The New Demons. Chapter 5: Secular Religions, Current Religious Attitudes
55 min read
55 min read
We must come to an understanding. What are we saying when we speak of religion? The remarkable thing is the constant oscillation between two convictions, of which the first is radically false but never avowed, while the second is a mere hypothesis treated as though it were an undisputed fact.
On the one hand, we witness the endless confusion between Christianity and religion. Modern “areligious Christianity” has not improved a thing. The fact is that, in times past, one expounded Christianity, for apologetic purposes, as the most advanced of all religions, as superior, as “the pinnacle of religions.” This was carried to the point of the conviction that Christianity was “the” religion. What conclusion does that lead to, now that the intellectuals are asserting vigorously that Christianity is the opposite of religion, that it is areligious? All it says is that modern man has ceased to be religious, since he is no longer Christian. The two go together. In a pinch it was acknowledged that man had known other religions, such as Islam, Judaism, and one now adds Buddhism. But we note that the great traditional religions are on the decline, at least in power and authenticity if not in membership (it is common knowledge that Islam is on the increase). That confirms us in our conviction. Once again, we must remember that every theory of modern areligious man is based solely on this assimilation of Christianity with religion.
The proof that Christianity is not a religion, that it is the very opposite to a religion, has become a leitmotif. The Bible teaches us that there is an irreducible opposition between God’s revelation about himself and man’s elaboration of religion to satisfy his own needs, his religious instinct. However that may be, it is sociologically interesting to observe that the very philosophers and theologians who maintain, on the one hand, that Christianity is not a religion declare, on the other hand, that modern man is not religious. Their one and only proof for this is that modern man is no longer Christian. So, in their subconscious, they are giving unswerving obedience to the basic Christianity/religion link.
Doubtless one knows very well that there are also other religions: the ancient pagan religions, now over and done with, the surviving African, Indian, and Melanesian religions but that seems of little importance, and the surviving ones are due to disappear. The fact of the matter is, as I wrote elsewhere, “We are faced with a sort of intellectual paralysis which prevents our escape from the former categories. The moment modern man ceases to be Christian without turning to Buddhism, he must be religionless.”
Contrary to this stance (which is certainly unconscious) there was another, the naturalist stance. This held that man is by nature a religious animal. The signs of this religious attitude on man’s part are evident historically from the very beginning. No nonreligious civilization has ever been known. Religion appears to be an expression of man’s nature, springing from the very depths of his being. For a long time, Christianity made use of this opinion or hypothesis as an apologetic argument (man a religious animal, Christianity the peak of religious evolution, therefore…).
Today that conviction has few adherents. One is disconcerted to see that this religious evolution is not continuing along traditional lines, and a lack of imagination fails to discern its appearance under new forms. But there is also a conformity to an overall change of outlook. We are no longer interested in Homo religiosus, nor even in Homo sapiens. Our interest, is, rather, in Homo faber. The moment we are no longer interested in Homo religiosus, as a result of sociological conditioning, Homo is no longer religiosus. In any event, it was merely a matter of an uncertain characterization changing with the changing mode.
While all this throws light on the convictions of modern intellectuals, it tells us nothing about what is meant when we pronounce the word “religion.” If we give up defining religion by the traditional content of the term, can we fall back on etymology? That would be to adopt too narrow and unsure a view. Actually, religious phenomena have been designated in different societies by terms whose etymologies do not refer to the same essential data. When we depend simply on the Latin word religio, there are, as is known, several possible etymologies (religare and relegere), with an assortment of meanings for each. So that is not the right course to take. As far as encyclopedic definitions go, that of Littre or that of Robert, they all lapse into a limited view of history. We could multiply definitions without accomplishing very much.
Do we have to be reminded of the controversy between Romain Rolland and Freud? For the former, the source of religiousness is “the sense of the infinite and of eternity”; while the latter declares that he never knew anything of the kind. Freud’s theses are well known. God, the heavenly and almighty Father (note that, like all the others, Freud falls into identifying religion with Christianity), is simply the projection, in fantasy, of a real father, answering to the desire of the child to be protected from danger and to have his anguish assuaged. With regard to the sense of the infinite, it is the sense of the almightiness of the I, and that is not the true source of religion. The latter is a consoling illusion which makes life possible and gives us an escape from its unhappiness. “The idea of giving life a goal exists only in terms of a religious system.” This goal of life is happiness.
In The Future of an Illusion, Freud does not go much beyond Feuerbach and Marx. He pursues, I think justifiably, not a definition of religion, except very superficially, but rather a determination of its usefulness to man. The theologians also come back to this functional definition. For example, religion is “the complex ensemble of operations aimed at reducing a distance between earth and heaven, time and eternity, the finite and the infinite, impurity and purity, the limited and the unlimited … operations of prayer, of sacrifice, of worship” (G. Crespy). “Religion appears the moment people accept the existence of forces or persons free of the limitations we experience: inadequacy, the shortness of life, localization in space, the agony of death. …”
All that is certainly correct, but it scarcely throws any light on the yes-or-no question whether or not modern man is areligious. Crespy will say, on the one hand, “In a certain sense religion is part of man’s nature (to the extent that he is a nature), for it is based upon the discovery of impotence, of a weakness, of an irremediable failure to be.” Yet he also writes, on the other hand, that “religion’s power is due to man’s weakness, to his lack, and the question is whether that lack if incidental or basic.” The mere fact of his putting the question shows that, for Crespy, the situation is not “irremediable,” and this is precisely the conviction of all who proclaim that modern man is no longer religious. He has no need to be, because his state of weakness is over and done with. He has become strong. He has taken his destiny into his own hands, thanks to science and technology.
I will confine myself to two observations on the subject. First, what we have in all this is a fairly simplistic and limited view of “religion.” Its functions are reduced to a schema which is difficult to accept. Afterward, without knowing where to look, one is going in search of the scientific-technical triumphalism, which declares that man’s weakness is over and done with-as though, to the contrary, we didn’t find ourselves plunged, thanks to science and technology, into difficulties, problems and agonies, and subject to stresses and maladjustments, which give triumphant man a sense of panic and helplessness in the presence of new fates which he himself has unleashed.
In order to try to understand the current situation, it appears necessary to go back to the traditional functions fulfilled by the recognized religions, with the forms and the mental attitudes adopted. Feuerbach had seen the situation correctly. Thus we can discern several factors. On the one hand, religion works on fear, on anguish, on finitude. It provides consolation, hope, and an ability to override limitations. Through religion man ceases to be limited. He no longer loses forever those who are dear to him. He is bound to them, and to his own life, by ties that do not depend on him, on his weakness. He receives a set of guarantees and securities.
These guarantees not only operate in connection with the present, but also in connection with the future. Every religion is both an attempt to influence the future and a prediction of what must take place. By reason of that knowledge, of those certitudes and consolations, religion is an inexhaustible movement (which one could call dialectical, if he so wished) of anguish and comfort.
But the comfort, in its turn, generates anguish, since the powers to which one appeals for comfort are never either completely known or fully mastered. So religion brings about another crisis, that of “responsibility.” The religious person feels himself vaguely responsible for tragedies and disasters. If he had been in full accord with the gods, nothing of the sort would have happened, since the gods are the very ones who protect from those dangers.
It has often been said in recent years that it was Christianity which weighed man down with the sense of sin and crushed him under the load of an unlimited responsibility. That is incredibly ridiculous, yet, alas, many Christians today accept it as a legitimate charge. Before Christianity ever entered the picture, there never was a joyful pagan, happy to be alive, completely naive, innocent and free from guilt. It is true that there have been a variety of religious points of view, but most of them are oppressive, and have man living in terror. As far as guilt is concerned, Christianity merely altered the content.
In another aspect, religion can be characterized by the creation of a global interpretation of the world and of life. There is no religion without an attempt at an explanation. This is not at all systematic in nature. It does not play an intellectual role. On this point there has frequently been misunderstanding. Whenever we are confronted with the famous three stages of man, in which science as an explanation of the world should replace religion, which is a less good explanation, the mistake is made of placing the two on the same plane. The global explanation, the schema, provided by religion does not have an intellectual purpose. It is to enable man to “get his bearings.” Man cannot live in an insane, illogical universe. Things have to make sense. This can be fictitious as long as some sense is there. Religion depicts a history, and supplies a view of the world whereby man can locate himself. Thanks to it, he has points of reference for living and acting.
Thus religion has an existential and pragmatic aim. That is why science as such, and to the extent that it really remains science, cannot take the place of religion, for it does not fulfill that function. It is at this point, of course, that religion links up with mythical thinking, expresses itself through it, and becomes rooted in it. Mythical thinking is part of the religious phenomenon generally considered.
Finally, we can add to this summary analysis the factor of ritual. The decisive importance of rites is well known: their realism, their meaning-hymns, prayers, liturgies, incense, vestments, sacrifices, lights. The purpose is to,establish communal ties and to relate man to the universe so that he can find his place in the human situation and can better assume it. Those relationships can be directed in richly varied ways. Specific types can be isolated (fertility, maintenance of the creation, duplication of the origin, etc.), but if, in their variety, we expose the rites as such, we find elements and objectives which are identical.
The anguish/comfort dialectic is usually referred to a more or less transcendent deity, and the same is true of myths and rites. Consequently, it can be said that the god is a very important element in religion, but he is not at all the decisive factor. Buddhism is certainly a religion, although Buddha is not a god. In other words, religion is an ensemble of inventions, languages, and practices corresponding to hitherto irrepressible human needs, and leading to a certain attitude.
