This I Believe

Jerome - Ivy, Virginia
Entered on September 25, 2006

[Note: I realize that your “Submission Agreement” would pro forma reject this submission. I believe you should look past that formality. The dead have important beliefs that the living forget to their cost.]

I believe in remembering what civilized and compassionate people have thought and said. Because of this, I believe NPR should not forget to remember, in this series on belief, one of the great statements of faith of the past century: E. M. Forster’s brief essay “What I Believe” (1951). Here are a few passages we do well, in these days especially, to remember.

“I do not believe in Belief. But this is an Age of Faith, and there

are so many militant creeds that, in self-defence, one has to

formulate a creed of one’s own. . . . .Tolerance, good temper and sympathy – they are what matter really. . . .Faith, to my mind, is a stiffening process, a sort of mental starch, which ought to be applied as sparingly as possible. I dislike the stuff. I do not believe in it, for its own sake, at all. Herein I probably differ from most people, who believe in Belief, and are only sorry they cannot swallow even more than they do. My law-givers are Erasmus and Montaigne, not Moses and St Paul. My temple stands not upon Mount Moriah but in that Elysian Field where even the immoral are admitted. My motto is : ‘Lord, I disbelieve – help thou my unbelief.’

“I have, however, to live in an Age of Faith. . . . Where do I start?

“With personal relationships. Here is something comparatively solid in a world full of violence and cruelty. . . . “Starting from them, I get a little order into the contemporary chaos. One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of life, and it is therefore essential that they should not let one down. . . . .And one can, at all events, show one’s own little light here, one’s own poor little trembling flame, with the knowledge that it is not the only light that is shining in the darkness, and not the only one which the darkness does not comprehend. . . .

“If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country. Such a choice may scandalize the modern reader, and he may stretch out his patriotic hand to the telephone at once and ring up the police. It would not have shocked Dante, though. Dante places Brutus and Cassius in the lowest circle of Hell because they had chosen to betray their friend Julius Caesar rather than their country Rome. . . . .

“I distrust Great Men. They produce a desert of uniformity around them and often a pool of blood too, and I always feel a little man’s pleasure when they come a cropper. . . .

“[So] My faith has a very small one, and I only intrude it because

these are strenuous and serious days, and one likes to say what

one thinks while speech is comparatively free; it may not be free

much longer.”