Read LETTING THE CROWDS BE GOOD - CHAPTER XII of Crowds A Moving-Picture of Democracy, free online book, by Gerald Stanley Lee, on


A letter lies before me, one out of many others asking me how the author of “The Shadow Christ,” which is a study of the religious values in suffering and self-sacrifice in this world, takes the low ground that honesty is the best policy.

I know two kinds of men who believe that honesty is the best policy.

These two men use exactly the same words “Honesty is the best policy.”

One man says it.

The other man sings it.

One man is honest because it pays.

The other man is honest because he likes it.

“Honesty is the best policy” as a motive cannot be called religious, but “Honesty is the best policy” as a Te Deum, as something a man sings in his heart every day about God, something he sings about human nature is religious, and believing it the way some men believe it, is an act of worship.

It is like a great gentle mass.

It is like taking softly up one’s own planet and offering it to God.

Here it is-the planet.  Honesty is organized in the rocks on it and in the oak trees on it and in the people.  The rivers flow to the sea and the heart of Man flows to God.  On this one planet, at least, God is a success.

Possibly it is because many other people beside myself have been slow in clearly making this distinction between “Honesty is the best policy” as a motive or a Te Deum, that I have come upon so many religious men and women in the last two or three years, who, in the finest spirit, have seemed to me to be doing all that they could to discourage everybody especially to discourage me, about the Golden Rule.

The first objection which they put forward to the Golden Rule is that it is a failure.

When I try to deal with this or try to tell them about Non-Gregarious, the second objection that they put forward is, that it is a success.

If they cannot discourage me with one of these objections they try to discourage me with the other.

They point to the Cross.

Some days I cannot help wondering what Christ would think if He were to come back and find people, all these good Christian people everywhere using the Cross-the Cross of all things in the world as an objection to the Golden Rule and to its working properly, or as a general argument against expecting anything of anybody.

I do not know that I have any philosophy about it that would be of any value to others.

I only know that I am angry all through when I hear a certain sort of man saying, and apparently proving, that the Golden Rule does not work.

And I am angry at other people who are listening with me because they are not angry too.

Why are people so complacent about crosses?  And why are they willing to keep on having and expecting to have in this world all the good people on crosses?  Why do they keep on treating these crosses year after year, century after century, in a dull tired way as if they had become a kind of conventionality of God’s, a kind of good old church custom, something that He and the Church by this time, after two thousand years, could not really expect to try to get over or improve upon?

I do not know that I ought to feel as I do.

I only know that the moment I see evil triumphing in this world, there is one thing that that evil comes up against.

It comes up against my will.

My will, so far as it goes, is a spiritual fact.

I do not argue about it, nor do I know that I wish to justify it.  I merely accept my will as it is, as one spiritual fact.

I propose to know what to do with it next.

The first thing that I have done, of course, has been to find out that there are millions of other so-called Christian people who have encountered this same fact that I have encountered.

There are at least some of us who stand together.  Our wills are set against having any more people die on crosses in this world than can be helped.  If there is any kind of skill, craftmanship, technique, psychology, knowledge of human nature which can be brought to bear, which will keep the best people in this world not only from being, but from belonging on crosses in it, we propose to bring these things to bear.  We are not willing to believe that crowds are not inclined to Goodness.  We are not willing to slump down on any general slovenly assumption about the world that goodness cannot be made to work in it.

If goodness is not efficient in this world we will make it efficient.

Our reason for saying this is that we honestly glory in this world.  We believe that at this moment while we are still on it, it is in the act of being a great world, that it is God’s world, and in God’s Name we will defend its reputation.

We do not deny that it may be better spiritual etiquette, more heroic looking and may have a certain moral grace, so far as a man himself is concerned, if the world makes him suffer for being honest.  But after all he is only one man, and whether he dislikes his suffering or likes it and feels fine and spiritual over it, it is only one man’s suffering.

But why is it that when the world makes a man suffer, everybody should seem always to be thinking of the man?  Why does not anybody think of the world?

