Thursday 29th of October 2020

to all the atheists of the world...

book of hours
As AAAS seems to pander to religion too often, we, rabid atheists, try hard to make sure that sciences are not polluted nor infiltrated by the religious thoughts. Me and my friend, Jules (Letambour) often discuss ways to express how stupid it is to believe that science and religion are on the same path.  

We have explored this many times in sarcastic (sorry I meant to say satirical) and serious tones on this site. The strong divergence between sciences and religions has seen the greater daylight during the Enlightenment which exposed the invention of god(s) as a means to deceive and control. Since then, one or the other has tried to absorb the other. Religions want to gobble Sciences while sciences are a bit more restrained, but there are scientists too eager to compromise, because they believe “to a point”… A compromised science is not science. It has to be pure.

Thus Jules offered his modern translation of “The Atheist’s Mass” by Honoré de Balzac. Apparently, written in one single night, in 1838, apart from one single page (number 8, out of 15 long-hand with just a few alterations to the publisher a couple of days after) the story is verbose, but necessarily so. The slightly ambiguous end is not due to the atheist, but to his atheist friend who for an instant is imagining the scientific deo-compromise — not because of his own conviction, but because of what others would think...


The Atheist's Mass

A doctor to whom science owes a beautiful theory of physiology, and who, still young, placed himself among the celebrities of the School of Paris, at the centre of enlightenment to which the doctors of Europe all pay homage, Doctor Bianchon has long practiced surgery before engaging in medicine. His first studies were directed by one of the greatest French surgeons, by the illustrious Desplein, who passed like a meteor in science. According to his enemies, his unique skills died with him. Like all people of genius, he was without heirs: his knowledge was exclusively with him. The glory of surgeons is like that of actors, who exist only during their lifetime and whose talent is no longer appreciated once they have passed away. The actors and the surgeons, as also the great singers, like the virtuosos who multiply tenfold the power of the music, by their performance, are all the heroes of the moment. Desplein offers proof of this similarity between the destiny of these transitory geniuses. His name, so famous yesterday, almost forgotten today, will remain in his specialty without crossing its boundaries. But do not it take incredible circumstances for the name of a scientist to pass from the realm of Science into the general history of Humanity? Did Desplein have that universality of knowledge that makes a man the word or the figure of a century? Desplein possessed a divine eye: he penetrated the patient and his illness through an acquired or natural intuition which enabled him to embrace the diagnoses particular to the individual, to determine the precise moment, the hour, the minute at which it was necessary to operate, by making allowance for the atmospheric circumstances and the peculiarities of the temperament. To walk thus in tandem with Nature, had he therefore studied the incessant junction of beings and elementary substances contained in the atmosphere or that the earth provides to man who absorbs them and prepares them to derive a particular expression from them? ? Was he proceeding by that power of deduction and analogy to which Cuvier's genius is due? Anyway, this man had made himself the confidant of the Flesh, he was seizing it in the past as in the future, relying on the present. But did he sum up all the science in his person as did Hippocrates, Galen, Aristotle? Did he lead a whole school to new heights? No. If it is impossible to deny this perpetual observer of human chemistry, the ancient science of alchemy, that is to say the knowledge of the principles in fusion, the causes of life, life before life, this that it will be by its preparations before being; unfortunately everything about him was personal: isolated in his life by selfishness, a selfishness that today destroys his glory. His tomb is not surmounted by a large bronze statue that tells the future of the mysteries that the Genie had sought in his toil. But perhaps Desplein's talent was linked to his beliefs, and consequently deadly. For him, the earth's atmosphere was a generator bag: he saw the earth like an egg in its shell, and not being able to know which of the egg, and which of the hen had first started, he did not admit the rooster nor the egg. He believed neither in the anterior animal nor in the spirit posterior to man. Desplein was not in doubt, he said. His pure and frank atheism resembled that of many scholars, the best people in the world, but invincibly atheists, atheists like religious people do not admit that there can be atheists. This opinion must not have been otherwise in a man accustomed from a young age to dissect the being par excellence, before, during life and after death, to excavate it in all its devices without finding there that unique soul, so necessary for religious theories. By recognising a cerebral centre, a nervous centre and an aero-sanguine centre, the first two of which complement each other so well, that in the last days of his life he was convinced that the sense of hearing was not absolutely necessary to hear, nor the sense of sight absolutely necessary in order to see, and that the solar plexus replaced them, without anyone being able to doubt it; Desplein, finding two souls in man, corroborated his atheism of this fact, although he does not yet prejudge anything about God. This man died, it is said, in the final impenitence in which unfortunately many beautiful geniuses die, whom God can forgive.

