2 février 2017

Faith and revolution. 4/4 The premiss of openness. Roger Garaudy, 1973


IV/ The premiss of openness

I come now to my third and final premiss. To affirm transcendence is
to affirm that man is able to free himself from existing nature by the
continuous re-creation of that nature. To affirm relativity is to affirm
that man is able to liberate himself from existing social structures and
the alienations inherent in them by a revolutionary action which creates
new possibilities. These two premisses seem to me to rest in the last
analysis on a third, that of openness. I could also call it the eschatological
premiss, following on the utopian and the prophetie, or again,
if you like, the premiss of hope.
It was this essential premiss of ail revolutionary action which inspired
young people in 1968 to write bravely on the walls of the old Sorbonne :
'Be reasonable ! Ask for the impossible !' The sight of that old centre
of learning made it clear to them perhaps that there is nothing more
irrational than an unadventurous mind, a positivist attitude which will
not venture beyond the limits of the given, beyond the established order
of things. Here is where faith and revolution can link up again after
centuries of antagonism. When Christian eschatology lost its vigour,
when it ceased to be a ferment in history and retreated into the ghettos
of heaven or eternity, revolutionary hope took over the baton from
Christian hope. It is a historic fact that it took Marxism to remind
Christians that the future of the earth was their business. When theology
degenerates into a theodicy whose only concern is to justify or absolve
God in respect of the confusions of history ; when it is content to explain
the world instead of changing it ; when the joyful news of the Gospel
is presented as a ready-made truth rather than as a task to be accomplished;
when the history of salvation ceases to be a programme of
emancipation — then, as Jurgen Moltmann has so well shown, we find
side by side and in quite unnecessary opposition, to quote him, 'a
Christianity without hope in history' and 'a hope in history without
Christianity'. The premiss of hope, which makes it possible to bring
together and perhaps to hold together the two ends of the chain, may
perhaps be formulated thus : man is a task to be accomplished and
society, too, is a task to be accomplished.

Faith in the resurrection
This premiss may perhaps be identified with the very foundation of
faith, namely, faith in the resurrection of Christ. I apologize for venturing
to broach such a problem in the presence of so many theologians
but at least there are enough of you to correct me if I say foolish things,
which is more than likely. I would like simply to reflect on what faith
in the resurrection of Christ might imply for revolutionary action.
The historical element in the resurrection event, that which is unchallengeably
historical, is the faith of the first Christians in the resurrection.
What is quite clear is that a certain experience — even if we cannot say
precisely what it was — irrupted into their lives, transforming them as
persons and changing the course of history. The historic threshold they
then crossed may perhaps roughly be described by saying that they left
behind them a freedom which up to then had been interpreted in Greek
and Roman thinking as an awareness of necessity and moved forward
to a freedom understood as participation in a creative activity. To show
how great a step this was, compare two texts separated by less than a
century : one by the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, the other by
the Christian writer Lactantius. Aurelius says : 'Consider the past !
How many revolutions, how many empires ! Look also at the future
and what you see will be the same. What will happen in the future will
be in the same key and in the same rhythm as what happens today. It
makes no difference therefore whether you are a spectator of human
life for only forty years or for ten thousand years, for what more would
you achieve ?' Compare that with what Lactantius says in his Divinae
Institutiones : 'The arguments adduced by the Stoics to demonstrate the
divinity of the heavenly bodies actually prove the contrary. If they
argue that they are gods because they are regular and rational in their
movement, they are wrong because the very fact that they are unable to
depart from their fixed orbits proves that they are not gods. If they
were really gods they would be seen moving as they please here and there
just like living beings here on earth who go where they please because
their wills are free.'
Here are two texts which seem in direct antithesis to each other and
which mark the turning point in history produced by the irruption of
this new Christian experience. On the one hand, history is condemned
to an eternal cycle, is seen merely as an apparent development of what
is really an immobile eternity, with man as simply a spectator who looks
on while life and the world follow their deceptive course. On the other,
God and men are the lawbreakers, the barrier crossers, the great mark
of their divinity being the power of their freedom of will whereby they
are able at any moment to create a new and unpredictable order. The
chance to observe a turning point of such magnitude has rarely been
offered in human history. Thereafter, it has of course been possible
to challenge this or that detail in the life of Christ or in early Christian
history. But one thing is certain, this radical change has taken place in
human life. The fundamental and indubitable historical fact is that a
new attitude to nature, history and human relations has been introduced.
Hegel, I believe, showed in his Philosophy of History a profound
grasp of this decisive moment of history when he discerned in Christianity
the source of every vision of the world which acknowledges in
man his active interiority, and which makes man the mainspring in the
evolution of reality.
The first Christians, especially the writers who composed the Gospels
in the language and culture of their times, related every narrative, every
par able, every image, to the primary obligation to announce to us this
liberating good news : ail things are possible. It is in this light that the
resurrection takes on its full significance. Christ came, breaking through
ail our bounds. Even death, the ultimate bound set to our life, even
death itself has been mastered. This resurrection is not a miracle comparable
to, say, the raising of Lazarus. It would have been absurd for
Christ to have risen from the dead only to return to a life which once
again would end in death. That would have been no real conquest of
death but only a temporary respite. Christ's resurrection is obviously
not a return to mortal life. Neither is it a scientific fact in the sense in
which positivists understand those. If ail that was involved was an
instance of cellular regeneration, nobody's life would be disturbed by it
any more than by any other chemical reaction. Nor again is it a historical
fact if by historical we mean that which can be ascertained and tested by
material évidence or eye-witness accounts. We know of Christ's resurrection
only through the faith of his disciples in that resurrection and
not by the direct evidence of the senses.

