Dorothy Sayers to “Average People”: Go Away.

Writing to “average people” about Christianity, Dorothy Sayers wrote:

The only letter I ever want to address to average people is one that says: Why don’t you take the trouble to find out what is Christianity and what isn’t? Why, when you can better yourself to learn technical terms about electricity, won’t you do as much for theology before you begin to argue?

Why do you never read either the ancient or the modern authorities in the subject, but take your information for the most part from biologists and physicists who have picked it up as inaccurately as yourselves? Why do you accept mildewed old heresies as bold and constructive contributions to modern thought when any handbook on Church History would tell you where they came from?

Why do you complain that the proposition that God is three-in-one is obscure and mystical and yet acquiesce meekly in the physicist’s fundamental formula, “2P-PQ equals IH over 2 Pi where I equals the square root of minus 1,” when you know quite well that the square root of minus 1 is paradoxical and Pi is incalculable?

What makes you suppose that the expression “God ordains” is narrow and bigoted whereas the expressions “nature provides” or “science demands” are objective statements of fact?

You would be ashamed to know as little about internal combustion as you do about beliefs. I admit that you can practice Christianity without knowing much about theology, just as you can drive a car without understanding internal combustion. But if something breaks down in the car, you humbly go to the man who understands the works, whereas if something goes wrong with religion you merely throw the creed away and tell the theologian he is a liar.

Why do you want a letter from me telling you about God? You will never bother to check up on it and find out whether I am giving you a personal opinion or the Church’s doctrine. Go away and do some work.

Yours very sincerely,
Dorothy L. Sayers

I found this letter attributed to Dorothy Sayers in a 1964 paper by William Greenlee on “Reference and Research in a Theological Library” (American Theological Library Association Summary of Proceedings. 18: 70-79). I may post some observations in the coming days about how research in a theological library has changed in the last forty years, but today I thought I would reproduce this letter to “average people.” Greenlee attributes Geddes MacGregor, Introduction to Religious Philosophy, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1959), pp. 11-12, which I have verified, but MacGregor in turn gives no citation of his source.

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