The life of this great man was full of mundanities, to use the expression used by his enemies, eager to diminishing his glory, but which it would be more appropriate to name these apparent misinterpretations. Never having knowledge of the determinations by which higher minds act, the envious or the foolish immediately arm themselves with some superficial contradictions to draw up an indictment on which they temporarily put them on trial. If, later, success crowns the threatened combinations, showing the correlation of preparations and results, there still remain little vanguard slanders. Thus, nowadays, Napoleon was condemned by his contemporaries, when he spread the wings of his eagle over England: it took 1822 to explain 1804 and the flat-bottomed boats of Boulogne.

With Desplein, fame and science being unassailable, his enemies attacked his bizarre mood, his character; while he quite simply possessed that quality which the English call eccentricity. Sometimes superbly dressed like the tragic Crébillon, sometimes he affected a singular indifference in the matter of clothing; he was sometimes seen in a coach, sometimes on foot. Alternately rough and kind, seemingly harsh and stingy, but able to offer his fortune to his exiled masters who did him the honour of accepting it for a few days, no man has inspired more contradictory judgments. Although capable, in order to have a black cordon that the doctors should not have envied, to drop a book of hours out of his pocket, believe that he did not care to himself at all; he had a deep contempt for men, having watched them from above and below, having caught them in their true expression, in the midst of the most solemn and petty acts of existence. In a great man, the qualities are often united. If, among these giants, one of them has more talent than spirit, his spirit is even more extended than that of which it is simply said: He has spirit. All genius presupposes a moral view. This view may apply to any specialty; but whoever sees the flower must see the sun. The one who hears a diplomat, saved by him, asking, "How is the Emperor?" "And who replied:" The courtier is coming back, the man will follow! "This one is not only a surgeon or a doctor, he is also astonishingly spiritual. Thus, the patient and assiduous observer of mankind will legitimise Desplein's exorbitant claims and believe him, as he believed himself, fit to make a minister just as great as the surgeon was.
Among the enigmas that the life of Desplein presents to some of his contemporaries, we have chosen one of the most interesting, because the word will be found in the conclusion of the story, and will avenge him from silly accusations.

Of all the students that Desplein had at his hospital, Horace Bianchon was one he was most attached to. Before being an intern at the Hôtel-Dieu, Horace Bianchon was a medical student, housed in a miserable pension in the Latin Quarter, known as the Maison Vauquer. This poor young man felt there the attacks of this ardent misery, a sort of crucible from which great talents must emerge pure and incorruptible like diamonds which can be subjected to all shocks without breaking. In the violent fire of their unleashed passions, they acquire the most unalterable probity, and contract the habit of struggles that await genius, by the constant work in which they have eliminated their deceived aspirations. Horace was an upright young man, incapable of procrastinating in matters of honour  going without deviation to the point, ready to pawn his cloak for his friends, as well as to give them his time and his vigils. Horace was finally one of those friends who didn't care what they received in return for what they gave, certain of receiving in turn more than they gave. Most of his friends had that inner respect for him inspired by unabashed virtue, and many of them dreaded his censorship. But these qualities Horace displayed without pedantry. Neither a Puritan nor a sermoniser  he swore graciously when giving advice, and willingly shared a good meal when the opportunity presented itself. Good companion, no more prudish than a cuirassier, round and frank, not like a sailor, for the sailor of today is a cunning diplomat, but like a brave young man who has nothing to disguise in his life he walked with his head held high and his mind laughing. Finally, to put it all in one word, Horace was more the Pylades than an Orestes, creditors being dismissed as real as the Furies of antiquity. He accepted his misery with that gaiety which is perhaps one of the greatest show of courage, and like all those who have nothing, he contracted little debt. Sober as a camel, alert as a stag, he was firm in his ideas and in his conduct. Bianchon's happy life began from the day when the illustrious surgeon acquired proof of the qualities and faults which, one as well as the other, make Doctor Horace Bianchon doubly precious to his friends. When a clinic manager takes a young man in his lap, that young man has, as they say, his foot in the stirrup. Desplein did not fail to take Bianchon to assist him in the opulent houses where almost always some gratuity fell into the purse of the intern, and where the mysteries of Parisian life were imperceptibly revealed to the provinces; Desplein kept him in his study during consultations, and employed him there; sometimes he would send him to accompany a rich patient to hydrotherapy; finally Desplein was building a clientele for Bianchon  As a result, after a while, the Surgical Tyrant had a Minion. These two men, one at the height of honours and his knowledge, enjoying immense fortune and immense glory; the other, modest Omega, having neither fortune nor fame, became confidants. The great Desplein said everything to his intern; the intern knew whether such and such a woman had sat on a chair near the master, or on the famous sofa in the study and on which Desplein slept: Bianchon knew the mysteries of this lion and bull temperament, which ends by widening, amplifying beyond measure the bust of the great man, and caused his death by enlargement of the heart. He studied the oddities of this busy life, the aspects of Desplein's sordid avarice, the hopes of the politician hidden in the scholar; he could foresee the disappointments which awaited the hidden feeling buried in this heart that was less solid bronze than tan-coloured by the sun.

