Almost a century ago, the British novelist Arnold Bennett, musing about the real meaning of Christmas for an era troubled by spiritual doubt, wrote:
An age of skepticism has its faults, like any other age, though certain persons have pretended the contrary. Having been compelled to abandon its belief in various statements of alleged fact, it lumps principles and ideals with alleged facts, and hastily decides not to believe in anything at all. It gives up faith, it despises faith, in spite of the warning of its greatest philosophers, including Herbert Spencer, that faith of some sort is necessary to a satisfactory existence in a universe full of problems which science admits it can never solve. None were humbler than the foremost scientists about the narrowness of the field of knowledge, as compared with the immeasurability of the field of faith. But the warning has been ignored, as warnings nearly always are. Faith is at a discount. And the qualities which go with faith are at a discount; such as enthusiasm, spontaneity, ebullition, lyricism, and self-expression in general. Sentimentality is held in such horror that people are afraid even of sentiment. Their secret cry is: 'Give us something in which we can believe.'
They forget, in their confusion, that the great principles, spiritual and moral, remain absolutely intact. They forget that, after all the shattering discoveries of science and conclusions of philosophy, mankind has still to live with dignity amid hostile nature, and in the presence of an unknowable power and that mankind can only succeed in this tremendous feat by the exercise of faith and of that mutual goodwill which is based in sincerity and charity. They forget that, while facts are nothing, these principles are everything. And so, at that epoch of the year which nature herself has ordained for the formal recognition of the situation of mankind in the universe and of its resulting duties to itself and to the Unknown --- at that epoch, they bewail, sadly or impatiently or cynically: 'Oh! The bottom has been knocked out of Christmas!'
But the bottom has not been knocked out of Christmas. And people know it. Somewhere, in the most central and mysterious fastness of their hearts, they know it. If they were not, in spite of themselves, convinced of it, why should they be so pathetically anxious to keep alive in themselves, and to foster in their children, the Christmas spirit? Obviously, a profound instinct is for ever reminding them that, without the Christmas spirit, they are lost. The forms of faith change, but the spirit of faith, which is the Christmas spirit, is immortal amid its endless vicissitudes. At a crisis of change, faith is weakened for the majority; for the majority it may seem to be dead. It is conserved, however, in the hearts of the few supremely great and in the hearts of the simple. The supremely great are hidden from the majority; but the simple are seen of all men, and them we encourage, often without knowing why, to be the depositaries of that which we cannot ourselves guard, but which we dimly feel to be indispensable to our safety.
(From Chapter II of Friendship and Happiness by Arnold Bennett, first published ca. 1905 under the title "The Feast of St. Friend". See also My Business, the ^zhurnal note of 30 May 1999 quoting from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.)
Saturday, December 23, 2000 at 06:27:45 (EST) = Datetag20001223