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Being Human

Miguel de Unamuno on Himself and His Work

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Need is that I bring to a conclusion, for the present at any rate, these essays that threaten to become like a tale that has no ending. They have gone straight from my hands to the press in the form of a kind of improvization upon notes collected during a number of years, and in writing each essay I have not had before me any of those that preceded it. And thus they will go forth full of inward contradictions — apparent contradictions, at any rate — like life and like me myself.

Miguel de Unamuno on Vanity and Immortality

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A rabid mania for originality is rife in the modern intellectual world and characterizes all individual effort. We would rather err with genius than hit the mark with the crowd… This violent struggle for the perpetuation of our name extends backwards into the past, just as it aspires to conquer the future; we contend with the dead because we, the living, are obscured beneath their shadow. We are jealous of the geniuses of former times, whose names, standing out like the landmarks of history, rescue the ages from oblivion. The heaven of fame is not very large, and the more there are who enter it the less is the share of each. The great names of the past rob us of our place in it; the space which they fill in the popular memory they usurp from us who aspire to occupy it. And so we rise up in revolt against them, and hence the bitterness with which all those who seek after fame in the world of letters judge those who have already attained it and are in enjoyment of it.

Miguel de Unamuno on Nietzsche and Immortality

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There you have that “thief of energies,” as he [Nietzsche] so obtusely called Christ who sought to wed nihilism with the struggle for existence, and he talks to you about courage. His heart craved the eternal All while his head convinced him of nothingness, and, desperate and mad to defend himself from himself, he cursed that which he most loved. Because he could not be Christ, he blasphemed against Christ. Bursting with his own self, he wished himself unending and dreamed his theory of eternal recurrence, a sorry counterfeit of immortality, and, full of pity for himself, he abominated all pity. And there are some who say that his is the philosophy of strong men! No, it is not. My health and my strength urge me to perpetuate myself. His is the doctrine of weaklings who aspire to be strong, but not of the strong who are strong. Only the feeble resign themselves to final death and substitute some other desire for the longing for personal immortality. In the strong the zeal for perpetuity overrides the doubt of realizing it, and their superabundance of life overflows upon the other side of death.

Miguel de Unamuno on Man at the Center

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Yes, yes, I see it all! — an enormous social activity, a mighty civilization, a profuseness of science, of art, of industry, of morality, and afterwards, when we have filled the world with industrial marvels, with great factories, with roads, museums, and libraries, we shall fall exhausted at the foot of it all, and it will subsist — for whom? Was man made for science or was science made for man? ¶ “Why!” the reader will exclaim again, “we are coming back to what the Catechism says: ‘Q. For whom did God create the world? A. For man.'” Well, why not? — so ought the man who is a man to reply. The ant, if it took account of these matters and were a person, would reply “For the ant,” and it would reply rightly. The world is made for consciousness, for each consciousness.

Miguel de Unamuno on Persistence of Self

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It has often been said that every man who has suffered misfortunes prefers to be himself, even with his misfortunes, rather than to be someone else without them. For unfortunate men, when they preserve their normality in their misfortune — that is to say, when they endeavor to persist in their own being — prefer misfortune to non-existence. For myself I can say that as a youth, and even as a child, I remained unmoved when shown the most moving pictures of hell, for even then nothing appeared to me quite so horrible as nothingness itself. It was a furious hunger of being that possessed me, and appetite for divinity, as one of our ascetics [San Juan de los Angeles] has put it.

Abraham Kuyper on Thirsting for God

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Not twenty centuries and more have been able to darken the golden glow of the immortal song that has come to us in the forty-second Psalm… in which the homesickness of our human heart cries after the Source of our life. What here grips so mightily is the ardent fervor that breathes throughout this whole psalm, the passionate outpouring of soul… In this psalm the heart itself pushes and drives. It is not from without but from the inner chamber of the heart that the homesickness after the living god irresistibly wells upward… “My soul pants, yea, thirsts after the living God.” Not after Creed regarding God, not after an idea of God, not after a remembrance of God, not after a Divine Majesty, that, far removed from the soul, stands over against it as a God in words or in phrases, but after God Himself, after God in His holy outpouring of strength and grace, after God Who is alive, Who… in holy exhibition of love reveals Himself to you and in you as the living God. You feel that all learning falls away, all dogma, all formulas, everything that is external and abstract, everything that exhausts itself in words… It is not your idea, not your understanding, not your thinking, not your reasoning, not even your profession of faith, that here can quench the thirst. The home-sickness goes out after God Himself… it is not the name of God but God Himself whom your soul desires and cannot do without.