One day, Bianchon told Desplein of a poor water carrier in the Saint-Jacques district who had a horrible illness caused by fatigue and misery; this poor Auvergnat [from Auvergne] had only eaten potatoes in the great winter of 1821. Desplein dropped all his patients. At the risk of killing his horse, he flew, followed by Bianchon, to the poor man's house and had him transported to the nursing home established by the famous Dubois in the Faubourg Saint-Denis. He went to take care of this man, to whom he gave, when he had recovered, the sum necessary to buy a horse and a barrel. This Auvergnat was distinguished by an unusual wish. A friend of his fell ill, he promptly took him to Desplein's, telling his benefactor: - "I would not have suffered if he went to another doctor. Sullen as he was, Desplein shook hands with the water carrier, and said, “bring them all to me." "And he brought the child from Cantal into the Hôtel-Dieu, where he took the greatest care of him. Bianchon had already several times noticed in Desplein had a predilection for Auvergnats and especially for water carriers; but, as Desplein took a sort of zealous pride in his famous treatment at the Hôtel-Dieu, the pupil did not see anything too strange in it.

One day, while crossing the Place Saint-Sulpice, Bianchon saw his master entering the church around nine in the morning. Desplein, who by then never took a step without his cabriolet, was on foot, and was slipping through the door in the Rue du Petit-Lion, as if he had entered an ill-repute house. Naturally taken with curiosity, the intern who knew the opinions of his master, and who was Cabalist en dyable, [term often use to describe an atheist] the devil with a y (which appears in Rabelais for Devyl superiority), Bianchon also discreetly entered Saint-Sulpice, and was not moderately astonished to see the great Desplein, this atheist without pity for the angels who do not offer a hold to the scalpels, and can have neither fistulas nor gastritis, well, this intrepid master of derision humbly kneeling, and where? … In the chapel of the Virgin in front of which he listened to mass, gave money for the expenses of the worship, gave for the poor, while remaining serious as if it had been a question of a surgical operation.

"He did not come, of course, to clarify questions relating to the Virgin in childbirth," said Bianchon, whose astonishment was boundless. If I had seen him holding one of the cords of the canopy on Corpus Christi, there would have been nothing but laughter; but at this hour, alone, without witnesses, there was certainly something to think about!

Bianchon did not want to appear to be spying on the first surgeon of the Hôtel-Dieu, he left. By chance, Desplein invited him that very day to dine with him, away from home, at a restaurant. Between the pear and the cheese Bianchon arrived, by skilful preparations, to speak of the mass, qualifying it as a prank and a farce.

"A farce," said Desplein, "which has cost Christendom more blood than all the battles of Napoleon and all the leeches of Broussais!" The Mass is a papal invention that dates no earlier than the 6th century, and has been based on Hoc est corpus. How many torrents of blood did it not take to establish Corpus Christi by the institution of which the court of Rome wanted to confirm its victory in the affair of the Real Presence, a schism which for three centuries troubled the Church! The wars of the Count of Toulouse and the Albigenses are the tail of this affair. The Vaudois and the Albigenses refused to recognise this innovation [see the Cathars].

