A Twinge of Conscience

Ustinov, Peter

  • Peter Ustinov describes his belief that organized religion is oppressive, and that doubt, liberalism, the individual, moral courage, and the privacy of the human conscience are all essential to avoid religious oppression.
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And now, This I Believe, a series of living philosophies presented in the hope they may help to strengthen and enrich your life. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Peter Ustinov is a young English actor, playwright, film director and broadcaster. In the past few years, he has emerged as one of the entertainment world's brightest figures. He left school to study under the famous director Michel Saint-Denis and made his stage debut in 1938 at the age of 17. His career was interrupted--though not completely--by a period of service in the army, during which he was involved in the writing and production of war films. Recently, his play The Love of Four Colonels has been a great success, both in London and New York, and he has achieved
wide acclaim for his portrayal of Nero in the film, Quo Vadis. This is Peter Ustinov's creed.
I must admit at once that I am one of those people who reach their conclusions about faith by a process of elimination rather than as a result of an opening of private heavens. I am aware that there are conventions which believe faith to be as blind and beautiful as love, but even if I cannot subscribe to this, I feel that people like myself, even if incapable of mystical frenzies, have the consolation of being far less dangerous to our fellow men.
Organized religion as such depresses me, in that I can never accept the idea of a church as an agency of God, with different denominations as active in claiming the attention of the layman as are those
corporations who jockey for position in the world of commerce. When this practice of agency reaches the pitch of deciding a child's religion before it is born, I rebel, or rather, my conscience rebels. Parenthood is not a selfish investment. It is a happy accident by which human beings can perform the miracle of creating a character, a conscience, and a mind, the whole served up with identifiable features. I believe that the parents' function is to allow the young mind full rein, so that it may grow up with the dignity of doubt rather than with the servility of imposed convictions.
I resent attempts at conversion by any slave to a sense of mission, be he political or divine. I have nothing against the hermetic mind so long as it is not allied to a moralizing mouth. My grandfather,
whom I never knew, was converted from Orthodoxy to Protestantism. And I believe that had he not done so, I might easily have taken the same step, although, as I said, I find the habit of religion oppressive, and an easy way out of personal thought. It is, in any case, a temperamental difference in the believers which separates the churches, and not a religious difference. If I can't put up with the interfering dogmas, I am prepared and proud to be called a Christian, because it is a convenient and beautiful adjective with which to label the grain of virtue latent in the human conscience. And I'm even willing to be termed a Protestant because the Protestant Church leaves a man alone with his own searching problems and therefore with his mental and emotional dignity.
I believe in doubt and mistrust conviction; I believe in liberalism and detest oppression; I believe in the individual and deny the existence of the so-called masses; I believe in abstract love of country and deplore patriotism; I believe in moral courage and suspect physical courage for its own sake; I believe in the human conscience and deny the right of fanatics or of those with self-created halos to impinge on its necessary privacy.
The mysticism of mortals is an attempt to colonize obscurity for the purpose of religious oppression, while a twinge of conscience is a glimpse of God.
There the beliefs of England's Peter Ustinov. His many talents in the art of the theater are
matched by an incisive, searching mind.