Androcles and the Lion HTML version

In this play I have represented one of the Roman persecutions of the early
Christians, not as the conflict of a false theology with a true, but as what all such
persecutions essentially are: an attempt to suppress a propaganda that seemed
to threaten the interests involved in the established law and order, organized and
maintained in the name of religion and justice by politicians who are pure
opportunist Have-and-Holders. People who are shown by their inner light the
possibility of a better world based on the demand of the spirit for a nobler and
more abundant life, not for themselves at the expense of others, but for
everybody, are naturally dreaded and therefore hated by the Have-and-Holders,
who keep always in reserve two sure weapons against them. The first is a
persecution effected by the provocation, organization, and arming of that herd
instinct which makes men abhor all departures from custom, and, by the most
cruel punishments and the wildest calumnies, force eccentric people to behave
and profess exactly as other people do. The second is by leading the herd to
war, which immediately and infallibly makes them forget everything, even their
most cherished and hardwon public liberties and private interests, in the
irresistible surge of their pugnacity and the tense pre-occupation of their terror.
There is no reason to believe that there was anything more in the Roman
persecutions than this. The attitude of the Roman Emperor and the officers of his
staff towards the opinions at issue were much the same as those of a modern
British Home Secretary towards members of the lower middle classes when
some pious policeman charges them with Bad Taste, technically called
blasphemy: Bad Taste being a violation of Good Taste, which in such matters
practically means Hypocrisy. The Home Secretary and the judges who try the
case are usually far more sceptical and blasphemous than the poor men whom
they persecute; and their professions of horror at the blunt utterance of their own
opinions are revolting to those behind the scenes who have any genuine
religious sensibility; but the thing is done because the governing classes,
provided only the law against blasphemy is not applied to themselves, strongly
approve of such persecution because it enables them to represent their own
privileges as part of the religion of the country.
Therefore my martyrs are the martyrs of all time, and my persecutors the
persecutors of all time. My Emperor, who has no sense of the value of common
people's lives, and amuses himself with killing as carelessly as with sparing, is
the sort of monster you can make of any silly-clever gentleman by idolizing him.
We are still so easily imposed on by such idols that one of the leading pastors of
the Free Churches in London denounced my play on the ground that my
persecuting Emperor is a very fine fellow, and the persecuted Christians
ridiculous. From which I conclude that a popular pulpit may be as perilous to a
man's soul as an imperial throne.