiencies the various Churches have had, it is owing to them that the Gospel remains before us; they have kept it alive. The question is: Will Christianity survive if the Churches cease to exist?
I am personally convinced that our Western European civilisation is approaching its end. This is an absolutely basic part of my thinking which governs all my feelings about the world that I live in. There is to me every symptom of our civilisation petering out. This was bound to happen sometime; it just seems to me to be happening now, when I am alive. I think there are advantages in living at a time when a civilisation is coming to an end; in such a situation, one can much better understand the nature of power, just as one can better understand the nature of the body when one is sick. In a dying civilisation one is at least not taken in by power and authority as one easily might be when conditions are flourishing.
The Christian Church is inevitably involved in this death of our civilisation. I can see that very clearly. If you consider the death symptoms, the foremost is an increasing preoccupation with the material things of life. Here the Churches go with the popular trend, and endorse, and even enhance, our affluent society's materialist standards. I thought at one time that the Roman Church would be a final bastion of the Christian religion. I imagined it as a sort of last citadel into which, for no other reasons than that it was the last citadel, I should probably climb myself. But I don't think so now. It seems to be clear that the Roman Church is going the same way as the Anglican Church, and will expire with our expiring civilisation.
R.T. What are the marks of weakness of the institutional Church that you discern?
M.M. In the first place, thc great majority of its ministers and clergy don't believe what they purport to believe. This is a source of terrific weakness. Whether they are right or wrong not to believe is neither here nor there, but the fact is it puts them in a completely false position.
R.T. I am going to challenge you. You say the vast majority, this is wild isn't itthe vast majority?
M.Y. Yes it is wild, but I would suggest that a majority at any rate don't really believe the propositions that, as beneficed clergy, they purport to believe. In their private convcrsations they don't even pretend to, in my experience. If you employed a solicitor to transfer house property, and then, when he was having a tlrink with you after the deal, he said: 'Of course I don't really believe that those clauses mean anything,' it would seem quite disgraceful. It's the same with a clergyman who talks lightheartedly about all the things he's supposed to believe in and doesn't. There is a terrific gapa credibility gap, to use the popular expressionbetween what they stand up and say they believe the Creeds they reciteand what they really believe. I can't recite these Creeds, and I never do recite them, because I don't believe them in the sense that they're set forth; but a great many clergymen don't believe them either, yet they have to say they do. Then I think the Church, like most institutions of our society, is scared, and is anxious to ingratiate itself with people, rather than to tell them the truth. Therefore it takes an extremely equivocal attitude towards many of the moral issues which arise.
R.T. Could it not be that one of the reasons why the clergy appear so unenthusiastic for the things they believe, is that it is a pretty soul-destroying job trying to convince people these days that there are any ultimate values?
M.M. It's a very difficult job, and I shouldn't blame them at all if they threw in their hand and said: 'I have had a go at this, and it just can't be done, and I am looking for another job.' I feel the utmost sympathy for them; but if you ask me why the Church is so weak obviously an institution is weak if its ostensible aims bear little or no relation to the aims and teachings of its ministers.
R.T. What do you think the aims should be?
M.M. The Gospel, the Christian Gospel; to teach people what Christ taught; to show them how he wanted them to live, how to love God and love their fellows.
R.T. Supposing nobody came to the church where that was done?
M.M. In a way it wouldn't be surprising if nobody came, because people live in a society in which they are being induced by the most powerful method of persuasion that has ever existed on earthI mean the mass-communication media, especially televisionto believe in the exact opposite. It's perfectly understandable if a clergyman says: 'Nobody comes, and I can't go on,' but what I think is absolutely fatal is not to say that, and instead to say: 'Let's make an adjustment, and see if we can't conform what we are preaching to what these mass-communication media are recommending.' There can be no adjustment; they are opposite things. Therein lies the dilemma and fate of the Church, I am afraid.
