Religion for Infidels, Part 1Anthony M. Ludovici
Part 1 of 5
Religion for Infidels (London: Holborn, 1961) was Anthony Ludovici’s last book (as opposed to essay collection). In it, he addresses the increasing population of individuals who have religious or spiritual inclinations and yet find it impossible to believe in revealed religions such as Christianity.
John Day’s The Lost Philosopher: The Best of Anthony M. Ludovici (Berkeley, Cal.: ETSF, 2003), contains well-chosen selections from Religion for Infidels which present its argument in abridged form. I am reprinting those selections in five parts.
Because of the difficulty most thoughtful men now have in accepting orthodox religion, and the deprivation they inevitably suffer in living without any religion whatsoever, the time seems to have come when some attempt should be made, however tentatively, to provide at least a rough outline of a possible religion for so-called ‘infidels’—the men and women who cannot believe in Christianity and who nevertheless are far from willing to remain destitute of any concern about transcendental questions. (Religion for Infidels, p. 9)
If we knew all there is to know about life and the universe, including their origin, and were as well-informed about our own provenance and purpose as we are about those of the cars we drive, it is probable that what we understand by religion would either have much less importance than it has at present, or else would wear so different a mien as hardly to be recognized as religion by the modern churchman.
For the principal source of all religious belief, and of the particular claims of different religions, is the hidden, inexplicable character of both our world and our existence in it. This presents such a formidable barrier to a satisfying grasp of all that we see and feel about us that the effort to rid ourselves once and for all of the agonizing uncertainty of our knowledge about ourselves, our destiny and our surroundings drives us, or at least the more thoughtful among us, to clutch, often with undue haste, at any answer to our endless questionings provided that it is tolerably plausible. And it is this plausible and usually provisional answer that gives us the basis of our religion and determines its character.
Whence do we and the universe come? Whither are we going? Why are we here? How did life originate? What means the immeasurable vastness in which we are but a negligible speck? Why this infinite multitude of heavenly bodies? What is the purpose of it all? Is the very idea of purpose an illusion? Is everything meaningless, pointless and the sport of chance and accident?
Every fresh generation of men asks these questions, and no progress is made in answering them. Even modern science, despite its many staggering and spectacular advances, cannot help us here. Indeed, when the reading-public learn of the latest findings of the astronomers, physicists, geophysicists and philosophers, their wonderment and mystification are magnified rather than diminished. Compared with the relatively simple account of the origin of life and the universe with which our forebears of a hundred years and more ago were content, present-day scientific theories about our origin and our psychophysical nature are so complex, unbelievably fantastic and, above all, so lacking in unanimity that those moderns who are too intelligent to take anything for granted, who still retain the power to wonder and wish to be enlightened concerning the universe and themselves, may be forgiven if in the end the replies they get to their anxious inquiries leave them more baffled than illuminated. (Religion for Infidels, pp. 17–18)
Agnosticism . . . may be a comfortless refuge from the countless riddles that incessantly taunt human curiosity, but, if he can control himself when tempting alternatives occur to him, it is the only course open to the man who, abreast of the latest speculations of science, is scrupulously honest in intellectual matters . . .
Whether the decline in Christian worshippers is to be ascribed to the slow saturation of the Western atmosphere with the views of science or to the general and steady loss of intelligence throughout the population, a loss which inevitably blinds increasing numbers of commonplace folk to the challenging problems of the world about them, cannot be determined . . .
