24 novembre 2016

Roger Garaudy: Meaning of Life and Dialogue of Cultures

In our growth-orîented societies, Galbraith once said, everything is done as if St. Peter asks the dead, upon meeting them in heaven just before sending them off either to hell or to paradise, just this question: what have you done on earth to increase the "gross national product"?

Indeed, the ideology of "growth" implies more than just a culture - a downright religion.

Growth in the quantitative sense, such as the one wrongly employed as a criterion of development by practically all international bodies, consists of producing increasingly more and faster, no matter what: the useful, the useless, the harmful, even the deadly (like armaments).

If it is true that our life, both individual and collective, has no other purpose, then it is bereft of meaning. The culture of despair is thenceforth an intellectual by-product of this conception of growth.

It is significant that the highest suicide record for adolescents is held by the wealthiest countries, the most "developed" ones: the United States and Sweden, for example.

People die in the Third World for lack of means, and in the western countries for lack of ends.


This text is available in French language in a long version (PDF) : « PDF FILE SENS DE LA VIE ET DIALOGUE DES CULTURES ». Ask it to me with the contact form (left column of the blog).
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Five centuries after the so-called "Renaissance" began-meaning the simultaneous birth in sixteenth century Europe of both capitalism and colonialism- we are in the midst of the abandonment of faith in absolute values; abandonment expressed:

- in the sciences through positivism.

- in social life through individualism.

a/ Positivism is the complete denial of transcendence and absolute values. It is the reduction of "reason's" role to a search for connections between phenomena by means of facts and laws.

b/ Individualism is founded on the same denial, the same reductions and the same pretensions. It is the illusion according to which each individual is the center and measure of everything.

Within this vision we find ourselves in a jungle where the will to power, the will to gratification, the will to individual, group or national growth confront each other with ever more powerful technical and scientific means.

The result: the climax. And then, as Marx wrote, "something which no one had wanted." A crisis, a war. A Europe not knowing what to do with its meats, the butter in its immense

refrigerators; and a Third World condemned to hunger.

Reason's task is to pose and to resolve problems in ordto allow men to create a future with a human face.

Today it does not play this role. Why?

Because what weve taken the habit of calling "reason" is "positivistic" reason. That is,  infirm reason. Torn away from its essential dimension, it no longer poses the question of ends, but only that of means.

A human epic lasting millions of years may founder today. We have for the first time in history the technical means to destroy all life, if plenary reason cannot assign to them other ends.

Along this path science degenerates into scientism, technique into technocracy, and politics into machiave11ism.

Scientism is a form of superstition or, rather, a tota1itarian fundamentalism founded on this postulate, that science can resolve all problems. Whatever it cannot measure,

experiment with or predict, does not exist. This reductionist positivism excludes life's deepest dimensions: love, artistic creation, faith.

Technocracy is that form of sleepwalking which is technique for technique's sake, never posing the question of ends. It is founded on this postulate, that all which is technically possible is desirable and necessary. This "reason" engenders the worst

unreason, including nuclear arms and "star wars". It is a religion of means.

Machiavellism is the animal aspect of a policy defined in terms of a technique for gaining access to power, not a reflection over the proper ends of human community and the

subsequent implementation of a means to achieve those ends.

The major problem before us today is one of priorities, of ends, of values, of meaning; of reflection not only over the possibility and the methods of the sciences and of techniques, but above all over their goals. What objectives must scientific research adopt in order to serve man's fulfilment rather than his destruction ?

Hence, the critique of knowledge will gain real sense not only if it can bind science to wisdom, but also wisdom to faith; for neither science in its search for causes, nor wisdom in its search for ends, can arrive at the first cause or final end.

Faith begins where reason ends. Not before. Not until full or plenary reason, searching at the same time for causes and ends, has utilized all its powers.

In complete freedom, this movement allows reason to become conscious of its limits and of its postulates.

Faith is hence no longer what contradicts or restrains reason but, on the contrary, what prevents it from becoming locked within itself through "self-sufficiency", which militates

against transcendence. Faith is reason with no bounds.

To exit both jungle and "balance of terror," the only possibility of salvation for man therefore is to recover-against this reigning positivism and individualism both faith

in transcendence (which is contrary to positivistic "selfsufficiency" ) and faith in community (which is contrary to individualism).