R.T. You have said previously that you believe this civilisation is coming to an end, and you are quite sure that institutional Christianity will come to an end with it, and I agree with you; but this is contrary to what the Church has believed for two thousand years. Jcsus said to Peter: 'You are the rock, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.' Now the implication seems to be that empires can fall, kingdoms can come to an end, but the Church will always continue.
M.M. It may, of course; I'm not saying it won't, because it has survived a great many things.
R.T. But my strong feelingand I thought you echoed this is that for the first time the Church is not going to prevail.
M.M. I think it's very doubtful whether institutional Christianity will be able to separate itself from the general process of decomposition. But one always comes back to thinking that with God all things are possible, and it is conceivable, of course, that this whole situation might change. We can only be grateful and delighted if it does, but as of now, looking at the situation objectively, I see institutional Christianity as irretrievably a part of a world order, a civilisation, which is rushing to destruction. I don't feel particularly perturbed about it, and it doesn't alter in any way, of course, my feelings about the Christian religion. The survival of the Church to date is an extraordinary fact, and no doubt churchmen would argue that its survival indicates clearly that God had a hand in it, and wants it to survive today. It might be so but I find institutional Christianity, with certain exceptions, highly unsympathetic.
R.T. When you say that you feel civilisation is collapsing, do you think this is because the Church has failed, or do you think it is man who has refused the claims of the Church and has become world-centredthis world-centredand therefore corrupt, and that this is why civilisation is collapsing?
M.M. I think both processes are taking place. It's very like the Old Testament, and I want to pay my tribute to the Old Testament. You know people are always telling us not to bother with it, but I think it's the most extraordinary book. The whole of human history is contained in the adventures of this obscure, and in many ways maddening, people. They knew all about the decline of faith and the fall of kingdoms.
R.T. A lot of the people whom you admire and respect were men who were nurtured by the Church, and lived inside the Church. Isn't it very presumptuous of us to sit here and calmly decide that of course the Church is now coming to an end, when we owe it so much? Going back to the Old Testamentthe Jews had to leave Jerusalem, the Temple was destroyed, they went into captivity in Babylon, but God kept a remnant, and in that sense the Church can never die.
M.M. I think this is absolutely true. Every Christian owes an immeasurable debt to the Church because it has kept Christ's message alive. Through its worship, through its music, through marvellous things like the Book of Common Prayer, it has enshrined the Christian religion in an artistic excellence which has enormously enhanced it. Think just of the cathedralsthe Christian cathedrals of Europe; what a contribution they have made! No one is going to pretend to himself that at the same time that this was happening there were not very corrupt men in the Church, false doctrines being preached and very wicked things being done; clearly there were. I have a pessimistic view of the future of the Church because it seems to me that many of its leaders have, of their own accord, allied themselves with the forces of this world, and that is the one disastrous thing they can do.
R.T. Shouldn't you be inside the Church being part of the pull away from the worldliness? After all, the direction of the Church has been wrong many times in the past, but, thank God, there have been people within it who have corrected it, and when I talk about the Church I mean the whole Church.
M.M. I feel deeply hostile to the general direction of the Christian Churches today, one and all, including the Roman Catholic Church; deeply suspicious and hostile. I couldn't produce an apologia for them if I was associated with them, and I find it easier to pronounce my views, such as they are, on the Christian position, from without, rather than from within. There might be a case for being inside, but, if so, which particular denomination should be preferred? That question arises then, doesn't it? One might say the Roman Catholic Church, because Roman Catholics are more numerous, international, and altogether, in certain respects, very appealing to me, but on the other hand there arc other aspects which are very unappealing. The Quakers, likewise, are very appealing, but they have certain things which are unappealing. I don't know, I have a sort of feeling at this moment that institutional Christianity is careering away in a direction that I don't approve of you may say I should be there trying to pull it back, but I don't think that I could take that on. My own picture of the future is that our society is going in the next decades to be totally non-Christian; I mean its institutions, everything about it, will lose whatever relationship they now have with Christian religion. Then I think there will bc people, in the very stressful circumstances that are likely to arise, who will still want to live as Christians, and I think they arc much more likely to find themselves in the position of a Christian underground, a sort of Maquis. I imagine the forces of paganism occupying our world, and the Christians drawn together in those conditions, rather as I remember the surviving Christians in the U.S.S.R. who appealed to mc very much as being enormously pure simply a collection of people who, in extremely hostile circumstances, clung to their faith, and tried to cling to their Christian way of life. This might easily happen, and I hope that if I were still alive, I should be among those people.
