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					                           The texts of the Convivium



                THE ECLIPSE OF THE LIVING GOD
                 AND THE ATHEIST ADVENTURE


                                by Filippo Liverziani



                                           1989




                                      CONTENTS


1. Atheism as loss of the experience of the sacred

2. The atheism of the philosopher

3. The atheism of the humanist

4. The atheism of the scientist

5. The atheism of the man "machine among machines"

6. The atheism of the desperate

7. Atheism as existential experience

8. Impossibility of a true atheist ethic

9. Atheism and amoralism

10. Atheism, disaffection, solitude

11. Atheism and nihilism

12. Experience of the sacred and faith




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                                         Chapter I

         ATHEISM AS LOSS OF THE EXPERIENCE OF THE SACRED

      Thesis of this essay is that atheism consists essentially of the loss of a certain
experience of the sacred. One does not become an atheist because the "demonstrations of
the existence of God" prove to be insufficient. One becomes an atheist when one no
longer manages to perceive the living presence of God deep within oneself. The very
manner in which atheists generally express themselves clearly shows that they are talking
about something of which they possess a concept very different from the live idea that the
believer has of it.
      This explains why it is difficult for an atheist to induce a believer to renounce his
faith when that faith is sustained by an intimate experience; in this faith there is
"something more" that escapes the atheist and that his arguments fail to confute, because
they unfold on an entirely different plane.
      And this helps us to understand why the arguments of a believer have little or no
probability of convincing an atheist who really lives his atheism: they presuppose an
experience that the believer possesses – and he is comforted by it at every step of his
argumentation – while the atheist is without it. Consequently, these arguments, which
constantly refer to something that the atheist neither feels nor sees, remain wholly
ineffective. They may attain their end when the believer finds himself face to face with
somebody who is an atheist only by name, somebody whose wholly rational and
discursive atheism masks an effective experience of the divine that has not yet emerged to
full consciousness.
      The loss of the experience of the sacred may be an arrival point of several forms of
atheism that I shall try to delineate in subsequent chapters.
      There is the atheism that we could call the atheism of the philosopher: in his attempt
to encage the living God in the concept of God, the philosopher ends up by taking into
consideration only the concept; and he thus comes to lack the sense of the living God.
      One can also distinguish an atheism of the humanist: far too taken by himself and
his dignity of man, too steeped in the exaltation of his divine capacities of creating an
autonomous kingdom of his own, the humanist turns his back onto the true God, and thus
once again loses the experience of Him.
      And then there is, as a derivation from that of the humanist, the atheism of the
revolutionary: if the humanist sees God as the adversary of man and his jealous
competitor, the revolutionary sees the Christian God as the fetish of the ruling class that it
uses to induce the subjects to resignation, so that they can more readily oppress and
exploit them: this way of considering God as the great obstacle to be overcome certainly
does not facilitate the confident internal action of the divine in the soul that is the normal
condition that enables man to deepen a religious experience.
      There is also an atheism of the scientist: wholly absorbed in his consideration of the
natural phenomena and their relationships with the programmatic exclusion of any
reference to what may be situated and act beyond them, the scientist likewise ends up by
losing any contact with the sphere of the ultra-phenomenic, which is precisely the sphere
of the sacred.
      There is an atheism that I would call of the man "machine among machines".
Having become a mere machine for producing, the worker loses all contact with nature,
the nature of which the vision spontaneously suggests analogies with the divine life that
manifests itself in it. Having also become a machine to consume, that mass-man of
today's civilization of wellbeing tends to translate all the expressions of his material and
spiritual life into terms of consumption: even his religious life has become a consumption

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of religion; and his sensitivity for the sacred necessarily ends up by being blunted, giving
rise to the religion of pills that may well be the worst form of atheism.
       Lastly, I would distinguish an atheism of the desperate: faced with the domination
of evil in a world that seems to have been abandoned by the Divinity, desperation may
induce man to assume an attitude of indignation, rebellion and closure vis-à-vis the sacred
that is the very opposite of the attitude of abandoning oneself, of creatural confidence that
the religious spirits deem to be most suitable for opening our souls to a live contact with
the absolute.
       I think I have given a first and quite general idea of how the various forms of
atheism can lead to loss of the experience of God. This would seem to be attributable to an
attitude of man, who voluntarily encloses himself in himself, in his self-sufficiency,
turning his back onto the One in whom, quite the contrary, he should see the Creator, the
Beginning and the sole Source of everything that he is.
       This forgetting to be creature and to see himself as the beginning and the end of
himself, as a god to himself, is man's fundamental sin, the sin from which there derives
every other guilt: to all intents and purposes, it is what theologians call the "original sin".
       But now there arises another question: Is modern man wholly responsible for this
sin of atheism? In other words: is he perfectly aware of it? If this turning one's shoulders
onto God depended solely on an act of man's will – clear and perfectly conscious will –
the logical premise should be that when modern man opts for atheism, he takes his moves
from a live and full experience of God.
       Now, it is precisely this that one simply cannot say. When the believing Christian
considers the history of the Western spirit from the advent of Christianity to our own days
in the light of his own intimate experience of the sacred, he will note precisely that the
direct experience of the Christian God gradually diminishes in the course of the centuries.
       This experience, which is live to a supreme degree in the first disciples of Jesus,
became deepened in many of its implications in the course of the history of Western
Christianity, but – as I just said – became ever more indirect, ever more displaced from
personal contact with the prime Source.
       The presence of the Absolute is felt to the greatest extent in the humanity of Christ
and in our humanity, but is grasped ever less as springing from the intimacy of the soul.
       It is therefore true that modern atheism derives from man enclosing himself in
himself and his world, though it is also true that this closure is not induced by a clearly
visible and manifest sin of pride vis-à-vis a God, but essentially by the fact that he
gradually comes to lack direct experience of God.
       No Christian ever said that the Eternal reveals Himself completely to men for as
long as they live on this earth; they will contemplate Him "face to face" in paradise or on
the day of resurrection; for the moment they can only glimpse Him "as in a mirror, by
enigma". Hence the need of the faith: "blessed are those who believe without having
seen!".
       But a voluntary, motivated and conscious act like the act of faith cannot be an
instinctive blind motion; it is always performed as a function of something that is seen,
that is object of a cognitive act.
       Now, we cannot know a real being, we cannot even form an idea of that being if we
do not come into contact with it by means of an experience. The Christian faith always
presupposes a certain experience of the Christian God.
       This experimental knowledge of the Absolute occurs in a clearer, more direct and
striking manner in the mystics; but one can say that every manifestation of religious life is
in some way an experience of the Divine. Due to the renewal of this experience the sense
of God forms and develops within us: and this sense is not only a subjective, "private"


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feeling, as is often said, but is rather the subjective manner of perceiving something that is
very objective and real.
       As conceived by the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Absolute is wholly
transcendental. How can we know it, experience it? Certainly not by virtue of our own
human efforts: first of all, it needs the intervention of God himself who reveals Himself
on his free and gratuitous initiative, after which man, mortifying every egoistic tendency
in his own nature, has to place himself in a receptive attitude that will permit him to grasp
the manifestation of God and enable God to work within him, to incarnate himself more
deeply in Him. This placing oneself before the Eternal in full dependency and availability
is the proper creatural attitude.
       But what exactly is the meaning of the experience of the Christian God? It is
certainly not experience of a simple, immobile and indifferent "pure Act". Quite the
contrary, it is the experience of the living and incarnate God who manifests Himself and
acts through the evolution of the cosmos and the history of men to perform his creative
work.
       Our encounter with the Christian God does not occur only in the intimacy of the
soul, through what – in the strict sense – is called the mystic experience: our encounter
with the Christian God takes place in the moral experience, where the Absolute manifests
itself as the Good and the supreme End through the voice of the conscience; it occurs in
nature, where it reveals itself as the soul of all things; and in every manifestation of life;
and especially in men made in his image and likeness. And even more so in the "men of
God", the saints, the prophets, the apostles, the mystics, where it reveals itself present in a
particular manner: and in a very particular manner in Christ, Man-God; and then in the
Church, also in the visible Church and its sacraments and charisms, where the presence of
the incarnate God becomes prolonged though the centuries.
       An experience of the divine that wanted to reduce itself to a pure mystic experience
in the strict sense, without wanting to become implemented as an encounter with God in
Christ, in one's neighbour, in the Church, could not be called true, complete Christian
experience: the Church has always kept vigil against this peril of reducing Christianity to
a pure form of gnosis, of reducing religious life to the pursuit of an ecstatic contemplation
of the Brahmanic or Plotinian type.
       Experience seeks to be encounter with God wherever He manifests himself: In the
"cell of the interior man" and in the exterior world of nature and the society of men.
       Inversely, one also has to say that it is not true Christian experience to seek good
only in external things and in man and his works and conquests, forgetting that the first
place in which He has to be sought is in the depths of our souls, where it is possible to
realize a direct dialogue with him.
       However respectable it may be, the Christianity of those who do good but neglect
prayer and avoid any kind of direct, personal, thou-to-thou relationship with the Eternal is
certainly incomplete and I would also say acephalous: this is a very dangerous way of
conceiving Christianity, because in the limit it can lead to a form of lay morality where
there is no longer room for God, inasmuch as the gradually increasing aridity of all
interior life has weakened the very idea of God and made it lose all significance.
       The faith of the apostles and the first disciples of Jesus drew comfort from the
tangible presence of the incarnate God: the Man-God was right in front of them: if they
did not always understand his words, they were nevertheless witnesses of his prodigies.
His arrest, his crucifixion left them dismayed. His resurrection confirmed them in their
faith.
       But then they were again left alone. And they thus withdrew to the last supper in
Jerusalem, where they passed their days in prayer. And then the promise came to be


                                              4
fulfilled: the Spirit of God descended upon them like a vigorous wind that filled the whole
of the house and lit on the head of each like a flame of fire.
       Full of the Holy Spirit, without any further fear, the disciples went out into the
streets and the squares to announce the Gospel with great energy. It is from that moment
onwards that the life of the first Christians fully assumed and manifested the divinely
prodigious character of the life of Jesus. From that moment onwards the apostles spoke
and acted as if Jesus lived, as if he spoke and worked in them.
       Before that moment he had seemed to them an almost strange and incomprehensible
individual, unreachable in his greatness, by whom their extreme modesty of simple,
ignorant, weak men was inevitably crushed. But from the moment the Spirit descended
upon them, the apostles abandoned any kind of fear, and in them weakness became
strength, ignorance became wisdom, because it was no longer they who lived, but Christ;
it was no longer they who spoke and acted, but rather the Spirit of Christ that expressed
itself in them and through them performed his works.
       And it was at Pentecost that there became fully operative the adoption of the first
Christians as sons of God, as participants with Jesus in the divine nature. It was when they
received the Spirit that they became true Christians, as participants with Jesus in the
divine nature. It was when they received the Spirit that they became true Christians,
namely no longer disciples of a doctrine and propagators of a message, but men grafted
into Christ, intimately united with him like the shoots and the vine.
       Due to their apologetic character, the Acts of the Apostles tend to highlight more the
triumphal aspects of the early Church than the inferior and negative aspects that can
likewise be found in the Acts, as also in the Pauline letters. Bearing in mind this tendency,
which derives from the apologetic character of the work, we nevertheless cannot call into
doubt the substantial truthfulness of the Acts.
       According to what they hand down to us, in the early days of the Church the
manifestation of the Spirit occurred in such a powerful manner and was so tangible in its
effects that it could be the object of a true experience in the precise and pregnant sense of
the term, the experience of an invisible supernatural force that acts on its own initiative in
accordance with what has all the appearance of a pre-established plan. Wherever it acts, it
radically renews men.
       The souls of a primitive state of spiritual obtuseness, at times even highly
accentuated, arrive at realizing notable intuitions and their sense of the supranatural
acquires a previously never suspected fineness and profundity.
       Individuals until then accustomed to speak rudely crudely and tritely (one need but
remember certain dialogues between Jesus and the apostles) suddenly became capable of
expressing things among the loftiest that have ever been said among men with strong and
wholly essential eloquence.
       Individuals who until then had been wicked or egoistic, or morally insensitive and
coarse, converted and seemed renewed at the root: they took to loving God above all
things and their neighbour as themselves, they sold all their belongings and consigned the
money they received to the administrators of the Church, so that it might be put in
common with the brethren in the faith and especially help the most needy.
       From then onwards, men who were slaves of the sense lived in perfect purity.
       Men agitated by passions and desire of revenge pardoned their enemies,
extinguishing in their own souls even the least trace of rancour.
       From that moment onwards, men accustomed to living only to serve their egoism
and their ambitions no longer lived for anything other than the service of God, in full
dedication and total availability. Fearful and timid men – capable, like Peter, to deny
Jesus three times in a single night in order not to be compromised – acquired a frankness
and a courage that induced them to undertake the evangelization of mankind to the limits

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of the earth; and they went from city to city to announce the resurrection of Christ, facing
persecution, torture and death with a serene mind; and at the moment of the extreme
sacrifice they still showed a strength of character and a joy of offering themselves for the
cause of the Lord that seemed to render them insensitive even to the most atrocious
sufferings: such was not only the behaviour of men, but also of women, old people,
youngsters, persons who humanly seemed among the weakest before they became
renewed in Christ.
      Renewal of souls often becomes transformed into healing of bodies: grave
infirmities, deemed to be incurable or suffered ever since birth, suddenly become healed;
and even dead rise, like Lazarus, like Jesus. It almost seems to see the first announcement
of a superior humanity of children of God, of men-gods, similar to the divine-human
nature of Christ.
      All this does not happen by the initiative of men: it is undoubtedly in the power of
men to reject or accept the appeal of the Spirit, rendering themselves receptive to its
action and collaborating actively with it; but the initiative, the inspiration and the force
always come from the divine Spirit.
      It is the Supernatural, it is the Spirit of God and Christ that manifests itself in the
apostles and speaks and acts through them. They do nothing other than obey it as its
docile instruments.
      When they are put in prison for the first time, it is the Angel of the Lord who at night
opens the gates of the prison and, having led them outside, commands them to resume
preaching in the Temple. In the same way the Spirit later freed Peter from Herod's prison.
      And it was once again the Angel of the Lord who spoke to deacon while he was
asleep, telling him that towards mid-day he was to go to the road that leads from
Jerusalem to Gaza, where he was to encounter the eunuch and Grand Treasurer of the
Queen of Ethiopia and convert him.
      The initiative of the Supernatural manifests itself again, and in a striking manner, in
the conversion of Saul; and transpired with the utmost clarity in the evangelization of the
Centurion Cornelius, from which there derives the first great turning point in the history
of the primitive Church: the admission of non-Jews to baptism.
      This supernatural Agent is variously referred to as Spirit of God, or Angel of God,
or Spirit of Jesus, or Spirit of the Lord, when it is not altogether identified with Christ
himself, from whom in a certain manner it "proceeds", as the theologians and the Credo
were later to say; and from whom – as Jesus himself explained on the occasion of the last
supper according to the narration of John – it "takes" what it has to communicate to the
apostles and "listens" to what it has to tell and announce to them.
      It is the Spirit of God and Jesus that is the true protagonist of all these events, which,
better than "acts of the apostles" should be called "acts of the Spirit through the apostles".
      The Holy Spirit is always the subject of sacred history, no matter how variegated
may be the modes of its manifestation: to the prophets, by means of visions of "angels" or
interior voices: to the Hebrew people, through the words of the prophets; in the Man-God,
Jesus of Nazareth; through Jesus, to the human Israelites of that given epoch; after Jesus'
ascension to heaven, in invisible but no less powerful form, by means of the baptism of
fire of the Spirit; and, lastly, through the true disciples of Jesus, in each of whom the
Master relives as an alter Christus and through whom he prolongs his deifying action.
      Of the active presence of the divine Spirit the first Christians feel a direct experience
that can be defined a true mystic experience in the fullest sense. It is from this
experimental knowledge of the Spirit that the faith of the apostles draws its sustenance.
      The apostles no longer feel this divine Spirit as something transcendent and distant:
they avert it as a reality that lives within them, and has by now transformed their selfsame


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human nature, deifying it to some extent, rendering it incomparably more similar to that
of the Man-God.
      For this reason the apostles act with the same certainty of their Master: they spread
his message with words that the Church was later to assimilate with the divinely inspired
words of Jesus; they operate the same prodigies with the same certainty; they no longer
avert the sense of inadequacy that tormented them before, because that selfsame Spirit
commands them what they have to say and do and thus renders them capable of obeying it
to the full and providing them with all the necessary spiritual and material means.
      Let us try to identify ourselves with that frame of mind: something that happens by
means of modalities that are different from or even opposite to those to which we are
accustomed in connection with the development of certain phenomena may seem
extraordinary to us, but when the extraordinary happens every day, we end up by
considering it ordinary and acting with the greatest naturalness in a manner different and
even opposite to how we acted before. And we thus end up by expecting the repetition of
the "extraordinary" event with the same naturalness with which we expect the sun to rise
every morning.
      And therefore, at the moment when we still stand in need of a supernatural grace so
far always obtained in similar circumstances, we do nothing other than praying briefly
and then acting as if we had already obtained it. And this with the same spontaneity with
which we perform any kind of action of our ordinary life.
      Jesus operated in this selfsame manner at the moment when he performed his
greatest prodigy, the resurrection of a man who had been dead for four days: "so they took
away the stone, and Jesus lifted up his eyes and said: 'Father, I thank thee that thou hast
heard me, I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the
people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me'. When he had said this,
he cried with a loud voice: ‘Lazarus, come out!'" (Jn 11, 41-43).
      And it was with the same certainty that Peter "full of the Holy Spirit", after
Pentecost, and just like Jesus – turned to the man crippled from birth who had asked him
for alms: "I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have. In the name of Jesus
Christ of Nazareth, walk!" (Acts 3, 6).
      This direct experience of the divine Spirit, of its presence and assistance, of its
inhabitation of the human soul, of its deifying action, this mystic experience that, all said
and done, is testified by the apostles, comforted the faith of the Christians in the early
centuries and is the motive that inspires, in particular, Eastern Orthodoxy.
      Christians know well that their God transcends them in an absolute manner and is
unknowable in his essence. They know well that they will never be able to reach Him
with only their own forces. But it is God himself who reveals himself, if not in his
intimate nature, at least through his "operations" or "energies", through his "grace". In
orthodox theology divine grace is conceived rather as uncreated: through it God
manifests himself entirely, in the first person, just like Christ in the Eucharist.
      According to patristics, and the Greek fathers in particular, God reveals himself in
the human soul: interiorly He illumines it, dwells there, and transforms it in his image and
likeness; and man can therefore have a direct experience of the Divinity: in him there is a
"feeling of God" or "spiritual sentiment" of the divine presence; in his soul there is a
certain "tact" by virtue of which it "touches the divine Verb", realizing – albeit within the
limits mentioned – a real "theognosis".
      This mystic experience is both love and knowledge: it has a noetic character in the
truest sense. And the whole of theology, even before discursive thought, is
"contemplation of the Holy Trinity".
      This gratuitous participation of the Absolute ensures that man, by his very nature, is
an "image of God"; and such he remains even when the "resemblance" with God comes to

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lack in him following the original sin. But the incarnation of God in Christ restores the
original human nature in an effective, complete manner; so that man, returning to his
primitive Eden-like state, becomes once again similar to his Creator.
       With his resurrection, Christ definitively overcame death and evil, smashed the
gates of the Hades, redeemed men, rendered them once again participants of the Spirit.
Shortly, on the occasion of the imminent parousia, he will manifest himself in all his
fullness; but his kingdom has already commenced, is already present and operative on the
earth, and Christians not only bring its announcement, but already take part in it in a
substantial manner.
       This already ongoing triumph of divine life in man and in the whole of reality is
what the theologians call the "glory"; and that of the fathers of the Church, and the Greek
fathers in particular, is all essentially a "theology of glory".
       The Christ they adore is the risen and glorious Christ, victor and dominator: in the
Orthodox icons, even the crucifix seems the image not so much of the suffering man
Jesus, won by death, but rather of the incarnate God who, through the cross, has
overcome death and triumphed over it; and the cross itself seems not the tree of torment,
but rather the new tree of life of Eden.
       The parousia is imminent, even though its hour is as yet unknown. But the
resurrection has already inaugurated the parousia. United with Christ like the shoots with
the vine in a single indivisible body, Christians are already risen people. The kingdom of
God already manifests itself through them, and they are its witnesses.
       Among the disciples of Christ, the perfect – the hermits and the monks – have the
special prophetic mission of anticipating the final advent of the kingdom. "Angels on the
earth", they realize as of this moment the paradisiac state; and in resemblance of the
angelic choirs and the multitudes of the risen blessed they dedicate their entire life to
contemplating and adoring the Eternal.
       But man who lives by prayer, the orant, the contemplative spirit, represented an
ideal for all the Christians of the early centuries, no matter what their condition.
       This particular manner of feeling religion assumed form in an epoch when the
influences of the eastern spirit, which by its nature tends to be contemplative, were
profound. In such a context, Christian life ended up by becoming understood essentially
as liturgy, human image of the heavenly liturgy. It was through the rite that the Christian
who lives and militates in time comes to place himself in the sphere where time
encounters eternity, the relative encounters the absolute, the human the divine. The rite
not only commemorates or anticipates a sacred event, but is that very event, is already the
ongoing parousia.
       The baptized dies with Christ and rises with him to enter immediately into the
kingdom with him. Whoever participated in the Eucharist becomes "concarnal" and
"consanguineous" with Christ, and, just like the bread and the wine, a fragment of the
divine nature of the Saviour.
       Protochristians of every country and Eastern Orthodox of every epoch have in
common a firm faith of being able to anticipate the advent of the kingdom in an existence
wholly lived and understood as liturgy.
       This almost exclusive accentuation of the moment of contemplation and prayer with
respect to that of action could be dangerous for Christianity: one proceeds as if on a
razor's edge, and a mere nothing can induce the spirits to lapse into a kind of egoism: in a
quiet, separate existence, indifferent to the ills from which humanity suffers, which in the
true disciples of Christ should find its own Samaritans.
       Such a Christianity, confining itself to its even essential role of eschatological
witness, would forego its full realization, to incarnate itself fully to instaurare omnia in
Cristo.

                                             8
       A Christianity excessively confined to its liturgical moment would concern itself
with repeating: "Lord, Lord", rather than doing the will of the Lord to the very limit in
everything that it may even implicitly call for.
       Excessively insisting in an exclusive manner on motives that are undoubtedly
essential, Eastern Orthodoxy risks becoming configured as an incomplete Christianity,
insensitive to certain values, to certain of its implications: a closed, self-satisfied and
vaguely Pharisaic Christianity.
       Be it clear: this need not necessarily happen, but the risk is grave. Latin Christianity
acquired greater consciousness of this peril as it came to constitute itself in ever greater
autonomy from the East.
       In the attitude that characterized Eastern Christianity there is also another danger:
the Christian averts that the kingdom of God is already in him, that his deification is
already in course, but this can illude him to have reached "home", whereas in actual fact
he is still "on the road"; it can induce him to believe that he has already integrally realized
his sanctification, whereas in actual fact there is still far too much of the "old man" that
has to be crucified within him before he can consider himself to be totally covered by the
new.
       In actual fact, human nature has to consume itself to the very full to render itself
truly receptive to being completely taken into possession by the Spirit. And the ascetic
road is one only: the one that was to be called "the royal road of the Holy Cross". In a
mysticism, in a liturgy, in a theology that concentrate in an exclusive manner on the
moment of glory, there is a grave temptation to "evacuate the cross of Christ".
       Ut non evacuetur crux Cristi, religious men of Roman Catholicism preoccupy
themselves to act for a greater personal sanctification through a more rigorous ascesis that
assumes a more pronounced character of expiation and penitence.
       The parousia, impatient goal of the early Christians, seems to have been postponed
for centuries: certainly, the times are not mature; the dawn of the resurrection has not yet
broken, mankind's Good Friday is getting longer and longer. As Pascal was to write,
"Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world: we must not sleep during this time"
(Pensées, 553).
       Christ's disciples have to unite with him in the sacrifice, they have to follow him on
the sorrowful road that leads to Calvary and help him bear the cross. Any desire of
anticipating the mystic joys of the resurrection and the glory is illicit for as long as there
lasts the time of the cross.
       Thus mysticism, though admitted as a road of sanctification in exceptional cases,
ceased to inspire the Christian life of the multitudes, no longer constituted the central
motive of the liturgy. The accent became displaced from mysticism to asceticism.
       The psychology of impatient expectation became converted into a psychology of
postponement. The risen and glorious Christ was no longer at the centre of attention of the
cult, but rather the crucified man Jesus. From participation in the glory of the risen Christ,
the Eucharist became renewal of the sacrifice of Calvary in which the faithful take part.
       The cult of the suffering humanity of Christ spurs the faithful to identify himself
with the passion: and hence the phenomenon of the stigmata, ignored by Orthodox piety.
       Sanctifying themselves in imitation of Christ is certainly not the sole preoccupation
among the religious men of Roman Catholicism: who are urged on by an equally live
need of promoting the sanctification of the others and the world, preaching to the people,
performing in their midst also an active cultural, social and charitable apostolate.
       The religious thus came out of their monasteries for the cities and the rural areas to
sing the praise of God, exhort the people to convert, instructing them in the Christian
doctrine: they are the "minstrels of God" of Saint Francis, the preaching brethren of Saint
Dominic, the regular clerics (Theatines, Jesuits, Piarists, Ministers of the Infirm…), the