Unknown on Pessimism and Despair

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If there were in the world a sincere and total pessimism, it would of necessity be silent. The despair which finds a voice is a social mood, it is the cry of misery which brother utters to brother when both are stumbling though a valley of shadows which is peopled with — comrades. In its anguish it bears witness to something that is good in life, for it presupposes sympathy. … The real gloom, the sincere despair, is dumb and blind; it writes no books, and feels no impulse to burden an intolerable universe with a monument more lasting than brass.

Madison C. Peters on This Life and Eternity

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Were we to believe that death ends all, that the cessation of the mortal life terminated the career of being, that the sun of hope was never to arise above the eternal horizon of tomorrow, the present existence would be a nightmare of horror, even to those who fall heirs to the enjoyments of the world, for earth’s pleasures are but pain, earth’s riches but dross. Nothing satisfies here; everything cloys and palls upon the senses. The man of wealth and learning in this respect is no better off than his poorest neighbor. The latter is often envying the wealthy, while the rich man is sighing for an indefinable something to fill up the void in his life, but the void can never be filled by time; its capacity is the measure of eternity. The ever-constant longing in the heart of man is a proof that this world is not his home, that the tomb is not the objective point where the final line is drawn, beyond which none may go.

Arthur Schopenhauer on Sex Disturbing Everything

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The sexual impulse in all its degrees and nuances plays not only on the stage and in novels, but also in the real world, where, next to the love of life, it shows itself the strongest and most powerful of motives, constantly lays claim to half the powers and thoughts of the younger portion of mankind, to the ultimate goal of almost all human efforts, interrupts the most serious occupations every hour, sometimes embarrasses for a while even the greatest minds, does not hesitate to intrude with its trash, interfering with the negotiations of statesmen and the investigations of men of learning, knows how to slip its love letters and locks of hair even into ministerial portfolios and philosophical manuscripts, and no less devises daily the most entangled and the worst actions, destroys the most valuable relationships, breaks the firmest bonds, demands the sacrifice sometimes of life or health, sometimes of wealth, rank, and happiness, nay, robs those who are otherwise honest of all conscience, makes those who have hitherto been faithful, traitors; accordingly on the whole, appears as a malevolent demon that strives to pervert, confuse and overthrow everything; — then one will be forced to cry, Wherefore all this noise? Wherefore the straining and storming, the anxiety and want? It is merely a question of every Hans finding his Goethe. Why should such a trifle play so important a part, and constantly introduce disturbance and confusion into the well-regulated life of man?

[Editor: Schopenahauer goes on to answer his own question — why all the straining and storming? — saying that sex is what determines each successive generation, and that is of the highest consequence.]

George MacDonald on the One Principle of Hell

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Jesus is a king because his business is to bear witness to the truth. What truth? All truth; all verity of relation thoughout the universe — first of all, that his father is good, perfectly good; and that the crown and joy of life is to desire and do the will of the eternal source of will, and of all life. He deals thus the death-blow to the power of hell. For the one principle of Hell is “I am my own. I am my own king and my own subject. I am the centre from which go out my thoughts; I am the object and end of my thoughts; back upon me as the alpha and omega of life, my thoughts return. My own glory is, and ought to be, my chief care; my ambition, to gather regards of men to the one centre, myself. My pleasure is my pleasure. My kingdom is — as many as I can bring to acknowledge my greatness over them. My judgment is the faultless rule of things. My right is — what I desire. The more I am all in all to myself, the greater I am. The less I acknowledge debt or obligation to another; the more I close my eyes to the fact that I did not make myself; the more self-sufficing I feel or imagine myself — the greater I am.” …

Betrand Russell on a Foundation of Unyielding Despair

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That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

