Another one of Hoffer’s reflections:
Francis Bacon: “Does any man doubt that if there were taken out of men’s minds vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations and the like, but it would leave the minds of a number of men poor, shrunken things, full of melancholy and indispositions, and unpleasing to themselves?”
Hoffer: Can souls be purified? To Milton, “Good and evil we know in the world grow up together almost inseparably, and the knowledge of the good is so interwoven with the knowledge of evil that the two cannot be sorted apart.”
Montaigne saw “our being so cemented by sickly qualities that whoever should divest men of them would destroy the fundamental condition of human life.” Renan feared that we can get rid of the bad only at the sacrifice of what is excellent, remarkable and extraordinary.
Bizet believed that a purified soul cannot make music. Frederick Meinecke was so disconcerted by the dark and impure origins of great cultural values that it seemed to him as if “God needed the devil to realize himself.” The protagonists of reason, who set out to cleanse minds of the irrational, released demoniac forces beyond the control of reason.
Pascal, a scientist who saw it as his religious duty to study man, was staggered by the contrast between the simplicity of things and the fantastic complexity of man. He discovered that we do not remain virtuous by our own power, but by the counterpoise of two opposite vices: we remain standing as between two contrary winds. Take away one of these vices and we fall into the other. To Pascal, cleansing souls was, indeed, a risky undertaking.