Monday, August 24, 2009

The Razor's Edge and Rhazes

After writing yesterday about two realisations of Christianity, I remembered the following passages from 'The Razor's Edge', by Somerset Maugham, a writer I admire greatly.

First he tells this story.

" Do you remember how Jesus was led into the wilderness and fasted forty days? Then, when he was a-hungered, the devil came to him and said: If thou be the son of God, command these stones be made bread. But Jesus resisted the temptation.
Then the devil set him on a pinnacle of the temple and said to him: If thou be the son of God, cast thyself down. For angels had charge of him and would bear him up. But again Jesus resisted.
Then the devil took him into a high mountain and showed him the kingdoms of the world and said that he would give them to him if he would fall down and worship him. But Jesus said: Get thee hence, Satan.

That's the end of the story according to the good simple Matthew. But it wasn't.

The devil was sly and he came to Jesus once more and said: If thou wilt accept shame and disgrace, scourging, a crown of thorns and death on the cross, thou shalt save the human race, for greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Jesus fell.
The devil laughed till his sides ached, for he knew the evil men would commit in the name of their redeemer."

Then, a few paragraphs later, he reflects.

"I diverted myself idly with the idea that had sprung so unexpectedly into my mind. I played with it.
I couldn't but surmise that the devil, looking at the cruel wars that Christianity has occasioned, the persecutions, the tortures that Christian has inflicted on Christian, the unkindness, the hypocrisy, the intolerance, must consider the balance sheet with complacency.
And when he remembers that it has laid upon mankind the bitter burden of the sense of sin that has darkened the beauty of the starry night and cast a baleful shadow on the passing pleasures of a world to be enjoyed, he must chuckle as he murmurs: Give the devil his due."

I remembered too the supreme wisdom attributed to Rhazes - Muhammad ibn Zakaria Al-Razi - that great tenth century physician in Baghdad.

Human reason and experience alone give reliable knowledge;
The way of philosophy is open to all abuses;
Claims of divine revelation are false;
Religions are dangerous.

Maugham surely expands Rhazes' fourth point.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love that passage from the Razor's Edge too.