                                              9
priests of the ecclesiastic congregations (from the "Philippines" to the "Salesians", to the
"Sons of the Divine Providence" of Don Orione and then the brethren of the religious
institutes (from the "Carissimi", school teachers and promoters of professional
instruction, the editor friars and sisters of the Company of Saint Paul), the laymen of the
secular institutes, and then the worker priests, the gypsy priests, the beat priests...: orders,
religious societies, initiatives of every kind that, in the most variegated forms and in
keeping with needs and the times, pursue the common objective of incarnating
Christianity in the world.
       Committed to this action, the Roman Catholics matured the profound conviction
that the environment had to be transformed if a proficuous work of apostolate was to be
rendered possible: only in this way could there be created the premises, the conditions
necessary to permit the flowering of an intense and fecund religious life.
       Obstacles of every kind have to be removed; the barbarians have to be civilized;
society and the state have likewise to be christianized in such a manner that, assuring
peace, justice, order and the temporal wellbeing of men, will enable each one to pursue
the supreme goal of religious perfection.
       Even Greek philosophy, so impenetrable and closed to the scandal of the
incarnation, has to be transformed from within, and in such a manner as to enable it to
open itself to the idea of a creator God who lives and incarnates himself in human history.
       Thus also literature, the arts and music have to be converted into faithful "maidens"
(ancillae) of religion.
       In short, all the expressions of the temporal life of man have to be placed in the
service of his religious life. Therefore the militant Christian has to turn himself into the
Samaritan of the world: philosopher, politician, benefactor, medical man, architect or
poet, he has to operate with a certain autonomy in these individual forms of man's culture
and temporal life to transform them in such a manner that they can constitute the most
suitable humus for sowing the divine Word, for the germination of an authentic
supernatural life: which is also the only thing that really counts for man, because it alone
determines his eternal destiny.
       A Christianity conceived in these terms is militia: it conceives charity as active love.
This idea of a religion less contemplative and more dedicated to action appealed more to
the wholly practical Latin spirit; it found a more favourable environment in the West,
where men are by temperament more inclined to act than the Easterners.
       This ethnical, environmental and civilization factor exercised a powerful influence
on the evolution of historical Christianity. There are also many other factors of various
kinds, though these need not be discussed in such a brief account.
       But it is a fact that Christianity was ever more urged to highlight its ethical, juridical
and social, cultural and humanist implications: the Christian feels himself ever more
solidary with the world – creation of God – and all its autonomous values.
       Western activism may have played a great part in this deepening of the humanist
values; and a great influence must have been exercised by the rediscovery of the classical
civilization, which had already emancipated the various forms of culture from religion,
with which they had originally been merged into a single whole.
       It should also be borne in mind that the development of modern humanism took
place under the sign of an open rebellion against traditional Christianity: all this has to be
taken into consideration, but it is equally certain that modern humanism does nothing
other than explicit consequences that Christianity contained in germ ever since its first
appearance. And it was from Latin Christianity that this work of explicitation received its
first powerful impulse.
       Every great realization in human history has its cost, which may be more or less
high. The price that the West paid for explicating the ethical, social and humanist content

                                               10
of Christianity is the gradual loss of the direct experience of God in the soul: humanism
was acquired at the expense of mysticism.
      I briefly mentioned the diffidence that an ascetic imitating the crucified Christ may
feel in connection with the mystic vision: undue anticipation in full time of the cross of a
paradisiac state that has yet to come. But there is something new now: the mystic
experience is no longer merely opposed, but a little at a time ends up by falling into
oblivion. The Christian's attention becomes wholly concentrated on the moral
implications, the works, the things that have to be done to spread the kingdom of Christ in
the world and in every aspect of reality. Turning one's eyes excessively onto the
applications, one loses sight of the principle: one looks at the branches and the fruits, but
no longer at the root; one's look is turned away from the source and beholds only the
branches of the river.
      It is the love of God that in a first moment drives us to love our neighbour. "Love of
God": this expression, which has a very precise and concrete meaning for the mystic,
gradually loses sense; and even many militant Christians, in perfectly good faith, no
longer understand how one can love God in himself; and end up by saying that one cannot
love God other than through love for men.
      The love of God expresses itself through what in the wider sense is called "prayer".
The passage from a religious life of pure contemplation to one inspired by the principle of
ora et labora finds its justification in the fact that even work, performed in a certain spirit,
is a form of prayer. We thus dedicate ourselves to work, immerse ourselves in an ever
more absorbing activity that commits all the forces of the apostle. And there it is: in the
eyes of the apostle that activity appears as an end in itself. And prayer, of which he has
lost the sense, appears as something more: something that at times can comfort the man
for action, but often detracts him from it, constitutes an evasion of more urgent duties for
him. And the same apostle may feel induced to ask himself: "Why lose time in prayer,
when that half hour could be employed more usefully? Why build a church when the
same money could put up a block of flats for ten poor families?"
      Here we have a temptation that worries even the best spirits, this resolving the
whole of religion in ethics, in active charity, in social action. But it bears witness to the
fact that we keep on losing the sense of what religion truly is in itself.
      This seems to me to be the point of arrival of an entire spiritual evolution of which
the loss of the mystic experience of God in the soul constitutes the first step. (Developing
this mentality in the full rigour of its logic, the left wing of American Protestantism thus
arrives today at the "Christian atheism" of the theologians of the "death of God", who
have "secularized" every Christian instance to the point of reducing the love of God to
pure and simple love of one's neighbour: reducing any Christian commitment to a purely
terrestrial commitment, exclusively concerned with the promotion of the "secular city").
      It is a fact that the Latin Church shows a growing diffidence towards mysticism and
tends to circumscribe it, if not to deny it. In general principle, it distrusts every movement
of thought that wants to propose any form of experience of God or "vision of God" to men
who still live on this earth in a condition of natura lapsa due to the effect of the original
sin and would have to do too much to merit access to a beatific vision of the Divinity,
from which they will be able to benefit only in Paradise.
      It is this, above all, that induces the Latin Church to displace its attention ever more
towards works, to concentrate the cult ever more on the figure of the suffering and
itinerant man Christ, with the result of separating him from the Holy Spirit as
manifestation of God in the intimacy of the human soul.
      There thus becomes accentuated the sense of the transcendence of God, of his
distance from men, of his radical non-knowability. Divine grace is conceived as a reality
that is not so much uncreated – as it tendentially is for eastern theology – but rather

                                              11
created. It therefore assimilates man to God, but does not deify him, does not transfigure
him to the point intended by the Orthodox of the East.
       The insurgence of ever new heresies is also motive of particular apprehension for
the Church authorities, who view with suspicion any form of autonomous research for
fear that it may lead to heterodox positions. Faced with a modern world that rebels against
it on all sides, the Church becomes similar to a besieged city, assumes its psychology and
configures itself for the most part as an army.
       Faced with the national monarchies, even the Roman Church came to configure
itself as a kind of absolute monarchy. Everything is regulated, directed and controlled
from the top. The ecclesiastic authorities keep vigil over the entire religious life of the
faithful, seek to condition everything in accordance with precise norms, prefer a
prefabricated and regimented ascesis to a first-hand mystic experience.
       Though prayer assumes a freer form in the Protestant churches and even the
common prayer is at times improvised by the pastor on the occasion of the Sunday cult, in
the Catholic Church even private orations are based on fixed texts, approved by censure,
leaving only a very limited margin for creative elaboration by the faithful.
       Christian mystics have lost a great deal of the contemplative-noetic character that
was attributed to them in the early centuries and which they still possess rather widely in
Eastern Orthodoxy: in the Latin Church of the Middle Ages and modern times it tends to
assume to an ever greater extent an affective-pragmatic character, becomes the mysticism
of the love of God, is understood as a spiritual exercise that forms the new apostles by
strengthening their active virtues – courage, perseverance, spirit of sacrifice, commotion
for the sufferings of Christ and ardent desire to follow him on the road that leads to
Calvary, total offer of oneself and full availability for any kind of task, obedience right
through to death – that will have to comfort them for an often heroic action understood as
propagating the kingdom of God in the world.
       With this I do not by any means want to say that every form of mysticism has been
lost in the West and has wholly disappeared. The names of Theresa of Avila and John of
the Cross and the importance they have as masters and classics of mystic theology would
be sufficient to confute a conclusion of this kind. One cannot even deny the importance of
such a branch of theology, which bases itself on the experiences of the great Christian
mystics and in some manner endeavours to treat them in synthesis, to codify them.
       This said, however, it is certain that the Roman theologians consider mystics an
exceptional phenomenon, an experience that can be accessed only by a few privileged
souls. To the religious life of the majority they tend to deny, at least terminologically, the
character of a "mystic" experience. Mysticism is no absolutely outlawed; but is
undoubtedly kept at the margins of the religious life of the multitudes.
       Mystic experience is a privileged experience, it is not made for the multitude of
men. How would these convince themselves that it is really God who reveals himself
through the Church? First of all, one would have to ascertain that God exists. This is the
autonomous task of philosophy: of a philosophy that does without any type of interior or
mystic experience; of a philosophy that identifies all the experiences with sensorial
experience; of a philosophy that moves away from the Platonic-Augustinian model and is
clearly inspired by its Aristotelian counterpart. At the philosophical level – understood in
the Aristotelian manner – man cannot have any direct knowledge of God, therefore he can
do nothing other than argue God from the finite beings of the cosmos, the only ones of
which he can have a sensible, corporeal knowledge.
       If the mystic experience is excluded by philosophy, it is no less excluded by
theology (always provided that one wants to do without the island that is constituted by
mystic theology, unknown to most, attainable only by a very few elect by grace).


                                             12
       The theologian does not so much seek to relive the content of the revelation, gaining
deeper insight into it in the light of his own experience: rather, he seeks to clarify the
literal significance of the revelation, reducing it to a complex of propositions, eventually
to deduce therefrom other propositions that are implied by it. To avoid excessively free
interpretations that could slide into heresy, theological research prefers to base itself as
much as possible on the letter of the sacred text, except in those cases in which the
impossibility is manifest and the contrary evidence forces it to adopt a more "spiritual"
interpretation.
       Today things have changed a little: it has become clear that one thing is the
substance of the revealed truth, while its human formulations are quite another, always
relative to the times; freedom of seeking greater insight into the contents of the revelation
by means of a free interior research, through an intimate, personal, lived experience of the
Christian God, is being increasingly recognized not only to the ecclesiastical theologian,
but also to any faithful; ground is being gained by the concept of an existential and
testimonial theology that continuously compares the sacred text with the data of spiritual
experience in such a way as to deepen the revealed truth in its spirit rather than its mere
letter.
       If all this can undoubtedly be said in relation to today, it certainly does not
correspond to the reality of the last few centuries, in the course of which the Catholic
believer was essentially denied the liberty of interpreting Scripture and Tradition in the
light of his own intimate experience. As reaction to the "free examination" of
Protestantism, above all, the matter of a free interior search, an existential interpretation
of the Christian message in the light of one's own religious experience had become what
we might call a rather delicate argument.
       In short, the sole truly free research remained philosophy, from the ambit of which
scientific research was later to develop and assume autonomous form: and on the
philosophic-scientific level the sole knowable realities were the ones that could become
the object of sensorial experience. And therefore God could be known not directly, but
only by arguing him from the beings of the cosmos.
       One might note at this point that, if such and such gives us such and such, a merely
sensorial knowledge does not give us anything other than a mere notion of corporeal
beings; it does not of itself give us God.
       A Thomas Aquinas arrived at God from the consideration of the beings of the
cosmos, because he was already "from God": being a profoundly religious soul, an
authentic saint, he possessed the intimate experience of the sacred that enabled him to
glimpse God in the world, to arrive at the infinite moving from finite beings.
       But when the philosophers of the West came to lose the intimate experience of the
divine that alone could have enabled them to grasp the presence of the divine in the world,
they – moving from a pure experience of things and bodies – no longer arrived at a live
idea of God, indeed, one cannot see how they could have done so.
       I am certain that the first origin of all this has to be sought in the attitude that, as we
saw, prevailed in the Latin Church: in the particular accent it attributed to the
mortification – understood as crucifying the old Adam within us – and to the exterior
action, understood as explicating Christianity and incarnating it in the world; to the
particular diffidence it nourished vis-à-vis a free mystic experience, possible source of
heresies. All this induced Western man to turn his back to an ever greater extent upon
manifesting himself in God at the interior doors of the soul. "Experience" ended up by
becoming synonymous with "sensorial experience".
       And, seeing that the senses of the body cannot give us notions other than those of
corporeal realities, Western man ended by convincing himself that the sole existing


                                               13
reality is this natural and human world that we see with our eyes and that no absolute
reality exists beyond it.
       With attention wholly concentrated on this world to know it and dominate it and
turn it into their kingdom, modern men have come to lose every experience and sense of
God; to the point that today even the word "God" has a rather strange effect on many
people: until it seems nothing other than a simple flatus vocis devoid of sense.
       A God of whom one no longer has an overwhelming and full experience, a God
whom one feels extremely far away and barely glimpsed as a tenuous winter light that
appears and disappears, such a God, who seems the only one accessible to many men of
today, is the very one envisaged by the irrational faith of the Protestants of the
Kierkegaard and Barth type.
       A faith conceived in this manner, not comforted by a true mystic experience, no
longer seems something spontaneous and almost natural as in the Christians of the first
centuries, and also today in the eastern churches. It is a difficult faith, a desperate faith I
would say: it is a credo quia absurdum (I believe in it just because it is absurd) that
counterposes the vision of a an absurd world with the idea of an unattainable and
incommensurable God, which is no less scandalous for our reason.
       Here the act of faith does not derive from a clear consideration of motives, as
happens when man takes a decision "knowing what he does". It has been said: a mystic
experience of God is lacking in the soul and God seems to be far away, shrouded in
obscurity, so that – and not without good reason – we are not even certain that he exists.
At least in the light of our rationality, our reflected consciousness, the faith in such a God
is configured as an unmotivated, gratuitous, arbitrary act: a true "jump".
       What can such a God do for us? Protestant theology – the one that has maintained
itself most faithful to its original inspiration – replies: God cannot sanctify, and even less
can He deify us, in a real and effective manner; he can only "justify" in the formal,
forensic sense: he can only declare us just, whereas de facto we remain sinners, with all
the weaknesses and the miseries of our nature corrupted by the original sin. The salvation
of Protestantism is rather a hope of salvation: of an effective redemption that we shall
obtain only in the heavenly home, not before.
       One cannot but note the enormous difference that passes between this faith and the
faith of the first Christians: who hoped to be saved precisely because they already felt
salvation at work deep within them, through the sanctifying action of the Spirit: who
purified them from every egoism, transforming them into perfect instruments of his
action; and made them express things never said before, of unheard of profundity, true
"words of eternal life"; and infused into them the tenacity and the courage to face any trial
and rendered them capable of performing incredible prodigies.
       The Protestant experience of the Kierkegaard and Barth type, on the other hand, is
that of a great void, a thick obscurity, into which there barely penetrates a vague and
distant blaze: here we have the characteristic faith of modern man, a man who has wholly
lost the sense of the sacred, who sees that a world without God is nothing but a tragic,
absurd race towards death and therefore wants to believe in God even though he hides
from him.
       Certainly, it is not just a pragmatic motive that induces him to believe: even here
there is a cognitive element, an experience of God in the background, though it is
extremely vague and distant! Nothing that can be compared with the striking and
overwhelming experience of the Spirit in the apostles and the first Christians.
       Though Protestantism wants to present itself as the only form of faith appropriate
for facing the modern desperation, I am convinced that man will never be able to
recuperate a live, profound and illumined Christian faith other than by recuperating a
mystic experience. More than to Protestantism, one would have to turn to Eastern

                                              14
Orthodoxy as a model, if it were not for the fact that the faith and the spiritual attitude of
Eastern Christianity did not reveal certain grave lacunae that, if not filled, threaten to turn
it into an incomplete and disincarnate Christianity.
       If I may here give summary expression to a conclusion of mine, I would say that our
effort of recuperating a true and complete Christian experience should be implemented
simultaneously in two directions: it should continue the work of Western Christianity –
and of the lay world generated by it – intended to develop from Christianity all its
humanist implications; but at the same time it should re-approach the live sources of
mysticism that in the West are represented by an elect spiritual aristocracy, constitute a
mass phenomenon in the East that invests the cult, the doctrine, the art and Christian life
in all its expressions.
       Recuperating the mystic experience, we shall deepen it in all the aspects it can
assume; and our experience of God will be one and multiple: it will have God as its
object, inasmuch as he not only manifests himself in our souls, but also in the other men,
and with particular power in the prophets, the saints and the mystics, in Christ and in the
Church, in the entire universe and in every individual creature, in every act of spirituality
and life.
       No particular aspect of such a comprehensive and multiform mystic experience will
have to be deepened in an exclusive manner, but each one will imply also all the others:
like the branches, blossoms and fruits of one and the same tree, all together will seem to
manifest themselves multiples of a single living and incarnate God.
       It is a cornerstone of our Christian faith that any initiative in the spiritual world
belongs to the Absolute, and only to Him. But, if the descent of the divine Spirit is not
something that can depend on us, it is up to us to assume an attitude of aperture and
humble availability that can render us more receptive to the autonomous action of grace.




                                         Chapter II

                         THE ATHEISM OF THE PHILOSOPHER

      A panoramic view of the history of modern thought will enable us to note that the
idea of God, sprung live and powerful from Christianity, paled increasingly with the
passage of the centuries until it became a mere shadow of itself: concept dead,
superstructure useless.
      Let us see, more particularly, what fate awaited the Christian idea of the incarnate
God. One can readily agree as to the central importance that the idea of incarnation has in
Christianity. One could say: Christianity is incarnation.
      Even before being a doctrine, Christianity is the announcement of a fact: God
incarnates himself among us for love and grants us the gist of his selfsame nature, and in
this way saves us from the destiny of death that is inscribed in our nature of finite beings.
      One clearly sees that the idea of incarnation is essential to Christianity. But if we
look at the history of the human spirit in the last few centuries, we cannot but note that it
is precisely this idea that enters clearly and decidedly into crisis.


                                              15
       For modern thought the incarnation is something unreasonable, just as it was for
Greek thought. The incarnation once again becomes scandal for reason; or, more
precisely, not for a conscious reason of one's limits, but on account of the rationalism,
where abstract reason is absolutized.
       An infinite that becomes finite, a Creator who turns himself into a creature among
creatures seems to clash with the first principles of logic, which for the Greeks were the
supreme principles of reality. The reality of the world is not only rational, but also
self-sufficient; and on this modern thought is once again in agreement with its ancient
counterpart. The incarnation is therefore not only irrational, but useless: what need of
God could be had by a world that has within itself everything that it needs to live and
develop?
       A few examples. For Telesius nature has to be investigated exclusively iuxta
propria principia, precisely because it has within itself everything that explains it: to
explain nature there is thus no need to go back to transcendental causes or principles of a
meta-natural order (Modern scientific thought was to give full development to this
concept, claiming science to be fully autonomous of both philosophy and the Christian
faith: but, little by little, science will end up by absorbing both philosophy and religion:
that will be the triumph of scientism; and the scientist, just as he will deny all value to
extra-scientific knowledge, will end up by denying the existence of any transcendental
reality transcending nature, thus arriving at materialism and declared atheism; or, more
subtly, refraining from any affirmation or negation regarding extraphenomenic realities,
he will limit himself to defining any consideration as being "devoid of sense" inasmuch as
it is not capable of being verified: and the problem of God will be equally devoid of sense
for him).
       For Vico, again, even human history explains itself on its own, and the principle that
governs it is an immanent rationality that God undoubtedly has infused into it, but which,
once it has been inserted in the historical course, operates in an autonomous manner by
virtue of its specific laws: laws to which, if we wanted to define them in the traditional
language of theology, we could not attribute any "supernatural" character. Inasmuch as
these laws are explicated in a purely "natural" ambit, they can be discovered by the
philosopher without any revelation, but by means of a simple analysis of a scientific
character: such is the intention of the "new science". (This historical world, of which Vico
simply affirms the autonomy, will end up by becoming absolutized and considered as the
sole existing reality, and historiography as the sole true knowledge worthy of this name:
and thus we have the radical historicism of Benedetto Croce).
       Let us now consider another doctrine that is rather characteristic of the new
mentality: the jusnaturalism of Grotius. Grotius, just like Telesius, just like Vico, affirms
the existence of God; and yet his entire intention is to found a natural law on pure humans
reason, so that it would no longer stand in need of theological justifications. This law of
nature "would also subsist in some way even if we admitted – something that cannot be
done without grave impiety – that God did not exist or that He did not concern himself
with humanity" (De iure belli ac pacis, Prolegomena, 11). (In short: God exists; but there
is no need to call him into cause to justify natural law. For all practical effects, it makes no
difference whether or not he exists. Consequently, why should we not do without him?
Sooner or later, temptation will make itself felt ever more strongly even here).
       An autonomous foundation of ethics was among the great objectives of Kant's
philosophy. If metaphysics is impossible as science, if any rational demonstration of the
existence of God is impossible, ethics would come to lack bases if it could not be
constituted in an autonomous manner. Here, once again, without any need of God. It is
not by any means "necessary", writes Kant, "to admit the existence of God as principle of
every obligation in general (because this principle... is founded on the autonomy of

                                              16
reason itself)" (Critique of practical reason, II, II, 5). (Here, too, the useless God will
soon become unwieldy: obstacle and impediment for man's complete self-realization of
which many people would like to make consist true humanism).
      Very appropriately, Pascal says of Descartes: "I cannot pardon Descartes: in all his
philosophy he would have liked to do without God; but he could not avoid making him
strike a little blow (a chiquénaude) to set the world in motion; after which he no longer
has any place for him" (Pensées, 77). Pascal's acute notation well grasps the typical
attitude vis-à-vis God assumed not only by the philosophy of a Descartes, but in general
by the most characteristic and original aspects of the whole of modern philosophy.
Modern man does not always deny God. Often he affirms Him as the creator principle of
every reality. What he denies is the personal intervention of God in the things of this
world: intervention that is judged unnecessary or, rather, irrational.
      Absurd the "miracle": contradictory, as Bayle would say, with the selfsame divine
essence. What modern man denies is not so much God, but rather the incarnation of God
in the world. He denies not so much a "God of the philosophers" (of Greek rationalism,
resumed – after a long jump of centuries – by modern rationalism), but rather the living
and incarnate God, the "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob".
      Even though God is not necessarily denied by modern thought, de facto there is no
longer any place for him in the world. It fell to believing Christians (Galileo, Descartes)
to be the first to propose the concept of a nature essentially sustained by mechanical laws.
Subsequently even the nature of the human mind was conceived (at least tendentially) in a
mechanistic manner. Now, what place can there be for the incarnate God in a
materialistically conceived natural and human universe? There barely remains a place for
a "God of the philosophers".
      By definition, a "God of the philosophers" does not grant himself to man, does not
incarnate himself in him, does not make him the gift of himself, his infinity, his
immortality, does not save him from corruption, and man remains what he is. The
creation of man and nature is something that already happened at the beginning of time,
and does not continue through the evolution of the living and human history.
      On the other hand, for a mentality of the rationalist-enlightenment type the world is
already perfectly rational as it is, and man has no need of being saved, has no need of any
further interventions by God: in his actual condition he is perfectly capable of realizing
himself and to develop in an autonomous manner.
      Counterposing the God of the deists to the Christian God inasmuch as the former,
unlike the latter, does not incarnate himself in the creation, one does not by any means
want to say that all the deists necessarily conceive their supreme being as the One who
limits himself to creating the world at the beginning and then taking no further interest in
it. A conception of this type can be found, more than anywhere else, in Voltaire and
French deism, but is not by any means shared by Rousseau, nor in general by the English
deists.
      It was an English deist, Clarke, who summarized the situation in the following
manner, distinguishing even four categories of deists:
      1) those who profess to believe in an eternal, infinite, independent and intelligent
Being that creates the world but then takes no interest in it;
      2) those who believe in God and also in his providence, but deny that he gives a
moral law to men;
      3) those who believe in a creator God, provident and legislator, but not in the
immortality of the human soul;
      4) lastly, those who profess by rational conviction a doctrine wholly similar to
Christianity; and this naturally leads them to recognize the revelation, to adhere fully to
Christianity.

                                            17
       It seems to me that, faced with such a "God of the philosophers", there exists an
alternative. First solution: the idea can be developed wholly in the Christian sense; in that
case one will arrive at the idea of the Christian God who incarnates himself in time, and
through time and through history continues to perform his creative work.
       Second solution: one can deny the incarnation in any form, and in that case one
arrives at what could be defined as a "pure" deism: at the idea of a God who exists, but
does not give us eternal life, does not save us; at the idea of a God understood as
something superfluous and useless.
       All said and done, it follows from this that one cannot deny the incarnation without
emptying the very idea of God. Rigorously, such an attitude leads to the negation of God
and the affirmation that the only reality that exists is the natural and historical one.
       De facto, there is a common dominant motive in the philosophy of the 19th century:
the whole of reality is essentially conceived as natural reality, or, if one prefers, mundane,
historical, temporal, finite: these are terms that not all the schools use indifferently, and
yet they ultimately end up by revealing themselves nothing other than synonyms.
       Even the Idea of Hegel expresses itself in historical and mundane reality, and
without it could not even realize itself: "without the world God is not God"; and, as we
might add, for Hegel it is in the world that God realizes himself and evolves. Such a God
could no longer be defined as "the Eternal".
       For Hegel, in short, reality is wholly dialectical and historical. And thus for Marx
and the whole of the Hegelian left. And thus also for the Neo-Hegelians. The same could
be said, mutatis mutandis, of the existentialism of a Heidegger or a Sartre, and in general
of the psychoanalysis, the phenomenology, the neopositivism and the structuralism that
either affirm the human and mundane reality as the only existing one or de facto limit the
field of inquiry as if it were the only one that existed.
       Thus the immanence of God in the world generally affirmed by the romantics (from
Fichte to Schelling to Hegel, notwithstanding all the variety of their formulations)
became gradually transformed into negation of God and the initial spiritualism was
converted into materialism.
       The "God of the philosophers" has a rather ephemeral life in modern philosophy: in
the fashion in the seventeenth century, still affirmed by the "deists" in the eighteenth, He
then underwent a complete crisis in the nineteenth. On the other hand, He could hardly
have had a better destiny: a God who does not work on the creation to bring it to
completion, a God of whom no reality and no human activity stands in need for founding
itself or developing, a God who does not incarnate himself in man to give him what only
he can give him of himself – eternity, salvation from corruption – a God with whom or
without whom man remains as he is – an ephemeral being of nature – is decidedly a
useless God and ends up by becoming a cumbersome God in the eyes of all: a kind of hat,
that the modern spirit ends up by doing without.




                                           Chapter III

                           THE ATHEISM OF THE HUMANIST

      In a certain phase of the history of the Western spirit there emerged a new form of
atheism that rejects the Christian God, because it sees him as the great obstacle standing
in the way of the realization of true and full humanism.


