Read THE AGE OF REASON : CHAPTER II of The Seeker, free online book, by Harry Leon Wilson, on


When young Dr. Merritt came, flushed and important-looking, greatly concerned by the reported relapse, he found his patient with normal pulse and temperature ­rational and joyous at his discovery that the secret of reading Roman letters was still his.

“I was almost afraid to test it, Doctor,” he confessed, smilingly, when the little thermometer had been taken from between his lips, “but it’s all right ­I didn’t find a single strange letter ­every last one of them meant something ­and I know figures, too ­and now I’m as hungry for print as I am for baked potatoes.  You know, never in my life again, after I’m my own master, shall I neglect to eat the skin of my baked potato.  When I think of those I let go in my careless days of plenty, I grow heart-sick.”

“A little at a time, young man.  If they let you gorge as you’d like to there would be no more use sending for me; you’d be a goner ­that’s what you’d be!  Head feel all right?”

“Fine! ­I’ve settled down to a pleasant reading of Holy Writ.  This Old Testament is mighty interesting to me, though doubtless I’ve read it all before.”

“It’s a very complicated case, but I think he’s coming on all right,” the doctor assured the alarmed old man outside the door.  “He may be a little flighty now and then, but don’t pay any attention to him; just soothe him over.  He’s getting back to himself ­stronger every hour.  We often have these things to contend with.”

And the doctor, outwardly confident, went away to puzzle over the case.

Again the following morning, when Bernal had leaned his difficult way down to the couch in the study, the old man was dismayed by his almost unspeakable aberrations.  With no sign of fever, with a cool brow and placid pulse, in level tones, he spoke the words of the mad.

“You know, grandad,” he began easily, looking up at the once more placid old man who sat beside him, “I am just now recalling matters that were puzzling me much before the sickness began to spin my head about so fast on my shoulders.  The harder I thought, the faster my head went around, until it sent my mind all to little spatters in a circle about me.  One thing I happened to be puzzling over was how the impression first became current that this god of the Jews was a being of goodness.  Such an impression seems to have been tacitly accepted for some centuries after the iniquities so typical of him had been discountenanced by society ­long after human sacrifice was abhorred, and even after the sacrificing of animals was held to be degrading.  It’s a point that escapes me, owing to my addled brain; doubtless you can set me right.  At present I can’t conceive how the notion could ever have occurred to any one.  I now remember this book well enough to know that not only is little good ever recorded of him, but he is so continually barbarous, and so atrociously cruel in his barbarities.  And he was thought to be all-powerful when he is so pitifully ineffectual, with all his crude power ­the poor old fellow was forever bungling ­then bungling again in his efforts to patch up his errors.  Indeed, he would be rather a pathetic figure if he were not so monstrous!  Still, there is a kind of heathen grandeur about him at times.  He drowns his world full of people because his first two circumvented him; then he saves another pair, but things go still worse, so he has to keep smiting the world right and left, dumb beasts as well as men; and at last he picks out one tribe, in whose behalf he works a series of miracles, that devastated a wide area.  How he did love to turn a city over to destruction!  And from the cloud’s centre he was constantly boasting of his awful power, and scaring people into butchering lambs and things in his honour.  Yet, doubtless, that heathen tribe found its god ‘good,’ and other people formed the habit of calling him good, without thinking much about it.  They must have felt queer when they woke up to the fact that they were calling infinitely good a god who was not good, even when judged by their poor human standards.”

Remembering the physician’s instructions to soothe the patient, the distressed old man timidly began ­

“‘For God so loved the world’” ­but he was interrupted by the vivacious one on the couch.

“That’s it ­I remember that tradition.  He was even crude enough to beget a son for human sacrifice, giving that son power to condemn thereafter those who should not detect his godship through his human envelope!  That was a rather subtler bit of baseness than those he first perpetrated ­to send this saving son in such guise that the majority of his creatures would inevitably reject him!  Oh! he was bound to have his failures and his tortures, wasn’t he?  You know, I dare say the ancient Christians called him good because they were afraid to call him bad.  Doubtless the one great spiritual advance that we have made since the Christian faith prevailed is, that we now worship without fearing what we worship.”

Once more the distressed old man had risen to stand with assumed carelessness by the door, having writhed miserably in his chair until he could no longer endure the profane flood.

“But, truly, that god was, after all, a pathetic figure.  Imagine him amid the ruins of his plan, desolate, always foiled by his creatures ­meeting failure after failure from Eden to Calvary ­for even the bloody expedient of sending his son to be sacrificed did not avail to save his own chosen people.  They unanimously rejected the son, if I remember, and so he had to be content with a handful of the despised Gentiles.  A sorrowful old figure of futility he is ­a fine figure for a big epic, it seems to me.  By the way, what was the date that this religion was laughed away.  I can remember perfectly the downfall of the Homeric deities ­how many years there were when the common people believed in the divine origin of the Odyssey, while the educated classes were more or less discreetly heretical, until at last the whole Olympian outfit became poetic myths.  But strangely enough I do not recall just the date when we began to demand a god of dignity and morality.”