One of the basic characteristics of this attitude is irrationality. The religious person doesn’t reason according to reason, but in nonrational ways. He interprets his life and events irrationally. He falls back on undemonstrated beliefs. He puts his trust in words, in persons, and does not confine himself to verifiable experience. He looks for “whys,” for the most part imaginary, and ‘ he creates “hows” in an unreal way. He remains imperturbable in the irrationality of his convictions, in spite of contrary proofs which have no effect upon him. He has more confidence in a global interpretive system than in the accumulation of sure proofs. He takes up a position in a fortress of assured, interrelated, and mutually reinforcing dogmas, rather than in the open field of uncertainties and research. That is his irrationality.
However, if we have grasped the fact that man’s religious imagination simply could not live in a universe with which it could not deal, and which was both incomprehensible and foreign to it, we can be sure that this irrationality was indispensable. Without it, religion could not have played its essential role. It could not remain uncertain, hazy, wavering. It had to provide certainties, and in that period of human history, it could only have been irrational.
That brings us to the question: in our day, when we are dealing with the universe concretely, are explaining a very large portion of its phenomena, are grasping the “how” of many events, does man’s religious drive, or religious need, have any substance, or any reason for existence? Does religion still have a role to play? Does man still have an anguish, and myths, which bring him to religion? We know that most theologians today answer No to those questions, but this is not an affair of theologians!
Quite obviously, religions are fulfilling the same functions as formerly. It is a case of a response to the loneliness severely felt by modern man, of a refuge from the panic and agonies of our situation in contemporary society, of compensating for science’s failure to resolve everything, of establishing artificial points of reference, because the natural ones have disappeared.
It is true that, logically, the progress of science and technology should have had the expected happy result, but in such matters logic doesn’t mean much! After an appearance of rationality, coupled with an obvious indifference to Christianity and heightened by the rationalism of , the nineteenth century, we have witnessed for a half century now a prodigious resurgence of religions. But they are no longer the same. In evaluating this, I see no need to examine whether the religious sense and need still exist, or whether there is a persistence of the religious in man. For me, that belongs to metaphysics or psychology. It seems to me lacking in certainty, dubious, and always open to dispute. I would rather confine myself to the observation of concrete, still observable phenomena.
There is another function of religion, too easily neglected today, which must not be forgotten. Religions have always peopled the world. Man found himself alone on earth. No animal came to his aid, answered him, or was like him; and woman was so quickly assimilated to him in a common situation that she no longer was the Other, with whom he might have endless, mysterious, and comprehensible dialogue to break the loneliness, the wandering, the unknown. Man found himself alone in the world, and he could not stand that situation. He had to have a vis-a-vis, a face-to-face, another, like himself and yet different-another to people this foreign and hostile nature-another to take him in and finally to provide validity and a possibility of peace, because he has finally been understood.
So religion peopled the world with gods and powers, with spirits and demons, with angels and with genii. These are mysteries, but they are accessible mysteries, whereby man need no longer be obscure to himself. Centaurs, satyrs, and fauns are not childish fables. Who is going to enable man to have dialogue with nature? Who will help him go beyond the visible, where his understanding lies? Didn’t he need a look from without to give him an understanding of himself? To these spirits, whom he welcomed, he made himself transparent. By peopling the world, they for their part made it transparent and similar to him.
From time to time, to be sure, thinkers in highly developed societies courageously rejected this new peopling. But immediately, as though by some invincible force, by some superhuman abhorrence, man was driven to re-deify that which had served to deny the gods, and the world around him ultimately repeopled itself. Except in the case of individuals, there is no instance in which human groups have not wanted, at any cost, to populate the world by someone other than man, someone who could make answer to a continuing discourse.
It is absolutely essential to understand that we are here in the presence of a need, of a necessity, which man cannot put down. If nature abhors a vacuum, man abhors nature’s vacuum even more. May we be spared the feeble explanation of anthropomorphism. We are far beyond that. Here is man in his new milieu, in our modern society, feeling alone all over again, and without a respondent. He directs at the empty sky a discourse without dialogue. He embraces things, which are never anything but objects. He is living anew the horror of silence and incompleteness. The “horizontal relationship” fails to satisfy him.
The stoic statement, that it is all a matter of helping others live, is good enough for some philosopher, but the ordinary person will say : “How about me? Who is going to help me live-the person next to me? What could he say to me that I don’t already know? He’s too much like myself. I know what I can expect of him, which is nothing different from what I could expect of myself . . . , unless indeed he’s a guru, a sorcerer, a fortune teller or a priest. A person like that would be in contact with the unknowable that I hesitate to name. He could be a mediator for me.”
Modern man in these grandiose cities, in these feverish exchanges, in the continual chatter of radio and television, knows the human wasteland perhaps as never before. The chatter has no more meaning for him than the swarming of insects or the chirping, on every note, of millions of birds in a tropical forest. The human wasteland of the big city or the highway is even more disquieting and oppressive because new questions without number come to the lips of modern man and arise in his heart. There is no one to give him an answer. How can he talk with a computer?
So, in this new solitude, which there is no need to describe after The Lonely Crowd, in this new confinement, man looks everywhere for someone who will tell him the truth, someone who will enter into a meaningful relationship. In so doing, he duplicates the old traditional movement. He has to people his wasteland with new genii and new superpowers, with mysterious beings from beyond the cosmos, from those otherworldly places which are the joy of science fiction, of Planete [a science fiction magazine], and now of pseudo-scientific studies. The situation is the same as at the beginning. The need is the same one our distant ancestors knew. It is the same specifically religious attitude, leading to similar, though not identical, explanations. The heavens studded with antennae and spewing smoke are the same whence comes our hope.
In the tumultuous ferment of the metropolis, man makes up for the absence of any serious relation with others by creating secret micro-groups of election and mystery, in which there is a sharing, a communion and exchange in secret and trembling, together with drugs and novel sex experiences, adoration, incense, and rituals. All this is in expectation of seeing the moment when the one who peoples this world will appear, who is ceaselessly invoked, who will speak.
Without the slightest intention of falling back on the idea that religion is inherent in man’s nature, without basing anything at all on a nature in man, we can at least note that religion has always fulfilled an essential function, and we can raise the question whether, in that case, it is not inexhaustibly renewed. Religion is not an “ideology” in the Marxist sense, nor is it a gratuitous and superficial activity. Since it is a collective expression and manifestation, it is obviously sociological, but to see it merely as a “historical stage of humanity” or as a “reflection-cloak-justification” of man’s actual condition is ‘ childish. Religion has the most profound and seemingly ineradicable roots in the very being of man. Experience shows it to be ineradicable, because the greatest attempts to destroy religion only result in a new religiousness.
Let us recall that Buddhism presents the most astonishing problem in this connection. There is a lot of easy talk nowadays of an “atheistic religion,” but it would indeed appear that Buddhism, in the beginning, was not a religion. It has to do with a meditation on life, and with the establishment of a norm of life, not only without reference to God, but also without any concession to religion–or rather, as Panikkar correctly put it: “The elimination of the name of God is for Buddha the religious step par excellence.” The remarkable thing is that, “while excluding the existence, the essence, the name and the reality of God, Jainism and Buddhism very soon become authentic religions.” The religionizing power is so strong that Christianity (which I am deeply convinced is antireligious) is finally engulfed and is progressively transformed into a religion. Then the movement of scientific rationalism, extended by Marxist, materialistic rationalism, winds up recreating the religious in the world. Religion even inserts itself into militant atheism. Marx, in his famous passage in German Ideology, longed to see the disappearance of atheism at the same time as that of religion. Moreover, it is common knowledge that, in his view, Voltaire’s anti-Christianity was nothing but a form of Religion.
I certainly am not prepared to say that man is forever bound to religion. Yet, up to the present, nothing permits us to say the opposite. To the contrary, everything tends to show that the mechanism of religious creation makes use of enormously multiple elements, and sometimes those which are the most antireligious.
But of course, religion is not an isolated phenomenon, a sort of object to be considered in itself (which it is when reduced to rituals, practices, and beliefs). It is bound up with the whole of a person’s life, a whole for which it sets out to provide meaning. To the extent that this life is inserted into the sacral world, religion appears, sociologically, as a “translation-betrayal” of the person’s participation in the sacred (if we grant the existence of an objective sacred), or of the person’s sacral experience (if we believe that the sacred exists only in the person).
The first order of facts concerns religious expressions (i.e., corresponding to the actuality of religion) of a more or less spontaneous kind. We shall limit ourselves to an enumeration of the patent signs, without getting into the study which each of these indications would merit.
To take the most external, there are, for example, in the neighborhood of three thousand soothsayers, fakirs, fortune tellers, etc., in Paris.s Each has a clientele of one hundred and fifty persons at the least. That means that there are four hundred and fifty thousand adult Parisians, and probably a lot more, who consult fortunetellers. Obviously, that is not indicative of the whole of their lives, but when a religious pagan consulted the Pythian oracle, that was not an act of his whole life either. The two are the same. Similarly, in all the newspapers it is the daily horoscope which is the most read. All the newspaper polls give the same result. They indicate that at least ten million French people follow the horoscopes. After a broadcast on extraterrestrial phenomena in September 1972, thousands of telephone calls came into the television station.
