Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Story of Philosophy

After my follow-up visit to the eye surgeon this morning, I went to Barnes and Nobel, just to get out of the house. After browsing haphazardly, I settled on the philosophy section.  I noticed, The Story of Philosophy, by Will Durant, and thumbed through it a bit.  I brought my found treasure to the coffee bar area, treated myself to the extravagance of a vanilla chai, at four dollars plus, and sat down with my Will Durant.  I thought I’d take a gander at the chapters on Francis Bacon or Spinoza, but then my eyes fell on a subsection in the chapter, “American Philosophers,” subtitled, Reason in Religion. The section was about the philosopher George Santayana, of whom I had heard of but knew nothing about.

Santayana was a poet first, and wrote philosophy with the beauty and emotional sensitivity of a lyric poet. Born in Spain, Santayana came to America as a child and in terms of culture and personality remained very Spanish. He was never completely at home in America, certainly not in New York City. He found the relative quiet in Boston and New England to be a little more suited to his liking but not completely so.  

Of Santayana’s relationship with his lost faith of Catholicism, I found his rejections, skepticisms, and contradictions to be detached and honest.  Durant says that the atheist Santayana loved Catholicism the way a man still longs for a woman that deceived him.  Of Catholicism he said, “I do believe her though I know she lies.” Santayana loved the beauty of Catholicism, and he loved it above the truth of other religions. Though a non-believer, he scolds the Protestants for discarding the pretty medieval legends and for neglecting the Virgin Mary. Santayana believed that there was no God and that Mary was his mother. He later moved to Oxford, England, where he wrote of his estranged religion:

                                            Exile that I am,
Exile not only from the wind-swept moor,
Where Guadaranna lifts his purple crest,
But from the spirit’s realm, celestial, sure,
Goal of all hope, and vision of the best.

There are volumes and details more than this of course, from and about Santayana, including many excellent and cutting criticisms of Christianity.  Of his life’s journey, we do not know if George Santayana ever found his destiny, but George Santayana’s life and writings are certainly the story of a soul.