Sunday, January 28, 2018

"We need external help..."

From a Paul Johnson essay:
Evelyn Waugh
The Catholic novelist Evelyn Waugh, that superbly gifted but curmudgeonly and occasionally malevolent writer, had a wickedly sharp tongue, and sometimes behaved as though he loved to inflict pain by his words. One day, a brave woman dared to ask him: 'Mr. Waugh, you say such horrible things to people, I cannot believe you are really religious. How can you behave as you do, and still remain a Christian?'

He replied with grim sincerity: 'Madam, I may be all the things you say. But believe me, were it not for my religion, I would scarcely be a human being.' ....

The truth is that all of us are Jekyll and Hyde creatures, part saint, part beast. The great strength of Christianity is that, while insisting that man is made in the image of God, it accepts that there is a radical flaw in the reproduction. From time to time, God's image is reflected in man's face as in a hideous distorting mirror. Theologians call this the doctrine of Original Sin. But this is merely to rationalize what we can all observe but cannot explain. Shakespeare, in his marvelous play Hamlet, in which he tried to pour everything he knew of man's ambivalent nature, has his hero say: 'What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! In form and moving, how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a God!' And yet, he adds, man is the quintessence of dust. Man can be, and often is, the most destructive, cruel and malicious of creatures. When Dr. Samuel Johnson was touring the Scottish Highlands with James Boswell, Lady Macleod of Dunvegan Castle asked him if no man was naturally good. He replied: 'No madam, no more than a wolf!' Boswell: 'Nor no woman, Sir?' Johnson: 'No, Sir!'

Dr. Johnson's listeners were shocked by his rigor, but what he meant was obvious enough. We have a propensity to evil in our natures which cannot be entirely corrected from our own resources. We need external help to keep our dark side under control....