[Back]

A Confession

Part 11





And remembering how those very beliefs had repelled me and had
seemed meaningless when professed by people whose lives conflicted
with them, and how these same beliefs attracted me and seemed
reasonable when I saw that people lived in accord with them, I
understood why I had then rejected those beliefs and found them
meaningless, yet now accepted them and found them full of meaning. 
I understood that I had erred, and why I erred.  I had erred not so
much because I thought incorrectly as because I lived badly.  I
understood that it was not an error in my thought that had hid
truth from me as much as my life itself in the exceptional
conditions of epicurean gratification of desires in which I passed
it.  I understood that my question as to what my life is, and the
answer -- and evil -- was quite correct.  The only mistake was that
the answer referred only to my life, while I had referred it to
life in general.  I asked myself what my life is, and got the
reply: An evil and an absurdity.  and really my life -- a life of
indulgence of desires -- was senseless and evil, and therefore the
reply, "Life is evil and an absurdity", referred only to my life,
but not to human life in general.  I understood the truth which I
afterwards found in the Gospels, "that men loved darkness rather
than the light, for their works were evil.  For everyone that doeth
ill hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his works
should be reproved."  I perceived that to understand the meaning of
life it is necessary first that life should not be meaningless and
evil, then we can apply reason to explain it.  I understood why I
had so long wandered round so evident a truth, and that if one is
to think and speak of the life of mankind, one must think and speak
of that life and not of the life of some of life's parasites.  That
truth was always as true as that two and two are four, but I had
not acknowledged it, because on admitting two and two to be four I
had also to admit that I was bad; and to feel myself to be good was
for me more important and necessary than for two and two to be
four.  I came to love good people, hated myself, and confessed the
truth.  Now all became clear to me.

What if an executioner passing his whole life in torturing
people and cutting off their heads, or a hopeless drunkard, or a
madman settled for life in a dark room which he has fouled and
imagines that he would perish if he left -- what if he asked
himself: "What is life?"  Evidently he could not other reply to
that question than that life is the greatest evil, and the madman's
answer would be perfectly correct, but only as applied to himself. 
What if I am such a madman?  What if all we rich and leisured
people are such madmen? and I understood that we really are such
madmen.  I at any rate was certainly such.

And indeed a bird is so made that it must fly, collect food,
and build a nest, and when I see that a bird does this I have
pleasure in its joy.  A goat, a hare, and a wolf are so made that
they must feed themselves, and must breed and feed their family,
and when they do so I feel firmly assured that they are happy and
that their life is a reasonable one.  then what should a man do? 
He too should produce his living as the animals do, but with this
difference, that he will perish if he does it alone; he must obtain
it not for himself but for all.  And when he does that, I have a
firm assurance that he is happy and that his life is reasonable. 
But what had I done during the whole thirty years of my responsible
life?  Far from producing sustenance for all, I did not even
produce it for myself.  I lived as a parasite, and on asking
myself, what is the use of my life? I got the reply: "No use."  If
the meaning of human life lies in supporting it, how could I -- who
for thirty years had been engaged not on supporting life but on
destroying it in myself and in others -- how could I obtain any
other answer than that my life was senseless and an evil? ... It
was both senseless and evil.

The life of the world endures by someone's will -- by the life
of the whole world and by our lives someone fulfills his purpose. 
To hope to understand the meaning of that will one must first
perform it by doing what is wanted of us.  But if I will not do
what is wanted of me, I shall never understand what is wanted of
me, and still less what is wanted of us all and of the whole world.

If a naked, hungry beggar has been taken from the cross-roads,
brought into a building belonging to a beautiful establishment,
fed, supplied with drink, and obliged to move a handle up and down,
evidently, before discussing why he was taken, why he should move
the handle, and whether the whole establishment is reasonably
arranged -- the begger should first of all move the handle.  If he
moves the handle he will understand that it works a pump, that the
pump draws water and that the water irrigates the garden beds; then
he will be taken from the pumping station to another place where he
will gather fruits and will enter into the joy of his master, and,
passing from lower to higher work, will understand more and more of
the arrangements of the establishment, and taking part in it will
never think of asking why he is there, and will certainly not
reproach the master.

So those who do his will, the simple, unlearned working folk,
whom we regard as cattle, do not reproach the master; but we, the
wise, eat the master's food but do not do what the master wishes,
and instead of doing it sit in a circle and discuss: "Why should
that handle be moved?  Isn't it stupid?"  So we have decided.  We
have decided that the master is stupid, or does not exist, and that
we are wise, only we feel that we are quite useless and that we
must somehow do away with ourselves.