By Somerset Maugham[pdf]
I have been reading a collection of short stories by Somerset [thanks Kate for the suggestion] and while I like all the ones I have read, this particular one in a way deals with why I have come to abhor religion and its
We have here a missionary man and his wife who think they have been sent by their god to save the world, from I don’t know what. This man, Davidson, would do everything in his power, even if it means to bankrupt a man to get what he wants. He is the type of man I honestly wouldn’t be too sad if he died.
This particular story is set in a remote island where the Davidsons and a Dr. Macphail and his wife have stopped for a short period after a passenger in the boat they were travelling in is diagnosed with measles. They find lodging in the only sensible lodging house not far from the harbour. Joining them in the guest house is Sadie Thompson, a lady of the night. On several nights, she has guests in her room where they have drinks and play music from her gramophone. This infuriates Davidson who wants her chased out of the house and when this fails, he goes to the governor of the island and has her deported or rather she will be on the first boat that shall set sail from the island.
During the few days to the arrival of the boat, Sadie is brought to her knees by the missionary. She can no longer host anyone or play the gramophone. It is a lonely existence and it’s made worse by the rains which seem never to stop falling. Somerset calls it a deluge. You would think by the time it stops raining, there shall be no more water in the heavens.
Davidson is a heartless man. The pleas by Dr. Macphail and Sadie that he relents fall on deaf ears, even when Sadie tells him she doesn’t want to go to San F for there she will be thrown in jail, he doesn’t relent. He tells her to accept the suffering as an offering at the foot of Jesus. Every time Davidson speaks in this story, I feel like am about to throw up.
On the day of the deportation, his body is found half immersed in water with a slit across his throat. His body is taken to the morgue, the wife and Mrs. Macphail escort her to see the body. When they return they hear the gramophone playing and Sadie seems to have had a rebirth. The ladies pass to go upstairs leaving Dr. Macphail behind. He is enraged, tears of the record and on his way out, they have this conversation
“Say, doc, you can that stuff with me. What the hell are you doin` in my room? “
“What do you mean?” he cried. “What d`you mean?”
She gathered herself together. No one could describe the scorn of her expression or the
contemptuous hatred she put into her answer.
“You men! You filthy, dirty pigs! You`re all the same, all of you. Pigs! Pigs!”
and it finally dawns on us what Davidson had done to her and how he met his death. I say good riddance to the missionaries.
I have now to tell you why I have no sympathies for Davidson. None at all. Listen to him
“You see, they were so naturally depraved that they wouldn’t`t be brought to see their wickedness. We had to make sins out of what they thought were natural actions. We had to make it a sin, not only to commit adultery and to lie and thieve, but to expose their bodies, and to dance and not to come to church. I made it a sin for a girl to show her bosom and a sin for a man not to wear trousers.”
Dr. Macphail asks how he was able to do this and with pride he says
“I instituted fines. Obviously the only way to make people realise that an action is sinful is to punish them if they commit it. I fined them if they didn’t come to church, and I fined them if they danced. I fined them if they were improperly dressed. I had a tariff, and every sin had to be paid for either in money or work. And at last I made them understand.”
In his vanity he continues to say
“You must remember that in the last resort I could expel them from their church membership.”
They couldn`t sell their copra. When the men fished they got no share of the catch. It meant something very like starvation.
All this in the name of doing god’s duty. I am appalled by the things religion can lead a man to. And this isn’t far from what the missionaries did when they came to Africa. And in their wake, they have left most African half educated. They can speak a bit of English and do some math and that’s it. No matter what the stooges in power do, all they do is fucking pray! I hate religion and its peddlers!
Now that you have my very biased opinion of Davidson, here is a very christian meditation on the story.