Finally Desplein took pleasure in indulging in all his atheistic verve, and it was a flow of Voltairean jokes, or, to be more exact, a loathsome counterfeit of the Storyteller.

- Yeah! said Bianchon to himself, where is my devotee this morning?

He remained silent, he even doubted having seen his boss in Saint-Sulpice. Desplein would not have bothered to lie to Bianchon: they both knew each other too well, they had already, on equally serious points, exchanged thoughts, discussed the systems of natura rerum by probing them or dissecting them with the knives and scalpel of unbelief. Three months passed. Bianchon did not follow up on this fact, although it remained engraved in his memory. In this year, one day, one of the doctors at the Hôtel-Dieu took Desplein by the arm in front of Bianchon, as if to question him.

- What were you doing in Saint-Sulpice, my dear master? he said to him.

"To see a priest there who has a bad knee, and whom the Duchess of Angoulême did me the honour of recommending," said Desplein.

The doctor accepted this explanation, but not Bianchon.

- Ah! he's going to see sick knees in the church! He was going to hear his mass, the intern told himself.

Bianchon made up his mind to watch Desplein; he remembered the day and the hour when he had surprised him entering Saint-Sulpice, and promised himself to come the following year on the same day and at the same time, in order to know if he was there again. In this case, the periodicity of his devotion would authorise a scientific investigation, for there was not to be found in such a man a direct contradiction between thought and action. The following year, on the day and at the appointed hour, Bianchon, who was no longer a Desplein intern, saw the surgeon's convertible stopping at the corner of rue de Tournon and rue du Petit-Lion, from where his friend went religiously along the walls to Saint-Sulpice, where he still heard a mass at the altar of the Virgin. It was Desplein himself! The chief surgeon, the atheist in petto, the devotee by chance. The plot was thickening. The persistence of this illustrious scientist complicated everything. After Desplein had left, Bianchon approached the sacristan who serviced the chapel, and asked him if this gentleman was a regular.

— I've been here twenty years,' said the sacristan, 'and since that time Monsieur Desplein has come four times a year to hear this mass; he founded it.

- A foundation made by him! said Bianchon as he walked away. This is worth the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, something which in itself must make a physician incredulous.

Some time passed without Doctor Bianchon, although Desplein's friend, was in a position to speak to him about this peculiarity of his life. If they met in consultation or in the world, it was difficult to find this moment of confidence and solitude where one remains, feet on the andirons, the head resting on the back of an armchair, and during which two men tell each other their secrets. Finally, seven years later, after the revolution of 1830, when the people rushed on the Archdiocese, when the republican inspirations pushed them to destroy the golden crosses which stood out like lightning in the immensity of this ocean of houses ; when Incredulity, side by side with the Riot, lined up in the streets, Bianchon surprised Desplein entering Saint-Sulpice again. The doctor followed him there, stood beside him, without his friend making the slightest sign or showing the slightest surprise. Both heard the foundation mass.

"Will you tell me, my dear," said Bianchon to Desplein when they left the church, "the reason for your fancy?" I have already surprised you three times going to mass, you! You will end this mystery for me, and explain to me this blatant disagreement between your opinions and your conduct. You don't believe in God, and you go to mass! My dear master, you are required to answer me.

- I look like a lot of devotees, deeply religious men in appearance, but just as atheist as we can be, you and I.

And it was a torrent of epigrams on a few political figures, the most famous of which offers us in this century a new edition of Molière's Tartuffe.

- I'm not asking you all that, said Bianchon, I want to know the reason for what you have just done here, why you founded this mass.

- In truth, my dear friend, said Desplein, I am on the edge of my grave, I can speak to you of the beginnings of my life.

At this moment Bianchon and the great man were in the rue des Quatre-Vents, one of the most horrible streets in Paris. Desplein pointed to the sixth floor of one of those obelisk-like houses, the decrepit door of which opens onto an alley at the end of which is a winding staircase lit by days aptly called days of suffering. It was a greenish house, on the ground floor of which lived a furniture merchant, and which seemed to lodge a different misery on each of its floors. Raising his arm in a movement full of energy, Desplein said to Bianchon: — I stayed up-there for two years!

