Monday, September 14, 2015

Losing hope in the world

Yet I must confess that I felt, and still feel, great admiration for both my religiously and politically committed comrades. They may have been "intellectual" in the sense we have adopted here, or they may not have been, that was not important. One way or the other, in the decisive moments their political or religious belief was an inestimable help to them, while we sceptical and humanistic intellectuals took recourse, in vain, to our literary, philosophical, and artistic household gods. 

…whether they were highly educated national economists and theologians or less versed workers and peasants, their belief or their ideology gave them that firm foothold in the world from which they spiritually unhinged the SS state. Under conditions that defy the imagination they conducted Mass, and as Orthodox Jews they fasted on the Day of Atonement although they actually lived the entire year in a condition of raging hunger…They survived better or died with more dignity than their irreligious or unpolitical intellectual comrades; who often were infinitely better educated and more practiced in exact thinking. I still see before me the young Polish priest who had no living language in common with me and who therefore spoke to me in Latin of his faith. "Voluntas hominis it ad malum," he said and glanced sorrowfully at a Kapo who was just passing by and who was feared for his brutality. "But God's goodness is immeasurable and thus it will triumph." Our religiously or politically committed comrades were not at all, or only a little, astonished that in the camp the unimaginable became reality. Whoever turned away from God, said the pious Christians and Jews, had to reach the point where he perpetrated or suffered the atrocities of Auschwitz…Here nothing unheard-of occurred, but only what the…God-believing men, had always expected or at least considered possible…Their kingdom, in any event, was not the Here and Now, but the Tomorrow and Someplace, the very distant Tomorrow of the Christian, glowing in chiliastic light…The grip of the horror reality was weaker where from the start reality had been placed in the framework of an unalterable idea. 

I was not in the least bit curious about a religious grace that for me did not exist, or about an ideology whose errors and false conclusions I felt I had seen through. I did not want to be one with my believing comrades, but I would have wished to be like them: unshakable, calm, strong. What I felt to comprehend at that time still appears to me as a certainty: whoever is, in the broadest sense, a believing person, whether his belief be metaphysical or bound to  concrete reality, transcends himself. He is not the captive of his individuality; rather he is part of a spiritual continuity that is interrupted nowhere, not even in Auschwitz. He is both more estranged from reality and closer to it than his unbelieving comrade. Further from reality because in is Finalistic attitude he ignores the given contents of material phenomena and fixes his sight on a nearer or more distant future; but he is also closer to reality because for just this reason he does not allow himself to be overwhelmed by the conditions around him and thus he can strongly influence them. For the unbelieving person reality, under adverse circumstances, is a force to which he submits…For the believer reality is clay that he molds. Jean Améry, At the Mind's Limits (Indiana U, 1980), 13-14.

1 comment:

  1. What makes these religious folk seem to be calm in the midst of chaos? This question is rarely asked by them because the answer is so simple that even a child can answer it.