On Christianity and a Useful Life. A Speech Day address, Truro School, Cornwall
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[ 623 On Christianity and a Useful Life. A Speech Day address, Truro School, Cornwall1 The Truronian (Dec 1938) 2-9 The thought that comes to my mind is this: “Don’t believe anything you’re told”; to which I might add: “Don’t be in a hurry to make up your mind.” We all think we observe the first of these rules – that makes us all the more gullible. We are all inclined to disagree with the advice which our elders give us: that is a healthy enough impulse, but it springs from dislike of authority, rather than from seeing that our elders are wrong – though they frequently are wrong. Sometimes our disagreement springs from a deep source, and we must obey it, though we cannot explain it; but even then, to doubt, or to disagree, imposes on us the obligation to think for ourselves. And that is why I say that the exhortation, “Don’t believe everything you are told,” is not easy to carry out, because it implies thinking, and that is the hardest possible work. I do not believe that anyone really likes to think: and two or three hours’ real thinking is a hard day’s work. But there never was a time when real scepticism – that is, not simply doubting, but stopping to think things out for oneself – was more needed than to-day. You have all been educated as Christians, and, I hope, will all remain so. But anyone who would make the most of this life must go on developing to the end of life, and his Christianity, that is, his understanding of what Christianity is, must go on developing too; and what its truths mean for him at one stage will not be the same as what they meant ten years before, orwhattheywillmeantenyearslater.YoucannotjustputyourChristianity on a shelf for reference, like old text-books, when you go out into the world, and expect it to stay there always the same when you want to refer to it. It is people who do this, who come to think that the Christian faith was something suitable for childhood or school, but that it is too childish to be of any use in later years. People who never really grow up – and that is a good many – are better off with a childish faith than with none at all. But if you are to go on growing − and what our education should have done for us is to teach us how to go on growing by ourselves after we have finished with schools and colleges – your Christianity must grow too, and that will involve you in some pretty hard thinking. And in the present state of the Essays, Reviews, Commentaries, and Public Letters: 1938 624 ] world, the Christian will find himself faced at every turn with difficult problems of conduct which other people can avoid. It used to be said about Christians, a generation or so ago, that they were people who wanted not to think; that they swallowed comfortable and cosy dogmas which no intelligent or honest man could accept, in order to have an easy time and not worry about what was wrong with the world. There are always some Christians of whom these things can be said, just as there are a great many other people who will believe something else for the same reasons. But – and this is one thing which makes the present time very interesting and stimulating to live in – I think that to-day such a comfortable life should be less possible for Christians than for anybody else. We see various unpleasant things happening in other countries, and we say, “That couldn’t happen in England.” Now, of course, nothing happens in quite the same way in any two countries, because of racial and national differences . We cannot ever be sure just how deep these differences go: but I still believe that on the whole English people are tolerant and dislike cruelty . But what is the common feature of all the political systems that we dislike? It is surely the discouragement of individual thinking, and the elevation to the status of permanent unchangeable dogma of assumptions which to the Christian thinker are obviously partial and relative truths. And all their drilling and systematisation creates a pleasant environment just for the people who are happy to get rid of the responsibility of doing any thinking for themselves. And it is precisely the Christian, who has higher and more exacting standards...


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