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On Advent: “We Are All Lying in the Mud, But Some of Us Are Looking at the Stars”

The caption at NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day” page reads: “Atlantis to Orbit.”

The filename of the picture reads: Nightlaunch.

And I am moved by the poetry of this most modern of images, not by the triumph of Reason which it seems to enshrine, but by that which is beyond Reason yet within this Nightlaunch all the same.

In thinking about this brief essay I could not help but think of a longer one by Doctor Bob at The Doctor Is In about a “civilized” European nation that cannot stop itself from taking the next step down into the pit; its people driven, as “reasonable” people always are, by the inexorable demands of “what is reasonable.”

In the work of Goya we see how that great soul, having walked the carnage cloaked landscapes of his era, came to understand the deepest cry of the Enlightenment: El sueño de la razon produce monstruos. [“The sleep of reason breeds monsters.”]

Ah well, the bones of the Enlightenment lie buried in a shallow grave somewhere along the Western Front. It had some nice ideals, but left us living rapt in the spell of Reason.

And now we are a “reasonable” society. Now we are a “scientific people” swaddled in a million theories of management — convinced that all of creation can be, somehow, managed through the limitless employment of Reason. Many of us, as we have seen in the past month, worship “intelligence uber alles,” that strange and deadly viral god of the mad mind that kills the soul long before it kills the nations that embrace it. We see the apotheosis of this worship leap up from the dazed lands of Europe. We see it arc across our own skies. We feel the sting of its acid rain on our upturned, stunned faces.

Reason. Its gifts are many. It enables us to raise “Atlantis to Orbit.” The poetry of that is only exceeded by the reality of it; by all that lies behind the sheer raw ability of the smart monkey to organize itself to achieve it — the mathematics and the metallurgy, the pulses in the silicon chips that hold and control the fire that slices up and beyond the sky. And the systems and wires and waves that bring these thoughts from my fingertips to your eyes now.

All these, and whole Alps of others, are the gifts of Reason.

But there are darker gifts of Reason; gifts revealed by the languor with which a whole people fall “half in love with easeful death.”

Why? Why abort this child? Because it is reasonable.

Why kill this old and feeble person? Because it is reasonable.

Why take from them according to ability and give to others according to need? Always because it is “reasonable.”

Reason commands it and Reason has, in this modern era, become a vengeful and a jealous god.

If it is true that the sleep of reason breeds monsters, can it not also be true that the constant wakefulness of Reason breeds its own peculiar hallucinations; its walking horrors?

We depend on Reason when we flip a switch, step on a brake, or seat ourselves in pressurized thin metal tubes that hover 40,000 feet above the earth and move at 500 miles an hour. This power would seem to argue that Reason should be trusted in all things, that the intelligence that runs up and down the synapses of our brains in an endless flickering web of electo-chemical space-time events is the ultimate arbiter, the final judge, the self-obsessed lodestone of our lives.

And yet… and yet…

And yet, hovering outside of Reason, we still somehow sense Immanence; we sense there is something more going on here, something vaster unfolding all about us, no matter how sternly Reason rules.

We sense Immanence, no matter how many times we are told the opposite; we sense that myth, legend, soul, magic, miracle, and mystery still hold us, and that

The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze decor,

And that,

The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.

As we now move more deeply into Advent, we move — in our long sweeping orbit about our home star — closer to the moments when that which is most deeply our gift and most certainly our curse is made manifest in the music of our being in a manner beyond all reason. And no matter what our faith — even if that faith is that there is no faith to be had — this turn of the year, this Advent, will inexorably bring us once again to the memory of the miracle made manifest all about us in every moment if we could but pause to see the forever present revelation.

Our Here.

Our Now.

Our miracle.

Impossible but actual.

Our actual existence on this most unlikely melding of earth, air, fire, and water, fused far ago in a forgotten eternity from starstuff, and now circling a single sun swimming in some out-of-the-way arm of a second-class galaxy, where we lift Atlantis into orbit; where we seek to populate the stars in our searching.

