Monday, April 24, 2006

The Peace of God, it is no Peace

This started here, and traveled here, and now comes back here.

But first, I see I've been here before, and more than once. Isn't Google wonderful? I went looking for this old hymn, to be sure I had the words right, and I found instead two earlier posts with the same title; different subjects, and not the subject now, but the same title. Which means either I am in a rut, or that “I know nothing except what everyone knows—if there when grace dances, I should dance.”(Auden) Lying on the couch suffering a 24 hour bug yesterday (and the day AMC runs a Godfather marathon! I am surfeited with operatic American crime stories now, or nearly so) I got to see most of Anthony Quinn's turn as "Zorba the Greek." Like Zorba's "Boss," I wonder now how much good books are, and think maybe I should learn to dance.

But that, too, is another matter. Maybe the words of that hymn are worth thinking about first:

They cast their nets in Galilee just off the hills of brown;
such happy, simple fisherfolk before the Lord came down.

Contented, peaceful fishermen, before they ever knew
the peace of God that filled their hearts brimful and broke them too.

Young John who trimmed the flapping sail, homeless, in Patmos died.
Peter, who hauled the teeming net, headdown was crucified.

The peace of God it is not peace, but strife closed in the sod,
Yet let us pray for just one thing--the marvelous peace of God.

William Alexander Percy (alt.)

Not words welcome in Left Blogistan, or among most Christians. We all want peace; and we want it now; and we want it on our terms. We want it to be an economic transaction: we pay our dues, meet the price, and the reward is greater than our investment. That's what we expect from our stocks and bonds and bank accounts; why shouldn't we get the same arrangement from God?

The Archbishop said it best to Michael Corleone, in the Vatican. Standing by a fountain, he said "This rock has been in the water a long time. Yet the water has not penetrated it." He then bent down, retrieved the rock from the water, broke it open, and said: "You see. It is dry at the heart. Men in Europe have been surrounded by Christianity for centuries. And yet it has not penetrated." And shortly after that, Michael Corleone made his confession. But it is the truth: all of western culture has been surrounded by Christianity for centuries. But it has not penetrated. Perhaps because the peace of God we seek, is not the peace of God which is offered. Perhaps because Zorba is right: if books can't tell us why the good die young (he says this just after a young widow, having spent the night with the Englishman, the "Boss" of Zorba's acquaintance, has her throat slit in public for being an adultress and bringing shame on the village), then what good are they?

"Boss" doesn't have a good answer.

But I said this was a response to Phila: and here is that part; appropriately, from a book.

"In one of his Heretical Essays on the Philosophy of History Jan Patocka relates secrecy, or more precisely the mystery of the sacred, to responsibility. He opposes one to the other; or rather underscores their heterogeneity. Somewhat in the manner of Levinas he warns against an experience of the sacred as an enthusiasm or fervor for fusion, cautioning in particular against a form of demonic rapture that has as its effect, and often as its first intention, the removal of responsibility, the loss of the sense or consciousness of responsibility. At the same time Patocka wants to distinguish religion from the demonic form of sacralization. What is a religion? Religion presumes access to the responsibility of a free self. It thus implies breaking with this type of secrecy (for it is not of course the only one), that associated with sacred mystery and with what Patoeka regularly calls the demonic. A distinction is to be made between the demonic on the one hand (that which confuses the limits among the animal, the human, and. the divine, and which retains an affinity with mystery, the initiatory, the esoteric, the secret or the sacred) and responsibility on the other. This therefore amounts to a thesis on the origin and essence of the religious.

"Under what conditions can one speak of a religion, in the proper sense of the term, if such a thing exists? Under what conditions can we speak of a history of religion, and first and foremost of the Christian religion? In noting that Patocka refers only to the example of his own religion I do not seek to denounce an omission or establish the guilt of a failure to develop a comparative analysis. On the contrary, it seems necessary to reinforce the coherence of a way of thinking that takes into account the event of Christian mystery as an absolute singularity, a religion par excellence and an irreducible condition for a joint history of the subject, responsibility, and Europe. That is so even if, here and there, the expression "history of religions" appears in the plural, and even if one can only infer from this plural a reference to Judaic, Islamic, and Christian religions alone, those known as religions of the Book.

