“The whole purpose of my work,” Ruskin wrote somewhere (I’ve forgotten where), “ is to make you think–“think about things which are very much worth thinking about over the course of a lifetime; things to which, usually, we give considerably less attention than they merit.” (see the fine photo of our subject at his Brantwood writing desk taken by H. Beraud in the mid-1880s, below.)
Such is the case with today’s quote. It appears in On The Old Road, a late work, a work of the troubled 1880s, a time when Ruskin was trying assiduously to put his authorial house in order and draw his most important thoughts to a close while he still had time (between the bouts of mania which beset him regularly—concerning which, see last Post). Like all of his 86 books (86!!), On the Old Road rewards the attentive reader repeatedly. As always when he wrote, Ruskin set down what was uppermost in his mind honestly, with little thought as to how it would be received by readers. He saw himself as a teacher, as a professor whose task it was to profess with fervor what he believed to be the most important things in life, teaching being a noble profession which had been created expressly by humanity expressly for the purpose of benefitting those who had eyes to read and ears to hear what being said.
In which context, good reader, we have all just begun a new year, exiting a pair of years which have been most stressful for the entire world. May this annum be less exacting for us all; a new set of 365 days–during the onset of same, it might be worth reflecting on the following topic which, whether we are aware of it or not, is of great significance to us all–the enduring difference between superstition and religion. Let me know your thoughts as you have them.
SUPERSTITION, in all times and among all nations, is the fear of a spirit whose actions are those of a man, whose acts are the acts of a man who is present in some places but not in others; who makes some places holy but not others; who is kind to one person, unkind to another; who is pleased or angry according to the degree of attention you pay him or the praise you refuse him; who is hostile, generally, to human pleasure, but who may be bribed by sacrifice of a part of that pleasure into permitting the rest. This, whatever form of faith and color it assumes, is the essence of superstition.
And RELIGION is the belief in a Spirit whose mercies spread over all his works– who is kind even to the unthankful and the evil; who is everywhere present, and therefore is in no place to be sought and in no place to be evaded; to whom, all creatures, times, and things, are everlastingly holy, and who claims, not tithes of wealth or sevenths of days, but all the wealth we have and all the days we have, and all the things we are, and claims that totality because He delights only in the delight of His creatures—and, therefore, the one duty that they owe Him, and the only service they can render Hm, is to be happy. A spirit, therefore, whose eternal benevolence cannot be altered, cannot be appeased; whose laws are everlasting, so that heaven and earth must indeed pass away if one jot of them fails; laws which attach to every wrong or error a measured, inevitable and just penalty; and to every rightness or prudence, an assured and just reward– penalty, of which the remittance cannot be purchased, and reward, of which the promise cannot be broken.
Religion proselytizes by love, superstition by war; religion teaches by example, superstition by persecution.
Until next time!!
Continue well out there in this Brave New Year!