zondag 25 juli 2010

Beschouwen, genieten en verkondigen

In Traces van juni een interview met de Tunesisch-Frans-joodse filosoof en katholieke bekeerling Fabrice Hadjadj (39). Hieronder de tweede helft ervan:
Christ shows us the way we can truly relate to reality?

Yes, but the problem is that we have reduced all this to a series of rules. We forget that He invites us to contemplation. As I often say, we could reduce the commandments to two. The first, at the origin of Christianity, is in Christ’s invitation, “Look at the lilies of the field.” He does not simply say they are lilies, but says, “Look at them!” And He shows us how, by contemplating them, we are introduced into the mystery of providence. The second commandment, at the end of Christian life, consists in these words to the faithful servant: “Enter into the joy of your lord.” We are not masochists–the Cross is not an end in itself, it is for glory. We Christians are not looking for suffering, but for joy. God, living in joy, wanted to communicate it to all men. This is why He sent it down into our misery, nailing it to the Cross. At that point, the Cross became the way toward joy. Christianity is not at all morality and prohibitions–first and foremost it is wonder before things.

At the Rimini Meeting last year, you affirmed that it is this experience that lies at the root of every attempt to know reality…

It is what Aristotle said: the origin of philosophy is wonder. At times, wonder is linked to naivety, or even stupidity. In fact, when I am struck by wonder I may feel a little stupid. It does take a certain measure of humility to be wonderstruck. At the same time, though, it is the highest form of intelligence, because there my reason opens up to the mystery. I am picturing the open eyes of my daughter Ester, who asks herself the reason for everything. Many philosophers, like Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and even Martin Heidegger, have given room to this experience of wonder, while others have totally despised it.

That was the case with Descartes, to whom the first part of your book is dedicated.

According to him, “Cogito, ergo sum” [“I think, therefore I am”], but the first human disposition would then be doubt, the exact opposite of wonder. This interpretation has marked the whole of modernity. But, in fact, Descartes sets himself between these two positions. In his treatise, The Passions of the Soul, for example, he writes that man’s first affection is admiration. So, if we look carefully, even Descartes had to admit that what permits one to doubt reality is the fact of having admired it. It is precisely because I look for a meaning and a truth that I can subsequently doubt it. Without the former, even doubt would not be possible. Or think of the anguish in the face of death of which Heidegger speaks. It is often reduced to this, but in order to have that anguish, you must first have been struck by wonder before reality; without this experience before life, deprivation of it would not provoke any anguish.

So how is it that we are often tempted to halt this journey, stopping at the surface?

There is something that prevents us from truly knowing being: a reduction of the world to utility, to material that is to be manipulated. When we are prisoners of this practical concern, reality fades away; we abandon contemplation in favor of praxis, of action. Then a deformation tied up with our pride comes into play. There is in us an ingratitude that prevents us from acknowledging the Mystery. To acknowledge goodness outside ourselves means accepting that it is not up to us to judge things. If we have received life, then we are not masters of it.

From a certain point of view, though, we cannot do without practical concerns…

Certainly, praxis is necessary–we don’t live on air. The world itself needs what we do. But we must not forget where the root of our action lies and what its end is–contemplation. Think of how Eden is described in Genesis: “God caused to spring up from the soil every kind of tree, enticing to look at and good to eat.” First comes contemplation (“enticing to look at”), then action (“good to eat”). Then when the serpent invites the woman to taste the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, she sees that “it was good to eat and enticing to look at.” The order is reversed: sin begins with action, and moves on to contemplation–reduced to a kind of spectacle that helps us to digest–and then goes back to action. Life is lived in activism, and in disorder, because an action is ordered only if one starts off by considering reality and the needs of the heart. Whoever wants to act without this, as though he were a god and decides what is good and evil, may have the best intentions, but he becomes a destroyer. We don’t realize it, but the distortion is already there.

Where do you see this danger today?

Think, for example, of the fear of life. Life is no longer accepted as it is given; people try to transform it starting from an idea. Then, instead of welcoming a child, we make a product. Starting from a design of perfection, we reduce the being to its functions. Instead of perfection, we get a degradation of being to a utility. On the contrary, if I welcome the other who is given to me, I truly welcome the mystery of life. Life lies not in its practical performance, but in its enjoyment. In this way, I enter into the poet’s way of looking at things.

In this sense, in your book, the descriptions you make of your neighbor with his leather briefcase, waistcoat, and bowtie are moving. “Ah! Victor Franchon, with what tender astonishment must I look at you from now on… God is everywhere, but especially there, in the depths of your soul.”

Really, we do not need to move very much to reach the infinite. The other, even the most ordinary person, completely gray, is always an abyss. Chesterton, for example, said that the astounding thing is not that someone has this or that kind of nose, but that he has a nose. Even though the expulsion from Paradise changed our heart, obscuring the faculty of contemplation, this is a concrete experience that anyone who looks attentively can have.

So what does the encounter with Christ add to this dynamic of knowledge?

Take care here–Christ exalts it but not because He adds something. Every experience of the Mystery is an experience of Christ: since He is God, He is at the origin of everything. We are not always aware of it, but it is not an option that can be there or not. That is why I like it when Fr. Giussani writes that Christ’s teachings are nothing other than the “order of reality”–it’s not a question of adding anything. The point, perhaps, is bringing to fulfillment what already was. Like St. Paul, who, at the Areopagus, revealed what the Athenians had been worshipping without knowing it. This is the mission we are called to, in front of every “M. Franchon” we meet: to announce Him who has always been accompanying him.

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