The affirmation of:
En Iran en 1985

a/ transcendence is:

(1) The certainty that God is one:

"...if there were other gods beside God," says the Qur'an, "there would be chaos." (21:22) And He has no common measure with any human reality.

(2) Our feeling of dependence and "submission" to this One God and to His laws. This submission to God alone relativizes all powers, all that one may have and all that one may know.

(3) Faith in absolute values transcending our moralisms and our logic. Abraham exemplified this faith to the highest degree.

Only in this manner can the polytheisms of the contemporary world be vanquished. Because our world, not in its professions of faith but, in its most general practice, is polytheist: it has posited money, nation, power, science, sex as absolute values. The primary task is to fight these false gods which have surreptitious1y entered in to inhabit our night.

(b) Community is the opposite of individualism. Within the perspective of community everyone is conscious of being personally responsible for all others.

Humanity is one because God, its Creator, is One. All men have the same origin and are created for the same end.

Recognizing transcendence and community in the submission to the will of God is the common denominator of all religions. In all of them the presence of God in man is faiths first certainty: my own center is not within myself but in the other and in God.

"You are that," say the Vedas of India, whose sacred books teach the human "me" to take cognizance of its identity with the soul of the world.

"God created man in his own image," says the Jewish Torah.

"The Kingdom of God is inside you," announces the Gospel.

"I breathed into man of my Spirit," says God in the Qur'an.

Without this certainty about the presence of God in man, of the transcendent dimension of man, all community is condemned to disintegrate and to die.

This act of faith, on the contrary, is the progenitor of all genuine community and all genuine humanity:

If God is in me, who can force chains upon me ?

If God is in you, I love you because I discover in you his presence.

If God is in every man, how can I accept the indignities and the injustices of the world ?

How can I fail to see that every work in the service of all is an act of worship, and that he alone is a man of faith who serves all beings ?

Having lost this transcendent dimension of man, society can only disintegrate , whether capitalist or socialist.

What we call peace is no longer then anything but a "balance of terror," although non-violence or peace does not consist only of the absence of war. It is above all justice: that is, a social order which can create for every child, every woman and every man, the economie, social, political and cultural conditions which would allow him to fully develop all the human riches he carries within him.

This is the goal.

How can we realize it ?

* * *

To all those who would consider us as utopian, we may fearlessly respond thus: the worst utopia today is the status quo.

For we haven't the choice. Either we continue to act in much the same way as in the past -- and we are heading for planetary suicide or else we reaffirm transcendence and

community, and through this break with the past open a path to the future.

The great, historic stirrings of the century have all expressed a fundamental reconsideration of the culture of the West, of its positivism and of its individualism - be it the Chinese cultural revolution or that of Iran.

It is significant that all these awakenings have come from the non-western world, from Asia to Africa to Latin America.

These great awakenings in the Third World have been marked by a rejection of the cultural ethnocentrism of the West and the form it has imposed on the Christian faith.

At the 1977 Conference of Christian theologians of Black Africa, presided by Archbishop of Abidjan Rev.Yago, Father Eboussi Boulega alluded to a "Copernican Revolution" in African

theology. "Africa, "he said, "has arrived at the novel idea of revolving around itself, of being for itself."

Father Jean Marc Ela recalled that the universalism of Christianity is no longer evident, inasmuch as the Judeo-Mediterranean culture which has thus far carried it appears to be

a culture like other cultures. . . Catholic is not synonymous with Roman."

This will to decolonize faith and to relativize western culture in order to save the universal value of Christianity is forcefully expressed in the book of a Jesuit from Cameroon, Father Hegba, called « Emancipation d'eglises sous tutelle ("Emancipation of Churches Under Guardianship").

"Christianity is not a western religion but an oriental religion monopolized by the West, which stamped the indelible seal of its philosophy, of its law, of its culture and presented it henceforth in this manner to other peoples of the world. It is in turn up to us to stamp our indelible seal onto this same religion, without elevating any longer to the rank of divine revelation Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy, Germanic or Anglo-

Saxon Protestant thought, or Gaulish, Greco-Roman, Lusitanian, Spanish, German ways and customs "christianized" if not sacralized by Europe."

