Why I Am Not A Christian
and other essays on religion and related subjects
By Bertrand Russell
Edited by Paul Edwards
A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, 1957
Essay: Why I Am Not A Christian.
I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world. Page 21.
Essay: What I Believe.
But the defenders of traditional morality are seldom people with warm hearts, as may be seen from the love of militarism displayed by church dignitaries. One is tempted to think that they value morals as affording a legitimate outlet for their desire to inflict pain; the sinner is fair game, and therefore away with tolerance! Page 66.
To live a good life in the fullest sense a man must have a good education, friends, love, children (if he desires them), a sufficient income to keep him from want and grave anxiety, good health, and work which is not uninteresting. All these things, in varying degrees, depend upon the community and are helped or hindered by political events. The good life must be lived in a good society and is not fully possible otherwise. Pages 774-75.
The Victorian age, for all its humbug, was a period of rapid progress, because men were dominated by hope rather than fear. If we are again to have progress, we must again by dominated by hope. Page 79.
A certain amount of work is not a thing to complain of; indeed, in nine cases out of ten, it makes a man happier than complete idleness. But the amount and kind of work that most people have to do at present is a grave evil: especially bad is the lifelong bondage to routine. Life should not be too closely regulated or too methodical; our impulses, when not positively destructive or injurious to others, ought if possible to have free play; there should be room for adventure. Page 85.
But this phase will pass when men have acquired the same domination over their own passions that they already have over the physical forces of the external world. Then at last we shall have won our freedom. Page 87.
Essay: A Free Man’s Worship.
But the vision of beauty is possible only to unfettered contemplation, to thoughts not weighted by the load of eager wishes; and thus freedom comes only to those who no longer ask of life that it shall yield them any of those personal goods that are subject to the mutations of time. Page 110.
The life of man, viewed outwardly, is but a small thing in comparison with the forces of nature. The slave is doomed to worship Time and Fate and Death, because they are greater than anything he finds in himself, and because all his thoughts are of things which they devour. But, great as they are, to think of them greatly, to feel their passionless splendor, is great still. And such thought makes us free men; we no longer bow before the inevitable in Oriental subjection, but we absorb it and make it a part of ourselves. To abandon the struggle for private happiness, to expel all eagerness of temporary desire, to burn with passion for eternal things—that is emancipation, and this is the freeman’s worship. And this liberation is effected by contemplation of Fate; for Fate itself is subdued by the mind which leaves nothing to be purged by the purifying fire of time. Pages 110-115.
Essay: On Catholic and Protestant Skeptics.
The Protestant conception of goodness is of something individual and isolated. I was myself educated as a Protestant, and one of the texts most impressed upon my youthful mind was ‘Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.’ I am conscious that to this day this text influences me in my most serious actions. The Catholic has quite a different conception of virtue: to him there is in all virtue an element of submission, not only to the voice of God as revealed in conscience but also to the authority of the church as the repository of Revelation. This gives to the Catholic a conception of virtue far more social than that of the Protestant and makes the wrench much greater when he severs his connection with the church. Page 119.
One may say, broadly speaking, that Protestants like to be good and have invented theology in order to keep themselves so, whereas Catholics like to be bad and have invented theology in order to keep their neighbors good. Hence the social character of Catholicism and the individual character of Protestantism. Page 123.
Essay: The New Generation.
Perhaps at this point the reader will expect a definition of sin. This, however, offers no difficulty: sin is what is disliked by those who control education. Page 159.
Essay: Our Sexual Ethics.
But I should reply that the question whether a code is good or bad is the same as the question whether or not it promotes human happiness. Page 169.
In the meantime, it would be well if men and women could remember, in sexual relations, in marriage, and in divorce, to practice the ordinary virtues of tolerance, kindness, truthfulness, and justice. Those who, by conventional standards, are sexually virtuous too often consider themselves thereby absolved from behaving like decent human beings. Most moralists have been so obsessed by sex that they have laid much too little emphasis on other more socially useful kinds of ethically commendable conduct. Page 178.
Essay: Freedom and the Colleges.
