The Conspiracy of Morals

Light of truth

G.K. Chesterton wrote: “If we regard the Cosmos as a dream, we regard the Fiscal Question as a dream. If we regard the Cosmos as a joke, we regard St Paul’s Cathedral as a joke.” He continued, “We shall look on the impossible grass and the skies with a strange courage. We shall be of those who have seen and yet have believed.” But it is precisely because an ideal is necessary to man that the man without ideals is in permanent danger of fanaticism. Religion remains a kind of creative art by which we make ourselves and our world. It implies that the poet and prophet are revealed. Religion is not only human but divine, and no culture survives long without it. Life’s meaningfulness and worthwhileness are given but also made imaginatively. The best way to conquer nihilism would be to replace a Church that sees its job as guarding the past with one that is confident it can create the future.

But we are advocating a religion of life in the sense of a spiritual discipline that enables us to accept and say yes to our life as it is, brief, pointless and utterly contingent, and yet in its very nothingness beautiful, ethically-demanding, solemn and final. Authentic postmodem Christianity hopes to be plural enough to allow one to choose and that there are many alternative ways of being religious. The religious quest is an attempt to free oneself from illusions, and to make true for oneself only what is true in itself. My life-task is not to save my soul but to lose it. I need to forget about myself and to pour out my life into the human world. It is the stories we tell of our own activity and the stories other people tell of us. Religion can have an art-truth and it can have a life truth; but it is indeed a truth of subjectivity and interiority which is faith caught up with passion. “Take passion away and faith disappears, for certainty and passion are incompatible,” wrote Kiekegaard. William Blake, the English romantic poet, in his theory of myth believed that humanity is the source of both cosmos and creator and that it has the divine qualities of creation.

Kierkegaard in the aptly titled For Self Examination, in which the decisive “transition to the subjective” is exemplified by the moment of self-recognition that David realised in his conviction by the prophet Nathan, ‘thou art the man’ (2 Samuel 12:7): an inescapably potent disruption of objective reading which gives birth to an unanticipated existential moment of recognition. David indirectly condemns himself by vilifying the protagonist of Nathan’s story – oblivious to what suddenly appears inescapable: that he has been caught out, deceived into the difficult truth of the realisation that ‘thou art the man.’

It is a mistake to suppose that religion needs to be justified from outside by being set upon a firm foundation of metaphysics and epistemology. Religion no more needs that sort of justification than does art. Art like certain kinds of religious and metaphysical experience is the most ingressive transformative summons available to human experiencing. It is a form of poetry which transcends poetry proclaiming truth.

Morality thus needs no deep supernatural or philosophical justification. It is not a matter of obeying or conforming to antecedently existing moral realities. Our religious beliefs and moral codes are our own responsibility. Morality acts creatively, giving value to our life and to each other. All goodness came from above only. The Church must now be seen not only as a resource of creative value but a nursery of new lifestyles. Such an ethic is an understanding of Christ and the self. The purpose of moral action is not to make myself into a self, but to lose myself. I want to change it, but I can do so only by going out into publicness so as to become available to others. We exist in, and only as, the performance we are giving and the show we are putting on. We have no being apart from our life. We become ourselves only in passing and in passing away. All it does is help us to become happy with things as they are. It is therapy. So Chesterton wrote:

“The romance of the police force is thus the whole romance of man. It is based on the fact that morality is the most dark and daring of conspiracies. It reminds us that the whole noiseless and unnoticeable police management by which we are ruled and protected is only a successful knight-errantry.”

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