Is not the fact that a whole world, eternal and innumerable, is supposed to be such a mean, dishonest sort of a world that it will make a man suffer for being good a more important fact than the man’s suffering is?  It seems to me to be taking not lower but higher ground when one insists on believing in the race one belongs to and in believing that it is a human race that can be believed in.  After two thousand years of Christ, it is a lazy, tired, anæmic slander on the world to believe that it does not pay to be good in it.  The man who believes it, and acts as if he believed it, is to-day and has been from the beginning of time the supreme enemy of us all.  He is guilty before heaven and before us all and in all nations of high treason to the human race.  One of the next most important things to do in modern religion is going to be to get all these morally dressed-up, noble-looking people who enjoy feeling how good they are because they have failed, to examine their hearts, stop enjoying themselves and think.

For hundreds of years we have religiously run after martyrs and we have learned in a way, most of us, to have a kind of cooped-up patriotism for our own nation, but why are there not more people who are patriotic toward the whole human race?  One has been used to seeing it now for centuries, good people all over the world hanging their harps on willow trees, or snuggling down together by the cold sluggish stream of their lives, and gossiping about how the world has abused them, when they would be far better occupied, nine out of ten of them-in doing something that would make it stop.  There was a poet and soldier some thousands of years ago who put more real religion (and put it too, into his imprecatory psalms), than has been put, I believe, into all the sweet whinings and the spiritual droopings of the world in three thousand years.  I do not deny that I would quarrel, as a matter of form, with the lack of urbanity, with a certain ill-nature in the imprecatory Psalms; but with the spirit in them, with the motive and mighty desire, with the necessity in the man’s heart that was poured into them, I have the profoundest sympathy.

David had a manly, downright belief.  His belief was that if sin is allowed to get to the top in this world of ours, it is our fault.  David felt that it was partly his-and being a king-very much his, and as he was trying to do something about it, he naturally wanted the world to help.

What he really meant-what lay in the background of his petition-the real spirit that made him speak out in that naïve bold way before the Lord, and before everybody-that made him ask the great God in heaven all looking so white and so indifferent, to come right down please and jump on the necks of the wicked, was a vivid, live vision of his own for his own use that he was going to make the world more decent.  He was spirited about it.  If God did not, He would, and naturally when he came to expressing how he felt in prayer, he wanted God to stand by him.  To put it in good plain soldier-like Hebrew, He wanted God to jump on the necks of his enemies.

Speaking strictly for ourselves, in our more modern spirit of course, we would want to modulate this, we admit that we would not ask God to do a little thing like jumping on the necks of the wicked-just for us-nor would we care to break away from the other things we are doing and attend to it ourselves, nor would we even favour their necks being jumped on by others, but while we do not agree with David’s particular request, we do profoundly agree with the way he felt when he made it.  We would not make our flank movement on the wicked in quite the same way and according to our more modern and more scientific manner of thought, we would want to do something more practical with the wicked, but we would want to do something with them and we would want to do it now.

As we look at it, it ought not to be necessary to jump on the necks of the wicked to make them good, that is, to make them understand what they would wish they had done in twenty years.  We live in a more reasoning and precise age and what more particularly concerns us in the wicked is not their necks, but their heads and their hearts.  It seems to us that they are not using them very much and that the moment they do and we can get them to, they will be good.  Possibly it was a mere matter of language, a concession to the then state of the language-David’s wanting their necks to be jumped on so that he could get their attention at first and make them stop and think and understand.  More subtle ways of expressing things to the wicked have been thought of to-day than of jumping on their necks, but the principle David had in mind has not changed, the principle of being loyal to the human race, the principle of standing up for people and insisting that they were really meant to be better than they were or than they thought they could be-a kind of holy patriotism David had for this world.  The main fact about David seems to be that he believed he belonged to a great human race.  Incidentally he believed he belonged to a human race that was really quite bright, bright enough at least to make people sorry for doing wrong in it-a human race that was getting so shrewd and so just and so honest that it took stupider and stupider people every year to be wicked, and when he found, judging from recent events in Judea, that this for the time being was not so, he had a hateful feeling about it, which it seems to some of us, vastly improved him and would improve many of us.  We do not claim that the imprecatory Psalms were David’s best, but they must have helped him immensely in writing the other ones.

We may be wrong.  But it has come to be an important religious duty to some of us, or rather religious joy, to hate the prosperity of the wicked.  We hate the prosperity of the wicked, not because it is their prosperity and not ours, but because their prosperity constitutes a sneer or slander on the world.  We have no idea of wanting to go about faithfully jumping upon the necks of the wicked.  What we want is to feel that we are in a world where the good people are happy and are making goodness reasonable, successful, profitable and practical in it.  We want an earth with crowds on it who see things as they are, and who guess so well on what they want (i.e., who are good) that other people who do not know what they want and are not good, will be lonesome.

