The Faith of a Heretic
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The Faith of a Heretic is a philosophical text written by Walter Kaufmann, first published in excerpts in 1959, and then in book form in 1961.
- Essay published in Harper's Magazine (February 1959), using excerpts from his book of the same name.
- It is less than honest to give one's own religion the benefit of every possible doubt while imposing unsympathetic readings on other religions. Yet this is what practically all religious people do.
- Profound experiences stimulate thoughts; but such thoughts do not look very adequate on paper. Writing can be a way of rethinking again and again.
In the process of teaching and writing one must constantly consider the thoughts of men with different ideas. And prolonged and ever-new exposure to a wide variety of outlooks — together with the criticism many professors seek from both their students and their colleagues — is a more profound experience than most people realize. It is a long-drawn-out trial by fire, marked by frequent disillusionment, discoveries, and despair, and by a growing regard for honesty, which is surely one of the most difficult of all the virtues to attain. What one comes up with in the end owes quite as much to this continual encounter as it does to any other experience.
- We have no wish to indoctrinate; we want to teach our students to resist indoctrination and not accept as authoritative the beliefs of other men or even the ideas that come to us as in a flash of illumination. Even if one has experiences that some men would call mystical — and I have no doubt that I have had many — it is a matter of integrity to question such experiences and any thoughts that were associated with them as closely and as honestly as we should question the "revelations" of others. To be sure, it is easier to grant others their "revelations" as "true for them" while insisting on one's own as "true for oneself." Such intellectual sluggishness parades as sophistication. But true tolerance does not consist in saying, "You may be right, but let us not make hard demands on ourselves: if you will put your critical intelligence to sleep, I'll put mine to bed, too." True tolerance remains mindful of the humanity of those who make things easy for themselves and welcomes and even loves honest and thoughtful opposition above less thoughtful agreement.
- To an even moderately sophisticated and well-read person it should come as no surprise that any religion at all has its hidden as well as its obvious beauties and is capable of profound and impressive interpretations. What is deeply objectionable about most of these interpretations is that they allow the believer to say Yes while evading any No.
- The central question about Christianity concerns Jesus Christ. If he was God in a sense in which no other man has been God, then Christianity is right in some important sense, however Christendom may have failed. To decide whether Jesus was God in some such unique sense, a philosopher cannot forbear to ask just what this claim might mean. If, for example, it does not mean that Jesus of Nazareth knew everything and was all-powerful, it is perplexing what is meant. But a large part of what most Christians mean is surely that Jesus was the best and wisest man of all time; and many Protestants mean no more than that.
- A great deal of theology is like a jigsaw puzzle: the verses of Scripture are the pieces, and the finished picture is prescribed by each denomination with a certain latitude allowed. What makes the game so pointless is that not all pieces have to be used, and any piece that does not fit may be reshaped, provided one says first, "this means." That is called exegesis.
- Although Jesus is widely considered mankind's greatest moral teacher, the greatest Christians, not to speak of scholars, have never been able to agree what his moral teachings were. Matthew, and he alone, reports that Jesus said: "Let your Yes be Yes, and your No, No." But the four Evangelists agree in ascribing to Jesus evasive and equivocal answers to plain questions, not only those of the high priest and Pilate; and quite generally the Jesus of the New Testament avoids straightforward statements, preferring parables and hyperboles. Some of the parables are so ambiguous that different Evangelists, not to speak of later theologians, offer different interpretations. ... On concrete moral issues, Jesus can be, and has been, cited on almost all sides.
- The story of Christ remains uncomfortably similar to the saga of the boss's son who works very briefly in the shop, where he makes a great point of his home and is cruelly beaten by some of his fellow workers, before he joins his father as co-chairman of the board and wreaks horrible revenge. This "happy" end makes most of the Christian martyrs, too, untragic figures. These observations may strike believers as blasphemous, but they might do well to reflect on the manner in which they pass judgment on other religions, and there may be some point in considering how one's own religion must strike those who don't accept it.
- Why, then, do I not accept Judaism? In view of all the things I do not believe, I have no wish to observe the six-hundred-odd commandments and prohibitions that define the traditional Jewish way of life, or to participate in religious services. With most so-called orthodox Jews I have much less in common than with all kinds of other people, Jews and Gentiles. Reform Judaism seems to me to involve compromise, conformism, and the wish to be innocuous. To that extent, it, too, stands opposed to the ethos of the prophets.