We are no longer horrified by Quakers, as were the earnest Christians of Charles II’s court, but we are horrified by the men who apply to present-day problems the same outlook and the same principles that seventeenth-century Quakers applied to the problems of their day. Opinions which we disagree with acquire a certain respectability by antiquity, but a new opinion which we do not share invariably strikes us as shocking. Page 183.
Essay: How Bertrand Russell Was Prevented from Teaching at the College of the City of New York.
Whitehead, Dewey, Shapley, Kasner, Einstein—all the nations foremost philosophers and scientists went on record in support of Russell’s appointment. “Great spirits,” Einstein remarked, “have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices by honestly and courageously uses his intelligence.” Page 215.
Professor Cohen aptly remarked that “if this is law, then surely, in the language of Dickens, ‘the law is an ass.’” Page 258
A Short Life of Keirkegaard
By Walter Lowrie
Princeton University Press, 1974 (Fifth Printing)
What I really need is to become clear in my own mind what I must do, not what I must know—except in so far as a knowing must precede every action. The important thing is to understand what I am destined for, to perceive what the Deity wants me to do; the point is to find the truth which is truth for me, to find that idea for which I am ready to live and die. What good would it do me to discover a so-called objective truth, though I were to work my way through the systems of the philosophers and were able, if need be, to pass them in review? … What good would it do me that I were able to develop a theory of the State [like Hegel] and out of particulars fetched from many quarters put together a totality, construct a world wherein again I did not live but which I merely held up to the gaze of others? What good would it do me if I were able to expound the significance of Christianity, to explain many individual phenomena, if for me and for my life it did not have any really profound importance? … What good would it do me that truth stood before me cold and naked, indifferent as to whether I recognized it or not, producing rather a fearful shudder than a trustful devotion? To be sure, I am willing to recognize an imperative of the understanding and to admit persons may be influenced through this; but then it must be livingly embodied in me—and this it is I now recognize as the principal thing. It is for this my soul thirsts as the deserts of Africa thirst for water . . . It was this that I lacked, the experience of leading a complete human life and not merely a life of understanding, so that with this I should not be basing the development of my thought—well, upon something that is called objective, something which at all events is not my own, but I should be basing it upon something connected with the deepest roots of my soul, through which, so to speak, I have grown into the divine nature and cling fast to it even though the whole world collapses. This is what I lack, and towards it I am striving. Pages 82-83.
In his letter to Lund S.K. said, “Here I stand, a great question mark. Here I stand like Hercules—but not at the cross roads, no, here there appears to be a far greater multiplicity of paths, and it is all the more difficult, therefore, to apprehend the right one. This perhaps is precisely the misfortune in my case, that I am interested in too much, and not in anything decisively …” He knew, no one better than he, what it means “to live in possibility,” and for the greater part of his life he continued to live in it, his imagination furnishing him abundantly with the materials for such a life. But he knew too, and was to experience again and again, the despair which results from possibility unchecked by necessity—as he expresses the situation in The Sickness unto Death. At this moment his exuberant sense of freedom was unchecked by necessity—and despair was soon to follow. Page 84.
“It is so difficult to believe,” he said, “because it is so difficult to obey.” Page 86.
In his own experience he discovered that the “aesthetical” life, that is, a life lived for enjoyment, even though it were intellectual enjoyment, leads to despair, in fact is despair, even if the individual is not aware of it. Page 92.
A book which puts to philosophy this personal question must, of course, lay the utmost emphasis upon the personal appropriation of truth. It had already been said in Either/Or, “Only the truth which edifies is truth for you.” And now the Postscript gives this definition: “Objective uncertainty held fast by the personal appropriation of the most passionate inwardness is the truth, the highest truth there is for an existing individual.” But this is also a definition of faith, the faith which is figuratively described by “lying out over a depth of 70,000 fathoms of water and still preserving my faith.” The believer has to be content with “a fighting certainty.” “Without risk there is no faith.” The above definition regards the individual as the standard of truth—not however in the sense of Protagorus, but rather in the sense in which Socrates understood the Delphic maxim, “Know thyself.” “The infinitely interested subjective thinker” is contrasted by Climicus with the speculative philosopher who, as he is proud to claim, disinterestedly seeks to ascertain objective truth without concern about his relation to it.