- I know, d'Arthez lived there, I came there almost every day during my early youth, we called it the jar of the great men! After?

- The mass I have just heard is linked to events which took place while I was living in the attic where you tell me that d'Arthez lived, the one at the window of which floats a rope laden with laundry, above a flowerpot. I had such rough beginnings, my dear Bianchon, that I can dispute with anyone the extend of Parisian suffering. I put up with everything: hunger, thirst, lack of money, lack of clothes, shoes and linen, everything that misery can dish. I breathed on my numb fingers in this Great man jar, which I would like to go visit again, with you. I worked one winter seeing my head steam up, and seeing the area of ​​my sweat like we see horses on a frosty day. I do not know where one takes support to resist this life. I was alone, helpless, penniless neither to buy books nor to pay for my medical education; without a friend: my irascible, skittish, worried character was doing me a disservice. No one wanted to see in my irritations the unease and the work of a man who, from the depths of his social state, is eager to get to the surface. But I had, I can tell you, in front of whom I do not need to drape myself, I had this bedrock of good feelings and lively sensitivity which will always be the prerogative of men strong enough to climb to the top, after having trampled for a long time in the marshes of Misery. I could not get anything out of my family, or my country, beyond the inadequate pension I was given. Finally, at that time, I ate in the morning a small bread that the baker in the rue du Petit-Lion sold me for less because it was from the day before or the day before, and I crumbled it in milk: my morning meal cost me only two cents. I only dined every other day at a boarding house where dinner cost sixteen cents. I was spending only nineteen cents a day like that. You know as well as I do what care I take of my clothes and my shoes! I don't know if later on we feel as much sorrow for the betrayal of a colleague as we have experienced, you like me, on perceiving the laughing grimace of a shoe that is unstitching, on hearing the tear in the back of a frock coat. I only drank water, I had the greatest respect for Cafés. Zoppi seemed to me like a promised land where the Lucullus of the Latin land alone had the right to be present. — Could I ever, I thought sometimes to myself, have a cup of coffee with cream there, and play a game of dominoes? Finally, I carried over into my work the rage that misery inspired in me. I tried to capture positive knowledge in order to have immense personal worth, to deserve the place I would come to when I came out of my nothingness. I consumed more oil than bread: the light that illuminated me during those stubborn nights cost me more than my food. This duel was long, stubborn, without consolation. I aroused no sympathy around me. In order to have friends, don't we have to bond with young people, have a few pennies in order to go drinking with them, go together wherever students go! I had nothing! And no one in Paris imagines that nothing is nothing. When it came to discovering my miseries, I had that nervous frog in my throat that makes our patients believe that a lump is growing from the oesophagus into the larynx. I later met those people, born rich, who, never lacking for anything, didn't know the problem with this rule of three: A young man IS to crime like a penny IS to X. These golden fools say to me: — Why are you in debt? why did you contract these onerous obligations? They give me the impression of that princess who, knowing that the people were starving, said: — Why don’t they buy brioche? I would like to see one of these rich people, who complains that I charge him too dear when it is necessary to operate, alone in Paris, without money or mail, without a friend, without credit, and forced to work with his hands to live? What would he do? where would he go to appease his hunger? Bianchon, if you have seen me sometimes bitter and harsh, then I superimposed my first pains on the insensitivity, on the egoism of which I have had thousands of proofs in high circles; or else I was thinking of the obstacles that hatred, envy, jealousy, calumny have raised between success and me. In Paris, when some people see you ready to step into the stirrup, someone pulls you by the hem of your coat, others let go of the buckle of the cinch so that you break your head when you fall; this one steals your horse, that one steals the whip: the less treacherous is the one you see coming to fire a pistol shot at you at close range. You have enough talent, my dear child, to soon experience the horrible, incessant battle that mediocrity fights against the superior man. If you lose twenty-five louis one evening, the next day you will be accused of being a gambler, and your best friends say that you lost twenty-five thousand francs. Should you have a headache, you will sound crazy. Have