                                             18
       Ignoring certain extreme, exclusivist forms of humanism, and ignoring even the
idea that many humanists have made themselves of Christianity (probably due to the fault
of many Christians), one has to ask oneself whether there is any real contrast between
humanism and Christianity, or whether one could not say, quite the contrary, that
Christianity is humanism, and that only in Christianity is there the possibility of a true
humanism.
       The question is far too complex to be properly considered in these pages, which are
dedicated to a different theme. I shall therefore have to limit myself to a few summary
remarks.
       In the gospels and in early Christianity I can see rather strong anti-humanist accents
that cannot but disconcert modern man. A great humanity can be glimpsed in the gospels,
the acts of the apostles, the documents left us by the early Christians: there can be no
doubt about this: but it seems that certain things to which we men attribute great value are
depreciated, if not altogether condemned as obstacles to the kingdom of God: I do not
want to allude to the power and the wealth, to what can be released within us by ambition,
egoism, the spirit of bullying; but I do want to allude to those that represent the highest
values for us: human love, family affections, literature, culture, art, science, philosophy…
It would seem that to be truly Christian in the erstwhile evangelical sense, modern man
has to deprive himself of everything that is dearest to him, everything that gives value and
nobility to his life.
       But each message, each attitude, has to be understood and interpreted in its context.
To me it seems that the Gospel, above all, places the accent in an energetic manner on
what is the first and most urgent thing to be done. Be penitent, convert and renew
yourselves inwardly, for the kingdom of heaven is near, admonished the Baptist.
       And Christ himself called upon men to convert themselves to him and to follow
him, abandoning any other commitment or concern: there is not time to look after one's
own interests, not even to bury one's own father. May the laws continue to exist as they
are, may Caesar continue to collect taxes from the Jews, the father to command, the slave
to serve: everything is provisional, it is not worth while to endeavour to reform a society
that is close to dissolving itself upon the advent of the Lord.
       In the mind of the believer in expectation of the Lord who is coming, there is no
room for other cares or other affects. There has come the time for the full manifestation of
God in the Son and in the Spirit. And God will take care of everything: inspire his faithful,
suggest what they have to say and do, give them courage to sustain all adversities and
persecutions. And in the end, to those who have responded to the invitation with
generosity he will give the prize of a full participation in divine life: on the day of the
resurrection the Christian faithful will attain the fullness of divine life and human life,
both spiritual and corporeal.
       That will be the time when full humanism can be realized: man will possess a
"glorious" body, transformed into a perfect vehicle of the spirit; and, contemplating God,
he will know the truth; dilating his personality beyond all limits, he will have attained the
goal to which the "humanist" activities have always strained.
       Humanism is not by any means repudiated as man's supreme goal. But its complete
implementation will take place only as a gift of God; and if man wants to merit that gift
and attain that goal, he only has to convert to God, deny his own egoism and his own life
of sin to offer himself body and soul to God and from that moment onwards lead a holy
life, adoring, testifying, spreading the Gospel among men.
       All other activity is postponed, because at present it would be a hindrance, deprive
this work of conversion of oneself and others – which calls for the commitment of one's
whole being - of force. But primitive Christianity, let me repeat, does not exclude


                                             19
humanism: it merely postpones it; and postpones it energetically, precisely with a view to
the attainment of a goal that, in the last resort, coincides with full humanism.
       One can note that the goal that the Christian God assigns to man is the loftiest
destiny that can be conceived and greatly exceeds what man could attain with his own
forces through the complex of the humanist activities, science, technology, art,
philosophy and so on.
       According to this conception, however, man cannot directly pursue this supreme
goal of his humanism, nor can he collaborate with God in its pursuit. It is true that God is
the Omniscient, the Omnipotent, the Creator and supreme Artist of the creation; but man
is not called upon to imitate God in this sense, at least in the course of his earthly life. In
the gospels and the early tradition it seems to me that there is an explicit and complete
lack of mention of things of this kind. Man will obtain everything, but as a gift and as a
prize.
       Here there comes to the fore once more the Jewish sense of the transcendence of
Yahweh and his unlimited power. Everything happens due to his initiative and in the sign
of his power: the election of Moses, the exodus from Egypt, the passage of the Red Sea,
the consignment of the tables of the law, the covenant, the construction of the holy ark;
the sending of the prophets and what they were to say and do in his name, the victories
over the enemies; and even the defeats and the imprisonment and exile that the Jewish
people received as punishment for having disobeyed the will of the Lord. In the Jewish
mentality everything came from God, and to man there remained nothing other than
abandon himself with faith to the divine action, pure instrument in the hands of the
Omnipotent.
       Be it clear, it is not that man is wholly inert and incapable of deciding his own
destiny: because it is up to man to choose in an absolutely free manner between fidelity
and disobedience. Man will decide to which end he is to tend and orient his actions: here
is the reason of his high dignity.
       In this spirit, once God calls upon man to pursue his salvation, and – let us say it –
deification and full humanism, man cannot do anything other than submit to God's will
and let himself be guided by Him: because, as in all divine initiatives, it is up to the
Omnipotent to establish the manner and the means.
       In this mentality that attributes everything to Yahweh, who turned the national
literature of a people into the divine Word, it is clear that there remains a great deal of
space for a humanism of the Greek or Renaissance type. Entrusting oneself to the guide of
the Eternal, man undoubtedly decides his own destiny, but one cannot say that he creates
it and not even that he cooperates in a creative manner to this end.
       Many centuries had to pass before Christianity could arrive at attributing a more or
less full and truly creative significance to the Pauline expression that turns the Christian
into a collaborator of God: this high creative value of human work, which is recognized in
the Bible in merely implicit form, eventually obtained a clearer and more explicit
recognition only in pour own days.
       "Christian humanism" has to today become a very current expression. But, before
we can use this expression with full justification, we shall have to conceive human work,
at least according to me, as capable not only of meriting paradise, but also of contributing
to its creation.
       In such a context, the sciences, the arts and the human activities would be true
modes of imitating God and collaborating in his work of salvation, of deification of
mankind; and would therefore have the same religious significance that has always been
attributed to the observation of the commandments and the practice of the Christian
virtues; and, just like these, would also be considered as means of salvation.


                                              20
       Now, if all this is implicit in the spirit of Christianity, one can certainly not say that
it coincides with the explicit content of early Christian preaching: the first Christians said
the exact opposite, not least because, let me say it once more, it seemed that in the
imminence of the Lord's return there was neither the opportunity nor the time for thinking
of anything other than achieving one's own conversion.
       When it was realized that the Lord would not come as soon as had been the general
expectation, the Church, from an eschatological society of men living day by day in
expectation of the imminent parousia, became a more stable society, more concerned
with inserting itself in the world and seeking a modus vivendi there; and as far as possible
create conditions of life more suitable and more in conformity with the Christian ideal.
       The eschatological expectation of resurrection and collective salvation became
concern for one's personal salvation in the hereafter. Expectation of the advent of the
kingdom of Christ on earth became aspiration for the celestial paradise.
       Then there was also to be the resurrection and the return of the Lord to the earth and
the ultimate judgment: but who could have said when? The most urgent thing to do for the
moment was to place oneself in the best conditions for facing individual judgment after
death.
       In what way? In the same way in which the first Christians endeavoured to merit
salvation on the day of resurrection: by practice of the Christian virtues in the strict sense,
i. e. the aesthetic and religious virtues: faith, hope, charity, struggle against the bad
inclinations, against the egoistic impulses that can induce man to become detached from
full adhesion to the divine will. It is clear that even here, in this exclusive preoccupation
there could be no room for any form of humanism.
       Moreover, little or no encouragement could come to the Christians of the early
centuries from a culture that was wholly impregnated with the pagan spirit. And thus little
or no encouragement for loving the world, living a full human life could come to the meal
of the early Middle Ages from a decrepit civilization by then buried under a thick layer of
barbarities, extremely precarious and difficult conditions of life, an environment of
struggles, cruelties, where the arts of peace, commerce, culture, philosophy and every
form of humanism had been reduced to a pallid larva, everything remained stagnant and
people simply struggled for survival. The sole form of spiritual life that flourished in
those centuries was religious life in the strict sense: that was where the best spirits found
refuge.
       Little by little, medieval Christianity succeeded in creating better conditions of life
and a more congenial environment for itself, and thus came to inspire a new civilization:
where undoubtedly not everything was assimilated to Christianity, but of which – for
good or ill – it was the great and recognized inspiring principle. There were thus laid the
bases for a greater aperture of Christianity for the world, for a more positive appreciation
of the humanist values.
       An entirely new world came into being. On account of a complex of causes that it
would be pointless to try to summarize here, commerce and the artisan activities, culture,
philosophy, literature and the arts, the study of Roman law and the classical civilization
began to flourish again.
       Christianity was the soul of all this and the new civilization could rightly be
considered Christian. Christianity was reflected and can be recognized in it, consecrated
every new institution, every new activity and form of life: as had already been the case of
the Empire, Germanism, the feudal order and chivalry, the municipalities were now
consecrated with all the elements, with all the forces that characterize the municipal
civilization: the political orders and the corporations, Roman law and the universities,
philosophy, literature, the arts; everything became "christianized".


                                               21
       This was the most favourable moment to permit the emergence from Christian
thought of the humanist instances that are implicit in it.
       The biblical idea of the creation was rethought to gain greater insight into it:
everything that God creates is "good", has an autonomous value of its own. And thus the
entire creation was contemplated in a new light, was loved in the Franciscan manner, and
then inquired into: and hence the philosophy of nature and, somewhat later, modern
science with the grandiose development of technology that derives from it.
       A particular value was recognized to man, crowning of the creation: his dignity was
exalted, as also his capacity of constructing for himself an autonomous kingdom of his
own: we are at the gates of humanism and the Renaissance.
       None of this had ever been said in such an explicit manner, but Christianity had
already contained it in germ ever since its first appearance: does not the Old Testament,
which Christianity had adopted, commence with an exaltation of the created world? Is
man not represented there as king of the creation? And, even though corrupted by the
original sin, is man not sufficiently worthy for God himself to assume his nature and die
on the cross for him, to redeem him, to give him once more the possibility of attaining his
own supreme goal, deification.
       Christianity exalts man not only as pure spirit. But in the entirety of his nature: also
as a terrestrial, corporeal creature. On the day of the resurrection, it will be with the same
body that man will realize the final objective for which he was created.
       Recognizing the total value of man – spiritual, but also terrestrial, corporeal –
means recognizing and consecrating everything that forms the regnum hominis: means
recognizing and consecrating humanism.
       The point of arrival of this recognition and consecration process of the creatures, of
man and his values, is the work of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Dante remained faithful to the
Thomist vision, which underlies the architecture of the divine poem. Both in the Summa
Theologiae and the Divine Comedy, the two levels, human and divine, natural and
supernatural, are maintained rigorously distinct, so much so that – at least on first sight –
they almost give the idea of two heterogeneous and superposed elements.
       One can attribute this to the influence of Greek philosophy, and especially
Aristotelian philosophy, wholly bent on defining each being for what it is, distinguishing
it in an absolute manner from what is not: which is more valid in the order of concepts
than in the order of real beings, which always penetrate each other to some extent and
live, as it were, one of the other and one in the other.
       Beside this influence of Greek logic, there can also be a residue of that typically
Jewish preoccupation of safeguarding at all costs the transcendence of God with respect
to the creation, the transcendence of what theologians call the "supernatural" vis-à-vis
"nature".
       Man's action on the natural plane, his humanism in other words, was not yet
conceived as something that can have a direct influence on his supernatural destiny.
       The humanist activities can undoubtedly play a part, but a purely subordinate and
ancillary one.
       A good policy, assuring peace and justice, determined the environmental conditions
in which the Church would be able to best absolve its religious mission.
       Philosophy prepared the ground for theology, of which it became a kind of
propaedeutic: having induced man to believe in the Christian God, having guided him up
to the thresholds of theology, its function came to lack, Just as Virgil's mission became
exhausted once he had guided Dante to the earthly paradise to entrust him to Beatrice:
from that moment onwards, Virgil, symbol of philosophy, has nothing more to say.



                                              22
       Just like philosophy, even literature and the arts are handmaidens of the faith: their
task is to exalt it, edifying the believer: in the service of Christianity they become
religious literature and poetry, sacred art and music.
       All these forms of the spirit absolve an instrumental function: they create the best
conditions, accompany man to the thresholds of the faith, exalt the faith, but do not
exactly constitute an integral part of the kingdom of God, do not contribute to creating it
in the strict sense; they do not help man in a determinant manner to sanctify himself, to
elevate himself to God, to imitate him: the kingdom of man remains something estranged
from the kingdom of God, something provisional, ephemeral, something that cannot in
any way contribute directly to the creation of his eternal destiny, which has to be pursued
by other means, with the exclusive practice of what are the Christian virtues in the strict
sense, as had been the case for the preceding historical editions of Christianity.
       Something had undoubtedly changed: the humanist activities were no longer
considered negative, diabolic; a considerable positive role had been recognized to them;
but when the function entrusted to them remains so external, subordinate and
instrumental, can one really speak of true Christian humanism in the full sense of the
expression?
       The forms of life, thought and art of the new humanism themselves willingly accept
this subordinate role. In this way they acquire citizenship rights in the Christian world.
       The heads of the new nations accept power by the grace of God; politics becomes
subject to morality, so that a political treaty of those days almost gave the impression to
those who read it of a treaty of special ethics or moral theology applied to the political
field.
       Painters and sculptors earned their keep by depicting religious subjects. Poets
ventured to celebrate human love, but always as a means of ascent to God: an angel in
human form, woman is a "staircase to the Maker".
       The philosopher is all bent on demonstrating the preliminary truth of the faith, after
which he will entrust it to his pupil, the theologian, in charge of the superior course.
       Among the individual forms of humanism and religion there seems to have become
established a kind of feudal pact: each performs an act of homage and recognizes his
obligations, in return for which he obtains his fief and his "liberty", which assures him full
autonomy of action in an ambit that is at first restricted, but then becomes ever wider.
       The regnum hominis lays its foundation within this limited margin of sovereignty
that was recognized in the early Middle Ages; and modern man, making an act of homage
to the authorities and the values of the Middle Ages and thus acquiring the right of
citizenship in the sancta respublica christiana, can mature at his ease, learn to acquire
consciousness of himself and what are his real aspirations.
       Undoubtedly, he cannot find these aspirations to a full human life expressed in
medieval ascesis and its champions: hermits, monks, mendicant friars, preachers of
penitence, saints and mystics; he was to find them in the classical world, in the sages and
heroes of antiquity.
       A model is always imitated before one recognizes the peculiarity of one's own
talent, one's own individual vocation: what happens in the artist's and man's process of
maturation was generally verified in this epoch in the grandiose collective and historical
phenomenon in which man, through study and imitation of the men of antiquity, arrived
at consciousness of himself, his original aspirations, the new world he dreams of
constructing.
       In claiming the dignitas hominis (against the Paduan Aristotelians, who reduced
man to a mere mortal being of nature), Pico della Mirandola did nothing other than
explicating the Christian vision of man. And yet there is a new fact in his representation


                                             23
of man: an unlimited confidence in his capacities, an optimism that ignores the original
sin.
       Something similar can also be said of the other humanists, from Marsilio Ficino to
Erasmus of Rotterdam. As he is conceived and vaunted by the humanists, man seems to
be a fully self-sufficient being, free of the condition of infirmity and impotence in which
he had been seen by traditional Christianity.
       It seems that modern man can do everything, that nothing is precluded to him: he
only has to want it and dare it. This sense of his own dignity and unlimited capacities was
the powerful spring that drove the men of the Renaissance to the conquest of their new
world.
       And hence a never before seen fervour of humanist activities, hence the coming into
being of new sciences and technologies, and the dilation of knowledge and culture in
proportions such that no universal genius could still affirm his personality in different
fields, as had been possible at the beginning of the sixteenth century: in a very short time
knowledge had become immense, and nobody would have been capable of dominating it
all; the individual sciences and technologies had reached a complexity that called for
specialization, and each of them called for a total and exclusive dedication from its
practitioners.
       On the other hand, each science and technology and activity of man had become
constituted in full autonomy, iuxta propria principia: cultivated for its own sake, a new
absolute.
       Here we have the epoch of art for art's sake; of Machiavellian politics that
absolutize the state and adumbrate nationalism, Galilean science that inquires into the
pure relationships between the phenomena without concerning itself with the causes that
transcend them. The epoch of the pure poet and man of letters, who lives detached from
reality, closed in a world that he has created with his imagination, in which he finds sweet
refuge. Later there was to emerge the figure of the captain of industry, pure homo
oeconomicus, whose sole law was profit, whose sole ideal was the affirmation of his
enterprise at all costs, be it even through the most inhuman exploitation of his likes. And
thus we quickly arrive at the epoch of the "isms", of what Chesterton was to call the
"maddened Christian ideas".
       Like the sciences, the arts and the humanist activities, each ideology can claim a
Christian significance, because in actual fact it exalts the importance of a single reality, a
single function, faculty of activity of man, to each of which Christianity had recognized a
role in man's development (be it even on the temporal level and not on that of the eternal
beatitude, which is his true and primary end, to be pursued with other means, as said
before).
       And yet these individual activities and functions, even consecrated by medieval
Christianity, just like the individual sciences and arts, do not want to accept a simple
instrumental, ancillary role: they break the dykes, and each one proposes itself as an end
in itself and becomes the axis, the sun around which there rotates a new "ideology".
       The ideology is that selfsame idea raised to an absolute power. And thus we have
the idols of modern thought: from the exaltation of individual cognitive functions there
come into being rationalism, sensism, volunteerism. The foundation of modern science
became the religion of science, its absolutization, scientism. Vico's discovery of history
was to lead to Croce's absolute historicism. The discovery of nature to naturalism. The
affirmation of the autonomy of the state to the myth of the state, and then, developing
together with other elements, different from country to country, to the "isms" associated
with contemporary politics: nationalism, racism, statism, dirigism, parlamentarism and
the doctrines of the individual parties, where even a single aspect or value is exalted over


                                             24
the others in an exclusive manner: individual freedom in liberalism, the social instance in
socialism, and so on.
      The absolutization of man thus leads to the absolutization of man's individual
activities, the individual functions, the individual ideas. And all this, though it leads to the
development of each iuxta propria principia, according to its own principles, and to the
ultimate consequences of its entire logic, though it leads to an expansion, an enrichment
of the new human world beyond all imagination, accentuates in man the pretence of
erecting himself before God as a wholly self-sufficient being: a being who does not need
God in order to realize himself fully.
      Modern man not only holds that he does not need God to realize himself, but rather
feels Him as a powerful obstacle: something that prevents him, that inhibits him from
assuming full mastery of himself and his world, of himself behaving like God.
      For as long as the idea of God will continue to appear in his consciousness, modern
man will continue to feel himself a supervised minor and therefore not free. He therefore
has to kill this idea within himself. Only the death of God will enable man to live and
realize himself in all his fullness.
      In the late Middle Ages the new man recognized God as Lord, because he had not
yet become conscious of his own infinity. Modern man developed this consciousness of
his unlimited possibilities little by little.
      He emancipated himself from God without realizing it. He continued to go to Mass,
to practice religion exteriorly. All said and done, God does not bother him at all: He can
remain where he happens to be; rather, it is as well that He should remain there as a
scarecrow for the multitudes to induce them to respect the constituted order; and it is
appropriate that the dominant class should give the good example of observing the
religious precepts. The important thing is that the scientist, the artist, the politician should
remain undisturbed to lay the bases of his new creation.
      Atheism remained a personal fact of isolated individuals or small groups, at the very
most, until the nineteenth century. Its attempt to impose itself as official doctrine aborted
during the French Revolution: having sent Hébert, apostle of the goddess reason, to the
guillotine, it fell to Robespierre to take the initiative of establishing the official cult of the
Supreme Being, a kind of "God of the philosophers". And in the nineteenth century
atheism became the credo of a multitude of scientists, intellectuals, lyceum students,
evolved and conscious workers. As mass phenomenon, banner of Marx's new "scientific"
socialism, it later became the official faith of the Communist regimes in our own century.
      In the nineteenth century, the creators of the modern civilization are no longer
isolated individuals in the context of an old society: they had become a mass, because the
multitudes began to play a part in political life. And their purpose was no longer that of
assuring themselves the tranquillity necessary for writing poems or to compose
philosophical systems by the fireside: their objective was the destruction of the old
society to edify in its place a society giving total expression to the modern spirit.
      In this awakening consciousness of modern man no longer as an isolated individual,
but as a collectivity, as humanity, a very important part was played by Feuerbach, who in
a certain sense can consider himself as the spiritual father of Marxism, the one who
furnished certain essential theoretical bases to Marxist philosophy. It is worth while – be
it even briefly – to dwell on some of Feuerbach's concepts: he can help us a great deal to
grasp the ideal genesis of humanist atheism.
      Within the ambit of the Hegelian left, just as Frederick David Strauss sought to
determine the psychological origins of the Christian illusion, Ludwig Feuerbach, for his
part, sought to reconstruct the psychic process by means of which, more generally, the
religious illusion takes shape.


                                               25
       In the Life of Jesus, Strauss says in substance that the gospels are the mythical
expression of the aspirations of the Jewish people. In parallel, Feuerbach says that God
himself is a myth in which there are expressed the aspirations of the human
consciousness.
       For Feuerbach, indeed, consciousness is what distinguishes man from animals.
Consciousness is affirmation of oneself, love of oneself, joy of one's own perfection, is
the characteristic of a complete, perfect being. Man's spiritual forces – reason, will, love –
are in him something that is an end in itself and therefore absolute, divine.
       Man as such – as essence, as species, not as an individual – is infinite. If man feels
himself limited individually, it is only because he has the idea of the perfection and
infinity of his species. He can attribute these limits of his individuality to the human
species as such; but he is wrong in doing this and in that case his illusion comes to agree
with his laziness, with his egoism and his vanity: man loves to excuse his own
shortcomings to pretended insufficiencies of the human being in general. In short, if man
as individual can be limited, the human essence is infinite, is God himself. The Hegelian
inspiration of this immanentist conception of the Divinity is more than evident.
       How is it, then, that men are accustomed to considering the Divinity as
transcendent? In other words, from what interior process does religion draw its origins?
To explain the origin of the religious phenomenon, Feuerbach avails himself of another
concept of Hegelian origin: the concept of alienation. Only that Hegel applies this
concept to the absolute Spirit, Feuerbach to man in flesh and blood.
       Through religion, as Feuerbach explains, man becomes conscious of himself for the
first time, though this awakening consciousness is indirect. Both in the history of
mankind and in that of individuals, religion precedes philosophy.
       With philosophy, man came to recognize his own human essence as such, as
peculiar of man himself, as subjective; but for as long as he remains in the religious stage,
even acquiring awareness of his human essence, he will tend to objectivate it, to project it
outside himself, to attribute the perfections of man to a transcendent Divinity.
       This knowledge that man has of God is nothing other than the consciousness that
man has of himself: religion reveals the hidden treasures of the human nature, reveals to
ourselves our most intimate thoughts, our most secret aspirations.
       Homer's gods eat and drink, and corporeal force is one of their qualities: this bears
witness to the honour in which the ancient Greeks kept physical force and the pleasures of
the body. And the ancient Germans, great warriors, had Odin, god of war, as their most
powerful divinity.
       For Feuerbach, therefore, "not the attribute of divinity, but the divinity of the
attribute was the first true divine being… True atheists, in the habitual significance of the
word, were for him not those who denied God, the subject, but those who denied him the
attributes of the divine being, such as love, wisdom, justice" (The essence of
Christianity).
       As far as Christianity is concerned, it is the most elevated of all the religions, the
great book where man has translated his loftiest thoughts, his purest feelings. It is
precisely for this reason that Christianity is the worst of all the religions: the one where
man has alienated himself more greatly.
       Because in Christianity man affirms in God what he denies in himself, one may well
say that poor man possesses a rich God; and the richer his God, the more man becomes
alienated and impoverished. Especially in Christianity, this alienation has grave
consequences. God becomes everything for man and absorbs his life to such an extent
that, in the limit, the Christian no longer needs everything that previously constituted and
filled his existence, no longer stands in need of either culture, the love of nature, woman
or the family.