The City Without a Church

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By far the most original thing here is the simple conception of Heaven as a City. The idea of religion without a Church — “I saw no Temple therein” — is anomalous enough; but the association of the blessed life with a City — the one place in the world from which Heaven seems most far away — is something wholly new in religious thought. No other religion which has a Heaven ever had a Heaven like this. The Greek, if he looked forward at all, awaited the Elysian Fields; the Eastern sought Nirvana. All other Heavens have been Gardens, Dreamlands — passivities more or less aimless. Even to the majority among ourselves Heaven is a siesta and not a City. It remained for John to go straight to the other extreme and select the citadel of the world’s fever, the ganglion of its unrest, the heart and focus of its most strenuous toil, as the framework for his ideal of the blessed life. ~ Excerpt

George Santayana on Sex

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Sex endows the individual with a dumb and powerful instinct, which carries his body and soul continually toward another; makes it one of the dearest employments of his life to select and pursue a companion, and joins to possession the keenest pleasure, to rivalry the fiercest rage, and to solitude an eternal melancholy.

Vincent van Gogh on Windows to the Soul

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I prefer painting people’s eyes to cathedrals, for there is something in the eyes that is not in the cathedral, however solemn and imposing the latter may be — a human soul, be it that of a poor beggar or of a street walker, is more interesting to me.

Mark Twain (as Huck Finn) on Heaven

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Then she told me all about the bad place, and I said I wished I was there. She got mad then, but I didn’t mean no harm. All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change, I warn’t particular. She said it was wicked to say what I said, said she wouldn’t say it for the whole world; she was going to live so as to go to the good place. Well, I couldn’t see no advantage in going where she was going, so I made up my mind I wouldn’t try for it. But I never said so, because it would only make trouble, and wouldn’t do no good. Now she had a good start, and went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn’t think much of it. But I never said so. I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said, not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together.

Vincent van Gogh, on his painting, “At Eternity’s Gate”

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It seems to me it’s a painter’s duty to try to put an idea into his work. In this print I have tried to express what seems to me one of the strongest proofs of the existence of the “quelque chose l’-haut” [something on high] in which Millet believed, namely the existence of God and eternity… ¶ [It is] certainly in the infinitely touching expression of a little old man, which he himself is unconscious of, when he is sitting quietly in the corner by the fire. At the same time, there is something noble, something great, which cannot be destined for the worms… This is far from all theology, simply the fact that the poorest little woodcutter or peasant on the hearth or miner can have moments of emotion and inspiration that give him a feeling of an eternal home, and of being close to it.

Henry Boynton Smith on Sin and Apologetics

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Everything in the contest which Apologetics has to meet centers here: Is sin a reality, an abnormal condition, or a stage of education, a process of development, a lesser good? Wherever sin is, there will be opposition to holiness. It is natural for sin to oppose holiness, and to deny a holy God. ¶ The felt reality of sin is necessary to the possibility of redemption. Christianity is essentially a redemptive system. Incarnate love was crucified. A man with no sense of sin must oppose Christianity, in its doctrine of grace as well as of sin. ¶ In this statement it is by no means asserted or implied that all objections to the Bible and Christianity are only the signs and manifestations of man’s inborn and inbred corruption; that historical, philological, and doctrinal criticism come invariably from a sinful unbelief — stiil less, that when reason thinks and speaks, its utterances are to be set down to the account of a godless rationalism. Far from it. There are undeniable difficulties in respect to history and science which must be investigated. There are signs and wonders which would stagger any one, unless the need of them and their historic reality can be clearly evinced. Conscience and reason have their rights. Science has its lawful sphere. We are to prove (test, try) all things — even the Scriptures, even the doctrines of our faith — and hold fast that which is good. ¶ If the Christian system cannot establish its claims and authority in the view of reason and conscience (their rights being carefully weighed and defined), it will be in vain for Church or Pope to call upon the nations to believe in their own infallible authority, as settling all questions of right and wrong, truth and falsehood, for time and for eternity. No; we are in the conflict, and it is only by going through it that we can get the victory.

