First and Last Things by H. G. Wells, is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here . A DILEMMA A DILEMMA. We are led by this discussion of secession straight between the horns of a moral dilemma. We have come to two conclusions; to secede is a grave sin, but to lie is also a grave sin. But often the practical alternative is between futile secession or implicit or actual falsehood. It has been the instinct of the aggressive controversialist in all ages to seize upon collective organizations and fence them about with oaths and declarations of such a nature as to bar out anyone not of his own way of thinking. In a democracy, for example, to take an extreme caricature of our case, a triumphant majority in power, before allowing anyone to vote, might impose an oath whereby the leader of the minority and all his aims were specifically renounced. And if no country goes so far as that, nearly all countries and all churches make some such restrictions upon opinion. The United States, that land of abandoned and receding freedoms, imposes upon everyone who crosses the Atlantic to its shores a childish ineffectual declaration against anarchy and polygamy. None of these tests exclude the unhesitating liar, but they do bar out many proud and honest minded people. They “fix” and kill things that should be living and fluid; they are offences against the mind of the race. How is a man then to behave towards these test oaths and affirmations, towards repeating creeds, signing assent to articles of religion and the like? Do not these unavoidable barriers to public service, or religious work, stand on a special footing? Personally I think they do. I think that in most cases personal isolation and disuse is the greater evil. I think if there is no other way to constructive service except through test oaths and declarations, one must take then. This is a particular case that stands apart from all other cases. The man who preaches a sermon and pretends therein to any belief he does not truly hold is an abominable scoundrel, but I do not think he need trouble his soul very greatly about the barrier he stepped over to get into the pulpit, if he felt the call to preach, so long as the preaching be honest. A Republican who takes the oath of allegiance to the King and wears his uniform is in a similar case. These things stand apart; they are so formal as to be scarcely more reprehensible than the falsehood of calling a correspondent “Dear,” or asking a tiresome lady to whom one is being kind and civil, for the pleasure of dancing with her. We ought to do what we can to abolish these absurd barriers and petty falsehoods, but we ought not to commit a social suicide against them. That is how I think and feel in this matter, but if a man sees the matter more gravely, if his conscience tells him relentlessly and uncompromisingly, “this is a lie,” then it is a lie and he must not be guilty of it. But then I think it ill becomes him to be silently excluded. His work is to clamour against the existence of the barrier that wastes him. I do not see that lying is a fundamental sin. In the first place some lying, that is to say some unavoidable inaccuracy of statement, is necessary to nearly everything we do, and the truest statement becomes false if we forget or alter the angle at which it is made, the direction in which it points. In the next the really fundamental and most generalized sin is self-isolation. Lying is a sin only because self-isolation is a sin, because it is an effectual way of cutting oneself off from human co-operation. That is why there is no sin in telling a fairy tale to a child. But telling the truth when it will be misunderstood is no whit better than lying; silences are often blacker than any lies. I class secrets with lies and cannot comprehend the moral standards that exonerate secrecy in human affairs. To all these things one must bring a personal conscience and be prepared to examine particular cases. The excuses I have made, for example, for a very broad churchman to stay in the Church might very well be twisted into an excuse for taking an oath in something one did not to the slightest extent believe, in order to enter and betray some organization to which one was violently hostile. I admit that there may be every gradation between these two things. The individual must examine his special case and weigh the element of treachery against the possibility of co-operation. I do not see how there can be a general rule. I have already shown why in my own case I hesitate to profess a belief in God, because, I think, the misleading element in that profession would outweigh the advantage of sympathy and confidence gained. About HackerNoon Book Series: We bring you the most important technical, scientific, and insightful public domain books. This book is part of the public domain. H. G. Wells (2009). First and Last Things: A Confession of Faith and Rule of Life. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved October 2022, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/4225/4225-h/4225-h.htm This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org , located at https://www.gutenberg.org/policy/license.html .