The right or the wrong time to wake sleepwalkers

by A. Döblin

Countless people live in ignorance, relaxed, day by day, like young animals. They live as if there is no guilt and knowledge. They wander through existence. They sleep. Should one wake them up?

Let's suppose that they can be awakened, – but for what? So they can start with what the others are already doing? No, not for that. But it would be a gain for the world if they were illuminated, clarified, and let towards life, if they were enlightened and led to the light. There already was an enlightenment period. A new better one is needed.

From: Alfred Döblin (1948). Autobiographical Writings and Records (1977)

Jones Jones

by G.K. Chesterton

Of all conceivable forms of enlightenment the worst is what these people call the Inner Light.

Of all horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the god within. That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones.

From: Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1908). Orthodoxy

Remembrance of the future

by W. Benjamin

We know that the Jews were prohibited from investigating the future. The Torah and the prayers instruct them in remembrance, however. This stripped the future of its magic, to which all those succumb who turn to the soothsayers for enlightenment.

This does not imply, however, that for the Jews the future turned into homogeneous, empty time. For every second of time was the strait gate through which Messiah might enter.

From: Walter Benjamin (1943). On the Concept of History

“Faith” not in demand

by A. Einstein

Judaism is thus no transcendental religion; it is concerned with life as we live it and can up to a point grasp it and nothing else. It seems to me, therefore, doubtful whether it can be called a religion in the accepted sense of the word, particulary as no “faith” but the sanctification of life in a supra-personal sense is demanded of the Jew.

If one purges the Judaism of the Prophets and Christianity as Jesus Christ taught it of all subsequent additions, especially those of the priests, one is left with a teaching which is capable of curing all the social ills of humanity.

From: Albert Einstein (1935). The World as I see it

Why reforms fail

by K. Jaspers

The best of the contemporaries of Cusanus demanded the reform of the Church, of both, its head and its members, as well as the reform of the empire. Commissioned with the reform of the Church in Rome itself, he completely failed because Pope and Cardinals were not thinking of adopting reforms concerning their own actions and positions.

Reform as a mere external change in institutions can not succeed. For reform presupposes the inner repentance of those who are involved, the seriousness of a new life that springs from a decision. Cusanus wanted the reforms but did not know their condition in the original transformation of self-sufficiency of the people who realize them.

From: Karl Jaspers (1964). Nicholas Cusanus


by K. H. Haag

The shortening of working hours directly creates an empty space.

To fill it by means of higher activity, neither itself nor the remaining work contains a motive. Therefore, science and art and philosophy had be lowered as media of mere pastime, when they lost the aura of an engagement with the divine.

From: Karlheinz Haag (1983). The Progress in Philosophy

Time and signs

by W. Percy

The old modern age has ended. We live in a post-modern as well as a post-Christian age. The present age is demented. It is possessed by a sense of dislocation, a loss of personal identity, an alternating sentimentality and rage which, in an individual patient, could be characterized as dementia. I would call it the age of the theorist-consumer.

All denizens of the age tend to be one or the other or both. Such a denizen can become so frustrated, bored, and enraged that he resorts to violence, violence upon himself or upon others. Or, such a denizen may discover that he is open to a search for signs, some sign other than theorizing or consumption.

There are only two signs in the post-modern age which cannot be encompassed by theory. One sign is one’s self. The only other sign in the world which cannot be encompassed by theory is the Jews, their history, and their presence in the here-and-now. For the self that finds itself lost in the desert of theory and consumption, there is nothing to do but set out as a pilgrim in the desert in search of a sign. In this desert, that of theory and consumption, there remains only one sign, the Jews. By “the Jews” I mean not only Israel, but the worldwide ecclesia instituted by one of them, God become man, a Jew.
From: Crisis Magazine (1990). Article by Walker Percy Why Are You a Catholic?

Secular rationality and religious belief

by Benedict XVI

The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation.

According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers—still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion—but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process.

From: Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI, London, Westminster Hall, 17 September 2010

How one becomes a human being, a Christian

by D. Bonhoeffer

Later on I discovered, and am still discovering to this day, that one only learns to have faith by living in the full this-worldliness of life.

If one has completely renounced making something of oneself – whether it be a saint or a converted sinner or a church leader (a so-called priestly figure!), a just or an unjust person, a sick or a healthy person – then one throws oneself completely into the arms of God, and this is what I call this-worldliness: living fully in the midst of life's tasks, questions, successes or failures, experiences, and perplexities – then one takes seriously no longer one's own sufferings but rather the suffering of God in the world. Then one stays awake with Christ in Gethsemane. And I think this is faith; this is “metanoia”; this is how one becomes a human being, a Christian (see Jer 45!). How should one become arrogant over successes or shaken by one’s failures when one shares in God’s suffering in the life of this world?

July 21, 1944, the day after the failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler
From: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1953). Letters and Papers from Prison

No Saturday without Sunday and vice versa

by G. Steiner

There is one particular day in Western history about which neither historical record nor myth nor Scipture make report. It is a Saturday. And it has become the longest of days.

We know of that Good Friday which Christianity holds to have been that of the Cross. But the non-Christian, the atheist, knows of it as well. This is to say that he knows of the injustice, of the interminable suffering, of the waste, of the brute enigma of ending, which so largely make up not only the historical dimension of the human condition, but the everyday fabric of our personal lives. We know, ineluctably, of the pain, of the failure of love, of the solitude which are our history and private fate. We know also about Sunday.

To the Christian, that day signifies an intimation, both assured and precarious, both evident and beyond comprehension, of resurrection, of a justice and a love that have conquered death. If we are non-Christians or non-believers, we know of that Sunday in precisely analogous terms. We conceive of it as the day of liberation from inhumanity and servitude. We look to resolutions, be they therapeutic or political, be they social or messianic. The lineaments of that Sunday carry the name of hope (there is no word less deconstructible).

But ours is the long day's journey of the Saturday. Between suffering, aloneless, unutterable waste on the one hand and the dream of liberation, of rebirth on the other. In the face of the torture of a child, of the death of love which is Friday, even the greatest art and poetry are almost helpless. In the Utopia of the Sunday, the aesthetic will, presumably, no longer have logic or necessity. The apprehensions and figurations in the play of metaphysical imaging, in the poem and the music, which tell of pain and of hope, of the flesh which is said to taste of ash and of the spirit which is said to have the savour of fire, are always Sabbatarian. They have risen out of an immensity of waiting which is that of man. Without them, how could we be patient?

From: Steiner, George (jewish author, philosopher and cultural critic) (1989). Real Presences. Is there anything in what we say?

Benedikt XVI., born on a Holy Saturday is celebrating his 90th birthday on a Easter Sunday this year.