                                             26
       Feuerbach also affirmed that Christian monotheism did not in itself possess any
principle of artistic or scientific culture. Thus, not even the ancient Jews, unlike the
Greeks, had an art or science. Why was this so? Because, absorbed as they were in
Yahweh, they did not feel the least need for them. One may briefly conclude that for
Feuerbach Christianity was anti-humanism par excellence.
       Moreover, this passage of the human spirit through the religious experience is a
necessary moment of its development towards true and full consciousness of oneself. In
this respect and from the Hegelian point of view, religion constitutes an essential form of
the human spirit. This antithetic moment is destined to be overcome in the final synthesis,
when man will recognize that God is not external and transcendental with respect to him,
but coincides with the very essence of the human species, and that the sole God of man is
man himself: Homo homini Deus!
       Feuerbach is to some extent considered as the philosophical mentor of Marxism.
Marx professes a true devotion for him: he wrote an apology of Feuerbach against Bruno
Bauer, spoke of him as a second Luther, declared that after him the critique of religion
had in substance been made, and that he had arrived where a theoretician could arrive
without ceasing to be a theoretician and philosopher. Notwithstanding the future
developments of his thought, the new roads he was to follow also in contrast with
Feuerbach, Marx always remained faithful to the conclusions for which he was indebted
to The essence of Christianity, which for him were always to constitute something that
had been definitively acquired. If returned to them, it was certainly not to call them into
question, but only to declare them as yet too abstract, vague or incomplete.
       In exalting Feuerbach, Marx noted certain of his limits: Feuerbach conceived man
in a rather abstract manner, ignoring the society in which he lived and which conditions
him in everything and determines and conditions even the coming into being of the
religious phenomenon.
       For Marx, religion comes into being not in man in the abstract, but in man inasmuch
as he lives in a society that oppresses him. It is man who makes religion. In reality it is
man's consciousness or feeling that he has not yet found himself or has already lost
himself again. In it there is expressed the whole of a world:                         struggling
against religion is therefore equivalent to struggling against the world of which it
constitutes the spiritual aroma.
       The earthly world is the key for understanding the celestial world of religion. It is
therefore this earthly society that has to be criticized and revolutionized.
       Feuerbach could not undertake this revolutionary task, because it was out of
keeping with his vocation as a man of thought. But he was far from denying the need for
social upheavals: first of all, he admitted, together with Marx, that the illness from which
mankind suffered was, above all, an illness of the stomach, so that all attempts that do not
tend to extirpate this fundamental illness first of all will prove vain.
       Nevertheless, there are stomach illnesses that come from the head; and his personal
vocation was precisely to cure the illnesses of the head and the heart of humanity, leaving
to other and more suitable people the task of taking care of the stomach illnesses.
       This importance of the stomach illnesses with respect to those of the head and the
heart is clearly underscored by Marx, for whom, as is well known, it is not consciousness
that determines life, but life that determines consciousness, and it is not the consciousness
of men that determines reality, but – quite the contrary – it is social reality that determines
their consciousness.
       For Marx, ideology forms part of the "superstructures" of a given social reality: any
human society where property is divided in a certain manner and where the people live in
determined conditions, any human society sustains the whole of a complex superstructure


                                              27
of sentiments, illusions, ideas, philosophical doctrines: it is the dominant class that
creates them on the basis of what are its material, economic and social conditions of life.
       There may be two forms of alienation in man: religious alienation and economic
alienation. The latter, which is given by the existence of private property, source of the
exploitation of man by man, is the fundamental and real alienation of which the other is
but a consequence and reflection.
       Correspondingly, there are also two forms of "philanthropy": the philanthropy of
atheism, which is an abstract philosophical philanthropy; and the philanthropy of
communism, which is a real philanthropy that tends towards immediate action.
       Though mere superstructure of social reality, it is always ideology that inspires and
guides action: material force cannot be brought down by material force: nevertheless,
even theory converts itself into material force once it has penetrated into the masses. Only
communism, suppressing private property, origin of all the injustices, can eliminate
economic alienation: and that will also put an end to religious alienation.
       On the other hand, since revolutionary action finds consciousness and guide in
ideology, it is essential that the revolutionary should have clear ideas and, among others,
not illude himself regarding the negative and reactionary character of theism and religion.
In this awakening ideological consciousness atheism and the critique of religion absolve a
function of primary importance.
       However, once communism has put an end to man's economic alienation and,
consequently, also to his religious alienation, atheism no longer has sense. Atheism could
be defined as "the negative recognition of God": as such, it constitutes "the ultimate
degree of theism". Marxist atheism, which has an evident polemical character, is
therefore rather an anti-theism and will no longer have any raison d'être after the moment
in which revolutionary action will have attained its objectives.
       The idea of this antithesis between the old God and the most authentic aspirations of
man permeates a great part of literature and dominates the existential philosophy of the
nineteenth and the twentieth century in a particular manner: that philosophy loved to
express itself in a less systematic form, through essays, aphorisms, romance, drama and
poetry. Though the ideas are here deduced and founded with less rigour, they generally
have the merit of being "lived" with greater profundity; and the works in which they are
expressed have something of a prophetic message.
       Nietzsche is among those who could well be called the prophets of our age. His was
the announcement of the "death of God". Only this will enable man to "exceed himself"
beyond all limits and "beyond Good and Ill". But man will have to maintain himself
"faithful to the earth" and no longer believe the "preachers of death", who speak to him of
eternal life and ultraterrene hopes, those who "could not love their God otherwise than by
nailing Man to the cross".
       The Christianity against which Nietzsche struggles is the ascetic Christianity,
denier of life and the joy of living, denier of man's absolute liberty that he needs if he is to
implement himself perfectly as superman. God is a conjecture, and his imaginary
omnipotence is the death of "he who creates". The Christian God is "the contrary", says
Zarathustra, "of everything that is pleasing to my eyes and my ears: it seems to me that I
could not say worse of him".
       Nietzsche at times indulges in representing us the "old God" with the features of a
repellent being, but above all does not pardon Him that the human societies where he
reigns are societies of equals, where mediocrity and superior men see all their aspirations
come to nothing: "O superior men", says the plebs winking, "there are no superior men,
we are all equal, and man is always man. We are all equal before God!" […] Before God!
But now this God is dead! Superior men, this God was your great danger. It is only since
he lies in his tomb that you have risen again […] Courage, superior men! Only now the

                                              28
mountain of the human future agitates itself in the travail of birth. God is dead: now it is
we who want that the Superman should live (Thus spake Zarathustra, About the superior
man).
       There is a clear detachment between a Nietzsche and a Feuerbach, no doubt about
that; but if one succeeds in abstracting from what divides them, one may yet note that in
Nietzsche as in Feuerbach atheism comes into being as an aspiration of realizing an
absolute humanism.
       There spontaneously come to mind some of Dostojevski's personages: Raskolnikov,
the aspiring superman; Ivan Karamazov, who from the negation of God deduces with
strict rigour of logic that "everything is permitted"; Kirillov, who kills himself to affirm
man's unlimited free will, logical consequence – just as above – of the non-existence of a
God who is both legislator and judge.
       Here I am interested in recalling the words of Kirillov, another testimony of
humanist atheism: "If God exists, all will is in Him, and I cannot free myself of His will. If
He does not exist, all will is mine…" (The demons, III, VI, II).
       Sartre's Goetz echoes almost the same words: "If God exists, man is nothing" (Le
Diable et le bon Dieu [The Devil and the Good God] , III, X, IV).
       These expressions summarize in a very incisive manner the intimate spirit of what I
have called the atheism of the humanist. For whom only the death of God will render
possible the whole of humanism: free from any norm, fear or inhibition, man will at last
be able to forge his life, his good and his ill, his destiny, his kingdom, creating his own
law for himself in absolute liberty.




                                        Chapter IV

                        THE ATHEISM OF THE SCIENTIST

      For the primitive or archaic mentality, each act of man is the repetition of a
primordial, archetypal act performed in illo tempore by a god or a mythical hero: and
therefore every act is sacred and has efficacy inasmuch as it is a ritual.
      But in general one may also say that for the primitive mentality every phenomenon
of nature is the action of a divine or a demoniac personality; it is the symbol of
preternatural, ultraterrene realities and events; it is the revelation of a more profound
truth; it is a participation of the absolute; it is continuous miracle; it is theophany.
      Each fact is really a phenomenon in the original sense of the word (fàinestai,
fainòmenon): it is truly the manifestation of something or, better, of someone who is
beyond the phenomenon, and yet in some way reveals himself directly, in the first person.
      We know very well that the primitive is anything but devoid of the spirit of
observation and of technical ability; and yet the value that he attributes to the second
causes is relatively scarce: he looks for the first cause of every phenomenon, which is
always the act of a personal entity: a benevolent god, dispenser of fortune, fertility,
success in enterprises; a witch doctor or a demon who directs the arrow fired by a warrior
in such a way that it may wound his enemy or with his invisible malefic action determines
an illness, old age or death in the organism of another man.
      The primary and essential cause of each phenomenon is always occult,
metaphysical, supernatural. The miracle is a daily, almost banal fact. Nothing is
impossible. The supernatural does not distinguish itself from nature, is continuously

                                             29
expressed in it: it is something familiar, ordinary and extremely close at hand for man.
With the coming into being of philosophy, the cause of phenomena became identified not
so much with the action of divine or demoniac personalities, but rather in the reality of
impersonal "principles", "substances" or "essences": water, the infinite, air, the four
elements, atoms, the homeomeries, ideas, forms. But, seeing that these essences manifest
themselves in the phenomena, arriving from the phenomena at the essence is perfectly
possible through metaphysical knowledge.
       Metaphysics is knowledge not of mere concepts, not of subjective ideas, but of
realities: of essences, substances, qualities that one supposes to have objective realities
and data; or of principles that one supposes to inform not only the world of concepts, but
also and above all the world of real beings. Inasmuch as it is knowledge of objective
realities, metaphysics proposes itself as a sui generis form of experience.
       But even though it concerns itself with objective realities, the metaphysical
experience, inasmuch as it is experience, is subjective, personal, private. Its data cannot
communicate themselves to anybody who in his own intimacy does not feel a analogous
experience. Its data, moreover, cannot be verified in an objective manner. And, even less
so, can they be measured. Metaphysical experience is a knowledge of quality. It tells us
that this is beautiful or ugly or bad, true or false, pleasant or painful: but these are all
subjective sensations that may vary from individual to individual, that lack a universal,
undiscussed and precise valuation criterion. The quality essences that are revealed to us
by metaphysical knowledge are the badly defined and subjective "secondary qualities".
       Objective knowledge can be had only of the "primary qualities": of those
characteristics of the phenomena that can be verified and measured with appropriate
instruments that record figure and extension, weight, temperature, place and time, speed,
and so on. Outside these measurable relationships one cannot have scientific knowledge,
but only individual tastes and opinions.
       The phenomena studied by science can be experimented not only with the corporeal
senses, but can also be measured with instruments of every kind, can be calculated and
therefore also foreseen.
       At the basis of all this there is a mathematical vision of nature: "Philosophy", as
Galileo proclaimed in a famous page of the Saggiatore, "is written in this great book that
remains continuously open in front of our eyes (I say the universe), but cannot be
understood unless one first learns to understand the language and know the characters in
which it is written. It is written in mathematical language and the characters are triangles,
circles and other geometric figures; without which means it would be impossible to
humanly understand its words, without these it is a vain erring through an obscure
labyrinth (Opere [Works], VI, Florence 1933, p. 232).
       The conception that Galileo has of nature is also mechanicist: phenomena can be
calculated and foreseen precisely because they are all essentially mechanical phenomena.
How can one explain that ever since its beginnings and for such a long time modern
physics has concordantly adopted this mechanicist approach? In reality mechanicism
presents itself as an exact and clearly intelligible interpretation that makes it possible to
foresee the phenomena and excludes all recourse to subjective experiences of mysterious
"essences" or "qualities". It is a precise methodological instance that induced Galileo to
see the universe as an immense machine. Descartes expressed the Galilean vision in the
terms of a true and proper metaphysic.
       A more or less rigorous determinist-mechanicist mentality dominated science and
philosophy from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century; today it is contested, but has
not by any means disappeared; it emerged again in the greatest philosophers, from
Hobbes to Kant, and in the thought of the most illustrious scientists, from Newton to
Laplace, Maxwell, Kelvin, Poincaré and Planck.

                                             30
       It is in a well known passage written by Laplace that it expresses its nature in a most
characteristic manner, as also the need that brought it into being: "An intellect that at a
certain moment knew all the forces that animate nature and the respective situation of the
beings that compose it and was likewise sufficiently vast to subject all these data to
analysis, would understand in these formulas the motions of the largest bodies of the
universe and also the motion of the smallest of the atoms: nothing would remain uncertain
and the future, just like the past, would be present before this intellect" (Essay
philosophique des probabilités [Philosophical essay of probabilities], Paris 1814, p. 3).
       Half a century ago, Poincaré resumed development of the same concept with a
clarity that leaves no doubts: "…What is a law? It is a constant link between the
antecedent and the consequent, between the present state of the world and the one
immediately successive. Knowing the present state of each part of the universe, the ideal
scientist who knew all the laws of nature would possess fixed rules for deducing the state
in which these same parts will find themselves tomorrow. One can understand that this
process can be carried forward indefinitively. Knowing the state of the world on Monday,
we can foretell what will be its state on Tuesday; knowing the state of Tuesday, we can
deduce its state on Wednesday with the same procedures; and so on. But one can also do
the contrary: namely, if one knows the state on Tuesday, it will be possible to infer that of
Monday; and from that of Monday we can infer that of Sunday, and so on. In this manner
one can reconstruct the succession of events both in the direction of the past and in that of
the future. Knowing the present state and also the laws, one can divine not only the future,
but also the past. The process is essentially reversible" (Dernières pensées – [Last
thoughts], I, I, Paris 1913).
       Descartes reduced the intimate substance of each phenomenon to movements and
clashes of particles of matter, but his mechanism revealed itself ever more insufficient for
explaining the entire complexity of the facts. Newton sought to explain them with
universal gravitation, i. e. having recourse to the concept of an attractive force that
certainly appeared far more mysterious and less clearly intelligible than the movements
and clashes of Descartes; but then even the Newtonian mechanicism revealed itself to be
inadequate.
       It was towards the end of the nineteenth century that mechanicism entered into full
crisis. In biology it proved incapable of explaining the element of perennial novelty,
unpredictability, contingency and also finalism that underlies the vital phenomena. But a
thorough study of the physical, chemical, electric, subatomic phenomena renders
necessary a reformulation of the mechanicist hypothesis in ever wider and comprehensive
terms: so elastic in the end as to deprive mechanicism of almost all consistency.
       Among these scientists capable of delving into the reasons of the method to
highlight its relativity and sufficiently courageous to call into question the materialist
premises that most of the time constitute their basis, among these scientists it is easier to
find men more sensitive to the philosophical and religious problematics, men more open
to a spiritualist vision of reality. Though their group is relatively not very numerous, they
nevertheless constitute a spiritual vanguard in our time. And yet mechanicism refuses to
die, for this idea of a perfectly simple and clear explanation of phenomena continues to
exercise a great deal of fascination. We need only recall a certain passage of the Critique
of judgment, where Kant recognizes the insufficiency of a pure and simple mechanical
explanation not integrated by a theological explanation. Kant says that, even recognizing
this limit, there nevertheless "remains the duty of mechanically explaining – to the extent
to which this may be within our faculties – all the products and events of nature, even
those that reveal the greatest finality" (II, II, 78).
       On the other hand, as Poincaré clearly tells us, "science is determinist, and is so a
priori; it postulates determinism, because it could not exist without it" (Dernières

                                             31
pensées, p. 244). One can understand that, even today, many scientists try to keep alive
some form of mechanicism or determinism: if not at the level of certainty, at least on that
of probability; if not as an ontological affirmation, at least as a useful scheme. Even
though he may refuse mechanicism, the scientist often remains dominated by a positivist
mentality, for which there are to be taken into consideration only the facts that can be
objectively and exteriorly verified by means of the corporeal senses, integrated as far as
possible by appropriate recording and measuring instruments.
       Here we have the mentality that reduces psychology to the study of behaviour,
neglecting the introspective data as subjective, private, devoid of scientific value. It is the
mentality that sees in religious history the simple epiphenomenon of the class struggle;
that sees in art the pure product of biological, environmental and historic and social
factors; that wants to discover the necessary causes of every fact, and even of free action
everything that could have determined it, thus annulling it as free action and reducing it to
mere brute happening.
       Limiting oneself to taking into consideration the material phenomena does not by
itself mean to exclude the possibility of spiritual phenomena. The scientist who wanted to
keep strictly to his method could consider the sole experiences that can be objectively
verified, without thereby excluding that there could be other experiences that are neither
less "experiences" than the former nor less "verifiable".
       But, de facto, there now happens the exact contrary: concerning himself with
nothing other than intersubjectively verifiable experiences, the scientist ends up by not
seeing anything other than these experiences. The others become ever more hypothetical,
ever more evanescent and unreal, so that they are eventually discarded as impossible and
devoid of sense. The sole possible experience thus remains the sensorial one, the sole
possible verification the intersubjective one.
       From saying "I only take the material phenomena into consideration" to saying
"Only the material phenomena exist" there is an obvious logical hiatus, and yet –
psychologically – the step may be very short.
       And thus we have a second and widely diffused type of scientist, who no longer
succeeds in seeing the world as anything other than an immense machine; who does not
succeed in glimpsing anything other in the universe than mere material phenomena; who
little by little loses all idea of what is truly a spiritual phenomenon, an act of the spirit, an
intimate experience; in whose eyes God, of whom he lost all experience, has become
transmuted into a pallid, abstract and blurred idea.
       This man may even be a genius, but his interior life is arid and poor. His
materialism, once methodological, has become real and existential. Turning his shoulders
to any manifestation of the sacred has made an atheist of him. For him God has in the
limit become something far less than a quid that cannot be "demonstrated" or "verified":
by now he is no more than a simple flatus vocis devoid of sense.




                                          Chapter V

       THE ATHEISM OF THE MAN "MACHINE AMONG MACHINES"

      By reflection, the rapid development of modern science since the time of Galileo to
our own days brought about an equally rapid and staggering progress of technology. At
long last it seems that the machine could free men of the ancient malediction of toil and
misery, of the cogens necessitas of earning their bread with the sweat of their front.

                                               32
       But the machine, permitting the entrepreneur to dismiss a number of employees
who have become superfluous, spreads unemployment and misery. Wanting to survive,
the workers subject themselves to working in tougher conditions, for interminable hours,
and for wages that barely keep them alive. There thus becomes renewed a slavery worse
than that of the pharaohs. All this regularly happens in the countries with a liberalist
regime, where industry moves it first steps: in England and in Germany, as also in the
United States, in Western Europe and in the colonies, and wherever the new factories
come into being: in Egypt, in India, in China.
       The accumulated hate, the desire for justice and redemption found their political
expression in the movement of Marx, the proletarians of all the world closed their ranks
under the red banners of the International. Differently from what Marx had foretold, in
the industrialized countries of the West socialism inserted itself in the capitalist regime,
reforming it and, little by little, improving the conditions of the workers; while the
revolution triumphed in Russia, which was still at the beginning of its development.
       It seems that the true historical function of communism is to industrialize the
underdeveloped countries even before realizing social justice there: a wealth that does not
yet exist cannot be justly distributed: it has to be created by industrializing the country.
"Communism = Soviet power + electrification" was Lenin's algebraic formula that the
party propagandist wrote on a blackboard before commenting it with pedestrian
eloquence charged with enthusiasm to the picturesque crowd gathered around him.
       To accumulate the basic capital needed to finance the new industries means
working and saving to the greatest possible extent; but a regime founded on the masses
cannot compel them, it has to induce them to voluntary sacrifice: and obtains this by
means of an able, hammering and capillary propaganda that sustains a true religious
enthusiasm among the multitudes. And where propaganda does not attain its full effect,
there is police repression: arrest, concentration camp, a shot in the back of the neck.
       The Russia of Lenin and Stalin became transformed into an immense workshop. An
even more impressive spectacle is offered by Mao's China. Galvanized by the ideal and
under the close control of the commissar, hundreds of millions of men and women work
on the gigantic pyramid in a new condition of slavery that enchains both the body and the
mind and obliges each individual to give everything of himself and all his energies for a
piece of bread and the mirage of a marvellous future.
       In the West as in the East, in the free market regime as also in a militarized state
economy, by love or by force, with enthusiasm or fear, the worker is constrained to the
machine for a long series of hours each day. His mind no longer creates like that of the
ancient artisan: it becomes drowsy and, little by little, tends to atrophize, while his arm
repeats the same gestures for an infinite series of days, months and years. Man has
become a machine among the machines.
       Having completed the process of industrial development, there commences the
expansion phase: yesterday in North America as today in the Italy of the "economic
miracle" and the "boom", and before long also in the Soviet Union and tomorrow in
China.
       The expansion of industry calls for a market increment. The conditions of the
workers have improved: there is no longer need for making economies at their cost,
because the industries have already created their basic capital; and then, as the economic
initiatives multiply, the worker becomes more necessary and is paid better, becomes the
principal customer of industry, which recuperates a large part of what it has spent in
wages. Working hours are continuously on the downturn, the worker is no longer bound
to the machine for the entire day as a galley slave to his oar. Once he has left the factory,
he is a free man.


                                             33
       But, be it noted, not for this reason is man free of the machine. As he looks around
him, he finds himself enclosed on all sides in a universe of automobiles, petrol stations,
antennas and pylons with high-tension lines, illuminated signs on shop windows full of
household appliances, functional tenements that a famous architect once described as
"machines for dwelling", for such they undoubtedly appear at first sight, having almost
completely lost the traditional, hospitable and human image of a home.
       Having left the din of the factory, our worker finds himself immersed in a not so
very different concert of motors and hooters, metallic voices and syncopated rhythms.
The fervour of economic and social life around him recalls the idea of a more or less
functioning complex mechanism.
       The relationship between man and man is more often impersonal, like the encounter
of two gearwheels. The individual sees his likes increasingly with the eyes of a ticket
seller: each man a ticket. Tenants of one and the same building do not know each other
and therefore do not greet each other. The fixed price in great stores has abolished
haggling and the place of the shopkeeper, who cultivated his customers one by one, there
is now a kind of worker woman who handles one customer after another just like so many
pieces that are led past her on a conveyor belt. Dialogue is reduced to a few order words
and even gestures are greatly economized: there is no time, the assembly line moves
forward, not a single moment may be lost.
       The world that in the seventeenth century seemed an immense machine in the "eyes
of the mind" of a few scientists and philosophers has today become more tangible for the
eyes of all.
       Surrounded by mechanisms, man no longer finds nature around himself: he barely
glimpses some small slice of it in the public parks – democratic and banalized edition of
the "Italian gardens", where every few yards he stumbles into some post, a metal wire, a
prohibition to do this or that and – latest innovation for improving the finances of the
municipality – a publicity poster. Posters already cover the panorama on the roads outside
the cities, and others attached to the glass prevent him from looking out of the windows of
the bus.
       The beautiful night animated by invisible presences, the night of lovers and poets is
killed by clanking noises and crackling voices, is deconsecrated by the livid pallour of the
neon lights (that today invade even the churches and deprive them of the little suggestion
and sense of the sacred that, notwithstanding everything, they still managed to convey).
       Man is so accustomed to the machine that he cannot do without it at any time of the
day: his silence stands in need of a background noise: at table with his family the metallic
croaking of a voice that nobody listens to is deemed to be indispensable; moving for a
hundred metres on foot has become impossible if not in the company of the solitary drone
rendered portable; a meal on the grass has become unthinkable without a record player;
repeated for the nth time, the fashionable song is repeated by the loudspeakers installed
along the entire route: nature, as we know, is monotonous, and even the most stupendous
panorama can become noisome in a couple of minutes: what is there to do? But the
company has thought even of that: the musical accompaniment is included in the price of
the ticket. In short, it seems that man has moved away from nature to such an extent that
he can no longer face it without filtering through the diaphragm of his mechanical and
technological civilization.
       With the passage of the development phase of that expansion, the worker works
ever less and is ever less a machine for producing: as he was in an exclusive manner and
in all the extension of the term in the early seventeenth century in England, and as he still
is today in Mao's China. No longer a mere machine for producing, man tends to reduce
himself to a mere machine for consuming. That is how he is wanted by production, which


                                             34
needs an ever greater demand if it is to expand: a demand that, when it lacks or is
insufficient, has to be created.
      The objective pursued by publicity at all costs is to convince the televiewer with his
blank look in front of the screen that it is absolutely indispensable for his wife to rush out
and buy a particular refrigerator; and he to acquire the car X, and, eight month later, the
car Y, incomparably more modern, with the gear lever in some new-fangled place and a
few centimetres longer: getting it before one's office companion has become a question of
honour.
      There is but one means of acquiring full dominion of the consumer mass: rendering
it ever more incapable of wanting something for itself that has not been suggested by
production; rendering it ever more apathetic and infantile, ever more mass. The reaction
with which the consumer receives the order, runs to acquire the product Z must resemble
more a conditioned reflex, a mechanical movement than an act of the will.
      The more mass man becomes accustomed to reacting mechanically, the more will
there disappear the peril of collective rebellions that cost production very dear. In this
sense, publicity will do its best to transform man into a machine for consuming: into a
robot that consumes without asking itself the reason why, and consumes rapidly,
intensely and in ever greater quantities.
      What does man, ever more machine among the machines, become in the limit? A
being without a soul, and without God. Where can man of today find God? No longer in
nature, where the men of past ages saw a perennial theophany; a live and animated
universe in which invisible spiritual forces manifested themselves; an organic set of
phenomena that seemed clear symbols of divine or demoniac realities; an environment in
which the supernatural was at home. In its place today we see an immense impersonal and
inhuman machine that of itself does not in the least recall the idea of the divine, in which
the glimpsing of God is not impossible, but calls for a poetic fantasy and a metaphysical
and religious sensitivity that are the very qualities he has lost to the greatest extent.
      If man has become incapable of seeing God in things, he could find Him within
himself, in the intimacy of his soul. Another extremely arduous undertaking, though not
impossible. A general type is always more abstract; but let us consider this mass man as
he is configured in the limit: this "one-dimensional man", who does not see beyond his de
facto material condition, this spiritually obtuse man, who does not reflect and does not
react, who is ashamed of his sentiments, if he has any; who has burnt all his ideals, except
that of exhibiting ever more costly toys; who concerns himself with nourishing, looking
after and clothing his children and then "getting them settled", but not with educating
them, who does not remember the name of his grandfather, who has neither past nor
future, and even less so the sense of the eternal. What interiority, what profundity could
there be in such a man turned wholly to the outside, the material, the immediate, to an
action that tends to become an automatism.
      And yet, even though obtuse to such an extent, religious sensitivity, the need of God
is never wholly extinguished, not even in the machine man of the industrial civilization.
This is so true that, with the old Christian God undone, the contemporary crowds feel the
urgent need of constructing their golden calves: and hence, on the already erected altars of
the old God there are placed Reason and Science, Freedom and Humanity, Nation and
Race, the Party, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, the "stars" of the cinema and song, the soccer
players, the TV presenters.
      It will be said that they are "false and lying gods", usurpers of the true and only God.
But, be it even by transverse roads, do we not here have the manifestation of a religious
need? And does this adoration of false gods reveal that even in men as deviated and
distorted as they may be there is a feeling of the sacred?