- What remains if you give up the great religions? Many people think: only Communism, Nazism, and immorality. But the morality of Socrates, Spinoza, and Hume compares favorably with Augustine's, Luther's, and Calvin's. And the evil deeds of Communism and Nazism are not due to their lack of belief but to their false beliefs, even as the evil deeds of the Crusaders, Inquisitors, and witch hunters, and Luther's exhortation to burn synagogues and Calvin's decision to burn Servetus, were due to their false beliefs. Christianity, like Islam, has caused more wars than it has prevented; and the Middle Ages, when Europe was Christian, were not a period of peace and good will among men.
- Renouncing false beliefs will not usher in the millennium. Few things about the strategy of contemporary apologists are more repellent than their frequent recourse to spurious alternatives. The lesser lights inform us that the alternative to Christianity is materialism, thus showing how little they have read, while the greater lights talk as if the alternative were bound to be a shallow and inane optimism. I don't believe that man will turn this earth into a bed of roses either with the aid of God or without it. Nor does life among the roses strike me as a dream from which one would not care to wake up after a very short time.
Some evils and some kinds of suffering can be abolished, but not all suffering can be eliminated, and the beauty, goodness, and greatness that redeem life on earth are inseparable from suffering. Nietzsche once said: "If you have an enemy, do not requite him evil with good, for that would put him to shame. Rather prove that he did you some good." If life hurts you, the manly thing is neither to whine nor to feel martyred, but to prove that it did you some good.
No one way is the best way of life for all.
- "The unexamined life is not worth living". . . . If you suppose that there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him that is undisturbed even by dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain. Eternity is then only a single night.
It would be folly to wish to foist this outlook on everybody. Professors of philosophy discourage and fail a large percentage even of their graduate students and are assuredly not eager to turn all men into philosophers. In philosophy, as in religion, teaching usually involves a loss of dimension; and the Socratic fusion of philosophy and life, critical acumen and passion, laughter and tragic stature is almost unique.
- I am so far quite unable to justify one of my central convictions: that, even if it were possible to make all men happy by an operation or a drug that would stultify their development, this would somehow be an impious crime. This conviction is ultimately rooted in the Mosaic challenge: "You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy."
- I do not believe in any afterlife any more than the prophets did, but I don't mind living in a world in which people have different beliefs. Diversity helps to prevent stagnation and smugness; and a teacher should acquaint his students with diversity and prize careful criticism far above agreement. His noblest duty is to lead others to think for themselves.
Oddly, millions believe that lack of belief in God, Christ, and Hell leads to inhumanity and cruelty, while those who have these beliefs have a monopoly on charity — and that people like myself will pay for their lack of belief by suffering in all eternity. I do not believe that anybody will suffer after death nor do I wish it.
- Man seems to play a very insignificant part in the universe, and my part is surely negligible. The question confronting me is not, except perhaps in idle moments, what part might be more amusing, but what I wish to make of my part. And what I want to do and would advise others to do is to make the most of it: put into it all you have got, and live and, if possible, die with some measure of nobility.
- All page numbers are from the trade paperback edition published by Princeton University Press ISBN 978-0-691-16548-6
- Of faith and morals, one cannot speak honestly for long without hurting feelings. Therefore, most people speak dishonestly of the most important subjects.
- p. xxvii
- Affirmations that entail no negations are empty.
- p. xxvii
Chapter 1 "Prologue"
- Heresy is a set of opinions “at variance with established or generally received principles.” In this sense, heresy is the price of all originality and innovation.
- Section 1 (p. 1)
- Nietzsche said in The Antichrist: “‘Faith’ means not wanting to know what is true.”
- Section 1 (p. 2)
- Faith means intense, usually confident, belief that is not based on evidence sufficient to command assent from every reasonable person.
- Section 1 (p. 3)
- A writer who is sharply critical of some positions runs the risk of being more widely applauded or resented than understood.
- Section 2 (pp. 5-6)
- Modesty is so much easier than honesty because it is compatible with sloth.
- Section 3 (p. 10)
- Listing articles of faith, of course, would not do. Articles of faith are meant for groups of people: they are begotten by the need for ritual and mothered by the need for compromise. They reduce the believer to exegesis—unless he denies one of the articles and becomes a heretic. A heretic wants no articles of faith.
- Section 3 (p. 10)
- Where the will to be honest is lacking, discussion is wholly pointless.
- Section 3 (p. 11)
- Every book and every discussion presuppose the will to be honest. The man who repudiates honesty repudiates discussion. There is no point in dialogue with a man who does not acknowledge this standard.
- Section 3 (p. 11)
- Neither a lack of passion nor the anxious dissimulation of every personal element is either required or sufficient for intellectual honesty. ... Rather, the single most important factor is a sustained willingness to consider informed objections.
