The following one is just as cynical. A husband visits the tomb of his deceased wife, and meditates on the fact that “there she lies” reveling in her peace and in mine. (Jacques de Lorens, p. 68)
Vauvenargues’ words are loaded with cynicism. He writes: “We feel nothing more sharply than the loss of the woman we love, nor for a shorter time.” (N.G.) He is trying to convince us that “faithfulness” is nothing but an appearance soon denied by facts. How refreshing by comparison to recall the words of Kierkegaard that the test of true faithfulness is our relation to the dead.
In this light of these remarks, we can measure the harm that can be done by cynical literature; and how a young person feeding on it can enter life already “blasé” and disappointed. Yet one great true love should suffice to re-open for us the gates of hope. Is this “light of hope” often offered in contemporary education and contemporary literature? Are we not living in a decadent society where many of us have lost what Dante beautifully calls: “la speranza dell’altezza.” How many of our contemporaries having given up the bright light of faith, live like moles in a dark den, convinced that this earth is to be “enjoyed” in any way one pleases, and then when the game is over, gratefully greet assisted suicide.
Montaigne clearly deserves a special place in our list of famous cynics. Speaking about marriage, he compares it to an aviary: the birds inside the cage desperately wishing to get out; those outside, desperately wishing to get in. (p 50) In other words, once you have “tasted” how bitter-sweet the marriage bond is, understandably your one great wish is to regain your freedom.
More in Dr. Alice von Hildebrand
As these cynical arrows being mostly shot by men, it is inevitable that they aim at flagellating the female sex. It is always tempting – starting from Genesis – to put the fault on the “other”, be it a serpent or Eve.
But if all the cynical remarks uttered by women’s tongues had been recorded, I am far from certain that they would not deserve the first prize of eloquence.
Understandably, the male sex, being physically the stronger one, is easily tempted to equate superiority with strength. This is wittily expressed by Alexander Dumas (fils) who tells us that, according to the Bible, the woman was created last. It must have been on Saturday night. There are clear signs of fatigue. (326) But a witty tongue could remind him that “last” often means better: the final copy comes after the rough draft!
The same author is also makes the venomous remark that “the chains of wedlock are so heavy to carry that one needs to be two…and often three.” (ibid)
Every gift of God – and the creation of Eve was one for Adam who gave expression to his joy upon perceiving her – if not “baptized” turns to a terrible caricature. This found its expression in the following words of Paul Valery: “God created man and finding him not sufficiently alone, gave him a female companion to make him feel doubly lonesomeness.” (382) Alas, this is acknowledged to be a real possibility by the very talented French philosopher, Gabriel Marcel, (see his play: Le Coeur des Autres), it can and does happen that two people linked by the bonds of matrimony, have nothing to say to one another. This sheds light on many cases of matrimonial infidelity.
How tempting it is for a cynical tongue to lash at “virtues.”
“Few virtuous women do not weary of being so.” (N.G.) Once again, we owe this nasty remark to La Rochefoucault. My translation “Few are the virtuous women who do not get tired of their ‘trade.’” (p. 92) The message is clear: some women who have little appeal for the other sex, take refuge in “virtue,” but as soon as there is a flicker of hope the pride of being “virtuous” loses its appeal and collapse.
Once virtue is “vilified”, virginity is bound to follow suit. Not surprisingly we are “indebted” to Voltaire for this gem: “One of the superstitions of the human mind is to suppose that virginity could be a virtue.” (N.G. p. 187)
Should one be surprised that someone who dared write the blasphemous words: “ecrasez l’infame” which have been interpreted by some as being directed to Christ, should shed subtle ridicule one of the most sublime flowers of Christian love? Various interpretations could be given to these diabolical words; but being given the fact that he was a radical atheist and viewed religion as an evil, it seems legitimate gives credence to this negative interpretation.
(Column continues below)
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It is not difficult to detect the venom hidden in these “witty” words. Similarly it is well known that those afflicted by sexual impotency are likely to denigrate this sphere as dragging man down on a purely animal level. I heard one afflicted by this grave flaw, saying: “this is a domain where animals are man’s role model.”
It is clearly redolent of the witty fable of La Fontaine; a fox unable to reach juicy grapes, proclaimed them to be “unripe.” These words are a cover-up for poorly disguised bitterness and resentment.
Inevitably, God and religion are preferred butts of atheists. Once again Voltaire deserves a “special” place whose poisonous pen in 18th century France has done much harm not only to the Church but also to French society. In such cases, the word “enlightenment” actually mean that having rejected the blinding light of faith, and like moles chosen to enter into a dark den, proudly lighten the candle of rationalism. The following remark looks “innocent” but is, in fact, loaded with venom. He writes;
“If God did not exist, he should be invented.” (p. 180) Clearly man thrives on illusions and should not be deprived of this pleasure!
Baudelaire, however, manages to trump this nasty remark when he writes: “God is the only being who, in order to reign need not even exist.” (N.G. p. 313) Comments are unnecessary.
How very many of us forget that whatever gift God has given us – and being a talented writer is one – should be put at His service. Clearly the Evil one aims at having these gifts put at his service through by pride, ambition, and hunger for fast fame.
How often do educators tell children that whatever gift they have should be put at God’s service? This should give them food for thought.