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Erewhon

17.Ydgrun And The Ydgrunites
In spite of all the to-do they make about their idols, and the temples they build, and the
priests and priestesses whom they support, I could never think that their professed
religion was more than skin-deep; but they had another which they carried with them into
all their actions; and although no one from the outside of things would suspect it to have
any existence at all, it was in reality their great guide, the mariner's compass of their
lives; so that there were very few things which they ever either did, or refrained from
doing, without reference to its precepts.
Now I suspected that their professed faith had no great hold upon them--firstly, because I
often heard the priests complain of the prevailing indifference, and they would hardly
have done so without reason; secondly, because of the show which was made, for there
was none of this about the worship of the goddess Ydgrun, in whom they really did
believe; thirdly, because though the priests were constantly abusing Ydgrun as being the
great enemy of the gods, it was well known that she had no more devoted worshippers in
the whole country than these very persons, who were often priests of Ydgrun rather than
of their own deities. Neither am I by any means sure that these were not the best of the
priests.
Ydgrun certainly occupied a very anomalous position; she was held to be both
omnipresent and omnipotent, but she was not an elevated conception, and was sometimes
both cruel and absurd. Even her most devoted worshippers were a little ashamed of her,
and served her more with heart and in deed than with their tongues. Theirs was no lip
service; on the contrary, even when worshipping her most devoutly, they would often
deny her. Take her all in all, however, she was a beneficent and useful deity, who did not
care how much she was denied so long as she was obeyed and feared, and who kept
hundreds of thousands in those paths which make life tolerably happy, who would never
have been kept there otherwise, and over whom a higher and more spiritual ideal would
have had no power.
I greatly doubt whether the Erewhonians are yet prepared for any better religion, and
though (considering my gradually strengthened conviction that they were the
representatives of the lost tribes of Israel) I would have set about converting them at all
hazards had I seen the remotest prospect of success, I could hardly contemplate the
displacement of Ydgrun as the great central object of their regard without admitting that
it would be attended with frightful consequences; in fact were I a mere philosopher, I
should say that the gradual raising of the popular conception of Ydgrun would be the
greatest spiritual boon which could be conferred upon them, and that nothing could effect
this except example. I generally found that those who complained most loudly that
Ydgrun was not high enough for them had hardly as yet come up to the Ydgrun standard,
and I often met with a class of men whom I called to myself "high Ydgrunites" (the rest
being Ydgrunites, and low Ydgrunites), who, in the matter of human conduct and the
affairs of life, appeared to me to have got about as far as it is in the right nature of man to
go.
 
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