Having recently read some of Orwell’s essays, I’m again in this post reflecting on some points that he covers that are worthy of consideration, aligned with the aims of this blog.
One lengthy essay Orwell wrote entitled Such, such were the joys explores the anything but joyous experience he had at St Cyprian’s in the county of Sussex. He was a boarder there in his primary/elementary school years (1911-1916) and it was truly awful. Orwell elaborates on one incident after setting the scene with the following:
“I had learned early in my career that one can do wrong against one’s will and before long I also learned that one can do wrong without ever discovering what one has done or why it was wrong.” (p.435)
Orwell then elaborates on an incident that he was not involved in, but only on much later reflection, decided was something homosexual and presumably a group masturbation.
Regardless of whether they were present or even aware of what had taken place, Orwell states “we were all implicated”. They soon received a lecture on content that seems to have been loosely taken from 1st Corinthians:
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your bodies.
At some point just prior to this lecture, Orwell specifically had been implicated in the incident by someone either making a mistake or dobbing on him. He writes “A feeling of doom descended upon me. So I was guilty too. I too had done the dreadful thing, whatever it was, that wrecked you for life, body and soul, and ended in suicide or the lunatic asylum… the conviction of sin which now took hold of me was perhaps all the stronger because I did not know what I had done…It was not until about two year later that I fully grasped what that lecture on the Temple of the Body had referred to.” (p.436)
Such a disturbing application of the Bible’s teaching to young boys who quite clearly weren’t involved, nor did they have any idea what was going on. Yet, it gets worse. Orwell recounts that he and a few others were blamed for leading the younger boys astray. Another passage of Scripture was quoted:
If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Matthew 18:6
The sickening irony. Orwell and his classmates experienced spiritual abuse, not that anyone would have labelled it that in those days. Those who presented the Bible to Orwell presented it in order to dominate and then just plain confused the poor ‘old chaps’.
In a terrible, round-about way, they practiced what they preached and potentially were the very reason why Orwell stated that “in the New Testament my friends, if any, were Ananias, Caiaphas, Judas and Pontius Pilate.” (p.444)
Most of them are responsible for crucifying Christ, if you’re not aware.
It disturbs me to read about Orwell’s school experiences. It disturbs me in connection with student welfare, but also as a Christian, with the appallingly incorrect presentation of Christianity and Christian living that he received as a ‘little one’.
No wonder he ‘stumbled’. And yet, in his writings, intriguingly I don’t find animosity directed towards religion. Disagreement, yes; but not repulsion.
I think Orwell has a lot to teach us.
Yours in reading essays,
Page numbers taken from this Penguin edition