- Section 4 (p. 12; ellipsis added)
- To probe the weaknesses of many popular assumptions, to develop alternatives, and to make one’s fellow men more thoughtful is a contribution worth attempting.
- Section 4 (p. 13)
- Far from viewing philosophy or heresy with suspicion, I believe that the enemies of critical reason are, whether consciously or not, foes of humanity.
- Section 4 (p. 13)
Chapter 2 "The Quest for Honesty"
- Another, very different, perspective seems much more illuminating: one may view the history of philosophy as the history of heresy.
- Section 5 (p. 14)
- Clearly, these men (Kaufmann is referring to the pre-Socratic philosophers) were heretics. They not only opposed the common sense of their time and some of the most revered names of the past but they did not presume to speak in the name of the Lord or to interpret correctly a previously misunderstood tradition. They pitted their own thinking against the religion and the poetry they knew. And by breaking with the exegetic mode of thought and every other form of appeal to authority, they initiated philosophy.
- Section 5 (p. 15)
- In medieval philosophy, apologetics triumphed over criticism. In modern philosophy, critical thinking re-emerges.
- Section 5 (p. 17)
- Surely, most students and professors do waste an enormous quantity of time and effort; but at his best a teacher transmits something more than information: the student discovers the techniques and joys of critical thinking.
- Section 6 (p. 20)
- The aim of a liberal education is not to turn out ideal dinner guests who can talk with assurance about practically everything, but people who will not be taken in by men who speak about all things with an air of finality. The goal is not to train future authorities, but men who are not cowed by those who claim to be authorities. The alternative to gullibility is not lack of respect for competence but the ability to find out who is competent and who is not.
- Section 6 (pp. 21-22)
- Attitudes toward authority carry over into politics, and a people who suspect political authoritarianism and who cherish their own freedom can ill afford to tolerate authoritarianism in their education.
- Section 6 (p. 22)
- Ever since the days of ancient Athens, there have been a multitude of men who have looked askance upon philosophy because it is not pious, positive, and patriotic. Socrates and Plato compared the philosopher to a physician. One might add that one of the functions of philosophy is to inoculate men against bigotry, inhumanity, and propaganda by teaching them to think carefully, conscientiously, and critically.
- Section 6 (p. 22)
- Many children and politicians are masters of the art of telling falsehoods with sincerity.
- Section 7 (p. 22)
- The quest for honesty is not like the search for a jewel that may end happily with the sudden attainment of what is wanted. It is rather like the quest for excellence, a prolonged struggle.
- Section 7 (p. 23)
- The difference in attitude is easily illustrated by divergent reactions to criticism: some men are impervious to criticism while others welcome it.
- Section 7 (p. 24)
- There are few things about which people are less honest than their attitude toward honesty. Everybody claims to favor it and to consider it important, and an open accusation of dishonesty is a heinous, actionable insult. Yet our public life is permeated by a staggering tolerance for quite deliberate dishonesty.
- Section 8 (p. 25)
- Religion is as privileged a field as politics and advertising. It is widely held to call for tact, not truthfulness.
- Section 8 (p. 26)
Chapter 3 "Philosophy and Revolution"
- It is widely believed that strong affection precludes basic disagreements, but this popular conceit is incompatible with high standards of honesty.
- Section 11 (p. 40)
- The question remains whether what has often been said is also true.
- Section 12 (p. 41)
- The great philosophers accepted some responsibilities that most analytic philosophers decline.
- Section 13 (p. 47)
- The great progress in the sciences has made many traditional beliefs, tenets, and assumptions highly problematic, if not untenable. As a result, some theologians have reinterpreted many old beliefs—to the point where some thoughtful people have begun to wonder what, if any, meaning remains. The old beliefs were clear, but are now given up as false; the reinterpreted beliefs, which are said to be immune to all scientific advances, are often highly elusive and perhaps in some instances mere formulas devoid of any clear content.
- Section 14 (pp. 49-50)
- One of the most important parts of any education is to learn to understand views different from one’s own and to outgrow the narrow-mindedness and lack of intellectual imagination that cling to us from our childhood.
- Section 14 (p. 57)
- Petrified dogmatism and the eddies of relativism are equally unworthy of philosophers.
- Section 15 (p. 60)
Chapter 4 "Commitment"
- In this profound lack of humanity, some of the greatest saints, Luther, and Calvin were at one.
- Section 18 (p. 70)
- One would have to be blind indeed to claim that any commitment is better than none: blind to the atrocities committed by committed Christians, Communists, Nazis, and other fanatics.
