27/3/16

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In calm theological reasoning, he could demonstrate, in the dryest tone, that, if the eternal torment of six bodies and souls were absolutely the necessary means for preserving the eternal blessedness of thirty-six, benevolence would require us to rejoice in it, not in itself considered, but in view of greater good. And when he spoke, not a nerve quivered; the great mysterious sorrow with which the creation groaneth and travaileth, the sorrow from which angels veil their faces, never had touched one vibrating chord either of body or soul; and he laid down the obligations of man to unconditional submission in a style which would have affected a person of delicate sensibility much like being mentally sawn in sunder. Benevolence, when Simeon Brown spoke of it, seemed the grimmest and unloveliest of Gorgons; for his mind seemed to resemble those fountains which petrify everything that falls into them." - Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Minister's Wooing


Stowe is talking here about the Calvinism of early-19th-century New England, but I never realized how much the utilitarianism of Internet Rationalism has in common with that kind of Calvinism -- mostly, in that its believers are particularly eager to congratulate themselves on being tough-minded enough to do the math and very nobly accept the sacrifices of somebody else for the greater good.

Stowe is a much better writer than she's generally given credit for, I think; mostly I hear her talked about as if she's only important for her advocacy of abolition; but actually her style's a lot more graceful and readable than a lot of 19th century writers with better reputations, even if I'm not particularly jazzed about reading a 500-page 19th-century novel about Calvinism. (It IS pretty racist. But not more so than any other 19th century novel by a white author.)

(I have been working through this MIT OpenCourseWare syllabus on American women authors, and this is the end of it, because I already read The House of Mirth.)

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