George Orwell

  • post Type / Young Humanists International
  • Date / 5 November 2007
A normal human being does not want the Kingdom of Heaven

The quote hereunder is taken from George Orwell’s essay “Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool“, and is indicative for Orwell’s valuation of actual life. It reflects his view that the search for truth is intricately bound to emancipation – hence this quest, for Orwell, takes on the character of an existential duty. For all the criticisms that can be made on Orwell’s unproblematic treatment of the category “truth” – he seemingly assumes that reality can eventually be grasped without any distortion – this quote illustrates how his call to look life in the face effectively holds any (religious) escapism at bay.

“It is important to realize that the difference between a saint and an ordinary human being is a difference of kind and not of degree. That is, the one is not to be regarded as an imperfect form of the other. The saint, at any rate Tolstoy’s kind of saint, is not trying to work an improvement in earthly life: he is trying to bring it to an end and put something different in its place. One obvious expression of this is the claim that celibacy is ‘higher’ than marriage. If only, Tolstoy says in effect, we would stop breeding, fighting, struggling and enjoying, if we could get rid not only of our sins but of everything else that binds us to the surface of the earth — including love, then the whole painful process would be over and the Kingdom of Heaven would arrive. But a normal human being does not want the Kingdom of Heaven: he wants life on earth to continue. This is not solely because he is ‘weak’, ‘sinful’ and anxious for a ‘good time’. Most people get a fair amount of fun out of their lives, but on balance life is suffering, and only the very young or the very foolish imagine otherwise. Ultimately it is the Christian attitude which is self-interested and hedonistic, since the aim is always to get away from the painful struggle of earthly life and find eternal peace in some kind of Heaven or Nirvana. The humanist attitude is that the struggle must continue and that death is the price of life. ‘Men must endure their going hence, even as their coming hither: Ripeness is all’ — which is an un-Christian sentiment. Often there is a seeming truce between the humanist and the religious believer, but in fact their attitudes cannot be reconciled: one must choose between this world and the next. And the enormous majority of human beings, if they understood the issue, would choose this world. They do make that choice when they continue working, breeding and dying instead of crippling their faculties in the hope of obtaining a new lease of existence elsewhere.”

Links section

In a most thankworthy effort, the webmaster of http://orwell.ru has put the entire works of Orwell on-line, along with extensive information on the author. Go there!   

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