- Section 18 (p. 70)
- Kierkegaard saw that reason and philosophy were unable to tell him what idea he should choose to live and die by. Hence, he despised philosophy and reason. What he, like millions of others, overlooked is a very simple but important point: reason and philosophy may well safeguard a man against ideas for which he might better not live or die. Indeed, if reason and philosophy had no other function whatsoever, this alone would make them overwhelmingly important. But Kierkegaard, and by no means only he, defiantly abandons reason in his eager search for a commitment, and sanctions atrocities beyond his own imagination.
- Section 19 (p. 75)
- The whole point of an education, and not only of philosophy, is to make people more responsible.
- Section 19 (p. 76)
- The idea that a man must crucify his reason before he commits himself is not original with Kierkegaard. There is a long Christian tradition behind it, and Luther expressed it even more powerfully than Kierkegaard. He called reason “the devil’s bride,” a “beautiful whore,” and “God’s worst enemy,” and said: “There is on earth among all dangers no more dangerous thing than a richly endowed and adroit reason.”
- Section 19 (p. 76)
- If we discard our reason, mortify our understanding, and take leave of our senses, how can we be sure that what we accept is the word of God? The mere fact that something is presented to us as the word of God is clearly insufficient. One has only to write an article on matters of religion in a popular magazine to be swamped with letters, little pamphlets, and big books that claim to offer nothing less than God’s own truth; but, alas, they are far from agreeing with each other....How are we to choose if evidence and reason are thrown out of court?
- Section 19 (pp. 76-77; ellipsis added)
- Commitment to a doctrinaire position is usually a form of escape.
- Section 20 (p. 80)
- Few realize how similar the conclusion of Orwell’s novel (that is, 1984) is to ever so much preaching. In the end the hero is converted and renounces heresy.
- Section 20 (p. 82)
- Some beliefs are far more irrational than others.
Commitments do not necessarily involve beliefs that anything is the case; but they can still be more or less rational and responsible. They are more so, if we have conscientiously considered any relevant evidence and what can be said against them. They are irrational and irresponsible if they are made blindly and maintained with closed minds.
- Section 22 (pp. 85-86)
- They say their doctrine is infallible and true, but ignore the fact that there is no dearth whatsoever of pretenders to infallibility and truth. They may think they chose their doctrine because it is offered to us as infallible and true, but this is plainly no sufficient reason: scores of other doctrines, scriptures, and apostles, sects and parties, cranks and sages make the same claim. Those who claim to know which of the lot is justified in making such a bold claim, those who tell us that this faith or that is really infallible and true are presupposing in effect, whether they realize this or not, that they themselves happen to be infallible. Those who have no such exalted notion of themselves have no way of deciding between dozens of pretenders if reason is proscribed.
- Section 23 (p. 88)
Chapter 5 "Against Theology"
- There are, then, two types of theology: natural and dogmatic. Natural theology purports to tell us about God, his nature and attributes, and his relations with man and the universe, on the basis of reasoning from the facts of nature, without relying on revelation. But from the facts of nature one cannot even infer God’s existence, much less his attributes and his relations with man and the universe, still less the qualities which theologians, as we generally use the term, ascribe to him.
- Section 25 (p. 92)
- From the facts of nature one can infer further facts of nature, but one cannot with any certainty infer anything beyond nature, not even with any probability. At most, one can say that there are some events one is not able to explain by means of any hitherto known facts; and at such points one may possibly elect to postulate some occult entities or forces, pending further research. Past experience indicates that all such invocations are extremely likely to be dated by a new advance in science. Indeed, even as one writer postulates some unknown entity outside of nature, some scientist elsewhere may be able to dispense with it. Moreover, even if it were permissible to infer something supra-scientific from the facts of nature, it is never really the facts of nature that determine what precisely is invoked at that point, but some preconceived ideas mediated by religion. At the crucial point, natural theology falls back on dogmatic theology. It is the teachings of the theologian’s religion, not the facts of nature, that decide whether, where other explanations fail, he should invoke one god or two, or more; a god of love, a god of wrath, or one of each, or several of each, or one who loves some and hates others, or perhaps a god of perfect love who permits, or insists upon, eternal torment.
- Section 25 (pp. 92-93)
- The first point to note about theology, as the term is generally understood, is that it is denominational.
- Section 26 (p. 94)
- Where the heretic would say No, the theologian interprets.
- Section 28 (p. 101)
- The most crucial criticism of theology ought now to be apparent: theology depends on a double standard. One set of standards is employed for reading and interpreting one’s own tradition and its texts; another, for the texts and traditions of all other.