We have made up our minds to live in a world not where the wicked will feel that their necks are going to be jumped on (which is really a rather interesting and prominent feeling on the whole), but a world where the wicked will be made to feel that nobody notices their necks, that they are not worth being jumped on, a world where nobody will have time to go out back and jump on them, a world where the wicked will not be able to think of anything important to do, and where the wicked things that are left to do will be so small and so stupid that nobody will notice.  They will be ignored like boys with catcalls in the street.  When we can make people who do wrong feel unimportant enough, there is going to be some chance for the good.

If we could find some sweet, proper, gentle, Christian-looking way of conveying to these people for a few swift, keen minutes how little difference it makes when they and people like them do wrong, they would steal over in a body and do right.

This is our program.  We are making preliminary arrangements for a world in which after this, very soon now, righteousness is going to attend strictly to its own business and unrighteousness is going to be crowded out.  No one will feel that he has time in two or three hundred years from now to go out of his way into some obscure corner of the world and jump on the necks of the wicked.

But this is a matter of form.  The main fundamental manful instinct David had-the idea that there should not be any more people dying on crosses than could be helped-that collective society should take hold of Evil and set it down hard in its chair and make it cry seems to many of us absolutely sound.  Of course, we feel that it is not for us, those who love righteousness, to jump on the necks of the wicked.  We prefer to have it attended to in a more dignified, impersonal way by Society as a whole.  So we believe that Society should proceed to making goodness and honesty pay.  If Society will not do it we will do it.  The world may be against us at first but we will at least clear off a small place on it-in our own business for instance-where our goodness can command the most shrewdness and the most technique-and we will do what we can slowly-one industry at a time, to remove the slander on goodness that goodness is not inefficient, and the slander on the world that goodness cannot be self-supporting, self-respecting (and without disgrace), even comfortable in it.

The old hymn with which many of us are familiar is well and true enough.  But it does not seem that standing up for Jesus is the most important point in the world just now.  A great many people are doing it.  What we need more is people who will stand up for the world.  When people who are standing up for the world stand and sing “Stand up for Jesus” it will begin to count.  Let four hundred Nons sing it; and we will all go to church.

If nine of the people out of ten who are singing “Stand up for Jesus” would stand up for the world, that is, if they would stop trading with their grocer when they find he slides in regularly one bad orange out of twelve and promptly look up a grocer who does not do such things, and trade with him, it would not be necessary for people to do as they so often do nowadays, fall back on a little wistful half discouraged last resort like “standing up for Jesus.”

Standing up for the world means standing by men who believe in it, standing by men who make everything they do in business a declaration of their faith in God and their faith in the credit of human nature, men who put up money daily in their advertising, their buying and selling, on the loyalty, common sense, brains, courage, goodness, and righteous indignation of the people.

The idea that goodness is sweet and helpless and that Jesus was meek and lowly and has to be stood up for is now and always has been a slander.  It does not seem to some of us that He would want to be stood up for and we do not like the way some people call Him meek and lowly.  It would be more true to say that He merely looks meek and lowly; that is, if most men had done or not done or had said or not said things in the way he did, they would have been considered meek and lowly for it.  He had a way of using a soft answer to turn away wrath.  But there was not anything really meek and lowly about his giving the soft answer.  No meek and lowly man would ever have thought of such a thing as turning away wrath with a soft answer.  He would have been afraid of looking weak.  He would not have had the energy or the honesty or the spiritual address to know or to think of a soft answer that would do it.

The spirit of fighting evil with good-a kind of glorious self-will for goodness, for doing a thing the higher and nobler way and making it work, the spirit of successful implacably efficient righteousness is the last and most modern interpretation of the New Testament, the crowd’s latest cry to its God.  Crowds will always crucify and crosses will never go by.  But we are going to have a higher ideal for crosses.  We are not going (out of sheer shame for the world), to think seriously any longer of dying on a cross, or letting any one else die on one for a little rudimentary platitude, a quiet, sensible, everyday business motto for any competent business man like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”