Thursday, February 15, 2007

On Passion: Love, Fury, Ambition, Fanaticism, Devotion and all the rest

Greetings to all those in internet land. I think every once and a while I should start out with a greeting instead of launching right into my main point. What is my main point today you might ask? (You might ask that although knowing you bums you probably won't.) My main point is a defense of religion that segways into a more general discussion of passion. Passion is a pretty essential part of the human condition and a while ago I wrote an essay on it. I actually have quite an archive of old writings and so I thought I'd pull this out and place it here. Now since it is old it lacks the polish of my recent gains in writing ability, on the other hand since it is an essay it is more polished than my average blog. Maybe I'll re-write this sometime and re-post it, but anyways without much further ado (or adoo-doo) let me give you my essay On Passion (with essays I like to go with On this or that because that's how all Cicero's stuff is titled in my old textbooks and well, Cicero rocks).

On Passion

Any student of history and human nature can read off examples of times where religion led to bloodshed or worse. Every religion has its share of madmen, but every religion also has its fair share of saints. The difference between the madmen and the saints is difficult to tell at times, and controversial as well. Some would call all religion a mass hysteria and thus anyone who follows it, no matter how saintly his behavior must then be, at least partially, insane. Their proof is the Crusades, the Jihads, and many other examples of religion gone wrong. Yet it should be noted that atheism has not a spotless record, the countless dead of the USSR and Communist China are the most prominent examples of this. Underneath all the slaughters mentioned is a common root. The Crusades were caused by religious passion, the Communist purges were caused by ideological passion, passion is the link. Passion is a powerful emotion, it can prompt a man to disregard his life and the lives of others, it can give people superhuman strength of will, and in certain people and in certain times, passion is massively contagious. And if all that powerful passion is misled, tragedy occurs. Ideologies, philosophies, religions, and all other forms of belief are based on a degree of passion, for all appeal to that very passionate center of the human soul, the search for the truth. Every belief-system offers the truth. The truth is the fundamental bedrock of a person?s existence, their view on the world, the way they act, these are simply ways of carrying out the truth. Accepting something as that important and that central to a person's life requires passion. And passion is powerful, immensely powerful, and so it can lead to some spectacular monstrosities.

Some believe that therefore all passion should be abandoned. Nothing should become centrally important, and nothing should be accepted as the truth. This belief has a certain appeal, a believer in this idea will never kill for the truth, nor will he die for the truth, nor will he feel the agonizing pain of losing what he thought was the truth. I can understand the appeal, but I cannot believe in this idea. Passion can cause horrors but it can also cause miracles. Passion is what drives people to great acts, and these acts can be both horrible and beautiful. Passion drove Mother Theresa to care for the poorest of the poor. Passion drove Patrick Henry to offer his life for liberty. Passion drove Mohandas Gandhi to demand that every man be treated with respect. Passion drove Horatio Nelson to die to save his country from Napoleon. Passion drove Shakespeare to craft his magnificent plays. Without passion no one can see anything as truly great or beautiful, for that requires a full-hearted, unconditional belief in the truth of beauty and greatness.

Greatness and monstrosity both hail from passion. The dual-nature of passion mirrors the dual-nature of the human soul. Human beings have the potential to acquire power and use it to do great deeds, human beings also have the potential to use power to destroy, corrupt, and annihilate. That is the nature of humanity. Thus while passion can be seen as the root of great evil it must not be abandoned or abolished. For to destroy passion would be to lose our capability for living a beautiful life, and when mankind loses that, we lose our humanity.

This discussion started with religion, and so before it ends we should return to that topic. Religion is an object of great passion, and this alone can explain what evil has been done in its name. Yet passion also explains the great good that has been accomplished by those driven by religion. It would be unfair to say that all good deeds are committed by religious people, but it would be just as unfair to say that religion has never driven anyone to do a good deed. Great deeds of virtue require a person to overcome their fears, their personal problems, and the problems of society, to overcome this a person needs passion, and religion can provide this for some. To the faithful religion has many other benefits, but at the very least it inspires. What religion inspires can be good or evil, but it can inspire the truest sort of greatness. -Rand

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