R.T. So much for the Church and clergymenbut what about your claim that civilisation itself is coming to an end? On what grounds do you come to this judgment?
M.M. The basic condition for a civilisation is that there should be law and order. Obviously, this is coming to an end, the world is falling into chaos, evenperhaps especiallyour Western world. Furthermore, I firmly believe that our civilisation began with the Christian religion, and has been sustained and fortified by the values of thc Christian religion, by which admittedly most men have not lived, but to which they have assented, and by which the greatest of them have tried to live. The Christian religion and these values no longer prevail, they no longer mean anything at all to ordinary people. Some suppose that you can have a Christian civilisation without Christian values. I disbelieve this. I think that the basis of order is a moral order; if there is no moral order there will be no political or social order, and we see this happening. This is how civilisations end.
R.T. So we are either moving into a new kind of civilisation with a new moral order, or we are moving into a new Dark Age.
M.M. Yes, and the Dark Age is likely to intervene anyway. It is very unusual for one moral order to slide into another with no intervening chaos. There are many other symptoms. The excessive interest in eroticism is characteristic of the end of a civilisation, because it really means a growing impotence, and a fear of impotence. Then the obsessive need for excitement, vicarious excitement, which of course the games provided for the Romans, and which television provides for our population. Even the enormously complicated structure of taxation and administration is, funnily enough, a symptom of the end of a civilisation; these things become so elaborate that in the end they become insupportable because of their very elaboration. Above all, there is this truly terrible thing which afflicts materialist societiesboredom; an obsessive boredom, which I note on every hand. Mine is, admittedly, a minority view, a lot of people think that we are just on the verge of a new marvellous way of life. I see no signs of it at all myself. I notice that where our way of life is most successful materially, it is most disastrous morally and spiritually; that the psychiatric wards are the largest and most crowded, and the suicides most numerous, precisely where material prosperity is greatest, most money is spent on education.
I don't regard this at all as a gloomy point of view. If one considers the nature and present objectives of our society, I think it's much more optimistic to suppose it's going to collapse than that it's going to succeed. Its success would be a nightmare beyond all thought or belief. If a place like, for instance, California really were viable, this would be the end of everything. Consider our actual circumstances at this moment. We have made ourselves so strong that we can destroy ourselves. We spend a great part of our wealth and our research resources and so on elaborating the means to destroy ourselves and the earth. Our corner of the world is getting richer, to the point that its main preoccupation is to stimulate consumption by all sorts of asinine means; while the rest of the world is getting poorer and hungrier. And the only answer we can produce is that there are too many of the others. Our ultimate offering to our less fortunate brethren is what? a contraceptive! I don't think any civilisation has ever produced such a contemptible product as its major offering to the world.
R.T. Do you think that there is any chance of our civilisation being redeemed ?
M.M. It seems to me very unlikely, but everything is possible. All historical prognostications are false. Nobody can know, I can only say that is what it looks like to me. I sometimes think to myself: Supposing I had been the sort of person that I am, as a Roman in the time of Nero, shall we say. I should, I am sure, have said exactly what I am saying now. I should have said: The barbarians are coming in, Rome will be destroyed, our whole structure of paganism and so on is all over, nobody believes in it, the administration won't work, the expenses of adminstration exceed all bounds, the Roman Empire is top heavy and it's going to collapse. And I should have been absolutely right. The only thing I shouldn't have known was chat these very obscure Christian events in a distant outpost of the empireevents involving almost totally illiterate people, subject people, people of absolutely no interest or importance to a sophisticated, educated Romanwere going to lay the foundation of a new and an infinitely greater civilisation, that in terms of art and science and understanding was going to reach unimaginable heights.
