Tuesday, March 22, 2011

sheep and goats

An excerpt from Uncle Tom's Cabin.  The dialogue takes place after the death of St. Clare's daughter, and (though he doesn't realize it) only a few hours before his own.  I read this particular portion of the book a few weeks ago, while lying on my couch (ahem), during commercial breaks while watching The Counterfeiters about courage and resistance in a WWII concentration camp so I guess that made it extra super poignant. 

"What a sublime conception is that of a last judgment!" said he, --"a righting of all the wrongs of ages!—a solving of all moral problems, by an unanswerable wisdom!  It is, indeed, a wonderful image."
"It is a fearful one to us," said Miss Ophelia.
"It ought to be to me, I suppose," said St. Clare stopping, thoughtfully.  "I was reading to Tom, this afternoon, that chapter in Matthew that gives an account of it, and I have been quite struck with it.  One should have expected some terrible enormities charged to those who are excluded from Heaven, as the reason; but no—they are condemned for not doing positive good, as if that included every possible harm."
"Perhaps," said Miss Ophelia, "it is impossible for a person who does no good not to do harm."
"And what," said St. Clare, speaking abstractedly, but with deep feeling, "what shall be said of one whose own heart, whose education, and the wants of society, have called in vain to some noble purpose; who has floated on, a dreamy, neutral spectator of the struggles, agonies, and wrongs of man, when he should have been a worker?"
"I should say," said Miss Ophelia, "that he ought to repent, and begin now."
"Always practical and to the point!" said St. Clare, his face breaking out into a smile.   "You never leave me any time for general reflections, Cousin; you always bring me short up against the actual present; you have a kind of eternal now, always in your mind."
"Now is all the time I have anything to do with," said Miss Ophelia.
"My view of Christianity is such," he added, "that I think no man can consistently profess it without throwing the whole weight of his being against this monstrous system of injustice that lies at the foundation of all our society; and, if need be, sacrificing himself in the battle.  That is, I mean that I could not be a Christian otherwise, though I have certainly had intercourse with a great many enlightened and Christian people who did no such thing; and I confess that the apathy of religious people on this subject, their want of perception of wrongs that filled me with horror, have engendered in me more scepticism than any other thing."
"If you knew all this," said Miss Ophelia, "why didn't you do it?"
"O, because I have had only that kind of benevolence which consists in lying on a sofa, and cursing the church and clergy for not being martyrs and confessors.  One can see, you know, very easily, how others ought to be martyrs."
"Well, are you going to do differently now?" said Miss Ophelia.
"God only knows the future," said St. Clare.  "I am braver than I was, because I have lost all; and he who has nothing to lose can afford all risks."
"And what are you going to do?"
"My duty, I hope, to the poor and lowly, as fast as I find it out," said St. Clare, "beginning with my own servants, for whom I have yet done nothing; and, perhaps, at some future day, it may appear that I can do something for a whole class; something to save my country from the disgrace of that false position in which she now stands before all civilized nations."

No comments:

Post a Comment