In trying to formulate what I believe I have to begin with what I disbelieve. I disbelieve in progress, the pursuit of happiness and all the concomitant notions and projects for creating a society in which human beings find ever greater contentment by being given in ever greater abundance the means to satisfy their material and bodily hopes and desires. In other words, I consider that the way of life in urbanised, rich countries, as it exists today, and as it is likely to go on developing, is probably the most degraded and unillumined ever to come to pass on earth. The half-century in which I have been consciously alive seems to me to have been quite exceptionally destructive, murderous and brutal. More people have been killed and terrorised, more driven from their homes and native places; more of the past’s heritage has been destroyed, more lies propagated and base persuasion engaged in, with less compensatory achievement in art, literature and imaginative understanding, than in any comparable period of history.

Ever since I can remember, the image of earthly power, whether in the guise of schoolmaster, mayor, judge, prime minister, monarch or any other, has seemed to me derisory. I was enchanted when I first read in the Pensees (Pascal being one of the small, sublime band of fellow-humans to whom one may turn and say in the deepest humility: ‘I agree’) about how magistrates and rulers had to be garbed in their ridiculous ceremonial robes, crowns and diadems. Otherwise, who would not see through their threadbare prentensions? I am conscious of having been ruled by buffoons, taught by idiots, preached at by hypocrites and preyed upon by charlatans in the guise of advertisers and other professional persuaders, as well as by verbose demagogues and ideologues of many opinions, all false.

Nor, as far as I am concerned, is there any recompense in the so-called achievements of science. It is true that in my lifetime more progress has been made in unravelling the composition and mechanism of the material universe than previously in the whole of recorded time. This does not at all excite my mind, or even my curiosity. The atom has been split; the universe has been discovered, and will soon be explored. Neither achievement has any bearing on what alone interests me—why life exists, and what is the significance, if any, of my minute and so transitory part in it. All the world in a grain of sand; all the universe too. If I could understand a grain of sand I should understand everything. Why, then, should going to the moon and Mars, or spending a holiday along the Milky Way, be expected to advance me farther in my quest than going to Manchester and Liverpool, or spending a holiday in Brighton?
Education, the great mumbo-jumbo and fraud of the age, purports to equip us to live, and is prescribed as a universal remedy for everything, from juvenile delinquency to premature senility. For the most part, it only serves to enlarge stupidity, inflate conceit, enhance credulity and put those subjected to it, at the mercy of brain-washers with printing presses, radio and television at their disposal. I have seen pictures of huge, ungainly, prehistoric monsters who developed such a weight of protective shell that they sank under its burden and became extinct. Our civilisation likewise is sinking under the burden of its own wealth, and the necessity to consume it; of its own happiness, and the necessity to provide and sustain the fantasies which embody it; of its own security, and the ever more fabulously destructive nuclear devices considered essential to it. Thus burdened, it, too, may well soon become extinct. As this fact sinks into the collective consciousness, the resort to drugs, dreams, fantasies and other escapist devices, particularly sex, becomes ever more marked.
Living thus in the twilight of a spent civilisation, amidst its ludicrous and frightening shadows, what is there to believe? Curiously enough, these twilit circumstances provide a setting in which, as it seems to me, the purpose which lies behind them stands out with particular clarity. As human love only shines in all its splendour when the last tiny glimmer of desire has been extinguished, so we have to make the world a wilderness to find God in it. The meaning of the universe lies beyond history, as love lies beyond desire. That meaning shines forth in moments of illumination (which come and go so unaccountably; though, I am thankful to say, never quite ceasing—a sound as of music, far, far away, and drowned by other more tumultuous noises, but still to be faintly and fitfully heard) with an inconceivable clarity and luminosity. It breaks like a crystalline dawn out of darkness, and the deeper the darkness the more crystalline the dawn.