vivacity, you will be unsociable. If, in order to resist this battalion of pygmies, you gather superior forces within yourself, your best friends will cry out that you want to devour everything, that you claim to dominate, to tyrannise  Finally your qualities will become faults, your faults will become vices, and your virtues will be crimes. If you saved someone, you will have killed them; if your patient reappears, it will be certain that you have secured the present at the expense of the future; if he's not dead, he will die. take a deep breath, you have fallen! Invent anything, claim your rights, you will be a difficult man, a shrewd man, who does not want to let young people arrive. So, my dear, if I don’t believe in God, I believe in man even less. Do you not know in me a Desplein entirely different from the Desplein that everyone is backbiting about? But let's not dig into this pile of mud. So I lived in this house, I was at work so I could take my first exam, and I didn't have a farthing. You know ! I had come to one of those last ends where you thought, I'll commit! I had hope. I expected from a trunk full of laundry from my own folks, a present from those old aunts who, knowing nothing about Paris, think of your shirts, imagining that with thirty francs a month their nephew eats ortolans. The trunk arrived while I was at school: it had cost forty francs postage; the porter, a German shoemaker living in a loft, had paid for them and was guarding the trunk. I walked around the rue des Fossés-Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the rue de l'École-de-Médecine, without being able to invent a stratagem which would deliver my trunk to me without having to give the forty francs that I would naturally have paid after selling the linen. My stupidity made me guess that I had no other vocation than surgery. My dear, delicate souls whose strength is exerted in an elevated sphere, lack this spirit of intrigue, fertile in resources, in combinations; their genius is chance: they don't seek, they meet. Finally, I returned at night, when my neighbour  a water carrier named Bourgeat, a man from Saint-Flour, was returning. We knew each other as two tenants know each other who each have their own room in the same square, who can hear each other sleeping, coughing, dressing, and who eventually get used to each other. My neighbour told me that the owner, to whom I owed three terms, had kicked me out: I would have to evacuate the next day. He himself was driven out because of his profession. I spent the most painful night of my life. — Where can I get a messenger to take away my poor household, my books? how to pay the commission agent and the porter? where to go? These insoluble questions, I repeated them in tears, as madmen repeat their refrains. I slept. Misery has for her a divine sleep full of sweet dreams. The next morning, when I was eating my shell of bread crumbled in my milk, Bourgeat came in and said to me in bad French: "Monchieur [monsieur] the student, che chuis [I am] a poor man, an orphan left at the hospital of Chain-Flour, chans [without] father or mother, and who do not get rich enough to be married. Are you also not fertile in parents, or full of che qui che compte [someone you can rely upon]. Look, I have a handcart downstairs that I rented for two chous [cents] an hour, all of our things can fit there; if you like, we will try to find company lodgings, since we have been chased away from here. Che [it] is not paradise on earth after all. — I know very well, I said to him, my brave Bourgeat. But I am very embarrassed, I have a trunk downstairs that contains a hundred crowns of linen, with which I could pay the landlord and what I owe the porter, and I don't have a hundred sous. — Bah! I have a few monnerons [hidden cash], Bourgeat replied happily, showing me an old, grimy leather purse. Keep your laundry.” Bourgeat paid my three terms, his own, and paid the porter. Then he put our furniture, my laundry in his cart, and dragged it through the streets, stopping in front of each house with a “room to let" sign hanging on it. Me, I went up to see if the room to rent could suit us. At noon we were still wandering in the Latin Quarter without having found anything there. The price was a big obstacle. Bourgeat suggested that I have lunch at a wine merchant, at whose door we left the cart. Towards evening, I discovered in the courtyard of Rohan, Passage du Commerce, at the top of a house, under the roofs, two bedrooms separated by the staircase. We each had sixty francs in rent a year. Here we are, me and my humble friend. We had dinner together. Bourgeat, who earned about fifty sous a day, owned about one hundred crowns, he was soon going to be able to realise his ambition by buying a barrel and a horse. On learning of my situation, for he drew out my secrets from me with a matte depth and a bonhomie the memory of which still moves my heart to this day, he gave up for a time the ambition of his whole life:

