6 juillet 2018

In defence of the sacred, by Yehudi Menuhin

Life was not created full-blown for once and forever. Only fundamentalists may
believe this; yet it is gospel. Therefore, a new religion is needed based on both
perennial religious values and virtues - on the concepts of total unity - encompassing the interdependence of ail parts - continuity - eternity - infinity - and the inevitability of constant change and adaptation to energy in motion, with its demand for ever new equilibriums between altering speeds, temperatures, directions, gravities, pressures, spaces - a religion tuned to contemporary knowledge and experience.
The extraordinary phenomenon of life occurs when the balance of forces,
temperatures, speeds, etc. achieve a high degree of permanence within a restricted range of extremes, compatible with the environmental requirements of living cells.
The human biped is by definition a religious animal. God has never rested (I
doubt he took Sunday off), and as life has evolved from rich and slimy matter to an ever-growing choice of alternatives, based on memory of cause and effect, consciousness and imagination eventually spawned in man the key philosophic and
religious questions of "how" and "why".
Now, the vanity of man is such that he must have, he must know the answers.
No self-respecting man can admit to any suspicion of ignorance, even if, from remote
sources of the memory of species, fanciful imagery, he constructs a tale which is totally
unprovable, even unlikely, even downright false.
These free interpretations of our inalienable philosophic and religious selves are
the religions of our day, as of every past day. They ail contain the same core of that
need to understand, of that faith that there is a higher order, which we can only revere,
respect, worship, fear, flatter, sacrifice to, pray to and beg of; a power, like fire, a
volcano, the sun; a mind, perhaps an old man, a king seated on his throne - someone
like us, who knows, who has a purpose, whose servants we are - an all-knowing Deity,
who surely knows "how" and "why". If we could only win or curry His favour, we
should be protected and spoilt forever, each in the paradise of our choice, as in those
"safe-havens" for the wealthy in Florida.
We, of course, already know how he created us, how we came to be - and
perforce, every interpretation, every religion, every fascinating myth, is different. But
none of us can explain who made God, because if he made us, surely we could not
have made or invented Him.
Yet that is what happened. Every myth has served to reinforce the cultural,
social and economic structure of its followers, of the believers. Every King had to be
divinely appointed - ordained, anointed by the High Priests, the vicars of God on earth.
Whether in the case as the sun-worshipping Aztecs, who believed that virgins' blood
was essential to placate the setting sun - equally red - to ensure the sunrise next
morning, or any other King who, once made and chosen by his people, following some
great conquest, invoked the Gods to lend him their own total authority. Yet, where the
institution exists, weathered and tamed, domesticated, as it were, and I am speaking of
Constitutional Monarchy, it must be guarded lovingly and fiercely by the twin steeds of
tradition and heredity.
But now, however beautiful, meaningful, truly symbolic are the religious myths
of creation, however glorious are religious works in music, architecture, sculpture,
painting, and literature, however true they appeared to their separate cultures in the
past, and however much progress they have made in formulating ever more abstract
models of worship, compatible with each other - as monotheism, for instance -, they
have not yet formulated a belief which can now be accepted by, reconciled with,
reconciled to, ail other religions.
In the evolving history of religion, it is perfectly clear that we are evolving from
the fixed and arbitrary to a more fluid truth, which recognizes the forever changing in
the forever being, i.e. the unity of the whole, of the total sum of energy, of will, of
purpose, remaining constant, whilst the myriad relationships of the parts are in
constant flux.
I believe that every cell, every atom of organic and inorganic matter, is
inhabited by, possessed of eternity and infinity (the binding substance), which in the
human being leads to infinite and eternal ambitions, visions, utopias and the powerful
drives which occur when the infinite and the eternal are translated into material size
and power, rather than into the creation in art, in craft, in thought, in social harmony,
in education, in science, in the understanding and pursuit of beauty, knowledge and
utility, in short, in creative living, which alone can justify life which men serve as an
ideal of those infinite and eternal values implicit in every part of ourselves and in our
It is really a matter of what we hold sacred. Do we wish to worship monsters?
Are we in danger of worshipping "success" or a temporal power above our own lives
and the life of others, who would lead us to war and butchery?
I am convinced that our new world demands newly spelt-out sacred values, a
new religious concept, perfectly compatible with the principles of worship and prayer,
but newly formulated to recognize our own being as sacred, and thus every other one
as well - our own responsibilities to each other and to our extended living
environment, always acknowledging our humility in ignorance, our pride in our
growing understanding and knowledge, our capacity to create a more just world, and
our capacity to reject out-dated reflexes, false ambitions, perverted ideas and motives,
from our civilization. We must cultivate both harmony and courage; we must retain
divine intolerance against the intolerable, against the destruction of species, the
degradation of air and water as of body and mind; we must preserve the intolerant holy
crusades against racism, against every kind of superiority, expressed in contempt and
exploitation, whether of children, natives, communists, capitalists, Jews, Protestants,
Catholics, the illiterate or any other groups. We must be tolérant to those who teach,
protect and help.
This creed must form an inalienable part of our new religion; namely, that the
protector has the responsibility, the protected the right; the powerful, the teacher, the
informed, the skilled, the surgeon, or, for that matter, the driver and the cook, have the
responsibility whilst the passenger, the guest, the patient, the sick, and the poor have
the right - but these should also be trusted with responsibility.
A person's worth is not dependent on whether he or she is formally employed
or unemployed. Every person is important and carries equal title to rights and
The rights include the right to life-long education, shelter, food, dress, hobbies,
specialties, music, theatre, sport, holidays, locomotion, free time - as long as he or she
do no harm to themselves, family, neighbour or society. If they do, society must be
protected, and the perpetrator helped.
The responsibilities would include the obligation to help, to serve, to teach, to
learn, and to work in reciprocity with others.
The freedom beyond these rights and responsibilities, if the individual so
wishes, is to scale the ladder of achievement as high as possible, as freely, as
imaginatively and as resourcefully as the talent and ambition of each one can take
This, then, is religion, economy, social order, creative living, the arts and the craft and
education, rolled into one - one platform for thought and action.

Yehudi Menuhin

(Texte en anglais paru en français dans “Le 21e siècle, suicide planétaire ou résurrection”)