The purchase of amulets is also very significant, the more so since these can have no value as secret power in view of their mass production. The statuette of a Hindu goddess, mass produced in France, has no supernatural power. Yet a great many people buy it (by mail order) and express their satisfaction with it. The directress of the enterprise tells (on television) that she sells for one hundred twenty francs an object which costs her twenty francs. The result is a gross of a billion a year. In the face of such figures, we have to acknowledge that this is no small matter. It is a superstition involving several million French!
As Caillois rightly observes, there always was a department in the large stores where statues of the Virgin and pious medals were sold. Now it is medals with signs of the zodiac (but St. Christopher continues to have the usual success in spite of his obvious ineffectiveness on the highway). The superstitious element of religion has shifted toward astrology, palmistry, talismans, etc., according to Caillois; but I think there is no religion without superstition, and the latter always remains one of the outward signs of the religious mentality.
The incredible success of the Planete movement is of the same kind. Here we are on a higher level intellectually. But what is significant is the entrance into the mysterious, and the desire to proceed to a synthesis between the scientific and the “spiritual” transplanetary phenomena, spirits, metapsychism, survival, etc. We find in Planete all the themes of the most ancient religious superstitions. Here we have a mass phenomenon involving hundreds of thousands of readers who are not part of the pop audience. The people who enthuse over Planete are not the mentally retarded, but administrators and semi-intellectuals. It can be said that Planete is the exact complement of the most simplistic forms, but for a different public, one that is more cultivated, more inquiring and demanding. These are diverse lines expressing the religious search and preoccupation.
This is shown also in the success of religious bookstores. It is noteworthy that very successful publishers are bringing out collections like “The Enigmas of the Universe,” in which are displayed, at an absurdly low intellectual level, The Gods Who Flee Heaven and Earth, The Presence of Extraterrestrial Beings, and the incredible Age of Aquarius (by J. Sendy), which testify to the credulity, the blindness, the shoddy religiosity of the cultivated French reader.
This thirst for reading about the “strange,” having the twofold aspect of the appearance of rationality and science coupled with credulity, is growing rapidly. There are in France about ten collections put out by serious publishers which have an enthusiastic public following, beginning with the too-familiar Morning of the Magicians (350,000 copies). One calmly announces the arrival of the civilization of immortality, thus linking up with the most central of religious beliefs. Manuals of magic are proliferating, together with the study of the third eye, books on reincarnation, on philosophers’ stones or abodes. It is in fact a resurgence of the lowest superstitions of the religious phenomenon. As Caillois so well puts it: “Saint Christopher and the horseshoe are giving way to flying saucers and magicians.” But all is camouflaged under a science which is an optical illusion.
In the same order of phenomena is the enthusiasm of intellectuals for films of diabolism, vampirism, and magic. Polanski is the most striking example. Of course, in the beginning it’s a question of pulling one’s leg. The first films of vampirism are noteworthy. By reason of their irony and their objective stance, they make it respectable for intellectuals to come and go along with their belief. One isn’t really believing in it, because one is making fun of it. One is strong enough minded. One means only to take part in the show, not really to be headed in that direction. Still, at bottom, there’s a tiny quaver of belief. Then progressively one drifts to the point of Rosemary’s Baby, in which it is certainly not a matter of jest and objectivity. The diabolism is the very reason for the success of the film. The public is eager for this mystery, this communion with the devil.
The great skill of the producer is to be able to present a medieval devil acting in the context of a technological, rational, and scientific society. The combination is the same as in Planete. It corresponds to modern man’s religious conviction of a presence which cannot be acknowledged, of a personalized power at the heart of our world, a world which is the most modern and seemingly the most enlightened. The devil’s disciples have become numerous again in our day.
“Mystery” is more than ever fashionable in this rational, scientific world. It is that trend which explains, on the one hand, the success of scientific books offering an answer to the “enigmas” which the religious person has always encountered, and the success of Christian books, on the other hand.
The first of these facts is attested by the success of J. Monod’s book: Chance and Necessity. It is the religious question pure and simple, anxiety in the face of life and death, meaning, etc., which has driven the throng to this book. They are in search of an answer from the doctor, the scientist, the magician, in whom one can have faith (for there is no question of understanding the vast scientific labor which underlies the thinking). It is a faith in the revealing word of the One Who Knows, a strictly religious attitude. There is no difference between the readers of Monod and the disciples of any guru.
The second fact, the success of Christian books, culminated in the vogue of Teilhard de Chardin. Yet it is the more striking in view of the success of books claiming to be theological, like Honest to God, or The Secular City. Those books have a wide sale in France as well. One gets the impression that dechristianization is itself in doubt. We shall have to come back to that. The fact is that here again we have a sign of modern man’s impassioned interest in everything religious (provided only it is not expressed in terms which have been dead for one or two hundred years). It is a basic curiosity, together with a waiting for the one who will finally speak the word of our destiny.
In this religious renaissance, to be sure, the hippie movement cannot be overlooked. Renaissance? Or is this, rather, an obscure progress exploding visibly into the open? The hippie phenomena are not a sudden eruption. We have been witnessing, at least since 1930, youth movements exhibiting the same characteristics. But hippie-ism, in its various forms, carries all the religious tendencies to their extreme. It isn’t a question, at this point, of describing the hippie phenomenon, but merely of recalling certain of its religious aspects.
How deny that all the following characteristics stem from a religious attitude: the rejection of the rational in order to plunge immediately into a spiritual experience, the search for community and fraternity, the ideal of communion and of nonviolence, the active will to change human life from a spiritual point of view, the return to nature and to the “natural” life, the rejection of an enslaving occupation and of everything that degrades man, the denial that life is meaningless and that it is limited to comfort and living standards? This is all the more true as the religious becomes explicit through the frequent wearing of religious emblems (many hippies wear a crucifix around the neck) and through expressed loyalty to some classic religious tendency such as Zen Buddhism. Surely it can be said that “complete” hippies are not so numerous, and that one swallow doesn’t make a spring. That is true. But the young people of the West who are won over, entirely or in part, to the hippie ideal of life are innumerable.
Here again we have the specifically religious. At the core are a relatively small number of conscious believers, who believe by choice and are deeply committed. Then there is the large crowd of imitative believers, who take up with the rituals without knowing much more about it than that, imitating the lifestyles and repeating the formulas. Now that is exactly what we observe with the hippies. The great number (30 percent of western youth?) with long hair, smoking hashish, runaways, conscientious objectors against society- these are the faithful faithless of the religion. They commit themselves to that path through religious need.
But the hippie phenomenon cannot be dissociated from drugs and pop music. I know, of course, that a great many hippies do not use drugs, or more exactly, they no longer do so. The better part give that up the moment they find a higher religious expression, so that they no longer need that recourse, for drugs are, above all, a religious adventure. One could search for hundreds of explanations. There certainly are a variety of motivations, but the heart of the problem is religious need. In a society which no longer offers any outcome to the collective search for meaning, which is oppressive and technicized, one in which mystery and the irrational are pursued, drugs are the great means of recovering human communion. Constant upheaval, technology, and the flood of news make any irrational experience impossible and eliminate any chance for meditation and escape. Such is the central secret of the spread of drugs. All the rest either is derived from that need or is secondary. Among the several factors, the religious need is the one which is recognized by all those specialized in the study of drugs. It is indicated by the achievement of ecstasy, the search for communion, transition into the world of the beyond, etc.
The two principal factors are the following: for certain addicts (marijuana) there is the element of communion. One doesn’t smoke alone. The mere act of passing the cigarette from hand to hand is more important than the drug itself. It brings the desired “effect” with only tiny doses whenever the communal factor is working in the group. On the other hand, drugs create mental states and experiences comparable to those described by the mystics-an artificial paradise, ecstasies, visions, confusion of the senses, way-out music. But we mustn’t overlook a third factor: the sect. Drug users constitute a sect whose members have their signs of mutual recognition and are deeply loyal. They live in their “holy” world in scorn of the uninitiated.
At all three of the foregoing levels, the use of drugs ends in phenomena closely allied to classic religious phenomena. The spread of the drug habit expresses the need to have those experiences. It fills in for a lack of the religious in our society, or at least for the lack of a satisfying religion which would be sufficiently strong and unanimous.
Along that line, we find gatherings of young people at “pop festivals. ” There it is a case both of mystic paroxysm and of collective ritual. The gatherings at Monterey, the Isle of Wight, Amougies, and Woodstock are the exact equivalent of orgiastic religious festivals. Pop music itself is of such power as to evoke the entire subconscious and to create the religious. There again, the attraction, music-drugs-togetherness, works only because there is a higher aim and a more basic need, namely, to escape the materialistic, monetary, low world, weighed down with daily preoccupations and expediencies, and to enter the world of the cost-free and the gracious, the world of freedom and love, the world of the unencumbered. That is exactly what all religions have always done in all societies. For each individual, it is at the same time a matter of getting beyond the self.
The orgiastic delirium also expresses itself in violence. We all know, obviously, the close link between religion and violence. The psychological reasons for this have been a matter of question. The fact is that religion, characterized by a vibrant and explosive faith, goes together with violence. This is true whether, on the one hand, the religions involve sacrifices, the human sacrifices of Behanzin or of the Aztecs, the herem, the wiping out of unbelievers, the burning of witches, and the clubs of the hermits of Alexandria, or whether, on the other hand, they involve self-mutilation, flagellation, the acceptance of martyrdom, inward violence (like priestly celibacy, the perinde ac cadaver [”just like a corpse”]), or outward violence. I don’t mean, of course, that all violence has a religious origin, nor that all religions produce violence, but even so.