From another point of view this “subjective” thinking is described as “existential” thinking. In reality, therefore, S.K.’s subjectivism lays greater stress than does speculative philosophy upon an objective world in which the individual exists. To “exist” does not mean simply to be but to stand out from (ex-stare), and that not in the sense of being separate from but intimately connected with the environment from which the individual as an individual stands out. It is important to note the specific meaning of “existence” and “existential” in S.K.’s philosophy, as well as in the so-called Existential Philosophy of Jaspers and Heidegger which confessedly is derived from it. Heidegger seeks to indicate what existence implies by using the expression Da-sein (which we might translate by “thereness”) and in-der-Welt-sein (the fact of being in the world). It is defined by S.K.’s emphatic use of the word “interest” (inter-est), which expresses the fact that we are so intimately involved in the objective world that we cannot be content to regard the truth objectively, i.e. disinterestedly. “It is impossible to exist without passion.” Pages 171-172.
by Albert Camus
Vintage Books, New York, 1972
Translated by Stuart Gilbert
You’ll soon be talking about the interests of the general public. But the public welfare is merely the sum total of the private welfares of each of us. Page 83. (Point: it is easy to focus on the general welfare and forget about the individuals that make it up, which is what governments and politicians do.)
To long this world of ours has connived at evil, too long has it counted on the divine mercy, on God’s forgiveness. Repentance was enough, men thought; nothing was forbidden. Everyone felt comfortably assured; when the day came, he would surely turn from sins and repent. Pending that day, the easiest course was to surrender all along the line; divine compassion would do the rest. For a long while God gazed down on this town with eyes of compassion; but He grew weary of waiting, His eternal hope was too long deferred, and now He has turned His face away from us. And so, God’s light withdrawn, we walk in darkness, in the thick of darkness of this plague. Pages 90-91.
(Discussing the government workers he had to deal with, Rambert states the following to Dr. Rieux:)
In the conversation with Dr. Rieux, Rambert classified the people whom he had approached in various categories. Those who used the arguments mentioned above he called the sticklers [those who stick strictly to rules but ignore the people’s problems]. Besides these there were the consolers, who assured him that the present state of things couldn’t possibly last and, when asked for definite suggestions, fobbed him off by telling him he was making too much fuss about a passing inconvenience. Then there were the very important persons who asked the visitor to leave a brief note of his case and informed him they would decide on it in due course; the triflers, who offered him billeting warrants or gave the addresses of lodgings; the red-tape merchants, who made him fill up a form and promptly interred it in a file; overworked officials, who raised their arms to heaven, and much-harassed officials who simply looked away; and, finally, the traditionalists – these were by far the greatest number – who referred Rambert to another office or recommended some new method of approach. Page 101.
“Do you believe in God, Doctor?”
Again the questin was put in an ordinary tone. But this time Rieux took longer to find his answer.
“No – but what does that really mean? I’m fumbling in the dark, struggling to make something out. But I’ve long ceased finding that original.”
“Isn’t that it – the gulf between Paneloux and you?”
“I doubt it. Paneloux is a man of learning, a scholar. He hasn’t come in contact with death; that’s why he can speak with such assurance of the truth – with a capital T. But every country priest who visits his parishioners and has heard a man gasping for breath on his deathbed thinks as I do. He’d try to relieve human suffering before trying to point out its excellence.” Rieux stood up; his face was now in shadow. “let’s drop the subject,” he said, “as you won’t answer.” Page 119.
The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding. On the whole, men are more good than bad; that, however, isn’t the real point. But they are more or less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance that fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill. Page 124.
“That’s good,” the doctor said. “I’m glad to know he’s better than his sermon.” “Most people are like that,” Tarrou replied. “Its only a matter of giving them the chance.” He smiled and winked at Rieux. “That’s my job in life—giving people chances.” Page 142.