- Section 29 (p. 104)
- Theology is a comprehensive, rigorous, and systematic attempt to conceal the beam in the scriptures and traditions of one’s own denomination while minutely measuring the mote in the heritages of one’s brothers. Of course, that is not all there is to theology. Theology is also a comprehensive, rigorous, and systematic avoidance, by means of exegesis, of letting one’s Yes be Yes, and one’s No, No: instead of saying No, one discusses other matters, and in a pinch one “interprets” and converts beams into slivers, and slivers into gold.
- Section 29 (p. 105)
- Theology is antithetic not only to the Sermon on the Mount but to the most elementary standards of fairness. It involves a deliberate blindness to most points of view other than one’s own, a refusal to see others as they see themselves and to see oneself as one appears to others—a radical insistence on applying different standards to oneself and others.
- Section 29 (p. 105)
- It is, no doubt, exceedingly difficult to be completely fair, but theology is founded on a comprehensive, rigorous, and systematic refusal to as much as attempt to be fair. It does not merely occasionally lapse into acceptance of a double standard: theology is based on a devout commitment to a double standard.
- Section 29 (p. 106)
- One word that sums up a great deal of theology is gerrymandering.
- Section 30 (p. 106)
- The other major fault of theology is also understandable as the result of a quixotic task. The theologians have a way of redefining terms in rather odd ways and then engaging in something best called double-speak: their utterances are designed to communicate contradictory views to different listeners and readers.
- Section 32 (p. 118)
- He (that is, a preacher) is not like a lecturer who speaks once a week in an adult education program to those who happen to be interested in his subject. Nor is it his job to disseminate information and to promote critical thinking. His audience, unlike that of a philosophy or science professor, expects to be fortified against the inroads of new information and critical thinking.
- Section 34 (p. 128)
- As long as Protestant denomination have existed, social status rather than theology seems to have decided in most cases to what church a family belonged—and “doctrines and practice change with the mutations of social structure, not vice versa.”
- Section 36 (p. 132)
- The faults of theology can be seen with the naked eye.
- Section 37 (p. 133)
- The committed study of a single theology—or a single philosophic system, or the views of a single scientist whose theory differs from the theories of many other scientists—is a training in unsound method, partiality, and special pleading. Instead of being taught how some one theory can be patched up indefinitely if only we allow it privileges that we carefully deny to its competitors, students should be exposed to a variety of views and led to discover what can be said for and against each.
- Section 37 (p. 134)
- In few areas is it so hard to read honestly and responsibly, instead of reading one’s own prior convictions into the texts; and in theology the latter tendency is institutionalized.
- Section 37 (p. 134)
Chapter 6 "Suffering and the Bible"
- One’s strategy in trying to defend or to attack the claim that God exists obviously depends on what is meant by “God.” It may be objected that it is not so difficult to isolate what might be called the popular conception of God. The problem of suffering is of crucial importance because it shows that the God of popular theism does not exist.
- Section 38 (p. 137)
- The theism preached from thousands of pulpits and credited by millions of believers is disproved by Auschwitz and a billion lesser evils.
- Section 38 (p. 139)
- In most of the Hebrew Scriptures it is simply axiomatic that suffering comes from God.
- Section 39 (p. 140)
- What matters in the present context is that no doctrine of immortality or resurrection can solve the problem of suffering. Suppose that Anne Frank enjoys eternal bliss in heaven: should an omnipotent god have found it impossible to let her have eternal bliss without first making her a victim of the Nazis and without having her die in a concentration camp? If you treat a child unfairly, it may possibly forget about it if you afterward give it a lollipop, but injustice remains injustice. Faith in immortality, like belief in Satan, leaves unanswered the ancient questions: is God unable to prevent suffering and thus not omnipotent? or is he able but not willing to prevent it and thus not merciful? And is he just?
- Section 40 (p. 148)
- Nietzsche remarked in The Dawn (¶84) how Christian scholars and preachers had spread “the art of reading badly.”
- Section 42 (p. 154)
- It does not follow that the meaning must be given from above; that life and suffering must come neatly labeled; that nothing is worthwhile if the world is not governed by a purpose. On the contrary, the lack of any cosmic purpose may be experienced as liberating, as if a great weight had been lifted from us.
- Section 46 (p. 166)
Chapter 7 "The Old Testament"
- The historically ignorant believe in absolute novelty.
- Section 47 (p. 171)
Chapter 8 "Jesus vis-à-vis Paul, Luther, and Schweitzer"
- Far from being an isolated dictum, the prospect of damnation is one of the central motifs of the Gospels.
