Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh


As he lay on his bed day after day slowly recovering he woke up to the fact which most men arrive at sooner or later, I mean that very few care two straws about truth, or have any confidence that it is righter and better to believe what is true than what is untrue, even though belief in the untruth may seem at first sight most expedient. Yet it is only these few who can be said to believe anything at all; the rest are simply unbelievers in disguise. Perhaps, after all, these last are right. They have numbers and prosperity on their side. They have all which the rationalist appeals to as his tests of right and wrong. Right, according to him, is what seems right to the majority of sensible, well-to-do people; we know of no safer criterion than this, but what does the decision thus arrived at involve? Simply this, that a conspiracy of silence about things whose truth would be immediately apparent to disinterested enquirers is not only tolerable but righteous on the part of those who profess to be and take money for being par excellence guardians and teachers of truth.

Ernest saw no logical escape from this conclusion. He saw that belief on the part of the early Christians in the miraculous nature of Christ's Resurrection was explicable, without any supposition of miracle. The explanation lay under the eyes of anyone who chose to take a moderate degree of trouble; it had been put before the world again and again, and there had been no serious attempt to refute it. How was it that Dean Alford for example who had made the New Testament his speciality, could not or would not see what was so obvious to Ernest himself? Could it be for any other reason than that he did not want to see it, and if so was he not a traitor to the cause of truth? Yes, but was he not also a respectable and successful man, and were not the vast majority of respectable and successful men, such for example, as all the bishops and archbishops, doing exactly as Dean Alford did, and did not this make their action right, no matter though it had been cannibalism or infanticide, or even habitual untruthfulness of mind?

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