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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Conflict of the Creeds
By Arne Garborg (1851–1924)
From ‘A Freethinker’: Translation of William Henry Carpenter

THE NOISE of carriage wheels increased. The carriage drove up before the door, and all the people of the parsonage sprang up in joy. Ragna however reddened somewhat. A minute after, both Hans Vangen and Eystein Hauk stood in the room. Hans embraced his parents and his sister, and on the surface was happy; Hauk greeted them kindly and warmly like an acquaintance of the family, and bowed deep before Ragna.  1
  “A good evening to you, and a merry Christmas-time!” called out Hans. “Here is the great foreign traveler and wise man Eystein Hauk, and here”—he pointed to the chaplain—“is the strict man of God, Balle; chaplain now, pastor later on, finally bishop; a well-founded theologian and a true support to the Church in these distracted times. It will be well with you if you do not fall into a quarrel about belief.”  2
  There was talking and laughing; the pastor’s wife poured out wine; the new-comers sat down; the table was quickly set, and then they went into the dining-room, where Christmas grits and Christmas fish stood smoking in a great dish and “awaited the help of the people.” The pastor read a blessing, which was not listened to with any further devoutness. Ragna and Balle sat for the most part and looked at Hauk, but Hauk looked at Ragna, and the pastor’s wife said of Hans how he had grown during the past year, and how his good looks and his affability had improved.  3
  The one who talked most at the table was Hans. Hauk was rather silent. The pastor asked him in a few words about his travels abroad; he answered promptly but shortly, and often in such a cleverly turned way of speaking that it was difficult to find out his real meaning.  4
  The chaplain, too, would have liked to hear about foreign lands. What was the state of the Christian religion in France?—Well, it was various. It was there as here: there were people of all sorts.—But was not the great majority unchristian?—Well, of enlightened and learned people it was, to be sure, the smallest part who strictly could be called Christians.—But with morals? Was there not a great deal of social viciousness and impropriety?—Well, if it were only considered under certain conditions, in certain cities, it was probably there as in other places.—Indeed!—Balle, rebuffed, looked away from Hauk, and did not talk with him afterward.  5
  When they left the table there was set out dessert, with wine, and pipes were also brought. The conversation went on as before, but it was none the less Hans who talked most. He was a fresh, happy fellow. His mother sat and found pleasure in looking at him. The pastor and Balle sat and smoked, glanced now and then at Hauk, who was a little way off at a smaller table, talking small-talk with Ragna. The pastor had become more silent, and Balle looked as if he little liked the state of things, although he tried to control himself. Hans understood this, and laughed.  6
  “Do not bother yourself about Hauk,” said he. “He has been in Paris and has learned French manners, and consequently he likes women’s society best; but even if he is a little grand, he will quickly become Norse again, keep to his pipe and his glass, and let the women take care of themselves.”  7
  Balle bit his lips; the pastor smiled a little. “Young people are more bashful here in Norway,” said he. “That is true,” he continued. “You have read the new novel ‘Virginia,’ that the people have waited so long for?”  8
  “‘Virginia’?—pfh! that is a vile book,” answered Hans, and smiled.  9
  “Vile?” said the chaplain questioningly.  10
  “It is a scandalous book! says Christiania. It has set the whole town on end. It works destruction upon marriage, they say; upon morals, upon society. I have never seen Christiania so moral as in these days.”  11
  “H’m!” said Balle; “Christiania is on the whole a moral town.”  12
  “It is at this time! The young poets are happy for all the days of their life. The men forbid the women to read the book, and the women forbid their daughters—”  13
  “And so they all read it together?” said the pastor.  14
  “Certainly! The women read it and say, ‘Paugh! the poets do not know life.’ The daughters, the poor dear angels, they read it and say, ‘Dear me, is that anything? Have we not read worse books than that?’”  15
  “But tell us, then, what the book is about?” said the pastor.  16
  “It is about—that married people shall love each other,” said Hans stoutly.  17
  “Oho! free love!” called out the chaplain.  18
  “Certainly! Free love! ‘All true love is free,’ says the foolhardy fellow of a poet.”  19
  “Do you hear that, pastor?” said Balle.  20
  “If our own poets also take it up, let us have a care! Then he recognizes ‘free thought’; and what then?” asked the chaplain.  21
  “That is true,” replied Hans. “‘All thoughts are free,’ he says, ‘and not merely duty free.’”  22