Macneile Dixon . . . thinks ‘the decay of religious faith is due to the increase of our positive knowledge’ . . . whilst Dr Joad, apparently of the same opinion, maintains that ‘it is a comparatively rare thing to find an educated man who is also a Christian’ . . . But, as we have seen, there are other contributory factors, and I submit that, in addition to the increase in stupidity, there has been in recent years, especially in the Western world, a marked increase in superficiality and levity. This may represent only one facet of the increase of stupidity, although it may more probably derive from the substantial decline in passion and temperamental vigour, which in itself is the outcome of the general decline in stamina throughout the populations of the West. (Religion for Infidels, pp. 24–6)
In reply to the question, ‘What passion can explain an effect of such mighty consequence as religion?’, [David Hume] replies, ‘Not speculative curiosity merely, or the pure love of truth, but’—and what follows may be briefly summarized as ‘fear’ . . . This is also Bertrand Russell’s opinion. ‘Fear’, he says, ‘is the basis of the whole thing, fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death’ . . . whilst even William James seems to lend it some countenance when he says: ‘The ancient saying that the first maker of the gods was fear receives voluminous corroboration from every age of religious history’ . . . If man were encompassed only by dangers which drove him to implore the protection of benign supernatural forces against their opposite, fear would adequately explain the matter. But man, and above all unscientific and ignorant man, is also surrounded by wonders not necessarily always of a menacing kind. Everywhere, his senses apprehend something that he can neither do, control nor understand, and we have but to observe the overpowering curiosity of the lower animals, which makes even the least intelligent of them, let alone the cat and the dog, incur danger in order to examine and search the origin of an unfamiliar object or sound, to become convinced that man is hardly likely to be less irresistibly impelled by his curiosity. As Professor J.B. Pratt remarks, curiosity ‘exists alike in the scientist and in the savage, in the monkey and in the dog’ . . .
If, then, we conclude that religion is probably a blend of both curiosity and fear, it seems justifiable to assume that as man’s mastery over Nature gradually increased until it established him in the relatively secure position he has enjoyed for several centuries, at least in the civilized world, the factor curiosity is probably that which has recently played the predominant part in fostering the religious attitude of mind.
Thus, at bottom, religion satisfies two major human needs: it answers man’s questions about origins, and furnishes him with guesses about the ‘power behind phenomena’ and his relationship to that power. These are religion’s fundamental meaning and function, and its most essential features are probably its tenets concerning the power in question and man’s relationship to it. For, given the fact of such a power, nothing could be more vitally important than to know what to expect of it, what it expects of man and how to obtain contact with it. (Religion for Infidels, pp. 27–8)
Here, on this planet Earth, we are very much like a group of aviators flying above the clouds. Their safety depends essentially on accurate estimates of the direction, strength and possible variations of the invisible wind, of the temperature and chemical composition of the invisible atmosphere, and of their altitude and position in an area destitute of visible signposts. In the same way, we on this planet, alone in the vast universe, will be more likely to avoid disaster or destruction, at least in our individual lives, if we try to understand something about the invisible forces about us, and, above all, how they work, than if we omit to find out anything about them . . .
A merely urban knowledge of life, even when it includes an intimate acquaintance with humanity, may hardly suffice for an adequate picture of what animate Nature implies and what primary forces invisibly control her machinery. Given a high degree of sensitiveness and intelligence, it is conceivable that even a confirmed townsman might, without the panorama of vital phenomena as it is unrolled in all its rich manifoldness along the countryside, reach fairly shrewd notions about the basic trends of the invisible forces directing living things on Earth. Indeed, Lao Tzu, of the sixth century BC, actually maintained that merely by silent meditation one might become master of all worldly wisdom.
But, generally speaking, in order to reach fruitful conclusions concerning these questions it is desirable to have lived for years where, alone in civilized communities today, one may view life with approximate accuracy, because it is still, as it were, naked, opulent and varied enough, both in the animal and vegetable realms, to reveal its secrets.
Then, unless one resembles too closely the tired, listless and Nature-surfeited peasant, certain precious discoveries cannot escape one, and among the more striking of these is the fact that behind the visible phenomena of the daily scene unmistakable prevailing trends become noticeable. They appear like pervasive rules of procedure, governing life’s processes in both animals and plants, and are as unexpectedly different from our superficial first assumptions as they possibly could be. Ultimately they seem to merge into one universal trend or bias, which appears to us as a cosmic influence informing all living things, and it can be so precisely recognized that its attributes and their manner of operation may be clearly defined.
Let us therefore explore the vast panorama of Nature as displayed in our small world alone, without troubling ourselves with its manifestations elsewhere, and see what evidence we can find of any distinctive attributes whatsoever which may help us to understand the invisible forces governing life’s processes.