Chacun d’entre nous est réellement un système quantique, affirme Alexander Wendt (« Human beings really are quantum systems »i).
D’un côté, cette affirmation est une évidence, puisqu’en dernière analyse nous sommes effectivement composés de molécules, d’atomes et d’un certain nombre de particules élémentaires, qui obéissent aux lois de la mécanique quantique, très différentes, comme on le sait, des lois de la physique classique.
D’un autre côté, cela peut sembler contre-intuitif, tant le corps qui nous constitue, l’esprit qui nous anime, la mémoire qui nous fonde, l’intelligence qui nous éclaire, la volonté qui nous inspire, semblent fort loin de la réalité quantique, plus proche de nuages mathématiques de probabilités abstraites que de la vie concrète de tous les jours, avec son cortège relativement stable de sujets, d’objets et d’interactions plus ou moins observables.
Il est aussi possible qu’il n’y ait pas de contradiction entre ces deux « côtés ». Nous pourrions parfaitement être à la fois des systèmes quantiques obéissant aux lois de la mécanique quantique dans les profondeurs de notre corps et de notre cerveau, et, en même temps, des êtres humains plongés dans la réalité quotidienne, faites de sujets et d’objets.
Par exemple, on peut imaginer que le monde quotidien, la réalité de tous les jours, n’est que la projection « réalisée » d’une possibilité singulière, choisie parmi une infinité d’états quantiques superposés.
Chaque femtoseconde, des quantités inimaginables de micro-événements quantiques se « réalisent » en tous points de notre corps et notamment dans notre cerveau. Infiniment plus nombreux encore, sont les événement qui ne se réalisent pas mais qui demeurent dans un état de « superposition » quantique, c’est-à-dire restent à l’état de nuages de probabilités, jusqu’à ce que certaines conditions permettent de nouvelles émergences, de nouvelles actualisations singulières dans l’univers des possibles.
Admettons un instant le point de vue « matérialiste », selon lequel l’esprit humain n’est qu’un épiphénomène, découlant seulement du fonctionnement interne du cerveau, et voyons ce qu’on peut en inférer, du point de vue de l’épistémologie quantique.
Si le cerveau est un « système quantique », on peut en induire que l’esprit humain est sans doute aussi dans un état de « superposition quantique ».
Dans ces conditions, comment l’esprit, plongé dans de multiples nuages de probabilités, peut-il prendre une décision effective, se traduisant matériellement, dans la réalité?
La théorie classique de la décision pose que celle-ci découle de la maximalisation de l’utilité. L’utilité est considérée par les matérialistes, les positivistes et bien sûr les utilitaristes, comme le principal critère de la rationalité de la décision.
Cette théorie présuppose que l’esprit humain possède des croyances et des préférences dûment définies. Toute décision, toute action peut alors être envisagée comme un moyen de maximiser la satisfaction des préférences ou le respect des croyances, à travers le choix d’un comportement ad hoc.
En revanche, dans la théorie quantique de la décision, il n’y a pas de préférence a priori, pas de croyance pré-existante, ni non plus de critère d’utilité à maximiser. La rationalité ne peut plus prétendre à relier mécaniquement, classiquement, des circonstances initiales, des moyens appropriés et une fin désirée, car cette fin n’existe pas (ou pas encore). La prise de conscience de la fin poursuivie, ou « désirée », dépend en fait de la détermination effective de l’ensemble de l’environnement (y compris jusqu’aux confins de l’univers) et du choix des moyens pour en mesurer les critères de réalisation.
La théorie quantique n’exclut certes pas le rôle des « croyances » et des « préférences », dont on sait qu’elle peuvent par ailleurs jouer leur rôle dans des situations classiques, mais elle les relativisent, compte tenu de la masse totale des informations actives qui assaillent objectivement ou subrepticement l’esprit du décideur.
Quand il y a une situation d’incertitude profonde, de crise grave, d’urgence immédiate, ou même seulement de flou cognitif sur l’état réel de l’environnement, les croyances et les préférences ne peuvent plus jouer leur rôle « mécanique », « classique », d’orientation « rationnelle » de la décision.
Le cerveau prend alors tous les autres moyens qui sont à sa disposition pour surmonter les aléas de l’incertitude générale, – et il s’appuie notamment sur les ressources potentiellement disponibles, celles que recèlent les innombrables superpositions de ses non moins innombrables « états » quantiques et de leurs intrications avec l’ensemble du cosmos.
La théorie quantique de la décision remet donc en cause l’idée selon laquelle avoir un esprit « logique », une « raison » bien ordonnée, soient la base optimale pour relever les défis des incertitudes et des complexités, et pour prendre des décisions dans des contextes intrinsèquement insaisissables, non représentables rationnellement, et selon la théorie classique, indécidables.
Cette assurance vient d’un fait expérimental bien connu. Quand un physicien mesure le comportement d’une particule, il devient de facto intriqué avec elle. Le processus de la mesure, qu’il conçoit et met en œuvre, crée d’emblée une corrélation non-locale entre l’objet à mesurer, l’appareil de mesure et le cerveau du physicien, corrélation qui influence irrémédiablement, en retour, le résultat de la mesure obtenue.
Cette non-séparabilité de la particule avec tout son environnement est la base de la théorie du holisme des processus quantiques.
Comme les êtres humains sont des systèmes quantiques, ils font partie eux aussi d’univers multiples, relationnels, holistiques, englobant l’ensemble des mondes macroscopiques et microphysiques.
L’esprit humain est donc, quantiquement parlant, infiniment plus étendu que le cerveau biologique proprement dit. Il s’étend infiniment au-delà de l’occiput ou du lobe frontal, et il communique en permanence et instantanément avec l’univers entier, non seulement tel qu’il est à l’instant t, mais aussi tel qu’il a été depuis son origine, et peut-être même tel qu’il sera jusqu’à sa fin, puisque dans cette représentation le temps se présente sous la forme d’une universelle synchronicité, pour reprendre le terme proposé par C. G. Jung.
La communication de l’esprit avec l’univers ne s’opère pas par la transmission causale d’informations ou de signaux qui convergeraient vers l’esprit-récepteur.
L’esprit n’est pas un appareil de radio qui recevrait des ondes émanant du reste de l’univers.
Il est en permanence dans un état de superposition quantique avec l’ensemble de l’univers. Il n’y a pas transmission et réception, mais superposition et synchronicité.
Dans ces conditions, comme l’esprit humain prend-il une décision ?
Elle se fait par le passage de la superposition de multiples états « potentiels » à un seul état « actuel » de l’esprit. Dans le jargon de la mécanique quantique, ce passage s’appelle « effondrement » ou « réduction » (« collapse » en anglais) des fonctions d’onde. Il exprime l’idée qu’une réalité « actuelle » prend soudain forme, émergeant d’un vaste ensemble de potentialités qui demeuraient jusqu’alors « superposées », réparties en un spectre de probabilités.
La perception quantique, instantanée, « non-locale », permet une certaine correspondance, instantanée, entre l’esprit et son environnement indéfini, complexe, incertain. La rationalité livrée à sa seule clarté, à son aveuglement solipsiste, soumise à des lois classiques de causalité, et d’interdépendance spatiale et temporelle, est bien moins apte à traiter de l’obscur, du flou, et de l’indécidable .
Il y a encore d’autres sources, non rationnelles, dont l’esprit s’abreuve en permanence : les émotions, le subconscient et l’inconscient.
Les émotions ne relèvent pas de la raison. L’inconscient non plus.
Cependant, les neurosciences ont prouvé expérimentalement que la raison et les émotions sont profondément entremêlées, enchevêtrées, intriquées, surtout lorsqu’il s’agit de prendre des décisions dans l’incertitude, l’ignorance ou l’urgence.
Que signifie alors l’idée de « rationalité », si la raison est ainsi naturellement soumise à tant d’influences exogènes ?
Il y a peut-être, au-delà de la raison une méta-raison, un méta-logos ou un méta-noos, capable de « superposer » raison, émotion, subconscient et inconscient ?
Cette méta-raison enrichirait considérablement l’idée même de « raison », si l’on accepte de considérer l’élargissement immense de son possible champ de perception et d’intellection (par le biais de toutes ces sources non rationnelles, les émotions, le subconscient et l’inconscient).
Par son intermédiaire l’esprit voit son pouvoir de saisie étendu jusqu’aux confins des mondes, et jusqu’au tréfonds de l’abîme.
On peut en tirer deux conclusions provisoires :
1. Le cosmos, la raison et l’inconscient, sont « intriqués », depuis les origines.
2. Par cette « intrication », l’univers et l’inconscient (cosmique) ont fait intrinsèquement alliance avec l’espèce humaine.
Saurons-nous respecter le pacte qu’implique cette fort ancienne alliance ?
iAlexander Wendt. Quantum Mind and Social Science. Unifying Physical and Social Ontology. Cambridge University Press, 2015. p. 3. Je dois la découverte de ce beau livre à l’ami Derrick de Kerckhove, que je remercie ici.
Is a « beautiful girl », whose beauty is « without soul », really beautiful?
Kant thought about this interesting question.
« Even of a girl, it can be said that she is pretty, conversational and good-looking, but soulless. What is meant here by soul? The soul, in the aesthetic sense, refers to the principle that, in the mind, brings life.» i
For Kant, here, the soul is an aesthetic principle, a principle of life. Beauty is nothing if it does not live in some way, from the fire of an inner principle.
Beauty is really nothing without what makes it live, without what animates it, without the soul herself.
But if the soul brings life, how do we see the effect of her power? By the radiance alone of beauty? Or by some other signs?
Can the soul live, and even live to the highest possible degree, without astonishing or striking those who are close to her, who even brush past her, without seeing her? Or, even worse, by those who see her but then despise her?
« He had no beauty or glamour to attract attention, and his appearance had nothing to seduce us. » ii
These words of the prophet Isaiah describe the « Servant », a paradoxical figure, not of a triumphant Messiah, but of God’s chosen one, who is the « light of the nations »iii and who « will establish righteousness on earthiv.
A few centuries after Isaiah, Christians interpreted the « Servant » as a prefiguration of Christ.
The Servant is not beautiful, he has no radiance. In front of him, one even veils one’s face, because of the contempt he inspires.
But as Isaiah says, the Servant is in reality the king of Israel, the light of the nations, the man in whom God has put His spirit, and in whom the soul of God delightsv.
« Object of contempt, abandoned by men, man of pain, familiar with suffering, like someone before whom one hides one’s face, despised, we do not care. Yet it was our suffering that he bore and our pain that he was burdened with. And we considered him punished, struck by God and humiliated. » vi
The Servant, – the Messiah, has neither beauty nor radiance. He has nothing to seduce, but the soul of God delights in him.
A beautiful woman, without soul. And the Servant, without beauty, whose soul is loved by God.
Would soul and beauty have nothing to do with each other?
In the Talmud, several passages deal with beauty; others with the soul; rarely with both.
Some rabbis took pride in their own, personal beauty.
R. Johanan Bar Napheba boasted: « I am a remnant of the splendors of Jerusalem ». vii
His beauty was indeed famous. It must have been all the more striking because his face was « hairless ».viii
And, in fact, this beauty aroused love, to the point of triggering unexpected transports.
« One day, R. Johanan was bathing in the Jordan River. Rech Lakich saw him and jumped into the river to join him.
– You should devote your strength to the Torah, » said R. Johanan.
– Your beauty would suit a woman better, » replied Rech Lakich.
– If you change your life, I’ll give you my sister in marriage, who is much more beautiful than I am. » ix
At least this R. Johanan was looked at and admired ! The same cannot be said of Abraham’s wife. She was beautiful, as we know, because the Pharaoh had coveted her. But Abraham did not even bother to look at her…
« I had made a covenant with my eyes, and I would not have looked at a virgin (Job, 31:1): Job would not have looked at a woman who was not his, says Rabbah, but Abraham did not even look at his own wife, since it is written, « Behold, I know that you are a beautiful woman (Gen. 12:11): until then he did not know it. » x
From another point of view, if someone is really beautiful, it can be detrimental, even deadly.
The very handsome rabbi R. Johanan reported: « From the river Echel to Rabath stretches the valley of Dura, and among the Israelites whom Nebuchadnezzar exiled there were young men whose radiant beauty eclipsed the sun. Their very sight alone made the women of Chaldea sick with desire. They confessed it to their husbands. The husbands informed the king who had them executed. But the women continued to languish. So the king had the bodies of young men crushed.» xi
In those days, the rabbis themselves did not hide their appreciation of the beauty of women :
« Rabbi Simon b. Gamaliel was on the steps of the Temple Hill when he saw a pagan woman of great beauty. How great are your works, O LORD! (Ps. 104:24) he exclaimed. Likewise, when R. Akiba saw Turnus Rufus’ wifexii, he spat, laughed, and wept. He spat because she came from a stinking drop; he laughed because she was destined to convert and become his wife; and he wept [thinking] that such beauty would one day be under the earth. » xiii
That Rabbi Akiba dreamt of converting and seducing the wife of the Roman governor of Judea can be attributed to militant proselytizing.
Or was it just a parable?
Why did Rabbi Akiba mourn the beauty of this pagan?
Shouldn’t the beauty of her « converted » soul have obliterated forever the beauty of her body, destined moreover to be buried some day?
iEmmanuel Kant. Criticism of the faculty of judgment.
The 7th verse of the 3rd Sura of the Qur’an offers one hell of an enigma, opening up a flood of comments.
« It is He who has sent down the Book to you, there are unequivocal verses in it. (ءَايَتُ مُّحْكَمَتُ ), which are the mother of the Book, and other equivocal ones (مُتَشَبِهَتُ ). People who have an inclination to straying in their hearts, put the emphasis on the equivocal verses, seeking dissension by trying to find an interpretation for them, when no one knows the interpretation, except God and men of a deep science. They say, ‘We believe: all things come from our Lord’, but only men of understanding remember them.» i
The word « unequivocal » translates the adjective مُّحْكَمَتُ, coming from the verbal root حَكَمَ « to judge, to decide ». The word « equivocal » translates the adjective مُتَشَبِهَتُ . But this adjective may have other meanings : « doubtful, ambiguous, uncertain, suspicious ».
It is really not common, for a revealed text such as the Quran, to challenge itself directly, by claiming that Quranic verses can be « equivocal » or even « dubious, suspicious » – as the word مُتَشَبِهَتُ implies.
There is another question, perhaps an even deeper one, which has fascinated such eminent philosophers as Averroes or Ghazzali: is this verse 3:7 itself equivocal or not?
Indeed, there are two very different ways of reading its second sentence, thus producing a real equivocation as to its true meaning.
The first reading, which has just been given, suggests that philosophers and men of profound science can decipher the obscure allusions and secret knowledge that the text conceals, and come closer to its true interpretation, the one that God knows.
But if the end of the sentence is marked just after « except God », – as the lack of punctuation marks in Arabic allows –, the text then reads:
« No one knows the interpretation, except God. But men of deep science say: ‘We believe in it’…etc. ».
This second reading brings the « men of deep science » back to a radical modesty. They are granted only the possibility of conceiving the existence of these allusions and their potential secrets from a distance, but without being able to grasp them, to explain them, to understand them. Philosophers and men of science are reduced to measuring their ignorance and the absolute transcendence of God.
In this second interpretation, philosophers and scientists would therefore be held silent on all equivocal verses, including verse 3:7, – which deals with the existence of equivocal verses in the Qur’an in an equivocal manner.
They must renounce the apparent superiority of their science of interpretation, not so much out of humility, but because they have to admit their radical limits with regard to the transcendence of the revealed text.
Averroes addressed this delicate issue in his Decisive Treatise.
He takes a clear stand for the first reading: « We opt, for our part, for the reading that consists of pausing after the words: »and men of deep science ».»ii
In so doing, it supports the cause of philosophers, recognizing the freedom of scholarly analysis, and the benefit of seeking to reconcile science and belief, reason and faith.
He makes a thorough analysis of the various levels of meaning to be found in the Qur’an, and the precautions to be taken in this regard. Only philosophers and men of science can be brought to discuss this subject, far from the unlearned ears of common people and crowds. « True interpretations [of revealed statements] should not be written down in books for the masses, let alone those that are flawed.» iii
Revelation, perhaps a little paradoxically, is not always clear; it does not reveal everything and there are many things that continues to keep hidden.
« We know from the tradition of their words that many figures of the first age of Islam believed that the Revelation includes the apparent and the hidden (ظاهِرأوَباطِنأ , zāhiranwa bātinan), and that the hidden should not be known by those who are not men who possess the science of it and who would be incapable of understanding it. Proof of this, the sayning of ‘Ali ben Abi Tālib – reported by al-Boukhāri – God be pleased with him: ‘Speak to men about what they know. Do you want to tax Allah and His Prophet with a lie?’, and similar words that are reported from many other pious elders. » iv
There is a radical difference between « clear » verses, which often deal with practical religious issues, around which it has been easy since the earliest ages of Islam to form a consensus and then to conform to it, and « equivocal » verses, which raise theoretical questions, which in themselves offer no possibility of consensus.
Consequently, Averroes judged, like many others before him, that the interpretation of these verses should not be made public. « No era has been short of scholars who felt that the Revelation contains certain things whose true meaning should not be known by everyone.»v
If consensus is not conceivable in these theoretical matters, the consequence is that one cannot call it ‘infidelity’ either if one breaks the consensus on this or that interpretation.
But not everyone is as broad-minded as Averroes:
« What about Muslim philosophers, such as Abū Nașr (al-Fārābī) and Ibn Sinā (Avicenna)? Abū Hamid [Ghazali], in his book known as Incoherence of Philosophers, however, categorically concluded that they were unfaithful to three questions.» vi
(These three famous and unresolved questions were the issue of the eternity of the world, the assertion according to which God does not know the particulars, and the theses of the ressurection of the flesh and future life.)
Averroes concludes that it is better to keep secrecy about philosophical research and interpretations of the Qur’anic text. And this for a very good reason :
« It is because of the interpretations, and because of the opinion that these should, from the point of view of the revealed Law, be exposed to everyone, that the sects of Islam appeared, which came to the point of accusing each other of infidelity or blameworthy innovation, especially those of them that were perverse. The Mu’tazilites interpreted many of the prophetic verses and traditions, and exposed these interpretations to the crowd, and so did the Ash’arites, although the latter interpreted less. As a result, they precipitated people into hatred, mutual abhorrence and wars, tore the Revelation to pieces and completely divided people. » vii
One may say ‘Yes’ to science, therefore, ‘Yes’ to philosophy, ‘Yes’ to making an effort to interpret the Qur’an, in its most ambiguous, opaque, uncertain verses. But it’s an absolute ‘No’, as for communicating the results to the people, to the crowd.
This would only lead to hatred, division and wars…
Is truth equivocal? Should it be kept secret?
Averroes, unequivocally, answered « yes » to these questions.
Le gouvernement a peur (de disparaître aux prochaines élections). Il a peur parce qu’il pense que le peuple a peur (de mourir du Covid, ou de quelque autre catastrophe diffuse, en gésine, liée à l’état de la planète, ou suite aux turbulences prévisibles qui résulteront de la fin annoncée d’un modèle de développement, et de l’implosion de la société).
Le gouvernement a peur du peuple, car il sait que sa gestion de la crise est très en-dessous de ce que le peuple était en droit d’attendre. Il a peur de sa peur et surtout de sa réaction en cas d’aggravation des contradictions entre diverses politiques de plus en plus incompatibles (santé, société, économie, sécurité, éthique, migration, liberté, vie privée, démocratie…).
Le peuple a peur, parce qu’il voit que le gouvernement ne maîtrise rien, mais est, depuis plus d’un an, en fuite constante devant l’orage pandémique, gérant mal des urgences successives, inexplicables, calamiteuses (des masques introuvables au début de la pandémie, aux centaines de millions de doses de vaccin dûment payées mais non fournies par le Big Pharma).
Le peuple a peur, parce qu’il voit que, devant une crise relativement mineure comme celle de la pandémie, le gouvernement a montré toutes ses limites et ses incompétences.
Le peuple a peur parce qu’il pressent que lors de l’explosion (probable) de prochaines crises, qui seront réellement des crises majeures, existentielles, et qui s’annoncent déjà, le gouvernement sera sans doute encore plus incompétent, pusillanime, désordonné, mais qu’il deviendra, alors, d’autant plus autoritaire, répressif et fascisant, parce qu’il lui faudra cacher sa peur, ou bien laisser la place à l’anarchie et à la violence.
La pandémie du Covid est une crise à la fois mineure et gravissime.
Elle est mineure parce qu’elle risque de se traduire par (seulement!) quelques millions de morts à l’échelle de l’humanité, alors que la crise climatique ainsi que la tragédie de la disparition progressive de millions d’espèces vivantes indispensables à l’avenir de la vie commune sur Terre, risquent de se traduire par des centaines de millions de morts, voire des milliards, à l’horizon de la fin du siècle actuel.
Elle est gravissime parce qu’elle montre crûment l’état d’impréparation du gouvernement pour traiter une crise sanitaire annoncée comme possible, et même latente, depuis des décennies, avec nombre d’alertes récentes, qui auraient dû déclencher une réponse globale et préventivei. Elle est gravissime parce qu’elle montre crûment que le gouvernement sera encore bien plus désarmé pour traiter du désastre écologique et systémique qui se prépare.
Que faire ? Il faut changer complètement de modèle de vie, de modèle du pouvoir et de modèle du monde. Vaste programme, dire-t-on sans doute. En effet. Aux grands maux, les grands remèdes.
Wittgenstein a écrit en 1930 une phrase profonde et prémonitoire : « L’homme et sans doute les peuples doivent s’éveiller à l’étonnement. La science est un moyen de les faire se rendormir. »ii
Est-ce que la science (qui, entre parenthèses, a montré sa capacité d’adaptation et d’invention en multipliant les succès décisifs dans sa recherche d’un vaccin contre le Covid) est censée mettre un terme à la peur généralisée qui couve (celle du gouvernement et celle du peuple) ?
La peur a semblé un moment être conjurée, lorsque des annonces tonitruantes ont été faites par le Big Pharma quant à l’efficacité des vaccins Pfizer, Moderna ou AstraZeneca. Puis une autre peur s’est instillée en Europe, celle de ne pas être livrée dans les temps contractuels, celle d’être victime de manipulations commerciales ou autres…
Wittgenstein avait aussi affirmé que la science ne pourrait pas protéger les peuples de leur peur profonde, viscérale, ontologique. « Il n’est pas exclu que des peuples très civilisés soient de nouveau enclins à cette même peur [que celle de certaines tribus primitives devant la nature], et leur culture comme la connaissance scientifique ne peuvent les en protéger. »iii
Nous y voilà. La science ne représente pas le summum de la pensée humaine. Il est possible que la voix des philosophes, ou des sages, portent beaucoup plus loin que celle, par exemple, du président d’AstraZeneca, qui semble fort peu effarouché de s’en prendre à lui tout seul au bloc de l’Union européenne, qui l’a pourtant inondé de commandes…
Il est fort possible que le temps soit venu pour changer le modèle politique et philosophique qui gouverne un monde placé sur une trajectoire catastrophique, et semblant inconscient de sa fin proche.
Il ne suffit pas, aujourd’hui, de dire : « N’ayez pas peur ! »…
iUne réponse préventive et globale que l’OMS était bien incapable d’assumer en tant que tel, vu l’état de déshérence des systèmes intergouvernementaux placés sous l’égide de l’ONU, du fait d’une volonté systématique des principaux États financeurs de les affaiblir.
Etymology goes back further to the dawn of thought, much further than archaeology or paleography.
The root of the oldest words is all that remains of time that no memory can imagine. These roots are the minute, ineffaceable traces of what was once pure intuition, radiant knowledge, sudden revelation, for singular men and moving crowds.
The ancient roots, still alive, like verbal souls, speak to us of a vanished world.
Among the most powerful roots are those that inform the names of the Gods.
In the Veda, Agni is said to be « Fire ».
But the truly original, etymological meaning of the word « agni » is not « fire », it is « alive », and « agile ».
The idea of « fire » is only a derivation from this primeval sense. The oldest intuitions associated with the word « agni » then are « life » and « movement », as opposed to « rest » and « death ».
