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An essay by Israel Zangwill

The Creed Of Despair

Title:     The Creed Of Despair
Author: Israel Zangwill [More Titles by Zangwill]

I am convinced that optimism is exactly the wrong sort of medicine for our "present discontents." It is time to try homoeopathy. My suggestion is that the religion of the future shall consist of the most pessimistic propositions imaginable; its creed shall be godless and immoral, its thirty-nine articles shall exhaust the possibilities of unfaith and its burden shall be _vanitas vanitatum_. Man shall be an automaton, and life an hereditary disease, and the world a hospital, and truth a dream, and beauty an optical illusion. These sad tidings of great sorrow shall be organized into a state church, with bishops and paraphernalia, and shall be sucked in by the infant at its mother's breast. Men shall be tutored in unrighteousness, and innocence shall be under ecclesiastical ban. Faith and Hope shall be of the seven deadly virtues, and unalloyed despair of man and nature a dogma it were blasphemous to doubt. The good shall be persecuted and the theists tortured, and those that say there is balm in Gilead, shall be thrust beyond the pale of decent society.

Then, oh, what a spiritual revival there will be! Every gleam of light will be eagerly sought for, every ray focussed; every hint of love and pity and beauty, of significance and divinity, in this infinite and infinitely mysterious universe, will be eagerly snatched up and thrust upon an age hide-bound in orthodoxy; every touch and trace of tenderness that softens suffering and sweetens the bitterness of death, will be treasured up in secret mistrust of the reigning creed; every noble thought and deed, every sacred tear, will be thrown into the balance of heresy with every dear delight of poetry and art, of woods and waters, of dawns and sunsets; with every grace of childhood and glory of man and womanhood. And every suppressed doubt of the hideousness of the universe will sink deep and ferment in darkness, and persecution will sit on every natural safety valve till at last the pent forces will swell and crack the sterile soil, and there will be an explosion that shall send a pillar of living fire towards the heavens of brass. The clerics will be among the first to feel the stirrings of infidel hope--a few will give up their livings rather than preach what they do not believe, but the majority--especially the bishops--will cling to the Church of Despair, hoping against hope that their despair is true. There will be wonderful word-spinnings in the reviews, and the dominant pessimism will be justified by algebraic analogies. But, beneath it all, the church will be infected to the core with faith, and for the first time in history we shall get a believing clergy. There will be secret societies founded to publish the Bible, and Colonel Ingersoll will lecture at the hall of religion, and the prisons will be crowded with martyred iconoclasts incredulous of the gospel of science. No, there is nothing so unwise as your optimistic organized creeds, with their suggestions of officialdom, red-tape, and back-stairs influence. We shall never be perfectly religious and moral till we are trained from childhood to ungodly works, forced to attend long sermons on the error of existence, and badgered into public impiety by force of opinion.

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Israel Zangwill's essay: Creed Of Despair