The fact that Christianity, the revelation of the God of love, could have so changed as to become, during the dark and bloody adventures of the crusades, a religion of forced conversions, and of the inquisition sets one thinking. On the other hand, how is it conceivable that man should turn against his fellows in extreme violence without motives-and what higher and more justifying motive is there than religion? It is in the name of Truth, of the Absolute, that one person does away with another. Neither the communists nor the nazis could have attained the supreme violence had they not been religious. When man wants to commit violence he has to justify it. Thus there is a reciprocal relationship between religion and violence. Religion always produces violence. When violence comes first, it requires the appearance of a religion.
That is why, in the hippie situation, we observe the strange slipping into violence. The hippies have a nonviolent ideology, but groups, entire branches, take the contrary route of absolute violence against the society they have rejected and despised, against the type of person they consider the most hateful. The line is very thin, and the change from nonviolence to violence is almost automatic where religion is involved.
The exaltation of violence in the world appears to us as an expression of religiousness. Georges Sorel saw this, and analyzed it perfectly in his Réflexions sur la Violence, in which he connected violence with the circulation of myth and the necessary belief. Who has not been struck by the delirium of violence in our society? It seemed all the harder to credit in view of the fact that for two centuries we had been lulled in the illusion of an end to violence in our social relationships. There were parliamentary government, peace tables, liberalism, democracy, and urban manners. We were in complete euphoria. Primitive savagery and religious sectarianism had been brought under control. The communists and the revolutionary unionists were only wicked exceptions, and they would soon disappear. The Russian revolution and Hitler were accidents.
However, questions began to be asked, and then, here we are! Oppressive and repressive, liberating and counter-repressive, it crops up again everywhere. There is the irrational belief that violence will resolve the “problems.” Through acts of violence, revolts, coups d’etat, tortures and convictions, one is supposedly on the way to a pure and true, a just and free society. Rebellions without a cause or an objective represent completely irrational attitudes, feebly verbalized from beliefs and displaying mythical interpretations with regard to society.
From the outbreak of the youth at Stockholm, on the night of St. Silvester, 1953, violence has been the normal expression of more and more extensive groups, out to destroy evil and oppression, who want to “slay the dragon,” enter the promised land, win their freedom, and smash what seems to them, in the abstraction of our world, the visible sign of evil. There is an exaltation and a happening which ends in a collective crisis of nerves. When nervous resistance and argument fail, violence sets free metaphysical obsession by itself turning into a religious behavior. This applies to the frenzies of the Congolese in 1961, and of the blacks of Detroit or Newark, Carmichael’s completely mystical verbal exaltations, or those of Do It!, the savagery of the automobile driver, the success of cruel plays, of the bloody and sadistic Arrabal. “Be cruel, be violent,” one read at the Sorbonne in 1968. The outbreaks at Battaglia in 1970, or in Mexico in June, 1971, at a soccer game. That isn’t political. It is the reappearance of religious delirium.
To be sure, that is not to say that all the violence in our society is of the religious type. It is clear that the violence of the police or of administrations, that of the great economic powers and of “imperialism,” have nothing of the religious in them; but the violence specific to our time, which is the overflow of an exaltation, and the means par excellence for the realization of an ideal carried to the absolute limit, especially that of the young leftists-those are acts of the religious people of this age. They believe absolutely. They listen to no reason. Without knowing it, they have an otherworldly outlook which they describe as political. They want to change society by changing life.
They are ready for every sacrifice, and are ready to sacrifice all who do not believe. They form sectarian cliques. They have a yen for spectacular martyrdom and for witnessing through propaganda. They despise all truth which fails to confirm them in their absolute. They confound a rational explanation of the world with belief in old, resurrected myths. Their violence is an expression of the combination of all that. For them, without hesitation, violence is a religious action against evil, because the world, like every religious world, is clearly divided between absolute Good and absolute Evil.
I will surely not say that the increase of violence in our society is by itself a proof of religiousness! It is not a proof; but this type of violence, associated with all the other factors, is part of a constellation which throws light on the need for violence, and that need goes far toward completing the puzzle. To be sure, in diverse societies there are diverse violences. There is a hidden violence, an organized violence (war, the police) and a “primitive,” illogical, anarchic violence, which is the only one that could be called religious. This primitive violence is expressed in those societies which no longer have a common ground, an accepted structure.
They take place in our society because the structures are external to the person. They are incommensurable with him, and appear to him hostile. Here religious violence is explained less by the lack of an issue (war, for example) than by the lack of humanization. It is a protest on behalf of man against bureaucracy, advertising, technology, and it is in the exaltation of violence that man is to be defended or restored. This is a mystique, and it is religion.
The religious spirit of the leftists is expressed in two formulas, among others, which covered the walls of seashore resorts in 1970: “Geismar is everywhere,” and “Mao is looking.” There we have slogans expressing a God-transfer. The ubiquity of the true Witness, that universal presence which is but the expression of universal justice, through the zealots and disciples as intermediaries. There is an identification of these disciples (who put Geismar everywhere) with the hidden but omnipresent person, coupled with the universal but personal watchman. The eye was in the tomb. Mao is your conscience. He is the conscience of the world. He is looking at you and is judging you, for he is the sovereign judge who knows the reins and the hearts. Geismar is the current incarnation of Providence. He is everywhere and can act at every instant. Mao is the principle of Good and Evil, the absolute Father whom no one can escape. That is what the authors of those inscriptions really mean, and of course, like all the faithful of all religions, they are ready, through their activities, to assume those divine attributes.
Music, drugs, incense, violence, sexual freedom: festival. It is indeed noteworthy that our modern thinkers, revolutionaries, antitechnologists, renovators of mankind, preachers of liberty, all put their hopes in utopia, as we have seen, and in the “festival”: happenings, barricades, confrontations, sit-ins, fancy dress, theatre of participation, pop festivals, deafening and intoxicating music, audiences swaying with the rhythm of the drums, a participation which becomes identification. Each participant does himself in with sound, with fatigue, with drugs, with violence, with cries, with impressions received in common. The desire is to get one’s bearings, and to establish an intervening space foreign to the rest of the world, an ocean in which to plunge without restraint, so as to blot out everything which is not the festival. The festival, greatly longed for by all the contestants as a way of putting down modern society, is acclaimed as an ought-to-be, and as the revolutionary means par excellence.
Here it is, put into actual practice. It is already experienced, sometimes as a way of creating the new life, sometimes as a political method. The fanatics for festival, who remind us that every society has always had its essential festivals, and that ours is the only one not to have a genuine festival, forget the stern warning of Jean Brun. He shows, first of all, that the current enthusiasm for festivals is no accident, but that it results precisely from the structures of the technological society of which it forms a part. Time and space have vanished, thanks to the resources of the media. By reason of that fact, we are living in a simultaneous happening, as McLuhan says. Our society itself produces these raging throngs, and it is creating Dionysian man. Far from its being a reaction against technocratic bureaucracy, it is a product of it and a way for it to survive.
In addition, Brun quite rightly reminds us that the only regimes to give politics a festive quality are the fascist ones. “One may well wonder whether the best definition of fascism may not be that regime which undertakes to make politics into a perpetual festival, in which exaltation and beauty are found only in the throes of struggle and violence.” But that doesn’t bother our panegyrists and participants. “Festival” is the keyword. Everything must be “festive” in order to be revivified. Only in the festival do institutions throw off their rigidity, so that man can have freedom and find meaning and a future. Festival is a panacea as well as a revolution.
What strikes me in all this talk, and in all these experiences, is the unshakable ignorance of the actors. The festival is religious in the end. The sacral world necessarily involves festivals, which are its religious expression. Caillois sees festival as one of the supreme expressions of the sacred. That is obvious, but conversely, festival is always religious. It is that in essence. There is no such thing as a lay or a secular festival. Every time someone has thought to have a rational or a lay festival, the result has been a dismal and ridiculous caricature.
There is no festival without reference to a final value, which is affirmed and transgressed. Whenever some power wanted to institute the festival of reason, it had to divinize reason before the action made sense. If it is not religion, festival is only a sorry entertainment which satisfies no one. It must be a total risk for a total resurrection, the discovery of a freedom from beyond time, a transgression of taboos, the assertion of role reversals, a triumph of the irrational, an abolition of the concrete, a recourse to a Beyond, a plunge into the Great Time, a restoration of chaos. Festival must express the religious side of man in order to be a festival with a psychological function (a psychodrama) and a sociological function (release of antagonisms and revivification). Revolution, in its tum, is a festival because it is an annulment for the sake of a new beginning without limits. That is all religion, of the most classic and traditional variety.
When religion becomes degraded, it transforms the festival into a ceremony and the dance of Dionysus into a liturgy. When it outlives itself, when it is merely a social framework, then it ceases to be the expression of a religious need or of a religious instinct. When that happens, religion denies itself and turns against festival. The entire history of religions is made up of this progressive degradation, followed by a return to the source through a rediscovery of the festival.
