Sunday, January 13, 2008

Oscar Wilde on Organised Religion

Even though I had finished my last book a couple of days ago, I only just started reading "The Picture of Dorian Gray" in earnest (to pardon the pun). Having read through quite a few of the classics over the last twelve months or so, it has been quite interesting to see the different defining qualities of each of the writer's I have read. While Dostoevsky provides a compelling insight into the psyches of his character, Hugo allows his transcendent use of language to bring the reader into the moment. Wilde, on the other hand has a very acerbic sense of humour about him. If his writing wasn't so witty, I would have found the constant sarcasm fairly ingratiating, but instead I am left with a dry smile. While I don't *always* believe that this sentiment is true (although often it is), I found the following passage particularly amusing:

But beauty, real beauty, ends where intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid. Look at the successful men in any of the learned professions. How perfectly hideous they are! Except of course, in the Church. But then in the Church they don't think. A bishop keeps on saying at the age of eighty what he was told to say when he was a boy of eighteen, and as a natural consequence he always looks absolutely delightful.

I guess that makes me think about the way that we look at the subject of change. Even early in the novel the physically attractive Dorian Gray fears change because he is aware that as time passes by his looks will deteriorate. In like manner the bishop seems to fear change because it will mean the loss of what he wants to believe is perfect. It does not seem to occur to him that it is through change that he might be able to draw nearer to the Perfect. It seems to me that this is like the attitude of many Christians today who guard their understanding of the truth on the basis that God does not change. Yet even if this is true, it can certainly be said that humans change and that God is the driving force behind this change. Indeed for Victor Hugo, God, the changeless agent is the agent of change in the world, both individually and institutionally.

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