A Lovely Idea

One of my favorite passages from a book...

     Sebastian's faith was an enigma to me at that time, but not one which I felt particularly concerned to solve. I had no religion. I was taken to church weekly as a child, and at school attended chapel daily, but, as though in compensation, from the time I went to my public school I was excused church in the holidays. The view implicit in my education was that the basic narrative of Christianity had long been exposed as a myth, and that opinion was now divided as to whether its ethical teaching was of present value, a division in which the main weight went against it; religion was a hobby which some people professed and others did not; at the best it was slightly ornamental, at the worst it was the province of "complexes" and "inhibitions"--catchwords of the decade--and of the intolerance, hypocrisy, and sheer stupidity attributed to it for centuries. No one had ever suggested to me that these quaint observances expressed a coherent philosophic system and intransigeant historical claims; nor, had they done so, would I have been much interested.

    Often, almost daily, since I had known Sebastian, some chance word in his conversation had reminded me that he was a Catholic, but I took it as a foible, like his Teddy-bear. We never discussed the matter until on the second Sunday at Brideshead, when Father Phipps had left us and we sat in the colonnade with the papers, he surprised me by saying: "Oh dear, it's very difficult being a Catholic."

    "Does it make much difference to you?"

    "Of course. All the time."

    "Well, I can’t say I’ve noticed it. Are you struggling against temptation? You don’t seem much more virtuous than me."

    "I’m very, very much wickeder," said Sebastian indignantly.

    "Well then?"

    "Who was it that used to pray, 'O God, make me good, but not yet'?"

    "I don't know. You I should think."

    "Why, yes, I do, every day. But it isn't that." He turned back to the pages of the News of the World and said, "Another naughty scout-master."

    "I suppose they try to make you believe an awful lot of nonsense?"

    "Is it nonsense? I wish it were. It sometimes sounds terribly sensible to me."

    "But my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all."

    "Can’t I?"

    "I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass."

    "Oh yes. I believe that. It’s a lovely idea."

    "But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea."

    "But I do. That’s how I believe."

-From Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

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