Thus, when war is held sacred it is called a festival (with the understanding that people are going to die in this festival), just as revolution is treated that way today, and plays the same role. But this then, this desire, this call for festival is nothing more or less than a deep religious seething discharging its lava.
And of course the religious, which has many facets, is also constituted by the act of transcendentalizing the concrete conditions of life. We are witnessing a violent verbal attack against the consumer society, yet, on the other hand, the latter, and everything that goes with it, is the object of a religious exaltation. Consumption, along with the technology that produces it and the advertising that expresses it, is no longer a materialistic fact. It has become the meaning of life, the chief sacred, the show of morality, the criterion of existence, the mystery before which one bows.
Be not deceived, the rejection of the consumer society is on the same level. The quarrel is really a religious one. The disputants never leave that world. To the contrary, they serve to reconfirm the religious fact. The religious attitude toward consumption is expressed by what Brun admirably calls “the furor over consumption.” “Those who criticize consumer societies, and who are concerned at the same time to give disadvantaged societies more to consume, are in this sense not reproaching the societies in which they live for consuming too much, but in fact for not providing others with enough to consume. It’s very important that they discover the tempo of the increase in consumption if they are not to be brought down by a monumental problem. Consumer societies swamp us with finites. Dionysus aims at the infinite, so he has to find ways to uncover new thirsts….”
An overvaluing of the ephemeral transformed into law everlasting, the transformation of everything into an object of consumption, absorption in living standards, a giddy frenzy attempting to feed on all the possibles in order to attain thereby to true existence and to transcend the human condition-that is what is being expressed by every argument for our society. We walk on the moon. We fly at Mach 3. We split the atom. We create life. We are going beyond the human condition. The techno-consumer is the shaman of our society. But it is a shamanism made available to spiritual nothingness with a bank account.
This attitude toward consumption, which plunges man into ecstatic delirium, is coupled, obviously, with a worship of the thing consumed, especially of the thing offered for consumption. We have seen that modern man had set up technology as a sacred, but the technical object itself receives a different charter. It is toward the technical object that religious sentiment is directed. Modern man places his hope, his faith, his assurance, his happiness, his security, and the development of his personality in the use and possession of more and more technical objects. These play the role of many former religious substitutes.
Curiously, if we consider that the “little gods” were the deus ex machina, the needed stopgap, because man was unable to do what had to be done to meet his need, what is happening today is a statement of religious feeling toward those little gods concerning the technical objects which take their place, and which really perform what it had been hoped the gods would do. But that has in no way rendered the statement materialistic or rational. The religious attachment, which was apparently the support of the gods in question, is now the seemingly indispensable expansion factor attributed to an efficacious object as such. The bare efficaciousness taken alone is not satisfying, if one stops at that! This is probably one of the most singular workings of the psychology of our times. Man cannot rest content with the concrete value of the objects of the technological society. He cannot limit himself to entering upon material happiness. He has to have a spiritual satisfaction of a religious kind to go along with it. The separation of the two is not acceptable. Yet that is what all the moralists of the technological society are advocating. Thanks to technology, one is going to assure man of a comfortable material living and free him from time. With that taken care of, this man can give himself to the higher activities of the spirit, of art, of culture, etc.
This has already been criticized in many ways. On the religious level, a basic observation is called for. Man has always rejected that dichotomy. The religious was always expressed in tangible activities, political or economic. Conversely, quite often tools themselves were sacralized, divinized, through the entire gamut of possible interpretations, even to the complete assimilation of the tool with the divinity. Thus, among certain elephant hunters in Cambodia, the lasso is god. It is a phenomenon strictly identical with what we find today. Man cannot separate material satisfaction from spiritual satisfaction. The technical object has become a religious object.
This twofold religious phenomenon (delirium of consumption, worship of the technical object) is found expressed and consecrated by advertising. That is the liturgy and the psalmody of the consumer religion. It would be interesting, and not difficult, to identify the religious vocabulary in advertising (e.g., a recent term: “trustworthy”; a trustworthy machine is truly a god) in order to show how it is planted in the sacred and in the religious structure. Each one could make his own version and appraisal.
But I think it more important to stress the fact that modern man’s sensitivity to advertising, and also to propaganda, has a religious cause. Vance Packard’s study is surely correct, yet it lacks precisely this dimension. It is because man experiences consumption as a sacred delirium that he is plunged into the Orphism of yet more, and still more, and that advertising arouses such a sympathetic vibration in him. If he obeys advertising (and Oh, how he obeys!-in spite of pitiful denials based on obliging statistics), it is, more than anything else, because he has been sensitized beforehand by the worship of consumer goods. The faithful churchgoer always finds the priest’s statements convincing, and the singing of his fellow churchgoers wonderful, however he might criticize them from the point of view of form. So it is with advertising. It would have no hold on a person if he were not an orgiastic fanatic for consumer goods. It is deeply rooted in religious compost.
Is it indispensable? Indeed it is, less for economic reasons than as a celebration of the mystery of modern times, as the liturgy of a new eucharist. That is why advertising untiringly repeats its litanies. It confirms man in what is no longer mere material and social action, but a path of fulfillment and transcendence. Propaganda, likewise, can succeed only when grafted onto the religious, onto a charismatic man, an absolute political truth, an ultimate sacrifice, a communal achievement, a scapegoat, a final meaning for life. We shall come back to that.
At this stage in our discussion, the important thing has been simply to point out that our world is so religious that objects and actions of the most materialistic kind, those seemingly most devoid of depth, are transformed into religious phenomena. The whole person is now committed at that level. That is what makes the dispute on this ground so fundamental. It is very bad that some people should be undernourished while others succumb from overconsumption, that there should be misery and injustice. It is obvious that we should struggle against hunger, misery, and unequal distribution.
But that reasonable proposition is rejected by the judges. According to them, what I have just written is the statement of a heartless man, who moreover is a rightist. Those things should be talked about at the height of excitement, of indignation, with sacred fury, with voice trembling and eyes flashing despair and fire. That people should go hungry is the absolute in suffering. That there should be inequality of consumption is an absolute evil. This fury, this urgency, the quality of the ultimate in the arguments in this domain, the totalitarian nature attributed to these things, which excludes everything else and treats other problems as secondary, which makes it possible to decide exactly what is good and what is to be condemned, which involves the whole of humanity in the application-all this attests, more than anything else, to the religious character of consumption. The debate over “have/have not” has become a war of religion (I said “over,” not “between”).
All facets of the modern religious bring into prominence the deeply irrational character of modern man. He is not scientific, reasonable, rational, involved in tangible and demythicized matter, devoid of illusions-indeed not! “The dislocation of forms, of words, of sounds, of the person; the revolutionary erostratisms, which evoke Sade, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud all at the same time, are so many expressions of a devotion to intellectual ethylisms, which improvise a gigantic, anomic festival, in order to turn everything into play and into an intoxication of risks” (J. Brun).
What is here an intellectual attitude is only a reflection of the common feeling. It is the verbalized sublimation of that which every person in the western world experiences, expressed at a different level. It seems that the more technology and organization are rationalized, so that, logically, they should rationalize man and his behavior, the more, to the contrary, irrationalities increase. Everything is happening as though man could not stand this logic (even a living logic) and had reacted violently against everything which normalizes him. In the presence of technical rationality, we are seeing a ground swell of basic irrationalism. The more the technical universe becomes organized, the more man blows apart in disorder.
Our irrationality is in no way a testimonial of freedom. It is a refusal to move into rationality. Man, swept along by science, is certainly not stripped of his illusions, his childish beliefs, dreams, reveries, uncontrolled passions and myth-making-quite the contrary. In the midst of the stammering and questioning, the irrational is the great refuge against the horrors of systematization. In our era of mathematics, of science, of rigorous discipline, of exact knowledge and abundant factual information, to “know” something is the abomination of desolation. One must be nondirective, without knowledge, without experience (that crushes the poor other fellow). A professor must not give a course. An actor must not know his part. A writer must not know what he is writing (one writes in order to know who one is). The film producer must not know the film he is about to produce (as Jeanne Moreau said so well). One must not know how to resolve a social or economic problem (the thing is to leap into the revolutionary furnace without knowing what is going to result from it). One must give oneself over to the creative uncertainty of the happening. (It is not for nothing that I have employed the word “must” throughout, for it is a genuine moral imperative. This attitude is a shot in the dark. It wells up from the irrational as an emotional reaction. It is experienced as a religious certainty.)
One must act out the comedy of the not knowing, for otherwise one is a terrorist. One must take his stand at the zero point of scripture, of faith, of knowledge, and of art. One must not give a lecture or preach a sermon in which one knows what he is saying. Knowledge must give way to questions, to stuttering and stammering (that, at least, is a living experience, and the television announcers set a good example). One stays in the realm of “perhaps,” of suggestions, of puerile and meaningless discussion.
Today’s discourse par exellence is that of Bouvard and Pecuchet. Everything must be left to the free choice of those who actually know nothing. Such is the profound “true-life adventure” of modern man, who no longer wants to say anything or hear anything. Swamped with news, crushed with technological rationality, he flees through this papier-mache labyrinth, thinking to rediscover an origin and to find some fresh air. The great cry is, “Imagination to the fore,” instead of reason. Man is at home only in the chiaroscuro of an imaginative, rationalized religious. He absolutely cannot stand either the merciless sun of the Sahara or the blinding uncertainties of the snows of the Great North. Each produces mirages in its excess of light. That is exactly what we are experiencing. The excess of rigor, of precision, of scientific explanation and of technical rationality produces the mirage of a madness which destroys the self. It is at the moment of rationality that the intellectual rises up to say that the insane person is normal, that instinct is freedom, that there is no meaning, that imagination is the only authenticity, that questions and a blank page are all that remain.
