Irregular Religions Essay

1292 words - 5 pages

Perhaps the strongest basis for one critic’s belief that Major Barbara had “an utter want of the religious sense” comes from the morality and adopted religion of Andrew Undershaft. An armorer, Undershaft founded his creed on the belief that “honor, justice, truth, [and] mercy” are “graces and luxuries of a rich, strong, and safe life” (93). To Undershaft, social problems such as sloth and drunkenness can be traced back to poverty, for a man’s “first duty, to which every other consideration should sacrificed, is not to be poor” (15). Shaw makes this point clearly in the play’s preface, and argues his own cynical views through the mouth of Undershaft. Shaw explains through Undershaft that poverty is “the worst of all crimes” (142). The impoverished “poison [the country] morally and physically” – “they force [those not poor] to do away with [their] own liberties and to organize unnatural cruelties for fear that [the poor] should rise against [the wealthy] and drag [the wealthy] down into their abyss” (142). Life has proven to Undershaft that money is a God on Earth; money allowed him to raise his family comfortably despite the less-than-reputable source from which he obtained it (namely, war). Because his faith of money and gunpowder is unconventional in its generally strict focus on the economic aspects of life, the faith leaves little room for the traditional spiritualism and morality of religion. Undershaft admits that he would not have the income of a poor man for all his conscience (88). In Undershaft’s religion, typical morality – that is, earning money in a respectable way, believing death and destruction are abominations, and seeing God as that which rules the world – has no place. Undershaft takes advantage of “the retrograde element in Christendom” of suppression (14), seen from the beginning of Christianity as white people imposed religion on slaves to the modern factory where Undershaft takes the result of the factory’s hierarchy – “a colossal profit” (127). He has learned to treat his workers well enough for them to remain calm while maximizing his profits. The false Christianity “which enjoins [men] to resist not evil, and to turn the other cheek, would make [Undershaft] a bankrupt” (71).
However, even Undershaft is graced with a spiritual side. Shaw admits of Undershaft’s character that “he is only the instrument of a Will or Life Force which uses him for purposes wider than his own,” a consciousness “all genuinely religious people have” (22).

Though Shaw expresses his cynical views through Undershaft and the darkness of the world through the impoverished of West Ham, he chose – not by accident – the leading character to be Barbara, a spiritual woman through which shines hope. Barbara believes that through goodness, prayer, and a conscious change of character, redemption of a man’s soul is possible. Unfortunately, this, to Shaw, is not a typical view of religion either. In the play’s preface he discusses...

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