“Good Religion” and Wine - On The Philosophy of Wine

(an Epilogue by Antal Dúl for The Philosophy of Wine)

The Philosophy of Wine is an apology for the rare, solemn instants of life, of ease, play, and self-forgetting serenity. This is the world of dionysian, Mediterranean intoxication, the bee-master’s half-awake, half-dreaming meditation on an August afternoon, under the nut tree, the pure, glittering serenity of Orpheus: some of the rare, idyllic moments lived by Hamvas. It is precisely a glass of fiery Szekszárdi or green-golden Somlói that could make us aware of them.

In the summer of 1945, during a short holiday spent in Balatonberény, Béla Hamvas writes, practically in one breath The Philosophy of Wine. It expresses the first quiver of a people who, harrowed and starved, sorely tried by front lines, concentration camps, and bomb shelters, have just reached the sunlight; curiously, it expresses not despair over the ruins, but an exuberant joy of life.

Hamvas begins by saying that he is writing a prayer book for atheists. But what is atheism? “The sickness of abstract life.” It is also a religion, because the most obdurate sceptic, and even the materialist, has a religion. But a bad religion: a belief in negation, and a belief in the lowest level of consciousness. For Hamvas, atheism is not a question of Weltanschauung or confession; it is not even an abstract speculation as to whether God exists. And, if the answer is yes, it does not inquire how God exists and in what manner: in substantial unity with the world, or high above the created being? These questions concern atheists just as the negation of God does, and neither Jesus, Buddha, Lao-tse, nor Heraclitus was willing to speak about them. For the atheist is not only someone living in the religion of matt er, and not only the Cartesian fanatic of reason. The circle is much wider. The zealously praying, devout pietist or the daily communicant could be, to the same extent, an atheist. One can hardly provide an exhaustive list of all those – from the fanatics of Weltanschauung to the hypocritical overeater, from the mad worshippers of fame, rank, power, and money to the stone-hearted misers, from the obsessive advocates of hygiene to the indignant prudes, from the life-torturing ascetics to the alcohol addicts – who belong to this group. One thing is certain: the number of inanities is infinite, and normal existence is always the same. As Heraclitus put it: “The waking share one common world, but when asleep each man turns away to a private one.”

The infallible sign of bad religion is “existence without intoxication.” The cause is a stiff fear of life, penetrated deeply into the soul. Nothing is more difficult to achieve than liberation from this state.
Good religion (the vita illuminativa) means higher sobriety. The first sign of healing: seeing God in stones, trees, fruit, or stars. In love, food, and wine. He who does not know, says Béla Hamvas, that God is in the cooked ham will not understand anything of this book. “I understood that Brahman’s highest form is food.”

Whose religion is good? The religion of he who dares to live in an immediate manner and knows that the joy of life is not something forbidden. Not something forbidden but, as the Gospel says, a plus. Food, wine, and love are not the goal, but helpful means. This world is a place of crisis and separation, and everybody has to declare his intentions. But in whoever the order is re-established, he does not need laws, prohibition, and asceticism.

The Philosophy of Wine is not an inventory of Hungarian wine treasures. Neither is it that of botany nor gastronomy. As in his other writings, Hamvas always pays attention to the main features of human behavior, to the bases of life. Classification is the task of books on oenology. The concern of this book is altogether different. It prepares the reader to worship the Presence.

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