Fyodor Dostoevsky (as Ivan Karamazov) on Creative Evil

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A Bulgarian I met lately in Moscow,” Ivan went on, seeming not to hear his brother’s words, “told me about the crimes committed by Turks and Circassians in all parts of Bulgaria through fear of a general rising of the Slavs. They burn villages, murder, outrage women and children, they nail their prisoners by the ears to the fences, leave them so till morning, and in the morning they hang them — all sorts of things you can’t imagine. People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. The tiger only tears and gnaws, that’s all he can do. He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do it. These Turks took a pleasure in torturing children, too; cutting the unborn child from the mother’s womb, and tossing babies up in the air and catching them on the points of their bayonets before their mother’s eyes. Doing it before the mother’s eyes was what gave zest to the amusement. Here is another scene that I thought very interesting. Imagine a trembling mother with her baby in her arms, a circle of invading Turks around her. They’ve planned a diversion; they pet the baby, laugh to make it laugh. They succeed, the baby laughs. At that moment a Turk points a pistol four inches from the baby’s face. The baby laughs with glee, holds out his little hand to the pistol, and he pulls the trigger in the baby’s face and blows out its brains. Artistic, wasn’t it? By the way, Turks are particularly fond of sweet things they say.

Fyodor Dostoevsky on Eden

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Oh, everything was just as it is with us, except that everything seemed to be bathed in the radiance of some public festival and of some great and holy triumph attained at last. The green emerald see lapped the shore and kissed it with manifest, visible, almost conscious love. Tall, beautiful trees stood in all the glory of their green luxuriant foliage, and their innumerable leaves (I am sure of that) welcomed me with their soft, tender rustle and seemed to utter sweet words of love. The lush green grass blazed with bright and fragrant flowers. Birds were flying in flocks through the air and, without being afraid of me, alighted on my shoulders and hands and joyfully beat against me with their sweet fluttering wings. And at last I saw and came to know the people of this blessed earth. They came to me themselves. They surrounded me. They kissed me. Children of the sun, children of their sun — oh, how beautiful they were! Never on our earth had I beheld such beauty in man. Only perhaps in our children during the very first years of their life could one have found a remote, though faint, reflection of this beauty. The eyes of these happy people shone with a bright luster. It was an earth unstained by the Fall, inhabited by people who had not sinned and who lived in the same paradise as that in which, according to the legends of mankind, our first parents lived before they sinned. These people, laughing happily, thronged round me and overwhelmed me with their caresses; they took me home with them, and each of them was anxious to set my mind at peace.

Fyodor Dostoevsky on Nostalgic Yearning

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I often told them that I had had a presentiment of it years ago and that all that joy and glory had been perceived by me while I was still on our earth as a nostalgic yearning, bordering at times on unendurably poignant sorrow; that I had had a presentiment of them all and of their glory in the dreams of my heart and in the reveries of my soul; that often on our earth I could not look at the setting sun without tears…. That there always was a sharp pang of anguish in my hatred of the men of our earth; why could I not hate them without loving them too? why could I not forgive them? And in my love for them, too, there was a sharp pang of anguish: Why could I not love them without hating them?

Fyodor Dostoevsky on Love and Suffering

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But are such repetitions possible in the universe? Can that be nature’s law? And if that is an earth there, is it the same earth as ours? Just the same poor, unhappy, but dear, dear earth, and beloved forever and ever? Arousing like our earth the same poignant love for herself even in the most ungrateful of her children? I kept crying, deeply moved by an uncontrollable, rapturous love for the dear old earth I had left behind… Suddenly a strange feeling of some great and sacred jealousy blazed up in my heart. “How is such a repetition possible and why? I love, I can only love the earth I’ve left behind, stained with my blood when, ungrateful wretch that I am, I extinguished my life by shooting myself through the heart. But never, never have I ceased to love that earth, and even on the night I parted from it I loved it perhaps more poignantly than ever. Is there suffering on this new earth? On our earth we can truly love only with suffering and through suffering! We know not how to love otherwise. We know no other love. I want suffering in order to love. I want and thirst this very minute to kiss, with tears streaming down my cheeks, the one and only earth I have left behind. I don’t want, I won’t accept life on any other!

Vincent van Gogh on the Journey

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Did I ever tell you about a picture by Boughton, “The Pilgrim’s Progress”? It is toward evening. A sandy path leads over the hills to a mountain, on the top of which is the Holy City, lit by the red sun setting behind the gray evening clouds. On the road is a pilgrim who wants to go to the city; he is already tired and asks a woman in black, who is standing by the road and whose name is “Sorrowful yet always Rejoicing”: “Does the road go uphill all the way?” “Yes, to the very end.” “And will the journey take all day long?” “Yes, from morn till night my friend.” Truly, it is not a picture, but an inspiration.