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“Religion operates in different ways in different persons. It hardens some natures to pride and bigotry; it softens others to sentimentality and a refusal to confront life’s sterner demands. Some it inexplicably irradiates; some it brutalizes. Religion may be as Professor Freud said, civilization’s greatest illusion. If that is so, it may be thought of as resembling a sun long extinct whose rays still continue to warm, animate, and inspirit the minds of men. It instilled fear and awe in the cave-dwellers; it offered the image of an overwatching Eye; it became identified with all those dawning ideas of order and morality, of the ‘good’ and the ‘bad,’ of rewards and penalties. For thousands of years it has played a large part in the public and private life of mankind. Truth or illusion, it is ingrained in the human mind. There are two characteristics of men and women of religious conviction that have often been remarked. The first is their way of viewing the facts of the daily life—our humble daily life —as freighted with the greatest importance, particularly in relation to the future. Everything is under that overwatching Eye; everything is on a Grand Scale. Such men and women are seldom able to transmit to their children the conviction that illuminates them, but in that charged cell, which is family life —in that enclosed space of finely tuned acoustics—they transmit the concept of scale. Their children learn to think big, to make large demands on life, on themselves, and on others. This ‘scale’ has not necessarily any spiritual qualifications; it’s enough that it’s big, big. Hence the phrase ‘Beware of sharks and missionaries’ children.’ ” – Thornton Wilder, “New Haven, 1920” (emphasis in original)

Published inLit & CritVerandah

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