On the one hand, it is clear that Reason demands that “We shall not cease from exploration,” while on the other it may well be that:

“… the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

And while nothing in our Book of Reason can tell us why, its endless banal chapters on irony would need to be excised were we to discover that all “Enlightenment,” all our “Age of Reason” has wrought is but a frail and flimsy ladder to the stars where we could at last put out our feeble hands “to touch the face of God.”

For Donald Sensing who put it in my mind, and for Solomonia who pointed me to the picture.

First published 2006-11-27

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jaynie December 2, 2018, 4:52 AM

    So beautiful. Haunting in its indictment of the singular pursuit of reason, your reposting this essay is perfect for this time of man. I believe that is also of a piece with Andrew Klavan’s point when he speaks of the limitations the Enlightenment has wrought and on the power that Romanticism still holds for mankind.
    Thank you for the lovely and uplifting essay for Advent. You are amazing.

  • Marica December 2, 2018, 6:52 AM

    “And yet… and yet… ”

    “A child, Lewis wrote, ‘does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods,’ but ‘the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.’ ”

    [found by accident (!), & remembered from, the Weekly Standard a few days ago]

  • Howard Nelson December 2, 2018, 1:28 PM

    Reason? I thought that was a tool, a procedure, a means for arriving at a truth when tested against reality via predictability of effects by applying reasoning. What are our standards for accurate reasoning? Brother Theodore opined, ‘We seek to know what’s beyond the beyond while we still don’t know what’s behind our behind.’
    Depending on one’s objective, goal, purpose, Reason may be displaced as a tool by Yearning for something of value beyond Reason. What might that be? What creates, fuels Yearning? Is it a divine dissatisfaction?

  • Suburbanbanshee December 2, 2018, 7:34 PM

    It does not mean “sleep.” It means “dream.” Sleep would be duermo, or something like that.

  • lendie December 2, 2018, 7:42 PM

    When I view the post 2 of the graphics are not showing up:



  • Rob De Witt December 2, 2018, 8:18 PM

    I would also point out that the doctor is no longer in – the links are dead.

    This whole “assisted suicide” number is particularly unsettling at this point because I live among leftist loonies, several of whom believe themselves to be witches. The whole aging-children-playing-dressup aspect is considerably less amusing now that they are actively pushing “seminars in conscious dying” in this area. There have already been multiple “celebrations” of suicide.

    And I’m not doing well at the moment, and visions of them gloating over my demise are all too easy to summon up. And my voice is gone, hopefully only temporarily.

  • Snakepit Kansas December 3, 2018, 4:27 AM

    Prayers for you, Rob.

  • Jaynie December 3, 2018, 7:05 AM

    Yes, prayers for you here too, Rob.

  • Rob De Witt December 3, 2018, 7:19 PM

    Thank you, my friends.

  • james wilson December 4, 2018, 11:33 AM

    Well said, Howard. More monsters by far have been created by the god of reason than the lack of it.

  • Donald Sensing December 4, 2018, 3:07 PM

    Thank heavens you fixed the picture! Now I can link to it without worry. Hope you are over your cold quickly – and God bless your mom!