An unprovable assurance
Here, I believe, is the key to the problem. Father Cardonnel puts it in a
way which seems to me eminently just : 'The general resurrection of the
dead has no guarantee outside the faith which I display in it, in the
general sense that the only proof of faith is faith itself.' Does this
diminish the importance of the resurrection ? On the contrary, it seems
to me to magnify it. Would the resurrection have any meaning at all
if it depended on a laboratory analysis, or a notary's affidavit certifying
that the tomb was empty, or on testimony given under oath by someone
like Thomas who had actually put his finger in the wounds — which in
any case the real Thomas did not do for he had faith before stretching
forth his hand ? If this kind of proof convinced anyone, it would hardly
make him a believer. It would simply make him a superstitious atheist
who regarded Christ as some sort of magician with the power to violate
the laws of nature. This is why it is essential to insist that the risen
Jesus is grasped by faith and not by the senses.
What is it, then, which gives birth to this assurance? Here again I
believe — more firmly than I used to since reading the books of
Fr Xavier Léon-Dufour and Fr Martelet who in their different ways
both point in this direction — that the resurrection is the reversal of
history's normal momentum. It is the decisive declaration of what
Teilhard de Chardin called 'anti-entropy' (néguentropié), a force which
could enter the structures of human life and give man the possibility of
swimming against those disastrous currents in history with which
I began.
We shall never be able fully and finally to think through the nature of
this assurance. By definition, like ail that is most important in life, it
escapes conceptualization. How could I prove to you that a picture is
beautiful ? Allow me to mention here a personal experience which has
much to say about the problem of faith. I once gave a lecture on a
picture by Poussin, Phociorfs Funeral. I explained at considerable
length why it impressed me as a masterpiece. Afterwards, an old lady
came up to me and said : 'Would you care to see a Poussin picture which
you have never yet seen because it is in my personal collection ?' I went
to her house to see it. It turned out to be indeed a fine pièce of painting,
but when I had studied it long and hard I made myself an enemy for
life by saying : 'Madam, this is a remarkable picture but it is not by
Poussin.' A remark which can hardly please a collector ! I went on :
'Please don't worry, I'm not an expert. You may well prefer to ignore
what I am saying. But this picture strikes me as being perhaps by
Stellar, or Ducasse, Poussin's brother-in-law, but certainly not by
Poussin himself. It is altogether too typically Poussin.' Every single
one of Poussin's tricks was there, put in with a sure touch and a marvellous
eye. Yet what was missing was precisely what makes a Poussin.
So I took my leave, sad in myself, almost as sad as I had left the disillusioned
owner. For I realized that basically everything I had said about
Phocion’s Funeral could have been said about this picture too. I had
said all there was to say except the heart of the matter.
There will always come a moment when concepts fail and myth must
take over, or at least some more direct intuition. A horse can be brought
to the water but it must be he who drinks. So too with faith, as with
love. You can list ail your reasons for loving one particular woman,
but at the end you will still have left the crucial thing unsaid. When
you have listed ail your reasons for believing you will have left unsaid
the crucial thing which is precisely the decision that can never be fully
grasped by conceptual thinking. Myth, content to do no more than
point, is much superior to concepts, but that is another story.
If we are, then, to use concepts to talk about a reality which by definition
they cannot fully grasp, i.e. the resurrection, it will be essential in doing
