I gotta have my orange juice.

Jesu, Juva

Catastrophe

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Gentlemen, wherever you come in touch with catastrophe, with violent change: fire, earthquake, storm, hurricanes, war, revolution, . . . there the whole of creation and the whole of human society is at stake. And therefore you decide . . . whether you have attachment to the whole of the problem of life, or whether you have singled out yourself a little private religion, . . . a minority religion. That wouldn’t be a world religion. The problem of your belonging . . . is always to be decided, either all men and the whole world or my little world and my little group against the whole world. That is, whether the Russians say they are only interested in Russians, or whether the Americans say they are only interested in Americans, . . . this is always a pseudo-religion, because it decides [that] one man’s poison is the other man’s meat. . . .

Gentlemen, [this sphere of life] always poses the question: is my enemy and myself under the same god, or is my happiness the other man’s unhappiness and vice versa? If you cannot see that it is more important what to Russia and we are now undergoing together than what keeps us apart, then you have no religion. The purely secular statesman says, “I am only interested in weakening the Russians.” If he had one grain of religion, he would know that no secular statesman must ever be allowed to be just secular or to follow his secular policy out, because the Russians and we have something bigger in common. Isn’t that true? This is the question between secular and religious, gentlemen, in [this] sphere. . . .

Perhaps you take this down. It’s quite important. It’s unknown today. The secular mind sees in any catastrophe only the separate interests of those who benefit and those who suffer. The religious mind sees in the suffering itself the great problem: all suffer, or all benefit. So [this sphere of life] poses the problem of the solidarity of the whole human race and the unity of the whole universe. According to your decision in the experience of a catastrophe, gentlemen, you become a pagan or a believer in the living God. Paganism means to answer . . . by a division of loyalty, by a division of interests. If you are a pagan, you say, “What’s good for Rome must be bad for Carthage. Therefore I rejoice that the gods of Rome . . . are favoring us, . . . and the gods of Carthage are weak.” That’s paganism. Now the same is true of capitalism and labor. If labor rejoices because capitalism doesn’t reap any dividends, you see, it’s pagan. If it can see that the golden goose cannot be slaughtered, that the Port of New York must not decay because otherwise there is no longshore union which can benefit by a contract any more, because the exports and imports no longer touch the Port of New York, then you have Christianity, or religion, you see. Can you see? It’s very simple. The secular mind, gentlemen, meets an emergency with its partial interest. The religious mind is forced by the catastrophe to change its own mind. . . . You can take it down this way. The secular mind is that mind which must be changed by catastrophe, or out goes that purpose which the secular mind has tried to defend. There are, of course, idiots who do not want to see the common interest, and prolong the agony. And they are the real devils. . . .

Gentlemen, how do we realize catastrophe? This is a question of all questions. It’s the question of the prophets. It’s the question of Christianity. It’s the question of paganism. The pagan does not want to realize emergency. He wants to deprecate it. And he wants to say, “It won’t be that bad.” That’s your attitude. The Jew, the prophetic Jew, the messianic Jew, that is, the believing Jew has brought into the world the tremendous power of sensing catastrophe, far ahead, of saying, “It smells fishy. This order of things has to go. It won’t last.” And gentlemen, the middle attitude, the Christian attitude is not to sense it in general, but to determine the hour in which we must let go. The Jew has no country of his own for the last 2,000 years, as you know. He didn’t have it in Babylon. That is, the Jew has discarded loyalties in anxiousness to meet the next catastrophe, to be free when the prophetic voice sounds, you see. So the Jew has less loyalties than he could have. The pagan has more than is good for him. The Christian tries to sacrifice the loyalty that has to go now and to persuade his pagan confrères, with whom he is in the same boat, to let go. That is, the Jew is in general disloyal to the order that it is now, because he says, “Somebody has to prepare the future.” The pagans tries to forget the emergency. The Christian tries to persuade or to preach or to enact himself that sacrifice that at this moment is necessary for meeting the emergency.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Comparative Religion, 1954

Written by Scott Moonen

January 10, 2020 at 12:39 pm

Posted in Quotations

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