  “Of course he does not believe in God?”  23
  “I doubt it; but even that is not the worst.”  24
  “Not the—”  25
  “No, for there are many people in Christiania who do not believe in God. But these poets do not even believe in the Devil!” Hans laughed like a child at the face that the chaplain made; the pastor looked severely at Hans, who cast down his eyes and was silent.  26
  “Worthless fruit,” sighed the chaplain. “Our poets have hitherto kept themselves free from these godless thoughts, even if they have not always had the right opinion of Christianity, and particularly have taken up with the confusions of Grundtvigianism; but now, now it has taken another path. Do you see the spirit of revolt, pastor? Do you hear how they rise and tear asunder all its bonds; how opposition arises against all that is high and holy, and they storm even against the foundations of society?”  27
  “May God help us!” sighed the pastor. “It does not look right. Is there anything new in the newspapers?” he asked, as if to get away from a conversation that plainly oppressed him.  28
  Hans ran out, and came quickly in again with the newspapers. Such of these as were French he took for himself, the rest he gave to Balle.  29
  “Do you see, father?” said Hans with the mien of a schoolmaster. “If you will have politics, you must turn to France. All other politics are merely an echo of theirs. France is Europe. France is the world!”  30
  “Do you hear, pastor?” said Balle. “Do you hear how the French spirit spreads and increases in power? the French spirit, which has always been one and the same with rationalism and revolution?”  31
  “Here is an article that will do Balle good!” called out Hans. “It does not assume the good tone or prattle tediously like our Norse newspaper articles. There is fire and burning in it; you recognize something like a clenched fist back of the words, prepared for everything upon which it may hit. That is what I call politics!”  32
  “Oh, you are a foolish fellow,” said the pastor. “Come, out with it!”  33
  Hans read an article against the priestly party or clericals, and the piece was severely radical. It was particularly to the effect that the clergy and Christianity must be ousted from the public schools, if thinkers were to be really for a genuine and sound popular education. Christianity had already done what it could do; hereafter it lay merely in the way. “Freedom and self-government” was the war-cry now, for this generation. They might be fair enough, many of the dreams which the new time compelled us to abandon; but light and life and truth were ten times fairer than all dreams.  34
  The chaplain sat and sulked, and looked into one of the Norse papers. “Here stands the same,” said he. “No, but—? Yes, the same, and yet not the same. The Norse paper has cut out or changed all that treats directly of Christianity; the rest is the same.”  35
  “Ha, ha, ha!” laughed Hans.  36
  “Yes, they are as wise as serpents,” sighed the chaplain. “Here may plainly be seen how the matter stands. It is hidden away in politics, but the spirit they cannot conceal; it is precisely the same French spirit of hell, the spirit of revolt, the spirit of the Devil, which lifts itself against even the living God. Do you see that, pastor? Do you see how wholly these ‘freedom politics,’ as they are called, are held up and impregnated with this godless spirit of revolt? In truth, it becomes more and more clear that it is the part of us, the watchmen of Zion,—more now than ever before,—to watch and pray.”  37
  The pastor sat and meditated. He looked oppressed and sorrowful. It was too quiet for Hans: he moved away to Hauk and Ragna. The chaplain appeared to like this, and became more calm.  38
  “Dear pastor,” said he after a while, “just as surely as there is truth in our work,—yes, this question presses itself more and more in upon me,—as surely as there is truth in our work: that we shall watch over God’s house and people,—we cannot remain silent and be calm when we see a spirit like this coming bearing in upon us—a spirit which is directly founded upon heathenism, and so plainly shows its Satanic origin. Shall it be? Can we answer for that before our Lord and God?”  39
  The pastor was silent. He was in great doubt and uncertainty of mind. “I do not believe that it is right to bring politics into the house of God,” said he at last.  40
  “Politics, no! But this is not politics; this is a spirit of the times, a view of life which takes the outward garb of politics, but at the bottom is merely a new outbreak of the same old heathenism that the Church at all times has had to contend with. I, for my part, do not believe that I can keep silent with a quiet conscience.”  41
  The pastor held his peace and thought. “This is a hard question,” he said finally. “May our Lord give us wisdom!”  42
  “Amen,” said the chaplain….  43