The divine Agni, had indeed many other names, to tell of his other qualities: Atithi, Anala, Dahana, Vasu, Bharata, Mātariśvā, Vaiśvānara, Śoṣaṇa, Havyavah, Hutabhuk…
Agni’s names all have a distinct, specific meaning. Atithi is « Host », Anala is « Longevity », Dahana is « Burning », Tanūnapāt : « Self-Generated », Apāṃnapāt : « from the waters ».
So many attributes for such a hidden God!
« Two mothers of a different color and walking quickly, each giving birth to an infant. From the breast of one is born Hari [yet another name of Agni], honored by libations; from the breast of the other is born Soucra (the Sun), with a bright flame ». i
Agni is indeed « visible », He was born as a child, – but very clever, very wise is whoever can really « see » Him !
« Which of you has seen Him, when He is hiding? As an infant just now, there He is who, by the virtue of sacrifice, now gives birth to His own mothers. Thus Agni, great and wise, honored by our libations, generates the rain of the cloud, and is reborn in the bosom of deeds.» ii
Agni is everywhere. Agni is not only « alive », « agile », He is not only « Fire », not only « God ».
He is also the flickering glow, the sparkling lightning, the blazing forest, the fatal lightning, the evening sun, the pink dawn, the inflexible flint, the warmth of the body, the embers of love…
To understand the Veda, it helps to be a poet, to expand one´s mind to the universe, and even farther away.
« All men are either Jews or Hellenes; either they are driven by ascetic impulses which lead them to reject all pictorial representation and to sacrifice to sublimation, or they are distinguished by their serenity, their expansive naturalness and their realistic spirit, » wrote Heinrich Heinei.
The over-schematic and somewhat outrageous nature of this statement may surprise in the mouth of the « last of the Romantic poets ».
But, according to Jan Assmann, Heine here would only symbolize the opposition between two human types, each of them holding on to two world visions, one valuing the spirit, without seeking a direct relationship with material reality, and the other valuing above all the senses and the concrete world.
In any case, when Heinrich Heine wrote these words at the beginning of the 19th century, this clear-cut opposition between « Hebraism » and « Hellenism » could be seen as a kind of commonplace “cliché” in the Weltanschauung then active in Germany.
Other considerations fueled this polarization. A kind of fresh wind seemed to be blowing on the European intellectual scene following the recent discovery of Sanskrit, followed by the realization of the historical depth of the Vedic heritage, and the exhumation of evidence of a linguistic filiation between the ‘Indo-European’ languages.
All this supported the thesis of the existence of multi-millennia migrations covering vast territories, notably from Northern Europe to Central Asia, India and Iran.
There was a passionate search for a common European origin, described in Germany as ‘Indo-Germanic’ and in France or Britain as ‘Indo-European’, taking advantage as much as possible of the lessons of comparative linguistics, the psychology of peoples and various mythical, religious and cultural sources.
Heine considered the opposition between « Semitic » and « Aryan » culture as essential. For him, it was a question not only of opposing « Aryans » and « Semites », but of perceiving « a more general opposition that concerned ‘all men’, the opposition between the mind, which is not directly related to the world or distant from it, and the senses, which are linked to the world. The first inclination, says Heine (rather simplistically, I must say), men get it from the Jews, the second, they inherited it from the Greeks, so that henceforth two souls live in the same bosom, a Jewish soul and a Greek soul, one taking precedence over the other depending on the case.» ii
A century later, Freud thought something comparable, according to Jan Assmann. « For him, too, the specifically Jewish contribution to human history lay in the drive toward what he called « progress in the life of the spirit. This progress is to the psychic history of humanity what Freud calls ‘sublimation’ in the individual psychic life.”iii
For Freud, the monotheistic invention consisted « in a refusal of magic and mysticism, in encouraging progress in the life of the spirit, and in encouraging sublimation ». It was a process by which « the people, animated by the possession of truth, penetrated by the consciousness of election, came to set great store by intellectual things and to emphasize ethics »iv.
This would be the great contribution of « Judaism » to the history of the world.
At the same time, however, Freud developed a particularly daring and provocative thesis about the « invention » of monotheism. According to him, Moses was not a Hebrew, he was Egyptian; moreover, and most importantly, he did not die in the land of Moab, as the Bible reports, but was in fact murdered by his own people.
Freud’s argument is based on the unmistakably Egyptian name ‘Moses’, the legend of his childhood, and Moses’ « difficult speech, » an indication that he was not proficient in Hebrew. Indeed, he could communicate only through Aaron. In addition, there are some revealing quotations, according to Freud: « What will I do for this people? A little more and they will stone me! « (Ex. 17:4) and : « The whole community was talking about [Moses and Aaron] stoning them. » (Numbers 14:10).
There is also that chapter of Isaiah in which Freud distinguishes the « repressed » trace of the fate actually reserved for Moses: « An object of contempt, abandoned by men, a man of sorrow, familiar with suffering, like one before whom one hides his face, despised, we took no notice of him. But it was our sufferings that he bore and our pains that he was burdened with. And we saw him as punished, struck by God and humiliated. But he was pierced because of our crimes, crushed because of our faults. « (Is. 53:3-5)
Freud infers from all these clues that Moses was in fact murdered by the Jews after they revolted against the unbearable demands of the Mosaic religion. He adds that the killing of Moses by the Jews marked the end of the system of the primitive horde and polytheism, and thus resulted in the effective and lasting foundation of monotheism.
The murder of the « father », which was – deeply – repressed in Jewish consciousness, became part of an « archaic heritage », which « encompasses not only provisions but also contents, mnemonic traces relating to the life of previous generations. (…) If we admit the preservation of such mnemonic traces in the archaic heritage, we have bridged the gap between individual psychology and the psychology of the masses, we can treat people as the neurotic individual.”v
The repression is not simply cultural or psychological, it affects the long memory of peoples, through « mnemonic traces » that are inscribed in the depths of souls, and perhaps even in the biology of bodies, in their DNA.
The important thing is that it is from this repression that a « decisive progress in the life of the spirit » has been able to emerge, according to Freud. This « decisive progress », triggered by the murder of Moses, was also encouraged by the ban on mosaic images.
« Among the prescriptions of the religion of Moses, there is one that is more meaningful than is at first thought. It is the prohibition to make an image of God, and therefore the obligation to worship a God who cannot be seen. We suppose that on this point Moses surpassed in rigor the religion of Aten; perhaps he only wanted to be consistent – his God had neither name nor face -; perhaps it was a new measure against the illicit practices of magic. But if one admitted this prohibition, it necessarily had to have an in-depth action. It meant, in fact, a withdrawal of the sensory perception in favor of a representation that should be called abstract, a triumph of the life of the mind over the sensory life, strictly speaking a renunciation of impulses with its necessary consequences on the psychological level.”vi
If Judaism represents a « decisive progress » in the life of the spirit, what can we think of the specific contribution of Christianity in this regard?
Further progress in the march of the spirit? Or, on the contrary, regression?
Freud’s judgment of the Christian religion is very negative.
« We have already said that the Christian ceremony of Holy Communion, in which the believer incorporates the Saviour’s flesh and blood, repeats in its content the ancient totemic meal, certainly only in its sense of tenderness, which expresses veneration, not in its aggressive sense ».vii
For him, « this religion constitutes a clear regression in the life of the spirit, since it is marked by a return to magical images and rites, and in particular to the sacrificial rite of the totemic meal during which God himself is consumed by the community of believers.”viii
Freud’s blunt condemnation of Christianity is accompanied by a kind of contempt for the « lower human masses » who have adopted this religion.
« In many respects, the new religion constituted a cultural regression in relation to the old, Jewish religion, as is regularly the case when new, lower-level human masses enter or are admitted somewhere. The Christian religion did not maintain the degree of spiritualization to which Judaism had risen. It was no longer strictly monotheistic, it adopted many of the symbolic rites of the surrounding peoples, it restored the great mother goddess and found room for a large number of polytheistic deities, recognizable under their veils, albeit reduced to a subordinate position. Above all it did not close itself, like the religion of Aten and the Mosaic religion which followed it, to the intrusion of superstitious magic and mystical elements, which were to represent a serious inhibition for the spiritual development of the next two millennia.”ix
If one adopts a viewpoint internal to Christianity, however hurtful Freud’s attacks may be, they do not stand up to analysis. In spite of all the folklore from which popular religiosity is not exempt, Christian theology is clear: there is only one God. The Trinity, difficult to understand, one can admit, for non-Christians as well as for Christians, does not imply « three Gods », but only one God, who gives Himself to be seen and understood in three « Persons ».
To take a cross-comparison, one could infer that Judaism is not « strictly monotheistic » either, if one recalls that the Scriptures attest that « three men » (who were YHVH) appeared to Abraham under the oak tree of Mamre (Gen 18:1-3), or that the Word of God was « incarnated » in the six hundred thousand signs of the Torah, or that God left in the world His own « Shekhinah » .
From the point of view of Christianity, everything happens as if Isaiah chapter 53, which Freud applied to Moses, could also be applied to the figure of Jesus.
It is the absolutely paradoxical and scandalous idea (from the point of view of Judaism) that the Messiah could appear not as a triumphant man, crushing the Romans, but as « an object of contempt, abandoned by men, a man of sorrow, familiar with suffering, like someone before whom one hides one’s face, despised. »
But what is, now, the most scandalous thing for the Jewish conscience?
Is it Freud’s hypothesis that Isaiah’s words about a « man of sorrow », « despised », indicate that the Jews murdered Moses?
Or is it that these same Isaiah’s words announce the Christian thesis that the Messiah had to die like a slave, under the lazzis and spittle?
If Freud is wrong and Moses was not murdered by the Jews, it cannot be denied that a certain Jesus was indeed put to death under Pontius Pilate. And then one may be struck by the resonance of these words uttered by Isaiah seven centuries before: « Now it is our sufferings that he bore and our sorrows that he was burdened with. And we considered him punished, struck by God and humiliated. But he was pierced because of our crimes, crushed because of our faults. « (Is. 53:4-5)
There is obviously no proof, from the Jewish point of view, that these words of Isaiah apply to Jesus, — or to Moses.
If Isaiah’s words do not apply to Moses (in retrospect) nor to Jesus (prophetically), who do they apply to? Are they only general, abstract formulas, without historical content? Or do they refer to some future Messiah? Then, how many more millennia must Isaiah’s voice wait before it reaches its truth?
History, we know, has only just begun.
Human phylum, if it does not throw itself unexpectedly into nothingness, taking with it its planet of origin, still has (roughly) a few tens of millions of years of phylogenetic « development » ahead of it.
To accomplish what?
One may answer: to rise ever more in consciousness.
Or to accomplish still unimaginable « decisive progress »…
With time, the millennia will pass.
Will Isaiah’s words pass?
What is mankind already capable of?
What will be the nature of the « decisive progress » of the human spirit, which has yet to be accomplished, and which still holds itself in the potency to become?
It is necessary to prepare for it. We must always set to work, in the dark, in what seems like a desert of stone, salt and sand.
For example, it would be, it seems to me, a kind of « decisive » progress to “see” in the figure of Moses « put to death » by his own people, and in that of Christ « put on the cross », the very figure of the Sacrifice.
The original Sacrifice, granted from before the creation of the world by the Creator God, the « Lord of Creatures » (that One and Supreme God whom the Veda already called « Prajāpati » six thousand years ago).
It would also, it seems to me, be another kind of « decisive » progress to begin to sense some of the anthropological consequences of the original « Sacrifice » of the supreme God, the « Lord of Creatures ».
Among them, the future of the « religions » on the surface of such a small, negligible planet (Earth): their necessary movement of convergence towards a religion of Humanity and of the World, a religion of the conscience of the Sacrifice of God, a religion of the conscience of Man, in the emptiness of the Cosmos.
iHeinrich Heine. Ludwig Börne. Le Cerf. Paris, 1993
iiJan Assmann. Le prix du monothéisme. Flammarion, Paris 2007, p. 142
Les attentats du 11 septembre 2001 ont provoqué la mort de 2 977 personnes. En réaction, les États-Unis ont déclenché plusieurs guerres faisant des centaines de milliers de victimes et de considérables dégâts collatéraux.
Le Covid fait actuellement aux États-Unis plus de 4000 morts par jour. Quelle a été la réaction du gouvernement américain ? Une guerre contre la pandémie ? Certes non. Plutôt: déni, laxisme, fake news et émeutes de petits blancs suprématistes, financées par des poches profondes, et conçues par des réseaux complotistes.
Il a fallu attendre Biden, pour que des mesures de bon sens soient prises, le premier jour de son accession à la présidence, et cela plus d´une année après le début de la pandémie.
Le mensonge général, le marécage idéologique, la dénégation de la réalité et l´hypocrisie foncière prévalant au sein du parti Républicain ont façonné une ´réalité virtuelle ´ dont les Américains sont loin d´être sortis.
Il y a 20 ans, moins de 3000 morts en une seule et unique journée, suivie de 20 ans de guerres et de souffrances au Moyen-Orient, contre un supposé « axe du mal ».
Aujourd’hui: plus de 4000 morts par jour aux États-Unis, depuis des semaines, pour un total provisoire dépassant les 400.000 morts, du fait de l’incompétence et des choix idéologiques d’un gouvernement factieux, fuyant toutes ses responsabilités sanitaires, et contribuant à aggraver la pandémie et son taux de mortalité. Le « mal » (au sens propre) et la mort rodent de par le pays qui s’auto-proclame le « plus puissant du monde ».
Mais, fait gênant, il n´y a maintenant aucun pays-bouc-émissaire (sauf peut-être l´Iran? ou la Chine?) où pouvoir, par manière de diversion, déclencher une guerre punitive, et déployer comme en une sorte d’exutoire une ire guerrière, sanguinaire, et fort rentable, puisque les véritables responsables étaient jusqu’il y a peu au sommet même de l’Etat américain…
Désormais, la perspective d’une nouvelle guerre civile, américano-américaine, est plus qu’envisageable. Elle est déjà en cours. Elle sera longue, cruelle. La victoire, au rasoir, de Biden, quoique porteuse d’espoir, ne préjuge en rien de l’avenir. Elle semble d’ailleurs fragile et provisoire. Rendez-vous aux prochaines élections en 2023, à mi-mandat (midterm elections).
Un peu moins de la moitié des électeurs américains ont voté Trump en novembre 2020. La majorité démocrate au Sénat a été obtenue à l’arraché, d’extrême justesse.
Mais le plus grave et le plus inquiétant pour l’avenir, c’est que 70% des électeurs républicains sont absolument persuadés que le résultat des élections présidentielles a été truqué.
Que tout cela soit aujourd’hui possible dans le pays censé incarner la démocratie est glaçant.
La démocratie est partout en danger. En Europe aussi. Les ingrédients explosifs et les tensions s’accumulent, contribuant à un effondrement progressif du consensus démocratique et à la montée corrélative d’un néo-fascisme et d’un bio-fascisme, d’autant plus terrifiants qu’ils feront un usage démultiplié du contrôle social « total », par le moyen du Big Data, désormais secondé par le Big Pharma, le Big Oil et le Big Agro Biz.
Le contrôle social « total » montre encore patte blanche, — mais combien de temps encore, avant qu’il sorte les griffes, et les crocs, et la haine ?
On devra bientôt peut-être être en possession d’un bio-passeport intérieur, comme dans la Russie des Tsars pour pouvoir circuler.
Il y a 20 ans la guerre contre « l’axe du mal » était proclamée, avec les résultats que l’on sait.
Aujourd’hui, c’est la « guerre » contre le Covid qui a été mondialement proclamée. Le « Mal » et la « mort » rodent dans nos rues et dans nos campagnes.
Mais c’est une guerre sélective. On a oublié de partir en guerre contre le Big Agro Biz qui tue nos abeilles, et anéantit la bio-diversité mondiale.
Résultat de cette « guerre »: en quelque mois seulement, des profits inimaginables pour le Big Data (les GAFA et les quelques multi-milliardaires qui les contrôlent) et pour le Big Pharma. Plus, cerise sur le gâteau, un conditionnement général de la population à l’embrigadement massif, et une médiatisation mondiale du Bio-Politique.
Cela ne peut se laisser faire sans qu’une résistance s’organise.
Une résistance au data-fascisme, une résistance au bio-fascisme.
Premier axe de réflexion à nourrir d’urgence: la proclamation d’un « commun mondial » des Data, d’un « commun mondial » de la Santé humaine et animale, et d’un « commun mondial » de la Biodiversité.
Une première action concrète: définir d’urgence un impôt mondial sur les GAFA, sur le Big Oil, sur le Big Agro Biz et sur le Big Pharma, dont les produits financiers seront répartis mondialement par un Comité des sages (régi par l’ONU ?), pour lutter contre les inégalités mondiales dans toutes leurs dimensions (économiques, sociales, politiques, techniques, …).
Deuxième action: fonder un « Mouvement Mondial », rassemblant toutes les forces locales, nationales et supra-nationales, capable de défendre le bon usage des « communs mondiaux » , de les protéger et de concevoir la politique et la philosophie de leur gestion durable dans l’intérêt supérieur de la planète tout entière.
Que non! Réalisme absolu, nécessaire, urgentissime!…
P.S. Je suis ouvert à toutes les suggestions constructives …
To the sound of cymbals and flutes, to the light of torches, disheveled women dance. They are the bacchae. Dressed in fox skins, wearing horns on their heads, holding snakes in their hands, seized by a « sacred madness, » they rush on animals chosen for sacrifice, tear them to pieces, tear them to pieces, and devour the bloody flesh raw.
These bacchanals — or Dionysian feasts, have fascinated the ancients for centuries.
« The bacchanals celebrate the mystery of angry Dionysus, leading the sacred madness to the ingestion of raw flesh, and they perform the absorption of the flesh of the massacres, crowned with snakes, and crying out ‘Evoha !’»i.
What did it mean? The myth reports that Dionysus Zagreus, son of Zeus and Persephone, had taken the form of a young bull to try to escape his pursuers. But he was caught, torn and devoured by the Titans, enemies of Zeus.
In Thrace, this god is called Sabos or Sabazios, and in Phrygia it is called Cybele.
It is in Thrace that initially, between the 8th and 7th centuries BC, these cults of divine madness and ecstatic dancing, culminating in the dismemberment of living flesh, and its bloody devotion, arose.
Historians of religion are inclined to detect in them, not a local phenomenon, but the symptom of a more universal movement originating in human nature, in its desire to establish a relationship with the divine.
« This Thracian orgiastic cult was merely the manifestation of a religious impulse which is emerging at all times and in all places throughout the earth, at all levels of civilization, and which, therefore, must derive from a deep need of man’s physical and psychic nature (…) And in every part of the earth, There are peoples who consider these exaltations as the true religious process, as the only way to establish a relationship between man and the spirit world, and who, for this reason, base their worship above all on the uses that experience has shown them to be most suitable for producing ecstasies and visions.”ii
Many peoples, on all continents, have had similar practices aimed at achieving ecstasy. The Ostiaks, the Dakotas, the Winnebagos, in North America, the Angeloks in Greenland, the Butios in the West Indies, the Piajes in the Caribbean, and many other peoples followed shamanic rites.
In Islam, the Sufis and the Whirling Dervishes know the power of ecstatic dance. Jalâl al-Dîn Rûmî testified: « He who knows the power of dance dwells in God, for he knows how Love kills. Allahu !”iii
The cult of « divine madness » and frenetic exaltation has also been recorded in « Christian bacchanals » in Russia, in the sect of « Christi », founded by a « holy man », named Philippoff, « in whose body God came one day to dwell and who from then on spoke and gave his laws as the living God.”iv
The Dionysian cult of drunkenness and divine ecstasy is closely related to the belief in the immortality of the soul, for many peoples, in all periods of short human history.
This belief is based not on dogmas or prophecies, but on an intimate experience, really and personally felt, by all those who actively participated in those nights of madness and ecstasy.
The link between the belief in the immortality of the soul and the devouring of pieces of the torn body probably appeared in the most ancient times.
As early as a remote era, going back more than eight hundred thousand years (if we take into account the dating of the remains found in the Chou-Kou-Tien caves), the cutting up of corpses was probably a way of definitively ensuring the death of the dead, a way of making them harmless forever, unable to return to earth to threaten the living.
But it was also, ipso facto, an indication of an ancient and diffuse belief in the survival of the soul, despite the evidence of the death of the body.
We will probably never know what Homo Sinanthropus thought of the spirit world. On the other hand, we do have myths of dismemberment attested throughout antiquity and throughout the world.
Orpheus, a divine hero, died torn apart and dismembered alive by mad Thracian women.
Agamemnon, murdered by his wife Clytemnestra, complains in the other world of the atrocious outrages she inflicted on him after killing him: « After my shameful death, she subjected me, out of malice, to maschalism.”v
Maschalism consists in symbolically mimicking the treatment of animal victims during sacrifices. The priests would cut off or tear off the animal’s limbs and offer them as first-fruits to the gods in the form of raw flesh.
The astonishing thing is that the murderers used this method for their own purification, to inflect the anger of the victims, and especially to make the dead person powerless to punish the murderer.
Consequently, they cut up the corpse of the victims, amputating or tearing off the arms and legs at their joints, and then forming a chain that they hung around the shoulders and armpits of the corpse.
There is a certain logic at work here. The dead man’s arms and legs are amputated so that his soul cannot grasp the weapons placed in front of his grave and come back to fight.
In Egypt, Osiris is killed and then cut into fourteen pieces by his brother Set. The body parts are thrown into the Nile and scattered throughout the country.
Let us note that the Osirian myth is replayed for all the deceased, at the time of embalming.
It is in Egypt that the cutting up of corpses took the most ritualized and elaborate form, using a battery of surgical, chemical, and magical methods, including dismemberment, maceration, mummification, cremation, and exposure of various body parts. The embalming ritual lasts seventy days.
« The brain is extracted through the nose, the viscera are removed through an incision made in the side; only the heart, swaddled, is put back in its place, while the organs are placed in « canopies », vases with lids in the shape of human or animal heads. The remaining soft parts and body fluids are dissolved by a solution of natron and resin and evacuated from the body rectally. This first phase takes place under the sign of purification. Everything that is « bad » is removed from the body, in other words everything that is perishable and can compromise the form of eternity that is the goal.”vi
In the ancient Egyptian religion, all these violent interventions around the dead and dislocated body were intended to make the dead person die, as it were, permanently. But they also facilitate the passage from death to eternal life after the embalming of the body and mummification, which is an essentially « magical » operation.
« Then begins the drying phase (dehydration and salting), which lasts about forty days. Reduced to skin and bones, the corpse will then be put back in shape during the mummification ritual; It is then that the skin is anointed with balsamic oils to restore its suppleness, stuffed with resins, gum arabic, fabrics, sawdust, straw and other materials, inlaid with fake eyes, cosmetics and wigs, and finally swaddled with strips of fine linen, partly inscribed with magical formulas and between which amulets are slipped. The result of all these operations is the mummy. The mummy is much more than a corpse: it is the figure of the god Osiris and a hieroglyphic representation of the whole human being, « full of magic, » as the Egyptians say.”vii
Then comes the time for words, prayers and invocations. « In Egyptian, this mortuary therapy by speech is expressed by a word that is fundamentally untranslatable, but which it is customary in Egyptology to render by « glorification » or « transfiguration ». The dead person is invoked by an uninterrupted stream of words (…) The dead person thus becomes a spirit endowed with power capable of surviving in many forms (…) Through the recitation of glorifications, the scattered limbs of the body are somehow brought together in a text that describes them as a new unity. »
The « glorification » and the « transfiguration » of the dead are reminiscent of those of Osiris. « It is the rites, images and texts that awaken Osiris and bring him back to life; it is with the help of symbolic forms that the dislocated dead is recomposed and that the border separating life and death, here below and beyond, is crossed. The mystery of this connectivity capable of triumphing over death, however, lies not in the symbolic forms, but in the love that puts them to work. Who performs the rites, pronounces the words and appears in images is anything but indifferent. It is first and foremost the affair of the goddess Isis, wife and twin sister of Osiris. On this point, the myth of Osiris and Isis corresponds moreover to that of Orpheus and Eurydice (…) For Isis, it is love which confers on her magical rites and recitations a force of cohesion able to supplement the inertia of the heart of Osiris and to bring the god back to life. The combination of love and speech is the strongest cohesive force known to Egyptians and at the same time the most powerful elixir of life.”viii
« Death of the god ». « Glorification ». « Transfiguration ». « Resurrection ». « Power of love. » It is difficult not to find in these themes possible parallels with the death and resurrection of Christ, even in certain details.
