101 CHRONICLESnThe more pressing question these days is: What happensnto ethics if moraHty is disconnected from nature? Onenanswer seems to be that it dissolves into endless bickeringnover the meaning of words like “good.” Bernard Williams,nan intelligent and honest ethical philosopher, almost throwsnup his hands in something approaching despair. In a recentnbook. Ethics and the Limits of Possibility (Harvard UniversitynPress), Williams seems to be arguing that formal ethicsncan neither convert an immoralist nor establish the superioritynof one value system over another.nWilliams is a stoical and public-spirited gentleman whoncarries on in the face of an unfeeling and largely irrelevantnuniverse. The rest of us may not be so strong. In annunbroken world (or one less smithereened), the scoffer maynstill lead a moral life, confident of the rightness of things.nDavid Hume, who rejected the consolations of faith up tonhis painful end, terrified the credulous and scatterbrainednJames Boswell. Hume, far more than the pathetic Boswell,nwas a man of principle, and he read those principles in thenorder of nature. But when the stars refuse to arrangenthemselves in shapes and legends, when the beasts nonlonger speak in fables, and when the trees no longer havenanything to tell us (as Proust puts it near the end of hisnnovel), then we must, like Proust himself, confine ournattention to the world of men. It is not, however, the hybridnman of our Christian and pagan past—half angel, halfnape—but something that is neither: a self-propelled machine,nwhich—in Marx’s phrase—makes its own history.nThe fate of Lytton Strachey and his friends is an even morenrepellent story. They began by mocking the Victorians onlynto find themselves acting out the less inviting chapters ofnVictorian pornography.nThey and their successors have not even that fatalninsignificance which the pagans attributed to human life—nPubis et umbra sumus—nothing but dust and dreams, fornCandidates for CommitmentnIt is hard to pick up a book thesendays without discovering anothernsurrogate for religion. Esalen andnScientology are among the mostnobvious surrogates, but then there isnMarxism, the Success cults, perhapsneven business franchises likenMary Kay or Shaklee. (Robert Bellahnis rumored to be at work on anbook explaining how the main-linendenominations are actually a religionnsurrogate.) At the turn of thencentury, literary critics and poetsnviewed their work as a matter ofnpicking up where the churches leftnoff, while at least some of thenfounders of sociology saw their rolenin the same light. Perhaps the mostnobvious candidate is psychology.nREVISIONSneven in that declaration, human beings achieve a kind ofnglory. The mechanical men of the philosophers, howevern—of Hobbes and Marx—or of the social engineers—ofnDewey, Watson, and Skinner—or of the sex therapists andnlibertines, need only to be tuned, polished, and occasionallynadjusted; and, when they wear out (and sexual libertariansnwear out at an alarming speed), replaced with annimproved model.nEven men and women of religious faith are not immunenand accept, sometimes with feigned cheerfulness, theirnestrangement from the universe. We must do right notnbecause it is right but because God wills it. There is,notherwise, neither right nor good in the natural world.nInevitably the creation turns stale and foul; at its best,nnothing more than the painted devices of the tempter. Wenhave heard such things before, perhaps in the pages ofnIrenaeus, where he records the opinions of gnostic heretics.nEven the great Origen emasculated himself for fear ofnpleasure. Many modern believers are doing somethingnsimilar to their minds.nIt is small wonder if many of the most passionatenintelligences end up in “despondency and madness.” Thenlist of suicides, drunkards, and lunatics amounts to annhonor role of modernism. To set against it, we can put upnonly a few names like Walter Scott, Goethe, Peguy,nMatthew Arnold, perhaps, and Eliot. We might take anmelancholy comfort in the likelihood that both lists arendwindling down. The quality of souls, as Screwtape observes,nis diminishing, and the net result (God forbid) willnbe the eclipse not merely of sanity, but also of thenhalf-crazed attempts to break out of the asylum we havenbuilt for ourselves.nmost of whose founders had traumaticnbrushes with religion in theirnyouth. John B. Watson’s silly andndangerous Behaviorism was, asnClarence J. Karier makes clear innScientists of the Mind: IntellectualnFounders of Modern Psychology (Urbana:nUniversity of Illinois Press), anreaction against the fundamentalismnof his youth; Jung’s father was antheologian whose faith had beennunsettled by reading Freud; WilliamnJames’s father was a committedn(the mot juste) Swedenborgian;nEdward Thorndike was the son of anMethodist minister; George HerbertnMead’s father was a professor ofnhomiletics; Freud had a pathologicalnfear of Rome (and the CatholicnChurch) . . . and so on.nDespite the great disparities innnn—Thomas Flemingntemperament and in the systemsnthey erected, most of the foundersnof psychology (James may be thengreat exception) were convincednthat God was dead, religionndoomed, and the world desperatenfor the salvation offered by theirnown messianic faiths. It is strangenthat there are still more SouthernnBaptists than there are behavioristsnand Freudians. Chesterton once remarked,n”It is the test of a goodnreligion whether you can make anjoke about it.” Baptists and Catholicsnretain their sense of humor,nwhile most psychologists take theirnsystems and flights of fancy verynseriously indeed. If the emperornreally were wearing any clothes, henwould not mind a few jokes aboutnthe cut of his trousers. (TF)n