This is not a matter of “attitude” or of “originality.” It is a throwback to the deepest in man, who remains basically my thomanic and sacralizing, who cannot live without a substructure which is thick, spread out in all directions, vague, inconsistent, but which is as crucial as the central sima. It is the irrational on the basis of which all the rest is constructed. The moment one tries to eliminate it, it reappears in some other form. When one curbs it on one side, it breaks out on the other.
Two small examples illustrate this irrepressible. Take the pertinent analysis done by Escarpit of the re-creation of spontaneous and unintended theologies. It has to do with structuralism. “It is hard to see how structuralism can escape the dilemma of that shameful theology which is positivism, and which it thinks to negate. Behind the structure thus conceived, there is the Great Architect of the universe. … M. R. Bastide proposes defining structure as a bound system, latent in objects, susceptible of universal generalization and free of all diachrony. What we have here, obviously, are attributes of divinity … Unable to structure itself into a universal church, the structuralizing revelation is reduced to private chapels.”
This analysis of Escarpit, of which we have given a mere indication here, is confirmed in an article by Foucault, in which is seen a sort of delirious glorification of structure playing the role of a creating divinity. In the beginning was the structure. It was inscribed beforehand in that which did not yet exist. The chicken didn’t exist, nor the egg either; only the genetic code, in and of itself, was in the absolute. There was no subject. There was no reader. There was no meaning, but there was a program and a production. What we really have here, under the pretext of an interpretation of scientific results, is a mystical interpretation of a meaning which rejects meaning.
It may be of interest to conclude these observations with a look at the man who is taken for a prophet by the most avant-garde among the youth: Wilhelm Reich. Reich is a strict materialist, and even a bit simplistic. His biologism was criticized by the psychoanalysts, and there is no doubt that this biological materialism would have been rejected by Marx, who did not take kindly to that form of materialism. In any case, Reich is that kind of materialist. But, being both Freudian and Marxist, he finds, on the one hand, that Marxism is in fact a blind alley when it comes to resolving personal problems, and that Freud is of no use in resolving the socio-political problem. Therefore he is going to try to combine the two. He is honored as the pioneer of Freudo-Marxism.
But what he comes up with in the end is not a happy synthesis, a glorious apotheosis, but a failure. Through this mixture of the elements (for it is a mixing operation and not a synthesis, which I think impossible of achievement) of the thinking of Freud and of Marx, he arrives finally at the conclusion that all this amounts to nothing, nothing reasonably construed nor concretely applicable. The combination of the two factors is completely negative.
Finally, I know very well that for certain critics there is a true Reich (before 1933), the rational author of two or three works, and then a Reich gone crazy (author of nearly all the works) who is not worth paying attention to. I believe, to the contrary, that there is a perfect consistency throughout the whole of his work, and throughout its development. The conclusion is truly implied in the premise. The Function of the Orgasm implies the entire sequence. The impossibility of finding a satisfactory answer to the tragedies of every kind which he encountered leads him to fall back on the need for a total liberation of the individual, a liberation brought about only through liberation of the total energy, which is sexual. Orgasm is both the expression and the source of all energies which make possible all human and socio-political transformations.
From that, he is led immediately to the realization that orgasm cannot fulfill that role if it is merely a biological act of a few seconds’ duration. In order to have its full measure, it has to be associated with (or emanate from) a universal force, from which it draws its full dimension and efficacy. That leads necessarily to a cosmic conception of the energy, the orgone, in which the entire world is immersed, from which the world receives its vitalizing energy, by which it was originated (not to say created), an orgone which, in Reich’s thinking, plays exactly the part of God. So aware is he of the fact that his cosmic materialism links up, once again, with religion, that in one of his last books, The Murder of Christ, there is an astonishing mixture of the mystical with the biological. God reappears as the orgone, or the creator of the orgone. Truth is an emanation from this. He constantly refers to the revelation of a new religion in Christ (which, to be sure, is not Christianity).
I refer to Reich because his development seems to me typical (it would not be surprising if Herbert Marcuse were, one day, to rediscover God, it is inherent in the logic of “the sexual liberation revolution”). But it is also because we are seeing him rediscovered today, which is characteristic of the contemporary religious. Reich is in very fact the prophet of a new religion, sprung from the materialism in which one cannot remain.
This religious exuberance of our times, which multiplies its forms and finds new incarnations out of the religious drives and needs of man, also, to be sure, affects Christianity. Gabriel Vahanian is the only contemporary theologian to have seen the reality of the situation, in his unrelenting assessment of “the Christian renewal” in the United States as, in fact, a religious renewal which is not at all Christian. It is, rather, a manifestation of the religious spirit of modern society. For, to be sure, this religious spirit can also revivify old forms and cover itself with the mantle of old religions. This religious orientation of new Christian beliefs was evident, of course, in the vogue of Teilhard de Chardin. It is not a question, here, of casting aspersions on the faith and person of Teilhard, but simply of noting that the movement which caused so many to follow him is religious, and not specifically Christian. What embarrasses him the most, in his theosophy, is the Christ. He doesn’t know what to do with his incarnation, or with his crucifixion, or with his resurrection. He meets up with him again only at the end, as the cosmic Christ, which was also true of all gnosticisms and religions.
Contemporary theologians are repeating the typical operation of “religionizing” Christianity when they pretend to formulate an areligious Christianity. They try to eliminate the religious from Christianity by treating as religious the old traditional manifestations which are outmoded (for example, the traditional designation of God). But they fail to take into account that the work of transforming Christianity into a religion is always the combination of the revelation of Christ with the basic beliefs of a given society. From then on, whenever they try, for example, to prove that the secular city, mobility, anonymity and the traditional festival conform to the biblical revelation, they are carrying out just the same procedure as did all those who tried to prove that a given factor in their society, of their beliefs, of their philosophy, was Christian. That was the point of departure for the transformation of revelation into religion. The combination is different only to the extent that the factors are different.
These theologians are totally blind to the present situation when they take the contemporary society for secularized, and modern man as grown-up and rational. Undercover of that error, they reintegrate into their theology precisely what is religious in our age, in our society, without realizing that they are once again mixing the religious with “the Christian domain.”
It is not only the theological movement which is giving expression to the religious. The same thing is obviously occurring in practice. Thus in France we can take Taize as exemplary of the religious, with its liturgy, which is both open and symbolic, its exceeding of ecclesiastical bounds, its commonplace ecumenism, its gatherings of great numbers of young people, with their contribution of adolescent uncertainty mingled with a certain authenticity of aspiration, the divergence between the inward and the outward, its exoterism and esoterism. Those are all fairly sure signs of religion. Of course, it is so closely entwined with Christianity that it becomes a most obvious expression of it, without exactly being taken for religion. Many similar examples could be found in the religious communities.
At the nonintellectual level, and in accord with the needs of the common man, we can uncover the same phenomenon. One example is the prodigious success of illustrated Bibles in fascicles, put on the market by large publishing houses. That such an illustrated Bible should sell a hundred thousand copies, generally in non-Christian circles, is quite impressive. Again, the success of the Bible in comic strips equals that of all the westerns.
Similarly, there are the attempts at renovating the mass through the introduction of popular religious elements. There is the pop mass, the celebration of midnight mass at the Olympia in Paris, the mass presided over by Duke Ellington and his orchestra, the music hall presentation at Saint-Sulpice, and Mireille Mathieu singing a mass in a personal style. All that took place at Christmas, 1969. Of course, under those circumstances the public comes, but surely also that has nothing to do with Christian authenticity.
It is the religious phenomenon of modern music which is being expressed in this confusion. One commentator, a non-Christian in fact, sensed the problem better than did certain Christians when he said, “Perhaps the moment has come to remind the public that you don’t make mayonnaise with holy oil, and that you shouldn’t confuse the ostensorium with ostentation.” But Christians, only too glad to have an audience by methods of that kind, are ready to make mayonnaise, and ready to think they are communicating the gospel whereas, in the absence of any control over the situation, Christianity is being submerged under the enormous religious wave of our times.
Our learned exegetes also need to be reminded that “Christianity” is still very successful in quite a number of popular circles, and is producing a great many conversions. But it is Billy Graham on the one hand, and the Pentecostals and Jehovah’s Witnesses on the other, who are having the success. What is taking place in modern man’s belief is in no way a Christianity purged by science of all contagion of religion, and suited to the person who has become grown up, adult, sentient, capable of accepting a genuine Christianity- a person simply disgusted with the religious twaddle of traditional Christianity. To the contrary, it is the most mythical, the most imaginary, the most limited, the most religious in the Christian tradition, warmed over by a visionary mystique and by the technique of propaganda. That is the Christianity which is finding an audience among the public.
Developments in the United States at the present time simply serve to confirm Vahanian’s assessment. What is now called “the Jesus revolution” is a gigantic religious expediency, in which Jesus and the revelation are served up to suit everybody’s taste. Cox’s harlequin Christ is nothing alongside it. The Way Word of Greenwich Village, the catacombs of Seattle, the transformation of a striptease joint into a Christian nightclub, the revolutionary Jesus, the black Jesus, the mixture of drugs and mystic exaltation all that is in no way new. It never does more than reproduce all the religious conglomerations brought about in Christianity through the course of the centuries. They could be identified almost completely with the beginnings of the confraternities of the eighth to the eleventh centuries.