Christ’s last moments are described as follows: « As it was the Preparation, the Jews, in order to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross during the Sabbath – for that Sabbath was a great day – asked Pilate to break their legs and take them away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and then of the other who had been crucified with him. When they came to Jesus, when they saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one of the soldiers pierced his side with his spear, and immediately blood and water came out of him. He who has seen bears witness, – his witness is true, and he knows that he speaks the truth – so that you too may believe. For this happened so that the Scripture might be fulfilled:
This word of Scripture is indeed found in the text of Exodus :
« YHVH said to Moses and Aaron, ‘This is the Passover ritual: no stranger shall eat of it. But any slave who has been bought for money, when you have circumcised him, may eat it. The resident and the hired servant shall not eat it. It will be eaten in one house, and you will not take any piece of meat out of that house. You shall not break any bones.”x
It must be hypothesized that the precept given to Moses by YHVH « not to break any bones » is a radical reversal of the « idolatrous » practices that were to be entirely abandoned. If the « pagan » priests were tearing off the limbs of animals, breaking bones and joints, one can think that Moses considered it useful to advocate a practice strictly contrary to this, in order to differentiate himself from it.
In contrast to the Egyptian cutting up of bodies, Dionysian dismemberment, or Greek maschalism, the members of Jesus’ body were left intact, so that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
On the eve of his death, however, Jesus symbolically shared his body and blood with his disciples at the Last Supper.
« As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat, this is my body. Then taking a cup, he gave thanks and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many for the remission of sins.”xi
Pagan practices consist in breaking the limbs of the victims who have been sacrificed and drinking their blood. Jesus breaks bread and drinks wine. This sacrifice is symbolic. But it is also a prefiguration of the real sacrifice that will take place, the very next day, on the cross.
The ancient shamanic sacrifices, the dismemberment of Osiris, the dilaceration of the body of Dionysus, the broken bread and the shared wine by Christ belong to very different cultures and spanning over several millennia.
But there is one thing in common: in all these cases, a God dies in sacrifice, and his remains are ‘shared’, ‘distributed’. Then the God is resurrected by the power of love and the word.
Given the striking analogy in these narrative patterns, we are led to make a hypothesis.
The hunting meal of the first hominids has been the beginning of religion since the dawn of time. It was during the chewing and eating of animal flesh that the idea of the permanence and transmission of the spirit attached to the bloody flesh insidiously came to haunt human consciences.
But then a conceptual leap, an incredible leap took place. It was imagined that the sacrificial victims were themselves only a distant image of the Supreme Sacrifice, that of God, the Lord of all creatures.
More than 6,000 years ago, in the great tradition of Veda, it was affirmed: « The Lord of creatures gives Himself to the gods as a sacrifice.”xii
Le corps humain est constitué d’organes, eux-mêmes composés de molécules et d’atomes, et en dernière analyse, de particules, lesquelles sont régies par les lois universelles de la mécanique quantique.
Le comportement dûment observé des particules quantiques offre d’intéressantes (et paradoxales) perspectives de réflexion philosophique. Ainsi le principe d’incertitude de Heisenberg impose des limites fondamentales à la mesure et à l’observation, comme lors de la saisie et de la détermination de la position et de la vitesse d’une particule. Plus mystérieuse encore, est la non-séparabilité de deux particules ayant interagi, et restant désormais « intriquées » quelle que soit la distance qui les sépare.
Mais l’une des thèses les plus audacieuses quant à ce qu’on pourrait appeler l’« ontologie » des particules quantiques, a été de poser qu’elles ont une forme de « proto-conscience ».
Selon David Bohm, les particules ont en effet une forme inhérente ou immanente de conscience («mentality »), qui provient de leurs interactions avec un champ de « potentiel quantique » (« quantum potential »).
« By virtue of their indivisible union with quantum fields, particles have an inherent (if primitive) form of mentality »i. [« Par la vertu de leur union indivisible avec les champs quantiques, les particules ont une forme inhérente (quoique primitive) de mentalité »].
Tout se passe comme si la particule était en quelque sorte « informée » de son environnement global par l’intermédiaire de son champ de potentiel quantique, qui lui donne ainsi une « perspective », à laquelle la particule peut répondre, d’une façon déterminée par l’équation de Schrödinger. La métaphore du champ d’« information » dans laquelle baigne la particule invite à une métaphore plus générale, celle d’une « proto-conscience » au sein de chaque particule, baignant dans son potentiel quantique.
L’ensemble des particules du cerveau humain forme donc un mélange (hautement complexe), une « superposition » d’états quantiques représentant un nombre vertigineux de particules en constante interaction, et pouvant par voie de conséquence être elles-mêmes intriquées avec d’autres particules potentiellement « localisées » (si l’on peut ainsi dire) dans l’univers entier.
Le cerveau forme donc une sorte de puissante « antenne », potentiellement en mesure de recevoir des « informations » provenant des innombrables champs de potentiel quantique de toutes les particules qui le composent, en tant qu’elles sont possiblement intriquées avec d’autres particules de l’univers.
Certaines de ces intrications de particules peuvent remonter à l’origine de l’univers, lors du Big Bang. D’autres peuvent dater de la dernière seconde du temps présent, quand notre regard a effleuré la lumière d’une étoile, ou lorsque notre joue a caressé l’aile du vent.
La métaphore du cerveau « antenne » évoque des images de puissantes stations d’observation astrophysique, fonctionnant dans diverses gammes d’ondes (visible, infra-rouge, ultra-violet, rayons X, gamma, etc.), et elle a un parfum (assez rétro) des années 50, quand le radar et la télévision ont commencé de façonner un nouveau rapport à l’espace.
Mais en réalité, la métaphore de l’intrication quantique des particules du cerveau (et des autres organes du corps humain) avec des myriades de particules de l’univers, est bien plus puissante que la métaphore de l’antenne. L’intrication quantique fait du corps humain tout entier un point d’intrication permanent, instantané, avec l’ensemble de l’univers.
Généralisons maintenant cette métaphore de l’intrication quantique en passant à une étape supérieure d’intrication, celle de la pensée et de la conscience.
Les processus de pensée (tous ceux, innombrables, qui restent inconscients ainsi que ceux, moins nombreux, qui aboutissent à la formation de la « conscience ») sont comparables au mélange de « superpositions d’états quantiques » auquel je faisais référence plus haut, dans l’analyse des états du cerveau et du corps quantiques.
Ce mélange, toujours singulier et toujours différent, en constante évolution, se renouvelle à chaque instant, et connecte ce vaste continent qu’est l’inconscient (individuel) avec l’inconscient (collectif) mais aussi, ipso facto, avec l’ensemble des particules (proto-conscientes) de l’univers…
L’analogie entre l’intrication « quantique » des particules du corps humain et l’intrication « symbolique » des pensées (inconscientes et conscientes) est profonde. Ce sont ces mélanges (de particules dans un cas, et d’idées ou de symboles dans l’autre) qui font la pensée et la conscience, qui les rendent possibles et qui les orientent vers ce qu’elles ne soupçonnent pas encore de pouvoir engendrer.
Je voudrais maintenant proposer d’établir un lien entre ces questions d’ontologie quantique et la manière dont l’ancienne philosophie pré-socratique aborde la question de la pensée et de la conscience. Cela nous amènera à affronter un autre ordre de complexité et de profondeur que celui couvert par la mécanique quantique.
Aristote, dans sa Métaphysique, cite un fragment d’un philosophe pré-socratique, le célèbre Parménide, par ailleurs réputé pour être parfaitement obscur, – une obscurité que la traduction suivante de la Bibliothèque de la Pléiade met en particulièrement en valeur:
En chacun comme en tout : l’en-plus est la pensée. »ii
Quel jargon ! Que veut dire, par exemple, « l’en-plus est la pensée » ?
La traduction de ce même fragment par Jean Tricotiii est un peu plus limpide :
« Car, de même que, en tout temps, le mélange forme les membres souples [ou : errants]iv,
Ainsi se présente la pensée chez les hommes ; car c’est la même chose,
Que l’intelligence et que la nature des membres des hommes,
En tous les hommes et pour tout homme, car ce qui prédomine dans le corps fait la pensée. »v
Pour compléter l’arc des sens possibles, voici encore une autre traduction du même fragment, celle de Jean Bollack, parfois considérée comme une traduction de référence :
« Car tel le mélange que chacun possède de membres partout errants, tel le penser que les hommes ont à leur portée ; car c’est la même chose que pense la nature des membres chez les hommes, en tous et en chacun ; car c’est le plein qui est la pensée »vi.
Le ‘penser’, ou le noos, est un mélange, de membres, d’éléments, de parties. Tous ces membres, toutes ces parties, pensent aussi – indépendamment de leur résultante générale, laquelle constitue ce que Parménide appelle le « penser ». Ils pensent tous à ‘ce qui est’, – ils pensent tous ‘ce qui est’.
De cela on déduit que tout ce qui ‘est’, est ‘un’. Et aussi que tout ce qu’on ‘pense’ est ‘un’.
Tout ce qui pense et tout ce qui est pensé sont ‘un’.
Qu’on parte des choses ou des hommes, on en revient toujours à cet ‘un’.
Les choses dispersées, ou réunies, les choses absentes ou présentes, forment toutes ensemble cet ‘un’, – l’un de l’être.
Chaque homme a sa propre conscience ; chacun pense à ce qui la constitue, à ce qui est son essence (à ce qui est le fonds de son être), à ce qui remplit tout et tous.
Ce qui remplit, les Grecs nomment le « Plein ».
Quel est ce « Plein » ? En grec, le « Plein » se dit : τὸ πλέον (to pléon).
Le jeu de mot s’entend dans le grec ancien :
C’est l’Être même (to éon) qui est le Plein (to pléon).
Les hommes restent en général dans leur propre monde, dans leur Moi, dans leur esprit propre.
Mais il y a aussi des hommes qui cherchent ce qui est, au-delà des noms et des mots qui le cachent (ce qui est). Ceux-là peuvent « faire l’expérience d’un être qui unit pensée et choses [τὸ έον et τὸ πλέον, to éon et to pléon], et devenir sensibles au reflet de l’Être. »vii
La pensée, à défaut de contempler l’essence de l’Être, ou d’en percevoir la nature profonde, peut du moins tenter de saisir l’unité de tout ce qui y participe, c’est-à-dire de tout ce qui est.
Je cite enfin, pour être complet, une autre traduction encore du même passage, celle de Clémence Ramnoux, se distinguant par l’emploi du mot ‘membrure’ (mot qui connote le démembrement, source d’errance mais aussi fondateur de l’unité pensante, – dépassée par sa partition et son démembrement ?):
« Car selon que chacun tient le mélange de sa membrure errante,
Ainsi se manifeste pour les hommes la Pensée. Pour les hommes en effet,
Pour tous et pour chacun, c’est la même chose que la qualité de sa membrure
Pourquoi fais-je ce rapprochement entre l’intrication quantique, la pensée symbolique et le ‘Plein’ (ou, selon les traductions, ‘l’en-plus’, le ‘reflet de l’être’, ‘tout ce qui est’, ou encore ce que l’on ‘réalise’ en pensée) ?
Tous ces noms pointent vers la même réalité unique, totale, pleine.
Le ‘Plein’ ne laisse aucun vide. Il est pleinement total et totalement plein.
Et pourtant, ô paradoxe, il laisse place à la nouveauté radicale, à la pensée de l’encore impensé.
iAlexander Wendt. Quantum Mind and Social Science. Cambridge University Press, 2015, p. 88
iiParménide, fragment 16, cité par Aristote. Métaphysique, Γ, 5, 1009 b 21. Traduction Jean-Paul Dumont. Les Présocratiques. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1988, p.270
iiiAristote. La Métaphysique. Tome 1. Traduction de Jean Tricot. Librairie J. Vrin, 1981, p. 221
ivJean Tricot admet en note une autre traduction admissible : « membres errants », en remplaçant le mot πολυκάμπτον (« souples ») par le mot presque similaire πολυπλάγκτων (« errants », – comme du polyplancton), que l’on trouve dans la version fournie par Théophraste, (De Sens., 3, Doxograph., 499). Note 4, p. 221 in op. cit.
vAristote. La Métaphysique. Tome 1. Traduction de Jean Tricot. Librairie J. Vrin, 1981, p.221
viJean Bollack. Sur deux fragments de Parménide (4 et 16). In: Revue des Études Grecques, tome 70, fascicule 329-330, Janvier-juin 1957. pp. 56-71
They all claim to bring « revelation », but no religion has ever presented total transparency, assumed full disclosure. Much of their foundation is shrouded in secrecy, and « the further back we go in religious history, the greater the role of secrecy”i .
But this secrecy should not be confused with mystery.
The mystery is deep, immense, alive.
The secret is useful and human. It is maintained on purpose, by the pythies, the shamans, the magi, the priests, the haruspices. It is used for control, it facilitates the construction of dogma, reinforces rites and the rigor of laws.
The mystery belongs to no one. It is not given to everyone to sense it, and even less to grasp its essence and nature.
The secret is put forward, proclaimed publicly, not in its content, but as a principle. It is therefore imposed on all and benefits a few.
To a certain extent, the secret is based (a little bit) on the existence of the mystery. One is the appearance of the reality of the other.
This is why the secret, through its signs, can sometimes nourish the sense of mystery, give it a presence.
The secret can remain such for a long time, but one day it is discovered for what it is, and we see that it was not much, in view of the mystery. Or, quite simply, it is lost forever, in indifference, without much damage to anyone.
The mystery, on the other hand, always stands back, or very much in the front, really elsewhere, absolutely other. It’s never finished with it.
Of the mystery what can we know?
A divine truth comes to be « revealed », but it also comes « veiled ».
« Truth did not come naked into the world, but it came dressed in symbols and images. The world will not receive it in any other way.”ii
Truth never comes « naked » into the world.
At least, that is what sarcastic, wily common sense guarantees.
God cannot be « seen », and even less « naked »…
« How could I believe in a supreme god who would enter a woman’s womb through her sexual organs […] without necessity? How could I believe in a living God who was born of a woman, without knowledge or intelligence, without distinguishing His right from His left, who defecates and urinates, sucks His mother’s breasts with hunger and thirst, and who, if His mother did not feed Him, would die of hunger like the rest of men?”iii
Rigorous reasoning. Realism of the details.
Yehoshua, the Messiah? « It is impossible for me to believe in his being the Messiah, for the prophecy says of the Messiah, ‘He shall have dominion from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth’ (Psalm 72:8). But Jesus had no reign at all; on the contrary, he was persecuted by his enemies and had to hide from them: in the end he fell into their hands and could not even preserve his own life. How could he have saved Israel? Even after his death he had no kingdom… At present, the servants of Muhammad, your enemies, have a power greater than yours. Moreover, prophecy foretells that in the time of the Messiah … ‘the knowledge of YHVH will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea’ (Isaiah 11:9). From the time of Jesus until today, there have been many wars and the world has been full of oppression and ruin. As for Christians, they have shed more blood than the rest of the nations.”iv
In this affair, it seems, common sense, reason, truth, are on the side of the doubters. Two millennia of Christianity have not changed their minds, quite the contrary…
What is striking in this whole affair is its paradoxical, incredible, implausible side.
Philosophically, one could tentatively argue that there are « naked » truths that are, by that very fact, even more veiled. They are hidden in the plain sight.
But history teaches us over and over again that there are no « naked » truths, in fact, but only veiled ones.
« The ancient theory of Egypt’s secret religion, as found in Plutarch and Diodorus, Philo, Origen, and Clement of Alexandria, and in Porphyry and Iamblichus, is based on the premise that truth is a secret in itself, and that it can only be grasped in this world through images, myths, allegories, and riddles.”v
This ancient conception probably dates back to the pre-dynastic period, and one can think that it goes back well before pre-history itself .
Since these immensely remote times, it has not ceased to influence the « first » religions, then the « historical » religions. Nor has it ceased to proliferate in Pythagorism, Platonism, Hermeticism or Gnosis.
The Nag Hammadi manuscripts still retain the memory of it. One of them, found in 1945, the Gospel of Philip, affirms that the world cannot receive truth otherwise than veiled by words, myths and images.
Words and images do not have the function of hiding the truth from the eyes of the unbelievers, the hardened, the blasphemers.
Words and images are themselves the very expression of the secret, the symbols of mystery.
Goethe summed up the ambivalence of the secret, both as concealment and as the manifestation of truth, in three words:
Secrets always end up being revealed, but then they only reveal the ’emptiness’ of their time, their era.
The mystery, for its part, never ceases to stay hidden.
Jan Assmann concluding his beautiful study on « Moses the Egyptian » with a provocative thought:
« At its apogee, the pagan religion did not hide a void in the mysteries, but the truth of the One God.”vii
A good example of that is Abraham himself coming all the way to pay tribute to Melchisedech, a non-Hebrew « priest of the Most High ».
Augustine connected all the ages of belief in one stroke:
« What today is called the Christian religion existed in antiquity, and from the origin of the human race until Christ became incarnate, and it was from him that the true religion that already existed began to be called Christian.”viii
Basically the idea is very simple. And very stimulating, in a way.
Truth always has been ‘true’, and always will be. Truth was ‘true’ from the beginning of the world, and even before the beginning of the world. Truth will still be »true in a hundred million or a hundred billion years, and even after the end of this (fleeting) universe.
The various words that tell the Truth, and the men who believe in it, such as Akhnaton, Melchisedech, Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Plato, Yehoshua, are only themselves quite fleeting, but they serve It, according to their rank, and wisdom.
Truth is as ancient as the Ancient of Days; Truth is also very young, and just beginning to live again, everyday, in hidden, mysterious cradles.
At the time of the introduction of Indian Buddhism in China, the scholars of the Chinese Empire, confronted with the arrival of new ‘barbaric words’ (i.e. the sacred names and religious terms inherited from Buddhism) considered it preferable not to translate them. They chose to only transliterate them.
A tentative translation into the Chinese language would have given these terms, it was thought, a down-to-earth, materialistic sound, hardly likely to inspire respect or evoke mystery.
Much later, in the 19th century, a sinologist from Collège de France, Stanislas Julien, developed a method to decipher Sanskrit names as they were (very approximately) transcribed into Chinese, and provided some examples.
« The word Pou-ti-sa-to (Bôdhisattva) translated literally as ‘Intelligent Being’ would have lost its nobility and emphasis; that is why it was left as veiled in its Indian form. The same was done for the sublime names of the Buddha, which, by passing in a vulgar language, could have been exposed to the mockery and sarcasm of the profane.”i
There are words and names that must definitely remain untranslated, not that they are strictly speaking untranslatable, but their eventual translation would go against the interest of their original meaning, threaten their substance, undermine their essence, and harm the extent of their resonance, by associating them – through the specific resources and means of the target language – with semantic and symbolic spaces more likely to deceive, mislead or mystify, than to enlighten, explain or reveal.
Many sacred names of Buddhism, originally conceived and expressed in the precise, subtle, unbound language that is Sanskrit, have thus not been translated into Chinese, but only transcribed, based on uncertain phonetic equivalences, as the sound universe of Chinese seems so far removed from the tones of the Sanskrit language.
The non-translation of these Sanskrit words into Chinese was even theorized in detail by Xuanzang (or Hiouen-Thsang), the Chinese Buddhist monk who was, in the 7th century AD, one of the four great translators of the Buddhist sutra.
« According to the testimony of Hiuen-Thsang (玄奘 ), the words that should not be translated were divided into five classes:
1°) Words that have a mystical meaning such as those of the Toloni (Dharanîs) and charms or magic formulas.
2°) Those that contain a large number of meanings such as Po-Kia-Fan (Bhagavan), « which has six meanings ».
3°) The names of things that do not exist in China, such as the trees Djambou, Bhôdhidrouma, Haritaki.
4°) Words that we keep out of respect for their ancient use, for example the expression Anouttara bôdhi, « superior intelligence ».
5°) Words considered to produce happiness, for example Pan-jo (Prodjna), « Intelligence ». »ii
Far from being seen as a lack of the Chinese language, or a lack of ideas on the part of Chinese translators, the voluntary renunciation to translate seems to me to be a sign of strength and openness. Greek once allowed the Romance languages to duplicate each other, so to speak, by adding to the concrete semantic roots of everyday life the vast resources of a language more apt for speculation; similarly, Chinese has been able to incorporate as it stands some of the highest, abstract concepts ever developed in Sanskrit.
There is a general lesson here.
There are compact, dense, unique words that appeared in a specific culture, generated by the genius of a people. Their translation would, despite efforts, be a radical betrayal.
For example, the Arabic word « Allah » literally means « the god » (al-lah). Note that there are no capital letters in Arabic. There can be no question of translating « Allah » into English by its literal equivalent (« the god »), as it would then lose the special meaning and aura that the sound of the Arabic language gives it. The liquid syllabes that follow one another, the alliterative repetition of the definite article, al, “the”, merging with the word lah, « god », create a block of meaning without equivalent, one might think.
Could, for instance, the famous Koranic formula « Lâ ilaha ilâ Allâh » proclaiming the oneness of God be translated literally in this way: « There is no god but the god »?
If this translation is considered too flat, should we try to translate it by using a capital letter: “There is no god but God” ?
Perhaps. But then what would be particularly original about this Islamic formula? Judaism and Christianity had already formulated the same idea, long before.
But the preservation of the proper name, Allah, may, on the other hand, give it a perfume of novelty.
The Hebrew word יהוה (YHVH) is a cryptic and untranslatable name of God. It offers an undeniable advantage: being literally untranslatable, the question of translation no longer arises. The mystery of the cryptogram is closed by construction, as soon as it appears in its original language. One can only transcribe it later in clumsy alphabets, giving it even more obscure equivalents, like “YHVH”, which is not even a faithful transcription of יהוה, or like “Yahweh”, an imaginary, faulty and somewhat blasphemous transcription (from the Jewish point of view).
But, paradoxically, we come closer, by this observation of impotence, to the original intention. The transcription of the sacred name יהוה in any other language of the world, a language of the goyim, gives it de facto one or more additional, potential layers of depth, yet to be deciphered.
This potential depth added (in spite of itself) by other languages is a universal incentive to navigate through the language archipelagos. It is an invitation to overcome the confusion of Babel, to open to the idiomatic lights of all the languages of the world. We may dream, one day, of being able to understand and speak them all, — through some future, powerful AI.
Some words, such as יהוה, would still be properly untranslatable. But, at least, with the help of AI, we would be able to observe the full spectrum of potential semantic or symbolic “equivalences”, in the context of several thousands of living or dead languages.
I bet that we will then discover some gold nuggets, waiting for us in the collective unconscious.
iMéthode pour déchiffrer et transcrire les noms sanscrits qui se rencontrent dans les livres chinois, à l’aide de règles, d’exercices et d’un répertoire de onze cents caractères chinois idéographiques employés alphabétiquement, inventée et démontrée par M. Stanislas Julien (1861)
iiHoeï-Li and Yen-Thsang. Histoire de la vie de Hiouen-Thsang et de ses voyages dans l’Inde : depuis l’an 629 jusqu’en 645, par, Paris, Benjamin Duprat, 1853 .
Rav Shmuel ben Ali, Gaon of Baghdad, rightly pointed out that in Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed , there is not a single word on the question of the immortality of souls or that of the resurrection of the dead.
It is not that Maimonides was not interested in these delicate problems. In his great work, the Mishneh Torah, he asserted that the rational soul is immortal, and that she is conscious of her personal individuality, even in the world to comei.
Maimonides also said that the individual soul, which he also called the « intellect in act », joins after death the « agent intellect » that governs the sublunar sphere. At birth, the soul emanates from this sphere, and she comes to melt into it again at death.
