Chapter 12

in which Father Smith and his Protestant counterpart agree about lack of religious renewal after the war.

On the Feast of Saint Andrew, 1919, when Father Smith went as usual to say his prayers in the High Kirk, there were still no signs of a religious revival in the land, although there was plenty of culture flying about: a new novel by Hugh Walpole, and Abraham Lincoln by John Drinkwater at the Lyric, Hammersmith, and of course Germany Was Going to Pay, and the railway strike had been settled satisfactorily, and Miss Lee White was singing husky little songs in revue, and there were plenty of fat jobs going at Geneva, and young men passed by their window and oh, they sang softly, so softly, their dear, but all that didn't seem to mean that the Lord was coming again in power and great glory or, what Father Smith thought even more important, that people were creeping back humbly and contritely to the Lord. So when he had prayed for Scotland, that God might give her back the light which she had lost, Father Smith prayed for the world as well and for its rulers, and for Arnold Bennett, H. G. Wells, and Horatio Bottomley, that God might give them wisdom and understanding when they wrote articles for the press.

The minister was standing again under his high hat in the porch when Father Smith came out. They greeted one another affably and, when they had spoken of the weather, the new workmen's model cottages, and Mr. Bonar Law, Father Smith asked the minister point-blank if he had noticed any stirrings of spiritual awakening in his congregation.

'I'm afraid not, Father; the minister answered. 'Like you, I was hoping for great things, but it seems that they are just not to be.'

'I wonder if it is because people have lived too much in crowds these last few years,' Father Smith said. 'I have often noticed that the intelligence of any gathering of people is always in inverse ratio to the numbers present. Perhaps it is the same with piety. Perhaps our Lord intended that we should interpret Him literally when He said, "When two or three are gathered together in My Name, lo, there am I in the midst of them." Perhaps He meant that when six or seven were gathered together, even in His Name, He would be less in the midst of them. In any case it is certain that when great crowds of people are gathered together, He is not in the midst of them, or if He is, the crowd pay no attention to Him.'

'But that is when they are not gathered together in His Name,' the minister said.

'If we are really Christians there should be no occasion on which we are not gathered together in His Name,' the priest said. 'He should be in our ballrooms and theatres just as He is in our churches. But we are afraid to be ourselves in crowds, because we are afraid not to be like what we think our neighbours are and our neighbours are afraid not to be like what they think we are. And so everybody pretends to be less pious, less virtuous, less honourable than he really is.

'I think, with your permission, that I shall use that in a sermon sometime,' the minister said.

'It's what I call the new hypocrisy,' Father Smith said. 'In the old days people pretended to be better than they were, but now they pretend to be worse. In the old days a man said that he went to church on Sundays even if he didn't, but now he says he plays golf and would be very distressed if his men friends found out that he really went to church. In other words, hypocrisy used to be what a French writer calls the tribute vice paid to virtue, but now it's the tribute virtue pays to vice; and that, I think, is a very much worse state of affairs, because it means that our standards have declined and that we no longer dare to be private honest people, but are instead becoming inside the façades we pretend, out of motives of human respect, to be outside.'

The minister did not answer, but Father Smith could see that he was thinking a lot. In front of them two young girls stood on the top of the steps with their short skirts blowing across the trees on the edge of Sir Dugald Ippecacuanha's estate.

'Of course, Jim can't stand that sort of thing at all,' one of them said. 'He's terribly you know what I mean.'

'I know, Alec's like that, too,' the second girl said.

'Funny, isn't it?' the first girl said.

'Of course, it does make a difference when you use fish knives,' the second girl said.

They stood for a minute or two, mooning out over the city. Under their transparent blouses the trigonometry of their straps, strings, and tapes crossed and recrossed like railway lines at Crewe.

'Well, cheerio,' the first girl said.

'Cheerio, then,' the second girl said.

They walked away down different sides of the steps, their wiggling little bottoms wiser than Aristotle.

'Did you hear that?' Father Smith said. 'They're frightened to say "good-bye" because it means something; they say "cheerio" which, apart from being the ugliest word I know, means and is intended to mean absolutely nothing. Soon they won't be able to feel "good-bye" or "good health" or any other decent human sentiment.'

'They're modern, I suppose,' the minister said.

'Pagan, you mean,' the priest said, and then laughed aloud, in case the minister should think that he was altogether too upstagy in his likes and dislikes.


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