Curing Mad Truths by Rémi Brague

1In this collection of lectures, Brague begins by quoting G. K. Chesterton, “The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” The world exceeds our ability to understand it. Rationalism exhibits an overweening pride and excludes from its purview intuition, feelings, tradition, mystical experience, and even ordinary experience. In order to function we produce simplified models of reality. The rationalist mistakes these models for reality and, at times, even hubristically claims that if something exceeds his ability to understand it, it must not exist. Finding oneself vulnerable to the decisions of someone who has lost access to feelings, including fellow feeling, and moral intuition, and reliant purely on “reason” is a dangerous place to be.

The scholar and poet Giacomo Leopardi claims that reason has a tendency to occupy the whole soul and to push to the last consequences of a train of thought even when it contradicts nature. Thoughts and assumptions have their own logic, some of which can destroy civilization itself. As Leopardi puts it, “Reason must shed light but not commit arson.”[1] He tendentiously, but interestingly, writes, “Reason destroys the illusions without which man cannot live leading thereby to its own contrary, barbarism.”[2] Thus, reason becomes the source of barbarism and this sums up much of modernity. Scientific materialism, for Michel Henry, writes nature in the language of mathematics, but cannot tell us how to live a meaningful life. This is reminiscent of the evolutionary psychologist Edward Dutton’s claim that a belief in a good and moral God is necessary to provide the belief that one is a chosen people whose existence is worth preserving and defending and that having children has some kind of eternal significance. On top of that, sex is an instinct that reason can suppress and it is precisely the smart and educated among us who tend to do so. Reason cannot prove life is worth living, nor that it should be passed on to our children. Thus, the rational predilection for proof can commit the arson about which Leopardi warns. Barbarism predates and gives way to civilization only for civilization to become the victim of its own success and hubris, idolizing reason, science and proof, thereby losing sight of faith and hope in the life to come. Religion comes to be considered the meandering and wayward musings of a child. Continue reading

Apparitions of the Gods

Gods 01 Muses by Andreas Mantegna (1496)

The Muses (1496) by Andreas Mantegna (1431 – 1503)

“The dove – the rood – the loaf – the wine.”

Men know the gods because they have seen or intuited them, but not all men have seen or intuited the gods, and some men are incapable of seeing or intuiting them.  The gods, moreover, sometimes disguise themselves so as to test men, or they appear in and as omens and auguries, which the dull of mind and the wicked of heart invariably either miss entirely through their mental obtuseness or, through self-serving prejudice, blatantly misread.

I. The gods appear in and as their attributes, which again only those who have vested themselves in the proper lore and the requisite discipline can correctly interpret. Who would see the gods must enjoy a gift of pre-attunement, even before he bows under the discipline and engraves the lore in his heart that will let him see them. Such a man is called a poet.  The ancient Boeotian teller of the gods, Hesiod, whom scholars assign to the late Eighth Century or early Seventh Century BC, bears a name that means simply “The” (he or hos) “Poet” (aiodos), suggesting that the Boeotians, or at least those of them in the vicinity of Mt. Helicon, recognized his special talent and accorded him the status owing thereto.  That status may claim itself paramount because the community must communicate with the gods, just as the gods must communicate with the community, and an efficient go-between nicely serves the requirement both ways.  One misthinking modern school argues through Hesiod’s name that any particular poet is a non-existence, as though no one could write a poem, as though poems constituted themselves, authorless, and as though therefore no one really ever saw Hesiod’s gods or heard them speak.  This thesis of a literary fantasy amounts, however, merely to another kind of noetic obtuseness.  Someone wrote Hesiod’s poems, obviously, and if Hesiod were the invention of that someone then that someone nevertheless would have seen Hesiod’s gods – through his invention, as it were, and taking Hesiod’s name, but equally in a vision such that the seeing must guarantee its own authenticity and such that He remains The Poet.

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