The immortality of the soul does not take a personal form. Immersed in the bosom of the “agent intellect”, the soul possesses a kind of identity, without however having a separate existence.ii
Clearly, we are entering here into a highly speculative territory where the reference points are incomplete, even absent, and the indications of the rare daring ones who think they have some revelation to make on these subjects are scattered and contradictory.
The opportunities for getting lost are multiplying. No ‘guide’ seems to be able to lead us to a good port.
Perhaps that is why Maimonides did not see fit to include these ideas in his own Guide, despite the few insights he had into these matters.
Speculation about the afterlife, however fraught with pitfalls, offers an opportunity to dream of strange states of consciousness, to dream of unimaginable possibilities of being. There are more futile activities.
From the few elements provided by Maimonides, it is worth trying to freely imagine what the soul experiences after death, at the moment when she discovers herself, in a kind of subliminal awakening, plunged into another « world ». Arguably, she is fully conscious of herself, while feeling a kind of fusion with other sister souls, also immersed in the infinity of the « agent intellect ».
In this new « world », several levels of consciousness are superimposed and cross-fertilized, of which she hardly perceives the ultimate extensions or future implications.
The soul accessing the « sublunar sphere » is conscious of being (again) newly « born », but she is not completely devoid of reference points.
She has already experienced two previous « births », one at conception, the other at childbirth. She now knows confusedly that she has just experienced a kind of 3rd birth after death, opening a new phase of a life decidedly full of surprises, leaps, jumps.
Not long ago, on earth, she was a principle of life and consciousness, and now she swims in an ocean of life and intelligence, which absorbs her completely, without drowning her, nor blinding her, quite the contrary.
She was, a while ago, a “principle” (of life and consciousness, as I said) , and now she has become pure spiritual substance !
In this new state, she is probably waiting for an opportunity to manifest herself as a singular being, perhaps having taken a liking for it in her previous lives. Or, nourished by the thousand wounds of experience, she volunteers for yet other states of consciousness, or for yet other worlds, of a hopefully less cruel nature, and of which there is perhaps a profusion, beyond the sublunar sphere.
This kind of idea, I am well aware, seems perfectly inadmissible to an overwhelming majority of « modern » thinkers. Nihilists and other materialists give full meaning to « matter » and give nothing to the strength of the spirit, to its autonomy, to its capacity for survival, in an unsuspected way, after the vicissitudes of a life dominated by « matter ».
By contrast, Maimonides, in twelfth-century Spain, then a crossroads of thought, has attempted to unravel the mystery of what happens after death.
Maimonides was neither reactionary, nor an “illuminati”, nor a bigot, nor complacent. He flew high above innumerable dogmatic quarrels. There was in him an aspiration to pure reason, a nostalgia for the beyond of religious forms.
There was no question of renouncing the Law, however, or of abandoning memory of ancient cults. In his strange, aloof, ironic style, he says: « To ask for such a thing would have been as if a prophet in those times, exhorting the worship of God, came to us and said: ‘God forbids you to pray to Him, to fast, and to call on His help in times of trouble, but your worship will be a simple meditation, without any practice.”iii
This phrase that Maimonides put into the mouth of an imaginary prophet as if by play, can be taken today, a thousand years later, at face value. What seemed at the time a frank denial can now be interpreted as a rhetorical ruse, a posthumous warning from the man Maimonides, a master of double meaning.
The irony of the time fades away. The meaning is reversed, the intention is revealed.
His idea was radical. It is necessary to put an end to all cults, to idolatry, to hypocrisy, based on « prayers », « sacrifices », « fasts » and « invocations ».
Here comes the time for « simple » meditation!
I think that Maimonides was, very early on, one of the necessary prophets of new times, of those times which are always announced with delay, just as today these future times are late in coming, when ancient cults will no longer be respected for what they claim to embody, in their motionless repetitions.
In our times in parturition, naked meditation will surpass the practices of surface and appearance.
Is this idea subversive, scandalous?
Or is it a real vision, for the ultimate benefit of humankind?
Men have practiced, millennia after millennia, multiple sorts of religion. They have followed ordinances and laws, detailed or symbolic, or even freed themselves from them.
History is far from having said its last word.
There is no end to prophecy. There is no seal of the prophets.
Always, the search for a truer truth will animate the minds of men.
And in our wildest imagination, we are still very far from having tasted a small drop from this oceanic truth.
iCf. Gérard Bensussan. Qu’est-ce que la philosophie juive ? 2003
The « realist » philosophers analyze the world as it is, or at least how it looks, or what they believe it to be. But they have nothing to say about how being came to be, or about the genesis of reality. They are also very short about the ultimate ends, whether there are any or none.
They are in no way capable of conceptualizing the world in its full potency. They have no idea how the universe emerged from nothingness in indistinct times, when nothing and no one had yet attained being, when nothing was yet « in act ».
Nor do they have any representation of this world (the planet Earth) a few hundred million years from now, which is not a large space of time, from a cosmological point of view.
My point is: if one takes the full measure of the impotence and pusillanimity of the “realist” philosophy, then our mind is suddenly freed, – freed from all the past web of philosophical tatters studded with limited thoughts, turning short, local truths, fleeting views, closed syllogisms.
Our mind is freed from all inherited constraints. Everything is yet to be thought, and discovered.
We should then exercise the highest faculty, that of imagination, that of dreaming and vision.
It is an incentive to get out of reason itself, not to abandon it, but to observe it from an external, detached, non-rational point of view. “Pure reason” is ill-equipped to judge itself, no matter what Kant thinks.
What can we see, then?
Firstly, reason is truly unable to admit that it is closed on itself, let alone willing to admit that it necessarily has an outside, that there is something out there that is inconceivable to reason.
The purest, most penetrating reason is still quite blind to anything that is not reasonable.
Reason sees nothing of the oceanic immensity of non-reason which surrounds it, exceeds it infinitely, and in which however reason bathes, as an ignorant, fragile, ephemeral bubble.
Reason has always been in a strong relationship with language. But we know quite well that the language is a rudimentary tool, a kind of badly cut, flimsy flint, producing from time to time some rare sparks…
Let’s try to show this flimsiness with an example, based on a simple but foundational sentence, like « God is one ».
Grammatically, this sentence is a flimsy oxymoron. It oozes inconsistency. It links a subject (« God ») and a predicate (« one ») with the help of the copula (« is »). But in the same time it separates (grammatically) the subject and the predicate. In the same time, it separates them (semantically) and then reunites them (grammatically) by the sole virtue of a copulative verb (« is »), which, by the way, exists only in some human languages, but remains unknown to the majority of them…
If truly, I mean grammatically, ‘God is one’, then it should be impossible to really separate the words ‘God’, ‘is’, or ‘one’. They would be just the same reality.
If grammatically ‘God is one’, there would only be a need for the word ‘God’, or if one prefers only for the word ‘one’, or only for the word ‘is’. Those words or ‘names’ imply just the same, unique reality. Moreover, after having stated this ‘unique reality’, one would remain (logically) short. What else could be added, without immediately contravening the ‘unitary’ dogma? If anything else could be added, it should be immediately engulfed into the “oneness” of the “being”. Or, if not, that would imply that something could “be” outside the “One and Unique Being”. Which is (grammatically) illogical.
If grammatically ‘God is one’, then one must already count three verbal instances of His nature: the ‘name’ (God), the ‘essence’ (Being), the ‘nature’ (Oneness).
Three instances are already a crowd, in the context of the Unique One…
And no reason to stop there. This is why there are at least ten names of God in the Torah, and 99 names of Allah in Islam….
If grammatically ‘God is one’, then how can language itself could dare to stand as overhanging, outside of the ‘oneness’ of God, outside of His essential ‘unity’?
If grammatically ‘God is one’, then shouldn’t the language itself necessarily be one with Him, and made of His pure substance?
Some theologians have seen this difficulty perfectly well. So they have proposed a slightly modified formula: « God is one, but not according to unity.”
This clever attempt doesn’t actually solve anything.
They are just words added to words. This proliferation, this multiplicity (of words) is not really a good omen of their supposed ability to capture the essence of the One… Language, definitely, has untimely bursts, uncontrolled (but revealing) inner contradictions… Language is a mystery that only really take flight, like the bird of Minerva (the Hegelian owl), at dusk, when all the weak, flashy and illusory lights of reason are put under the bushel.
Here is another example of reason overcome by the proper power of language.
The great and famous Maimonides, a specialist in halakha, and very little suspect of effrontery in regard to the Law, surprised more than one commentator by admitting that the reason for the use of wine in the liturgy, or the function of the breads on display in the Temple, were completely beyond his comprehension.
He underlined that he had tried for a long time to search for some « virtual reasons »i to use wine and bread for religious purpose, to no avail. This strange expression (« virtual reasons ») seems to vindicate that, for Maimonides, there are in the commandments of the Law « provisions of detail whose reason cannot be indicated », and « that he who thinks that these details can be motivated is as far from the truth as he who believes that the general precept is of no real use »ii.
Which leaves us with yet another bunch of mysteries to tackle with.
Maimonides, a renowned expert of halakha in the 11th century A.D., candidly admitted that he did not understand the reason for the presence of bread and wine in Jewish liturgy, and particularly their presence in the premises of the Temple of Jerusalem.
It is then perhaps up to the poet, or the dreamer, or the anthropologist, to try to guess by analogy, or by anagogy, some possible « virtual reasons » for this religious use of bread and wine?
Maybe the bread and wine do belong to the depths of the collective inconscious, and for that reason are loaded with numinous potency?
Or, maybe Maimonides just would not want to see the obvious link with what had happened, more that a millennium before his time, in Jerusalem, during the Last Supper?
Whatever the answer, the question remains: why bread and wine, if “God is One”?
iMaimonides. Le Guide des égarés. Ed. Verdier. 1979. The translation from Arabic into French by Salomon Munk, p.609, gives here : « raisons virtuelles ».
iiMaimonides. Le Guide des égarés. Ed. Verdier. 1979. Translation from Arabic into French by Salomon Munk, p.609 sq.
La façon la plus ramassée dont les Modernes ont traduit l´antique idée selon laquelle « tout est plein de dieux » est d’affirmer l´intrication quantique de toutes les particules de l´univers, — depuis le Big Bang. Le constat, originellement fait par Thalès, philosophe, astronome et géomètre, « πάντα πλήρη θεῶν εἶναι », implique logiquement que les multitudes divines sont toutes unies, ou « intriquées », pour reprendre le jargon quantique.
Toutes ces myriades de dieux, d’anges ou d’ondes, sont liées, enlacées, embrassées, enchevêtrées. Un nœud numineux noue leur être en l´Un.
Mais à la différence des particules quantiques, les dieux infiniment innombrables restent subtilement « séparés » des choses et des corps, dont ils accompagnent pourtant, sans cesse, l´émergence.
La nappe des « dieux », finement tissée, sans couture, enveloppe une souple base de matière et d´énergie.
Elle s´immisce dans ses interstices et ses vides.
Deux ordres de réalité se voisinent, sans se confondre, mais parfois s’intersectent, comme des plis, des angles, ou des croix.
Où trouve-t-on ces lieux de rencontre? Dans les hasards, les augures, les pythies, les temples et les invocations ? Peut-être.
Plus sûrement dans les cœurs, battants et clos.
Et sans doute aussi dans l’indicible silence, blotti entre les mots, caché dans l’absence.
Ou encore celés sous les symboles qui ne montrent, — signes cois.
Ou parfois dans le grand fond, l’abysse abaissé. Ou dans les nues lisses, hautes et fines.
Ou simplement dans une âme, mue d’épigenèse, embryon d’elle-même, sans sol ni ciel.
Âme capable d’approcher toute chose. De la connaître. Et de s’en détacher, légère.
Ce n’est pas l’éveil, mais le sommeil, qui lui révèle les rares mystères, dont elle est douée.
Pauvre en esprit, elle cache sa nature dans l’opulence des désirs. Éveillée, elle la couvre de conscience comme d’un voile.
En son sommeil, elle est exil, allée en des rêves indociles, elliptiques.
Abeille, elle butine, cherchant des sucs neufs, loin de la ruche connaisseuse.
Miel à son retour, vers la reine endormie, la connaissance assoupie.
Qui dira son vol nocturne ? La conscience est collée à l’aire et n’a pas d’ailes.
Double vie, double face de l’âme. L’une de lumière et de soleil, l’autre de lune et d’ombre.
Mais c’est la nuit qui est grosse, non le jour qui s’ignore.
C’est dans la nuit des sens, dans cette ténèbre du sens, qu’elle monte le plus haut, loin des steppes plates, des chotts et des ergs.
Alors elle explore, non une évidence, une révélation, mais l’exode.
Elle quête les passages, les chenaux, les détroits, les « trous de ver » (noirs ou blancs). Tout ce qui ouvre la fuite et l’impensé, l’angoisse de l’angustai…
Toutes les nuits, elle voyage comme une colombe noachique, loin de l’arche immobile, échouée sur quelques hauts fonds, attendant la décrue. Rares alors les retours fructueux, mais non impossibles. Telle branche, telle olive en disent la trace.
C’est dans ces envols nocturnes, loin des rêves de glu, qu’elle s’approche des terres supérieures et des dieux occupés.
C’est alors qu’elle grappille des parcelles de génie, qu’elle découvre la gravité et la danse,
qu’elle sait la symphonie immense, qu’elle sent la puissance des sèmes,
qu’elle suce le sein nébuleux, le lait cosmique, la sève galactique.
Elle voit soudain l’idée, nue comme un buisson qui brûle, une sylve d’odeurs et d’épines…
Elle vole aux dieux mêmes leur vol et leur envol.
Cinglant larcin, à la Prométhée, payé du foie.
Rapt utile, pourtant, au retour célébré de caresses méritées.
Nimbée d’aura, constellée de cieux, l’âme à la fin retourne à la glèbe, fait verdir la boue, exhausse le lotus.
L’âme est double, et ce double s’enlace en elle, comme deux amants doux, deux courbes magnétiques.
Mais quand elle se dédouble, se désenlace, quand cesse l’union avec les lointains, elle se réalise, pénétrée de connaissance, gorgée de possession, se sachant libre.
Se sachant aussi possédée, absolument possédée, et pourtant à cet instant, plus libre que jamais, d’aller toujours plus haut.
Comme en la forge le fer en feu bout, fusionne, coule et s’évapore, sublimé, — atomes par atomes, fer encore, quoique quantique.
L’âme de fer fut un instant centre de l’âtre ultime.
Il lui faudra des jours et des ans pour guérir sa brûlure, penser sa plaie, combler de cicatrices sa conscience sauve et balafrée.
Ce n’est pas la pensée qui s’est mue, dans cette mouvance ignée.
Ce n’est pas d’un vol extatique, d’un vain délire, que l’âme a franchi les mondes.
Son calme est froid comme un lac. Maintenant, elle entre dans le cratère, elle plonge dans la lave, comme une goutte d’eau nue.
Pourtant ne se vaporise. L’eau est lourde, comme une bombe.
Œil et boson, iris irradié. Entière entéléchie. Théophanie non-humaine.
« There are not many Jewish philosophers, » says Leo Straussi.
This statement, however provocative, should be put into perspective.
The first Jewish philosopher, historically speaking, Philo of Alexandria, attempted a synthesis between his Jewish faith and Greek philosophy. He had little influence on the Judaism of his time, but much more on the Fathers of the Church, who were inspired by him, and instrumental in conserving his works.
A millennium later, Moses Maimonides drew inspiration from Aristotelian philosophy in an attempt to reconcile faith and reason. He was the famous author of the Guide of the Perplexed, and of the Mishne Torah, a code of Jewish law, which caused long controversies among Jews in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Another celebrity, Baruch Spinoza was « excommunicated » (the Hebrew term is חרם herem) and definitively « banished » from the Jewish community in 1656, but he was admired by Hegel, Nietzsche, and many Moderns…
In the 18th century, Moses Mendelssohn tried to apply the spirit of the Aufklärung to Judaism and became one of the main instigators of the « Jewish Enlightenment », the Haskalah (from the word השכלה , « wisdom », « erudition »).
We can also mention Hermann Cohen, a neo-Kantian of the 19th century, and « a very great German philosopher », in the words of Gérard Bensussanii.
Closer in time, Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig and Emmanuel Lévinas .
That’s about it. These names don’t make a crowd, but we are far from the shortage that Leo Strauss wanted to point out. It seems that Leo Strauss really wished to emphasize, for reasons of his own, « the old Jewish premise that being a Jew and being a philosopher are two incompatible things, » as he himself explicitly put it.iii
It is interesting to recall that Leo Strauss also clarified his point of view by analyzing the emblematic case of Maimonides: « Philosophers are men who try to account for the Whole on the basis of what is always accessible to man as man; Maimonides starts from the acceptance of the Torah. A Jew may use philosophy and Maimonides uses it in the widest possible way; but, as a Jew, he gives his assent where, as a philosopher, he would suspend his assent.”iv
Leo Strauss added, rather categorically, that Maimonides’ book, The Guide of the Perplexed, « is not a philosophical book – a book written by a philosopher for philosophers – but a Jewish book: a book written by a Jew for Jews.”v
The Guide of the Perplexed is in fact entirely devoted to the Torah and to the explanation of the « hidden meaning » of several passages. The most important of the « hidden secrets » that it tries to elucidate are the ‘Narrative of the Beginning’ (the Genesis) and the ‘Narrative of the Chariot’ (Ezekiel ch. 1 to 10). Of these « secrets », Maimonides says that « the Narrative of the Beginning” is the same as the science of nature and the “Narrative of the Chariot” is the same as the divine science (i.e. the science of incorporeal beings, or of God and angels).vi
The chapters of Ezekiel mentioned by Maimonides undoubtedly deserve the attention and study of the most subtle minds, the finest souls. But they are not to be put into all hands. Ezekiel recounts his « divine visions » in great detail. It is easy to imagine that skeptics, materialists, rationalists or sneers (whether Jewish or not) are not part of the intended readership.
Let us take a closer look at a revealing excerpt of Ezekiel’ vision.
« I looked, and behold, there came from the north a rushing wind, a great cloud, and a sheaf of fire, which spread a bright light on all sides, in the center of which shone like polished brass from the midst of the fire. Also in the center were four animals that looked like humans. Each of them had four faces, and each had four wings. Their feet were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet. They sparkled like polished bronze. They had human hands under the wings on their four sides; and all four of them had their faces and wings. Their wings were joined together; they did not turn as they walked, but each walked straight ahead. As for the figures of their faces, all four had the face of a man, all four had the face of a lion on the right, all four had the face of an ox on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle.”vii
The vision of Ezekiel then takes a stunning turn, with a description of an appearance of the « glory of the Lord ».
« I saw again as it were polished brass, fire, within which was this man, and which shone round about, from the form of his loins upward, and from the form of his loins downward, I saw as fire, and as bright light, about which he was surrounded. As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of that bright light: it was an image of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”viii
The « man » in the midst of the fire speaks to Ezekiel as if he were an « image » of God.
But was this « man » really an « image » of God? What « philosopher » would dare to judge this statement ?
Perhaps this « man » surrounded by fire was some sort of « reality »? Or was he just an illusion?
Either way, it is clear that this text and its possible interpretations do not fit into the usual philosophical canons.
Should we therefore follow Leo Strauss, and consequently admit that Maimonides himself is not a « philosopher », but that he really wrote a « Jewish book » for the Jews, in order to respond to the need for clarification of the mysteries contained in the Texts?
Perhaps… But the modern reader of Ezekiel, whether Jewish or not, whether a philosopher or not, cannot fail to be interested in the parables one finds there, and in their symbolic implications.
The « man » in the midst of the fire asks Ezekiel to « swallow » a book, then to go « to the house of Israel », to this people which is not for him « a people with an obscure language, an unintelligible language », to bring back the words he is going to say to them.
The usual resources of philosophy seem little adapted to deal with this kind of request.
But the Guide for the Perplexed tackles it head on, in a both refined and robust style, mobilizing all the resources of reason and criticism, in order to shed some light on people of faith, who are already advanced in reflection, but who are seized with « perplexity » in the face of the mysteries of such « prophetic visions ».
The Guide for the Perplexed implies a great trust in the capacities of human reason.
It suggests that these human capacities are far greater, far more unbounded than anything that the most eminent philosophers or the most enlightened poets have glimpsed through the centuries.
And it is not all. Ages will come, no doubt, when the power of human penetration into divine secrets will be, dare we say it, without comparison with what Moses or Ezekiel themselves were able to bequeath to posterity.
In other words, and contrary to usual wisdom, I am saying that the age of the prophets, far from being over, has only just begun; and as well, the age of philosophers is barely emerging, considering the vast scale of the times yet to come.
Human history still is in its infancy, really.
Our entire epoch is still part of the dawn, and the great suns of the Spirit have not revealed anything but a tiny flash of their potential illuminating power.
From an anatomical and functional point of view, the human brain conceals much deeper mysteries, much more obscure, and powerful, than the rich and colorful metaphors of Ezekiel.
Ezekiel’s own brain was once, a few centuries ago, prey to a « vision ». So there was at that time a form of compatibility, of correspondence between the inherent structure of Ezekiel’s brain and the vision which he was able to give an account of.
The implication is that one day in the future, presumably, other brains of new prophets or visionaries may be able to transport themselves even further than Ezekiel.
It all winds down to this: either the prophetic « vision » is an illusion, or it has a reality of its own.
In the first case, Moses, Ezekiel and the long list of the « visionaries » of mankind are just misguided people who have led their followers down paths of error, with no return.
In the second case, one must admit that a “prophetic vision” implies the existence of another “world” subliminally enveloping the « seer ».
To every « seer » it is given to perceive to a certain extent the presence of the mystery, which surrounds the whole of humanity on all sides.
To take up William James’ intuition, human brains are analogous to « antennae », permanently connected to an immense, invisible worldix.
From age to age, many shamans, a few prophets and some poets have perceived the emanations, the pulsations of this other world.
We have to build the neuroscience and the metaphysics of otherworldly emanations.
Philo, in a short, dense passagei, describes the search of the ‘wise man’ who wants to know the secret of the universe, the origin of all things, the ultimate end – the Sovereign Mystery.
Let us reveal at once that this secret can never be reached.
Understanding this is the first step on the road of the ‘wise man’. It is necessary to know that the Mystery is too transcendent, too elusive, too unimaginable to ever be within reach. And yet it is worth continuing the search.
After a while, looking back over the road traveled so far, the walking ‘wise man’ surely knows that he knows almost nothing. At least he knows that, – which is not nothing, really, but indeed is really not much, and even one can say that it is almost absolutely nothing.
But the ‘wise man’ also knows that he has to get back on the road, and continue the search, without delay.
Looking at what still seems like a long way ahead to go before the next stop, he believes he can decipher the scattered signs in the distance. Some tracks. A few fragments.
Tending his ear, he may perceive confused clamors, rare echoes, silent sighs, indistinct words, tenuous, almost inaudible voices.
Raising his eyes, he may distinguish with some difficulty, very high in the nebula, kind of scintillating memories, and a background of faint glimmers, originally immensely distant, far beyond the forgotten ways, and lost nights.
The ‘wise man’ sets off again. He has no more time to lose. This last halt has lasted too long.
He walks with slow steps, eyes open, memory alive. From time to time he comes across thin, quickly outdated clues.
Peaceful, solitary, he reflects on the geometry of his unlimited, illogical walk. The more he advances, it seems, the less he arrives.
But he continues walking, however. In a sense, maybe doing so he does not go backwards, at last.
Towards the front, very far, in the distance, the horizon fades away.
The walker clearly sees only his slow steps, and what is just around him. He also sees that what seems quite close to him constantly slips away from him as he approaches, slowly moving away, into a blind spot.
Only the immeasurably distant, the absolutely separated, the utterly unapproachable, does not leave him, in his slow approach.
The ‘wise man’ in his walk rarely has his joy, his thirst: minute traces, celestial analects, pollens in the wind, inchoate echoes, iridescent sounds, allusive gleams, unearthed nitescences, …
But none of this is enough for him.
Walking again, continuing the search, that alone, in a sense, is enough for him.
Il y a une sorte de connaissance qui est, par nature, séparée de son objet, ainsi celle que peut obtenir un observateur, détaché de ce qu’il observe. Il observe une chose ou un phénomène, et n’y voit que l’« autre » que lui-même.