                                             35
      The workman of last century did not let himself be wholly turned into a brute by
exploitation, misery and hunger, when he attained consciousness of his condition as a
proletarian, his rights, his capacity of redeeming himself by revolution, when he came to
hope for a social palingenesis and organized himself and struggled for it, that workman
returned to being religious, be it even in a lay religion without God, though not devoid of
certain traits in common with primitive Christianity; eschatological expectation of a
paradise on earth, fraternal solidarity, absolute dedication to the cause to the point of
martyrdom.
      Today and in their own way, even man of wellbeing has a religion, though infinitely
feebler than the religion of his worker and socialist forerunner of last century. The
religion of the mass man of today may also comprise God. The man of wellbeing is a new
type of bourgeois and conservative. The idea of a tutor God of the new bourgeois order
does not displease him. Nor does it displease him to enter a church every now and again,
or to hear the sounds of bells, or to go and see a film that has a sister or a priest as
protagonist: certainly, the film must not be "heavy", must contain some comprehensible
witticisms; and a little kissing is never out of place (a youthful love before the
conversion) and also a punch or two in the second half: they will have to be carefully
manipulated, side by side with a touch of religion, a touch of love and sex, a touch of
humour, a touch of violence, and so on, a well dosed cocktail in keeping with the good
rules of an industrial production destined for mass consumption.
      One should not expect a dramatic and heroic religion from the man of wellbeing, the
religion of the saints, the true religion in other words: the religion of consumer man is
nothing other than a consumption of religion. In his God, degraded from Supreme Good
to a consumption good, one would vainly endeavour to rediscover the god of Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob, the God of Christ and the apostles, the martyrs, the ascetics, the mystics.
      Having become a machine in a world of machines, the workman of last century no
longer managed to find God in his mechanical world, which could seem anything but the
manifestation of the Eternal, sign and vestige of his presence; nor could he manage to find
God in the intimacy of his brutalized and spiritually impoverished personality, rendered
similar to that of a robot. And thus the socialist worker denied God, in whom he saw
above all the god of the bosses and oppressors, the fetish of the dominant bourgeois order.
In its way, this denial of God was a religious act: it was made in the name of an idea,
implied a moral choice, was expression of an attitude of struggle to revolutionize the
world, to implement its palingenesis. A false god was denied in favour of what was
deemed to be the true god; and for the triumph of the true god they were prepared to pay
personally, to struggle right through to the extreme sacrifice.
      The man of wellbeing is atheist in a very different spirit. His atheism does not imply
a clear and formal denial of God, but can be conciliated with a moderate consumption of
religion. The mass man of our days does not deny the Divinity, he simply lets it fall into
oblivion. When he remembers God, the mass man does so to satisfy certain religious
needs that – notwithstanding everything – come to the surface in his psyche, and he does
so through the mass media that confection the same dreams for him, leaving nothing to
his personal initiative, his creativity. For the rest, having satisfied these mediocre
resurgences of the need of the sacred, the man of wellbeing can turn his eyes in a
machine-like manner towards new consumer articles. In the eyes of the believer, this
religion in pills is undoubtedly the worst form of atheism.




                                       Chapter VI

                                            36
                        THE ATHEISM OF THE DESPERATE

       I have said that contemporary man is wholly losing the sense of the eternal, that he
succeeds ever less in perceiving the presence of God in things and in himself.
       What most sharpens the sensation in contemporary man of emptiness and the
absence of God, his non-existence, is the consideration of evil.
       The problem of evil is very ancient, it filled the more sensitive beings of all epochs
with anguish: but the new fact is that men today are far more critical, far more
unprejudiced in discerning the various forms in which evil is present in the world: they
live the problem of evil more acutely, with greater torment and anguish.
       Formerly, when there was a profound experience of the sacred, this feeling the
presence of the Divinity in all things helped a great deal to bear evil and infused in the
souls a greater optimism and something like a sense that being, direct manifestation of the
sacred, was intimately "good". And therefore evil was seen by the side of good. Mitigated
by the good, ordained to good and in some way resolved in it; today only evil is seen.
       In particular, to the man of today the presence of evil unfolds in all its crudeness, in
its incontestable and irreducible reality. There is evil that derives for men from the blind
unleashing of the forces of nature. And there is the evil that man receives from his likes:
physical and moral violences, robberies and thefts, traps and snares, calumnies,
humiliations, slavery and exploitations and the entire range of ills that man can inflict
upon another man, for there is no field where he has demonstrated greater inventive
capacity. Lastly, there are the evils that man inflicts upon himself.
       We commit all this evil due to ignorance or an impulse we may have within us ever
since birth. But to a certain extent, undoubtedly, we commit it as a deliberate act: and we
then feel that it depends on us, on our free will: it is moral evil, what in religious language
is known as sin.
       We can sin against others. We can sin against ourselves, acting in a manner that
degrades us. But the religions speak above all of a sin against the Divinity and tell us
rather that every guilt of ours is always and essentially a rebellion against the Divinity;
and even when it is not explicitly so, it is always an offending of the Divinity in its
creatures or its laws.
       In posing the problem of evil, in asking myself what could be the prime cause of the
evil that is in the world, I here want to abstract from moral evil, from sin: it is even too
obvious that, if man acts freely within certain limits, the cause of every action that could
really be defined as guilty is within himself, in his free will. Problematical is the origin of
suffering rather than of sin: of physical ill, of evil that does not depend on man or even on
God, evil that offends man himself.
       Even the man of today thus feels the problem of evil: as a problem of suffering,
above all. He feels the problem of sin rather less: losing the sense of God, he has also lost
the sense of sin that is closely connected with him. On the scene there remains man with
the tragedy of his suffering.
       Human sorrow is indeed a tragic reality. It is said that pain tempers the soul and
purifies it; but this may be true for as long as the pain is tolerable. When it transcends all
capacity of being borne, it can no longer have a positive function and reveals itself as an
absolutely negative and irreducible reality, pure evil, evil without a shadow of good,
useless evil, without either scope or sense, evil that crushes man rather than purifying him
and leaves him annihilated.
       The response to the problem of evil changes radically according to whether one
does or does not believe in God. Who does not believe in God and "posits the world of
chance" can simply reply that evil is a fortuitous and irrational reality that easily finds a

                                              37
place in a wholly irrational universe. It is when one wants to place the Divinity at the
origin of all things, so that each reality will have a rational significance, that the question
becomes far more complex.
       A God to whom one wants to attribute all things can be conceived as omnipotent or
as limited in his powers. A God who cannot prevent the existence of evil cannot be
responsible for it: here we have the case of Mazdeism, where by the side of a god of good
(Ormudz) there is room for a god of evil (Ahrimane) to whom all the evil in the world is
attributed.
       A solution of this kind can satisfy the ethical sensitivity of the believer; but it leaves
in being an unsolved dualism and cannot therefore satisfy the philosopher, whose
constant aspiration is to reduce things to a single principle. This dualism is however far
removed from the Christian idea of an omnipotent God, sole creator of the entire reality.
Since modern Western thought takes its moves from the Judeo-Christian religious
tradition, it is to the Christian God that the philosophers of our epoch make reference
when they criticize the idea of the Divinity or face it with the experience of evil.
       The all powerful Christian God is also infinitely good, is God the Father: his love
for the creatures is without limit. Why, then, does evil exist? There are those who
respond: God cannot do evil, He can only permit it. Evil is the consequence of sin: it
derives from the guilt of men, automatically, like an effect from a cause. God can do
nothing about it: having established a law of nature, He cannot prevent it from acting to
the detriment of whoever violates it.
       Sustaining that all the sufferance of men derive from the guilt of mankind or the sin
of distant progenitors may seem rather hazardous. There is an instinct of egoism and
violence in man that is common to the animals and seems rather to derive to men from
those living species from which they draw their origin by evolution. It is precisely these
instincts that permit an animal species to survive in the struggle for existence.
       The law of mors tua vita mea, the law of the large fish that eats the small fish was
already written in nature long before man appeared there, and the law of pain, which has
its biological foundation in the nervous system with which both men and animals are
provided, had been in force there for a long time: so that in every conscious psychic life a
more or less intense suffering corresponds to any lesion of the organism.
       In the light of present-day science it is very arduous to hold that all the sufferance of
men derive from their sins or from the sin of a certain Adam, whoever one wants to
designate by that name.
       In the light of present-day moral sensitivity it is equally arduous to take any man
who suffers – an innocent, a baby that has only just been born – and say that it is right that
he should suffer on account of the guilt of Adam or others.
       But let us even admit as a pure hypothesis that the entire sum of the evils that afflict
men derive from their sins and that, since the whole of mankind is a solidary whole, it is
just that the innocent should suffer as the guilty. Supposing all this for argument's sake, it
would follow that the omnipotent Christian God cannot but want evil as a consequence of
sin.
       If God is omnipotent, He can ensure that evil is not the consequence of sin: He can
intervene in such a manner that such atrocious consequences will not come about or, even
before that, can create a world in which sin does not determine such frightfully painful
effects. God can do all this: He can ensure that men do not suffer; or, at least, that they
will not suffer too much above their capacity of bearing pain. If He permits that his
creatures suffer so atrociously, it is clear that He wants it to be so.
       One is responsible not only for the evil one actively commits, but also for the evil
that one permits: one can sin by omission; and omission of rescue and assistance is a
crime punished by the criminal code. Someone who without the least effort could have

                                               38
thrown a rope to a drowning person and failed to do so, would be a fine hypocrite if
afterwards he excused himself, saying: "It is not my fault that he died; after all, it was not
I who threw him in the water!"
       If God wants the sufferings of men, there must undoubtedly be a reason. The most
ancient theology had no hesitations as regards this point, and said very clearly that the
sufferings that God sends us are the just punishments of our sins. God not only permits
human pain, but wants it: he punishes by means of it.
       Here we have the ancient idea that doing justice must consist of punishing the evil
that has been done with another evil of the same entity that will act as counterweight, so
that the balance may return to its erstwhile equilibrium: this is the idea of the "eye for an
eye, tooth for a tooth" that presides over the feud and the punishment of the retaliation
right through what Dante calls "contrappasso".
       Here we have an undoubtedly archaic concept that dominates the Old Testament
and comes to the fore in the New Testament only to the extent to which it re-echoes
traditional motives. This new wine poured into ancient casks is the idea of love that
pardons seventy times seven times, that remunerates evil with good, concerns itself with
redeeming rather than punishing. The old residues are of no interest as such to those who
spread the glad tidings. The Christian God is the Father God, not the magistrate, jurist and
executioner God that the doctores iuris, who played such a prominent part in all the
epochs of the Jewish people and the Christian church, forged in their own image.
       This idea of a justice that remunerates evil with another evil is also highly suspect:
because, though it finds its most authoritative asserters in the doctors of the law, receives
its sustenance first and foremost from a so-called and equally suspect "sense of justice" of
the multitudes: for entire millennia the multitudes have suffered injustices and bullying of
every kind; and nothing helps man more greatly to bear these vexations than to have in
front of their eyes the image of how their present oppressors will roast between the flames
of hell. If one takes a close look, such a "sense of justice" is nothing other than a low spirit
of hate and revenge.
       The father and the mother who love their little son, the educator who respects
himself, faced with the problem of some fault committed by the boy, would not by any
means set themselves problems of a just and adequate punishment that puts the balance of
justice back into equilibrium. What counts for them is how the boy can be made better: if
the same effect can be obtained with a good sermon, they will willingly forego
punishment. In their eyes punishment constitutes the extrema ratio, something that has
only to be adopted when one absolutely cannot do without it.
       Even the evolution of juridical thought considers punishment as a deterrent
unfortunately necessary in certain case when the educational and preventive action is not
sufficient. The condemned is to be re-educated in the detention period in order to
rehabilitate him completely. There is also a tendency to condone the punishment, either in
whole or in part, to the extent to which this is possible.
       One cannot therefore understand why the Christian God should contradict the law
of love that he has given to men; why, given all his infinite love for his creatures, he
should in the end reveal himself as nothing other than a sad and crude accountant of sin.
       If God accepts and wants the sufferings of men, it must therefore be in a different
spirit and with different intentions. Another idea that recurs in traditional theology is that
God permits and wants men to suffer with a view to a greater good. In short, the end
justifies the means: and what means, what frightful human costs!
       The question that spontaneously arises is why God should make us pay this greater
good he promises us so dearly: Why is it that He who can do everything and loves us so
greatly does not spare us these terrible sufferings, as would be done on this earth by even


                                              39
the most mediocre parents who loved their children? Here, once again, for what reason do
we at all costs have to configure a God worse than men?
       In Dostojevski's The Brothers Karamazov an instance of this kind is expressed in
the famous confession of Ivan to his brother Alexej: "It is not that I do not accept God,
follow me well, but it is this world created by him that I cannot resign myself to
accepting" (II, V, III).
       One can accept that among men there should exist a solidarity in sin and expiation;
but children are not involved in solidarity in sin. What have they to do with it? Why
should they suffer if they are all innocent? If men have to toil for the palingenesis of the
whole of mankind on the day of the Lord, one cannot understand why children have to
pay this future harmony with their sufferings; and for what reason do they also have to
serve as material and fertilizer to place the foundation of this future kingdom.
       "If the sufferance of the children", as Ivan continues, "will have served to complete
the sum of sufferances that was necessary to pay the truth, I affirm even now that the
whole of the truth was not worth such a price […] And then, they overvalued this
harmony, entry is truly too costly for our pockets. Therefore I hasten to return my
entrance ticket. And if I am an honest man, I must give it back to him as soon as possible.
That is precisely what I am doing. It is not that I do not accept God, Alésa, I respectfully
give him back his ticket" (op. cit., II, V, IV)..
       A mother, says Ivan, whose son has been mauled by dogs, could never and must
never pardon the killer of her son. She could pardon him her immense pain as mother, but
never the suffering of her mauled son: not even if the son himself had pardoned him. The
final harmony can wait: "I don't want any harmony, for the love of humanity I don't want
it. I prefer to keep my unrevenged suffering and my unsatiated disdain, even if I were to
be wrong" (ibid.).
       There comes to my mind an episode from Sartre's drama The Devil and the good
God (I, I). During the siege of Worms, a three-year-old child had died of hunger. The
mother insistently asked the priest Heinrich, anguished by the vision of so many human
sufferings, that as a priest he should explain to her why the child had died. Heinrich
passed his hand over his forehead: his faith was being put to a very tough test. Making a
violent effort, he succeeded in responding that "nothing happens without the will of God,
and God is goodness itself; therefore, everything that happens is always for the best".
       "I don't understand", replied the woman. And the priest: "God knows more than you
know, and what seems an ill to you, is a good in his eyes, because He weighs all its
consequences".
       "And can you understand this? You?" "No! no! I don't understand anything! I
cannot and do not want to understand. One has to believe! believe! believe!"
       "You say that you have to believe, but you don't look as if you believe what you
say". "What I am saying, I have repeated many times, for three months, so that I no longer
know whether I say it for conviction or habit. But don't deceive yourself: I believe it. I
believe it with all my strength, with all my heart. My God, you are my witness that not for
a single moment doubt came into my heart. Woman, your son is in Heaven, and you will
see him again".
       "Yes, father, sure. But Heaven is another thing. And then, I am so tired that I shall
never find the strength to rejoice even up there".
       One should also remember Rieux's protest in Camus' La peste (Pest, IV, 3): "I shall
refuse until death to love this creation where children are tortured".
       A friend of Camus, when an adolescent in Algiers, saw a truck knock down an Arab
boy, killing him right away; and to the poor desperate mother he could not refrain from
exclaiming: "There, heaven does not respond!".


                                            40
      If God exists and is all powerful, he is certainly the first responsible for evil and
death; and we cannot adore such a God; we cannot even believe in Him; and if we believe
in Him, our honesty will have to force us to curse him: that is what Albert Camus calls the
"metaphysical revolt". He does not believe in God, but wants to affirm him pragmatically
for the sole purpose of subjecting him to refusal.
      There is an affinity with Malraux, who in La voie royale (The royal road) expresses
the view that God exists "so that we can shout our revolt at him".
      The metaphysical revolt of Camus is the refusal of a world where everybody suffers
– even the innocents, even the children – and where everybody dies. Side by side with the
consideration of pain, here there is a new element with respect to Dostojevski: the vision
of death as end of everything, that annuls everything and renders it vain; so that there
comes to lack even hope, and life seems wholly absurd and devoid of sense. The same
theme dominates the philosophy of a Sartre. Rejecting the universe where the generalized
death penalty defines the condition of men", L'homme révolté (Man in rebellion) The
revolting man) of Camus "refuses to recognize the power that makes him live in this
condition. The revolting metaphysician is not therefore an undoubted atheist, as one
might think, but necessarily blasphemous. He simply curses in front of everything in the
name of order, denouncing in God the father of death and the supreme scandal. (L'homme
revolté, II)..
      There are those who react to the tragic vision of evil with rebellion, with curses,
with the negation of God; and there are also those who react with faith. It is a believing
notwithstanding everything. It is faith in a God who is far too far above our world for us to
understand his nature, his will, his ways. Everything of him remains mysterious and
incomprehensible, because the spheres of the eternal and of time are absolutely estranged
and incommensurable. God is infinitely good and just; and, and if he seems pitiless and
cruel to us, we have to accuse not him, but rather our radical incapacity of understanding
him.
      Compared with God, we are absolutely ignorant, impotent and sinners. Only to the
extent to which He extends his hand to us, can we believe and abandon ourselves to Him
with confidence. Nothing of what we see, nothing of what constitutes our human
experience can induce us to believe and hope: but, interiorly illumined by God himself,
we believe in Him and entrust ourselves to Him even though everything around us
induces us to despair and lose the faith.
      This fideist motive, which is already expressed in the Book of Job and which we
then find – at least according to certain interpretations – in the letters of the Apostle Paul
and particularly in the Letter to the Romans, recurs in various forms in Christian theology
through the centuries: in Saint Augustine, and even more in Luther, in Calvin, in Jansen,
right through to Kierkegaard and Barth.
      This type of "faith in spite of everything" is perhaps the only one possible for many
men of today who see evil clearly, without illusions, and yet feel, almost instinctively,
due to a kind of intimate experience, that there is a God, an infinitely good being: for
whom the creation itself, despite every appearance to the contrary, has ultimately a
positive and sacred sense.
      But the expectation of these men, who invincibly continue to believe and hope, may
reveal itself vain and drag on from one delusion to another, continuously frustrated. The
drama of men who insist on expecting God in vain for a long time is expressed in a very
original manner in the theatre of Samuel Beckett, especially in his stage play En attendant
Godot (Waiting for Godot), shown for the first time in Paris in 1953.
      Didi and Gogo, the two bizarre, pathetic and also tragic protagonists, await a
mysterious Godot, with whom they have a somewhat vague appointment for a series of
unspecified relationships and reasons of which they conserve a rather nebulous memory.

                                             41
"What exactly have we asked him?" "But weren't you there at the time?" "I didn't pay
attention". "Oh… there… nothing very precise". "A kind of prayer". "There". "A vague
supplication". "More or less". "And what did he reply?". "That he would have come".
"That he couldn't promise anything". "That he had to think about it". "With his mind
rested". "Consult the family". "With his friends" "His agents". "His correspondents". "His
registers". "His bank account". "Before saying anything". "It's natural". "True?" "So it
seems to me". "And also to me". "And we". "What did you say?" "I say, and we?" "I don't
understand". "What is our part in all this?" "Our part?". "Not to be in a hurry". "Our part?.
"That of the postulant". "Is that what we are reduced to?" "Does the Lord by chance have
some special requirements?" "Don't we have any more rights?" "You would make me
laugh, if I were permitted to do so" "Have we lost them?" "We have thrown them away".
       The two feel vaguely bound to Godot, incapable of freeing themselves of the
commitment to return each day to the place of the appointment. But at nightfall each day
there comes a boy to tell them that Mr. Godot will not come that evening, but will
certainly come tomorrow. And thus the two pass their life devoid of sense in the vain
expectation of Godot.
       Mythical personage of whom it is said that he has a white beard and is surrounded
by and almost prisoner of a numerous court of people who whirl around him, this Godot
who never comes seems affected by a singular form of impotence or aboulia or amnesia.
He has a clearly symbolic significance: he is the old Christian God, the provident father,
but rendered small, reduced to a larva, a surrogate, a caricature of God: no longer God,
but a miserable little godling (Godot).
       Didi and Gogo symbolize the believers: their strange behaviour expresses the
typical behaviour of the Christians, their puerile manner of believing in spite of
everything in a God who never manifests himself. Before them there unfolds the drama of
humanity, divided into oppressors and oppressed, masters and slaves, symbolized by two
other personages, Pozzo and Lucky.
       And thus men drag their "dirty life through the desert", play out "this diarrhoea of
existence", always "expecting the night, expecting Godot, expecting… expecting".
       With their strange and vain discourses, with their clumsy dressing and moving, with
their grotesque initiatives they try in some way to make time pass, to give life to their
desert of solitude and silence. In this world in which nothing has significance, nothing has
value and, all said and done, nothing exists, one cannot even speak of time, of today or
tomorrow: because nothing happens, there is no development, there is no history. The
obstinate, absurd, pathetic faith of the two protagonists in Godot permits them to give
some sense to their grotesque existence, enables them to go ahead one day after another.
But in a world in which God never manifests himself and maintains himself constantly
inaccessible, and possibly does not even exist, it seems an absurd reality, without
significance and without hope.
       The theme of the "silence of God" recurs often in contemporary literature and
existential philosophy (and in the famous Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman seem to
have found a very sensitive interpreter even in the cinema). But is already pre-announced
in Dostojewski who, though he flourished last century, ideally and prophetically lives in
our own epoch.
       Let us recall the famous dialogue of Crime and punishment (IV, IV). Catherine
Ivanovna, widow of the drunken employee Marmeladov, who died crushed by a carriage,
is in the last stage of tuberculosis and is close to death. Sonia will be able to take care of
the little orphans. But as Raskolnikov tells her, "supposing that Catherine Ivanovna will
still live for a little while, you could fall ill and what will happen when you are at the
hospital? […] The whole family will be down and out, the mother, coughing, will ask
alms, rest her head against walls, just like today; the boys will weep… Catherine

                                             42
Ivanovna will fall to the ground, they'll carry her to the police station, and then to the
hospital, where she will die, and the boys…"
       "Oh, no!… God won't permit this!", Sonia interrupts him with a broken voice. But
the young man implacably continues to trace the picture of what before long is going to be
the desperate situation of these poor devils. "No, no! It's not possible!, exclaims the young
woman, wounded by Raskolnikov's words as if the were a dagger, "God will not permit
any of this!" And the young man, laughing: "Who knows whether God exists?"
       "I supplicated, implored a sign, sent continuous messages to Heaven. So far heaven
has ignored my name", says Goetz to Heinrich in Sartre's aforementioned drama (III, X,
IV). And his conclusion is totally negative: "God does not exist"; God is "this void above
our heads", it is "the Silence". It is "the Absence"; it is "the Solitude of men"
       Let us take a look at the dialogue – in Camus' L'étranger (The Stranger) between
Meursault and the prison chaplain who vainly tried to convert the prisoner condemned to
death and told him that, among the prisoners he had known there, even the most miserable
had seen a divine face rise from their obscurity. "I became a little animated", notes
Meursault. "I said that I had looked at those walls for months. There was nothing, not
even a single person whom a knew better… In any case, I never saw anything rise out of
those stones" (L'étraanger, II, V).
       In Bergman's film Winter lights the pastor Eric Thomson confesses to one of his
parishioners: "Every time I have put God in confrontation with reality, he transformed
himself. He was atrocious, cruel and distant, the entire reality seemed to have become
terribly empty of God; everything seemed to reveal anything but the existence of a
provident creator God. "But if God were really not existing, nothing should have any
importance", says Martha, a female protagonist. Her desperate prayer to God is: "If there
is a purpose in the sufferings I inflict upon myself, tell me so. Give a significance to my
life, and I shall always be your handmaiden". But the Divinity seems to be bent on
remaining cruelly and enigmatically silent. "If God does not speak", concludes Martha,
"it is because God does not exist. It will be terrible, but simple".
       The essential reason of the film is all this suffering of men who feel themselves to
be abandoned by God. Even Jesus had to suffer immensely when, nailed to the cross. He
had the feeling that, together with the fidelity of his disciples, he had lost also the help of
the celestial Father.
       In a discussion with Pastor Ericsson, the deformed Sacristan Algot gives expression
to how he sees Christ's passion: atrocious as they were, Christ's physical sufferings must
have been relative; but far more terrible were the moral sufferings: above all when,
having arrived close to death, he cried with all the voice he had: "My God, my God, why
have you abandoned me?" He shouted it with all the voice he had, as if he had seen that
his Father in heaven had abandoned him. As if he had believed that he had been mistaken.
Yes, Jesus was assailed by an incredible anguish before he died. Pastor, would not that
have been the moment when he suffered most? On account of God's silence?"
       Bergman's next film was explicitly entitled The silence. But the theme had already
been faced in The seventh seal, where Blok says to death: "I want God to hold out his
hand to me, reveal himself and talk to me" "But he remains silent", replies Death. And
Blok: "I call him in the dark, but it is as if there were nobody". "Perhaps there is nobody",
insinuates Death. "In that case, as Blok desperately concludes, "life is an atrocious horror.
Nobody can live in view of death, knowing that it is all nothing".
       This absence of God, and of the crisis of man that follows from it, is one of
Bergman's central themes that continuously emerges in his films, were it is delved into
and analyzed in its variegated ethical and social implications in a very penetrant manner.
But, as I said, the theme recurs in a more or less explicit manner and with great frequency
in present-day philosophy, in novels and in poetry.

                                              43
      The citations could be multiplied; but these few examples can already clarify the
psychological origin of the atheism of the desperate: of this particular form of atheism
that for many of today's most sensitive men derives from the vision of evil and anguish in
the face of God's silence.
      The atheist conclusion, which easily comes from such an attitude, can be found
expressed fully and with singular efficaciousness in a few tragically ironical words by
Nietzsche: "The best excuse of God is that he does not exist" (Ecce homo, Why I am so
cautious, 3).