The interesting thing is that this is taking place at the very time when we are pompously being told that a religious Christianity no longer reaches modern man! It is factual proof that a religious Christianity is the only thing that does reach modern man-and religious in the most classic, the most traditional sense, the most tried and tested of all!
Very curiously, Cox notes this, and is happy about it (The Feast of Fools). He sees a return to religion in the United States, and he undertakes a condemnation of the separation between revelation and religion, between Christian faith and various religious beliefs. He restores value to religion as such. In his care to conform to the existing social condition and to adopt an optimistic view, he rejoices at the strides being made by religion, and bends his energies toward a reinstatement of Christianity within this trend. He thinks that Christianity will be carried along by the religious wave (in which he is right, except that it will be Christianity and not faith in the Lord Jesus Christ).
How wonderful to witness this pure syncretism of voodoo, Tantrism, Zen, and the gospel! Thus he comes back to the most traditional, the most down-at-the-heel position, which gave birth to the most questionable party in Catholicism. He goes back to the time of “the quarrel over rites and images,” and adopts the position dear to the Jesuits (moreover, the latter had a clear, not a sentimental, comprehension of what they were doing). He would be prepared to accept the Madagascan “return of the dead” as a Christian festival, etc.
It is an old, old story, of which we know the outcome through two thousand years of experience. But Cox’s blind confidence ignores that, lost as it is in the implied certainty that, since Christianity is the best religion, all religious revival must necessarily end in a Christian revival. That is a specifically medieval heresy, which makes a connection between sentiment, human religious aspiration, and faith, between the institutions of religion and Christianity. Better have a religious man than an irreligious man, because his religious need prepares the way for faith in Christ whereas, throughout the entire Bible, it would appear, rather, that there is a radical break.
What is more, one of the most remarkable channels for this current transformation of the Christian faith into a religion is the broadcasting of love. There we can all come together (no play on words intended), if Christians confine their preaching to love, all love, nothing but love. In that case, not only is physical, even carnal, love easily equated with the other love (and in fact many Christian intellectuals now reject the distinction between eros and agape), but again one finds a common ground of religious understanding with a great many people. It is not for nothing that a great many hippies wear a crucifix around the neck. That has no reference to the Bible. It represents Jesus as a guru, as a master of love, as the first hippie, etc.
Revelation goes up in the religious smoke of universal love, linked to a generalized orgasm and expressed in flower power, or in revolutionary commitment. Christians are quite happy to find so many people who agree with them. Love, provided nothing is specified, offers a common platform for all religious spirits. A relationship with love-everybody knows there is a little something of authentic Christianity in that. Thus Christianity, in all its aspects, recovers its religious frame.
Quite simply (at two different levels, which strengthens the analysis), there is an accommodation to the religious needs of our society on the one hand, and a propagandist accommodation on the other. One may very well wonder whether what we have here is not simply a survival of older beliefs, the stale odor of traditions not yet eliminated. It is nothing of the kind. What we have is indeed a renewal, a powerful outburst of the religious, a growth corresponding to the situation of man in our society. Religiosity is, at this very moment, fulfilling exactly the same function it has always fulfilled, and of which Marx saw half. He saw only half, for the thought of Marx is, even on its authentic side, now phagocytized by the religious spirit of the world.
The Jesus phenomenon, the Jesus revolution, the Jesus parade: “Jesus comes to Paris, Jesus on the posters,” is a headline in Le Monde. “Jesus the idol of our times,” is a title in Paris-Match; “Jesus is coming,” in Charlie Hebdo; “Jesus against drugs,” in Lectures pour Tous; “Jesus and the Tradesmen,” on the first page of Nouvel Observateur. Then there is the huge broadcast by Mauge, on Radio-Luxembourg, and the plays Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar, and a number of secondary plays (e.g., Come Back Jesus). Together with these demonstrations, theatricals, and musicals mixed with pop and hippieism, there are badges containing slogans, “Jesus is alive,” “Jesus loves you,” “After Jesus, all the rest (drugs) is toothpaste,” and the wonderful “Jesus watch.” On the dial is the face of Jesus (of whatever race you like ! there is a white Jesus, a black Jesus, a yellow Jesus, an Arab Jesus, etc.). At the center, the heart of Jesus carries the hands and shows the time-Jesus everywhere.
Moreover, there are odd divergences in terms of appraisals. While it is often acknowledged that Godspell is indeed more serious (limited to the retelling of the Gospel of Matthew in a more communicating manner), and that Jesus Christ Superstar is simply a spectacular, theatrical review, we find the opposite opinion expressed by Claude Sarraute, for whom Jesus Christ Superstar is in the Saint-Sulpice category, while Godspell is a form of clowning (“the Sermon on the Mount reminds one of a circus or an asylum”). For Fabre-Luce, Godspell is nothing but “hippie conformism,” while Superstar is a great and authentic Christian play, presenting profound theological insight.
But enough of those divergences. The phenomenon as a whole is a phenomenon of fashion. A need was felt for the religious. Jesus is always a best seller, and that made it worth the investment of nearly a million dollars to put on Superstar. The investment was covered from the time of the first performance. In France, the production cost two million francs, and it would appear that the return was fifty times that amount (in new francs). Is that “a new reading” of the gospel? Certainly not! The discovery of the hippie Jesus, and the Jesus who was Mary Magdalene’s lover, etc., is as old as Herod (exactly). It is a question of making Jesus over into the religious personage who suits us. That, put simply, is what “the Jesus revolution” amounts to. In the world of today’s theater and spectators, it’s nice to have Jesus a hippie, just as for a socialist newspaper it’s nice to have Jesus against the trades people. In place of his being a sign of variance, he is once again assimilated to our desires and needs, and to our favorite models.
Roger Mauge’s broadcasts and book are a sure guarantee that there is nothing new in all this. All the commonplaces, all the platitudes, all the modern banalities about Jesus are to be found there, and they are the commonplaces and banalities which are pleasing to man. Nothing whatsoever has been said that is new or true, just because, with Mauge, God has become the giant computer, or Jesus “God’s clutch-disk on the world.” Once again, those are false images. They are false because reassuring and explanatory. The process of “religionizing” Jesus Christ is always the same. It amounts to finding a Jesus who answers precisely to what I expect of him. It is not a matter of “modernizing the gospel message,” which has been covered with dust in the churches. It is, rather, an accommodation to the demands of the modern conscience and vocabulary. Paris-Match is quite right in using the title “Jesus Idol.” It is exactly that, the contrary, in other words, to what the Bible proclaims.
And Paris-Match continues: “People’s anguish today makes of his person and message the great topic of the day.” Here we find ourselves caught up in the non-Christian religious attitude. For, if we link the person and message of Jesus with such formulas as “the two great J’s, Jesus/Jeunesse [youth]” and “Jesus the true drug,” we see that we have simply gone along with the fashion of the times, nothing more. It belongs to the purely religious, usually combined with the sexual and with commercialization. At last the young people have a permissive Jesus, who validates sexuality and eroticism. Those who live by a scientific ideology feed on the new catechism published by Paris-Match (Teilhard de Chardin in comic strips), and above all, one makes lots of money in “the Jesus business,” which is “the Jesus revolution” in reverse, yet inseparable from it.
The same people who, four years ago, were broadcasting sex, are broadcasting Jesus now. If one wonders where this fashion comes from, the answer is simply that it is a special case of the general phenomenon of the religious need of modern man. In the last analysis, the capacity for sexual satisfaction is limited, and the religious desire is not completely met.
Political enthusiasm is dying out. It is observed in the United States that many of the young people who are exalted and exulting around Jesus, the freaks, were formerly political activists, militants for civil rights, agitators against the struggle in Vietnam, and revolutionaries. They are disappointed. Having failed to find the total answer in politics, they are looking elsewhere for a glory theme, an engrossing cause. It is a known fact that to give oneself to a political cause does not satisfy man’s needs unless it is powerfully orchestrated, as in Hitlerism, or communism, or the cultural revolution. One quickly finds out that the ultimate question (that of death, for example) finds no answer, and dear me!
Jesus isn’t so bad, with his close connection with love, with death, with sacrifice, and with high philosophy, which can be mingled with Hinduism, and finally the Jesus-drug business. It’s all quite satisfying.
In addition, the world is very disagreeable, brutal, full of hate. We need some “human warmth,” some “communion,” some “love,” and right away that brings up lovely pictures of the baby Jesus in the manger. Moreover, this was proclaimed from afar. Why not hand over some “flower power,” and some “hippie love” to this Jesus who talked only of love? Why not hand over some of the communal ritual (distribution of bread) of the “Bread and Puppet Theater” to him who instituted that communion? We are in such need of the person who will reestablish love, peace, etc.
With that beginning, it cannot truly be said that publicity was what created the movement. Publicity used and exploited something which was latent. This brings us face to face with a typically religious phenomenon, that is to say, the existence of the latent need to satisfy the esthetic-communal sensibilities, together with the need for a final answer to questions of life and death. It is the formulation of a collective and spectacular response to this expectation which is being satisfied in this way (and there is where publicity enters the picture, as in all religions, rituals, shows, etc.). It is an objectification of the means made available through multiplicity, to satisfy a need made genuine by the mass adherence of those who find their answer there. Publicity only exploits and puts in shape. It does not create the exaltation, the fervor, the semierotic dances on the part of the freaks. It does furnish them with the chance to crystallize their scattered beliefs.
