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The Absent God (Susan Taubes on Simone Weil)

The Absent God (Susan Taubes on Simone Weil)

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The Absent GodAuthor(s): Susan Anima TaubesSource:
The Journal of Religion,
Vol. 35, No. 1 (Jan., 1955), pp. 6-16Published by: The University of Chicago PressStable URL:
Accessed: 14/11/2008 07:37
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THEABSENT GOD
SUSANANIMATAUBES*
w
rTHFEN
Neitzscheannouncedthat
Xf
Godisdead,heplantedthe
v
Vseed foranewkindof atheismwhichhasbecomeamajorthemeofEuropeanthinkersinourcenturyandwhichfoundits mostuncompromisingformulationintheposthumously pub-lished notes oftheFrenchphilosopher-mystic-saint,SimoneWeil.Atheism,which usedtobeachargeeveledagainstskeptics,unbelievers,orsimplythein-different,has cometomeanareligiousexperienceof the death ofGod.Thegod-lessnessofthe worldinallits strata andcategoriesbecomes,paradoxicallyandbya dialectic ofnegation,thesignatureofGodandyieldsamystical atheism,athe-ologyofdivineabsence andnonbeing,ofdivineimpotence,divinenoninterven-tion,anddivineindifference.Religiousatheismisdistinct from sec-ular atheismfromthestart,inthat itin-veststhenaturalworld,fromwhichdivinepresenceandprovidencehavebeentotally excluded,withtheologicalsignificance.Hewho,seeking God,doesnotfind himintheworld,he who suffers
*SusanAnima TaubesisJosiahRoyceFellowatRadcliffeCollege,preparingherdoctoraldissertationonthetheologicalelements inHeidegger'sphiloso-phy.ShegraduatedfromBrynMawrCollegein1951inphilosophyandinthatyearwasawardedtheBrynMawrEuropeanFellowship,whichenabledhertostudyinParisandJerusalem.Herpreviouspublicationsinclude "ACriticalDiscussion ofCamus' L'Hommerevolte,"inYiun,PhilosophicalJournaloftheHebrewUniversity(1952);"TheNa-tureofTragedy,"ReviewofMetaphysics(1953);and"The GnosticFoundations ofHeidegger'sNihilism,"Journalof Religion(July,1954).
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the utter silence andnothingnessofGod,stilllivesinareligiousuniverse:auni-verse whoseessentialmeaningisGod,thoughthatmeaningbetornincontra-diction andthemostagonizingpara-doxes.He livesin auniversethat isabsurd,but whoseabsurdityissignifi-cant,and itssignificanceisGod.God,howevernegativelyconceived,explainstheworld,explainsthenothingnessofGodinthe world.Thethesis ofreligiousatheismhasbeen mostboldlyformulatedbySimoneWeil:theexistenceofGodmaybe denied withoutdenyingGod'sreality.God's absenceisnot atemporaryillbroughtaboutbythe sinfulnessof agen-eration,aswhen theprophetIsaiahla-mentsthat Godhasturnedawayfromhispeopleandhidhisface fromman,be-lievingthat there wasatime whenGodwaspresentandthat therewillbea timewhen he willshow hisfaceagain.SimoneWeil hasuniversalizedhehistoricalex-perienceofthedeath ofGod intoa theo-logicalprinciple.Theunworldliness ofGod,hissilence,andnothingnessare hismostessentialfeatures.Godcanbepres-ent to usonlyinthe formof hisabsence.ThesituationthatNietzscherepre-sentedbytheimageof thedeath ofGodgrewout ofseveralrevolutionsincon-sciousness,eachofwhich voiceditspar-ticularchallengetoChristianity.Thesemovementsrangefromthecriticalin-vestigationofsacredChristianhistorytothefinalshatteringoffaithindivineprovidenceinthemoralcatastropheofthetwentiethcentury.Theyencompass
 
THE ABSENT GOD
the scientifictechnologicaltransforma-tionof ahierarchicallycreateduniverseintoablindmechanicalprocess;theem-piricalinvestigationof thereligionsoftheworldleadingto the relativizationofChristiandogmaandinstitutions;theprogressiveunderminingoffaith, first,byMarxianheory,thatexposedreligionaspoliticalideology,and thenbypsycho-logicalandpsychoanalyticalheory,thatreduced"religiousexperience"o behav-ioristicandsubjectivecategories.Thescientificconceptionof the universe andthecriticalinquiryintothe nature ofman andsocietyhaverelegatedreligious"symbols"to the levelof useful or use-less,dangerousortherapeutic,fictions.The marchofoptimistichumanismwas,however,almost from the start ac-companiedbyapprehensions,which,un-der theimpactof thepoliticalandeco-nomic eventsof the lastdecades,ripenedinto an acuteanxietyanddespair,mani-festinthegeneralhungerforreligioninourday.Simone Weilwas neitheranapologistfor the traditionalaith,tryingto defenditagainstmaterialisticattacks,norafugitivefrom theemptinessand confu-sion of the secularworldto thefortressofanorthodoxreligiousframeofreference.Jewishbybirth,sherefusedbaptism,choosingtoidentifyherselfwith the"im-mense and unfortunate mass of unbe-lievers." She tried to meet themodernchallengeto theauthenticityofreligiouslife notby takingissuewith theclaimsofempiricalsciencebutbyacceptingthem.The mortification ofGod in the worldbecomes hetheologicalstartingpointforthe lifeof thespiritinGod. Shediscov-eredtherealityofGodinthephenomenathat seemedtotestifymostforciblyagainstit: inthemeaninglesssufferingoftheconcentrationcamps,inthefutilityofmanualabor,nthecoercivenecessityofmatter,inthe mechanisticbehaviorismof thehumanpsyche.Andshe succeededincoiningareligiousvocabularyromtheprofoundestexperienceoftheabsence ofGod.Thetheologythatemergesfromthenotesof Simone Weilisconditionedbythecontemporaryxperienceof atheism.But whileshehas illuminatedthedepthsofcontemporaryafflictionand inhu-manitywithunfailing purityofinsight,shehas divorcedthem fromtheirhistori-cal causesand formalizedtheimpotenceoftheageintoatheologicalcategory.Thus theuprootedness,thenakedness,and thehopelessnessofmantodayrevealhim in his ultimateessence.Afflictiondoesnot createhumanmis-ery,itmerelyrevealsit. It ispreciselyintheenslavementanddegradationof maninourtimes thatshe discovers theChristianimageof man.Describingherexperienceat the Renaultfactory,wheresheworkedfor ayearin order toshare thelot of theworkers,SimoneWeilwrites: "ThereIreceived forever themarkof aslave,like thebrandingofthered-hotironwhichtheRomansputonthe foreheads oftheir mostdespisedslaves. SincethenIhavealwaysregardedmyselfas aslave."It wasthroughtheexperienceofin-dustriallabor,where theatomization ofthe individualand thedehumanizationfman to amerethingreachesone of itspeaks,thatSimoneWeilfor thefirst timeenvisaged Christianityas ananswer tohumansuffering."There the convictionwassuddenlyborneinuponmethatChristianityspre-eminentlyhereligionofslaves,thatslavescannothelp belong-ingtoit,and Iamongothers." Intheordeal oftwentieth-centuryfascismandatheism,theChristiansymbols regaintheirsignificance.Strippedof hishuman-ity,manonce moreenvisageshimself in
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