R.T. Can you see that happening now?
M.M. I wouldn't know, and you wouldn't know. We are precisely the sort of people who above all don't and can't know.
R.T. But can you see signs of it?
M.M. I find an increasing scepticism about the utopian hopes which, in the first flush of scientific achievement, made people more or less drunk with expectation. I find that hope disappearing. I find a new mood of humility. Even these half-baked students for whom I have considerable contempt, in a blind sort of way feel dissatisfied. It's good that they should feel dissatisfied; there's nothing to be satisfied with.
R.T. If you are right and this civilisation is coming to an end, the death pangs will probably take quite a long time. In the meantime somebody has to govern, somebody has to accept responsibility, the world has to go on. Some people have to be, for instance, the managers of the Central Electricity Board or the managers of the coal mines, the fruit of whose work we enjoy. Now isn't it a little bit off to criticise people who have positions of power, depending, as we do, on somebody having it?
M.M. Of course. I entirely agree that power is necessary in a society, and it would be absurd to say that all men who exercise power are bad men, but I think you could say that all men who seek power are dangerous men, and require very careful watching. Power as a passion is a bad passion. My favourite example is in the New Testament. We read that the kingdoms of the earth are in the gift of the Devil. This is a very interesting fact which isn't suffficiently regarded. Why are they in the gift of the Devil? How can it be that the Devil has the gift of the kingdoms of the earth,and not God? The reason is that the kingdoms of the earth signify power, which is a devilish pursuit.
The other day I was turning up some old notes I had made, and I found a copy of an inscription that had been set up in the Libyan desert by a Roman centurion: 'I, serving as a captain of a legion of Rome in the Libyan desert, have learnt and pondered this thoughtin life there are two pursuits, love and power, and no man can have both.' That is very much what I have in mind. The same notion arises in the Book of Genesis. Through eating the fruit of knowledgelike power, a necessary pursuit the happiness of the Garden of Eden was destroyed.
R.T. The Book of Genesis is a myth, but do you think the myth of the fall of man represents something true which you can observe in life now?
M.M. I would go further and say thisthat I think legends and myths are probably truer than history. As Kierkegaard says, in the case of the greatest happenings such as Christ's life and death, historicity is completely without importance. It is very important to know the history of Socrates because Socrates is dead, but the history of Christ doesn't matter because he is alive. If and when we know the final truth about human life, we shall find that the legends, or what pass for legends, are far nearer the truth than what passes for fact or science or history.
R.T. Going back to the fall of man, one has to wrestle with this. Why is man fallen ? If God is the creator and he made man good, why were the seeds of corruption in him?
M.M. This, of course, is the most fundamental and difficult question of all. I find I can grasp it better if I think of the creation of man and the universe by God as being of the same nature as creation by man, only of course multiplied by billions and billions. On however lowly a scale, in so far as I have tried to create something in words, written or spoken, as an expression of truth, that process is painful. It's not easy or pleasurable, but it can give ecstasy. Also it contains within itself the same essential principle that, in order to reach after perfection, it has to be itself intrinsically imperfect. So I see that if God had created man perfect, man without pain, man without sin, there would have been, in this sense, no creation, any more than, if King Lear had not suffered, there would have been a play for Shakespeare to write about him. The life we know, with all its pains and ecstasies, wouldn't have existed. If you imagine your life made by a different God, made perfect, it wouldn't bc life. The process of creation contains in itself its own imperfection; the pursuit of perfection is via imperfection, as the pursuit of spiritual love is via the physical body. This is how it is, and this is the majesty of it, and why it is interesting. This is why there is literature, why there is art, why there is thought, and how we may know there is a Goda loving Godwhose children we all are.
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