The Mark of the Sacred

The Mark of the Sacred

The Mark of the Sacred

The Mark of the Sacred

Synopsis

Jean-Pierre Dupuy, prophet of what he calls "enlightened doomsaying," has long warned that modern society is on a path to self-destruction. In this book, he pleads for a subversion of this crisis from within, arguing that it is our lopsided view of religion and reason that has set us on this course. In denial of our sacred origins and hubristically convinced of the powers of human reason, we cease to know our own limits: our disenchanted world leaves us defenseless against a headlong rush into the abyss of global warming, nuclear holocaust, and the other catastrophes that loom on our horizon. Reviving the religious anthropology of Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, and Marcel Mauss and in dialogue with the work of René Girard, Dupuy shows that we must remember the world's sacredness in order to keep human violence in check. A metaphysical and theological detective, he tracks the sacred in the very fields where human reason considers itself most free from everything it judges irrational: science, technology, economics, political and strategic thought. In making such claims, The Mark of the Sacred takes on religion bashers, secularists, and fundamentalists at once. Written by one of the deepest and most versatile thinkers of our time, it militates for a world where reason is no longer an enemy of faith.

Excerpt

This book treats a series of questions that concern all of mankind. To what do we owe our faculty of reason—that power of thought in which we take so much pride, and which philosophers since Aristotle have considered to be uniquely human? Is rationality equally distributed among all peoples? Was it inborn in us from the beginnings of our existence on earth, or did it first blossom only with the invention of two things for which the Western world is pleased to take credit: democracy and philosophy? Did it, in either case, subsequently achieve its fullest flowering as a consequence of modern advances in science and technology? If it did, must we say that instrumental rationality—the ability to relate ends to means that is peculiar to Homo œconomicus—represents the unsurpassable culmination of human reason? Or is it merely a degraded and inadequate facsimile?

Whether reason is innate or acquired, we know that it can be lost, individually and collectively. But what does this tell us about the nature of reason? Not only the murderous rages, the genocides and the holocausts, but also the folly that leads humanity to destroy the conditions necessary to its survival—what do these things teach us about the absence of reason? In 1797, Francisco Goya made an etching to which he gave the title El sueño de la razón produce monstruos. It shows a man fallen asleep in his chair, his head resting heavily on a table, surrounded by terrifying creatures of the night, owls and bats. A large cat looks on. With this arresting image an artist who had upheld the ideals of the French Revolution in opposition to many of his countrymen expressed his horror at the awful massacres of the Terror. The title is generally translated as “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.” But the Spanish word sueño, as it happens, may mean either sleep or dream. In this second sense Goya’s title acquires a much more disturbing meaning. It is not the eclipse of reason that produces monsters . . .

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