                                       Chapter VII

                    ATHEISM AS EXISTENTIAL EXPERIENCE

      In the previous chapters, even before distinguishing various individual roots of
present-day atheism, I identified its common and primary root in the loss of the
experience of the sacred. This coming to lack of such a fundamental experience becomes
translated into a new and radically different way of seeing things. The world no longer
appears to be animated by a divine Presence; no longer seems oriented in an absolute,
eternal perspective.
      Life can nevertheless continue to have sense for men: human life with its own
objectives, no matter how limited they may be, can reveal to us an autonomous value of
its own; and we take a passionate interest in many things. Rather, we then pay an
exclusive attention to one of these realities, to one of these objectives, to the point of
turning it into an absolute; and we thus illude ourselves that we can do without the true
Absolute, the only thing that could confer really absolute significance upon our existence.
      But here we have the moment of crisis: the earthly reality, the human finality that
we had put on the altar in place of God sooner or later ends up by revealing its nature of a
false God to us. What is more, we even come to discover that everything in a world
devoid of God is ephemeral, vain, lacking sense. In a first phase these finite realities
appeared to us full of being, precisely inasmuch as they had been created by God and
participated in the divine being.
      A second phase is the one of an atheism professed on the intellectual plane, but not
yet lived existentially: the doctrinal atheist negates God, but nevertheless feels that man
and his earthly world have a value: though he denies God, he feels the immanence of God
in man and things – even if he calls it in some other way – and this world seems to him to
be as if he still felt it to have been created by God; and life appears worthy of being lived,
and the human values something authentic, for which one can fight and suffer and even
die.
      Only in a third phase does doctrinal atheism become converted into existential
atheism, into an atheism that man lives in all the profundity of his being; this time he does
no longer limit himself to affirming that God does not exist, no longer limit himself to
ignoring or forgetting Him; this time the essence of God is, as I would say, physically
perceived. The experience of the mystic is that of a fullness of being; at the exact
opposite, the experience of the existential atheist is that of an emptiness of being: in his
own intimacy and – around it – in all things: since there lacks the being that alone can give

                                             44
life and value to the finite entities of the cosmos and to man, all the world appears devoid
of being, the whole of life devoid of value and purpose, reign of phantasms, kaleidoscope
of vain images.
       Since there comes to lack the God who is the foundation of being common to all the
realities, the existential atheist feels a terrible void not only in himself, but in everything
that exists. An empty reality will appear to him also devoid of explanation and sense,
gratuitous, absurd, "excessive".
       Here one spontaneously thinks of Sartre's recall. Indeed, Sartre's atheism presents
itself as a true existential atheism, courageously developed to its very end, in everything
that it implies. Understood in this sense, "existentialism is nothing other than an effort to
deduce all the consequences from a coherent atheist position", affirmed Sartre in a lecture
that has remained famous (L'existentialisme est un humanisme [Existentialism is a
humanism].
        And, writing about himself, could well add: "Atheism is a cruel undertaking of
extensive consequences: I believe to have brought it into port" (Les mots [Words], II.
       Reading one of his autobiographic books, Les mots, confirms to us that Sartre's
doctrine has a truly existential origin: it draws its origin from a whole series of interior
experiences lived with extreme intensity. It is true that they do not invest his entire
personality, do no overwhelm him in desperation, leave him all his serenity, diligence and
confidence in himself; but this does not in any way diminish their character of intensely
lived experiences, at least at a certain level; were it not so, certain pages that have the
clear imprint of direct testimonies would never have been written as first-hand accounts.
       In following the itinerary of existential atheism, I shall let myself be guided by those
who are its most authoritative witnesses, but in the first place by Sartre, whose
experience, even though it maintains itself in a more ideal or mental sphere, nevertheless
seems to me to be the most consequent and complete.
       The interior experience by means of which the whole of reality reveals itself to
Sartre devoid of God is therefore devoid of sense, is what he calls "nausea".
       There can be no doubt as to the essentially autobiographical character of the
diary-novel La nausée. Let us re-read one of its famous passages, where Roquentin, after
some presentiments, for the first time perceives in a full, striking and almost tangible
manner what an atheist reality really implies.
       Roquentin arrives at all this not by means of a reasoning, but through an intimate
experience that one could define as a kind of inverse mystic ecstasy: "…A little while
ago", he notes in his diary, "I was in the public garden. The root of the chestnut tree
delved into the ground precisely under my bench. I no longer remembered that it was a
root. The words had disappeared, and with them the meaning of things, the manner in
which they were used, the tenuous signs of recognition that men have traced on their
surface. I was seated, bending forward a little, with head low, alone, face to face with that
black, knotty and wholly ugly mass that frightened me. And then I had this flash of
illumination. It made my breath stand still.
       "Never before these last few days had I felt what 'existing' means. I was like the
others, like those who amble by the seaside in their spring dresses. Just like them, I said
'the sea is green, the white point down there is a seagull', but did not feel that this existed,
that the seagull was an 'existing seagull'; existence usually hides itself. It is there, around
us, is us, one cannot say two words without speaking of it and, lastly, one does not touch
it. When I thought myself to be thinking of it, evidently I was not thinking anything at all,
had my head empty, or only a single word in my head, the word 'being'. Or I was
thinking… how should I say? I was thinking of belonging, I said to myself that the sea
belonged to the class of green objects or that green formed part of the qualities of the sea.
Even when I was looking at things, I was a hundred miles from thinking that they existed:

                                              45
they seemed to me like an ornament. I took them in hand, they served me as tools, I
foresaw their resistance, but all this happened on their surface. Had I asked myself what
existence was, I would have replied in good faith that it was nothing, simply an empty
form that came to be added to things from outside, without in any way changing their
nature.
      "And then, all of a sudden, it was there, clear like the day: existence had suddenly
revealed itself. Having lost its inoffensive aspect of an abstract category, it was the very
material of things, the root that was kneaded in existence. Or, rather, the root, the gates of
the garden, the bench, the sparse grass of the meadow, everything had disappeared; the
diversity of things and their individuality were nothing but appearance, a paint. This paint
had dissolved, there remained the monstrous masses and springs in disorder – nude, of a
frightening and obscene nudity.
      "I refrained from making the least movement, but there was no need for me to move
to see, behind the trees, the blue columns and the lamp of the music kiosk, and the Velleda
in the midst of a group of laurel trees. All these objects... how should I say? They
bothered me: I would have wanted them to exist in a less strong manner, in a drier and
more abstract manner, with more restraint. The chestnut tree pressed against my eyes. A
green rust covered it up to half its height; the black and swollen bark seemed to be made
of boiled leather. The tenuous noise of the water of the Masqueret Fountain trembled
behind my ears and there made a nest for itself, filled them with sighs; my nostrils
overflowed with a green and putrid odour.
      "Everything abandoned itself to existence, sweetly, tenderly, like tired women
abandon themselves to laughing and say: 'Laughing is good for you' with a weak voice;
things extended one in front of the other, giving each other the abject confidence of their
own existence.
      "I understood that there was no half-way between inexistence and this enfeebled
abundance. If they existed, they had to exist up to there, up to the mildew, the swelling,
the obscenity. In another world, the circles, the musical airs conserve their pure and rigid
lines. But existence is a ceding. Of the trees, the night-blue pilasters, the happy bubbling
of a fountain, the acute odours, the tiny tendrils of heat that fluttered in the cold air, a red
man who made his nap on a bench: all these somnolences, all these digestions taken
together offered a vaguely comical aspect. Comici… no: they did not arrive at that,
nothing that exists can be comic; it was like a fluctuating analogy, almost incapable of
being gripped, like certain operetta situations.
      "We were a heap of cumbersome existing, embarrassed by ourselves, we had not the
least reason for being there, neither the ones nor the others, each existing, confused,
vaguely restless, felt himself in excess in relation to the others. In excess: that was the
only relationship I could establish between those trees, those gates, those cobble stones.
Vainly I tried to count those chestnut trees, to situate them in relation to the Velleda, to
confront them their height with that of the plane trees: each of them escaped from the
relationships in which I tried to enclose them, isolated itself, overflowed. I felt the
arbitrariness of these relationships (that I insisted on maintaining in order to retard the
collapse of the human world, the world of measures, quantities, directions); they no
longer had any mordant on things. Excessive the chestnut tree, there in front of me, a little
to the left. Excessive the Velleda… And I – feeble, languid, obscene, digesting, full of
dark thoughts – I, too, was excessive" (La Nauseée, Journal, 6 p. m).
      Roquentin's experience – as he himself tries to make clear in the lines that follow –
is that of the absurdity of everything deriving from the fact that each existing is here as if
he had been thrown there, without any explanation or reason of being: he is wholly
contingent, devoid of all necessity.; he is perfectly gratuitous; he is, indeed, "in excess".


                                              46
       Lacking God, who alone can confer sense upon the created being, an explanation, a
reason of being, a necessity, some consistency, it is clear that the conclusion cannot be
different from Roquentin's. Who nevertheless – as we said before – does not arrive there
by means of a deduction, but all of a sudden by means of an intuition so intense as to
characterize itself almost as a physical sensation: "Everything is gratuitous, this garden,
this city, I myself. And when it happens that you realize it, your stomach turns and
everything begins to fluctuate… and hence the Nausea" (ibid).
       In this experience of the absurdity of everything that exists, reality at times seems
devoid of any spirituality, of any intimate finality: it is therefore all corporeal and heavy,
all stupid and brute matter. Sartre calls it "the Being" and feels it as something that has a
consistency of its own, cumbersome and invading.
       At this stage of the atheist experience it truly seems that objective being has a
substantiality of its own. But then, delving more deeply, he discovers that this
substantiality is all apparent and vacuous: from a realistic vision, as we night call it, one
passes to a more profound vision of the idealist-solipsist type.
       And thus, together with Roquentin, we are in the heart of atheist existence: the being
that once seemed amorphous, opaque, irreducibly estranged and yet real, existing in the
massive sense, now reveals itself as being made of nothing: "Nothing seemed real",
writes Roquentin; "I felt surrounded by a cardboard scenario that could be dismantled
from one moment to the next. The world expected, holding its breath, expected its crisis,
its Nausea" (op. cit, Friday).
       "It is a profound boredom, the heart of existence, the very matter of which I am
made", notes Roquentin on another page of his diary (op. cit, On Tuesday in Bouville).
       The feeling of "nausea" is closely bound up with that of "boredom", yet another
revealer of the intimate vacuity of the real. La noia, Boredom is precisely the title that
Moravia gave to one of his last novels. Let us give the floor to Dino, the protagonist: for
him "boredom is truly a species of insufficiency or inadequacy or scarcity of reality".
       He compares it with the frequent and mysterious interruption of electricity in a
room: only moment before, each object stood out in clear evidence; now, all of a sudden,
there is nothing but dark and emptiness. Once again Moravia's personage defines it as "a
sickness of the objects, consisting of an almost abrupt withering or loss of vitality". Let us
imagine a flower that withers in a few instants and immediately becomes reduced to dust.
Any reality can suddenly reveal to us its intimate nothingness, producing within us the
same impression that we would have when we see that flower dissolve itself.
       "The feeling of boredom", concludes Dino, "comes into being within me from that
of the absurdity of what I called an insufficient reality, that is to say, incapable of
persuading me of my own effective existence" (Prologue; Milan 1965, pp.7-8).
       Despite the difference of the terminologies and even the experiences (always
personal and incapable of being weighed), the arrival point of Moravia's personage seems
to me to coincide substantially with that of Sartre's Roquentin: "Things are only what they
seem and behind them… there is nothing" (La Nausée, On Monday).




                                       Chapter VIII

                  IMPOSSIBILITY OF A TRUE ATHEIST ETHIC

     We have seen: when there comes to lack a God traditionally understood as principle
(cause, foundation, sufficient reason) of reality, the whole of reality seems devoid of any

                                             47
necessity or explanation or reason: it seems contingent, gratuitous and absurd,
"excessive". Faced with a reality conceived in this manner, one cannot speak in the proper
sense of either metaphysics nor of principles or laws of being: as traditionally understood,
metaphysics seeks the sense of reality and therefore its principles, its laws; but how can
one undertake such a search if one has established that the whole of existence is devoid of
sense?
      Traditional philosophy sees in God not only the first principle of being, but also its
ultimate end, the Supreme Being to which being tends by its nature. The lack of a God
conceived as ultimate end provokes the lack of ethics by reflection: our life of men is no
longer bound to a necessary direction; man may implement himself as he wishes; nothing
obliges him morally to implement himself in one direction rather than another; and
everything that is materially feasible is therefore morally licit.
      Nor can one invoke in support of ethics that man has a necessary nature, seeing that
an unprejudiced analysis reveals man as a being in continuous evolution. If in man there
is God as his most intimate and true potential nature, there must be a necessary nature in
him; otherwise man would be a contingent being and subject to change from every point
of view in all his manifestations.
      A phenomenology of man cannot of itself give us an ethic. Only God can be its
foundation. Without God, there comes to lack the necessity and universality of moral
principles and laws; and one can speak at the very most of a moral phenomenology, but
not exactly of an ethic.
      Sartre's ethic – to call it thus in a wider sense – moves from atheist premises. If God
does not exist, says Sartre, we have to draw the consequences of this to the very end. He
opposes a certain type of lay morality that would do without God with the least possible
damage, maintaining all the other values as already given.
      According to this "lay" and "radical" mentality, the existence or non-existence of
God does not change things a great deal. "Existentialism, on the contrary, thinks that it is
very uncomfortable that God does not exist, because with God there disappears all
possibility of rediscovering values in an intelligible heaven; there can no longer be an a
priori good, because there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it; it is not
written anywhere that the good exists, that one has to be honest, that one must not lie, and
for this precise reason: that we are on a plane where there are only men. Dostojewski
wrote: "If God does not exist, everything is permitted". Here we have the starting point of
existentialism. Indeed, if God does not exist, everything is licit and consequently man is
"abandoned", because he does not find the possibility of an anchorage either in himself
nor outside him" (L'existentialisme est un humanisme).
      Having posed the premise, Sartre's conclusion seems to me to be once again
deduced with the strictest rigour. God does not exist, there is no fixed and immutable
human essence, man is all and only in his concrete temporal existence. Therefore "man is
free, man is liberty" (ibid.).
      It seems to me that this word liberty is adopted by Sartre in anything but a univocal
manner. Seemingly, one can distinguish two essences of it. First: liberty in the sense of
moral liberty: man is morally free to want any kind of action. In other words: he is free
from moral rule that cannot derive for him from an inexistent God.
      Second: liberty in the sense freedom of willing (what in traditional language is
called free will): man is, as we might say, materially free to want any kind of action. In
other words, he is not hindered by determinisms of any kind. He can, but in the sense that
Kant attributes to this term when he says: "You must, therefore you can". For Sartre, the
two liberties (which I here distinguish, but which he considers as a single whole under
one and the same term) are both absolute, without limits.


                                             48
       To understand Sartre's conception of the liberty of willing, one has to consider the
metaphysical premises from which he derives it. Let us summarize them in a few words.
The starting point of Sartre's philosophy is a phenomenology of consciousness. Here
consciousness is the consciousness of a being that is not identified with it, that transcends
it, that is non-consciousness: Sartre calls it "being in itself". Differently from this being,
consciousness is "being for itself": "presence to itself".
       Phenomenological analysis shows that being reveals itself to consciousness: this
manifestation to the consciousness is in fact the phenomenon. There is thus a relationship,
a correlativity between the two: consciousness and being are two and at the same time are
also one. This correlativity that enables consciousness to inquire not only its own
structure, but also the structure of being.
       Very well, "being in itself" reveals itself as something absolutely different from
consciousness: as something that is so absolutely heterogeneous that, as compared with it,
consciousness is non-being, consciousness is nothing. Man is not and cannot even receive
being from that "being in itself" that is wholly estranged from him. For him there remains
nothing other than to "make himself a being" by himself.
       Because he has not within him any being that in some way could constrain his
choices, man is perfectly free "to choose himself". In him freedom of will is absolute. For
Sartre, absolute freedom of will is not only founded, demonstrable with rational
arguments, but is perfectly evident to anybody who knows how to look at things in good
faith, in an honest and unprejudiced manner. The others do not see because, not having
the courage to assume their entire freedom with all the responsibilities that derive
therefrom, they do not even want to look at reality as it is, without preconceptions: they
are all in bad faith.
       In confidence, I personally am perfectly convinced of being in good faith when I say
that this absolute freedom of will seems anything but evident to him. This concept, rather,
seems to create considerable difficulties when one bears in mind that man, a biopsychic
unit, is always conditioned by the body, even exercising the highest psychic faculties.
With the variation of the physical conditions, not only the intelligence, the sensitivity, the
memory, etc., but even the will can have its highs and its lows, its eclipses, its illnesses. In
any case, contrary to what Sartre says about it, even freedom of will reveals its limits: it is
a fact of common experience, one of the first that emerges from a simple introspection
performed without prejudices.
       However that may be, one would also have to consider Sartre's conception of the
other. For Sartre, the originary relationship that binds me to the other is not a relationship
of love, of solidarity: it is a state of conflict. The other looks at me and judges me
according to his choice, according to his interpretation of reality, which is counterposed
to mine. If I give way to this self-assertion of the other's look, I shall no longer succeed in
judging myself, I shall be obliged to reflect myself in the eyes of the other. For this "hell
are the others" (Huis clos, V) and "the essence of the relationships between the
consciousnesses is conflict" (L'Être et le Néant, III, III, III).
       This conception of the other, together with that of liberty, has provoked reactions
from Catholics and even Marxists: who, in particular, accused Sartre's thought of being a
form of bourgeois individualism, incapable of founding an ethic of solidarity among men.
Faced with this accusation, Sartre set out to show that his philosophy, far from being
amoral and asocial, is perfectly capable of giving itself both an individual and a social
ethic; indeed, he set out to show that "existentialism is a humanism".
       Sartre's ethic is founded on liberty. That man is absolutely free is something evident
for Sartre, as we have already seen. And yet, "liberty on each real occasion cannot have
any other purpose than to want to be itself"; therefore, "once man has recognized that he


                                              49
poses values, he cannot but want one thing in his abandonment: freedom as foundation of
every other value" (L'existentialisme est un humanisme).
       Man, free being, cannot want anything other than freedom for himself and other
men in all circumstances: "wanting liberty, we discover that it entirely depends on the
liberty of the others and that their liberty depends on ours. Certainly, liberty as definition
of man does not depend on the others, but, since there is a commitment, I am obliged to
want, together with my own liberty, the liberty of the others; I cannot take my liberty as
end if I do not take the liberty of the others as end (ibid.).
       "Freedom on each real occasion can have no purpose other than wanting itself",
freedom wants freedom: here the first term – if we want to call it thus – acts as the subject
of the proposition, has to be understood in the sense of freedom of wanting, and also of
moral freedom.
       As regards the second term, which acts as complement of the object, it has a
significance that does not reduce to those two. One could translate it: total liberation of
man; in one word: humanism. Morally free, man's will is, as we might say, also materially
free: no determinism can condition it or limit it.
       If the will is free in an absolute manner, it does not follow that the whole man is free:
often man is oppressed and exploited, slave of other men and slave of something that is in
him, of his prejudices, his ignorance, his bad faith. And yet, tending in this sense towards
one's own total liberation and that of other men means realizing oneself as man, existing
as man: such is the sense of humanism.
       This brief analysis of the word freedom, which in Sartre has such a complex and
equivocal meaning, obliges me to re-expose certain of Sartre's concepts in a more explicit
form than he does himself. And I must do it in my own words. I hope to have succeeded in
interpreting these concepts in their proper spirit: which, to be truthful, is not easy to grasp
if, as Sartre himself tells us, it has induced the critic to such gross misunderstandings,
which it would a little overhasty to attribute to mere bad faith.
       Let me repeat in a schematic manner: for Sartre, whoever recognizes that his own
will is absolutely free – both morally (moral freedom) and materially (free will) – cannot
but want total liberation in himself and in the other, cannot refrain from promoting
humanism. This could be said if moral freedom and free will implied total liberation. But,
reflecting well, one cannot see in what manner the third term can be obtained from the
first two.
       Even admitting – as pure hypothesis – that man is materially free to want anything,
this does not by any means imply the need of man to promote his own total liberation,
humanism. It seems to me that all those who have hitherto affirmed human free will have
always understood it as free capacity of choosing not only the good, but also the bad.
       It is quite true that Sartre speaks of bad faith; but it seems that he confines its
possibility to the most obscure states of consciousness: the man who glimpses his being
free, feels disconcerted and then, in bad faith, affirms himself determined to find in this
excuses that justify his remaining in moral inertia; but if in good faith he comes to clearly
see his condition of absolute freedom, he cannot do anything other than pursue total
liberation of man both in himself and in the others. This is what Sartre affirms: but it is
anything but obvious; it would call for a clearer, more rigorous demonstration, which is
lacking.
       Always assuming as hypothesis that man is materially free to want any action, that
does not even imply a duty of promoting total liberation. Duty may imply the freedom of
wanting ("you must, therefore you can"), freedom of wanting does not by any means
imply the duty: it is only a simple condition, necessary, but not by any means sufficient.
       For its own part, the affirmation "man is morally free to want any act" does not by
any means imply the affirmation "man must totally free himself". The first not only does

                                              50
not imply the second, but rather contradicts it: if I am morally free in an absolute manner,
I cannot have duties of any kind.
       Sartre had said that his existentialism "was energically opposed to a certain type of
lay morality that would remove God with the least possible damage" (op. cit., p. 44).
       It seems to me that this opposition is not all that energic if, in order to reassure the
Marxists, and his own growing Marxism, Sartre does not hesitate – with a brief and
prestigious turn of equivocal and badly deduced concepts – to shake out of his sleeve a
new lay morality of the same type as those already proposed: a morality no less
existentialist than those, and no less founded on an "essence" of man.
       Such an essence of man will no longer be called "nature", but "freedom". Such an
essence will be conceived in a less naturalist or rationalist and more
phenomenological-existential manner than the traditional ones. Its existential
implementation will have nothing mechanical, but will rather call for inventive and
creative work. Not for that reason will it be less "essence".
       Moreover, it will also be a universal essence, necessary and absolute, a true lay
surrogate of God. It is curious to note that Sartre's philosophy, which with a great deal of
courage had drawn all the consequences of the death of God, should here return to
aligning itself with pre-existentialist and typically nineteenth century positions as if
nothing had happened.
       Simone de Beauvoir clarifies these concepts of Sartre and develops them by means
of a rich variety of examples. She thus stresses the fundamental concept: "…Just as soon
as a liberation seems possible, not exploiting this possibility is a renunciation of freedom,
renunciation that implies bad faith and is a positive guilt" (Pour une morale de
l'ambiguité [For a morality of ambiguity], II).
       And, always with reference to one of Sartre's other ideas, she says that "wanting
deliberately not to be free would be contradictory; but one may want to be not free: due to
laziness, thoughtlessness, caprice, cowardice and impatience, one contests the sense of
the project at the very moment in which one defines it; in that case the spontaneity of the
subject is nothing but a vain living palpitation, its movement towards the object an
escape, and (the subject) itself an absence" (op. cit., I).
       According to Simone de Beauvoir, we can distinguish more or less two categories
of men. In the first we can include all the men who distinguish themselves by intelligence,
sensitivity, vitality. It is not a question of ready-made qualities, but rather a manner of
throwing oneself into the world, of revealing being, freely orienting oneself. These
attitudes have the body as their means of expression, but it is not the body that determines
them: "there is vitality only thanks to a free generosity, intelligence presupposes good
will" (op. cit., II).
       In a second category of men we shall include all those whom the Gospel calls
lukewarm. If existing means throwing oneself into the world, we can consider sub-men
all those who, on account of a fundamental fear in the face of existence, in the face of the
risks and tensions that it implies, withdraw as far as possible, render themselves blind and
deaf, apathetic, indifferent, without love and without desire.
       The sub-man cannot do without being a presence in the world, thrown as he is into
the world like all the other men, "but maintains this presence at the level of a mere fact". If
he were permitted to be a brute fact, he would willingly become confused with the rocks
and the trees. These beings do not know that they exist, "but the sub-man arouses
despisal: this means that he is recognized as being responsible for himself at the moment
in which one admonishes him for not wanting to be so" (op. cit., II).
       If he arrived at a clear and unprejudiced vision of his own freedom, he could not
"deliberately want himself not to be free"; but the sub-man prefers to maintain his
consciousness of this condition of partial obscurity, which enables him to glimpse his

                                              51
freedom, to fear its risks and giddiness, and to withdraw his head into its shell, denying
freedom in bad faith, invoking by way of excuse determinisms that he claims prevent him
from freeing himself of it.
      His fear of any truly free and creative choice induces him "to seek refuge in the
ready-made values of the serious world: he will flaunt certain opinions, take refuge
behind a label and, to hide his indifference, voluntarily abandon himself to verbal
violences or even physical attacks" (ibid.).
      Here we have a morality that, faithful to the spirit of Sartre's, she develops by giving
it a more concrete form: morality is the triumph of freedom over being and remaining in a
condition of mere fact: morally guilty is the attitude of the sub-man who "does not realize
anything other than letting his own entire existence remain in a condition of mere fact"
(op. cit., II).
      What does "wanting freedom" mean? There are those who accuse this formula of
being empty, of not proposing a precise, concrete content for action. Quite the contrary,
writes Simone de Beauvoir, "for man, his project towards freedom is incarnated in
definite behaviours. Wanting freedom, wanting to reveal being, is a unique and always
identical choice; with it one defines a positive and constructive act of freedom that causes
being to pass to existence in a continuously overcome movement.
      Science, technology, art and philosophy are indefinite conquests of existence over
being: taken to be such, they assume their authentic face, and the word progress finds its
true sense in the light of this assumption. It is not a question of approaching a fixed term:
absolute Knowledge, man's felicity and the perfection of beauty; in that case all human
efforts would be bound to fail, because at each step the horizon would likewise recede by
one step. For man it is a question of pursuing the expansion of his existence and
recuperating this effort as absolute (op. cit., III, 2).
      Science, technology, art, philosophy: in short, man's constructive activities. They
acquire a valid sense only inasmuch as they are assumed as movements towards freedom.
It is a question of a concrete movement: inventions, discoveries, industries, culture,
pictures, books completely populate the world and open concrete possibilities to men.
      Here the sense of Sartre's "humanism" is developed in clear and suggestive terms
that even a declaredly Christian humanism could adopt as its own. With the difference
that the aspiration to an absolute goal, which here is rightly declared impossible, a failure
right from the start, would make perfect sense.
      And with yet another difference: that in a Christian humanism it would make
perfect sense to work for a realization, be it even limited but not ephemeral, not wholly
useless and vain: an aspiration likewise unrealizable within the framework of an atheist
humanism, where death, always lying in ambush, can from one moment to the next
reduce me to nothing, annulling in one fell swoop everything I have done to realize
myself positively throughout an entire life.
      The vision of reality that Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir propose to us is decidedly
desolating: life does not in itself make sense. It is true that we can confer a sense upon it.
But who are we face to face with life as a whole, which exceeds us beyond all possibility
of comparison and inexorably crushes us? When we but think of it, the only satisfaction
that remains for us is that of reciting the part of the "thinking reed" of Pascalian memory:
in the awareness of being crushed, we celebrate an ideal victory in the face of the pure
factiveness of a universe that overwhelms without being conscious of it. Nevertheless,
nothing prevents us from remaining overwhelmed, we and whatever we have realized;
nothing saves us from total failure.
      It is true that we can "assume" our failure, "want" the failure that our tension
implies: "man can make himself lack, but deny the lacking as lacking and affirm himself
as positive existence". Naturally assuming the failure does not mean overcoming it: the

