Page 140 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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“Mene, Tekel, U pharsin ,” so opens
Conventional Lies
as N ordau ,
a H ungarian Jew living in Paris, compares civilization’s calami­
tous state o f affairs to an “immense hospital-ward, the air is filled
with groans and lamentations, and every form o f suffering is to be
seen twisting and tu rn ing on the beds.”2Wherever one looks, atti­
tudes characterized by envy, skepticism, pessimism, and disaffec­
tion lead to social turmoil, seen in revolutionary socialism,
nihilism, and anti-Semitism. On the personal level, relief is sought
by means o f altered states o f consciousness th rough opium ,
morph ine , or alcohol, and also by alarm ing numbers o f suicides.
In short, the basic problem is one o f failing to adjust “ou r outward
lives into harmony with ou r inward convictions.” As ou tlined by
Nordau in the preface to the first edition, “the presen t social,
political and economic institutions are utterly at variance with the
views and conceptions o f the universe based upon natu ra l
science, and therefo re untenable and doomed to destruc tion .”
As a confirmed freeth inker , N o rdau ’s abusive scorn for all
forms o f established religion permeates his analysis o f the lie o f
religion. To Nordau , “Religion is in fact a physical relic o f the
childhood o f the hum an race.” By this is meant tha t prehistoric
man’s fear of n a tu re ’s malevolent forces has persisted to the pres­
en t day in the misplaced belief in an an th ropom o rph ic God
whose worship is perpe tua ted by the “rankest heathenism” con­
tained in the oriental concoction called the Holy Bible. Holy
water, therefore, cannot withstand N o rdau ’s rationalist scrutiny
as it is patently no d ifferen t than ord inary household water.
Whereas enlightened n ine teenth-century man has increasingly
come to deny God’s existence as a monstrous lie, the very same lie
is perpe tua ted in state suppo rt o f religious institutions and func­
tionaries. This sham is fu r th e r com pounded in the so-called
divine righ t o f kings by which cross and sword are profitably
allied to preserve absolute monarchy u n d e r the facade o f “by the
grace o f God.” Nordau is equally scornful o f the disingenuous
constitutional monarchies tha t p re tend to rep resen t the will o f
the people but are in fact controlled by the hered itary aristocracy
and assorted sycophants. For his scathing indictment o f the p re ­
2 All references and quote from
The Conventional Lies o f Our Civilization
are from
the authorized edition published by L. Schick, Chicago, 1884, translated from
the seventh edition o f the German original,
Die Konventionellen Liigen der