Friday, November 4, 2016

Blarsphemy, Muvver!

"He sewed his eyes shut because he is afraid to see
He tries to tell me what I've put inside of me"

Nine Inch Nails - Heresy

Continuing my perusal of the works of H.G. Wells I've run into Tono-Bungay, his dissection of contemporary English society by 1909. If some of his other lesser-known works pale in comparison with his best writing, I'm very surprised at Tono-Bungay's obscurity given that it's actually damn good stuff. I can only explain it by splitting the difference of Wells' main claim to fame. Science Fiction fans don't read non-SF works from even their favorite SF writers, and "serious" audiences of "literature" refuse to take seriously anything whatsoever written by a SF author.

I'll return to this book at some later date but for now I've excerpted a few paragraphs from the chapter addressing religion. The narrator, a boy in his early teens, has just been indentured (read: enslaved) to an older cousin of his as an apprentice baker, and the family's piousness brings to full consciousness his realization of the falsehood of religion.

As you read this, I want you to remember it was published in 1909. Nineteen-oh-nine! I want you to note how precisely Wells describes (obviously from personal experience) the same exact conflict in which most atheists find themselves when they first declare religion a fraud even now a century later. The same social pressures, the same predictable outraged reaction shots from the faithful, the same fatalistic wallowing of the lower classes in their faith in mythical afterlives, the same attempts at terrorizing the boy into submission.

I sometimes wonder what "conservative" politics even mean, but if anything embodies conservatism it's religion. In the hundred and seven years since Tono-Bungay was published, the forward-looking, inventive, realistic minority of the human species has advanced tremendously, dragging the rest of the species kicking and screaming into a more comfortable future.
The religious backbirths however, those wallowing in the false promises of eternal life and celestial law-givers to save them from the burden of independent thought? You know, the majority? They're the same damn beast. In 2016 you can go to any cheap diner in any slum or backwater town anywhere in the developed world (to say nothing about poor countries, allahu akhbullshit) and there you'll find Uncle Frapp, pudgy, dingy, lackadaisical, fish-eyed and always taking great pride in trudging in circles and not doing certain things.

My cousin Nicodemus Frapp was a baker in a back street - a slum rather [...] he still remains an almost dreadful memory, a sort of caricature of incompetent simplicity. [...] He had no pride in his business nor any initiative; his only virtues were not doing certain things and hard work. [...] There was a sort of base honourableness about toil, however needless, in that system of inversion. [...] whenever there was occasion for any exertion his wife fell back upon pains and her 'condition,' and God sent them many children, most of whom died, and so, by their coming and going, gave a double exercise in the virtues of submission.

Resignation to God's will was the common device of these people in the face of every duty and every emergency. There were no books in the house; I doubt if either of them had retained the capacity for reading consecutively for more than a minute or so
One might have doubted if either of them felt discomfort in this dusty darkness of existence, if it was not that they did visibly seek consolation. They sought this and found it of a Sunday, not in strong drink and raving, but in imaginary draughts of blood. They met with twenty of thirty other darkened and unclean people, all dressed in dingy colours that would not show the dirt, in a little brick-built chapel equipped with a spavined roarer of a harmonium, and there solaced their minds that all that was fair and free in life, all that struggled, all that planned and made, all pride and beauty and honor, all fine and enjoyable things, were irrevocably damned to everlasting torments. They were the self-appointed confidants of God's mockery of his own creation.
If Bladesover is my key for the explanation of England, I think my invincible persuasion that I understand Russia was engendered by Uncle Frapp.
I slept in a dingy sheeted bed with the two elder survivors of Frapp fecundity
Serious trouble came suddenly out of a conversation we held in bed one night. Some particularly pious phrase of my elder cousin's irritated me extremely, and I avowed outright my entire disbelief in the whole scheme of revealed religion. [...] But it came to me then that the whole scheme of salvation of the Frappes was not simply doubtful, but impossible. I fired this discovery out into the darkness with the greatest promptitude.
My abrupt denials certainly scared my cousin amazingly.
At first they could not understand what I was saying, and when they did I fully believe they expected an instant answer in thunderbolts and flames. They gave me more room in bed forthwith, and then the elder sat up and expressed his sense of my awfulness.
Our little voices went on interminably, and at one stage my cousin got out of bed and made his brother do likewise, and knelt in the night dimness and prayed at me. That I found trying, but I held out valiantly. "Forgive him" said my cousin "he knows not what he sayeth."
"You can pray if you like," I said "but if you're going to cheek me in your prayers I draw the line."
The last I remember of that great discussion was my cousin deploring the fact that he "should ever sleep in the same bed with an Infidel!"

The next day he astonished me by telling the whole business to his father. This was quite outside all my codes. Uncle Nicodemus sprang it upon me at the midday meal.
"You been sayin' queer things, George." he said abruptly. "You better mind what you're saying."
"What did he say, father?" said Mrs. Frapp
"Things I couldn't repeat," said he.
"What things?" I asked hotly.
"Ask 'IM" said my uncle, pointing with his knife to his informant, and making me realize the nature of my offense. My aunt looked at the witness. "Not -?" she framed a question.
"Wuss," said my uncle. "Blarsphemy."
I became an outcast forthwith. At supper that night a gloomy silence was broken by my cousin saying
"E 'it me for telling you, and I turned the other cheek, muvver."
"E's got the evil one be'ind 'im now, a ridin' on 'is back." said my aunt, to the great discomfort of the eldest girl, who sat beside me.[...]
said uncle Nicodemus in gentle tones. "You don't want to wake in 'ell, George, burnin' an' screamin' for ever, do you? You wouldn't like that?
He tried very hard to get me to "jest 'ave a look at the bake'ouse fire" before I retired. "It might move you," he said.
But I didn't expect to have the whole meeting on Sunday turned on to me.
It was. It all comes back to me, that convergence of attention, even the faint leathery smell of its atmosphere returns, and the coarse feel of my aunt's black dress beside me in contact with my hand. I see again the old Welsh milkman "wrestling" with me, they all wrestle with me, by prayer or exhortation. And I was holding out stoutly, though convinced now by the contagion of their universal conviction that by doing so I was certainly and hopelessly damned. I felt that they were right, that God was probably like them, and that on the whole it didn't matter. And to simplify the business thoroughly I had declared I didn't believe anything at all. They confuted me by texts from Scripture which I now perceive was an illegitimate method of reply. When I got home, still impenitent and eternally lost and secretly very lonely and miserable and alarmed, Uncle Nicodemus docked my Sunday pudding.


That happy routine of tormenting young minds with the threat of the bakehouse fire reminds me of something I've repeated on several occasions. Don't ever bitch at me for being mean to the fundies. I owe no courtesies to those threatening me with an eternity of mind-shattering torture if I don't chant along with their mass delusions. I don't care if they smile when they say it.

God is dead.
But oh, Holy Friedrich, it's been a century and a half and the people of the marketplace have yet to hear the news.

I'm off to buy myself some pudding.

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