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Saturday, 9 April 2016

When confusion reigns

Towards the end of the nineteenth century Émile Zola wrote an interesting novel about Lourdes, the claimed miracles, the character and visions of Bernadette Soubirous and the huge pilgrimage site Lourdes became. He wrote the novel through the eyes of Pierre Froment, a priest struggling with his loss of faith.

The passage below shows how in Zola’s view confusion can be a vehicle for human hopes and passions even when faced with the stark realities of death and incurable disease. Over two centuries earlier Baruch Spinoza saw confusion as the essential element of misguided human thought. Whatever one thinks of the Lourdes phenomenon, it is very far from being the only area where confusion has bypassed painful or inconvenient realities. 

Pierre had now begun to understand what was taking place at Lourdes, the extraordinary spectacle which the world had been witnessing for years, amidst the reverent admiration of some and the insulting laughter of others. Forces as yet but imperfectly studied, of which one was even ignorant, were certainly at work — auto-suggestion, long prepared disturbance of the nerves; inspiriting influence of the journey, the prayers, and the hymns; and especially the healing breath, the unknown force which was evolved from the multitude, in the acute crisis of faith.

Thus it seemed to him anything but intelligent to believe in trickery. The facts were both of a much more lofty and much more simple nature. There was no occasion for the Fathers of the Grotto to descend to falsehood; it was sufficient that they should help in creating confusion, that they should utilise the universal ignorance. It might even be admitted that everybody acted in good faith — the doctors void of genius who delivered the certificates, the consoled patients who believed themselves cured, and the impassioned witnesses who swore that they had beheld what they described.

And from all this was evolved the obvious impossibility of proving whether there was a miracle or not. And such being the case, did not the miracle naturally become a reality for the greater number, for all those who suffered and who had need of hope?

Émile Zola – Lourdes (1894)

6 comments:

Demetrius said...

My parents went to the pictures whatever was on, it saved on coal. So I came to see the film "The Song Of Bernadette". On balance I enjoyed my hernia operation a lot more.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - "The Song Of Bernadette" sounds grim.

Henry Kaye said...

I think it would be a whole better world if everyone stopped thinking about things that are outside the human experience.

Roger said...

I am sure there are many areas of society held together by nothing more than a tenuous faith. A kind of snuggling up to share warmth and smell - like pigs in a litter. Not to snuggle means an unprotected and rather uncomfortable life - but a free one. Truth is not always welcome or useful.

James Higham said...

Forces as yet but imperfectly studied, of which one was even ignorant, were certainly at work — auto-suggestion, long prepared disturbance of the nerves; inspiriting influence of the journey, the prayers, and the hymns; and especially the healing breath, the unknown force which was evolved from the multitude, in the acute crisis of faith.

But never affording one a pat, final answer yea or nay.

A K Haart said...

Henry - I agree, but it seems to be part of human nature.

Roger - if only people were more choosy about their snuggling.

James - yes, that's the point he's making.