“So you haven’t understood yet?” Rambert shrugged his shoulders almost scornfully.
“Ah!” Rieux exclaimed.
“No, you haven’t understood that it means exactly that—the same thing over and over and over again.”
* * *
“Rather a boring record,” Rambert remarked. “And this must be the tenth time I’ve put it on today.”
“Are you really so fond of it?”
“No, but it’s the only one I have.” And after a moment he added: “That’s what I said ‘it’ was—the same thing over and over again.” Page 152.
However, there’s one thing I must tell you: there’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is—common decency. Page 154.
In any case, if the reader would have a correct idea of the mood of these exiles, we must conjure up once more those dreary evenings sifting down through a haze of dust and golden light upon the treeless streets filled with teeming crowds of men and women. For, characteristically, the sound that rose toward the terraces still bathed in the last glow of daylight, now that the noises of vehicles and motors—the sole voice of cities in ordinary times—had ceased, was but one vast rumor of low voices and incessant footfalls, the drumming of innumerable soles timed to the eerie whistling of the plague in the sultry air above, the sound of a huge concourse of people marking time, a never ending, stifling drone that, gradually swelling, filled the town from end to end, and evening after evening gave its truest, mornfulest expression to the blind endurance that had ousted love from all our hearts. Page 174.
There was nothing to do but to “mark time,” and some hundreds of thousands of men and women went on doing this, through weeks that seemed interminable. . . . And all the time nothing more important befell us than that multitudinous marking time. Page 175.
He, Father Paneloux, refused to have recourse to simple devices enabling him to scale that wall. Thus he might easily have assured them that the child’s sufferings would be compensated for by an eternity of bliss awaiting him. But how could he give that assurance when, to tell the truth, he know nothing about it? For who would dare to assent that eternal happiness can compensate for a single moment’s human suffering? He who asserted that would not be a true Christian, a follower of the Master who knew all the pangs of suffering in his body and his soul. Page 208.
The good man, the man who infects hardly anyone, is the man who has the fewest lapses of attention. And it needs tremendous will-power, a never ending tension of the mind, to avoid such lapses. Yes, Rieux, it’s a wearying business, being plague-stricken. But it’s still more wearying to refuse to be it. That’s why everybody in the world today looks so tired; everyone is more or less sick of plague. But that is also why some of us, those who want to get the plague out of their systems, feel such desperate weariness, a weariness from which nothing remains to set us free except death. Page 236.
And he knew, also, what the old man was thinking as his tears flowed, and he, Rieux, thought it too: that a loveless world is a dead world, and always there comes an hour when one is weary of prisons, of one’s work, and of devotion to duty, and all one craves for is a loved face, the warmth and wonder of a loving heart. Page 243.
Trans. – Justin O’Brien
Vintage Books, 1956
I sometimes think of what future historians will say of us. A single sentence will suffice for modern man: he fornicated and read the papers. After that vigorous definition, the subject will be, if I may say so, exhausted. Pages 6-7.
You have heard, of course, of those tiny fish in the rivers of Brazil that attack the unwary swimmer by thousands and with swift little nibbles clean him up in a few minutes, leaving only an immaculate skeleton? Well, that’s what their organization is. “Do you want a good clean life? Like every body else?” You say yes, of course. How can one say no? “O.K. You’ll be cleaned up. Here’s a job, a family, and organized leisure activities.” And the little teeth attack the flesh, right down to the bone, But I am unjust. I shouldn’t say their organization. It is ours, after all: it’s a question which will clean up the other. Pages 7-8.
Fortunately there is gin, the sole glimmer of light in the darkness. Do you feel the golden, copper-colored light it kindles in you? I like walking through the city of an evening in the warmth of gin. Page 12.