                                             52
failure remains such, "existence still remains negativity in the positive affirmation of
oneself; and, in its turn, it does not appear as the term of a further synthesis: the failure is
not overcome, but assumed" (op. cit., I).
       All said and done, man can deny the failure in words. Man can affirm himself as
absolute; he can "do the absolute", as Sartre puts it (L'existentialisme est un humanisme);
he can "recuperate as absolute" all his acts and efforts, as Simone de Beauvoir would have
it (op. cit., III, 2); he can undoubtedly do it, but in words. We agree that man can give
sense to his life – in this he is sovereignly free; but it will be a sense as provisional and
ephemeral as man himself.
       Man's situation remains tragic, there is no curtain of brilliant, modern and
intelligent phrases that could succeed in depriving it of any part of its essential tragicness.
The famous "policy of the ostrich" may temporarily illude us, but does not change things
in any way.
       It seems to me that Sartre and de Beauvoir see the tragicness of the human condition
with considerable clarity, a condition that is wholly devoid of sense in a world without
God; but then they illude themselves as regards man's possibility of conferring an
authentic sense upon his position. In the first place, they absolutize the freedom of
wanting, assuming it dogmatically without interrogating an experience that seems to belie
this assertion, showing us men as only partially free beings and even prisoners of
innumerable determinisms.
       And then it seems to me that the two French existentialists, even though they see the
substantial vanity of an existence without God rather well, end up by not drawing all the
consequences of their proclaimed atheism.
       Saying that I am absolutely free is a fine phrase, saying that I do the absolute, that I
give an absolute sense to my life are fine phrases that can temporarily mask but not
eliminate the a priori failure and therefore the substantial vanity of everything I am about
to do: everything is destined to end for me with my inevitable and always incumbent
death.
       Saying "All this has no importance for me" is like repeating the consideration of the
fox when he finds himself faced with the grapes he cannot reach; it is "putting on a good
face in a difficult situation"; it is resigning oneself to an inevitable evil that is therefore
"best taken with philosophy".
       At this point I could say: "I am wrong in thinking exclusively of myself, of my
projects, my aspirations, failures from the very start on account of the inevitability of my
death. I am not alone. There is humanity, of which I form a part; and it does not follow
that if I must die, humanity is likewise destined to die. If I succeeded in feeling the cause
of mankind as my cause, and the good of other men, present and future, as my own good,
why should I not feel myself induced to work for them? Simone de Beauvoir writes that
"nothing permits us to affirm that humanity will ever come to an end; we know that every
man is mortal, but not that humanity must die" (Pirrhus and Cinea, Humanity).
       Let us even assume it as a hypothesis, even though it seems to me a hypothesis
rather difficult to sustain. Let us say: humanity is eternal. Very well, if I am destined to
die, what do I care about the survival of mankind? What can induce me to work for its
good, for its future? I could give myself the following reply: the good of humanity will
become my own good if I come to serve it as mine by virtue of a free choice by means of
which I make it my own.
       Simone de Beauvoir gives an example: I knew a boy who wept because the son of
the porter had died; his parents let him weep, but then became irritated: "After all, that
child was not your brother". The boy dried his tears.
       But, as de Beauvoir comments, this "was a dangerous teaching. No point in crying
about the child of a stranger, agreed. But why cry about one's own brother?" The little

                                              53
tenant could say about the porter's son: "That child is not my brother"; but he can also say:
"If I weep about him, he is no longer a stranger".
       Exactly, "it is my tears that decide", comments Simone de Beauvoir. "Nothing is
decided before me". In this connection she cites the famous evangelic parable: "When the
disciples asked Christ: who is my neighbour? Christ did not respond with an enumeration,
but told them the parable of the good Samaritan. The neighbour of the man abandoned on
the road was the one who covered him with his mantle and came to his aid: we are not the
neighbour of anybody, we make a neighbour of the other by making ourselves his
neighbour by means of an act" (ibid., The garden of Candide).
       It seems to me that this typically Sartrian interpretation of the parable of Jesus takes
no account of the fact that, from the Christian point of view, the man in question is my
brother because we are both children of God. There is this universal paternity of God that
ontologically pre-exists – as we might say – my Christian duty of seeing my brother in
any other man. "The selfsame Spirit attests to our spirit that we are children of God", as
the Apostle Paul would say; and it is this feeling of the presence of the Spirit within us
that makes us exclaim: "Abba, Father!" and makes us recognize the presence of the same
God in the other man and thus makes us feel him as our brother.
       According to Christian thought of all time, I do not have to invent this fraternal bond
between myself and the other man; I simply have to recognize it, though making it my
own by virtue of a creative act, personal, unrepeatable and unique act of my spirit.
       However this may be, it is up to me to decide whether I am a part of humanity or
estranged from it. I may well decide in favour of being a stranger and therefore feel and
declare myself estranged from any "neighbour", beginning with my mother, just like the
Stranger of Camus. If everything depends upon my choice, in whose name am I morally
obliged to feel myself inserted in humanity, to feel the cause and the good of the whole of
mankind, as also of each present or future man, as my cause, as my good?
       At this point Sartre would say that, "wanting freedom, we discover it depends
entirely on the freedom of the others and that the freedom of the others depends on our
own"; therefore "I am obliged to want the freedom of the others together with my own; I
cannot take my freedom as end if I do not equally take the freedom of the others as end"
(L'existentialisme est un humanisme).
       I can recognize that my work is useful also for the others and that the work of the
others is useful also for myself; from this conclusion, I can recognize that on the
utilitarian level it is convenient for me to work; but the day on which I discovered a
system for obtaining the same advantages from the work of others without working
myself, or working as little as possible, a purely utilitarian reasoning would induce me to
save my energies to the greatest possible extent if these conclusions were not corrected by
a second reasoning, this time no longer of a technical and utilitarian but rather an ethical
character.
       Concluding, if wanting the freedom of others is a duty for me, my moral
consciousness will spur me on to do so or, otherwise, make me feel guilty; but, if it is not
a duty of mine, no utilitarian consideration will be able to make me feel constrained: even
assuming that I feel the moral duty of promoting my freedom and nothing but my
freedom, a purely utilitarian consideration could induce me to pursue this personal
objective of mine also by pursuing the freedom of others, but with the minimum
expenditure of energies, never with that maximum and absolute commitment to which I
can be spurred only by the conviction that promoting the freedom of the others is likewise
a precise moral duty for me.
       But we have seen that Sartre, moving from the atheist premises of his own
philosophy, does not by any means succeed in demonstrating that the promotion of our
own or other people's freedom is a proper moral duty for us. We also noted that a merely

                                              54
utilitarian reasoning can induce us to pursue the freedom of others only to the extent to
which, working in its favour, we promote our own (assuming that promoting our freedom
is something good for us).
       Having eliminated the moral problem, inexistent and devoid of sense in a reality
without God, there remains what we might call the utilitarian and eudemonist problem:
the problem of establishing what is "wiser" for us: the solution that, all said and done,
brings us the greatest subjective felicity or, if you prefer, the least infelicity.
       Very well, what will be wiser for me: promoting the freedom in myself or the
contrary? Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir recognize that a renunciation of freedom is
perfectly possible. They add that it is possible in that semi-crepuscular state of the
consciousness where bad faith can work with perfect ease.
       As for myself, I confess that, if reality truly appeared to me like the one described
by Sartre and de Beauvoir, I would be almost tempted to deem the "sub-man" to be right:
I could feel antipathy and despisal for him, I could call him "vile" and a "scoundrel" – as
Sartre does – but in the end would have to recognize that he calculated matters well, far
better than the intelligent, sensitive and vital men whom Simone de Beauvoir and also I
find so pleasing.
       When the accounts are drawn up, it seems to me that there are at least three more
than wise reasons for withdrawing one's head into the shell as soon as one gets a whiff of
treacherous air.
       First of all, to me, sub-man, freedom brings anxiety and giddiness; and I cannot see
why I should cause myself useless anxiety, suffer anguish without fruit.
       Secondly, freeing oneself also means acquiring greater consciousness, rendering
oneself aware of many things that would make one a lot happier if one did not know about
them: passing one's life in anxious contemplation, desperate on account of the great
tragedy of an existence entirely vain and wholly protended towards nothing may be
sublime, but is certainly not "wise" in the eudemonist sense that we are traditionally wont
to attribute to this word.
       Thirdly, faced with such a spectacle, it is very licit to ask oneself whether it is
worthwhile to get so busy if in the last analysis everything is vain, everything is "being for
death".
       Simone de Beauvoir cites the famous dialogue between Pirrhus, King of Epirus, and
his friend Cinea, handed down to us by Plutarch. "First we shall conquer Greece", Pirrhus
said one day to Cinea. "And after that?", asked Cinea. "We shall conquer Africa". "And
after Africa?" "We shall pass into Asia and conquer Asia Minor, Arabia". "And after
that?", asked Cinea. "We shall go as far as India". And after India?" "Ah!", said Pirrhus, "I
shall take a rest". "Why", said Cinea, "don't you take your rest right away?" As Simone de
Beauvoir notes, "Cinea seems wise. For what purpose should one leave to return home?
For what purpose should one commence if one has to stop?" (Pirrhus and Cinea,
Prologue).
       But the fact is that "Pirrhus does not depart to return, but to conquer" (ibid., The
Instant). Simone de Beauvoir sees Pirrhus and Cinea as two moments of the life of man:
the moment of dash, of decision, and the moment of hesitation, of doubt. "Who will judge
between these two moments? They do not exist together if not thanks to a third moment
that in its turn would have to be judged" (ibid., Conclusion).
       Inevitably, we are always in the human condition and have no way of considering it
from outside in order to judge it. That is the conclusion of the essay Pirrhus and Cinea.
Which terminates with the following words: "What man could judge man? In the name of
what would he speak?".
       For my part, I would conclude that, lacking the absolute criterion of values that only
the presence of a God could provide for us, from the moral viewpoint one attitude is

                                             55
worth as much as the other. Cinea is wise, and also Pirrhus in his own way. Each of the
two chooses in conformity with his own temperament. The sub-man Cinea draws back:
he does not feel that he should face life and, in the limit, not even the problem of life: he
turns his back upon a vision that could only cause him anxiety; he does not want to see; as
far as possible, he blunts his own capacity of seeing and feeling by taking refuge in
factiveness: as far as possible, he tries to forget the tragic condition of man. The superman
Pirrhus, on the other hand, feels sufficient energy and courage within him to face life in
incessant action.
      But is not this continuous acting without pose likewise a manner of avoiding a true
consciousness of reality? "The man of action is always a man without consciousness",
says Goethe (Maximen und Reflexionen, 241). The man who only acts – and never
reflects about the motives of his acting – likewise tends to transform himself in the limit
into mere being of nature: little by little, he tends to lose whatever there may he in him of
the spiritual and conscious; in the limit, he thus reduces himself to a pure being a fact.
      These two terms, sub-man and superman are not here intended to suggest any
hierarchy of values: in an atheist conception of reality, in fact, Pirrhus and Cinea do not
represent anything other for man than two modes of thinking as little as possible about
one's own drama, which is the drama of all men. Each of the two can choose the solution
that best responds to his own character: from the moral point of view – which in this case
does not really exist – it is clear that one is worth as much as the other.




                                        Chapter IX

                            ATHEISM AND AMORALISM

       Everything is permitted if God does not exist: because everything is absurd; and
therefore everything is morally indifferent. Here we have the same conclusion that Camus
reaches in the introduction of L'homme revolté: "The sense of the absurd, when one wants
to draw an immediate norm of action from it, renders homicide at least indifferent and
therefore possible. If one does not believe in anything, if nothing has sense and we cannot
affirm any value, everything is possible and nothing has importance. There is neither a for
nor an against, nor is the assassin either wrong or right. One can stoke the crematoria
ovens, just as one can dedicate oneself to curing the leprous. Malice and virtue are chance
or caprice".
       Reading Camus' L'étranger communicates to us this sense of the indifference, the
gratuity of any human action, even the cold-blooded killing of a man. There is no
hierarchy of values, there is no difference between good and bad. One abandons oneself
to the impulse of the moment without ever feeling the least contrast between "sense
inclinations" and "moral imperatives".
       In the mentality of Meursault, protagonist of the novel, there is no place for either
"God" or the voice of the conscience" or for "remorse". In him there is a great love for
life, for any manifestation of life, which becomes ever more tormenting as the day of
execution approaches; but it is an undifferentiated love, without predilections: it is the
sense of the "sweet indifference of the world".
       How is it that Meursault arrived at killing a man? At Algiers, where he lived, he had
made the acquaintance of a certain Raymond, a neighbour and pander. One day the two of
them, together with some other people, went to a deserted beach to do some bathing. The
African sun scorched and blinded. And then, all of a sudden, they saw two Arabs coming

                                             56
towards the group: one of them was the brother of a woman who some days before had
been severely maltreated by Raymond. One of the Arabs suddenly pulled out a knife and
wounded Raymond. The latter went to be medicated; then, on encountering the two Arabs
again, he gave his pistol to Meursault to face his enemy "as man to man".
       "When Raymond gave me the revolver", recounts Meursault, "the sun slid over it.
But we still remained immobile as if everything had closed around us. We looked at each
other without lowering our eyes and everything came to a stop there between the sea, the
sand and the sun, the double silence of the flute and the water. At that moment I thought
that one could fire or not fire and that one thing was worth as much as the other"
(L'étranger, I, VI).
       But suddenly the Arabs disappeared behind a rock. Later, by pure chance,
Meursault met Raymond's enemy once more. By then the incident had been closed as far
as Meursault was concerned; but the other, fearing to be assailed, put his hand to the
knife; and Meursault gripped Raymond's pistol in his jacket.
       "I thought I could get out of it by simply turning round. But behind me there was an
entire beach scorching under the sun". At a certain moment, after having remained
immobile under the sun, he says that "on account of that scorching, which I could no
longer bear, I made a forward movement. I knew that I was being stupid, that I would not
have freed myself of the sun by taking a step. But I took a step, just one step forward. And
this time the Arab pulled out his knife without getting up and presented it to me in the sun.
The light flashed on the steel and it was as if a long sparkling blade struck me at the front.
At that very moment, the sweat of my eyebrows came down on my eyelids and covered
them with a dense and tepid veil. I no longer felt anything other than the sun beating on
my forehead and, indistinctly, the dazzling sabre spurting from the knife that was always
in front of me. That ardent sword corroded my eyelashes and delved into my hurting eyes.
It was then that everything vacillated. From the sea there rose a dense and burning puff of
wind. It seemed to me that the sky had opened in all its width to let fire rain down.
       "The whole of my person tensed and I tightened my hand on the revolver, the trigger
yielded, I touched the smooth belly of the butt and it was there, in that dry and at the same
time deafening noise that everything commenced. I swept away the sweat and the sun. I
realized that I had destroyed the equilibrium of the day, the extraordinary silence of a
beach where I had been happy. Then I fired four times into an inert body, where the
bullets disappeared without leaving a trace. They were like four sharp blows I had
knocked on the door of misadventure (ibid., I, VI).
       Arrested, put on trial, Meursault, after the pleadings of the public prosecutor, was
invited by the judge to speak if he had anything to add. "I rose, and since I wanted to
speak, I said somewhat at random that I had not had the intention of killing the Arab. The
judge replied that this was a gratuitous affirmation, that he had not yet clearly grasped my
defence system, and that, before hearing my attorney, he would have been glad if I could
explain the motives that had inspired my gesture. In a great hurry, realizing that I was
being ridiculous, I said that it had been on account of the sun. Bursts of laughter could be
heard in the courtroom" (ibid., II, IV).
       "The absurd man", as Camus notes in Le mythe de Sisyphe (The myth of Sisyphus),
"can admit that there is only one morality; the one that is not separated from God… But in
fact he lives outside this God". There is no God, there is no eternity for which to live and
work. What is the absurd man? "The one who… does nothing for the eternal", not even
"that ridiculous eternity that is called posterity" (Le mythe de Sisyphe, The absurd man).
       Since a tomorrow does not exist, the absurd man, wholly heading towards death (the
supreme absurdity), feels himself released from everything that is not passionate attention
that becomes crystallized within him. He tastes a freedom with respect to the common


                                             57
rules" (op. cit., An absurd reasoning). For him, "the value judgments are… discarded
once and for all in favour of judgments of fact" (ibid.).
       From Camus let us pass to Dostojevski. We have already met the atheist
Karamazov, and the essential motive of his atheism is known to us. The consequence,
deduced with strict rigour, is that everything is permitted if God does not exist. That is the
conclusion with which Ivan comforted his half-brother Smerdjakov as regards the killing
of their common father, Fjedor Pavlovitch Karamazov. Smerdjakov confesses to Ivan:
"…More than anything else, I did it because "everything is permitted". In fact, that's what
you taught me, repeating it many times: because, if there does not exist an infinite God,
not even virtue exists, rather, there is absolutely no need for it. That's what you said. And
that is how I reasoned" (The Brothers Karamazov, IV, XI, VIII). The same idea echoes in
the meditations of the other brother, Dmitrij: "I… am tormented by the idea of God, it is
the only thing that torments me. And if God did not exist? If Rakitin were right when he
says that it is an idea artificially created by humanity? If God does not exist, man is the
king of the earth, of creation. Magnificent! But, how will he manage to be virtuous
without God? There is the problem! I always think of it. Whom will man love in that
case? To whom will he be grateful, to whom will he chant his hymn?
       "Rakitin laughs. Rakitin says that one can love humanity even without God. Well,
that snotty-nosed little something can affirm what he wants, but I just can't understand.
For Rakitin it is easy to live: "You told me today that I should rather concern myself with
extending civil rights to all, or at least with not letting the price of meat increase; in that
way I would demonstrate my love in a manner that is simpler and closer to them then to
all my philosophies".
       "And I answered him: ‘But without God, it is you who increases the price of meat
when it falls into your hands, and you heap up money'. He got angry. What is virtue, after
all? Answer me, Alexej. For me it is one thing, for a Chinese another, it is therefore
something relative. Or isn't it? Or perhaps it isn't relative? It is an insidious problem! You
won't laugh when I tell you that I didn't sleep for two nights thinking about it. Now I am
only astonished to see that people live and do not think about it at all. What imprudence!
       "Ivan does not believe in God… I asked him: If that is so, everything is permitted?
His face darkened: "Fjedor Pavlovitch, our father was a little pig, but he reasoned well".
That's what he spat out. He didn't say anything else. He is already a little cleaner than
Rakitin" (op. cit., IV, XI, IV).
       Ivan holds that for those who do not believe in God not only "is everything
permitted", but "the natural moral law must transform itself right away into the opposite
of the ancient religious law, and egoism, brought even to the point of crime, must not only
be permitted for man, but even recognized as the necessary and most reasonable – and I
would say also the most noble – solution in his conditions (op. cit., I, II, VI). Here the
thought of Ivan is reported by another personage, Miusov).
       An egoism right through to crime: "Crime must not only be permitted, but must
even be recognized as the necessary solution and also the most intelligent by anybody
who is atheist" (ibid.; here Ivan's thought is expressed by Dmitrij).
       In this connection I remember an observation by Camus that likewise highlights the
absurdity of a world without God and the lack of any moral law in it: contrary to the
personage Ivan Karamazov (to which he makes explicit reference), for Camus the absurd
"does not recommend crime – something that would be puerile – but renders its
uselessness a matter of remorse. Similarly, if all the experiences are indifferent, the one of
duty is as legitimate as any other. One may be virtuous by caprice" (Le mythe de Sisyphe,
The absurd man).
       One could formulate a comment at this point. Christianity attributes everything to
God and, in particular, places the source of all value in God. Even virtue is of God. If one

                                              58
is virtuous, it is because God has given him the inspiration and the strength. On the other
hand, whoever proposes to be "virtuous for caprice" is no longer virtuous, since virtue
consists of a certain spirit that animates it rather than a certain exterior behaviour.
       What renders virtuous in the Christian sense are not so much the facts, but rather the
intentions. "Virtue for caprice" is a contradictory concept. In the Christian sense (which is
the one in which Dostojevski conceives virtue) one is essentially virtuous for love of God.
       One may love God also in an implicit manner through the image that one has
formed of him. Each sees God in his own manner, each has his own God. Whoever denies
the existence of God, may find his God in an ideal, in a cause that transcends him and
which he serves with full dedication. One may be a believer and witness of God in a less
explicit and more obscurely vital sense. One may deny God in words and yet vitally feel
his presence – be it even in a distorted manner – and adhere to him by action.
       Whoever acts with rightful intentions, whoever fully offers himself to an ideal that
transcends him, is undoubtedly "virtuous" in a sense very close to the Christian one: he
believes in God in his own way; and from this implicit faith he draws the impulse for
acting virtuously.
       These considerations, be it even with the reserves here expressed, would induce me
to consider Dostojevski to be right rather than Camus: to place the source of every virtue
and moral good in God, to deny the possibility of a virtue without God. When God comes
to lack, in a lived atheism there comes to lack the moral sense that is a particular way of
being of the sense of God. "Feeling" the good, feeling virtue, is a way of feeling God.
       If egoism – without brakes and not tempered by other feelings – remains unopposed
master of the soul, no scruple, no inhibition of a moral nature can prevent man from
satisfying it. And thus egoism can unleash itself in full freedom: at the limit, in a nature
predisposed for it, even "egoism carried to the point of crime": conspicuous examples of
it can be found not only in novels.
       Champion of a lived atheism that becomes "absolute indifference to good and bad"
is Stavroghin. This personage of Dostojevski's Demons is a maniac searcher of new and
unusual sensations: in every action he feels perfectly free and master of himself, and he
likes to experiment his frame of mind at the moment when he takes some action out of the
normal, strange, or even absurd, abject, criminal.
       In him there is something like a diabolic force that, together with a certain
exhibitionism and a perverse taste of introspection, drives him to the most incredible
actions, performed without any necessity, gratuitously, with full consciousness, in a
perfectly free manner: he thus commits numberless bullying actions and atrocious jokes;
he gets mixed up in brawls and duels; lives for a certain period in his environment of
nobles, but more often among miserable people, human wrecks, delinquents,
conspirators, in the margins of society; he steals the salary of a poor employee who in the
same apartment with him and spends it in a few hours of debauchery; he violates a girl
and afterwards does not even intervene when the little one, desperate, hangs herself; he
marries a crippled and almost idiotic girl who has fallen hopelessly in love with him; of an
extremely violent character, one day he lets himself be slapped in public without reacting;
on another occasion, having killed a man in a duel, he comes to the duelling ground again
and, when his turn arrives, intentionally fires in such a way as not to hit his adversary; he
casually joins a sect of subversives, but as "work-shy" member; availing himself of the
sinister fascination he exercises over the others, he educates various men in different and
opposite faiths…
       But let us give the floor to himself: "Every extremely shameful, exceptionally
humiliating, ignoble and, above all, ridiculous situation in which I have happened to find
myself in my life, has always aroused within me both an incredible will and a boundless
anger. It was exactly the same at the moments when I committed some crime and the

                                             59
moment when my life was in danger. If I had stolen something, on committing the theft I
would have felt an intoxication due to consciousness of the profundity of my infamy. It
was not the infamy that I loved (here my reason remained perfectly integral), but I
enjoyed the intoxication that derived from the excruciating consciousness of my
baseness" (The demons, Appendix [Stavroghin's confession], I).
      The employee discovers the theft of his wallet, asks Stavroghin whether, on passing
by the side of a certain chair, he had inadvertently caused his ministerial uniform, in
which he had kept the wallet, to drop to the floor. "He did not dare to finish", our
personage tells us, "nor did he dare to tell anybody… I then felt pleasure to meet his look
a couple of times in the corridor. But the thing soon came to bore me" (ibid., II).
      Seduced by him, the little Matrjosa goes to hang herself in a closet. Stravroghin
waits for a long time, then leaves his room and goes to make sure she has killed herself:
"At last I slowly opened the door, closed it with my key and went towards the little
cupboard. It was pushed to, but not closed; I knew that it did not close, but did not want to
open it, so that I tiptoed and looked through the slit left open. At that moment, still on
tiptoes, I remembered that, when I was seated by the window and watched the little red
spider and had become absorbed, I had thought how I would have got up on tiptoes and
would have brought my eyes to that slit. Inserting this little detail here, I absolutely want
to demonstrate to what degree of evidence I was in possession of my mental faculties and
how fully responsible I was. I looked for a long time through the slit, because inside it was
dark, though not completely, so that in the end I could discern what could serve me…
(ibid).
      Our hero transfers himself in another habitation. Months pass and he becomes bored
to the point stupefaction. About a year before he had got the idea of shooting himself; but
then something better came to his mind. Without a reason of any kind, he conceived the
idea of "ruining his life in some way or other, always provided it was as disgusting as
possible". A limping idiot, Marja Timofejevna Lebiàdkina, who provides some services
in the apartment where Stavroghin has rented a furnished room, is secretly madly in love
with him: "All of a sudden I decided to marry her. The idea of the matrimony of
Stavroghin with such a paltry being titillated my nerves. It would not have been possible
to imagine anything more monstrous" (ibid.).
      Leon Ginzburg commented that "the absolute indifference to good and bad and a
diabolic energy relate Stavroghin to the romantic heroes; and yet his titanism is of a
different shade: the pleasures that attract him are complicated and morbid; his moral
dilettantism is his prevalent trait. He therefore seems rather the first of the supermen of
the end of the nineteenth century, and also the most exceptional. But Dostojevski is not a
decadent writer: therefore Stavroghin, far from being represented as an exemplary man,
      accumulates his guilt with the tragic fatality with which a sick person passes
through the successive stages of inexorable illness; and his painful lucidity is not the least
cause of the compassion he inspires" (Preface to an Italian translation).
      Here the titanism is analyzed to the full, in all its extreme consequences, in its
intimate crisis.
      One is spontaneously led to recall the protagonist of Crime and punishment: this
man "who has abandoned himself to the principle that 'all is licit' in the name of a grand
destiny or a grand idea" is also, all said and done, a sick person. For him, as Cantoni
points out, "the world of freedom comes to an end and there begins a process of interior
corrosion of the personality. From the moment the idea of the crime gets hold of
Raskolnikov, rather than being free, above the human conventions, he feels dragged
along by an obscure force that dominates him and annuls his desires and free will". The
man who, novel God, had seated himself as legislator and judge of his own actions,
proclaiming his own absolute freedom, "loses all control over himself and falls wholesale

                                             60
prey to automatism, to non-freedom" (R. Cantoni, Crisi dell'uomo [Crisis of man], Milan
1948, pp. 227-228).
       Apart from any infatuation (and one can readily see how much there has been of it
and how greatly the modern spirit is infatuated), titanism is seen with the most
unprejudiced clarity: it is grasped in everything it implies, in everything for which it could
be defined for man as an attitude against nature, supreme aberration.
       Another titan in The demons is Kirillov. His profession of faith is expressed in the
dialogue between him and Verchovenskij's son: "If God exists, all the will is in Him, and
I cannot free myself of his will. If he does not exist, all the discretion is mine, and I have
the duty of affirming my will".
       "The will? And why do you have this duty?" "Because all the will has become mine.
Is it possible that nobody on this planet, having put an end to God and having come to
believe in will, dares to affirm this discretion in all its fullness? It is as if a poor man had
received a heredity and had become frightened by it, so that he no longer dares coming
close to the sack, deeming himself too weak to possess it. I want to affirm this discretion.
I shall be the only one, but I shall do it".
       "Do it, then". "I have the obligation to shoot myself, so that the supreme fullness of
my will is to kill myself".
       "But you are not the only one to kill yourself: there are many suicides". "For a
reason. But without any reason, and solely on account of will, there is only myself […] I
have the obligation of affirming the incredulity… For me there is nothing higher than the
idea that there is no God. All human history is in my favour. Man has done nothing other
than invent God to live without killing himself; in this there is the entire universal history
right through to our own days. Only I, and for the first time, did not want to invent God.
Be it known, once and for all […] I shall open the door. And save the others; only this will
save all men and, as from the next generation, I shall transform them physically; because
in his present physical appearance, even though he may have thought about it, man cannot
in any way do without the old God. For three years I looked for the attribute of my
divinity and then I found it: the attribute of my divinity is Free Will! It is all this that
enables me to demonstrate my rebellion on the essential point and my new frightening
freedom. Because it causes a great deal of fear. I kill myself to show my rebellion and my
frightening freedom" (op. cit., III, VI, II).
       Yet another comparison that comes very spontaneously at this point is no longer
with one of Dostojevski's personages, but with a thinker bound to him by so close a
spiritual relationship as to seem even a personage of the Russian novelist: I intend to
speak about Nietzsche. It was Walter Schubart who, analyzing the motives of affinity
between the two authors, noted that Nietzsche seems a figure come out of a novel by
Dostojevski. There is a very close resemblance between Nietzsche and Ivan Karamazov.
In the mouth of Ivan we hear a whole sequence of Nietzschean expressions. Ivan, as
Schubart comments, "is Dostojevski's most tragic figure and the one that most resembles
its creator. At the same time he is the only figure in world literature that spiritually
resembles Nietzsche. It is precisely the figure of Ivan that demonstrates just how much of
Nietzsche there was in Dostojevski" (Dostoevskij und Nietzsche [Dostojevski and
Nietzsche], Lucerne 1946, p. 38; cited by Cantoni, p. 8).
       Cantoni comments as follows: "In Ivan Karamazov Dostojevski depicts the tragedy
of Nietzsche's man, the tragedy of the Promethean man who breaks every law and
abandons himself to his own irrational pleasure. Ivan is the double, the Doppelgänger of
Nietzsche. And Nietzschean traits are clearly found in Raskolnikov, the Napoleonidas,
representative of a morality of the Übermensch placed beyond good and bad, and in
Kirillov, the man who wants to kill God to transform man into God" (ibid.).