Father Ossana drew certain conclusions from the declaration of Rev. Zoa, Bishop of Yaoundeh . "We are the legitimate heirs of traditional African religion, "he said, "The value of traditional African religion, which has prepared African man, as much as any

other, to the advent of Jesus Christ, may be likened to that of the Old Testament."

Within this perspective, thanks to the relativization of rationalism of the Greco-Roman mold, which has not ceased to impoverish itself since the Renaissance to the point of

positivism all the while claiming to be alone possible, the theologies of hope and the theologies of liberation are today recovering the message - always present- of Joachim of Flora and Thomas Munzer, and allowing for a rethinking of Marxism itself.

Nothing is more absurd, for instance, than to define Marxism as either economic or historical determinism. Before such interpretations, Marx used to say: "If this is Marxism, I, Marx, am not a Marxist."

If indeed determinism is sovereign, if we are "puppets placed on stage by structures," what is the purpose then of preaching revolution ? Revolution is possible only insofar as man is capable of breaking away from his determinisms.

Transcendence, not determinism, is the postulate necessary for all revolutionary thought.

In Latin America and Africa this revival erupted after Medellin in 1968 with the development of "base communities", as reflected in Don Fragoso's experience in Evangile et revolution sociale ("Gospel and Social Révolution") and the Liberation Theology of Father Guttierez — born in the human soil of these communities in 1971; like the Jesus Christ Liberator of Father Boff in 1972 and The Spiral of Violence of Dom Helder in 1970.

This movement of base communities and liberation theology is exemplary, as much for its methodology as for its critique, the prospects it opens for political and social creation,  for faith or militant theology.

From the viewpoint of method we are provided with an example of the enormous, and necessary, inversion of theological reflection. Instead of claiming to deduce from the texts of the Gospel - or of the Qur'an — either a "policy drawn from Holy Scripture" in the manner of Bossuet or a "social doctrine", one proceeds through induction in order to decipher the meaning of that light which emanates from God's will. Induction's point of

departure is the real historical situation lived by those for whom being poor means being nothing. As Jean Marc Ela of Cameroon says: "the damned of the earth force another reading of the Gospel" - just as they do of the Qur'an.

This reading "from below" renders more original, liberating the message of God by reaching back beyond traditional readings "from above"- meaning those of the powerful along with the traditions that give them comfort by attaching them to a past more meant to be preserved than constructed.

This method has made possible a new, critical  perspective on the world. For example, Don Helder Camara's denunication of the hypocrisy which regards as "violent" revolutionary violence, but feigns not to see the structural violence of injustices which engender it in the first place, or the repressive violence bent on stifling the struggle against the original violence.

In this "Liberation Theology", Father Gustavo Guttierez links liberation, as it were, to three inseparable levels: 1/political liberation, 2// the liberation of man in the course of history, and 3//liberation from sin.

The very principle of liberation is recapitulated in this manner by Don Fragoso in "Gospel and Social Revolution." "The struggle for justice," he says, "is also the struggle for the

Kingdom of God."

This indissoluble link between man's liberation from all forms of oppression and exploitation and the liberating call of the Kingdom of God is no longer today a matter of choice, but of survival.

As strange as it may appear to our so-called "realists", deaf and blind as they are to reality, the future battle will be won in the minds and hearts of men.

Rebirth in every single life - the true "renaissance" of our age - can only be the fruit of this conversion to the creative life, this "rising" of a generation of men resolved to

climb out of the trough of a veiled obscurity of given "facts", as disgorged by the sensible and "rational"; a generation of men no longer believing that the real is reducible to the so-called "given facts" of the senses or to immutable, technocratic reason, but resolved to live in poetry through the cooperative life of the creative imagination. And this with respect to actions performed in every sphere, anywhere from culture to politics, from the economy to faith.

But this is nothing less than a declaration of war against the "computanthropoid". That is, those who believe that thought is a function of the brain and who liken the human brain to a computer, forgetting that what is proper for man is to pose ultimate questions, above all those which pertain to "why" and to ends.

These late heirs of the scientistic clericalism of the 19th century merely replaced Laplace's mechanism with cybernetics.

