Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reverence & Loathing

In reading the book “Night Train to Lisbon” I found a passage that I presumed Pekić would like, and which would be approximately what his opinion was on the subject of God and religion. That is why I decided to print it on this blog.

(Extract from the book “Night Train to Lisbon” by Pascal Mercier, translated from the German by Barbara Harshaw, @ Barbara Harshaw; originally published 2004 in Germany; pages 168-172)

I would not like to live in a world without cathedrals. I need their beauty and grandeur I need them against the vulgarity of the world. I want to look up at the illuminated church windows and let myself be blinded by the unearthly colors. I need their luster. I need it against the dirty color of the uniforms.

I want to let myself be wrapped in the austere coolness of the churches. I need their imperious silence. I need it against the witless bellowing of the barracks yard and the witty chatter of the yes-man. I want to hear the rustling of the organ, this deluge of ethereal tones.

I need it against the shrill farce of marches. I love praying people. I need the sight of them. I need it against the malicious poison of the superficial and the thoughtless.

I want to read the powerful words of the Bible. I need the unreal force of their poetry. I need it against the dilapidation of the language and the dictatorship of slogans. A word without these things would be a world I would not like to live in.

But there is also another world I don’t want to live in: the world where the body and independent thought are disparaged, and the best things we can experience are denounced as sins.


The world that demands love of tyrants, slave maters, and cutthroats, where their brutal boot steps reverberate through the streets with a deafening echo or they slink with feline silence like cowardly shadows through the streets and pierce their victims in the heart from behind with flashing steel.

What is most absurd is that people are exhorted from the pulpit to forgive such creatures and even to love them. Even if someone could really do it: it would mean an unparalleled dishonesty and merciless self-denial whose cost would be total deformity.

This commandment. This crazy, perverse commandment to love your enemy is apt to break people, to rob them of all courage and self-confidence and to make them supple in the hands of the tyrants so they won’t find the strength to stand up to them, with weapons, if necessary.

I revere the word of God for I love its poetic force. I loathe the word of God for I hate its cruelty. The love is a difficult love for it must incessantly separate the luminosity of the words and the violent verbal subjugation by a complacent God.

The hatred is a difficult hatred for how can you allow yourself to hate words that are part of the melody of life in this part of the world? Words that taught us early on what reverence is? Words that were like a beacon to us when we began to feel that the visible life can’t be all of life? Words without which we wouldn’t be what we are?

But let us not forget: These are the same words that call on Abraham to slaughter his own son like an animal. What do we do with our rage when we read that? What should we think of such a God? A God who blames Job for arguing with Him, he who knows and understands nothing?

Who, after all, was it who created him like that? And why is it less unjust if God hurls someone into misery for no reason than if a common mortal does? In fact, isn’t Job’s complaint perfectly justified?

The poetry of the divine words is so overwhelming that it silences everything and every protest becomes wretched yapping. That’s why you can’t just put away the Bible, but must throw it away when you have enough of its unreasonable demands and of the slavery it inflicts on us.

It is a joyless God far from life speaking out of it, a God who wants to constrict the enormous compass of a human life – the big circle that can be drawn when it is left free – to the single, shrunken point of obedience.

Grief ridden and sin laden, parched with subjugation and the indignity of confession, with the cross of ashes on our forehead, we are to go to the grave in the thousandfold refuted hope of a better life at His Side. But how could it be better on the side of one who just robbed us of all joy and freedom?

And yet they are bewitchingly beautiful, the words that come from Him and go to Him. How I loved them as an altar boy! How drunk they made me in the glow of the altar candles! How clear, now evident it seemed that these words were the measure of all things!

How incomprehensible it seemed to me that other words were also important to people, where every one of them could mean only damnable dissipation and the loss of the essential!

Even today I stand still when I hear a Gregorian chant and for an idle moment I am sad that the old drunkenness has been wiped out irrevocably by rebellion. A rebellion that shot up in me like a flame the first time I heard these two words: sacrificium intellectus.

How are we to be happy without curiosity, without questions, doubts and arguments? Without joy of thinking? The two words like a sword stroke cutting off your head, they mean nothing less than a demand to live our feelings and act against our thinking, they are the summons to a complete split, the order to sacrifice what is the core of our happiness: the internal unity and coherence of our life.

The slave in the galley is chained, but he can think what he wants. But what He, our God, demands of us is that we force our slavery into our depths with our own hands and do it willingly and joyfully. Can there be a greater mockery?

In His omnipresence, the Lord observes us day and night, every hour, every minute, every second, he keeps a ledger of our acts and thoughts, He never lets us alone, never spares us a moment completely to ourselves. What is man without secrets? Without thoughts and wishes that only he, he alone, knows?

The torturers, of the Inquisition and of today, they know: cut off his retreat, never turn off the light, never leave him alone, deprive him of sleep and silence: he will talk. The torture steals our soul means it demolishes the solitude with ourselves that we need like air to breathe.

Did the Lord our God not consider that He was stealing our soul with His unbridled curiosity and revolting voyeurism, a soul that should be immortal?

Who could in all seriousness want to be immortal? Who would like to live for all eternity? How boring and stale it must be to know that what happens today, this month, this year, doesn’t matter: endless more days, months, years will come. Endless, literally.

If that was how it was, would anything count. We would no longer need to calculate time, nothing could be missed, we wouldn’t have to rush It would be the same if we did something today or tomorrow, all the same. A million omissions would become nothing before eternity, and it would make no sense to regret something for there would always be time to make up for it.

Nor could we live for the day, for this happiness lives on the awareness of passing time, the idler is an adventurer in the face of death, a crusader against the dictate of haste. When there is always and everywhere time for all and everything. How should there still be room for the joy of wasting time?

A feeling is no longer the same when it comes the second time. It dies through the awareness of its return. We become tired and weary of our feelings when they come too often and last too long. In the immortal soul, a gigantic weariness and a flagrant despair must grow in view of the certainty that it will never end, never.

Feelings want to develop and we through them. They are what they are because they retreat from what they used to be and because they flow toward a future where they will diverge. If this stream flowed into infinity: thousands of feelings must emerge in us that we, used to a foreseeable time, cannot even imagine.

So that we really don’t know what is promised us when we hear of the eternal life. How would it be to be us in eternity, devoid of the consolation of being someday released from the need to be us? We don’t know, and it is a blessing that we never will. For one thing we do know: it would be hell, this paradise of immortality.

It is death that gives the moment its beauty and its horror: Only through death is time a living time. Why does the Lord, the omniscient God, not know that? Why does He threaten us with an endlessness that must mean unbearable desolation?

I would not like to live in a world without cathedrals. I need the luster of their windows, their cool stillness, their imperious silence. I need the deluge of the organ and the sacred devotion of praying people. I need the holiness of words, the grandeur of great poetry.

All this I need. But just as much I need the freedom and hostility against everything cruel. For the one is nothing without the other. And no one may force me to choose.


Unknown said...

One of the greatest speeches I've ever read. I don't know why - and I'm not an expert - but makes me remember of John Donne...
Thankyou for posting this!

Anonymous said...

Lepo napisano, ali mislim da pisac nazalost nije razumeo Bibliju. Bog je jedno veliko iznenadjenje i premudrost i ne mozemo Ga strpati u kutije ljudskog razumevanja bez frustracija u stilu "ovo je besmisleno", kojima odise ovaj tekst.