  • Linda Fox December 8, 2018, 12:45 PM

    I was my professors’ favorite student – insightful, with a broad knowledge of history, politics, and literature – much of it practical and mixed with life lessons.
    After picking up an Associate’s degree at the local community college, I was steered by my husband to a college at the university I was to attend. It was a Progressive college, one started in those long-ago days of Viet Nam protests.
    The college was deliberately small, governed by faculty and students, and infused with Leftist thinking. It was also project-based – for example, in one of my Poly Sci courses, The Politics of the City, we were placed in internships in local agencies and offices. I interned in a Housing Network, designed to rehab or tear down (if it was dilapidated enough) no longer livable housing. The agency would employ locals for much of the work. It was designed to save what housing could be salvaged, and turn it over to families who needed decent housing, for the cost of labor and a small house payment.
    I did learn a lot in that job, as I did in the other projects that were assigned. When we studied Illiteracy, we took on a student who wanted to learn to read, and, in the process, not only actually helped someone, but learned a lot about how complicated the problem is.
    Many of the other students were like me, generally leaning somewhat Left (at the time, I always voted Democratic), but open to more radical solutions.
    One major difference between the other students and me was my dedication to my religion. I’m a cradle Catholic, who became more committed in my early 20’s, as I learned more about the Christian faith. My faith was rock-solid, and not susceptible to doubt. God existed, Jesus died for our sins, and I was NOT open to quasi-scientific arguments.
    But, many were, and drifted away from any connection to God. Some adopted New Age beliefs, others substituted political activism for God.
    Today, I’m often surprised at the wishy-washy beliefs of many young people. Even in SC, where only a few generations ago, belief was rock-solid, over 1/3 of my high school classes had NO personal faith – in anything. Their parents said, they can decide for themselves when they are grown. That failure to pass on the faith left them adrift.
    When the hard times come, and they will, eventually – what will those kids do?

  • BillH December 1, 2019, 8:16 AM

    When I graduated from USAF flight training, the wing commander closed the wing-pinning ceremony by reciting High Flight, accompanied by a slide show of the T33, T28 and T34 doing air stuff. As he read it, I wondered what he was talking about. Up to then I had just been trying not to kill myself, and focused on trying not to kill myself for the next 20 years. Now, 60+ years later, I think I’m beginning to understand that poem.

  • Mike December 1, 2019, 12:08 PM

    Dang! I’ve seen this before, but never in this way. Sir, you are amazing. This takes the breath away. Thank you.

  • ghostsniper December 1, 2019, 7:04 PM

    “Why? Why abort this child? Because it is reasonable.
    Why kill this old and feeble person? Because it is reasonable.
    Why take from them according to ability and give to others according to need? Always because it is “reasonable.””

    There is nothing reasonable in any of that.
    All of those things are criminal and immoral.

  • Bruceph December 5, 2019, 12:30 PM

    A little note about immanence, a beautiful and seductive hydra, beware. As is attributed to the lips of Pooh:
    “Poetry and hums aren’t things you get. They’re things that get you,
    and all you can do is
    go to where they’ll find you.”

  • Glenfilthie November 29, 2020, 2:31 AM

    Good lord. Well, maybe it looks like “reason” to our doddering, elderly baby boomers who flushed half their minds down the toilet with drugs and booze back in the 60s and 70s. But, what see out there is anything but reasonable. Militant queers, 25% of North American women on antidepressants, 30-something sons living in their parent’s basement… pedos trying to break into the mainstream. Reason did not produce any of this.

  • jd November 29, 2020, 6:31 AM

    Beautiful essay, Gerard, and thank you for the Sat. night movie too.
    God bless you!

  • ErisGuy November 29, 2020, 9:09 AM

    Scientific Socialism was not Reason’s sleep, but its Dream.

  • harri November 29, 2020, 9:10 AM

    beautiful and uplifting…. except the vile chem trail spew

  • Jewel November 29, 2020, 9:39 AM

    Since getting rid of television, I have discovered Audible. Listening to C.S. Lewis is a grand time on audio, as the Brits read their works better than any. The Chronicles of Narnia read by Lynn Redgrave, Kenneth Brannaugh, Derek Jacoby, Patrick Stewart and all, is time well spent. Lewis’ worldview being read by men and women who do not espouse it, but impart it well…I can’t help but wonder if any of it gets into them. I recommend his Space Trilogy, and Til We Have Faces, and all of his other works that are free on Audible.
    Odd thing: it seems more and more people are reading CS Lewis these days. Even my Catholic priest quotes him. There is a hunger forage deep truths found only in music, art, and parables, and not being able to find truth within reason.

  • roger November 29, 2020, 6:00 PM

    The Sleep of Reason: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5451324-the-sleep-of-reason

    In the Bulger case the children lacked reasoning ability. Yes, I believe that the children involved were victims as well.

