The Life Force Speaks to G.B.S. Out of the Evolutionary Whirlwind

bernard-shaw-on-self-effacement
In our last post, we touched on Bernard Shaw’s all but single-handed creation of a “religion of the future”: Life Force Worship. Not surprisingly, a faith in which God does not exist (yet) was not widely welcomed by the conventionally religious. Perhaps more surprising is the animus Shaw got from the scientifically literate—an animus that still persists today.

Shaw’s friend H. G. Wells, himself a former pupil of T. H. (“Darwin’s Bulldog”) Huxley, told Shaw that his religion embodied “an almost encyclopedic philosophical and biological ignorance.” And Richard Dawkins remembers with shame that “my own appreciation of Darwinism as a teenager was held back for at least a year by Shaw’s bewitching rhetoric in Back to Methuselah.”

Why such hostility? In the spirit of Story, let’s play with this question in a free-verse fable — with an accompanying video …

He was sitting there minding his own business and trying his best to write a potboiler replete with adulterous affairs and a couple of good sword fights when it had him round the throat again demanding:

“How dare you disobey me thus:
I who made the fish to thirst for the air and create nostrils for itself and feet so it could walk upon the earth:
I who made the giraffe to stretch its neck to attain the green beauty of the leaves:
and the mouse to insist on wings and arrange them out of its own flaccid flesh so it might fly in the dark like a bird:
and apes like you to seek more mind out of muddled mute sludge over eons of hit-and-miss attempts:
a mind to be my pilot and my guide and you use it to feed your own greedy face.”

“There you go spewing Lamarckian nonsense again,” said he.
“And if that isn’t bad enough you make me talk it too:
mystical gobbledygoop that flummoxes science and slurs divinity and goads all sentient clusters of cells subscribing to fact or faith to shout ‘Blasphemy!’ from the bowels of billion-year-old lungs:
and who can blame them?
And to make matters worse you make me believe it myself:
you make me a cursed genetic freak and a puncture on the face of life and a damned mutation with no like organism to breed more of my kind with:
you make me to speak with such infernal roundabout wit that my fellow creatures are too delighted by how I say things to pay the first shred of attention to what I have to say:
just as you did with Jesus Christ damn you:
and now I demand to know if I’m to be crucified like he was.”

“Certainly not,” it replied. “You’ll live to be ninety-four.”

“Too old to be martyred and too young to learn,” he moaned.

“Remember the giraffe,” said the Life Force out of the Chaos.

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2 comments on “The Life Force Speaks to G.B.S. Out of the Evolutionary Whirlwind

  1. […] In previous posts, I wrote about Bernard Shaw’s attempt to found an evolution-based religion called Life Force Worship. Shaw’s ideas were based on the pre-Darwinian theories of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Here’s an admittedly crude and cartoonish rendition of the Lamarckian Story: […]

  2. […] Shaw was seeking a new religion that would harmonize with scientific thought. At the same time, he yearned like Bryan for a creed that the materialistic science of his age seemed actively to deny. But did “faith” mean the same thing for Shaw as it did for Bryan? I think they would at least have understood each other’s meaning. […]

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