On or back we must go; to stay here is death

This comes from C.S. Lewis’ Miracles.  It is a powerful passage:

“All over the world, until quite modern times, the direct insights of the mystics and the reasonings of the philosophers percolated to the mass of the people by authority and tradition; they could be received by those who were no great reasoners themselves in the concrete form of myth and ritual and the whole pattern of life.

In the conditions produced by a century or so of Naturalism, plain men are being forced to bear burdens which plain men were never expected to bear before.  We must get the truth for ourselves or go without it. There may be two explanations for this.  It might be that humanity, in rebelling against tradition and authority, has made a ghastly mistake, a mistake which will not be the less fatal because the corruptions of those in authority rendered it very excusable.  On the other hand, it may be that the Power which rules our specie is at this moment carrying out a daring experiment.

Could it be intended that the whole mass of the people should now move forward and occupy for themselves those heights which were once reserved only for the sages?  Is the distinction between wise and simple to disappear because all are now expected to become wise?  If so, our present blunderings would be but growing pains. But let us make no mistake about our necessities.  If we are content to go back and become humble plain men obeying a tradition, well.  If we are ready to climb and struggle on till we become sages ourselves, better still.  But the man who will neither obey wisdom in others nor adventure for her/himself is fatal. [emphasis added]

A society where the simple many obey the few seers can live; a society where all were seers could live even more fully. But a society where the mass is still simple and the seers are no longer attended to can achieve only superficiality, baseness, ugliness, and in the end extinction.  On or back we must go; to stay here is death.”

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