  That night the old pastor did not sleep well. He walked up and down his chamber and thought. “When it comes to the point,” said he to himself, “Balle is right; there is something bad and evil in the spirit of the time; there is something devilish. Merely look, now, at this Eystein Hauk, this clever fine fellow: he is not to be got at. He is frozen to ice and hardened to steel, slippery and smooth as a serpent. There came such an uncanny spirit from him that he made me downright sick: no respect, no veneration even for his own father; God knows how he can hold fast to his Christian faith. They call it freedom, humanity; but it is not that. It is hate, venom, bad blood. They will tear from them all bonds, as Balle says, raise a revolt—revolt against all that is beautiful and good, against God, against belief. H’m! Build the State, this whole earthly life, upon a heathen foundation! Sever connection with Christianity, cast the Church away from them like old trash. That is terrible! And free love, free thought—the Christian religion out of the schools—no! that is Satan himself who rages. Free thoughts in my time were not so: they were warm and beautiful; there was heart in them; they made us good and happy.” He shook himself, as if to throw off a chill. Should one be silent at such things? Should one look quietly on while this evil spirit eats itself in among the people? or should one, like a disciple of God, lift up the sword of the Word and the Spirit against this poisonous basilisk?  44
  He read in the Bible and in Luther. Then he got up again and walked. The clock struck hour after hour, but the old man did not hear it. He thought only of the heavy responsibility. Was it not to profane the house of God and the holy office, to drag the struggle and strife of the day into it? Was he not set to watch over word and teaching, but not to be a judge in the world’s disputes? But of his flock, the people of the Church, the Bride of Christ, whom he should watch, but who stood in the midst of a wicked world, and whose souls were harmed when such evil gusts blew? Would not every soul at the Judgment Day be demanded at his hands? And was he a good shepherd, who indeed kept watch against the wolf when the wolf came having on his right garb, but looked on and was silent when he came clothed in sheep’s garments and pretended to belong among the good? He read anew in Luther. At last he knelt down and prayed for a long time, and ended with a fervent and heartfelt “Our Father.”  45
  Then he arose as if freed from doubt, looked meekly up to heaven, and said, “As thou wilt, O Lord!” He seated himself in his arm-chair, weary but happy, and fell asleep for a while. Presently, however, the day grew gray in the east and he awoke. He read the morning prayers to himself, chose his text, and thought about the sermon. When the bell began to ring he went to church. He was pale, but calm and kindly. The farmers looked at him and greeted him more warmly than usual. The pastor’s wife and Ragna came shortly after; Hans and Eystein did not arrive at the church until the pastor stood in the pulpit.  46
  The Christmas sermon was fervid and good. He spoke about the angels’ song, “Peace on earth.” They had seldom heard the old man preach so well. But at the end came a turn in the thought that caused some astonishment. It was about politics.  47
  “Dear Christians,” he said, “how is it in our days with ‘peace on earth’? Ah, my brothers, we know that all too well. Peace has gone from us. It has vanished like a beautiful evening cloud. Evil powers rise up in these hours. The Devil is abroad, and tempts anew mankind to eat of the tree of knowledge and to tear themselves loose from God. Take heed, take heed, dear brothers! Take heed of the false prophets, who proclaim a new gospel and promise you ‘freedom’ and ‘enlightenment,’ and all that is good,—yes, promise you righteousness and power, if you will eat of the forbidden tree. They give themselves out for sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. They promise you freedom, but they give you thraldom, the thraldom of sin, which is the worst of all. They promise you blessings and joy, but they steal you away from Him who alone has blessings and freedom for our poor race. They promise you security and defense against all tyranny and oppression, but they give you gladly into his power who is the father of all tyranny and of all evil; he who is the destroyer of man from the beginning. Dear Christians, let us watch and pray! Let us prove the spirit, whether it is from God! Let us harden our ears and our hearts against false voices and magic songs that deceive, which come to us out of the dark chasms and abysses in this wicked world! Let us be fearful of this wild and sinful thought of freedom, that from Adam down has been the deep and true source of all our woe! Let us pray for ‘peace on earth,’ for only then can our Lord God have consideration for mankind.” With this he ended his sermon.  48

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