By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

4. "Saint Joan," by George Bernard Shaw, pp. 33-47

"Preface," by George Bernard Shaw, concluded, from "THE LAW OF CHANGE IS THE LAW OF GOD"
"[A]ll evolution in thought and conduct must first appear as heresy and misconduct. In short, though all society is founded on intolerance, all improvement is founded on tolerance... [W]hen the Churches set themselves against change as such, they are setting themselves against the law of God."

Shaw, who was opposed to compulsory vaccination against smallpox, regarded it as "crudely unscientific and mischievous anti-sanitary quackery" and regarded it as "replacing what was virtually compulsory baptism." 

Citing various instances, he asserts "that there was not the smallest ground for the self-complacent conviction of the nineteenth century that it was more tolerant than the fifteenth," and notes, regarding the British in Ireland, "Thousands of women, each of them a thousand times less dangerous and terrifying to our Governments than Joan was to the Government of her day, have within the last ten years been slaughtered, starved to death, burnt out of house and home." 

"'Don't argue: do as you are told' has to be said not only to children and soldiers, but practically to everybody. Fortunately most people do not want to argue: they are only too glad to be saved the trouble of thinking for themselves." 

"[C]hildren are never taught contemporary history. Their history books deal with periods of which the thinking has passed out of fashion, and the circumstances no longer apply to active life. For example, they are taught history about Washington, and told lies about Lenin. ...The truth sticks in our throats with all the sauces it is served with: it will never go down until we take it without any sauce at all." 

"I affirm that the nineteenth century, and still more the twentieth, can knock the fifteenth into a cocked hat in point of susceptibility to marvels and miracles and saints and prophets and magicians and fairy tales of all kinds. ... But why the men who believe in electrons should regard themselves as less credulous than the men who believed in angels is not apparent to me." 

"[T]here is not a breath of medieval atmosphere in Shakespear's histories. His John of Gaunt is like a study of the old age of Drake." 

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