    In the case of abortion advocates and the above cited account of leftist witches (the ones who actually identify as actual witches) the Sleep of Reason is self-induced and serves to facilitate and justify leftist, destructive, disparaging thinking. See Brett Kavanaugh persecution.

  • Anonymous November 29, 2020, 7:49 PM

    Does anyone know what happened to Dr. Bob?

  • Bear Claw Chris Lapp December 4, 2020, 8:09 AM

    I am still uplifted on Sunday morning after the local Wildlife Dept. show on the PBS channel I see the same F15 and hear the voice reciting that poem as I did when I was a kid. I can’t think of his name but he was a detective on TV

  • Dennis November 28, 2021, 7:10 AM

    “Man without God is a beast, and never more beastly than when he is most intelligent about his beastliness.” – Whittaker Chambers

    “It [Communism] is not new. It is, in fact, man’s second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “Ye shall be as gods.” It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision. Other ages have had great visions. They have always been different versions of the same vision: the vision of God and man’s relationship to God. The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God.
    It is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man’s liberated mind, by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirecting man’s destiny and reorganizing man’s life and the world. It is the vision of man, once more the central figure of the Creation, not because God made man in his image, but because man’s mind makes him the most intelligent of the animals. Copernicus and his successors displaced man as the central fact of the universe by proving that the earth was not the central star of the universe. Communism restores man to his sovereignty by the simple method of denying God.”

    ― Whittaker Chambers, Witness

    • Gordon Scott November 28, 2021, 1:49 PM

      Witness is a very powerful book. I remember seeing it on my father’s nightstand in the 1960’s. I read it in the 1980’s. Very few, I suspect, read it today. That’s a shame. It helped establish how FDR surrounded himself with Soviet agents, who led him into giving away eastern Europe and China to Stalin.

      FDR may not have been a commie himself, but one may ask: If he had been how would his actions have been different?

    • Dirk November 28, 2021, 2:06 PM

      Interesting, here I thought life WITH god, was man being a better beast! I’m young naive often to a fault. I’ve lived my life the way those whom modeled life for me. Not modeled life for you all.

      I’m am not a kinder gentler man, the world wasn’t really made by them. God and Luck,,,,, play a HUGE part in most everybody’s life, regardless of which god one chooses.

      I’m fine with mine!

      Good stuff for the soul.


  • gwbnyc November 28, 2021, 9:25 AM

    during quarantine walking through Tribeca amid darkness, silence and solitude so immense I was utterly, and mercifully, cloaked in it the phrase “footless halls of air” often occurred to me.

  • LP November 28, 2021, 3:06 PM

    You didn’t credit Oscar Wilde there.

  • LP November 28, 2021, 3:07 PM

    Or maybe you did and I missed it.

  • LP November 28, 2021, 3:24 PM

    The killing of old people worries me because it’s known to be the next step after abortion for getting rid of unwanted life. If it costly to keep elderly people alive, and few see the value.

  • gw November 28, 2021, 10:32 PM

    Isaiah 5: 20. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

    No matter if it’s “reasonable”.

  • Mike Austin November 29, 2021, 2:36 AM

    Reason without Revelation deifies the mind of man. There can be no room for God if man is the final arbiter. What possible position would He serve anyway? In a society based upon the primacy of Reason God becomes a mere nuisance, a crazy voice howling in the wilderness. Best simply toss Him out and get on with the business of creating that perfect society the Left has promised since Nimrod.

    This was the point of the wildly misnamed “Enlightenment”. Even its name implies that what came before it was a time of darkness, a time when the mind of man was shackled by the chains of an unreasonable and cruel deity. Once released from this mental slavery men could literally “reach for the stars”.

    But it was not the stars that were reached, but the guillotine, the gulag and the gas chamber. Toss out God and man becomes a ravenous beast who delights in feeding upon his own progeny. Things that once horrified now bring delight. A society so enthralled to Reason revels in its creative power. Only two sexes you say? Small minded fool! Why, man has gone far beyond that. Only men and women bound in Holy Matrimony you say? Oppressor! Men can now mate with men, with beasts, with machines.