Bourgeat had been an off-cart merchant for twenty-two years, he sacrificed his hundred crowns for my future.

Here Desplein violently squeezed Bianchon's arm.

— He gave me the money for my exams! This man, my friend, understood that I had a mission, that the needs of my intelligence came before his. He took care of me, he called me his little one, he lent me the money I needed to purchase my books, he sometimes came very slowly to see me working; finally he took maternal precautions so that he substituted the insufficient and bad food to which I was condemned, with a healthy and abundant food. Bourgeat, a man of about forty, had a middle-age bourgeois figure, a rounded forehead, a head that a painter could have posed as a model for a Lycurgus [the quasi-legendary lawgiver of Sparta who established the military-oriented reformation of Spartan society in accordance with the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi]. The poor man felt his heart heavy with affection; he had never been loved except by a poodle who had died a short time ago, and of whom he always spoke to me, wondering if I believed that the Church would consent to say Masses for the repose of its soul. His dog was, he said, a true Christian, who for twelve years had accompanied him to church without ever barking, listening to the organs without opening his mouth, and remaining squatting beside him with an air that made him believe he was praying with him. This man transferred all his affections to me: he accepted me as a lonely and suffering being; he became for me the most attentive mother, the most delicate benefactor, finally the ideal of this virtue which takes pleasure in his work. When I met him in the street, he gave me a look of intelligence full of inconceivable nobility: he then affected to walk as if he was wearing nothing, he seemed happy to see me in good health, well dressed. Finally, it was the dedication of the people, the love of ordinary beer carried into a high sphere. Bourgeat did my errands, he woke me up at night at the appointed time, he cleaned my lamp, rubbed our landing; as good a servant as a good father, and cleaned like an English girl. He was cleaning up. Like Philopoemen [a Greek warrior], he sawed our wood, and inspired all his actions with the simplicity of doing, while keeping his dignity there, for he seemed to understand that the goal ennobled everything. When I left this good man to enter the Hôtel-Dieu as an intern, he experienced a dismal pain at the thought that he could no longer live with me; but he consoled himself with the prospect of amassing the money needed to pay for my thesis, and made me promise to come and see him on the days of free-time  Bourgeat was proud of me, he loved me for me and for him. If you were to research my thesis, you would see that it was dedicated to him. In the last year of my internship, I had earned enough money to return all I owed to this worthy Auvergnat by buying him a horse and a barrel, he was outraged with anger to know that I was depriving myself of my money, and yet he was delighted to see his wishes fulfilled; he laughed and scolded me, he looked at his barrel, his horse, and wiped a tear, saying: — It's wrong! Ah! the beautiful barrel! You were wrong, the horse is as strong as an Auvergnat. I haven't seen anything more touching than this scene. Bourgeat was absolutely determined to buy me this silver-trimmed case that you saw in my study, and which is for me the most precious thing. Although intoxicated by my first successes, he never said the slightest word, and never had the slightest gesture that meant: This man, I made him! And yet without him, misery would have killed me. The poor man had exterminated himself for me: he had only eaten bread rubbed with garlic, so that I would have coffee to keep me awake. He fell ill. I spent, as you can imagine, the nights at his bedside, I got him out of the woods the first time; but he had a relapse two years later, and in spite of the most assiduous care, in spite of the greatest efforts of science, he had to succumb. Never was a king treated as he was. Yes, Bianchon, I have tried unheard-of things to snatch this life from death. I wanted to keep him alive enough to make him witness his work, to grant him all his wishes, to satisfy the only gratitude that filled my heart, to extinguish a hearth that still burns me today!

— Bourgeat, Desplein resumed, after a pause, visibly moved, my second father died in my arms, leaving me everything he had by a will he had made with a public writer, and dated the year we came to lodge together in the courtyard of Rohan. This man had the faith of a coal-man. He loved the Blessed Virgin as he would have loved his wife. An ardent Catholic, he had never said a word to me about my irreligion. When he was in danger, he begged me to spare no efforts to help him with the Church. I had mass said for him every day. Often during the night, he expressed to me fears about his future, he feared that he had not lived holy enough. The poor man ! He worked from morning till night. So who would Heaven belong to, if there is Heaven? He was administered as the saint he was, and his death was worthy of his life. His funeral cart was only followed by me. When I had buried my only benefactor, I was trying to find out how to pay back to him; I realised that he had no family, no friends, no wife, no children. But he believed! He had a religious conviction, did I have the right to discuss it? He had timidly told me about the masses said for the peace of the dead, he did not want to impose this duty on me, thinking that it would be a charge for his services. As soon as I was able to establish a foundation, I gave Saint-Sulpice the necessary sum to have four masses said there per year. As the only thing I can offer Bourgeat is the satisfaction of his pious desires, on the day this Mass is said, at the beginning of each season, I go in his name, and recite the requested prayers for him. I say with the good faith of the doubter: "My God, if there is a sphere where you put those who have been perfect, after their death, think of the good Bourgeat; and if there is something for him to suffer, give his sufferings to me, in order to bring him faster into what is called paradise. This, my dear, is all a man of my opinions can afford. God must be a good devil, he can't blame me. I swear to you, I would give my fortune so that Bourgeat's belief could get into my brain.