I am well aware that one can’t get along without domineering or being served. Every man needs slaves as he needs fresh air. Commanding is breathing—you agree with me? And even the most destitute manage to breathe. The lowest man in the social scale still has his wife or his child. If he’s unmarried, a dog. The essential thing, after all, is being able to get angry with someone who has no right to talk back. “One doesn’t talk back to one’s father”—you know the expression? In one way it is very odd. To whom should one talk back in this world if not to what one loves? In another way, it is convincing. Somebody has to have the last word. Otherwise, every reason can be answered with another one and there would never be an end to it. Power, on the other hand, settles everything. It took time, but we finally realized that. For instance, you must have noticed that our old Europe at last philosophizes in the right way. We no longer say as in simple times: “This is the way I think. What are your objections?” We have become lucid. For the dialogue we have substituted the communiqué: “This is the truth,” we say. “You can discuss it as much as you want; we aren’t interested. But in a few years there’ll be the police who will show you we are right.” Pages 44-45.
No man is a hypocrite in his pleasures—have I read that or did I think it myself, mon cher compatriots? Page 66.
But to be happy it is essential not to be too concerned with others. Consequently, there is no escape. Happy and judged, or absolved and wretched. Page 80.
Above all, don’t believe your friends when they ask you to be sincere with them. They merely hope you will encourage them in the good opinion they have of themselves by providing them with the additional assurance they will find in your promise of sincerity. How could sincerity be a condition of friendship? A liking for truth at any cost is a passion that spares nothing and that nothing resists. It’s a vice, at times a comfort, or a selfishness. Therefore, if you are in that situation, don’t hesitate: promise to tell the truth and then lie as best you can. You will satisfy their hidden desire and doubly prove your affection.
This is so true that we rarely confide in those who are better than we. Rather, we are more inclined to flee their society. Most often, on the other hand, we confess to those who are like us and who share our weaknesses. Hence we don’t want to improve ourselves or be bettered, for we should first have to be judged in default. We merely wish to be pitied and encouraged in the course we have chosen. In short, we should like, at the same time, to cease being guilty and yet not to make the effort of cleansing ourselves. Not enough cynicism and not enough virtue. We lack the energy of evil as well as the energy of good.. Pages 82-83.
So I looked elsewhere for the love promised by books, which I had never encountered in life. Page 100.
But truth, cher ami, is a colossal bore. Page 101.
Because I longed for eternal life, I went to bed with harlots and drank for nights on end. In the morning, to be sure, my mouth was filled with the bitter taste of the mortal state. Page 102.
But I’ll not insist on that: you know that even very intelligent people glory in being able to empty one bottle more than the next man. I might ultimately have found peace and release in that happy dissipation. But, there too, I encountered an obstacle in myself. This time it was my liver, and a fatigue so dreadful that it hasn’t yet left me. One lays at being immortal and after a few weeks one doesn’t even know whether or not one can hang on till the next day.
The sole benefit of that experience, when I had given up my nocturnal exploits, was that life became less painful for me. The fatigue that was gnawing at my body had simultaneously cauterized many raw spots in me. Each excess decreases vitality, hence suffering. Pages 104-105.
Plato – Euthyphro
It is no small thing for so young a man to have formed an opinion on such an important matter. Socrates, St. I.
Euth. – But, Socrates, I really don’t know how to explain to you what is in my mind. Whatever statement we put forward always somehow moves round in a circle, and will not stay where we put it.
Socr. – I think that your statements, Euthyphro, are worthy of my ancestor Daedalus. If they had been mine and I had set them down, I dare say you would have made fun of me, and said that it was the consequence of my descent from Daedalus that the statements which I construct run away, as his statues used to, and will not stay where they are put. But, as it is, the statements are yours, and the joke would have no point. You yourself see that they will not stay still. St. XIII.
Plato – The Apology
So when I went away, I thought to myself, “I am wiser than this man: neither of us knows anything that is really worth knowing, but he thinks that he has knowledge when he has not, while I, having no knowledge, do not think that I have. I seem, at any rate, to be a little wiser than he is on this point: I do not think that I know what I do not know. St. VI.
So I soon found that it is not by wisdom that the poets create their works, but by a certain instinctive inspiration, like soothsayers and prophets, who say many fine things, but understand nothing of what they say. St. VII.
He among you is the wisest who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is really worth nothing at all. St. IX.