- Section 57 (p. 210)
- Inequality is instituted by God: some are chosen, others rejected.
- Section 57 (p. 210)
- Only an age in which salvation had all but lost meaning could misconstrue Jesus’ moral teachings the way liberal Protestantism did.
- Section 57 (p. 210)
- Most Christians gerrymander the Gospels and carve an idealized self-portrait out of the texts.
- Section 57 (p. 217)
- For Paul, as for Jesus, social justice and political arrangements seemed irrelevant. He accepted the prevailing order, sometimes with contempt because it was merely secular, sometimes with respect because it was ordained by God...The ancient notion of the equality and brotherhood of men is reinterpreted in a purely otherworldly sense...The foundation is laid for an elaborate hierarchy and for radical inequalities even within the church, while in the social order outside it inequality and injustice are accepted as fated.
- Section 58 (pp. 222-223; ellipses added)
- Consider the Christian story the way it looks to an outsider. God causes a virgin, betrothed to Joseph, to conceive his own son, and this son had to be betrayed, crucified, and resurrected in order that those, and only those, might be saved who should both believe this story and be baptized and eat and drink on regular occasions what they themselves to be the flesh and blood of this son (or, in some denominations, merely the symbols of his flesh and blood); meanwhile, all, or most, of the rest of mankind suffer some kind of eternal torment, and according to many Christian creeds and teachers they were actually predestined for damnation by God from the very beginning.
- Section 58 (p. 226)
- Luther’s vision of Christianity: radical through and through, and opposed alike to wisdom, reason, and subtlety.
- Section 59 (p. 230)
- Organized Christianity could be defined as the ever renewed effort to get around these sayings without repudiating Jesus.
- Section 59 (p. 232)
- Schweitzer has the rare honesty to insist that Christianity failed morally not because Christians have not been Christian enough, but because of the very nature of Christianity.
- Section 60 (p. 238)
- The logical enormity of Schweitzer’s argument is obvious. Few men have done more than he to demonstrate the complete incompatibility of Jesus’ conception of the kingdom with any social or this-worldly aspirations.
- Section 60 (p. 240)
- Such pleasant suggestions conflict with the historic evidence.
- Section 61 (p. 246)
- Perhaps it is the essence of organized religion to read current insights into the ancient books and rites. But if one does this, disregarding Jesus’ counsel not to do it, one should realize that one could do it with almost any religion.
- Section 61 (p. 249)
Chapter 9 "Organized Religion"
- But the prophets did not agitate for references to trust in God on coins, for an increase of ritual in schools and public life, for still more massive or more regular attendance at worship services; nor did they conduct revival meetings and request decisions for God. What the prophets criticized, mocked, and denounced was precisely the kind of religion that has been revived since the Second World War.
- Section 63 (p. 252)
- What makes the decisive difference is not whether religion is persecuted or not, but whether religion is a pious name for conformity or a fighting name for non-conformity.
- Section 63 (p. 253)
- Since the Second World War, the greatest and most original minds have in no way whatsoever refined religion: they are men of science and literature, of the arts and perhaps politics.
- Section 64 (p. 254)
- If it is the purpose of the churches to save men from fates to which, even without the churches’ labors, no man would be likely to be sentenced, we have to conclude: the churches are like clubs for the prevention of homesteading on the sun.
- Section 65 (p. 259)
- The most obvious failure of organized religions is surely that almost all of them have made a mockery of what their founders taught.
- Section 68 (p. 267)
- The moral failures of organized religions are legion and fill libraries. Incredulous Christians may make a beginning by reading Malcolm Hays’ short book on Europe and the Jews. Not having read such books, one does not know Christianity; one lives in a fool’s paradise.
- Section 68 (p. 268)
- Truth is not determined by reflections on social convenience.
- Section 69 (p. 268)
- Luther certainly did not always speak and write in this vein. At other times he suggested that, while faith alone saves and works have no saving power whatever, faith naturally overflows into charity and good works. Luther himself, Calvin, the Crusaders, Inquisitors, and witch hunters show how false that is as a matter of empirical fact.
- Section 69 (p. 272)
- The connection between religious preaching and moral conduct is much less close than most men suppose, while the importance of the environment and the level of education is far greater. Nor has organized religion thrown its full weight behind a high morality. Least of all does organized religion have a monopoly on teaching morals.
- Section 69 (p. 272)
- Popular notions about the relation of morality to organized religion are for the most part completely out of touch with fact.
