Here are some texts to nourish our "spiritual awakening". Secularism, Truth and Fundamentalism. Rethinking the relationship between religion and politics, between religion and spirituality.
Secularism. The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas has the advantage of having developed both a philosophical and a Talmudic body of work, in keeping with his thought: "I think that Europe is the Bible and the Greeks".
"Secular institutions, which place the fundamental forms of our public life outside of metaphysical concerns, can only be justified if the union of humankind in society, its peace itself responds to man's metaphysical vocation. Without this, secularism would be no more than the pursuit of a quiet and lazy life, an indifference to the truth of others, an immense scepticism. Secular institutions are only possible because of the intrinsic value of peace between persons and states. Rather than being a condition, formal or negative, of other values that would be positive, society asserts itself, for the friends of secularism, as a positive and primordial value.
This quest for peace can be opposed to religion, which is inseparable from dogma. Dogmas reveal themselves instead of proving themselves, and clash with the forms of thought and conduct that unite people, only to bring them discord and division. But if a particular religion is placed at the service of peace, to the extent that its faithful feel the absence of this peace as the absence of their god, if the subjective vocation that distinguishes the faithful from their neighbours or their distant neighbours, makes them neither tyrannical nor invasive, but more open and welcoming - then religion meets the ideal of secularism.
In Judaism, this conflict cannot arise because, for Judaism, the relationship with God is never conceived outside the relationship with people. The Sacred does not consume, does not lift up the faithful, does not surrender itself to the thaumaturgical liturgy of humans. It manifests itself only where person recognises and welcomes others.
Because of its opposition to this idolatry of the Sacred, ancient writers were able to describe Judaism as impious or atheistic. Ethical relationships, which are impossible without justice, are not just a preparation for religious life; they do not just flow from religious life, but are already religious life itself.
According to Jeremiah verse 16 of chapter 22, the knowledge of God consists in "doing right by the poor and needy". The Messiah is defined above all by the establishment of peace and justice - in other words, by the consecration of society. No hope of individual salvation - however we might dream it - can be imagined outside of social accomplishment, whose progress resounds, to the Jewish ear, like the very footsteps of the Messiah.
To say that God is the God of the poor or the God of justice is to pronounce not on his attributes, but on his essence. Hence the idea that inter-human relations, independent of any religious communion in the narrow sense of the term, constitutes in some way the supreme liturgical act, autonomous from all manifestations of ritual piety. In this sense, the prophets undoubtedly prefer justice to temple sacrifices.
The prophet never speaks of the human tragedy determined by death and does not concern himself with the immortality of the soul. Man's misfortune lies in the misery that destroys and tears society apart. Murder is more tragic than death. It is up to man to save man: the divine way to repair misery is not to involve God in it. The true correlation between man and God depends on a relationship between man and man, for which man assumes full responsibility, as if there were no God to rely on.
This is the state of mind that conditions secularism, even modern secularism. It is not the result of a compromise, but the natural terrain for the greatest works of the Spirit.
(Emmanuel LEVINAS, 1906-1995 : Laïcité et la pensée d'Israël. In Les Imprévus de l'histoire, Éditions Fata Morgana, 1994, p. 181-183).
Truth and fundamentalism
Pope Francis vigorously denounces the fundamentalist temptation to offer people in crisis a protective refuge: "Fundamentalists offer to shelter people from destabilising situations in exchange for a kind of existential quietism. Anyone who takes refuge in fundamentalism is afraid to embark on the path of truth. He already 'possesses' the truth and deploys it as a defence, so that any questioning of it is interpreted as an attack on his person."
Following Romano Guardini, one of the most important Catholic thinkers of the twentieth century, on whom he prepared a thesis, François writes: "Guardini showed me the importance of the 'pensamiento incompleto', of the unfinished thought. He develops a thought, but he takes you just far enough to invite you to stop and leave room for contemplation. A fruitful thought must always remain incomplete in order to leave room for further development. Guardini taught me not to demand absolute certainty in everything, which is the sign of a restless mind. His wisdom enabled me to tackle complex problems that cannot be resolved simply by applying norms.”
