The quiet of the human animal
Without actually intending to do so, Israel has given the world a God. He is a remarkable God, a God who stands forth irritatingly in contrast to all other gods. The Babylonian, Egyptian, and Greek deities were content with the sacrifices and mystic rituals dedicated to them. They did not, so to speak, transcend their province as deities. Israel’s God, however, constantly reaches out beyond His theological domain.
He turns the human animal upside down. He eternally makes demands. He demands, for instance: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself!” “Why should I love my neighbor?” asks the human animal in his natural state. “He is evil, and I must defend myself against him and be on my guard.”
In His evangelical extension Israel’s God becomes still more absurd. “Love thine enemies,” He commands. “Forgive those who hate thee! Turn the other cheek!” The human animal blinks helplessly.
For two thousand years “natural man,” the “man of the nations,” the “Goy,” has been groaning under the unwished-for paradox of that eternally unrealizable “thou shalt – thou shalt not – thou shalt…” He longs to be what he is, a natural creature beyond good and evil, a heedlessly creative or destructive force, like the oceans and clouds, rivers and mountains. Science comes to aid him in his path of metaphysical obstacles.
It is the most violent religious war mankind has ever waged against this two-thousand-year-old paradox, the biblical spirit in all its manifestations.
From: Franz Werfel (1941). My Profession of Faith. Jewish Digest
Park Schönbrunn 1950. On two benches with three catholic teachers my age. “That we Jews killed him, I said, is a mere excuse for your hatred against Jews. What you can never forget, conversely, is that we brought him to you.” They looked at me like I was a lunatic.
“That’s right. That a Jewish man named Jesus existed, who, contrary to our human nature, taught love and forgiveness. You can’t forgive us the forgiver. You don’t hold against us that you were robbed of him through ‘us’, but that he came to you through us. Hitler knew that perfectly well and speculated for your hatred against Jesus. With every Jew you slay, you slay him. You don’t bear a grudge against us because we are not ‘the likes of you’, but rather because you are afraid that somehow you have turned into ‘the likes of us’, or you might. Your being Christian, or having to be Christian, does not only feel unbearable to you, but unforgivable, something that demands revenge. It is for this reason that you have nailed us to the cross for two thousand years. And often even supposedly in the name of the crucified.” After my words two of them stayed silent because they had to refuse to believe this truth, so because of additional resentment. The third was braver though, and spat in my face.
Translated from: Günter Anders (1965). Philosophische Stenogramme
No story without history
It is said that the time for „great stories“ has passed; we can’t tell such stories anymore, much less invent them. Let us at least pose the question: What kind of story would be appropriate for our current situation?
Such a story, I believe, would have to encompass the substantiality of science. It will have to meet the challenge of the renaissance: that means the fusing of the Judeo-Christian and Greek-Roman, of Athens and Jerusalem. But first, a „history of Europe“ will have to look the Shoah in the eye. It will have to make tangible for our heart and our mind the methodical creation of hell on earth that occurred at a time during which the old hell had in its depths lost its cogency. It could be sung by a woman or even a child …
From: George Steiner (1994). The Myth of Europe. Speech at the opening of the 1994 Salzburg Festival
Project for a Better World
Liberty, equality, fraternity!” But how do we get to the action words? –
The world strides towards the better. But where does the better stride to? –
You can recognize a good example when it is not contagious. –
Translated from: Stanislaw Jerzy Lec (1982). Sämtliche unfrisierte Gedanken
A wake-up call 70 years ago
Emerging into the ruins of a world that didn’t drown in water, but in fire and blood and tears, in a tribunal that can well be put alongside that atoning flood from the early days of man.
Never can we grant the thought access that our sparing is a sign of our special worth. We know only one thing: As we were left, God still has plans with us. That we are still alive means “vocation”.
Translated from: Ida Friederike Görres (1947). Was wir wollen. Kristall, Bild und Ebenbild
The right or the wrong time to wake sleepwalkers
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)
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
Nietzsche’s hatred of anti-Semitism: „So absurd, so unjustified it is one of the sickest excesses of Imperial Germany’s gawking self-scrutiny.“ In the meantime we have become adequately familiar with the gawking self-scrutiny of Federal Germany, too, and we know that the more critical the issues of economic prosperity, the more vain this scrutiny becomes, and that consequently the hostile feelings toward too many foreigners in our county will begin to grow again.
When we notice the sudden increase in hate, which is no less common among the very young than it is among the old, proven racists, we might get the impression that German emotional life has for some time essentially consisted of a gap; nothing of the colorful mélange that came about could fill it, nothing stirred; once xenophobia appears we immediately sense: That’s it! The feeling is feeling again, it has come to possess something central again. In any case, it is not the moment anymore in which we can safely trust that a liberal democracy, with its simple edge/middle thinking, will be able to manage the parapolitical and negativist needs of a nation over the long term.
From: Botho Strauß (1981). Couples, Passersby
Remembrance of the future
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
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