My friend, if you think that a man of any worth at all ought to reckon the chances of life and death when he acts, or that he ought to think of anything but whether he is acting justly or unjustly, and as a good or a bad man would act, you are mistaken. St. XVI.
My good friend, you are a citizen of Athens, a city which is very great and very famous for its wisdom and power—are you not ashamed of caring so much for the making of money and for fame and prestige, when you neither think nor care about wisdom and truth and the improvement of your soul? St. XVII.
There is no man who will preserve his life for long, either in Athens or elsewhere, if he firmly opposes the multitude, and tries to prevent the commission of much injustice and illegality in the state. He who would really fight for justice must do so as a private citizen, not as a political figure, if he is to preserve his life, even for a short time. St. XIX.
And if I tell you that no greater good can happen to a man than to discuss human excellence every day and the other matters about which you have heard me arguing and examining myself and others, and that an unexamined life is not worth living, than you will believe me still less. But that is so, my friends, though it is not easy to persuade you. St. XXVIII.
But now the time has come, and we must go away—I to die, and you to live. Which is better is known to the gods alone. St. XXXIII.
The Doors of Perception
Heaven and Hell
By Aldous Huxley
Perennial Library, Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, 1990
The Doors of Perception
That humanity at large will ever be able to dispense with Artificial Paradises seems very unlikely. Most men and women lead lives at the worst so painful, at the best so monotonous, poor and limited that the urge to escape, the longing to transcend themselves if only for a few moments, is and has always been one of the principle appetites of the soul. Art and religion, carnivals and saturnalia, dancing and listening to oratory—all these have served, in H.G. Wells’s phrase, as Doors in the Wall. And for private, for everyday use there have always been chemical intoxicants. All the vegetable sedatives and narcotics, all the euphorics that grow on trees, that hallucinogens that ripen in berries or can be squeezed from roots—all, without exception, have been known and systematically used by human beings from time immemorial. And to these natural modifiers of consciousness modern science has added it quota of synthetics—chloral, for example, and Benzedrine, the bromides and the barbiturates. Pages 62-63.
We now spend a good deal more on drink and smoke than we spend on education. This, of course, is not surprising. The urge to escape from selfhood and the environment is in almost everyone almost all the time. Page 63.
The universal and ever-present urge to self-transcendence is not to be abolished by slamming the currently popular Doors in the Wall. The only reasonable policy is to open other, better doors in the hope of inducing men and women to exchange their old bad habits for new and less harmful ones. Some of these other, better doors will be social and technological in nature, others religious or psychological, others dietetic, educational, athletic. But the need for frequent chemical vacations from intolerable selfhood and repulsive surroundings will undoubtedly remain. Page 64.
Near the end of his life Aquinas experienced Infused Contemplation. Thereafter he refused to go back to work on his unfinished book. Compared with this, everything he had read and argued about and written—Aristotle and the Sentences, the Questions, the Propositions, the majestic Summas—was no better than chaff or straw. For most intellectuals such a sit-down strike would be inadvisable, even morally wrong. But the Angelic Doctor had done more systematic reasoning than any twelve ordinary Angels, and was already ripe for death. He had earned the right, in those last months of his mortality, to turn away from merely symbolic straw and chaff to the bread of actual and substantial Fact. For Angels of a lower order and with better prospects of longevity, there must be a return to the straw. But the man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less cocksure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable Mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend. Pages 78-79.
Heaven and Hell
There hangs in the Louvre a “Meditation du Philosophe,” whose symbolical subject matter is nothing more nor less than the human mind, with its teeming darknesses, its moments of intellectual and visionary illumination, its mysterious stairways winding downward and upward into the unknown. The meditating philosopher sits there in his island of inner illumination; and at the opposite end of the symbolic chamber, in another, rosier island, an old woman crouches before the hearth. The firelight touches and transfigures her face, and we see, concretely illustrated, the impossible paradox and supreme truth—that perception is (or at least can be, ought to be) the same as Revelation, that Reality shines out of every appearance, that the One is totally, infinitely present in all particulars. Page 119.