so to move beyond our own familiar cultural context. We must learn
to think in other than the Greek categories of dualism and individualism
which are totally foreign to biblical thought.
The dualism of soul and body, and thus the myth — here in the pejorative
sense — of the immortality of the soul to which such dualism gives
rise, is a Platonic notion which has nothing to do with Christianity nor
with the Bible. I have been told that Hebrew has no word for the body
as apart from the mind or spirit which enlivens it. There is simply a
being which is inspired by God and then one which is not. The body is
not one part of man, the soul another. That is to import a Greek
notion, aggravated by the more recent Cartesian, mechanistic approach
for which the body is no more than physical matter. What then would
be the purpose of the incarnation? No, in the biblical tradition the
body is the whole man made visible in his outward gestures. There is
absolutely no sense in supposing that when Christ died he left his body
in the cloakroom, to be called for three days later. What could he have
done with it afterwards ? What good would it have been to him in his
Lordship of history — which is after all the heart of the faith in him
that we are invited to share ?
The second illusion we must do away with, no less characteristic of our
Western culture since the Renaissance, is individualism. Here dialogue
with the great Eastern civilizations may help us. For the path along
which they point us is that of liberation from the illusion that we are
each imprisoned in the confines of our skin. The deepest level of my
existence, the principle of my being and my becoming, is not what I
possess, nor my family inheritance, nor the story of my experiences, my
belongings, my wealth and my abilities. It is rather that which dwells
and develops in me, that which transcends me from the surrounding
world, from the culture, in the widest sense of that term, that gives me
life. As the wisdom of the East teaches us, I can only reach that depth
by divesting and depriving myself of personal possessions. Only by way
of renunciation can I attain the purity and the authenticity of the love
which dwells in me, and which has about it nothing individualist and
thus — as Christ has shown — nothing mortal. Death cannot rob one
who has thrown off ail that made him a particular individual. Only
then can we live the life of ail things and live eternally in the way that
Christ has shown in his resurrection.
He certainly lived his personal, individual life to the full, precisely in
order to show that this had meaning only in a higher life, but one which
can in turn only be realized in and through the individual. It is the
resurrection which shows this forth. As Fr Dufour has written, if I
wish to speak to Jesus as to an individual person I can only do so to
the pre-Easter Jesus. In other words, it is by his life that he has inaugurated
a new type of existence. He performed the madcap feat of smashing
the machinery of a world geared to the hunger for power and possessions.
Just as I cannot sit down and say : I am going to write a poem, but
must wait for the moment that brings a surge of poetic creativity, of
which neither I nor anyone else can be master, so with the resurrection
something indefinable happened, something broke into the lives of the
first disciples and into our history, where it continues to make itself
felt. But I cannot grasp it any more than I can grasp God as 'a being'.
To use a noun for God is almost always to start looking for the substance
behind the substantive and so to confuse oneself. For me God
is to be experienced as an act, not as something I can define. If he were
a being other than me, if I return to the old notion of transcendence as
spatially distant, then we should be stripped of some of our responsibility
for our own history, whereas what is liberating in faith is precisely
that it frees us to total responsibility for that history. It is not the lack
of définition that should worry us.