Hence it is probable that this religious movement will not be as extensive in France as in the United States. In the United States there has always been a tendency toward revival meetings. Also, the forms of religious expression of the freaks are greatly influenced by black piety, dances, hymns, etc. In addition, it is frequently remarked that French skepticism and rationalism are hostile to these phenomena. Finally, French youth are more politically minded than American youth. All that is partially true, but it makes the obvious success of the “Jesus parade” all the more impressive.
May it not be that (as usual) the French youth are coming to it later, are beginning now to tire of politics, are beginning to increase their use of drugs? One can always hope. If the “Jesus trip” hasn’t completely arrived, at least the rudiments are on the way.
Moreover, the effects of publicity are already being felt. There is an obvious change of religious opinion in France. It is amazing that, according to the I.F.O.P. (Institut Franais de I’Opinion Publique) poll, early in 1972, 75 percent of the French believe in God at the present time. Fifty percent believe in the resurrection, and 32 percent in the fact that Jesus is still alive. That is more than double the figures obtained in 1960. It is obvious that we are not here dealing with a conversion of the French to the truth of the revelation, but with a religious response to religious publicity. The Jesus phenomenon is a remarkable indication of religiosity in the midst of atheists and secularists.
At this point I cannot help putting the question whether, in all that I have just written, it is indeed really a question of religion, or whether that is an abuse of language, a “manner of speaking,” a similitude which is imprecise and therefore without significance. First of all, I would call attention to the fact that, in this analysis, I did not give myself any leeway at the start. I did not choose an arbitrary definition of religion, nor formulate a personal idea of my own, selected to make the argument easier. If I have rejected crude definitions of religion, that is because there is no definition on which sociologists and historians can agree.
However, I have carefully held to the generally accepted forms and functions. I did not start with observations of facts which I would like to have called religious, in order, on that basis, to make choice of the convenient definition of religion. To the contrary, I started with those observations with which everyone is in agreement, while obviously refusing to equate religion with the four “great” religions. Also, I have maintained a specific characteristic of the religious phenomenon which, for me, is not to be confused with any other manifestation of a “superstructure,” of “ideologies,” of “cultural images.” So it is from the starting point of a particularized religious reality that I have been able to consider that the current attitude of modern man is essentially religious.
But here one encounters another obstacle. Do not these secular religions lack an essential element, namely, a God, or a Transcendent? To that, I say that the truly essential thing is precisely to dissociate religion from God. We have already seen, above, that God is not indispensable to religion. “It is not the God who makes the religion. It is the religion which makes the God who makes the religion. It is the religion which makes the God, even when it refuses to call him by that name” (G. Crespy). In religions, God is a convenience for concretizing, concentrating, and specifying the ensemble of religious orientations. He serves to orient, and as a way of explanation; but this God is never the central item of the religious phenomenon. Again, the concept of his centrality is a view taken from the standpoint of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Since there the presence of God preceded religion, and the latter finally derives from him, we are led to suppose that this is a specific characteristic of religion, whereas, to the contrary, those examples are exceptions in the world of religion.
Again, that is why, in the history of religions, we frequently see a religion change its object, i.e., God, while itself remaining the same. The permutation of the gods is a well-known phenomenon, but it would not be conceivable if God were the central item, inherent in the system and characteristic of it.
The same is true of the Transcendent. There again, it must not be forgotten that it is man, that is, the social body which designates and specifies the Transcendent. The latter is not a reality existing in itself, but a specification on man’s part. Such a designation is not universally necessary for there to be a religion.
That brings up another objection: “Every society involves a culture, an ensemble … of ways of living and thinking, which impose themselves, sometimes as matters of fact, sometimes as obligations or prohibitions. Salvation religions, which were merely one element among others in the culture, decline in reality … Yet the secularization of an industrial civilization does not, on that account, create the need for a replacement religion. The social imperatives, of which the religious imperatives were only one category, continue to order the collective life.” In other words, the imperatives and prohibitions are not necessarily a sign of religion. It is a question of social imperatives only, with religion as one of them, and outmoded.
To that, Aron replies by showing that the secular religions constitute “the extreme form, adapted to periods of crisis, of a phenomenon manifestly tied to the industrial society,” namely, “the dialectic of universality.” The latter can come into play only when there is a religious problematic.
I shall not repeat his argument here, but I would add this: at bottom, that objection amounts to saying, “What good does it do to talk about religion in this connection? The concept of a social imperative is sufficient by itself.” Indeed not ! That concept is much too vague, and one can read anything into it. Moreover, as we have tried to show, the religious phenomenon is not characterized merely by the existence of an imperative. It is a complex ensemble.
Finally, it seemed to us essential to show that the opinions and attitudes of contemporary western man are specifically religious. That is to say, among the possible forms of the social imperative, the religious form has triumphed once again. Thus these objections appear to me without foundation.
But here we encounter another question: is there really a renaissance of the religious, or is it a disclosure of something always there? I shall not repeat what I have already said about “the religious nature of man.” On that point I maintain a complete agnosticism. I note merely, from the point of view of history, that in the nineteenth century there was indeed a desire radically to do away with the religious. Everything converged toward that end the politico-social experiments, everyday experience, the betrayal of the church, the triumph of science, the rationalist propaganda. There was an explicit will to rationality, and the unmistakable, shattering defeat of Christianity. The nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century witness an overwhelming advance of rationalism, scientism, and secularization.
But all that came into play only in connection with Christianity. There was a no less obvious retreat of Christianity. What gave the impression that this was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Saint-Simon was not only the fact, to which we have already alluded, of the ideological equating of Christianity with religion, but also the fact that the religious had been identified with Christianity for so long that it was unable to free itself from it. There was a retreat of the religious during that period for the reason that it could not find a new form, in spite of the tentative efforts in that direction exhibited by romanticism and rationalism.
Then, the moment the defeat of Christianity became obvious, when, also, enough time had elapsed to allow the religious to free itself, to invest in new objects and develop new forms, religion reappeared. That is what we have been witnessing for the past half century or more. Hence there was a temporary hiatus, but basically such interruptions are observed whenever a religious system goes down and another takes its place. The succession is never immediate. The replacement is not automatic, and those who live during that period always lament the irreligion of their times and the loss of sacred traditions. We have many proofs of that in the West as well as in China.
But we are not impressed, because those intervals seem very short to us (what is a “gap” of a half century, or even a century, at a distance of two thousand years?), whereas our own seems long. It is merely a matter of historical perspective. As a result, we treat as a mere passing attitude the lamentations of the ancients over the growth of irreligion, and their looking upon it as a value lost, while we ourselves are starting a hymn of praise for the victory and liberation of man. Thus our age seems new to us, but the experience of history shows that those excellent and virtuous people were wrong to be so regretful, and sociological analysis shows that those who glory in the irreligion and rationality of man come of age succumb to the same mistake.
Finally, a last question arises: Harvey Cox, in The Secular City, recognized that there are elements of religion in our time, in certain political ideologies, in magic approaches, and in ceremonies (as in the selection of Miss America), but for him all that is a vestige of social beliefs. Those are survivals of a magico-social residue, dogged remainders from a tribal and pagan past. That is already doomed and outmoded. The true movement is not to be found there. Whenever that sort of thing shows some vitality (as in nazism), it is a throwback doomed by history. To Cox it is obvious that nothing of this religious can subsist in the face of the advance of science in general, and of psychoanalysis in particular.
This argument by Cox seems to me remarkably superficial. That is so, first of all, because he has in no way gone to the trouble to analyze the religious phenomena, which he treats very summarily. Also, he nowhere demonstrates that it is a question of vestigial remains. The assumption is a way of avoiding the problem. “There are, of course, religious phenomena, but they are vestiges”-and that’s that. He would have to prove that it is a question of doomed survivals, and not a resurgence. Yet there isn’t a shadow of proof, nor even of serious study. It is not even clear just what Cox means by religion. We are confronted with an appraisal, a choice. “As between the scientific-rational-irreligious movement and the religious phenomena, we conclude that the former has the future ahead of it, while the latter are tribal vestiges.”
But conclusion is not reason. Cox should at least respond to the following questions: why, after a period of religious retreat toward rationality, are we witnessing a resurgence?-for it is a matter of revivification and not of a mere survival, which has a quite different significance. How does it happen that such a fundamentally irreligious movement as Marxism should have given birth to one of the principal religions of the modern world? How does it happen that a people in process of laicization, and very advanced scientifically, like the Germans, find themselves suddenly crystallized into a neo-religious unanimity with nazism? How does it happen that a veritable transfer of the sacred onto the desacralizing object should have taken place? Is there any hope of escape through technology, when the latter becomes the sacred? Or through science lived in the mythical manner? Finally, can we treat as a doomed survival a set of phenomena involving more than three quarters of secular, adult, western humanity?
But none of these questions disturbs Cox, who prefers to sleep secure in his dogmatic affirmations. It is true that he seems also to have discovered a certain religious dimension in modern man, to which he alludes in his book, The Feast of Fools, but the problem then arises how to reconcile this Feast of Fools with The Secular City.