It is largely because of this tendency that, when changes are to be made, they are made if possible by adapting old institutions to new ends: as a result, though the outward form of institutions persists, their content often changes. For instance, in the United States, opinion has now so shifted that a man’s living consecutively with as many as half a dozen women is tolerated, thus reproducing, in one respect at least, the morality of third century Ireland. But this has been contrived without abandoning the forms of Christian marriage by the simple process of making divorce easier. While the marriage service retains, almost unaltered, its mediaeval form and wording, and asserts its claim to be a sacrament unto death, yet it becomes in such cases little more than a device for legalizing fornication.
Another of these basic assumptions is that religion must, in this country, always take a patrist, non-ecstatic form. How deeply this assumption is embedded is revealed by the claim, so often made, that democracies enjoy freedom of worship. In reality, we only tolerate the practice of father-religions, such as those of Jehovah or Mahomet. Anyone who was so rash as to attempt to practise the rites of the mother religions in any centre of population in Great Britain or the United States would instantly be arrested for insulting behaviour or keeping a disorderly house. When a sect practising phallic snakes worship, with almost the precise rites of Dionysos, was discovered in Kentucky a few years ago, there was a nationwide scandal, and it was suppressed.
For us in Britain, the claim to allow freedom of worship is particularly ironic, since we are the founders of an empire in which six out of every seven of the Queen’s subjects still worship fertility deities — a fact which perhaps explains why the Pakistan Government recently refused to recognize the Queen’s claim to be Defender of the Faith. (244) To pride ones self on maintaining religious freedom while outlawing the rites of hundreds of millions of people is a truly British feat of self-hypnotism.
The point is by no means a hypothetical one, for as Havelock Ellis has recorded, when a certain W. J. Chidley publicly advocated that the sexual act should be regarded as noble and even holy, and that it should be performed publicly, on suitable occasions, without shame, the Australian police chose to regard him as insane and he was locked up. (75) Two millennia before, the emphasis would have been exactly reversed.