The technocratic computanthropoid who never queries about final ends places the powers of a giant-those procured from the atom or through gene manipulation - in the service of the

impulses of an animal whose instincts have been perverted. The computanthropoid is the latest avatar of pithecanthropine man.

The computanthropoid is never as dangerous as when he talks about the future and when seeking to tamper with it through education and the media.

It is important to fight him so the twentieth century will not end in an apocalypse.

Prospecting is not "predicting" a pre-existing future similar to America, which existed before Christopher Columbus had arrived there. The future cannot be discovered, but invented.

This means that the object of prospecting is not to extrapolate from the present and the past in order to describe "what will happen", without taking into account both the creative initiatives of man and the unqualified future yet to emerge therefrom. The object of prospection is to deploy in advance the possible consequences of this or that decision.  The essential problem is to avail ourselves of the entire range of possible futures, depending on the nature of our involvement.

This is the exact opposite of positivistic "futurology" done in the manner of the Hermann Kahns, Daniel Bells and Alvin Toffler. What I mean by positivistic is a conception of the

world without man, one which is content with (largely technologica1) extrapolations on the basis of the present and the past without distancing itself with respect to the established order. It thus postulates, without saying as much, the perpetuity of the dominant system. It "foresees" no changes save in terms of quantitative growth within the current model. This false, non-human future is but the perpetuation of the present on a much larger scale.

Such a positivistic "futurology" in fact leads to preventive war against the future. It is a project for the coIonialization of the future by the present and the past, aiming to perpetuate the present system merely by helping it avoid the most awesome consequences of its gigantism. It does this without imagining for one instant that men may decide to break away in radical fashion from the drift toward planetary suicide.

From this same dehumanized conception of man have arisen public surveys. They are not a means of informing public opinion, but of manipulating it.

This same deleterious postulate inspires the subhuman "pedagogy" where the test (christened "knowledge control") consists of the student marking off from among several choices the "correct" answer to a problem. By its very nature, this system precludes both offering a different formulation of the question and providing an original response to it. It is really "forgetting" what is specifically human in man: to pose new questions and to supply original answers.

When used to dull people's intelligence, television takes over by conceiving along the same principles its own "game" and by posing an absurd question: "Can the computer replace man ?"

Of course. Every time man's questions must be answered. But man alone poses the human questions as to the "why", the goal and the meaning.

This is why "strategists", from the Vietnam war to the revolution in Iran, have erred invariably in all their computer prognostications. "Faith" cannot be fed into electronic

circuitry !

This acknowledgement of the role of faith in politics and in the construction of the future in no way implies a kind of coalition of the world against humanism which, rejecting all religion, proclaims itself atheistic. What is important is not what a man says of his faith but what that faith makes of him.

We can therefore respond to the challenge of our times and build together:

- new models of growth: no longer chaotic economic growth, but the growth of man and of the spirit which God has breathed into him;

- new cultural models bringing culture closer to its real mission: that is, reflecting on the meaning and ends of life and inventing a future with a human face;

- new models of communication where the press, radio and television no longer give  priority to the sensational or criminal, to violence and sex as if these perversions and

their exploitation constitute the essential chacacteristics of man today. Playing not a

disintegrative role in relation to man but, on the contrary, one which favours his fulfilment, these media would disseminate information with the aim of stimulating the creative effort of everyone - that is, anything in the process of being born or developed, all which rarely appears in our newspapers and on our screens, but which lives among millions of men and women who are building real history through sacrifice, love, imagination, search and beauty.

So we shall be pillars in the creation of a new world order built on new foundations, no longer those of positivism, individualism or despair, but transcendence and community.

Roger Garaudy

Welt und Wirklichkeit im Wandel der Zeit
Hannover / Hanovre

21 - 27 Mai 1988

Meaning of Life

and Dialogue of Culture
Roger Garaudy

Copyright: Stiftung Niedersachsen

Redemanuskript. Es gilt das gesprochene Wort.

This text is available in French language in a long version (PDF) : « PDF FILE SENS DE LA VIE ET DIALOGUE DES CULTURES ». Ask it to me with the contact form (left column of the blog).
Ce texte peut vous être envoyé sur demande dans une version un peu plus longue et en français. Utilisez le formulaire de contact en précisant : « FICHIER PDF SENS DE LA VIE ET DIALOGUE DES CULTURES ».