Si c’est lui-même que l’observateur observe, alors son être en tant que sujet est encore « autre » que son être observé.
Et il y a une sorte de connaissance qui est une étreinte intime, une fusion, une intuition de la présence enveloppante, une participation à la chose connue, en laquelle on s’immerge entièrement. Cette deuxième sorte de connaissance n’a rien à voir avec la méthode rationnelle, scientifique. Pourtant c’est bien une forme de connaissance, ultime, directe, et en un sens, sans aucun intermédiaire.
Qu’est-ce qu’un intermédiaire ? C’est ce qui relie des extrêmes antinomiques, ce qui résout des oppositions contradictoires, ce qui connecte deux niveaux de réalité, ce qui comble le fossé qui sépare les différences.
Car il faut bien que le sens circule, du Levant au Couchant, ou du Ciel vers la Terre. Il faut qu’en la poussière une haute essence puisse s’immiscer, si le Dieu veut étendre son règne du haut sur le bas, du lointain sur le proche, du caché au révélé.
S’Il veut vraiment être partout où sa volonté se meut, Il peut s’attacher à tout ce qu’Il n’est pas.
D’y être ainsi joint ou mêlé, ne L’enserre ni ne Le lie. Et la Terre n’en est pas non plus désertée, par cette déliaison, même dans ses moindres confins.
Thalès l’avait déjà dit, avant les autres philosophes, « Tout est plein de dieux »i. Phrase prémonitoire et programmatique, désormais délaissée.
L’âme en conséquence en a aussi sa part, sa masse et sa foule de dieux innommés. C’est pourquoi le Philosophe avait conclu, imparablement, à une explication de l’origine divine de ses dons: « La connaissance appartient à l’âme, ainsi que la sensation, l’opinion, et encore le désir, la délibération, en un mot les appétits. »ii
Son propre maître lui avait ouvert la voie de ce penser : « L’âme est quelque chose de plus ancien, et, à la fois, de plus divin que le corps… ‘Tout est plein de Dieux’, et jamais les puissances supérieures, soit manque de mémoire, soit indifférence, ne nous ont négligés !.. »iii.
Thalès, Platon, Aristote convergent en somme vers l’idée qu’en l’âme vit quelque essence divine. Leçon nette, aujourd’hui bien oubliée. Les Modernes, cyniques, secs et méprisants, se passent volontiers des poètes, de l’âme et des dieux, et les ont remplacés par de vibrants éloges du néant, un goût vain pour le théâtre de l’absurde, et un incommensurable provincialisme cosmique.
Le divin est le principe de la lumière, tant la matérielle qui traversa les mondes, et tout le visible, que l’immatérielle, qui illumine encore la raison et fait voir les intelligibles.
Lumière une et indivisible, pour qui la voit, ou, pour qui, par elle, la comprend, et pour qui tout le malheur vient de son ombre portée.
C’est un fait: toute lumière projette une écume d’ombre, dans la vague qu’elle ouvre en l’abîme.
D’ailleurs, la lumière des dieux n’est elle-même, au fond, qu’une sorte d’ombre, si on la rapporte (comme il se doit) à l’origine qui l’engendre, à la puissance qui la propulse.
La métaphore même, qui suit la danse de l’onde et du corpuscule, comprend l’idée d’un mouvement de la lumière à l’intérieur d’elle-même, jamais là où l’on attend, toujours ailleurs, à jamais mue, mais jamais nue.
L’âme aussi est une sorte de lumière, une étincelle d’origine. Lorsqu’elle arrive dans l’embryon endormi, dans le corps qui se forme, elle l’enveloppe et le nourrit, non de lait et de caresses, mais de suc et d’essence, de vues et de sens.
Elle lui donne le un et le deux, l’union et la différence, le silence, le rythme – et la symphonie sans fin des organes affamés.
Elle lui donne toutes les formes, celles qui la feront toujours vivre et même sur-vivre.
L’âme se donne, et le corps rue sans raison, pur-sang pris à son lasso, d’un côté cravaché par le souffle, et de l’autre la matière est son mors. Ils s’enlacent sans fin comme du même à de l’autre.
Cet enlacement, cet embrasement, est comme une brève image d’un embrassement plus infini, plus vaste que tous les mondes, celui que le divin entretient avec lui-même, et dans lequel il emporte sans fin tous les êtres, nonobstant leur néant et leur évanescence. Enfouis dans le devenir, la fugacité est leur partage. Mais les êtres créés, éphémères fumées, sont aussi, un par un, don à la cause, tribut à l’être. Ils prennent part au sacrifice, au silence du Soi, à la saignée de la sève, aux salves du sang, au souffle sourd, dans les souterrains du destin.
Enlacement, embrasement, embrassement, enfouissement, emport et entretien, toutes ces métaphores disent encore le lien. Alors que le divin, même uni, est aussi séparé de ce qu’il est ou semble être. Il s’envole aussitôt posé sur la terre, oiseau toujours, aux ailes de ciel.
L’âme aussi vole, ses ailes sont d’aube ou de soir, elle se projette par à-coups dans l’abîme du jour, dans la différence des lumières. Elle caresse la lèvre des peuples endormis, ou des filles éveillées, et elle s’envole toujours à nouveau, comme un moineau blessé, ou un autour chanteur.
Elle ne ressemble à aucun être, unique à jamais, et même d’elle-même elle se plaît à se détacher, dans la liberté de son désir. Elle est de la race des dieux, sans avoir ni leur vie ni leur infinité, mais elle peut monter en leur ciel plus haut que toutes les puissances et les autres anges.
In Platonic philosophy, the God Eros (Love) is always in search of fulfillment, always moving, eager to fill His own lack of being.
But how could a God lack of being? How could he fail to be ?
If Love signals a lack, as Plato says, how could Love be a God, whose essence is to be?
A God ‘Love’, in Plato’s way, is fully ‘God’ only through His loving relationship with what He loves. This relationship implies a ‘movement’ and a ‘dependence’ of the divine nature around the object of His ‘Love’.
How to understand such a ‘movement’ and such a ‘dependence’ in a transcendent God, a God whose essence is to ‘be’, and whose Being is a priori beyond any lack of being?
This is the reason why Aristotle harshly criticizes Plato. For Aristotle, Love is not an essence, but only a means. If God defines Himself as the Being par excellence, He is also ‘immobile’, says Aristotle. As the first immobile Motor, He only gives His movement to all creation.
« The Principle, the First of the beings is motionless: He is motionless by essence and by accident, and He imprints the first, eternal and one movement.”i
God, ‘immobile’, sets the world and all the beings it contains in motion, breathing love into them, and a desire for their ‘end’ (their goal). The world is set in motion because it desires this very ‘end’. The end of the world is in the love of the ‘end’, in the desire to reach the ultimate ‘end’ for which the world was set in motion.
« The final cause, in fact, is the Being for whom it is an end, and it is also the end itself. In the latter sense, the end can exist among immobile beings.”ii
For Aristotle, then, God cannot be ‘Love’, or Eros. The Platonic Eros is only an ‘intermediate’ god. It is through Eros that God sets all beings in motion. God sets the world in motion through the love He inspires. But He is not Love. Love is the intermediary through which He aims at the ‘final cause’, His ‘aim’.
« The final cause moves as the object of love.”iii.
Here we see that Aristotle’s conception of the God differs radically from the Christian conception of a God who is essentially “love”. « God so loved the world » (John 3:16).
Christ overturned the tables of Aristotelian law, that of a ‘still’ God, a God for whom love is only a means to an end, abstractly called the ‘final cause’.
The God of Christ is not ‘immobile’. Paradoxically, not withstanding all His putative power, He places Himself at the mercy of the love (or indifference, or ignorance) of His own creation.
For Aristotle, the divine immobile is always at work, everywhere, in all things, as the ‘First Motor’. The divine state represents the maximum possible being, the very Being. All other beings lackbeing. The lowest level in Jacob’s ladder of the aeons is that of being only in power to be, a pure potency, a purely virtual being.
The God of Christ, on the other hand, is not always ‘present’, He may be ’empty’, He may be ‘mocked’, ‘railed », ‘humiliated’. And He may ‘die’, and He may remain ‘absent’.
In a way, the Christian conception of divine kenosis is closer to the Platonic conception of a God-Love who suffers from a fundamental ‘lack’, than to the Aristotelian conception of God as ‘First Mover’ and ‘final cause’.
There is a real philosophical paradox in considering that the essence of God reveals in a lack or an ‘emptiness‘ in the heart of Being.
In this hypothesis, love would not only be a ‘lack’ of being, as Plato thinks, but would be part of the divine essence itself. This divine Lack would actually be the highest form of being.
What is the essence of a God whose lack is at its heart?
There is a name for it – a very old name, which gives a rough idea of it: ‘Sacrifice’.
This profoundly anti-intuitive idea appeared four thousand years before Christ. The Veda forged a name to describe it: Devayajña, the ‘Sacrifice of God’. A famous Vedic hymn describes Creation as the self-immolation of the Creator.iv Prajāpati totally sacrifices Himself, and in doing so He can give His Self entirely to the creation. He sacrifices himself but lives by this very sacrifice. He remains alive because the sacrifice gives Him a new Breath, a new Spirit.
« The supreme Lord said to His father, the Lord of all creatures: ‘I have found the sacrifice that fulfills desires: let me perform it for You’ – ‘So be it’, He replied. Then He fulfills it for Him. After the sacrifice, He wished, ‘May I be all here!’ He became Breath, and now Breath is everywhere here.”v
The analogy between the Veda and Christianity is deep. It includes the same, divine ’emptiness’.
« The Lord of creatures [Prajāpati], after having begotten living beings, felt as if He had been emptied. The creatures departed from Him; they did not stay with Him for His joy and sustenance.”vi
« After having generated everything that exists, He felt as if He was emptied and was afraid of death.”vii
The ’emptiness’ of the Lord of creatures is formally analogous to the ‘kenosis‘ of Christ (this word comes from the Greek kenosis and the verb kenoein, ‘to empty’).
There is also the Vedic metaphor of ‘dismemberment’, which anticipates the dismemberment of Osiris, Dionysus and Orpheus.
« When He had produced all the creatures, Prajāpati fell apart. His breath went away. When His breath was no longer active, the Gods abandoned Him”viii.
« Reduced to His heart, He cried out, ‘Alas, my life!’ The waters came to His aid and through the sacrifice of the Firstborn, He established His sovereignty.”ix
The Veda saw it. The Sacrifice of the Lord of Creation was at the origin of the universe. That is why, it is written: « the sacrifice is the navel of the universe »x.
Perhaps the most interesting thing, if we can get this far, is to allow to conclude that: « Everything that exists, whatever it is, is made to participate in the Sacrifice » xi.
One chisel stroke, and the thread ends. The bobbin unwinds endlessly; but always, one day, there is a cut. The thread, however white it is, knows nothing of the cut to come.
The thread only knows that it is spinning, that it is following its thread. Cotton or chitin, it spins. For what? It does not know.
It spins, and as long as it spins, it is only thread.
What can a thread of wool or silk understand about a blade of steel ? Or to the soul of a knife? Or to the spirit of the razor?
Thread is thread. Infinitely thread. The length is on its side, he believes. What can an horizontal thread comprehend about a perpendicular blade?
Even a very long thread has an end. Comes the cut, the stroke. The end of the continuous, the condition of appearance.
Thought follows her thread; straight, sinuous, zigzagging, she follows this thread, or that other, she weaves her web. Does the blade think about the end? Made of various threads, how would she think what is not made of thread? Can the thread think about the thickness of the carpet, its surface, its pattern, or the cat that sleeps on it?
The thought following her thread is quite assured, from premises to inductions. She does not yet think about what is expecting her, maybe, what is beyond her, – the cut, or the knot.
The birth of the cut, at the end of the thread.
And the cut is also of a wire, of steel. Sharp wire, destined to cut, not to bind. Carrot, or carotid, the wire cuts. The blade cuts the soul’s core.
The Spinner, Clotho, weaves the thread of life. Lachesis unwinds it. Atropos cuts it. O fates cut short!
In ancient Greek dictionaries, just right after the name Orpheus, one may find the word orphne (ὄρφνη), « darkness ». From a semantic point of view, orphne can be applied to the underworld, the « dark » world. Orpheus, also descended into the Underworld, and was plunged into orphne.
Orpheus was « orphic » par excellence. He sought revelation. He ventured without hesitation into the lair of death, and he came out of it alive – not without the fundamental failure that we know well. But later, the shadows caught up with him. A screaming pack of Thracian women tore him apart, member to member.
Only his severed head escaped the furious melee, rolled ashore. The waves swept him across the sea, and Orpheus‘ head was still singing.
He had defeated death, and passed over the sea.
The myth of Orpheus symbolizes the search for the true Life, the one that lies beyond the realm of Death.
The philosopher Empedocles testifies to the same dream: « For I was once a boy and a girl, and a plant and a bird and a fish that found its way out of the sea.”1
In tablets dating from the 6th century BC, found in Olbia, north of the Black Sea, several characteristic expressions of Orphism, such as bios-thanatos-bios, have been deciphered. This triad, bios-thanatos-bios, « life-death-life », is at the center of orphism.
Orpheus, a contemporary of Pythagoras, chose, contrary to the latter, to live outside of « politics ». He refused the « city » and its system of values. He turned towards the elsewhere, the beyond. « The Orphics are marginal, wanderers and especially ‘renouncers‘ », explains Marcel Detiennei.
Aristophanes stated that the teaching of Orpheus rested on two points: not making blood flow, and discovering »initiation ».
The Greek word for initiation to the Mysteries is teletè (τελετή). This word is related to telos, « completion, term, realization ». But teletè has a very precise meaning in the context of Orphism. Among the Orphic mysteries, perhaps the most important is that of the killing of the god-child, Dionysus, devoured by the Titans, – except for his heart, swallowed by Zeus, becoming the germ of his rebirth within the divine body.
Several interpretations circulate. According to Clement of Alexandria, Zeus entrusted Apollo with the task of collecting and burying the scattered pieces of Dionysus’ corpse on Mount Parnassus.
According to the neo-Platonic gnosis, the Mysteries refer to the recomposition, the reunification of the dismembered body of God.
The death of Orpheus is mysteriously analogous to the more original death of the god Dionysus, which probably derives from much older traditions, such as those of the ancient Egyptians, who worshipped Osiris, who was also torn to pieces, scattered throughout Egypt, and finally resurrected.
For the comparatist, it is difficult to resist yet another analogy, that of the sharing of Christ’s « body » and « blood, » which his disciples « ate » and « drank » at the Last Supper just before his death. A scene that has been repeated in every Mass since then, at the time of « communion ».
There is a significant difference, however, between the death of Christ and that of Osiris, Dionysus or Orpheus. Contrary to the custom that governed the fate of those condemned to death, the body of Christ on the cross was not « broken » or « dismembered, » but only pierced with a spear. The preservation of the unity of his body had been foretold by the Scriptures (« He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken », Psalm 34:20).
No physical dispersion of the body of Christ at his death, but a symbolic sharing at Communion, like that of the bread and wine, metaphors of flesh and blood, presented at the Last Supper, symbols of a unity, essentially indivisible, universally shareable.
This makes all the more salient the search for the divine unity apparently lost by Osiris or Dionysus, but found again thanks to the analogous care of Isis, Zeus, or Apollo.
Beyond the incommensurable divergences, a paradigm common to the ancient religions of Egypt and Greece and to Christianity emerges.
The God, one in essence, is dismembered, dispersed, really or symbolically, and then, by one means or another, finds Himself unified again.
One, divided, multiplied, dispersed, and again One.
Again One, after having been scattered throughout the worlds.
So many worlds: so many infinitesimal shards within the divine unity.
« Modern atheism is dying a beautiful death » and « modern nihilism » will soon, too, « lose the game », Philippe Nemoi wants to believe. The good news, he prophesies, is that as a consequence, a period of glory will open up for new ideals, with infinite possibilities for the development of the human adventure, on the way to the highest destinies…
Quite a radiant perspective…
But « modern atheism » and « modern nihilism » actually do resist very much. They have occupied the front stage in the West during the last two centuries.
Only two centuries, one may ask? …. Is atheism a « modern » specialty?
When it comes to anthropology, nothing beats the measure of millenia.
Traces of religious practices dating from 800,000 years ago have been found in the excavations at Chou-Kou-Tien (Zhoukoudian 周口店 ). Eight thousand centuries ago, then, so-called « Peking Man, » or « Sinanthrope, » painted red carefully prepared human skulls and placed them in a composed circle for ceremonial purposes. To evoke what? For what purpose? For what sort of Deity?
Almost a million years ago, hominids in the Beijing area could probably answer these questions in their own way, and not necessarily confusedly, but we actually know next to nothing of their understanding of the world.
We only can infer from the clues left behind that death was certainly a profound mystery to them.
Analogous questions will no doubt still arise for future anthropologists, who will analyze the few remains of our own “civilization”, that may still be accessible in a million years from now, preserved in a some deep geological layers… Future anthropology, assuming that such a discipline will then still make sense, will perhaps try to infer from the traces of many future, successively « modern » civilizations yet to appear, the role of « atheism », « nihilism » and religious « creeds », throughout millenia?
I find it is a stimulating thought experience. It is necessary to try to project oneself into the distant future, while at the same time connecting through a reflexive and memorial line to the still accessible depths of the paleontological past. In order to test our capacity to represent the ‘human phenomenon’, we can try to draw a perspective on the history of religious feeling (or absence thereof), to gauge its essence, to understand its nature and foundation.
Some provisional lessons can already be drawn. Let us listen to Benjamin Constant: « The time when religious feeling disappears from the souls of men is always close to that of their enslavement. Religious peoples may have been slaves; but no irreligious people remained free.”ii
Benjamin Constant was without illusion about human nature. « India, Ethiopia, Egypt, show us the humankind enslaved, decimated, and, so to speak, confined by priests.”iii The priests of antiquity were « condemned to imposture », by their very functions, which involved constant communication with the gods, with oracles to be rendered, – the correctness of which could be easily checked afterwards, not to mention the wonders, miracles and other revelations. Fraud must have been, one can imagine, a permanent temptation, if not a vital necessity.
Regardless of past and future (religious) frauds and impostures, the most significant question that men of all times have asked themselves and will ask themselves remains that of the meaning of life, for a man confronted with the mystery of an assured death, after a rather short life.
Hence this quite logical (and cynical) statement:
« To defend freedom, one must know how to immolate one’s life, and what is there more than life for those who see beyond it only nothingness? Also when despotism meets with the absence of religious sentiment, the human species prostrates itself in dust, wherever force is deployed.”iv
Absurd, useless, inessential lives and deaths, crushed by despotism, pose a question to which neither atheism nor nihilism can provide the slightest answer.
Perhaps « atheism » is already « dying its beautiful death », if we are to believe Nemo.
This does not mean that from this death will arise some « theism » ready to live a new life.
The mystery cannot be solved by such elementary, simplified qualifiers.
In a million years, it is a good bet that all our « philosophies », all our « religions », will appear only just as some sort of red skulls, arranged in forgotten circles.
iPhilippe Nemo. La belle mort de l’athéisme moderne. 2012
iiBenjamin Constant. De la religion considérée dans sa source, ses formes et ses développements. 1831
Ernst Haeckel was the biologist and philosopher who made Darwin known in Germany. He was one of the first to apply Darwinian ideas to human ‘races’. Nazi ideologues used his writings to support their racist theories and social Darwinism. Haeckel is also the author of the « recapitulation » theory, according to which ontogenesis « recapitulates » phylogenesis.
Haeckel had a monistic view of the world, an acute perception of divine immanence and proposed a quasi-deification of the « laws of nature ». « God is found in the law of nature itself. God’s will acts according to laws, both in the raindrop that falls and in the crystal that grows, as well as in the scent of the rose and in the minds of men. »i
This immanence can be found in the « cell memory » (« Zellgedächtnis ») and in the « soul of crystals » (« Kristallseelen »).
From such a interpenetration of « Nature » and « God », Haeckel deduced the end of « the belief in a personal God, in the personal immortality of the soul and in the freedom of human will.”
The whole metaphysics was to be called into question.
« Alongside the law of evolution and closely related to it, one can consider as the supreme triumph of modern science the almighty law of substance, the law of conservation of matter (Lavoisier, 1789) and of conservation of energy (Robert von Mayer, 1842). These two great laws are in manifest contradiction with the three great central dogmas of metaphysics, which most cultured people still today consider to be the most precious treasures: belief in a personal God, in the personal immortality of the soul, and in the freedom of the human will. (…) These three precious objects of faith will only be removed, as truths, from the realm of pure science. On the other hand they will remain, as a precious product of fantasy, in the realm of poetry. »ii
There are two points to consider, here. On the one hand the question of the validity of the « supreme laws » of modern science, the law of evolution and the law of conservation, and on the other hand the question of the « manifest contradiction » between these laws and the « three central dogmas of metaphysics ».
On the first point, it should be recalled that the purely scientific vision of the conservation and evolution of the world cannot alone account for singular phenomena such as the Big Bang. Where does the initial energy of the universe come from? « It has always been there, by the law of conservation », answer the believers in pure science.
But this very thesis is in itself undemonstrable, and therefore unscientific.
« Pure science » is apparently based on an unprovable axiom. Hence « pure science » does not seem quite scientific.
The second point is the question of the « manifest contradiction », according to Haeckel, between the two laws of conservation and the central dogmas of metaphysics such as freedom of the will or the immortality of the soul.
In 1907, only one year after the publication of Haeckel’s quoted work, the American physician Duncan MacDougall measured the weight of six patients just before and after their death. He found a decrease of 21 grams, which he deduced could be the weight of the soul escaping from the human bodyiii. A heated controversy ensued. The experiment was deemed to be flawed, for many commentators.
In any case, obviously, if an immaterial soul « exists », it cannot have mass. Or, if it has a « mass », then it is a SISO, a Soul In Name Only…
However, assuming the validity of D. MacDougall’s experimental results, one may infer that the 21-gram loss of mass, supposedly observed in some individuals after death, may come from causes other than the alleged soul’s exit from the body.
It would be possible to imagine, for example, a « sublimation », in the chemical sense, of certain components of the human body, which would thus pass directly from the solid state to the gaseous state, without passing through a liquid state. In fact, this « sublimation » would result in an exhalation or evaporation of the matter transformed into a gaseous mass.
The « last sigh » would thus not only consist of the air contained in the lungs of the dying body, but also of a mass of body matter « sublimated » by the metabolic transformations accompanying death itself. Among these transformations, those affecting the brain would be particularly crucial, considering that the brain consumes about a quarter of the body’s metabolic energy.
Death would have a physico-chemical effect on the brain in the form of a « sublimation » of part of its substance.
The « soul » may not have any mass and any weight. But the biological « structure » of a living brain, its « organization », this specific seal of a singular person, could prove to have a weight of several grams. At the time of death, this « structure » would rapidly decompose and « exhale » out of the body.
The « structure » of the brain, or its « systemic » organization, constitutes – from a materialistic point of view – the very essence of the individual. It can also be defined as the very condition of its « freedom », or « spirit », to use metaphysical concepts.
What is certain is that whether one has a materialistic point of view or not, death obviously produces a systemic loss, which also translates into a loss of matter.
How can the laws of « conservation » of substance and energy account for such a « loss »?
Just as every birth adds something to the unique and unheard of in this world, so every death subtracts something unique and unspeakable.
Whether we call this unique, unspeakable something: « soul », « breath », « structure » or « 21-gram mass », has no real importance, from the point of view that interests us here.
In any case, death results in a net, absolute loss, which the scientific laws of « conservation » cannot explain.
The soul, or freedom of the will for that matter, really have no « mass ». When they are « lost », the laws of conservation do not find them in their balance sheets.
It is an important lesson.
The « supreme triumph of modern science, the almighty law of substance » just cannot grasp a spiritual « essence ».
