Boswell and Hume

“He is happy whom circumstances suit his temper, but he is more excellent who suits his temper to any circumstance.”
    ~David Hume, 18th Century Scottish Philosopher and Atheist

David Hume was a most fascinating character. He was a bold outspoken Atheist at a time when piety was at a peak and the Church of England ran the show.

Hume’s father died just after his second birthday. His mother who never remarried raised him and his older brother. He attended the University of Edinburgh at the very unusual age of 12, there is some evidence to support he may have been as young as ten.

Hume never married and wasn’t very popular in society. He never relented on his belief that religion and dogma interfered with reason, morality, and true emotion. He worked for four years on his first major writing, “A Treatise Of Human Nature”. Many of today’s philosophers consider it to be his finest work and one of the most important books on Western Philosophy. The critics in Great Britain at the time thought otherwise, describing it as “abstract and unintelligible”.

His skepticism earned him a lifetime of abuse even from those that recognized his genius. The pious had the brass ring and no one would pry it from that self-righteous grip. There had once been a concerted effort to excommunicate him from the Church of England. I don’t know why he would have cared and maybe he didn’t.

Hume believed in logic. He believed in morality. He further believed that religion had no corner on those subjects. He once flatly stated that the morality of every religion was bad and that when he heard a man was religious, he concluded that he was a rascal, although he had known some instances of very good men being religious. So you see, it as important to Hume to be a very good man.

In his last year of life, Hume wrote an autobiographical essay titled, “My Own Life”. It was fewer than five pages. He discusses the high and low points of his life. It’s short and sweet.

As Hume lay on his deathbed, he received a visit from James Boswell. It was a contrived attempt to peer into the mind of the man who didn’t believe in God, to see if perhaps he had become frightened of passing and would revert to some desperate, last-minute attempt to save his immortal soul. There are no atheists in foxholes, kind of thing, I guess.

Instead of finding Hume gripped with guilt and fear, Boswell found him cheerfully talking of different matters, tranquil and possessing a clearness that most people never get to.

I suppose finding Hume that way gave Boswell an even greater need to blatantly ask him about the afterlife. Hume shot back with, “It is possible that a piece of coal put upon a fire would not burn.” He then added to that with, “It is a most unreasonable fancy that we should exist forever.” Boswell kept going by asking if Hume was not uneasy with the idea that he would forever cease to exist, to which Hume replied that he was no more perturbed by the idea of ceasing to exist than by the idea that he had not existed before he was born.

Boswell tried his best to poke and prod, but David Hume was centered in what he believed. He had spent his entire life studying human behavior, the mind, and morality.  He could not be shaken.

I think it may have been Boswell that was shaken. Evidently, he tried twice more to visit Hume before he died, but was turned away.

We often make jokes about those who attend church on Sundays and then go about the rest of the week treating others with disrespect and life as something that is here to serve them. I guess that why Hume called religious men rascals. Further, we always declare that those folks are not really religious or spiritual. They certainly are not moral.

I believe that David Hume was centered in something greater than himself. He didn’t call it God or Divine. But what does that matter? He had peace. He used his mind to create that for himself. I would have loved to have walked and talked with him.

Maybe it’s not fair for me to see him as one connected to a higher power, since he spent his life denouncing such things. But that is the way I see it.

Something caused this place that we are in. Whatever we call that is completely insignificant. If you embrace the idea that all of the seemingly separate systems here feed each other that means that everything is connected in some way. If I just think of that, I feel a bit more centered. It gives me peace, and at the same time, I feel energized. I am not alone, you are not alone and no one is alone. We’re all in this together.

Seek the center of your being, your true Self. It’s a journey you will not regret.

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