A new quality of this present life

This then is perhaps what eternal life means : not another life in time
or space but a new quality, a new density or intensity of this present
life when lived by the love I have mentioned, as the best and only way
to struggle against death. By his death — a real death, where he threw
off even any assurance or guarantee that could come from his parentage:
'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me ?' — Christ
showed that death need be no more than a threshold, akin perhaps to
the thresholds between inorganic and organic matter, or between life
and consciousness, the threshold between the illusion of individualism
and the unitive life of the entire universe.
I do not believe that this is a mere metaphor. I do not believe that
Christ lives in us as a Mozart devotee will say that Mozart lives in him
each time he listens to his music. This would still be the relationship
of one individual to another. It is quite different. It is a matter of
common participation not in some higher but still outer reality but in
the only real reality, that which is composed exclusively of human
initiative, human decision, human creativity.
Every liberating and creative act thus implies this premiss of the resurrection,
above all I would say the act of revolution. For to be a revolutionary
means to believe — my premiss ! — that life has meaning, a
meaning for all men. How could I speak of an encompassing goal for
mankind as a whole, of a meaning to be given to that history from which
millions of human beings have been shut out in the past, whose living
and dying as slaves or as soldiers seemed to have no meaning at ail?
How could I look to still more lives being sacrificed for the birth of this
new reality if I did not believe — whether I am aware of it or not —
that this new reality in fact already contains and furthers them ail?
In other words, either my vision of the socialism to come is an abstraction
by which a future chosen few may win out over the annihilation
of countless multitudes down the ages, or else my action, all my actions,
must be based on my faith in the resurrection from the dead. This is
the implicit premiss of all revolutionary action, indeed of ail creative
For the resurrection from the dead, no more than Christ's, is not the
affair of distinct individual beings. How could the resurrection of
Christ be that of a single ego ? If it is still today a summons to each of
us then this is because he was not raised for himself, as an individual,
but for ail of us, in ail of us and in order to take ail of us with him.
He does not save us from outside, as if giving us a present, but from
within, since it is our deciding which saves us. Have you noticed that
each of the actions that the Gospels présent as a miracle has this characteristic?
Christ never appears as a magician or wonder-worker acting
on men as if to transform them from outside. Everything happens in
the minds and wills of men. He doesn't say T have saved you' as one
might on fishing out a drowning man. He says 'Your faith has saved
you', which is rather different, and which reminds us that the entire
drama of God, without residue or exception, is played out in our
human lives.

V/ Conclusion

These then are to my mind the three premisses of hope, the premisses
of all revolutionary action and the evangelical premisses of the Bible.
No faith aware of these can be an opium of the people. Any blow
struck against such faith is a stroke against the revolution whose mainspring
it is. For revolution is not simply a plan of action worked out
by scientific means. It is also, indeed far more truly, the will to draw
up that plan or to be associated with it. The driving force of that fundamental
decision is no logical or experimental necessity but a pure act
of faith in what the world, by our efforts, can become. Faith frees
because it is not only, as Paul Ricoeur has so well said, an extra level of
meaning but above ail an extra level of action. That is why, it seems to
me, the revolutionary can welcome this faith in order to counter his
own under-development and to play his full part in creation.

Roger Garaudy

THE ECUMENICAL REVIEW – 1973 - JANUARY-  pages 59 to 79
 A lecture, transcribed from a recording, given at the Ecumenical Centre, Geneva, in
October 1972 on the occasion of an exhibition of books and journals in French (see
E c u m e n i c a l D i a r y , below). ROGER GARAUDY is Professor of Aesthetics in the University
of Poitiers, France. His books include F r o m A n a t h e m a to D i a l o g u e (English édition :
London, Collins and Co. and New York, Herder and Herder, 1966) and L ' A l t e r n a t i ve
(Paris, Robert Laffont, 1972). The lecture was translated from the French by the WCC
Language Service. The original is published in the Bulletin du Centre Protestant d'Etudes,
Geneva, 1973.