Traces N.6, June 2002

The Philosopher, Rice, and Beans

Awell-known Italian philosopher, Umberto Galimberti, urged teachers, from the columns of a well-known daily newspaper, to take their students’ souls into their care. Too many episodes of violence all around us show that there is a lack of education of the psyche and emotional life. It is worth our while to read a passage of his reasoning: “… We must convince ourselves of the need and the urgency of preventive emotional education… and this especially in our society which has developed an exasperated individualism and a possibility of choice and freedom that societies before us never knew, bounded as they were by the strictures of poverty and the framework offered by the religious tradition. Today these bounds, thank God, have fallen away…. This is why there is great work to be done in preventive education of the soul.” But the soul (the psyche) for Galimberti is merely the site of psychological conflicts and tensions that, if left ungoverned, can give rise to unpleasant episodes.
The fact that the soul has always been understood as the reality present in man which binds him to the Infinite of whom and for whom he was created is not mentioned by Galimberti. Thus, having negated God and the existence of truth, he invokes (sinisterly) the State that, through the school, should educate the masses to manage their “emotions” and their inner conflicts. In the name of what?
Abyssus abyssum invocat, say the Scriptures, deep calls unto deep. The deep of the human soul calls to the deep that created it in order to be satisfied. Every partial response is inadequate and is felt to be a lie and a deceit.
In the last issue of Traces, you found a letter written from Brazil by two girls. Daiene and Tatiana have not studied philosophy. They made a three-hour trip to go see a lake in the same city where they live, but that they had never seen because they did not have the money for the bus. In front of all that beauty, Tatiana exclaimed: “The lake is not like rice and beans!”
What gives relief to the stomach and to psychological conflicts is, to be sure, a precious good, but it is limited, it runs out like rice and beans run out. The heart needs something, instead, that never ends, but rather that is always beginning with its charge of beauty and truth. It needs something that is worthy of its desire and that treats it in accordance with its nature, which is free, ie, made up of the responsible decision to adhere to what it recognizes as true and good.
For faith is not a cold assent to a truth like a mathematical theorem that one can instill in the human mind by using some kind of psychological technique, as though God were a “solution” that settles all our upsets. Rather, the certainty of Christian faith is the experience of a dramatic relationship with a Presence, from whose love and fascination we can move away (and this is called sin), even after having been unequivocally struck by it and initially bound to it, in a recognition that engages both affection and reason.