He goes on to define what he means by ‘Tradition’: “I like to think that we don’t possess the truth as much as the truth possesses us, constantly attracting us through beauty and goodness. (...) Tradition is not a museum, true religion is not a freezer, and doctrine is not static but grows and develops, like a tree that remains the same but grows and bears ever more fruit (...) I like to quote Gustav Mahler who said that ‘tradition is the transmission of fire and not the adoration of ashes’”. (Pope François: Un temps pour changer, conversations with Austen Ivereigh, British journalist, Flammarion 2020, p. 84-89).
Rethinking the relationship between religion and politics
In a dialogue with Frédéric Lenoir, the philosopher Paul Ricœur hopes that religions will share a new symbolism that reflects the conviction “that there is truth outside the home”. “After the complicity of the Middle Ages and the quarrels of the Enlightenment, can we imagine a new, modern relationship between the two worlds, religion and politics?
Let’s start again from our two points: on the religious side, the symbolic core; and on the political side, the concept of authority, which is currently reduced to a skeleton, to a minimalist and procedural set of rules, with great symbolic poverty. Just as a rational system of legitimacy can be convincing, so its potential for acceptance is powerless. In my opinion, this is where postmodern religion can play a new role: by basing its symbolism not on power, but on imagination.”
You mean a kind of re-enchantment?
“Yes, I accept the word. I'd like to make a proposal that I feel very strongly about: couldn't democracy today draw from the resources of religious communities? In France, the Wars of Religion are over. And so is the conflict between secularists and believers. Religious people, agnostics, atheists, we could all be, together, the co-founders of modern democracy, which, to be strong and alive, requires a shared symbolism.”
“It can only be done in a society of the ‘consensual-dissensual’ type. Let me explain: the consensus on the game’s rules of democracy is sustained - almost paradoxically - by a permanent dissensus between the different belief systems. We are, in a way, survivors of the Wars of Religion. What was once war has become confrontation. This new contribution of religion to politics will depend on the quality of discussion in civil society.”
So, you are following in the footsteps of philosophers like John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas, who talk about the confrontation of values and an ethic of discussion.
“I certainly do. And I have two recent ideas from Rawls. Firstly, what he calls ‘consensus by overlap’: different faiths - religious or non-religious - are not mutually exclusive, they overlap, and it is these areas of overlap that enter into the process of co-founding a new democracy. The second concept is that of ‘reasonable disagreement’: we accept that our visions of the good differ from one another. It's about embracing difference.”
This is reminiscent of the notion of tolerance that philosophers developed in the 18th century.
“Today we need to go further than the philosophers of the Enlightenment: not simply 'tolerate', 'put up with' difference, but admit that there is truth outside myself, that others have access to a different aspect of truth than I do. Accepting that my own symbolism does not exhaust the symbolisation resources of what is fundamental." (Paul RICOEUR (1913-2005): Il y a de la vérité ailleurs que chez soi. Conversation with Frédéric LENOIR published in the weekly L'Express on 23/07/1990, p. 84-89).
Rethinking the relationship between religion and spirituality
Abdennour BIDAR proposes redefining the relationship between spirituality and religion. He rejects a secularism that would seek to substitute a ‘civil religion’ to relegate religions to the private sphere in favour of with an authentic secularism, "which is an opportunity for religion".
"We French do not need a civil religion that would force us to make a belief or an ideal sacred. What holds us together is freedom of thought, which allows everyone to decide on their own beliefs or ideals.
By separating the Churches from the State, secularism has deprived religions of any right to exercise political power. In so doing, it helps religions to fight against their own will to power, which is present in every religion as soon as it considers itself to be the holder of a truth that is superior to everything else. It will do Islam a great deal of good to see its current prejudice challenged: that God's law must prevail. It will gain in spiritual substance what it will lose in temporal power.
I am calling for an awareness of a paradox that has remained strangely unnoticed until now: by separating the religious and the political, secularism brings the spiritual and the political together. For in the secular state, everyone is free to determine their own spiritual destiny, since religion no longer has any power of constraint. From this point of view, secularism is really the entry into a post-religious spiritual age. It is the advent of autonomy and spiritual citizenship, complementary to the political citizenship offered in every democracy."
(Abdennour BIDAR : La laïcité est une chance pour la religion, in La Croix-l’Hebdo, 4-5 septembre 2021, p. 34-35 - 27 septembre 2021 par Garrigues et Sentiers Bernard Ginisty.
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