    This is the Brave New World in which we live, a world where the God of Abraham and Isaac is simply not allowed. If He is permitted to exist at all, He is relegated to the sidelines and told to shut up, that the real and true god is the mind of man.

    A society based on Revelation will reach the stars, and find God there patiently waiting. A society based on Reason will forever remain face down in the mud.

    Goya’s “The Dream of Reason Produces Monsters” is just our beginning. Another Goya shows our end.


    • Vanderleun November 29, 2021, 7:35 AM

      Miquel, You should really make The Return of Scipio return. You could turn it on again for instant archives and then just mine this comment stream to play catch up. It’s a ZMan play but it might be a nice thing to do… just so I could copy some stuff. Makes it easier on me.

      “Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”

      • Mike Austin November 29, 2021, 8:37 AM

        Gerard, you have been reading my mind. The reasons for calling a halt to Scipio are no longer operative. Even my paranoid worry about being placed on a government “list” no longer concerns me, as I am quite certain I am already on it. The Esquire article confirmed it. Ok then.

        My issue was this: I spend much time bikepacking thither and yon, carrying tent, stove, Smith & Wesson and whiskey flask. How to write while doing so? Problem solved when I acquired this contraption:


        I had it set up with AT&T and wi-fi, so now I can peruse the web and write to my heart’s content while on the road or on the trail. A few more minor details, and I’m off and running—or rather, writing.

    • Denny November 29, 2021, 12:12 PM

      Yes indeed Mr. Austin,
      “Toss out God and man becomes a ravenous beast who delights in feeding upon his own progeny.”
      Whose laws and rules are we going to obey and for what reason? We shouldn’t deceive ourselves by thinking our perfect new life’s philosophy is going to emanate from our own genius little minds.

      “The reasoning of the philosophers is excellent but they do not know that our world has been corrupted.” – John Calvin, – The Institutes of the Christian Religion.

      • Mike Austin November 29, 2021, 12:31 PM

        Those philosophers Calvin mentioned all pretend that they live in Plato’s Republic, while the truth is we live in the sewers of Romulus.

        Though I am Catholic, a fine Calvinist book I have read and re-read many times is Cornelius Plantinga’s “Not the Way it’s Supposed to Be”. He understands sin and all the evil that flows from it.

  • bob sykes November 29, 2021, 5:46 AM

    The Enlightenment or Age of Reason was a movement in the 18th Century. It ended in the 19th Century and was replaced by the Romantic Era. It is dead and buried, and no one today is part of the Enlightenment. If you think you are, you missed the last 200 years of European history.

    Romanticists explicitly rejected reason and science in favor of intuition and feeling. The Romantic Era lasted well into the 20th Century, and it produced Communism, Fascism and Naziism in politics and Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Keats, Yeats, Dickens, Hardy etc in the arts.

    Germany was the home of Romanticism, and it still runs amok there. The new German government intends to de-industrialize Germany and de-Germanize its population in the name of the Romantic Green Dream.

    Most of us are still in the Romantic Era, although “intellectuals” have moved on first to the Modern Era and now to the post-Modern Era.

    • Mike Austin November 29, 2021, 8:03 AM

      Will Durant places the beginning of “Age of Reason” in the 16th century—1558 to be precise—with the start of the Elizabethan Era, ending in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia. He differentiates the “Age of Reason” from the Enlightenment, which he equates with Voltaire, Diderot and the Encyclopedists.

      Certainly Nazism and Italian Fascism were rooted in romanticism, but Communism was a rejection of it. Lenin, Stalin and their acolytes much preferred Shostakovich to Beethoven, for example. One might claim that Trotsky was a romantic, but his reward for such heresy was an ice axe to his head.

      If I had to give a name to this current age, say 1916 – the present, I would call it “The Age of Nonsense”.

      I place myself squarely in the 13th century. Yes I know, I am well past my selling date.