Not just any essence. Particularly the essence of our own personal soul. Once this is well understood, the implications are immense.
iii MacDougall, Duncan. “The Soul: Hypothesis Concerning Soul Substance Together with Experimental Evidence of The Existence of Such Substance.” American Medicine. April 1907. Here is a significant excerpt : « The patient’s comfort was looked after in every way, although he was practically moribund when placed upon the bed. He lost weight slowly at the rate of one ounce per hour due to evaporation of moisture in respiration and evaporation of sweat. During all three hours and forty minutes I kept the beam end slightly above balance near the upper limiting bar in order to make the test more decisive if it should come. This loss of weight could not be due to evaporation of respiratory moisture and sweat, because that had already been determined to go on, in his case, at the rate of one sixtieth of an ounce per minute, whereas this loss was sudden and large, three-fourths of an ounce in a few seconds. The bowels did not move; if they had moved the weight would still have remained upon the bed except for a slow loss by the evaporation of moisture depending, of course, upon the fluidity of the feces. The bladder evacuated one or two drams of urine. This remained upon the bed and could only have influenced the weight by slow gradual evaporation and therefore in no way could account for the sudden loss. There remained but one more channel of loss to explore, the expiration of all but the residual air in the lungs. Getting upon the bed myself, my colleague put the beam at actual balance. Inspiration and expiration of air as forcibly as possible by me had no effect upon the beam. My colleague got upon the bed and I placed the beam at balance. Forcible inspiration and expiration of air on his part had no effect. In this case we certainly have an inexplicable loss of weight of three-fourths of an ounce. Is it the soul substance? How other shall we explain it? »
Cette formule fameuse date du 6ème siècle avant notre ère. Elle prend d’une part à rebours toute la conception matérialiste, déterministe et positiviste de la modernité occidentale. D’autre part, elle porte une vision de l’immanence divine, un panthéisme multiplié à l’infini, qui tranchent avec la conception strictement monothéiste de religions prônant une divinité « unique », « séparée », – « transcendante ».
Rien de moins moderne, — ou de moins monothéiste, donc. En revanche, rien de plus classique, ô combien !
Cette formule est due à Thalès de Milet, l’un des tout premiers philosophes de la Grèce antique, l’un de ses plus grands sages, mais aussi un éminent mathématicien et célèbre astronome, et l’un des plus brillants esprits de tous les temps.
Aristote le cite: « Certains prétendent que l’âme est mélangée au tout de l’univers ; de là vient peut-être que Thalès ait pensé que toutes choses étaient remplies de dieux. »i
Diogène Laërce et Aétiusii ont ajouté à ce jugement concis quelques précieuses précisions :
« Aristote et Hippias disent qu’il attribuait une âme même aux êtres inanimés, se fondant sur les phénomènes observés dans l’ambre et dans l’aimant. »iii
« L’eau était pour lui le principe de toutes choses ; il soutenait encore que le monde est vivant et rempli d’âmes.»iv
Thalès disait encore :
« L’esprit est ce qu’il y a de plus rapide : il se répand à travers toutes choses.»v
Selon Thalès, les « dieux », la « vie », l’« âme » et l’« esprit » sont donc présents en toutes choses. De cela, il tire la conséquence, parfaitement logique, qu’il n’y a aucune différence entre la vie et la mort: « Qui t’empêche donc de mourir? lui dit-on. — C’est, reprit-il, qu’il n’y a aucune différence.»vi
Il n’est pas indifférent de noter enfin, dans ce contexte, que Thalès est le véritable auteur de la célèbre maxime, souvent attribuée à Socrate, qui répéta un siècle après Thalès, l’oracle de Delphes: « Connais-toi toi-même ».vii
Pour ma part, je suppute que se révèle ici un lien profond entre cette dernière formule et le constat de la présence universelle du divin. S’y noue un nœud, une intrication, entre immanence et conscience.
Thalès percevait la présence immanente du divin en chaque point de l’univers. L’immanence baigne aussi chaque ‘partie’ de la conscience. « Connais-toi toi-même » revient à dire : «Sache que le divin, qui est en Tout, est en toi. »
Un siècle environ après Thalès, Empédocle reprit l’idée en la charpentant :
« Sache en effet que toutes choses (ta panta) possèdent la conscience et un lot de pensée. »viii
Ou dans une autre traduction :
« Sache-le, en effet, toute chose a conscience et part à la pensée (logos). »ix
Ce vers conclut le fragment 110 d’Empédocle, dont Hippolyte a conservé la version la plus complète:
Sextus Empiricus a cité le dernier vers de ce fragment pour montrer qu’Empédocle attribuait la pensée aux bêtes et aux plantes. « Empédocle, d’une manière encore plus paradoxale, considérait que toutes choses se trouvaient douées de raison, et non seulement les animaux, mais encore les plantes, lorsqu’il écrit expressément : ‘Sache-le, en effet, toute chose a conscience et part à la pensée.’ »xi
Mais le neutre pluriel, ta panta (« toutes choses »), comme souvent en grec, a aussi un sens abstrait. Il désignerait au-delà des animaux et des plantes toutes choses au monde, selon le commentaire que Clémence Ramnoux a fait de ce fragmentxii.
Elle ajoute qu’Hyppolyte veut introduire ici la notion d’une troisième puissance, et donc un Principe par delà la dualité du Bien et du Mal. Il s’agirait, pour Empédocle, du ‘logos juste’ (dikaios logos), qu’Empédocle appelle symboliquement ‘la Muse’, et à laquelle il ne faut pas cesser de donner des « soins » (« tu les contemples entretenant des soins purs »xiii).
Mais Hippolyte avait sans doute des intentions apologétiques. L’important est de voir qu’il s’agit surtout d’un « logos en voie de croissance », comme le souligne la traduction que C. Ramnoux livre du Fragment 110 :
« Alors ces choses sûrement toutes te demeureront présentes le long de la vie. Et même à partir d’elles tu en acquerras davantage : car ce sont choses qui croissent toutes seules, chacune en son genre, selon que sa nature la pousse. »xiv
Non seulement il faut voir et comprendre que « tout est plein de dieux », mais il faut aussi voir et comprendre que cette pensée même, ainsi exprimée, il faut la garder toujours présente en soi, il faut la garder toujours immanente en son propre logos, pour la « connaître » en soi. « D’elle-même en effet, [cette idée] croît, au cœur de chaque individu », dit le Fragment 110.
C’est à cette unique condition que l’idée du divin pourra croître, se développer, et porter tout son fruit.
Le divin, en toutes choses, comme dans notre moi, est une idée qui croît, qui vit, et fructifie, pourvu que cette idée, on la garde toujours vivante, et croissante, en nous.
ii Selon Aétius le Doxographe : « Thalès disait que Dieu est l’Intellect du monde, que le tout est animé et plein de démons. » Aétius, Opinions, I, 7,11. In Les Présocratiques, Thalès. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Paris, 1988, p.21
L’inconscient contient et maintient tous les mondes. La conscience est appelée à aller au-delà.
La conscience se meut comme l’éclair, vive, légère, ou bien reste immobile, lourde, lente, – du soupir à la gorge, de la douleur à l’épaule, de l’iris à l’ongle, de la papille au nez, de la paume au cœur, de la lèvre à la jouissance, de la mémoire au pas, du rêve au théorème, de l’acte à son absence, de la vérité à l’idée.
Nous avons gagné en naissant une conscience issue de notre inconscient. En mourant, nous hériterons aussi de l’inconscient de toutes les consciences.
Il faut observer les lumières que l’on croit posséder sur le moi. La connaissance de leurs ombres, fût-elle infime, mène au soi. Elle est le démon du moi, le divise, le multiplie, l’additionne, le soustrait et l’exhale.
La peur inconsciente épure.
Les malaises vagaux, – répétitions générales de la mort immédiate, vague immédiatement avortée.
La conscience et l’inconscient : le dos et son fardeau, l’aveugle et le paralytique.
Souffrances, maux, contrariétés, infirmités, induisent une perte partielle de la conscience générale, un évidement local. En contrepartie, on gagne un grain d’ultra-conscience, une fixation éblouie sur un détail.
Après la mort, le moi s’extasie, sans se dissoudre, aux dimensions du soi. L’âme re-née vagit. Et la vie la ravit. Tout est autre, à la vérité, mais on reste le même. Vaste programme, dont l’infini sait le secret.
La substance du moi, c’est le soi, en puissance. Alors rien n’est impossible. La substance du soi, c’est le mystère en acte. Alors tout est possible.
Avant d’être, on a la chance de naître. Avant de renaître, on a eu la chance d’être. Avant de « *** », on aura eu la chance de renaître.
Le mot « *** » appartient à une langue sans grammaire, sans dictionnaire, sans racine, mais non sans inconscient. Cette langue, très vivante, ne cesse de s’inventer, elle se pense au moment où elle se parle. Elle ne se tait jamais.
La vie, c’est gagner sur le vide, et perdre sur le temps.
La conscience est un peu moins inconcevable que son contraire.
Pas le moindre signe de non-réalité nulle part. Tout est beaucoup trop plein.
L’esprit de sérieux : « Extase de la chrysalide. Enfin pouvoir papillonner ».
Conscient, je suis aveugle à l’inouï. Inconscient, je suis sourd à ses cris.
La foi est la paresse de la voie.
Dès que la conscience se met à vivre, elle se substitue à tout ce qui n’est pas elle.
« Dieu » n’est pas une solution. Tout reste à inventer. Pour « Lui » aussi.
In India at the end of the 19th century, some Indian intellectuals wanted to better understand the culture of England, the country that had colonized them. For instance, D.K. Gokhale took it as a duty to memorize Milton’s Paradise Lost, Walter Scott’s Rokeby, and the speeches of Edmund Burke and John Bright.
However, he was quite surprised by the spiritual emptiness of these texts, seemingly representative of the « culture » of the occupying power.
Perhaps he should have read Dante, Master Eckhart, Juan de la Cruz, or Pascal instead, to get a broader view of Europe’s capabilities in matters of spirituality?
In any case, Gokhale, tired of so much superficiality, decided to return to his Vedic roots. Striving to show the world what India had to offer, he translated Taittirīya-Upaniṣad into English with the famous commentary from Śaṃkara.
At the time of Śaṃkara, in the 8th century AD, the Veda was not yet preserved in written form. But for five thousand years already, it had been transmitted orally through the Indian souls, from age to age, with extraordinary fidelity.i
The Veda heritage had lived on in the brains of priests, during five millenia, generation after generation. Yet it was never communicated in public, except very partially, selectively, in the form of short fragments recited during sacrifices. The integral Veda existed only in oral form, kept in private memories.
Never before the (rather late) time of Śaṃkara had the Veda been presented in writing, and as a whole, in its entirety.
During the millenia when the Veda was only conserved orally, it would have been necessary to assemble many priests, of various origins, just to recite a complete version of it, because the whole Veda was divided into distinct parts, of which various families of Brahmins had the exclusive responsibility.
The complete recitation of the hymns would have taken days and days. Even then, their chanting would not have allowed a synoptic representation of the Veda.
Certainly, the Veda was not a « Book ». It was a living assembly of words.
At the time the Taittirīya-Upaniṣad was composed, the Indo-Gangetic region had cultural areas with a different approach to the sacred « word » of Veda.
In the Indus basin, the Vedic religion has always affirmed itself as a religion of the « Word ». Vāc (the Sanskrit word for « Word ») is a vedic Divinity. Vāc breathes its Breath into the Sacrifice, and the Sacrifice is entirely, essentially, Vāc, — « Word ».
But in the eastern region, in Magadha and Bihar, south of the Ganges, the Deity remains ‘silent’.
Moreover, in northeast India, Buddhism, born in the 6th century B.C., is concerned only with meaning, and feels no need to divinize the « Word ».
These very different attitudes can be compared, it seems to me, to the way in which the so-called « religions of the Book » also deal with the « Word ».
The « word » of the Torah is swarming, bushy, contradictory. It requires, as history has shown, generations of rabbis, commentators and Talmudists to search for all its possible meanings, in the permanent feeling of the incompleteness of its ultimate understanding. Interpretation has no end, and cannot have an end.
The Christian Gospels also have their variations and their obscurities. They were composed some time after the events they recount, by four very different men, of different culture and origin: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
As human works, the Gospels have not been « revealed » by God, but only « written » by men, who were also witnesses. In contrast, at least if we follow the Jewish tradition, the Torah has been (supposedly) directly revealed to Moses by God Himself.
For Christianity, the « Word » is then not « incarnated » in a « Book » (the Gospels). The « Word » is incarnated in Jesus.
Islam respects the very letter of the Qur’an, « uncreated », fully « descended » into the ear of the Prophet. Illiterate, Muhammad, however, was its faithful mediator, transmitting the words of the angel of God, spoken in Arabic, to those of his disciples who were able to note them down.
Let us summarize. For some, the « Word » is Silence, or Breath, or Sacrifice. For others, the « Word » is Law. For others, the « Word » is Christ. For others, the « Word » is a ‘Descent‘.
How can such variations be explained? National « Genius »? Historical and cultural circumstances? Chances of the times?
Perhaps one day, in a world where culture and « religion » will have become truly global, and where the mind will have reached a very high level of consciousness, in the majority of humans, the « Word » will present itself in still other forms, in still other appearances?
For the moment, let us jealously preserve the magic and power of the vast, rich and diverse religious heritage, coming from East and West.
Let us consider its fundamental elevation, its common aspiration, and let us really begin its churning.
i Cf. Lokamanya Bâl Gangâdhar Tilak, Orion ou Recherche sur l’antiquité des Védas, French translation by Claire et Jean Rémy, éditions Edidit & Archè, Milan et Paris, 1989
L’être paraît d’abord d’ombres et d’odeurs, bouche et toucher. Faim, voix, soif. Chaleur, délices, liquides. Temps, lumières, sons, lèvres, peau, langue. L’être lent, gouffre sans fin, abîme mou, terre confuse, rêve fendu, sourire clos. Mystère ouvert. Franc pourquoi.
Avant de surgir à l’être, la conscience se pressentait, se prélassait, se présentait peut-être à sa présence. Quelle était-elle, avant seulement d’être ? Virtuelle et vertige. Ivre et vive. Pur projet, sans sujet, ni objet. Non sans songe.
De l’inconscient à la conscience, et retour. Toujours, sauts, sursauts, soubresauts. Le sommeil bondissant de l’éveil.
Paix, faste, pompe et vélocité. L’inconscient, maître des temps. Lui lâcher la bride. Le laisser galoper au loin, au fond.
La conscience, bref florilège : Nue mise à nu. Buée bue. Boue lourde. Aurore, orée. Pantoise pâmoison. Bouffée touffue. For un tiers rieur. Éclair accru. Par Aton, aile, erre. Orage orange. Nuée exténuée. Désert désempli. Mer mi-roide. Soleil celé.
En naissant, en un instant, on plonge hors du soi, et en soi. On naît au dehors, et en dedans. On aspire, on s’ouvre. Tout à la fois : lumière, voix, chaleur, peau, haleine. Irruption de l’autre. Toutes sortes d’autres. Par tous les pores, les ports. Vagues, ils déferlent. Le bruit de la mère s’est tu. Mais on sent son pouls, tout contre la peau. Les poumons s’emplissent. Le sang bat. L’air neuf coule dans le sang renaissant. Nouvellement né, lentement, le Soi s’initie, sort de son oubli, se sent déclore, conscient de son inconscience.
Five centuries after Luther, some followers of the Reformed religion were able to affirm without blinking an eye that it is the modern religion par excellence and that it even embodies the « legitimacy of modern times ».i As for other religions, according to them, they « flee » the world and reality. ii
These rather arrogant statements may be, in fact, symptoms of the changing world at work. If thousand-year-old religions seem to be « fleeing » modernity, with some level of credibility, how can we not see this as a sign of the coming catastrophe?
The era of the post-human has been announced. Everything is possible, once again, now that modernity has definitively freed itself from pre-modern thoughts. We must prepare ourselves for a new great leap forward.
In order to understand what kind of leap the Reformation implied, it is necessary to recall its foundations, laid when modernity emerged from the Middle Ages.
The Reformation suddenly and strongly called into question a world order that had prevailed until then. The effects were considerable. It changed the religious and political map. It encouraged the development of science and technology. It was even instrumental in the rise of capitalism – and the « disenchantment » of the world.
This legacy is appreciable.
Protestantism also has been generously credited with the liberation of consciousness and the birth of the rights of the individual. This is an interesting paradox for a religion whose fundamental dogma absolutely denies free will, and whose founders advocated the enslavement of men to a predestination decided from all eternity.
But, in a sense, this apparent contradiction sums up the essence of modernity, and the whole post-modern agenda.
The other principles of the Reformation seem to explain its historical success. They have the merit of simplicity: the sovereign authority of the Bible and salvation by grace.
Luther specified them in his famous sola.
–Sola Scriptura (« the Scriptures alone »): Canonical texts are the only infallible sources of faith and religious practice. There is no recognized authority for the interpretation of the texts. Exegesis is free, individual. The believer, with an unshakeable faith, is alone in front of the text. Extreme individualism is justified.
–Sola Fide (« Faith alone »): Faith is everything, and works are nothing. The Law can only bring about the Fall. By it, all are condemned. Only faith can save. Human merit can do nothing. Human reason is powerless to grasp an unintelligible God. Luther said it was the « bride of Satan », the « Prostitute ».
–Sola Gratia (« Grace alone »). God chooses a few souls, and to them alone He gives His grace. Luther and Calvin borrowed this idea from St. Paul. There are very few « chosen ones », and the « rest » of humanity is condemned from all eternity to its doom. This theory of Predestination is considered the essential doctrine of Protestantism. iii
The Scriptures alone: the individual is isolated from any communal tradition, and sent back to himself. Faith alone: it is separated from reason. Grace alone: everything, everyone is determined. There is no free will.
These inaugural cuts were later secularized and mundanized. Nowadays, the cult of the individual, the hatred of the common (or, in the speaking of running neo-liberal slogans, the hate of any sort of ‘socialist’ or ´communist’ ideals) , but also the nominalist passion, the deterministic yoke, all bear witness to this.
The sola have five centuries of existence. But they themselves take their sources from very ancient theological disputes. And they now deeply (and paradoxically) imbue a « modern » society that is more and more dechristianized, paganized and disenchanted. They sum up the modern agenda surprisingly well: individualism, nominalism, determinism. Post-modernity will no doubt take on the task of pushing this program ever further. And quite possibly to the extreme and perhaps to the absurd.
Paradoxes and contradictions abound. Predestination, a Pauline and Calvinist idea, analogous to the ancient and pagan fatum, is clearly opposed to the ideas of freedom, will and personal responsibility. It is therefore surprising that this idea of predestination (secularized as determinism) has been able to permeate all modernity. Hobbes, Spinoza, Hume, Diderot, Voltaire, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Einstein took it up and adapted it, each in his own way.
The rhetorical form of the « sola« , their sharpness, their brittleness, their bleeding edge, must be emphasized. They affirm the « absoluteness » of faith and grace and of the « manifest destiny » of the chosen one,. But as a direct consequence, humanity as a whole is also deemed a « mass of perdition », the (Catholic) Church is judged « satanic », reason seems « diabolical », and free will simply does not exist. All this is not very cheerful. But for those who believe they are on the right side, who will make it, what a triumph!
Max Weber famously explained the link between Protestantism and capitalism, hard work and accumulation. One should now go even further, and also consider its links with the deep economic, social and political decomposition of the « living together », the dissolution of the « glue of the world ».
The pre-eminence of the « chosen one » over the « rest » of humanity justifies everywhere the war of each one against each one, an exacerbated individualism, and propagates hatred of the common. What does the ideology of grace and election imply politically in an overpopulated, compressed planet dominated by structural, systemic injustices? Isn’t the image of the chosen few, hermetically sealing off the world ghetto, the prodrome of a possible final catastrophe?
The dissociation of faith and reason has favored nominalism and anti-rationalism. But after the humiliation of reason, its negation, what can we expect from faith deprived of reason, if not barbarism?
The negation of free will has led to the theological and philosophical justification of determinism, with its innumerable political, economic and social translations. Universal enslavement is on the march – for whose benefit?
It has been written that the doctrine of the Reformer was « childish » iv. The sola can easily be summed up: the individual is ‘separated’, reason is ‘discarded’, freedom is ‘alienated’. Only the « Chosen one », the Faith and the Law remain, — but « alone ».
From this initial base of beliefs, Protestantism developed several variations, not without contradictions.
For example, the Lutheran saint turns away from politics, abandons the kingdom of the earth. On the contrary, the Calvinist ‘chosen one’ seizes the world to transform it. v
Lutheran piety favors the purely interior feeling. Calvinist religiosity is opposed to this quietist flight from the world, and requires engagement, action. vi
Calvin believes that the ´works´ remain a sign of the election. Luther rejects them as a curse.
These differences explain divergent historical destinies: Lutheranism remained confined to Northern Europe, and Calvinism was to be « globalized ». vii
They also reflect the structural problem of Protestantism: how to reconcile the freedom of individual conscience with the demands of community life? How to build a community of belief if the interpretation of the texts is free?
This contradiction was underlined by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The two fundamental points of the Reformation (the Bible, the only rule of belief, and the believer, the only interpreter of the meaning of the Bible), imply that the Reformed Church cannot have « any profession of faith that is precise, articulated, and common to all its members ». viii
Protestant culture, critical and individualistic, was defined from the outset by an ideal of autonomy and inner freedom, regardless of the weight of the dogma of predestination. Having abolished all authority imposed from outside, the culture of intimate conviction is based on the exercise of personal judgment. The argument of authority being rejected, one must turn to one’s own resources. The soul, alone, seeks its way with the help of its own lights.
This is a strong encouragement for critical exercise. Hence, also, the potential for social or political questioning.
The culture of individualism can lead to a general relativism. The moral segregation of the « chosen » and the « fallen », like all « apartheid », also carries the seeds of decomposition and social fragmentation.
Individualism is not a modern invention. But Protestantism added a radical, metaphysical dimension to it. Salvation depends on an incomprehensible God, who grants his grace without reason. Predestination, assigned from all eternity, is equivalent to establishing an absolute difference between people. Salvation has been given to the chosen few, and to the vast majority of the fallen, has been given the Fall. There is such a difference in destiny between them that it amounts to a difference in nature. Their common humanity itself radically separates them: for some it is a source of divine election and dilection, for others of eternal punishment and damnation.
This metaphysical apartheid is so despairing that it implies social, economic, political, cultural, psychological effects. In several countries of Protestant culture, poverty or social exclusion are considered as the consequence of a moral defect, or even as the visible punishment of an invisible degeneration, willed by God. For Calvin, poverty is a sin, damaging to the glory of God. He had forbidden begging, whereas the Middle Ages had tolerated it, and even exalted it with Francis of Assisi and the mendicant orders. The harshness of English legislation on assistance to the destitute was influenced by this asceticism indifferent to the misfortunes of the world. Michaël Walzerix notes in Calvin, as in English puritan literature, the frequency of warnings aboutmutual aid and human friendship. It is recommended not to trust anyone. The Puritan should only be concerned with his personal salvation. And he has only one possible confidant: God himself.
The certainty of the « chosen ones » to be saved, their metaphysical optimism, are powerful levers for action.
The « saints » believe that the planet, and the entire universe, are offered to them, that they are « manifestly » to be taken, for the greater glory of God, for example by means of force, in the service of highly militarized states. This state of mind also favors the development of capitalism, in its most inegalitarian forms.
A military-industrial economy, an encouragement to grow at all costs, at the expense of the rest of the world, are all assets in the confrontation of the « saints » with a fallen world.
There is no room for the idea of equality in this system. It is God who willed an ontological, metaphysical inequality between the « saints » and the « rest ».
The divine plan includes all individual and collective misfortunes. However unjustifiable they may be to human eyes, misfortunes are part of this divine plan, and they are somehow mysteriously necessary for the election of the few predestined.
Several remarkable psychological consequences can be deduced from this.
The « chosen ones » must believe without fail in their own predestination, they must display unshakeable trust and resolve.
There is no room for doubt. The constant dread of decay and doom provokes in return a need for external signs, for concrete proof of the election. One of the best possible proofs of this election is, for example, to be able to declare war on the rest of the world, and to win it. In such a disposition of mind, how can one avoid Manichaeism, arrogance, contempt?