The nature of the mind is such that the sinner who repents and makes an act of faith in a higher power is more likely to have a blissful visionary experience than is the self-satisfied pillar of society with his righteous indignations, his anxiety about possessions and pretensions, his ingrained habits of blaming, despising and condemning. Hence the enormous importance attached, in all the great religious traditions, to the state of mind at the moment of death. Page 138.
Henry David Thoreau
On Walking and Friendship – Whether to have a god or a goddess for companion in your walks, or to walk alone with the hinds and villains. Would not a friend enhance the beauty of the landscape as much as a deer or hare? Everything could acknowledge and serve such a relation; the corn in the field and the cranberries in the meadow. The flowers would bloom, and the birds sing, with a new impulse. There would be more fair days in the year.
When Nietzsche Wept
by Irvin D. Yalom
(Harperperennial Modern Classics, 2010)
Every person must choose how much truth he can stand. Page 277.
He said, Herr Breuer, why don’t you try to learn what I have to teach rather than prove how much I don’t know? Page 117.
In the letter, I stated that there was a basic division of the ways of men: those who wish for peace of soul and happiness must believe and embrace faith, while those who wish to pursue the truth must forsake peace of mind and devote their life to inquiry. Page 178.
Again, Nietzsche thumbed through his notes, and then read, “’One must have chaos and frenzy within oneself to give birth to a dancing star.’” Pages178-79.
“Don’t you see, Josef, that the problem is not that you feel discomfort? What importance is tension or pressure in your chest? Who ever promised you comfort? So you sleep poorly! So? Who ever promised you good sleep? No, the problem is not discomfort. The problem is that you have discomfort about the wrong thing!” Page 181.
“A deeper wound. Becoming forty shattered the idea that all things were possible for me. Suddenly I understood life’s most obvious fact: that time is irreversible, that my life was running out. Of course, I knew that before, but knowing it at forty was a different kind of knowing. Now I knowthat ‘the lad of infinite promise’ was merely a marching banner, that ‘promise’ is an illusion, that ‘infinite’ is meaningless, and that I am in lockstep with all other men marching toward death.” Page 190.
Nietzsche, supposedly there to help him, gave him little comfort. When he described his anguish, Nietzsche dismissed it as a trifle. “Of course you suffer, it’s the price of vision. Of course, you are fearful. Living means to be in danger. Grow hard!” he exhorted. “You are not a cow, and I am no apostle of cud chewing.” Page 197.
“I’ve always believed, Josef, that we are more in love with desire than with the desired!” Page 227.
“Josef, only this instant is real. In the end, we experience only ourselves in the present moment. Bertha’s not real. She’s but a phantom who comes from both the future and the past.” Page 301.
But not even morbidity could spoil the mood of this walk. He thought of Nietzsche’s definition of friendship: two who join together in a search for some higher truth. Was that not precisely what he and Nietzsche were doing that day? Yes, they were friends. Page 246.
“Still, Josef, you avoid my question. Have you lived your life? Or been lived by it? Chosen it? Or did it choose you? Loved it? Or regretted it? That is what I mean when I ask whether you have consummated your life. Have you used it up? Remember that dream in which your father stood by helplessly praying while something calamitous was happening to his family? Are you not like him? Do you not stand by helplessly, grieving for the life you never lived?” Pages 247-48.
“I hate it!” Breuer almost shouted. “To live forever with the sense that I have not lived, have not tasted freedom—the idea fills me with horror.”“Then,” Nietzsche exhorted, “live in such a way that you love the idea!” Page 251-52.
One thing I feel clear about is that it’s important not to let your life live you. Otherwise, you end up at forty feeling you haven’t really lived. What have I learned? Perhaps to live now, so that at fifty I won’t look back upon my forties with regret. Pages 273-74.
“And I also learned,” Breuer said, “—or maybe it’s the same thing, I’m not sure—that we must live as though we were free. Even though we can’t escape fate, we must still butt our heads against it—we must will our destiny to happen. We must love our fate.” Page 274.