- Section 70 (p. 277)
- Organized religion flourishes. And so do thoughtlessness, dishonesty, and hypocrisy.
- Section 71 (p. 277)
Chapter 10 "Morality"
- Kant himself refused to base his moral views on his religion, and he argued that morality cannot be founded on religion. Indeed, he took great pride in having shown that we can not know that God exists but only postulate God’s existence. If we knew that God exists, such knowledge would make true morality impossible. For if we acted morally from fear or fright, or confident of a reward, then this would not be moral. It would be enlightened selfishness.
- Section 73 (pp. 281-282)
- Where morality is based on religion, even if only psychologically, criticisms of religion, no less than public avowals of disbelief, undermine morality and threaten public order; and in such countries, therefore, opposition to free speech is powerful, and the pressure for censorship overwhelming. And where it is sincerely believed that heretics will be damned in all eternity, the argument for persecuting heretics to avoid contagion is scarcely answerable.
- Section 75 (p. 287)
- There always remains the question: How do we know which standard is the right one?
- Section 78 (p. 294)
- The main objection to absolute morality is that even if there were absolute moral standards we should have no way of knowing whether we had found them.
- Section 80 (p. 296)
- Men of intelligence have their moral disagreements, like everybody else, but they often fume less because they know what they disagree about. Fuming not only prevents us from seeing clearly; it is a smoke screen that covers up a lack of clarity.
- Section 81 (p. 304)
- The point is rather that “absolute” is one of those words that often give off heat without light.
- Section 82 (p. 305)
- For all the talk of humility that pervades some self-styled absolute moralities, there is something arrogant about those who profess that their morality is absolute.
- Section 82 (p. 305)
- Finally, and most important: there is an element of self-deception in the claim to have an absolute morality. One claims to know what in fact one does not know. One pretends to knowledge about matters about which one really does not have knowledge—and about which, for the most part, one prefers not even to think too carefully.
- Section 82 (p. 306)
- My own ethic is not absolute but a morality of openness. It is not a morality of rules but an ethic of virtues. It offers no security but goals.
- Section 83 (p. 306)
- There is no devil; there is no need for one: dishonesty does his work.
- Section 83 (p. 313)
- My four virtues cannot be proved. Whoever claims to prove his ethic deceives others and probably also himself.
- Section 85 (p. 320)
- We are confronted with Scylla, the rock that thinks that she alone is right, and Charybdis, the whirlpool that supposes that all views are equally defensible. In morality, as in religion and philosophy and other fields, both are wrong. Both make things very easy for themselves: they avoid the hard task of examining alternatives, criticizing what is open to objections, finding gradually what prevails and stands up.
- Section 85 (p. 321)
- To ask seriously, one has to ask specifically, offering some objection to one or another virtue, and one must be willing to consider the ramifications of abandoning it...It is more popular, and easier, to proceed in the opposite direction: to begin by proposing one’s own “philosophy” and then to judge other views from there, externally. In that case, other views are rarely taken seriously; one generally has not really exposed oneself to them; there have been no genuine encounters.
- Section 85 (pp. 322-323; ellipsis added)
- A man who does not consider how his actions are likely to affect other people is to that extent irresponsible, even if he acts on “principle.”
- Section 85 (p. 324)
Chapter 11 "Freud and the Tragic Virtues"
- Freud, even more than Lincoln, might well be called the Great Emancipator. Like no man before him, he lent substance to the notion that all men are brothers. Criminals and madmen are not devils in disguise but men and women who have problems similar to our own, and there, but for one experience or another, go you and I.
- Section 87 (p. 332)
- It is partly the American infatuation with success that stands in the way of our having tragedies. It is well known that the Puritans closed the British theaters; it is less well understood that Calvin’s ethos dealt tragedy a much more lasting blow by preaching success and lack of sympathy for failure.
- Section 87 (p. 334)
- Psychology is not incompatible with the belief that there are great men; only a simple-minded psychology is.
- Section 89 (p. 343)
- At all times men are subject to insidious pressures to accept the prejudices of their age and to rationalize them, whether theologically or scientifically. Nietzsche and Freud found that the best, if not the only, way to resist this danger is not to humor the hypersensitive ears of one’s contemporaries by choosing comfortable words but to emphasize precisely that which is not fashionable, not heard gladly—that which gives offense.
- Section 89 (p. 343)
- It is easy to see why a democratic society would be skeptical about great men and suspicious of the tragic virtues. Democracy depends on compromise. But democracy can ill afford to dispense with moral courage. Under certain circumstances it may require moral courage to advocate compromise. What matters is that the decision is not influenced by the desire for acclaim.
