Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh

52. CHAPTER LII (continued)

"Not the people," was the answer: "it must be our care to be guides to these, for they are and always will be incapable of guiding themselves sufficiently. We should tell them what they must do, and in an ideal state of things should be able to enforce their doing it: perhaps when we are better instructed the ideal state may come about; nothing will so advance it as greater knowledge of spiritual pathology on our own part. For this, three things are necessary; firstly, absolute freedom in experiment for us the clergy; secondly, absolute knowledge of what the laity think and do, and of what thoughts and actions result in what spiritual conditions; and thirdly, a compacter organisation among ourselves.

"If we are to do any good we must be a closely united body, and must be sharply divided from the laity. Also we must be free from those ties which a wife and children involve. I can hardly express the horror with which I am filled by seeing English priests living in what I can only designate as 'open matrimony.' It is deplorable. The priest must be absolutely sexless--if not in practice, yet at any rate in theory, absolutely--and that too, by a theory so universally accepted that none shall venture to dispute it."

"But," said Ernest, "has not the Bible already told people what they ought and ought not to do, and is it not enough for us to insist on what can be found here, and let the rest alone?"

"If you begin with the Bible," was the rejoinder, "you are three parts gone on the road to infidelity, and will go the other part before you know where you are. The Bible is not without its value to us the clergy, but for the laity it is a stumbling-block which cannot be taken out of their way too soon or too completely. Of course, I mean on the supposition that they read it, which, happily, they seldom do. If people read the Bible as the ordinary British churchman or churchwoman reads it, it is harmless enough; but if they read it with any care--which we should assume they will if we give it them at all--it is fatal to them."

"What do you mean?" said Ernest, more and more astonished, but more and more feeling that he was at least in the hands of a man who had definite ideas.

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