Bianchon, who treated Desplein in his last illness, does not dare say today that the illustrious surgeon died atheist. Believers will not like to think that the humble Auvergnat will have come to open the door to Heaven for him, as he once opened the door of the earthly temple at the top of which reads: To great men, their grateful patriotic country!
Paris, January 1836.

awakening to the real world...

Picture at top: a Book of Hours...



When Robert Oppenheimer, known as the “father” of the atomic bomb, saw the first detonation of a nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945, he aptly quoted the Bhagavd-Gita: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Having unleashed the Furies, these false gods have created a world in which the droning sound of nuclear intercontinental missiles haunts the secret nightmares of the world. We have been living with this unspeakable and unspoken truth for more than seventy years. 

Opposition to the nuclear standoff and its accompanying proxy wars has waxed and waned over the years. Dissident minorities and sometimes many millions across the globe have mobilized to oppose not only nuclear weapons but the war makers who have waged continuous wars of aggression throughout the world and have created the national-security warfare state, seemingly intent on world destruction. 

However, today the sound of silence fills the empty streets, as passivity has overtaken those who oppose the growing nuclear threat and the ongoing U.S.-led wars throughout the world. The spirit of resistance has gone to sleep. The German writer Karl Kraus understood this in the days of Hitler’s rise during the 1930s when he said, “The real end of the world is the destruction of the spirit; the other kind depends on the insignificant attempt to see whether after such destruction the world can go on.” 

We need to somehow resurrect the spirit of resistance that will bring together millions of people across the world who oppose the death dealers. I think it is time to recall the power and possibility implicit in the spirit of existential thought. 

The existential emphasis on individual responsibility and authentic truth telling in the works of various writers, including Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Gabriel Marcel, and Albert Camus (who didn’t consider himself an existentialist but whose work emphasized many of the same themes), inspired large numbers of people in the late ’50s into the mid-to-late ’60s, including the international anti-nuclear movement and young American anti-war activists. Contrary to popular understanding, existentialism is not about navel gazing and hopelessness, but is about responding freely and authentically to the situations people find themselves in, which today, is the end-time, that is, a time when the fate of the world lies in the hands of nuclear madmen. 

But by the end of the 1960s this existential spirit of rebellion started to dissipate. Academic gibberish replaced this rebellious spirit with the introduction of ideas such as post structuralism, leading eventually to postmodernist nonsense that not only refuted the need for personal responsibility, but eliminated the person altogether. By 1999 a leading exponent of postmodern rhetoric, Jean Baudrillard, was dismissing everything the existentialists emphasized. He said, “No one needs this kind of ‘existential garb’ any more. Who cares about freedom, bad faith, and authenticity today?” 

If such words were just the ranting of an intellectual lost in a fantasy world of abstractions, that would be one thing. But they are a form of propaganda echoed throughout western societies, particularly the United States, through the repeated emphases over the decades that people are not free but are the products of biological brain processes, Darwinist evolution, etc. Deterministic memes have become dominant in cultural mind control. Such postmodern abstractions have denied everything that makes possible the fight against nuclear annihilation and the warfare states’ domination of Western Europe and NATO, led by the United States. 

The self is an illusion. Freedom is an illusion. Responsibility is an illusion. Guilt is an illusion. Everything is an illusion. A kaleidoscopic mad world in which no one exists and nothing really matters. This deterministic and nihilistic message has become the main current in western cultural propaganda since the late 1960s and has reached a crescendo in the present day. It is responsible for the growth of passivity and denial that dominates contemporary public consciousness. It underlies the refusal of so many otherwise intelligent people to engage themselves in the search for truth that would lead to their joining forces with others to create a massive anti-war movement. 

Read more of Seeking Truth in a Country of Lies