The old man had been loath to leave the sufferer.  He still stood by the open door to call to the first passer-by.  Now, shudderingly wishful to stem the torrent of blasphemies, innocent though they were, he ventured cautiously: 

“There was Sinai ­you forget the tables ­the moral law ­the ten commandments.”

“Sinai, to be sure.  Christians used to regard that as an occasion of considerable dignity, didn’t they?  The time when he gave directions about slavery and divorce and polygamy ­he was beautifully broad-minded in all those matters, and to kill witches and to stone an ox that gored any one, and how to disembowel the lambs used for sacrifice, and what colours to use in the tabernacle.”

But the horrified old man had fled.  Half an hour later he returned with Dr. Merritt, relieving Clytie, who had watched outside the door and who reported that there had been no signs of violence within.

Again they found a normal pulse and temperature, and an appetite clamouring for delicacies of strong meat.  Young Dr. Merritt was greatly puzzled.

“I understand the case perfectly,” he said to the old man; “he needs rest and plenty of good nursing ­and quiet.  We often have these cases.  Your head feels all right, doesn’t it?” he asked Bernal.

“Fine, Doctor!”

“I thought so.”  He looked shrewdly at the old man.  “Your grandfather had an idea you might be ­perhaps a bit excited.”

“No ­not a bit.  We’ve had a fine morning chatting over some of the primitive religions, haven’t we, old man?” and he smiled affectionately up to his grandfather.  “Hello, Nance, come and sit by me.”

The girl had paused in the doorway while he spoke, and came now to take his hand, after a look of inquiry at the two men.  The latter withdrew, the eyes of the old man sadly beseeching the eyes of the physician for some definite sign of hope.

Inside, the sufferer lay holding a hand of Nancy between his cheek and the pillow ­with intervals of silence and blithe speech.  His disordered mind, it appeared, was still pursuing its unfortunate tangent.

“The first ideas are all funny, aren’t they, Nance?  Genesis in that Christian mythology we were discussing isn’t the only funny one.  There was the old northern couple who danced on the bones of the earth nine times and made nine pairs of men and women; and there were the Greek and his wife who threw stones out of their ark that changed to men; and the Hindu that saved the life of a fish, and whom the fish then saved by fastening his ship to his horn; and the South Sea fisherman who caught his hook in the water-god’s hair and made him so angry that he drowned all the world except the offending fisherman.  Aren’t they nearly as funny as the god who made one of his pair out of clay and one from a rib, and then became so angry with them that he must beget a son for them to sacrifice before he would forgive them?  Let’s think of the pleasanter ones.  Do you know that hymn of the Veda? ­’If I go along trembling like a cloud, have mercy, Almighty, have mercy!’

“’Through want of strength, thou strong and bright God, have I gone wrong.  Have mercy, Almighty, have mercy!’

“And Buddha was a pleasant soul, Nance ­with stuff in him, too ­born a prince, yet leaving his palace to be poor and to study the ways of wisdom, until enlightenment came to him sitting under his Bo tree.  He said faith was the best wealth here.  And, ’Not to commit any sin, to do good and to purify one’s mind, that is the teaching of the awakened’; ’not hating those who hate us,’ ‘free from greed among the greedy.’  They must have been glad of Buddhism in their day, teaching them to honour their parents, to be kind to the sick and poor and sorrowing, to forgive their enemies and return good for evil.  And there was funny old Confucius with his ’Coarse rice for food, water to drink, the bended arm for a pillow ­happiness may be enjoyed even with these; but without virtue, both riches and honour seem to me like the passing cloud.’  Another one of his is ’In the book of Poetry are three hundred pieces ­but the designs of them all mean, “Have no depraved thoughts."’ Rather good for a Chinaman, wasn’t it?

“And there was old Zoroaster saying to his Ormuzd, ’I believe thee, O God! to be the best thing of all!’ and asking for guidance.  Ormuzd tells him to be pure in thought, word and deed; to be temperate, chaste and truthful ­and this Ormuzd would have no lambs sacrificed to him.  Life, being his gift, was dear to him.  And don’t forget Mohammed, Nance, that fine old barbarian with the heart of a passionate child, counselling men to live a good life and to strive after the mercy of God by fasting, charity and prayer, calling this the ‘Key of Paradise.’  He went after a poor blind man whom he had at first rebuffed, saying ’He is thrice welcome on whose account my Lord hath reprimanded me.’  He was a fine, stubborn old believer, Nance.  I wonder if it’s not true that the Christians once studied these old chaps to take the taste of their own cruder God out of their minds.  What a cruel people they must have been to make so cruel a God!

“But let’s talk of you, Nance ­that’s it ­light the chandeliers in your eyes.”

He spoke drowsily now, and lay quiet, patting one of her hands.  But presently he was on one elbow to study her again.

“Nance, the Egyptians worshipped Nature, the Greeks worshipped Beauty, the Northern chaps worshipped Courage, and the Christians feared ­well, the hereafter, you know ­but I’m a Catholic when you smile.”