Observation, 13.

(from atheism to agnosticism and back) [III]

invited contribution by Patrick Călinescu
edited by Nigel Walker
followed by a comment by Ştefan Bolea
click aici pentru versiunea română

I don’t believe in God. I have no faith in the divine. However, I can’t label myself as an atheist, either. That would be too sentimental. For even without the presence of whatever God may be within my doubtful bosom, I would still, as a devout atheist, be yearning for the (essentially untouchable) touch of the divine. Which, if truth be told, would be the case only monstrously perfunctorily: at the level of my communication with the immutable. Discursively, that is. But that would still count as some twisted sort of believing in the utterly ineffable. Theism can only be the positive reversal of atheism as the latter can indeed only be the negatively charged reversal of the former, which everybody discounts as socially inadequate, religiously promiscuous, theologically (or dogmatically) blasphemous and, perhaps, intellectually hypocritical. Emotionally hypocritical, too.
So I simply can’t be an atheist. That would be, regardless of circumstances, too hazardous whatever face I turn to the world-no matter how stark the contrast between what I am and what I seem is to this always judging world.
If, for all these reasons, I can’t be an atheist, what else should I try to be?
The state of irreligiousness is equally perilous. If I were to be irreligious, the world would instantly see me, as it all too hastily would had I ever been an atheist, as too socially inadequate, and too religiously promiscuous, and too theologically (or dogmatically) blasphemous, and, perhaps, too intellectually, too emotionally hypocritical. This is precisely how the entire world would see me mainly because almost none of the participants in its goings-on are unequivocally capable of perceiving the difference, which is quite important, between atheism and irreligion.
I won’t be trying to get too philosophical when it comes-especially when it comes-to the somewhat mind-minded-if I may say so-throbbing of my bosom. Consciously unscholarly as I will be endeavouring to be, I won’t be able to turn my back fully on everything bookish.
So, the difference between atheism and irreligion is actually quite easy to guess. Basically, it is the difference between faith (or the lack thereof) and the theological structures of faith (or the lack thereof). Another way of putting it, though perhaps mildly insulting to some and equally mildly extolling to others, would be that, while atheism is for the illiterate, irreligion is for the (highly) educated. Though it is not a religion per se (or the lack thereof), the illiterate would naturally tend to perceive atheism as some sort of religion (the religion of the godless few). Similarly, though it is not a faith per se (or the lack thereof), the (highly) educated would equally naturally tend to perceive irreligion as some sort of faith (the faith of the godless few).
Thus, while atheism is the religion of the godless few, irreligion is the faith of the godless few. But, then, neither atheism nor irreligion is understood correctly by either party. The illiterate mistake atheism for some sort of religion on account of their lack of education-and the (highly) educated mistake irreligion for some sort of faith on account of their lack of naive sentimentality. While the former have no mind to think with, the latter have no heart to feel with.
This reductionism seems, however, predictably dangerous. Can it be true that the illiterate, though mostly unschooled, cannot put their minds to good thinking use? Can it be true that the educated, though mostly perhaps insensitive to the sensible, cannot put their hearts to good feeling use? I for one can’t for anything in the world believe in such an aberrant, two-dimensionally sketched portrait of the human being. It is absolutely impossible for man to be that schematized-that squeezed out of all human profundity and depth. And, for that matter, entanglement, too. For man’s complexity does not consist in just a vast number of precisely aligned human departments that are also precisely ordered and consecutive in relation to each other: these neatly arranged human compartments of everything human must also be unruly with each other, and at random with each other, and completely disorganized in relation to each other. Man’s complexity, then, must be understood as a high-ranked, if disguised, total mess of everything

Then, if I’m neither an atheist nor an irreligious person, why am I still talking about God? If I have no faith in God-if I don’t believe in God, why am I still preoccupied with the divine?
I don’t know. I don’t know yet. Perhaps I simply needed to reaffirm my position on this matter. Maybe by writing this convincingly about God, I’ve been adding an extra coating of unabated undoubting to my heart. To my mind, too.
For now, I’m simply content to have been able to state my current position on the matter of the divine, which these words I have been using in formulating it have made permanent and unassailable. I hope.




God and the Atheist

by Ştefan Bolea

“If we’re neither atheists nor irreligious persons, why are we still talking about God” asks himself Patrick Călinescu. Why indeed? Because we are “retired from service, without a master, and yet not free …” (the words of the Last Pope from Nietzsche’s Zarathustra). The bomb exploded (i.e. God died) and most of the city’s population died in the blast (the man has died along with God [Foucault, Deleuze]). However, after the “symphony of destruction”, traumatized survivors charged with nostalgia and melancholy declare that “religion is coming back”. Does it come back like Böcklin’s plague, taking minds and piercing souls as it’s annihilating bodies? Is this merely the afterglow of the blast? Instead of answering these questions, I would ask another: why does the atheist need God? Etymologically, “God” (theos) is more than 50% of the word “atheist”: the atheist is an antivirus that contains his virus, a snake that releases venom from its tail, therefore biting it. As Eliade argued, the atheists can have religious experiences (however logically contradictory would appear that), and that it is the key point of this discussion, I think. Why is that? Because the world is not only an aesthetic phenomenon but also a religious one. As an atheist, I need to worship even after the death of God. As an agnostic, I remain a Gnostic: I cannot know if God still exists but I remain open to the underground knowledge that despises dogmas and norms. If as atheists we believe in God, than God is completely immanent and internalized: God is inside us and nowhere else, we are God.


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