The « chosen ones » may have a tactical advantage in overlooking the immense distance that separates them from the « fallen ». Hypocrisy and double talk are however recommended. The real thoughts of the « saints » and the opinion of the « chosen ones » about the « fallen » are not publicly avowable. They must hide their contempt and disgust from those whom they think are destined for damnation. What would happen if, crushed with contempt, and lost for lost, the « fallen » revolted?
It is very logical that a religion of election, individualistic and nominalist, propagates hatred of the universal, the general and the common, which are all negations of the gratuitous and inexplicable character of the singular, the particular and the unique. When God has « spoken », when He has « decided » and « chosen », who will dare to evoke reason, justice or equity, to dare contradict ´God´s will´? There is no room for universal salvation before singular grace.
To understand how such radical, astounding, incredible ideas actually arose in the Europe of Erasmus and the Renaissance, one must turn to one of its main ideologues, John Calvin.
For Calvinx, the human heart is completely wretched. Everything in man is unclean. His soul is an abyss, a cavern of garbage and « stench ». Human nature loves evil, and enjoys multiplying it. Man is perverse. Left to himself he is like a beast. All his desires are vicious, defiled, corrupt. Man is nothing but rottenness, and the devil reigns over the world.
There is no recourse to this rot and corruption. Man is lonely and powerless. The world and human society are of no help to him. Decline is irremediable. Whatever he does, whatever his actions, he is damnable. His fate is death and nothingness.
There is, however, a tiny hope. Strangely enough, God wants a few men, rare exceptions, to escape from nothingness.
But a fearsome enemy lies in wait: the devil, who tries to deceive man by imitating God. Hence a perpetual war. The life of the « saint » is a permanent, military combat. To counter the devil, he can resort to violence and war.
If the « saint » loses the battle, God’s punishment awaits: eternal fire and the swarming of worms that gnaw at his heart.
As for the Gnostics and Manicheans, the Calvinist « devil » also embodies the permanent, irremediable cut that separates man from God.
Calvin feels particularly this impenetrability of God, His absolute mystery, His infinite distance from mankind. He makes it a key element of his system. And if Calvin calls himself anti-Manichean like his master, Augustine, he, like him, displays deeply Manichean traits in the very structure of his thought.
Calvin denies Manichean dualism and reaffirms the unity and transcendence of God. But by lowering man and creation to nothingness and pleading the absolute decay of human nature, he recreates a kind of metaphysical dualism between the nature of the One, who is everything, and the nature of creatures, who are nothing. Man has absolutely nothing to do with God. There is no portion of divinity in him, not the slightest spark. The gulf between them is immeasurable. The anguish of such an annihilation is inextinguishable.
Calvin never dreamed of an impossible reconciliation with a « good » God. It is necessary to be content with humble and submissive obedience, to subdue the « vain swelling » of men, to bring down their arrogance.
Only in humility can man understand his nakedness and ignominy. It is necessary to renounce all presumption, however small it may be, and decisively lose all self-confidence. All men are useless. « Their gullet is like an open sepulchre » xi.
The thesis of man’s decay is central, massive. Fallen, man is always alone. He is cut off from God, and he is isolated on earth. After the Fall, he has become an essentially perverse, asocial being. There is nothing to expect from society. Particular vices invariably lead to public error. People are stupid. The whole human race is condemned.
The only exceptions are the few « saints » who have abolished everything in them that is of common nature. For if nature is ´common´, grace absolutely is not.
God separates those He has chosen. He uses the Law as a « wall ». He sets them apart from one another. Calvin reminds us that God did not hesitate to cut off from Israel a multitude of the fallen. This sharp and tough God can go to extremes. Elijah was left alone, after the entire people had been condemned.
The new Law separates « saints » from the fallen, just as the old Law separated Jews from Gentiles. For Calvin, this law is a law of general, absolute exclusion. It separates the chosen few from the rest of the world, but also the chosen ones from each other. All remain irremediably alone.
This general solitude implies a rigorous, assumed individualism. The righteous suffer alone, but it is for his/her own salvation.
The « saint », separated from men, remains a stranger in the world. He/she also remains separated from God. Without reference points, without support of any kind, he/she has no other sign than his/her faith alone.
There is no question of believing that the benefit of grace can be universal, under the pretext that God’s promises are addressed to all and that He is the common father of men. We must harshly castigate the error of those who, using the generality of the (biblical) promises as a pretext, would like to « level the whole human race« .
Yet, it is true that Luke affirmed that salvation is for the whole human race. Could it be possible that the new covenant concerns the whole world? No! The number of the chosen ones is very small, it is infinitesimal. It is God’s hidden treasure.
Decay has an absolute meaning, and it affects the vast majority of creatures. The reprobates are all destined for a total, abyssal nothingness.
God, a loving father, protects the interests of His only children, the « saints », and He is careful to rigorously exclude the « rest », the scum. To a few, all mercy, and grace, to all others all punishment, and doom. Calvin admits that it is « strange » that everything is given or taken away so absolutely. He recognizes the incomprehensible nature of this arbitrariness.
To those who object that the « cruelty » of exclusion is incompatible with God’s mercy, Calvin responds that it is not God who refuses forgiveness. It is sinners who do not ask for it – but he adds that they do not ask for it because God has blinded them .
Calvin has no problem with so few chosen ones in the face of so many fallen. But we must remain cautious. If the ontological fracture between the chosen ones and the fallen were to become known, assumed, claimed, it would obviously bring about atrocious, immense, irreconcilable violence. In such a case, the elected representatives would have to assume the monopoly of a just war and fight against the rest of the world. It is better to keep this burning issue under wraps as long as possible.
The chosen few are neither better nor worse than the fallen, – according to the judgment of men. But they are chosen for other, hidden reasons. It must be concluded that there can be no « common good ». In the face of such inequality of nature and grace, it makes no sense to speak of the good of society as a whole, let alone the good of humanity as a whole. There is no real good other than the good of the chosen ones. The only « common good » is the good of the chosen ones alone, and it consists in the union with God, reserved only for them. The demands of natural morality mean nothing in the face of God’s impenetrable designs. The whole of humanity is now only a kind of background, a setting, a passive figure in the global scene, unintelligible, directed by God.
The election of the presumed elected officials comes with a very high price for the fallen, at least according to common morality. The chosen one must get used to the idea that there is no universal mercy. Faced with the incomprehensibility of his own predestination, he must make the sacrifice of his reason, devalued, unable to provide the slightest explanatory argument.
He must accept the perspective of a fully determined world order, inhabited by creatures deprived of free will and free will. For « we are enslaved ».xii It is our very nature that is enslaved. God is an absolute master who assigns to us without recourse, and without justification, either eternal life or eternal damnation. In any case, the enslavement of men is radical.
The meaning of individual destinies is a mystery that is impossible to unravel. No one is entitled to glorify in one´s divine election, no one is entitled to complain about the decline into which God has thrown him. To apply the norms of earthly justice to divine decrees is completely devoid of meaning.
If by any chance the damned were to complain about an obviously undeserved fate, they would behave like animals who would lament not having been born human.
An important point of the Calvinist view is that the attainment of salvation does not depend in any way on the behavior of the creature. Only God’s will, not human works, is decisive for salvation.
Above all, one should not try to penetrate this « totally incomprehensible » mystery. God is accountable to no one. He can violate the laws of nature as he pleases. « No wind ever rises without God’s special commandment »xiii.
If one even tries to understand, this is a sure sign of corruption…
The chosen one must believe that he is always under the direct control of God. He sees the finger of God in the smallest details of his life. This constant presence strengthens and justifies him, and makes him all the more confident in his predestination.
Puritans never cease to gratify God for their election and their singular perfection. The unequal distribution of the goods of this world seems to them to respond to a special decree of Providence, pursuing its secret ends, and to which there is no need to return, and nothing to correct. Certainly we must not expect from the Puritans a revolt against Providence, or against the social order.
Thomas Adamsxiv believed that if God leaves so many people in poverty, it is probably because they cannot resist the temptations that wealth brings with it.
When material success happens to manifestly « damned » individuals, the Calvinist interprets it as a divine will to harden them in evil…
Calvin did not question his own state of grace and represented himself as a « vase of election » as opposed to the « vases of dejection » xv, the « mud pots ». The chosen ones form an oligarchy, separated from the rest of defiled and corrupt humanity. Their keen awareness of the grace that has fallen to them can incite them to contempt, even hatred, for those they consider enemies, marked with the seal of damnation.
Such awareness of the degradation of others facilitates the encouragement of social segregation. One thinks of these examples of protected areas, exclusive, indifferent to each other’s fate. Communities physically closed to the outside world (gated communities) are a contemporary illustration of elective, individualistic communitarianism.
The Calvinist thesis of the election and separation of « saints » is brutal, ruthless. It has always been highly controversial. Based on divine decrees beyond the reach of human intelligence and reason, it casts a definitive shadow on the capacity of reason to articulate any notion related to divine things. It has inspired disgust and revolt throughout the centuries in souls enamored of justice, provoking their instinctive repulsion.
From a political perspective, the doctrine of predestination points to an elitist, oligarchic, and certainly undemocratic system. It explains why the right to vote must be limited, since there is no reason to give voice and power to the « common », to the multitude of the « fallen ».
This oligarchic system is, however, compatible with the contractual election of political authorities, because the authority can be considered as « elected » by God to fulfill a mission inspired by Him.
We are far from the rationalism of the Enlightenment. The idea of a democracy based on the will of the people is completely foreign to Calvinism. The only thing that counts is the interest of the « saints » and their tightly knit, sacred, invisible community.
This doctrine never ceased to raise serious doubts, given its fantastic and desperate radicalism: « Such a God will never command respect, » said John Milton.
The problems raised are such that Melanchton deliberately avoided introducing this « dangerous and obscure » doctrine into the Augsburg Confession. Max Weber notes that Luther firmly believed that God’s « secret decrees » are the sole source, devoid of apparent meaning, of his own state of grace. The idea of predestination was never central to his concerns. For Lutherans, grace can be lost, but it can also be regained through humility, penance and trust.
For Calvin, on the other hand, the meaning of predestination has been steadily reinforced. The predestined sees himself as one of the masters of the world. He is on a mission on Earth. He is called to intervene for the glory of God in the world in order to transform it.
Thus, under the guise of total humility before divine decrees, Calvinism makes possible the boundless arrogance of the privileged, since the powerful and the rich are supposed to owe their fate to a divine decision. On the other hand, Calvinist ideas introduce the seeds of a certain political passivity towards the powers that be, for all those who find themselves in an inferior social position.
Election implies a radical break between the chosen few and the mass of the fallen; predestination adds to it the idea of the absolute determination of each individual’s destiny, even before the creation of the world.
In this conception, God completely determines all existences. The slightest event is under his control. He counts every hair on every head, and every drop of rain.
Why this integral and permanent control by an all-powerful and omniscient God? The reason for this order of things is hidden. The whole matter is incomprehensible to man. God governs everything, and it is He who dispenses good and evil. All misfortunes, poverty, prison, sickness, happen only by His will. Calvin says that God even goes so far as to marry men badly or give them ungrateful children to teach them humility.
The logical consequence of this universal determinism is irresponsibility. There is never any merit, since there is no free will. God wants His grace to have absolute power.
So what´s the purpose of all this?
One can wonder. What is the point of creating the creation and creatures, if from all eternity the dice of all destinies have already been thrown? Why the Law and the Prophets, if everything is already written, even before the creation of the world, and the works are useless? If neither man’s desire nor effort can do anything,xviwhat is the point of living?
And how can we explain the subjective feeling of freedom that everyone can experience in their lives? Is it just another illusion, sent by a God who is decidedly very manipulative?
Calvin repeats over and over again that there is no point in asking these types of questions: all these mysteries are incomprehensible. As for subjective freedom, it is only apparent. Man is truly stripped of all freedom, and he is necessarily subject to evil. xvii
Even if we have the subjective feeling that something is happening according to our will, we must in fact attribute all the responsibility to God.
For Origen, S. Augustin and S. Thomas Aquinas, reason could help to discern good from evil. The will can choose one or the other. Calvin denies both the power of reason and the power of will.
S. Bernard used to say that all good will is the work of God, but that man can desire this good will with his own heart.
Calvin refuses such compromises. The will is entirely chained, enslaved. Human nature itself has lost all freedom. The (absolutely false) feeling of ´free will´ can only lead to evil and death. It is equivalent to the poisonous fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which gives death.
That is why it is best to move away from these issues. To even mention them is dangerous. From the outset, Calvin invites the « saints » to be very careful. Above all, the doctrine of predestination, which is so pernicious in its implications, must not be divulged to the people. The people could revolt, indulge in laziness and despair, or else, lost for lost, go further and further into evil.
On the one hand, appalling prospects are opening up for the multitude. On the other hand, there is no point in trying to ward off fate, by trying to show good will, by acquiring merits, by means of works.
One cannot dream to be the equal and companion of God. Or even arrogate to oneself the right to be above His council. No! It is not a question of looking for signs of election, by exhibiting such and such a work or such and such an action. Calvin mercilessly hunts down every form of pelagianism. God’s grace gives everything. Man brings nothing, and cooperates in nothing. There is in him only a necessity to sin. It is not that man is devoid of all will. What man lacks is not will, but a healthy will. The will necessarily goes towards evil. In no way does it have the faculty to go towards good.
The so-called freedom of the human will is a trap. This freedom is in reality a servitude, because it leads inevitably, irresistibly, to evil. It enslaves all the more because it believes itself to be « free ».
The most ancient Christian source on all these matters is S. Paul. It was he who inspired the Augustinian and Calvinist theses. But St. Paul offers contradictory formulas. On the one hand, « it is God who makes all things in all » (1 Cor 12:6). On the other hand, « God creates and puts in us the will (Phil 2:13)« . What is will, if it is entirely determined by « a God who makes all things »? And if will is not determined, it is because God does not make « all things in all ».
Far from these subtleties! Calvin suffers no compromise: man is not free, period. He quotes the prophet Jeremiah: « I know, Lord, that the way of man is not free« (Jer. 10:23).
Pelagius was declared a heretic in the 4th century for having maintained that by free will one can abstain from sin, that nature is not bound, and that freedom of choice is always present. S. John Chrysostom admitted a cooperation of will and grace, a possibility to choose between good and evil. More pelagianism!
Calvin absolutely vomits pelagianism. Grace cannot cooperate with the will. It is always God who does all the work. His grace is indispensable at all stages, at all times. It alone makes one free. It is freedom that enslaves. It is grace that makes it possible to do good. It is grace that makes it possible to resist evil. And it is freedom that binds evil.
Calvin goes as far as possible in the direction of predestination and absolute determination. But he is also careful to affirm that his doctrine has no connection, despite appearances, with the fatum of the Stoics.
The fact remains that the two doctrines are similar. What does it matter whether the fate of men is due to fatum or to the hand of God? Being slaves to fate, or enslaved to predestination, is it not the same thing?
There is obviously a language problem. The words freedom and servitude are really only metaphors. « Freedom » is not freedom of choice, since free will is denied. This « freedom » is only the freedom to feel « safe ». It is only a word, or an image, to give confidence in one’s election. The only « freedom » is the freedom to choose to recognize oneself as chosen.
Freedom is in no way a freedom to act on the world. It gives no power. Freedom is only the freedom to free oneself entirely from the crushing yoke of the Mosaic Law. To be « free » for Calvin is to be free from this Law.
Calvinism is based on a fantastic thesis, that of God’s election of a few « saints » and the exclusion of all the rest of humanity. This thesis generates immense anguish among the « chosen ones » themselves. How can one recognize whether one is elected or fallen? How can one be assured of one’s election? In this life, the chosen ones are in no way distinguished, externally, from the reprobates. In fact, all the subjective experiences of the former are also within the reach of the latter, with the exception, however, of persevering and faithful trust.
The very fact of asking oneself this question (« Am I chosen? ») is already a sign that one is giving in to the devil. Calvin affirms it: it is impossible to find proof of election in man. Nor can they be found in God. So where then?
The only mirror of the election is Christ. To be elected implies reflecting Christ himself; which is certainly not within the reach of the first to come. Moreover, the chosen one must prove his election by leaving no room for doubt. Any kind of doubt is a symptom of degeneration.
The chosen one must be content to know that God has decided his destiny from all eternity. He must persevere in the unshakeable confidence that he is one of the fortunate chosen ones, this confidence being moreover the sign of his true faith.
God cannot be satisfied with anything man does. On the other hand, He can accuse him of a thousand crimes. The smallest defilement is enough to invalidate any work. There is no intermediary between perfection and nullity. It is all or nothing.
However, the works remain indispensable, not for their value, which is null, but as « signs of election ». It is less the works that signify this election than their absence, which testifies to the decline. The (good) works that one has not done give a bad signal. But the (good) works that one has done also give a bad signal, if by misfortune one should glorify in them. The only merit is to acknowledge that one has no merit at all.
In short, works are indispensable, but they are nothing in front of faith, in which everything is concentrated. It is faith alone that gives works their value, not the other way around.
Among the early apostles, this question had been the subject of debate. Against St. Paul, St. James affirmed that faith without works is « dead in itself » and that it is therefore « useless ». But for Calvin, this fundamental divergence between Paul and James is only a simple battle of words.
Faith does not need works, nor does it need reason. The mystery of God is totally beyond man and remains entirely elusive to the intellect. Reason is only capable of foolish daydreaming, and intelligence leads only to error and chimeras.
Thinkers and poets are like « barking dogs ». The doctrines of men are of straw, compared to the Spirit, which is of fire. Philosophers can teach us nothing about the soul. They are « sophists ». Calvin rains insults down on the Sorbonne. The Jesuits are « scum ». Clerics are « swine ».
All men decidedly are « of nothingness » and can only conceive « of nothingness ».
There are, obviously, some political and societal consequences to Calvinism…
God determines all societies. He is the cause of all political realities. He institutes the powerful.xviii No matter the qualities of the leaders, or their faults. They are put where they are by God.xix The power of princes is due to God, but the power of popes is due to the devil. The Church is a sham. It is the fantasy of men. The only true and only invisible Church is that of the « saints ».
The coexistence of the two kingdoms, the earthly and the spiritual, is a fact. There are like two worlds in man. They must be carefully distinguished, and the Christian must submit to the laws of one and the other. Above all, the existing order must not be called into question, because it is willed by God. xx
God established the social and political order for all men, including the « saints ». Moral discipline must strengthen the bonds between the members of their community, their « Church ». Calvin defines it as a political society and even as a republic of « princes ».
This republic has the vocation to extend to the whole State, if it happens fortunately that the « saints » occupy the power. Thus Calvin urged the pastors of Geneva to demand in 1537 that the entire city make a public profession of faith, following the model of the covenant pact between God and the Jews.
The « saint » is a militant, a soldier who carries « the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the spiritual sword ».xxi He must participate in the life of the community, and in the government of the Christian republic if it comes to power.
The republic of the « saints » must compel the godless and the unelected to submit to God’s law, including the use of force and war.
Calvin repeatedly insists on the need for restriction and social control because of man’s wickedness. Submission to the system and repression are necessary to counteract its effects. Tyranny is acceptable, from this perspective, because it serves to maintain society. xxii
Luther also preached obedience to superiors and submission to the prince. Every man is bound to accept his conditions of existence, since they are due to Providence. But unlike Calvin, Luther does not encourage the « saints » to take care of the earthly city, much less to direct it. The saints are first and foremost citizens of the heavenly city.
For Calvin, political reality is an embodiment of God’s will. Hence an extremely conservative vision of politics, strewn with serious contradictions, and also, in germ, a potentially devastating ambiguity for the powers that be.
When a political power is successfully overthrown, should we not also see in it the direct action of the divine will? If everything happens by God’s will, a victorious revolution can and must be considered part of the divine plan.
But then, the « saints » could be led to allow themselves all kinds of revolt against the established order, if they judge inwardly that they are called to do so. The success of their revolt will be the sign justifying seditious acts a posteriori. Are not the chosen few convinced that they are instruments of God? God has marked them, predestined them, « called » them. They carry in their conscience the assurance of the divine will. Their intimate conviction is their only order of mission. Can this mission not go as far as revolt against the tyrant?
Calvinism carries a strong political conservatism, but, if the opportunity arises, it can also open the door to forms of anarchy.
Calvin pushed his political ideas much further than Luther, with uncompromising radicalism that was not devoid of sharp ambiguities. He is a master of equivocation, a flowery and devious casuist. He cautiously seeks to hide from the common eye the inevitable consequences of his dogmatic extremism. He is aware that his harshest, most ruthless theses could not be revealed without danger to the immense crowd of the « damned » and the putative « fallen ».
How could the « fallen » live for a long time in a world that promises them nothing? In the interest of the « chosen ones » themselves, efforts must be made to preserve civil peace. The tragic and definitive nature of their destiny must be concealed from the « fallen ». That is why a rhetoric of ambiguity, « tolerance » and hypocrisy is necessary, in order to safeguard the political and social order for as long as possible.
This order has an implicit structure. It obeys a fundamental idea: men must be « separated » from one another, — not « reunited », as the Papists wish.
Calvin predicts the final « sacrifice » of men on the altar of God. Knowing this perspective, it is certainly not his priority to seek to « reconcile » men.
From this point of view, Calvinism anticipates Hobbes’ authoritarianism and political cynicism. Calvin’s tyranny of the divine is the implacable model of the necessary tyranny of Leviathan.
The Reformation occupies a special place in the history of the West. It called into question the entire classical, pre-modern tradition. It took the opposite side of the humanism of the Renaissance. It affirmed a principle of separation and exclusion, dividing the world into two irreducible camps. It proclaimed the election of a few « chosen ones » and the forfeiture of almost all humanity. It drew a definitive line of demarcation between a few « chosen ones » and the immense mass of the « fallen ».
The theological or philosophical questions stirred up by Luther and Calvin had ancient roots. The themes of freedom and necessity, of reason and faith, had been debated since the dawn of Christianity. But the Reformation suddenly gave them a singularly sharp solution through the addition of several negations (the sola), and through a metaphysics of the cut.
The Reformation articulated a triple « no », a « no » to humanity, a « no » to reason and a « no » to freedom. The individual, separated from every community and every tradition, faces alone the mystery of the Scriptures. Reason is rejected; faith alone is accepted. Freedom is nothing more than alienation before grace and predestination.
The impact of these radical ideas, apparently so far removed from contemporary modernity, was profound, matrix-like, as we shall see.
Harnack said that the essence of Christianity should be sought in its germs, not in what came out of it. The multiplicity of Churches, the diversity of spiritualities and sects must not lead us astray. What is important are the mother ideas.
Protestantism has undeniably multiplied the variations; there are myriads of them. But they share some original seed ideas.
Different moments in the history of religious ideas have contributed to this. The most significant influences come from Paulinism, Gnosticism, Augustinism.
A little less than 2000 years ago, Paul initiated the first controversy in the history of Christianity. The issue for Jewish Christians was whether certain aspects of the Jewish Law should be renounced in order to make faith in the Gospel more accessible to non-Jews. For example, should new converts to Christianity also be circumcised?
In other words, in a more abstract style, what has primacy, faith or Law?
At the conclusion of a debate between himself and Peter, Paul said: « We can agree: to you the Gospel of circumcision, to me the Gospel of the foreskin ».
He set out to preach the faith of Christ to the uncircumcised Gentiles around the Mediterranean. Peter remained in Jerusalem, among the Judeo-Christians, respectful of the Mosaic Law. Paul declared that he would be the apostle of the faith, and that Peter was the apostle of the Law.
This was basically the resurgence of a fundamental duality that existed within Judaism itself, that of the Law and that of the Prophets. On the one hand, the Law separates Israel from the rest of the world. On the other hand, Prophets like Isaiah dream of « gathering all the nations ».
Paul’s doctrine immediately appeared to be « folly to the Greeks and scandal to the Jews ». Emphasizing faith, he also affirmed the predestination of souls, and declined it in its ultimate consequences. Fates are decided even before the foundation of the world. He also claimed a strong conservatism, showing his detachment from politics. xxiii At the height of Nero’s reign, he advocated submission to the tyrant. xxiv
Luther and Calvin mimicked his tone and posture. They borrowed his pessimism, the idea of predestination, the separation of the fallen from the chosen ones, the antinomy of faith and reason from faith and works, and indifference to politics.