"According to Patocka one can speak of religion only after the demonic secret, and the orgiastic sacred, have been surpassed. We should let that term retain its essential ambiguity. In the proper sense of the word, religion exists once the secret of the sacred, orgiastic, or demonic mystery has been, if not destroyed, at least integrated, and finally subjected to the sphere of responsibility. The subject of responsibility will be the subject that has managed to make orgiastic or demonic mystery subject to itself; and has done that in order to freely subject itself to the wholly and infinite other that sees without being seen. Religion is responsibility or it is nothing at all. Its history derives its sense entirely from the idea of a passage to responsibility. Such a passage involves traversing or enduring the test by means of which the ethical conscience will be delivered of the demonic, the mystagogic and the enthusiastic, of the initiatory and the esoteric. In the authentic sense of the word, religion comes into being the moment that the experience of responsibility extracts itself from that form of secrecy called demonic mystery.

"Since the concept of the daimon crosses the boundaries separat-ing the human, the animal, and the divine, one will not be surprised to see Patocka recognizing in it a dimension that is essentially that of sexual desire. In what respect does this demonic mystery of desire involve us in a history of responsibility, more precisely in history as responsibility?

" 'The demonic is to be related to responsibility; in the beginning such a relation did not exist.' In other words, the demonic is originally defined as irresponsibility, or, if one wishes, as nonresponsibility. It belongs to a space in which there has not yet resounded the injunction to respond; a space in which one does not yet hear the call to explain onself, one's actions or one's thoughts, to respond to the other and answer for oneself before the other. The genesis of responsibility that Patocka proposes will not simply describe a history of religion or religiousness. It will be combined with a genealogy of the subject who says "myself," the subject's relation to itself as an instance of liberty, singularity, and responsibility, the relation to self as being before the other: the other in its relation to infinite alterity, one who regards without being seen but also whose infinite goodness gives in an experience that amounts to a gift of death. Let us for the moment leave that expression in all its ambiguity.

"Since this genealogy is also a history of sexuality, it follows the traces of a genius of Christianity that is the history of Europe. For at the center of Patocka's essay the stakes are clearly defined as follows: how to interpret "the birth of Europe in the modern sense of the term"? How to conceive of "the expansion of Europe" before and after the Crusades? More radically still, what is it that ails "modern civilization" inasmuch as it is European? Not that it suffers from a particular fault or from a particular form of blindness. Rather, why does it suffer from ignorance of its history, from a failure to assume its responsibility, that is, the memory of its history as history of responsibility?"

Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, tr. David Wills (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1995), pp. 1-4.

Let me first say you will search the work of Daniel Dennett in vain for any reference to Derrida, Petocka, or any other serious reflection on the philosophy of religion. Certainly his idea of the 'demonic' would be as mythological and superstitious (and so useless) as that of anyone sitting in a pew, or anyone who refuses to sit in a pew. So let this passage stand as the final flicking away of the uselessness of thoughts like Dennet's in any discussion of religion, for believers and non-believers alike.

So, Zorba and the Boss represent religion; if you will. Zorba is the wild, the irresponsible, in some ways (to the "Boss") the demonic. Certainly he almost refuses to be responsible for his actions; he curses the "Boss" at the end, when the old French woman in the village comes to Zorba and insists they be married. "What have you done to me?", he asks the Englishman. Bu that is just the beginning of the struggle; and the story ends with Zorba teaching the Englishman to dance. "In the proper sense of the word, religion exists once the secret of the sacred, orgiastic, or demonic mystery has been, if not destroyed, at least integrated, and finally subjected to the sphere of responsibility."

It is equally worth noting that America has its ahistorical perspective, but, says Derrida, so does Europe. The two conditions do not at all appear alike, but they stem from the same root. Twain would never use the language of Derrida, but his critique of 19th century American imperialism is grounded in the same understanding of the importance of responsibility, and of taking responsiblity.

With any luck Blogger will publish this much today, and we can continue to mine this vein further.

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