A substantial number of Cranleighans last night enjoyed a challenging talk by Mr Alan Smith (a long-term servant of the School and retired Master of the Scholars) who was kind enough to step in to replace The Very Reverend Michael Till who was indisposed. Mr Smith’s title, “Heart and Mind; Religion and Reality” (following the “Conflict” theme established earlier in the term), investigated a variety of ideas leading towards one man’s interpretation of existentialism.
The writing of Miguel de Unamuno (a man no stranger to political conflict) provided a rich seam of ideas and it was from two of his works in particular (interspersed with some extraordinary biographical details; Unamuno spoke 14 languages, for instance) that Mr Smith quoted: Niebla (Mist) and San Manuel Bueo, Mártir (St Manuel the Good, Martyr). The first extract involved a fictional character, Augusto, who, being unlucky in love decides to commit suicide. However, before attempting to take his own life he confronts his creator, the author, and a bizarre discussion develops with the author eventually announcing that he is going to kill off his creation and thereby stop him from committing suicide. This incenses Augusto who declares that Unamuno too will die once God ceases to dream him. Needless to say the audience was working quite hard at this point!
Don Manuel is a saintly priest in another of Unamuno’s writings, who, despite managing his flock with infinite care and devotion has lost his faith in the afterlife but continues to live the lie for the good of his flock.
At the end of the talk the audience was encouraged to consider the following questions:
· Are all religions “true insofar as they make their people that profess them live spiritually, insofar as they console them for having been born to die?”
· How far do you consider life a conflict between head and heart?
· Is don Manuel justified in preaching a lie?
· Under what circumstances is lying morally justifiable?
Lively discussion followed over dinner in Hall and I would like to thank our splendid catering team for yet another tour de force and, most especially Alan Smith not only for delivering this lecture but for helping to write this report.