If the main themes of Calvinism have their origin in Paul’s thought, it is important to note that the latter remains more complex, diverse, and deeper and. Paul put faith in the pinnacle, but he also placed charity above faithxxv. He affirmed that faith has no use for works, without renouncing them. He was not a pelagian, but he spoke of « the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his works »xxvi. He recognized the fortunate fate of the chosen ones, but he also implied that salvation must be universal, and that it must be for the whole world. God will have mercy on all. All men have a vocation to be saved. All barriers must be broken down.
Paul also took the side of the weak and the foolish, xxvii and he defended the general interest, putting particular gifts at the service of all. xxviii
In spite of his defiance of reason, Paul reconciled it with faith. xxix He believed in predestination, but defended the prospect of a moral metamorphosis of everyonexxx and he was a prophet of freedom. xxxi
It is difficult to lock all these elements into a coherent system.
Renan and Harnack considered Paul a crypto-gnostic thinker, and even a kind of « Simon the Magician ». He seemed to give in to dualistic forms of thought. And his ideas were pushed to the extreme by some of his followers. The Gnostics, who were flourishing in the dying days of Rome, seized them for their own use.
Gnosis, which appeared in the Greco-Roman world between the 1st and 3 rd centuries, tried to formulate the « philosophy » that was missing from the Gospel. It wanted to Hellenize Christianity, but it also wanted to do this without the Old Testament. It denigrated the God « creator » and « lawgiver » celebrated in the Torah as opposed to the figure of the God « savior » of the Gospel.
The early followers of Jesus were not preoccupied with philosophy. But the new converts, with a culture more Greco-Roman than Semitic, were asking questions, they needed explanations, systems. The Gnostics tried to superimpose on Christianity an outline of theology, a set of dogmas. They undertook to add metaphysics, theogony, cosmology and a philosophy of history.
The name « gnosis » (from the Greek gnosis, knowledge) testifies to their intentions: to attain absolute knowledge, the knowledge of God. Renan notes that the word gnostic (gnosticos) has the same meaning as the word Buddha, « he who knows ». Gnosticism claimed to be the path to the integral knowledge of God, the world and history.
The original Church immediately fought the Gnostic sects, considered « poisonous vegetation ». There was no shortage of points of profound disagreement.xxxii
The Judeo-Christians wanted to preserve the legacy of the Law and the Prophets, which Christ had said he had not come to « abolish » but to « fulfill ». They wanted to maintain their connection with the Hebrew Scriptures. But the Scriptures, because of certain contradictions with the message of Jesus, required at least new interpretations.
Interpretation is always possible, and one does not deprive oneself of it. But a Hellenization of the Jewish Bible, in the philosophical way, was obviously impossible. This is why the Gnostic schools, which in the 2nd century applied the ways of thinking of Greek philosophy, did not want to recognize the Jewish Scriptures and traditions. Instead, they built a philosophical system mixing Greek reason and Eastern mysticism, and focusing on Jesus, the Christ, the Savior of the world.
Some specialists agree on the name of Simon the Magician, as being at the origin of the Gnostic heresy. Who was this Simon? Ernest Renan, with his usual taste for provocation, supported by impeccable references, guesses that Simon the Magician could well be Paul himself. Adolf von Harnack, more cautious, also puts forward this hypothesis but does not settle the question.
Whether or not he was Simon the Magician, Paul divided the early Christians. He influenced the new converts with his anti-Judaism turned against the Law, and he alienated the Judeo-Christians who wanted to « save » the Old Testament. He inspired those who stood against Tradition to universalize the Gospel message. He wanted the « good news » to be proclaimed to all nations, not only to the people of the Old Covenant.
The Gnostic theorists (Menander, Saturnine, Basilides, Valentin the Egyptian, Marcion of Sinope, Carpocrates, Bardesanes) took up and transformed the Pauline ideas.
To salvation by faith or works, the Gnostics substituted salvation by knowledge, salvation by Gnosis. What kind of knowledge is this? Let us summarize. The divine Being is infinite, His nature is inconceivable, far above all human thought. From Him emanate « intermediate » beings (the Aeons). Among them, the Demiurge, creator of the Cosmos. He is an evil being, for Matter is the receptacle of Evil. The material world was created by evil powers, and the mere fact of existing is sinful, since the existence of the world is due to a fallen Spirit.
The God of the Old Testament, creator of the world and its imperfections, is none other than this Demiurge. The Gnostics thus reject the Jewish Bible since it deifies the creator of a « satanic » world.
To this Creator God, to this wicked Demiurge, they oppose the Savior God, the Good God.
It is He who sanctifies and delivers the chosen few, separating their spirit from matter and the world. The vulgar profane is excluded from salvation. Basilides has this characteristic formula: « We are men; the others are only pigs and dogs »xxxiii, and this other one: « I speak for one in a thousand ». xxxiv
Gnosticism is profoundly dualistic. God, the principle of Good, is separated from the world whose Matter is the principle of Evil. The Spirit of God can in no way take part in this material world, which is essentially evil. He could not incarnate himself in human flesh, doomed to evil. We must therefore distinguish the « two natures »: that of Jesus, simply a man, and that of Christ, a divine being. Christ is a pure spirit; his incarnation is only an illusion, a simple appearance (in Greek « dokèsis« , hence the name given to this doctrine: Docetism).
Many Gnostic ideas offer analogies with Calvinism: the domination of Evil over this world, a marked dualism between Good and Evil, the election of a few saints and the forfeiture of all, the impossibility of understanding anything about divine things through reason, revelation reserved for the chosen few.
On the other hand, some ideas of Gnosis are frankly incompatible with Christianity, reformed or not. Thus the idea that the God of the Bible is a « bad God ».
Gnosis was immediately refuted by the Church. Marcion was excommunicated in 144 in Rome. Saint Irenaeus of Lyon attacked the Gnostics in Against Heresies. To their dualism and pessimism, he opposed the unity of the Old and New Testaments and an optimistic vision of the fall of Adam and Eve, redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ.
But in the 3rd century, Gnosticism resumed a second life with Mani, who preached throughout the Middle East. His ideas reached a vast area, from Gaul to China. Manichaeism, influenced by ancient Iranian Mazdeism and Indo-Iranian Zoroastrianism, and imbued with Buddhist elements, embodies an extreme version of Gnosis.
The universe is cut in two, on one side Good and light, on the other side Evil and darkness. Light and darkness have coexisted since the beginning, without mixing. Manichaeism postulates that a universal catastrophe took place at the beginning of the world, and that darkness then entered into the realm of light. The battle of light and darkness is that of good and evil. Satan, the « Prince of Darkness, » stands against God, the God of Light.
Participating in this struggle, the Manichean must help to restore order, to end the confusion. On one side must be the light, on the other the night. Since the soul of every man is woven of light and his body weighed down with matter, the primary objective is to separate one from the other. Once the break is complete, the soul will melt into the great divine light.
The Fathers of the Church endeavored to respond to the theses of the Gnostics and Manicheans.
Clement of Alexandria, a disciple of the Platonic School, argued that Christianity is reconcilable with a rational philosophy, and that faith can go with reason. Christ is the Logos, he embodies the rational law of the world, dispensed for the benefit of all humanity. Universal salvation, operating throughout the history of humanity, is guaranteed by the goodness of God and the responsibility of man.
Tertullian argued that the Gnostic conception of a God who was supposed to be sovereignly powerful, but who remained inactive, passive, « inert », « lethargic », was contradictory, contrary to common sense, and scandalous.
The good God must have an obligation to manifest Himself through His works. He cannot remain hidden, for that would be tantamount to making the good God a « perverse » God, complicit in the cruelty and barbarity of the Demiurge.
If the goodness of the good God does not apply to all, if it does not save men in general, it is because it is imperfect, « defective and small, » which is contradictory. Consequently, universal salvation is certain.
Origen reaffirmed the uniqueness of the divine principle, against the dualism of Marcion, Valentine and Basilides. God is the one power, both creator and savior of the world. All the diversity of the world will be brought back, at the end of time, to the unity of a perfect accord.
The good God is also the righteous God, since in the divine nature one cannot conceive of goodness without justice, nor justice without goodness.
God, good and just, uses no coercion; He preserves the freedom of each spirit, but He does so with such wisdom that all end up contributing to the world’s harmony.
Origen conceived of the universe as « an immense and huge animal », governed by God’s reason, as by a single soul. All spirits are equal. Souls can fail, but they can also grow and progress, and return to God. No soul can fail forever and irretrievably.
Origen emphasized the free will of the soul, and the kinship between human reason and divine nature. At the end of time, the inevitable inequalities and divergences caused by the diversity of intelligences, will be resorbed in a single agreement, in a « common » world.
Origen’s optimism offers an invigorating antidote to the pessimism of modern times. He was the forerunner of a political philosophy of globalization and a political theology of salvation for all.
Among those who attacked Gnosis, St. Augustine occupies a special place because he himself was a victim of the Manichean heresy, as he recounts in his Confessions. After his radical break with Manichaeism and his conversion to Christianity, he tackled the famous question of the existence of evil.
For Gnosis, the principle of evil was at the center. Evil is the Demiurge, the irreconcilable adversary of the God of Salvation.
Augustine purely and simply denied the existence of evil. Evil is nothing but the deprivation of good. Evil is a non-being. Whatever one may think of this assertion, it cannot be denied that it is fundamentally non-dualistic.
Augustine, however, did not remove from his thought any dualistic tendency. He affirmed the irremediable rupture between the elect and the fallen, and emphasized the opposition between the evil which has dominated the world since original sin and the salvation which can come only from God alone.
The first Fathers of the Church therefore immediately rebelled against Gnostic dualism and pessimism, because they threatened the essential message of the Gospel. Harnack believes that the entire history of medieval thought can be interpreted as a « Catholic » attempt to protect oneself against the Gnostic syndrome.
But one could also interpret the end of the Middle Ages as in fact announcing the revenge of Gnosis on Catholicism, a revenge that was to be fully revealed through the successes of the Reformation.
Through it, Gnosis has succeeded in reintroducing acute forms of dualism and irremissible pessimism into Western thought and into modernity as a whole.
Dualism and pessimism, shared by the Reformation and Gnosis, also have a deep, structural relationship with modern times. Eric Voegelin puts it this way: Modern times are a failure of history, they represent a regression, a return to paganism and Gnosis. This is why he proposes to qualify the modern era as « Gnostic ».
Hans Blumenberg, while protesting against this radical thesis, nevertheless confirms it in partxxxv. Modern times are not a « new Gnosis », according to him. They represent « the overcoming of Gnosis, » he proposes. Midern times have assimilated Gnosis, they have dialecticized it and pushed it to its limits.
The pagan regression and the Gnostic temptation had already manifested themselves forcefully from the beginning of Christianity, but were apparently refuted. The Middle Ages had also tried to eradicate Gnosis, which was always resurgent.
If we follow Voegelin, the Reformation partially reintroduced certain Gnostic themes into the framework of reformed Christianity, such as the dualism of good and evil, the pessimism attached to an evil world, and « knowledge » (or « grace ») reserved for the « chosen ones ».
In the reading if Voegelin, the history of modern times would testify to the return in force of a new Gnosis, including in a secularized and mundanized form, — in the philosophies of the Enlightenment, in Hegelianism or in positivism.
But if we can really affirm that modern times are « Gnostic », then we must also recognize that they are in a head-on opposition to original Christianity.
Hans Blumenberg refuses to adopt this clear-cut thesis (of Voegelin). He still wants to « save » modernity, to « legitimize » it. Original Christianity still has a role to play in this legitimized modernity. What role? The answer depends on how one looks at the Reformation. Does the Reformation embody Christian modernity, or is it decidedly nothing more than a new Gnosis?
If the Reformation was influenced by Gnosis, as Voegelin thinks, if it even embodies a new Gnosis, then one could induce the « illegitimacy » of modern times.
Blumenberg refuses this fatal judgment. Modern times have been able to « overcome » Gnosis, he says. As a result, the Reformation and modernity can both be « saved », one with the other. In support of the thesis of « overcoming the Gnosis », Blumenberg asserts two things. On the one hand, modern times have overcome the dualism of the Creator God and the Savior God, and on the other hand, they have promoted a new « quality of consciousness ».
Let us analyze these two arguments.
The dualism of the Creator God and the Savior God was Marcion’s main thesis. For him, the idea of a single God, both creator and savior, was contradictory because if God is the sole creator and all-powerful of the world, He cannot really want the destruction of His own creation. That an « almighty » God needs to save His own creation is illogical. It was more logical that there was a creator God opposing the savior God, and that the latter had to defeat the former. The good God, a « stranger » to the world, could then annihilate a cosmos He had not created, and preach disobedience to a Law He had not given. Redemption was equivalent to enlightening man on the fundamental imposture of the Cosmos and the Law, both due to the evil God. And Gnosis represented and explained the « knowledge » of this imposture.
But the price of the break, the cost of the separation between the « foreign » God and the world, is the loss of metaphysical and cosmic unity, and the destruction of trust in the world, now the place of evil.
Men must then leave behind them the world, a foreign land, a land of evil. They are invited to emigrate to heaven, as in « a beautiful foreign land », by the grace of the good God.
Gnosis promised this salvation to its followers at the price of demonizing the world. It was necessary to radically reject this evil, demonic world.
But Christian thinkers have always denied the Gnostic thesis of the evil world. They still wanted to save the Cosmos, and to maintain a profound unity between the immanence of the world and divine transcendence. The world cannot be only the prison of evil. Evil cannot remain undefeated. Man can and must be responsible for the world. xxxvi
For them God can still be both creator and savior.
Blumenberg says that this solution represents in fact the « first overcoming » of Gnosis by the modern thinkers.
The « second overcoming » of Gnosis took place with the appearance of a new « quality of consciousness », with the awareness of human freedom.
The « chosen one » has the task of testifying to his or her election. He is responsible for the state of the world, he finds himself the bearer of a demand turned towards the future, seeking in action the proof of his grace. He can undertake to assert himself. This is how modernity began. The world can be « bad » or « indifferent », but the « chosen one » asserts himself as free, creative.
Copernicus had shown the true place of humanity, relegated to the confines of the universe. Lost on the margins of the world, men had to invent a role, a mission. Faced with the mute, silent cosmos, they were lost in infinity, their only territory was their own representations. All they had to do was define and express a will, — a will to represent, a will to build, a will to live.
Man was lost in the cosmos, but he could also assert himself without limits, and go beyond a universe that denied him.
The beginning of modern times corresponded to this moment: the individual was to be magnified, in an indifferent world. This was the « second overcoming » of Gnosis, according to Blumenberg.
Did these two « overcoming » really take place? Did the Augustinian moment and the Copernican moment really make it possible to « overcome » Gnosis?
This is doubtful.
By liquidating the Middle Ages, modern times have in fact revived, at a new cost, the old Gnostic dualism and pessimism. Gnosis is more modern than ever: evil is still there, and man is still not free.
It is extremely significant that from the beginning of the modern age the Reformation claimed the ideas of predestination, serfarbitrage, original sin, and condemned mankind to decay and doom, except for the chosen few.
Against Blumenberg’s arguments, it must be affirmed that the Reform does not « overcome » Gnosis. It only « transposes » it.
Augustine himself had not really « overcome » Gnosis. He fought against it vigorously at the end of the Roman Empire. But did he explain the evil? Was he able to convince the following generations, including the future « modern » ones, that evil is only a « non-being »? Luther was once an Augustinian monk. The immense work of Augustine was not enough, it seems, to persuade Luther and Calvin, these two « moderns », of the non-essence of evil.
Augustine had kept from the Manichean influence of dualistic inflections and a turn of thought favoring sharp cuts and absolute oppositions: the dualism of sin and grace, the separation between « men who live according to man » and « men who live according to God », the cut between « heaven from heaven » and earth, the abyss between God and nothingness.
Augustine had been in all the battles of his time, against Pelagius and against Mani, against the Donatists and against the Aryans. These struggles against heresies helped to ensure Catholic dogma. But these very successes could lead to slippery slopes. Some of Augustine’s ideas did not fail to pose serious problems from the point of view of dogma. The quarrels on the merit of works, between pelagians, semi-pelagians and anti-pelagians, or on the question of predestination, bear witness to this. Augustine continued to stir up a latent opposition within the official Church on these questions, because of the extremist conclusions that could be drawn from some of his positions. Harnack summed it up as follows: Over the centuries, « the Church has become more and more secretly opposed to Augustine ». xxxvii
Before Augustine, the Fathers of the Church advocated the morality of popular, stoic, pelagian Christianity, attached to the merit of works, not without rationalist accents. Augustine’s morality is completely at odds with this tradition. It is an anti-Pelagian, fidelistic, elitist morality, reserved for an elite of predestined chosen ones. Although far removed from common sense, this new conception of morality was to see its influence develop and extend to the present day, after having been taken up by the Reformation.
In the 5th century, in the face of Augustine’s doctrine, other trends of thought crossed Christianity, such as neo-Platonism or Stoicism, which could have imposed themselves then.
But Augustine favored the victory of a radical conception, highly improbable and very unpopular. It can be summed up in one sentence: only a few predestined chosen ones will be saved. As for the « mass », it is lost forever: massa perditionis.
Until then Christians had had a rather optimistic view of human nature and a reasonable hope for themselves. There was no reason to sink into despair. The word « gospel » is translated from the Greek as « Good News ».
Augustine quite accentuated the Pauline pessimism and made it more rigorous. Evil was the lever of all human action. Men had no enemies but themselves. Everything that was not God was sin. In God alone was good. It was necessary to surrender unconditionally to God, and to submit entirely to the Church.
Before Augustine, people oscillated between the fear of punishment and the unreasoned hope of salvation. People relied on free will and on their own merits to save their souls.
Augustine asserted that sin is inherent in man. The fall of Adam is the source of damnation for all. For the chosen few, there is the infinitesimal hope of grace.
The Church took up some of these conceptions. The Christian, convinced that he was a sinner, had to renounce his own strength for his salvation, and keep trust in the grace of the merciful God.
But on the questions of the merit of works, election and predestination, the Church was less assured. One could not deduce the idea of predestination from the words of Jesus. It was first of all a Pauline idea, not a Christic one. On this point Augustine had thus innovated in relation to the evangelical tradition, pushing Paul’s views to their extreme consequences. Hence the strong opposition within the Church, especially on the part of the monastic orders.
Departing from the Christianity of the « Good News », Augustine had inflected Catholic dogma in a generally pessimistic sense for the mass of sinners. He had never completely overcome the Manicheism of his youth. His doctrine of sin always contained a latent Gnostic element. The very structure of his thought was, as has been noted, dualistic, in the Manichean manner (God and the fall, sin and grace, the two « Cities »). Harnack sums up Augustine’s Gnosticism in a lapidary formula: « Augustine is a second Marcion ».
Clarifying this link between Augustine and Gnosis, Hans Blumenbergxxxviii compared the Augustinian dogma of universal fault to Marcion’s belief in the « wickedness » of the Old Testament legislator. The doctrine of absolute predestination and the few chosen ones is borrowed from St. Paul, and is perfectly compatible with the gnosis of the corruption of the world.
Augustine had criticized in his writings the Gnostic and Manichean dualism and supported the principle of the unity of all creation in God. But he introduced another form of dualism: the separation of the elect and the outcast, which implies a divine responsibility for evil. Predestination gives God an initial role in cosmic corruption.
This is why Blumenberg admits that Augustine did not « overcome » Gnosis, but only « transposed » it. He sketched the figure of an almighty and hidden God, with absolute and incomprehensible sovereignty. And Gnosis continued to appear in Augustinism, under the species of the irremediable rupture between the elect and the fallen, in the abysmal darkness of the divine plan.
Augustinism did not contribute little to establishing in Christianity the « terror » of a divine order of Gnostic structure. The invention of purgatoryxxxix in the early Middle Ages was an attempt to calm the panic of uncertain, potentially damned souls. It was not until a certain return of reason, at the height of medieval scholasticism, that Gnosis was intellectually refuted. This refutation was, moreover, far from being definitive. Its multiple subsequent resurgences, in other forms, to the present day, bear witness to this. xl
The original fault, the eternal guilt of man, the resignation before the predestination to good or evil, affecting each individual, the annulment of all individual responsibility in the state of the world, the denial of reason, the renunciation of transforming by action a fundamentally fallen reality, these are all new heads constantly pushing back on the Gnostic Hydra, decidedly not defeated.
Paul and Augustine had one thing in common with Marcion and Mani: a taste for dualism.
Augustine, for his part, conceived a synthesis of Gnosticism, Neo-Platonism, and Paulinism intertwined with original Christianity. Through his own Gnosticism, « not outmoded » but « transposed », and through the affirmation of predestination, he was undoubtedly one of the precursors of the Reformation.
In fact, the Reformation could itself be considered as a modern « transposition » of Gnosis. Calvin’s work has been assimilated to a « Gnostic Koran » by E. Voegelin.xli Luther or Calvin were not second or third Marcion. But, just as Augustine « transposed » Gnostic ideas at the time of the crisis of the Roman Empire, Luther and Calvin ensured the « transposition » of Augustinism and Gnosticism into early modern times.
In conclusion, it is necessary to understand the depth of the influence of the mother ideas contained in the Lutheran sola. These ideas were then widely received by « modernity », under the species of nominalism, determinism and individualism.
(To be continued).
iCf. H. Blumenberg. The Legitimacy of Modern Times. 1999
iiSee E. Troeltsch. Protestantism and modernity. 1911
iii« The idea of predestination, the guiding axis of the only effective system produced by the Reformation ». Ernst Troeltsch. Calvinism and Lutheranism (1909)
ivQuoted by Lucien Febvre, in Martin Luther, un destin, 1928. Foreword to the 2nd edition, 1944
v« The Lutheran saint, in his quest for the invisible kingdom of heaven, turns away from politics and abandons the kingdom of the earth, in Luther’s own words, to whomever he takes it. Calvin’s secular commitment, his concern for organization, prompts him to « take » the kingdom of the earth and transform it. » Michael Walzer. The revolution of the saints. Paris, 1987
vi« Lutheranism tolerates the world through the cross, suffering and martyrdom; Calvinism masters this world for the glory of God through unremitting toil. » Ernst Troeltsch. Calvinismand Lutheranism, 1909
vii« Lutheranism remained confined to its country of origin, Germany, and Scandinavia. Calvinism has acquired a worldwide status. » Ernst Troeltsch. Calvinismand Lutheranism, 1909.
viii« If one wanted to have one, in that very thing one would hurt evangelical freedom, one would renounce the principle of the Reformation, one would violate the law of the State. J.J. Rousseau. Letters written from the mountains.
xviiThe Christian Institution, II,3,5. Chapter 2 of Book II has the title: « That man is now stripped of the free will of the freewill and miserably subject to all evil.
xviii« God puts the sword and the power in the hands of those whom it pleases Him to set over others. Lessons from the book of Daniel’s prophecies, Geneva, 1569
xix« It must be enough for us that they preside. For they have not ascended to this high degree by their own virtue: but they have been put there by the hand of the Lord. « Commentary on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, XIII, 1
xx« It is not for us to inquire into what right and title a prince has to rule… and whether he has that of rightful succession and inheritance. Sermons on the First Epistle to Timothy, Sermon 46, vol. LIII
xxxvi Five years after turning away from Manichaeism and a year after his baptism, Augustine wrote De libero arbitrio, Of free will. In it, freedom of will is described as a means for God to punish man with the evils of the world. God modifies the initially perfect world to make it an instrument of justice exercised over man, justice rightly exercised since man is free and responsible.
xxxviiiH. Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of Modern Times. 2nd part. Theological Absolutism and Man’s Self-affirmation.
xxxixCf. Jacques Le Goff, La naissance du purgatoire.
xlOne thinks of the manifestly Gnostic texts of C.G. Jung, Seven Sermons to the Dead in Symbolic Life, Psychology and Religious Life, and ofHenry Corbin, Heavenly Earth and Body of Resurrection: from Mazdean Iran to Shî’ite Islam.
xliCf. Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics. « The Reformation clearly marked a period in Western history: that of a successful invasion of Western institutions by the Gnostic movements. (…) Calvin’s work can be considered as the first Koran deliberately Gnostic. »