He demanded something in Latin, and there is no type used by mortal printers large enough to qualify his accent. I humbly indicated that I had no design of changing. But he could not away with such a monstrous attitude. “No, no,” he cried; “you must change. You have come here, God has led you here, and you must embrace the opportunity.”
I made a slip in policy; I appealed to my family affections, though I was speaking to a priest and a soldier, two classes of men circumstantially divorced from the kind and homely ties of life.
“Your father and mother?” cried the priest. “Very well; you will convert them in their turn when you go home.”
I think I see my father’s face! I would rather tackle the Gaetulian lion in his den than embark on such an enterprise against the family theologian.
But now the hunt was up; priest and soldier were in full cry for my conversion; and the work of the Propagation of the Faith. It was an odd but most effective proselyting. They never sought to convince me in argument, where I might have attempted some defense; but took it for granted that I was both ashamed and terrified at my position, and urged me solely on the point of time. Now, they said, when God had led me to our Lady of the Snows, now was the appointed hour.
“Do not be withheld by false shame,” observed the priest, for my encouragement.
For one who feels very similarly to all sects of religion, and who has never been able, even for a moment, to weigh seriously the merit of this or that creed on the eternal side of things, however much he may see to praise or blame upon the secular and temporal side, the situation thus created was both unfair and painful.
I committed my second fault in tact, and tried to plead that it was all the same thing in the end, and we were all drawing near by different sides to the same kind and undiscriminating Friend and Father. That, as it seems to lay-spirits, would be the only gospel worthy of the name. But different men think differently; and this revolutionary aspiration brought down the priest with all the terrors of the law.
He launched into harrowing details of hell. The damned, he said – on the authority of a little book which he had read not a week before, and which, to add conviction to conviction, he had fully intended to bring along with him in his pocket – were to occupy the same attitude through all eternity in the midst of dismal tortures. And as he thus expatiated, he grew in nobility of aspect with his enthusiasm. …….
I was by this time so thoroughly embarrassed that I pled cold feet, and made my escape from the apartment."
I have an acquaintance I see on occasion, and I'm sure he visits to assess my spiritual condition and get me back on his straight and narrow path. I always breath a sigh of relief when he is leaves because, like in the above story, he suspects me of "heresy", and heartily proclaims the "exclusivity" of his path, always proclaims that God has "led him" here and there; he has a way of using "shame and terror of hell" to punctuate his positions, and in general leaves me the worse for his visit. It may be he is the inspiriation for the bumper sticker "God spare me from your followers".
Painting by D. Branchaud.