- Section 90 (p. 346)
Chapter 12 "Death"
- Our attitude toward death is influenced by hope as much as it is by fear. If fear is the mother of cowardice, hope is the father.
- Section 98 (p. 372)
- The Greeks had considered hope the final evil in Pandora's box. They also gave us an image of perfect nobility: a human being lovingly doing her duty to another human being despite all threats, and going to her death with pride and courage, not deterred by any hope — Antigone.
- Section 98 (p. 374)
- Excerpt online
- Hopelessness is despair. Yet life without hope is worth living. As Sartre's Orestes says: "Life begins on the other side of despair." But is hope perhaps resumed on the other side? It need not be. In honesty, what is there to hope for? Small hopes remain but do not truly matter. I may hope that the sunset will be clear, that the night will be cool and still, that my work will turn out well, and yet know that nine hopes out of ten often are not even remembered a year later. How many are recalled a century hence? A billion years hence?
- Section 98 (p. 374)
- There may be surprises in store for us, however improbable it seems and however little evidence suggests it. But I do not hope for that. Let people who do not know what to do with themselves in this life, but fritter away their time reading magazines and watching television, hope for eternal life. If one lives intensely, the time comes when sleep seems bliss. If one loves intensely, the time comes when death seems bliss.
Those who loved with all their heart and mind and might have always thought of death, and those who knew the endless nights of harrowing concern for others have longed for it.
The life I want is a life I could not endure in eternity. It is a life of love and intensity, suffering and creation, that makes life worthwhile and death welcome. There is no other life I should prefer. Neither should I like not to die.
- Section 98 (pp. 374-375)
- If I ask myself who in history I might like to have been, I find that all the men I most admire were by most standards deeply unhappy. They knew despair. But their lives were worthwhile—I only wish mine equaled theirs in this respect—and I have no doubt that they were glad to die.
As one deserves a good night's sleep, one also deserves to die, Why should I hope to wake again? To do what I have not done in the time I've had? All of us have so much more time than we use well. How many hours in a life are spent in a way of which one might be proud, looking back?
- Section 98 (p. 375)
- For most of us death does not come soon enough. Lives are spoiled and made rotten by the sense that death is distant and irrelevant. One lives better when one expects to die, say, at forty, when one says to oneself long before one is twenty: whatever I may be able to accomplish, I should be able to do by then; and what I have not done by then, I am not likely to do ever. One cannot count on living until one is forty—or thirty—but it makes for a better life if one has a rendezvous with death.
Not only love can be deepened and made more intense and impassioned by the expectation of impending death; all of life is enriched by it. Why deceive myself to the last moment, and hungrily devour sights, sounds, and smells only when it is almost too late? In our treatment of others, too, it is well to remember that they will die: it makes for greater humanity.
- Section 98 (p. 375)
- It is better to die with courage than to live as a coward.
- Section 98 (p. 376)
- Culture depends on men’s attempting to do what is difficult.
- Section 98 (p. 377)
- In the quest for honesty, death is a cruel but excellent teacher.
- Section 98 (p. 378)
- Man seems to play a very insignificant part in the universe, and my part is negligible. The question confronting me is not, except perhaps in idle moments, what part might be more amusing, but what I wish to make of my part. But what I want to do and would advise others to do is to make the most of it: put into it all you have got, and live, and, if possible, die with some measure of nobility.
- Section 98 (p. 379)
Chapter 13 "Trilogue on Heaven, Love, and Peace"
- But you are hypocritical when you profess to care so much about what happens to you after death. A man who is seriously involved in his speculation investigates the company before investing. In the field with which you claim to be so seriously concerned there are a multitude of companies, and you hardly know anything about the lot, have not compared their merits and their weaknesses, but simply acted on a tip without checking on it.
- Section 99 (p. 381)
- When honesty is not particularly flattering, you call it rudeness.
- Section 99 (p. 384)
- He has jumped from the mist into the fog. That’s what the theologians call “the leap.”
- Section 99 (p. 386)
- Going to church suddenly assumes a vast importance: there is no better way of training oneself to find boredom heavenly, not to let on what one thinks, and eventually to stop thinking.
- Section 99 (p. 387)
- Blessed are those who are surprising, for at least they are not dull.
- Section 99 (p. 391)
Chapter 14 "Epilogue"
- There is no Mozart in philosophy.
- Section 100 (p. 399)
- If it does not upset, it is not philosophy.
- Section 100 (p. 405)
- Much can be left unstated. But if nothing is discredited, it is not philosophy.
- Section 100 (p. 405)