                                              61
       Now, why should I refer to two authors of last century in a study dedicated to
contemporary atheism? Precisely because they are two authors contemporary with us, if
not chronologically, but certainly spiritually. Schubart rightly notes that Dostojevski and
Nietzsche, who were not contemporaries of their own epoch, are contemporaries of our
own: even without living in the twentieth century, they grasped its crisis, the tragedy,
which is the selfsame tragedy of modern culture. For this reason they have a great deal
more to say to us, their posteriors, than they had to tell their contemporaries. "Writing
about Dostojevski and Nietzsche means writing about the sense and the secret of the
twentieth century" (op. cit., p. 12).
       The principal personage of Gide's (Les Caves du Vatican (The cellars of the
Vatican), Lafcadio, seems to me to be very close to Meursault and Stavroghin. He is the
hero of the "gratuitous act". He, too, lives for the instant, driven by an insatiable curiosity
and yearns to experiment everything, the good and the bad, heroism and crime. He has a
strong character that he seeks to temper by means of a daily ascesis, but – together with a
desire for ever new experiences – a ductility, a readiness for everything.
       A fire has broken out in a house, a mother is desperate because her two children
have remained blocked in the apartment; a very beautiful young woman offers the
contents of her handbag to whoever will bring the little ones to safety. Lafcadio ventures
among the flames and, at great risk to himself, managed to bring the two little ones to
their mother. He also gives her the money contained in the embroidered handbag, which
he keeps for himself as a keepsake of its owner. Then he escapes, opening a passage
among the crowd with his walking stick.
       Suspended in mid-air between the "great evangelical commandment" and the
saddest and vilest of crimes is the reflection that Lafcadio makes in memory of an episode
of his voyage in Italy: "That old woman had a white cloud on her head and indicated it to
me, saying: 'It won't rain even today!…'. That old woman, whose sack I had taken on my
shoulders (for caprice, she had crossed the Apennines from Bologna to Florence on foot
in four days, sleeping at Covigliano) and whom I kissed at the top of the climb… forms
part of what the parish priest of Covigliano called 'good actions', and yet I would have
throttled her throat with an untrembling hand when I felt that sweaty and wrinkled skin
under my fingers… Ah, how the lapel of that jacket caressed me when I dusted it and she
said: 'My son! How nice!…' Whence came that intense joy when afterwards, still
sweating, I lay down on the moss, in the shade of the great chestnut tree, and yet without
smoking? I felt that I could have embraced the whole of humanity, or even strangle it…"
(Les Caves du Vatican, V, 1).
       Wholly gratuitous is the killing of Amedée Fleurissoire, comic and pathetic figure
of a modern crusader. It is night time. The two men find themselves alone in a first-class
compartment of a train between Rome and Naples. Fleurissoire has taken off his jacket. It
comes to Lafcadio's mind that, suddenly opening the door and giving a push to the old
man, he could throw him out of the coach and make him disappear in the river the train
was crossing.
       "A crime without motive", says the young man to himself, "what a headache for the
police!… My curiosity is not so much concerned with events, but with myself. One
believes oneself to be capable of anything, but at the moment of action refrains… What
difference between fantasy and reality!". Lafcadio decides that he would have counted
mentally up to twelve: if he saw a light in the countryside before terminating the count, he
would execute his project; otherwise "the tapir is safe". When he arrives at ten, he sees a
light. He opens the door and throws out his unfortunate compartment companion. Later,
rummaging in the pockets of the jacket remained on the train, he finds a wallet with a
conspicuous sum of money; but he does not take it: "This is of no interest to honest
persons" (V, 2).

                                              62
       The day after, having returned to Rome, he meets his half-brother Julius de
Baraglioul, writer, brother-in-law of the victim. The latter does not know who is the
assassin, but by a strange coincidence the news of the finding of the body has given him
the idea of writing a novel centred on an absolutely gratuitous crime. He discusses his
project with Lafcadio. Not without the collaboration of Lafcadio, from this there emerges
a precise portrait of the hero of the gratuitous act.
       It is Julius who takes the initiative of the constructive debate: "I don't want motives
for the crime; for me it is sufficient to motivate the criminal. Yes, I want to bring him to
commit a gratuitous crime; to desire to commit an absolutely unmotivated crime".
Lafcadio begins to pay greater attention.
       "Let us take him as barely adolescent: from this I want that there should be
recognized the elegance of his nature, which acts above all for playing and generally
prefers pleasure to interest". "Does that not happen quite commonly…", hazards
Lafcadio.
       "True", says Julius. "Let us add that he feels pleasure in silencing his feelings…"
"To the point of simulation".
       "Let us instil him the passion of risk". "Bravo!", exclaims Lafcadio, ever more
greatly amused.
       "If he can listen to the demon of curiosity, I believe your pupil to be mature". Thus,
with one leaping in front of the other, to be subsequently passed in his turn, the two seem
to be playing leap-frog.
       Julius: "First I see him practicing: He is very able as far as small thefts are
concerned". Lafcadio: "I have often wondered why thefts are not more numerous. It is
true that, as a general rule, the occasions offer themselves only to those who, sheltered
from need, do not let themselves be tempted".
       Julius: "Sheltered from need; he finds himself precisely in this condition, as I said.
But he is tempted only by the occasions that call for a certain ability, artfulness…".
Lafcadio: "And probably imply a little danger for him".
       Julius: "I said that risks please him. Furthermore, he finds fraud repugnant: he does
not seek to take some object, but amuses himself by making it stealthily change place. To
this he dedicates the ability of a true conjurer". Lafcadio: "And impunity encourages
him…". Julius: "But at the same time irritates him. If he has not been taken, it is because
he played too easy a game". Lafcadio: "And therefore he commits himself to something
more risky". Julius: "That's how I want him to reason…". Lafcadio: "Are you sure that he
reasons?"
       Julius, continuing: "It is on account of the need he felt for committing that he
became author of the crime". Lafcadio: "We said that he was very able".
       Julius: "Yes; all the more able inasmuch as he will act cold-bloodedly. But just
think: a crime that is not motivated by either passion or need. The reason that drives him
to commit the crime is precisely the fact that he commits it without reason". Lafcadio: "It
is you who give a reason for his crime; he simply commits it".
       Julius: "There is no reason for supposing that he who has committed a crime
without motive is a criminal": Lafcadio: "You are too subtle. At the point to which you
have taken him, he is what one calls a 'free man'". (La porte étroite [The narrow door], V,
3).
       Lafcadio is an "immoralist", like Michel, personage of Gide's novel that bears this
title. He is an immoralist just like Gide himself. In whom, strangely, there nevertheless
coexists a high religious and moral sense: we need only consider The narrow door,
which, setting out to constitute the satire of a certain idealism, ended up by being its most
touching expression. The two attitudes, that of an immoralist atheism and that of a heroic
sanctity (pursued ever since childhood and then denied, but always nostalgically

                                             63
re-lived), these two attitudes co-exist in Gide, as is known, and alternate in his spirit. That
is why Gide can give live and artistically successful expression to both one and the other:
in a certain sense like Dostojevski, in whose spirit there co-existed and alternated Ivan
and Alexeij, the demoniac Stavroghin and the Saint Myskin.
       Having made it clear that Gide expresses not only an atheist immoralism, one may
say that in him we have this attitude in the pure state and that he develops and deepens it
in everything it implies; as Dostojevski had already done for his own part. Atheism, lived
atheism, is therefore immoralism taken to its extreme consequences. Sartre is right when
says that the most precious thing that Gide offers us is his decision of living the agony and
the death of God to the full.
       It should be noted that, if an individual is to be defined an immoralist, there must
still be a moral problem in him or, at least, a vague reminiscence of it, a vague nostalgia of
morality. This motive, which we might call "moralistic" (in the best sense), is anything
but spent in Gide, indeed, it is very live in him; and it is the perennial tension between
these two poles that renders his personages so human and their representation so
artistically successful. One may say that the moralistic motive remains equally live in
Michel and in the selfsame Lafcadio who, in spite of everything, has moments of
generosity and true commotion, even though he overcomes them very quickly, even if he
punishes himself for having abandoned himself to the impulse of his frame of mind.
Immoralism thus presupposes at least a shade of moral tension: wherever this has come to
be totally absent, there is amoralism, the return to a pure animal innocence.
       A human life reduced to pure instinct can constitute for man an ideal goal full of
seduction, as de facto it represented for Gide; but can man truly pursue it fully and remain
there for a long time? But can man pursue it, can he realize this amoralist ideal even
without ever ceasing to feel the moral instance in his own spirit?.
       It is on account of this remaining within us of the moral instance – it does not matter
whether in one form or another – that prevents us from wholly returning to innocence; in
other words, that makes us feel the amoralist attitude as fundamentally guilty; indeed, not
as a return to nature, but as something anti-natural for man.
       The amoralist (or immoralist, as Gide calls him) would want to recuperate "the old
man": his true humanity, suffocated by the ethical and social rules, by the taboos, the
conventions, culture; but, having arrived at the very bottom of this experience, he finds
that he has not become more man, but far less than man. At this point amoralism enters in
crisis in him, reveals itself to be unsustainable for a long time.
       We can thus find ourselves in this dramatic situation, clenched between two
possibilities, none of which we feel we can fully accept, because one and the other seem
to us to be equally absurd.
       First possibility: one could live a moral life, but to live it to the full, to truly commit
oneself, one would have to feel its validity; but it is not worth anything, because without
God it is devoid of foundation, and committing oneself totally in something worthless
does not make sense.
       Second possibility: one could live a life absolutely free of moral restraints, purely
"aesthetic", wholly abandoned to the instincts, guided by pleasure and caprice, like the
one of who "libito fé licito in sua legge" (made pleasure licit in his law), but, to live it
fully, one would have to believe in its validity. And this is not even possible, given that
sooner or later one has the clear sensation that, rather than enriching man, it impoverishes
him, renders him arid, degrades him.
       The moral problem remains devoid of solution without God. And the tragic fact is
that it cannot even be annulled as problem: the moralist always finds himself ill at ease,
given his incapacity of giving a sense to his ethic; the amoralist, for his part, will feel ill at
ease on account of feeling himself immoral, diminished as man: the sole salvation could

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be to forget the problem, abandoning oneself to a frenetic activism that prevents one from
thinking, becoming insensitive to the moral problem (but then also to any other problem
of the spirit), evading into drugs or a life like a drug.




                                         Chapter X

                      ATHEISM, DISAFFECTION, SOLITUDE

      For Sartre, consciousness is always consciousness of something, is naturally open
to being. By means of what he calls the "ontological proof", he affirms the existence of a
trans-phenomenal being that reveals itself through the phenomenon. Then, though only
after he has passed to analyzing this being, he defines it radically opposed to the subject,
unrelated, heterogeneous, impenetrable. With respect to what are the connotations of
consciousness, the characteristics of being are absolutely antithetic: so much so that
Sartre calls it "the being", whereas he calls consciousness "the nothing". With respect to
consciousness, which is empty translucidity, but also free activity, being is brute,
massive, inert, opaque materiality.
      How is it that such a being, towards which consciousness is "intentioned", should
then reveal itself to it in such an irreducibly estranged manner? Here many people see an
obvious contradiction. But to me it seems rather natural. Aperture of the consciousness of
being enables the atheist Sartre to have a certain experience of being: but it is, indeed, an
atheist experience: Sartre sees being with the eyes of the atheist; of an atheism that is in
him, as we saw, not simple doctrine, but profound, radical experience. Sartre sees being
devoid of God. And therefore being appears to him to be totally devoid of soul, and thus
reduced to pure, brute matter: matter in which there has been extinguished even a
glimmer of spirituality, in which there lacks even the least element of rationality,
necessity, scope and sense.
      When God comes to lack, there comes to lack also the spiritual lymph that,
circulating in one and the other, made man feel intimately solidary with every reality.
Therefore man no longer sympathizes with the beings, he no longer lives them from
within, and this prevents him from feeling them similar to himself: it prevents him from
feeling that they, too, are creatures, that they, too, are in some way souls.
      Let us think of the primitives: there is in them a profound sense of solidarity with all
beings, with every manifestation of life. No object is considered purely material, inert,
radically heterogeneous. The subject always sees there an element of affinity with his
own nature. And then he glimpses the presence of a supernatural reality of which that
object is the harbinger and symbol. Therefore the primitive not only sympathizes with
every being, but respects it; and, because he sees it animated and similar to himself, he
establishes a personal thou-to-thou relationship with it.
      The attitude towards things of the primitive not only resembles the attitude of the
child, but also of the poet and the man of religion. The saint who lives Christianity to its
ultimate consequences ends up by considering all beings of the universe, all the creatures
as brothers and sisters, in the Franciscan manner.
      And thus: that of the existential atheist is precisely the opposite attitude: since he
lacks the sense of God, the atheist is no longer capable of perceiving the intimate life that
circulates in all beings: therefore the other being appears estranged to him. If he is
activity, spirit, the other is passivity, matter, thing. The entire universe seems to him to be
"thingified", "reified", brute and inert res extensa.

                                              65
       It was said also that a true communion with the other beings becomes established
inasmuch as one feels the active presence of a common element that acts as bridge. For
the Christian, for the religious man, this common element is the divine Spirit, is the
Sacred. But it is precisely the experience of the sacred that lacks in the existential atheist;
who therefore lacks the sentiment of sympathy that ought to induce him to feel the other
beings as part of himself. It follows from this that the existential atheist feels as radically
estranged not only the beings of nature, but also the other men. Therefore the atheist loves
neither the other beings nor men. The world of nature and of men is nothing other than a
world of things for him.
       If the existential atheist does not love the other men, it is not for this reason that he
hates them: he tends to "thingify" them; and, to the extent to which he succeeds in doing
this, they are indifferent for him; just like things, they can become useful instruments for
him at the right moment.
       Everything goes well for as long as the others let themselves be thingified: good
neighbour relations become established under the sign of reciprocal indifference. The
individuals thus live side by side with each other like so many incommunicable universes.
       This condition of perfect equilibrium is however difficult to maintain for a long
time. Only love and sympathy enable us to put up with certain defects of our neighbour.
At times they make us love them. Analyzed without sympathy, the neighbour
immediately reveals his least lovable aspects. Often there is even no need to analyze them
to remain disgusted at first sight.
       This happens also when the other men "remain in their place"; all the worse when
they invade our personality: when their looks examine us to the quick, pass through us to
leave us nude, causing us to be ashamed of ourselves, petrifying us.
       The existential atheist – who lives cuirassed in his solitude in a world of things, over
which he sought to extend his dominion by reducing even men to things – the atheist, as I
said, feels himself invaded by the look of others, "thingified" in his turn. The equilibrium
of the egoisms has become upset; and thus the war of each one against all the others: from
indifference there springs hate, there is unleashed a psychological war without quarter.
       As can be seen, here we have all the problematics of Sartre, which to me seem
perfectly justified once one wants to consider them in the light of the atheist experience
from which it takes its moves. Let us jointly run over some essential points. It will be as
well to commence with Sartre's experience as a boy, as related by him in the
autobiography Les mots (The words). Without trying to explain in a complete manner the
birth of atheism in him, I shall limit myself to recalling what must have been a rather
fundamental motive of it: right from his earliest years, God appeared to him to be an
indiscrete spectator, somebody who, with his omnipresent look, prevented him from fully
realizing himself in accordance with his own inclinations: "Only once", as Sartre tells us,
"did I have the sensation that He existed. I had played with matches and burnt a small
carpet: I was trying hide what I had done, when God suddenly saw me, I felt his look
inside my head and on my hands; I sought a way out in the bathroom, horribly visible, a
living target. Rage saved me, I became furious against such a gross indiscretion, I cursed,
murmured like my grandfather: 'By God! By God! By God!' He never looked at me
again" (Le mur, V). The motive returns in the drama Le Diable et le bon Dieu (The Devil
and the good God) in the words of Goetz to his mistress Hilda: "Lying with you under the
eyes of God? No! I don't like to make love in public! If I knew a night sufficiently
profound to hide there from his sight…" (Le Diable et le bon Dieu, X, II).
       Though this factor may be important in the genesis of Sartre's atheism, it seems to
me that the essential is expressed far better in four words seemingly written in haste:
Sartre declares himself to be "inaccessible to the sacred" (Les mots, I); and it seems to me
that the secret of his atheism is to be found more than anything in this insensitivity of his,

                                              66
in this almost constitutional incapacity of perceiving the absolute dimension of things.
One can thus better understand what, immediately after having told us about this
childhood episode, he adds about the rapid exhaustion of his relationship with God:
"Since he could not take root in my heart, he vegetated in me and then died" (ibid.).
       Love of the neighbour becomes extinguished in a lived atheism precisely because
lived atheism leads to a total drying up of the souls: since there comes to lack the
experience of God – of Love, live source of every love – all affection, every intimate
relationship, comes to lack among the beings. Sartre bears witness to this in a particular
manner: "I did not love anything or anybody", he tells us, speaking of his childhood
(ibid.).
       Further, if it is true that the frames of mind and the problems of the man Sartre find
full expression in his personages, we would have to accept as an autobiographical
confession even the words of Hilbert, modern Herostratus, in his circular to the
humanitarian writers: "You will be curious to know, I suppose, what can be a man who
does not love men. Very well, I am an example… I tell you that I cannot love them. I well
understand what you feel. But I am disgusted by what attracts you in them. Like
yourselves, I have seen men masticate with grace while keeping a watchful eye on an
economic review, turning its pages with their left hand. Is it my fault if I prefer to watch
seals while they are eating? Man can do nothing with his face without it resolving itself
into a game of physiognomy. When he masticates, keeping his mouth closed, the corners
of his mouth rise and fall, he seems to pass without pause from serenity to a tearful
surprise. I know that you like this, you call it vigilance of the Spirit. But it turns my
stomach: I don't know why; I was born that way" (Le mur, III).
       The same motive returns in other words of Goetz: "I don't love them enough; that's
all there is to it. I performed the gestures of love, but love did not come. I must conclude
that I am not made for it" (Le Diable et le bon Dieu, III, VII, IV).
       This particular insensitivity and refractoriness as far as human sympathy is
concerned – possibly a passing frame of mind, but expressed in certain works with force
and indubitable evidence – this particular insensitivity is theorized by Sartre, who turns it
into a universal law, proclaiming the impossibility of true love: for various reasons, but
first and foremost because love "is essentially a deceit and an indefinite postponement,
because loving is wanting to be loved, and therefore wanting that the other wants that I
love him" (L'Être et le Néant [Being and Nothingness], IV, III, I).
       Here – so it seems to me – love is likened to something that it certainly is not: loving
is forgetting oneself in the other, placing the centre of one's thoughts in the other: love
must not be confused with the desire for affection, where it is the I that remains at the
centre of tension. Vainly the personages of Sartre's dramas – Ines, Estella, Jean, Lizzie,
Jessica – try to save themselves by means of an impossible love. The equivocation resides
in Sartre's definition of love, which follows from a certain impermeability of Sartre for
love as an intimate experience: such, at least, is the sensation that one feels on reading
many of his pages, where it truly seems that he is speaking of something of which he has
heard, but of which he would seem to lack any first-hand experience.
       Only his biographers can tell whether Sartre, due to some intimate development,
eventually overcame this condition of spirit: I shall here limit myself to reporting the
personal impression that the Sartre of L'Être e le Néant, La Nausée and Le mur, as also the
narrative and theatrical works in general, makes on me.
       The atheist Ivan Karamazov is a figure that stands out too obviously for Dostojevski
not to have incarnated in him something more than an idea: a temptation of his own
restless spirit, a profound interior experience that remains such, even though it concerned
only a single aspect of his psyche or a single phase of his intimate development. In the


                                              67
author's psychology there appears a moment of existential atheism that he expresses in
the personage Ivan right through to the extreme consequences of its logic.
       Can a true atheist love his neighbour? "I have to make a confession to you", declares
Ivan to his brother Alexej, "I never succeeded in understanding how one can love one's
neighbour. It is precisely the persons close to us that, according to me, it is impossible to
love; if anything, it is easier to love the distant ones […] To love a man it is essential that
he should hide, but this love vanishes as soon as he pulls out his face" (The Brothers
Karamazov, II, V, IV).
       One can love one's neighbour in the abstract or from a distance, but hardly ever
from close by. Especially the poor ought never to show themselves in the light of the sun,
ought to beg alms through the newspapers. If I cannot love my neighbour in general, why
should I love my brother, my wife, my mother? I still remember the passage of Simone de
Beauvoir cited above: "I knew a boy who wept because the porter's son had died; his
parents let him weep, but then became irritated: "After all, that child was not your
brother". The boy dried his tears. But this teaching is dangerous. No point in crying about
the child of a stranger, agreed. But why cry about one's own brother?"
       De Beauvoir continues as follows: "'It's none of your business', says the wife, trying
to restrain her husband, who wanted to run to take part in a scuffle. Docile, the husband
went away; but when a few moments later, the wife asked his help, saying: 'I am tired, I
feel cold', he looked at her with surprise from the solitude in which he had enclosed
himself, wondering: 'Is this my business?'. What does India matter? But in that case what
does Epirus matter? Why call this land, this woman, these children my own? I have
generated these children, they are here; my wife is by my side, the land is under my feet:
but there exists no bond between them and me".
       Simone de Beauvoir comments that this is the very thought of Camus' Stranger: "He
feels estranged from the entire world, which is totally strange to him" (Pour une morale
de l'ambiguité, Pirrhus and Cinea, I).
       According to her, what the Stranger does not understand is the power that each one
of us has of creating bonds between himself and other beings by means of an act of one's
free will. That child is not my brother, but if I cry for him, he is no longer a stranger for
me, because it is I who make him a brother of mine with my tears.
       Let me also recall that in this connection Simone de Beauvoir cites the parable of
the good Samaritan: "The neighbour of the man abandoned on the road was the one who
covered him with his mantle and came to his aid: we are not the neighbour of anybody, we
make a neighbour of the other by making ourselves his neighbour by means of an act"
(ibid.).
       As I already suggested, the evangelical parable supposes precisely what de
Beauvoir denies: it supposes an ontological reality that precedes the action of the good
Samaritan and, by very virtue of the fact that it precedes it, confers an objective, absolute
ethical value upon it: it is the reality of God, father of men; from which there derives the
other ontological reality, the other objective fact, namely that all men are brothers; and
hence we have the "great commandment" of charity.
       Considered in its noetic aspect, the feeling of charity is precisely the act of the spirit
with which reality is perceived: it is an intuition, a feeling that God exists, is the father of
men, and that men are brothers. Rather, it is precisely this sense of the presence of God in
men that induces us to love men in Him; and the more live this sense, the easier becomes
this love for men, which of itself would be one of the most difficult things to realize.
       And as the sense of God gradually comes to lack, there also comes to lack the only
feeling that could help us to overcome the opposite sensation of disgust that our
neighbour often inspires in us.


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      In the best of cases, there remains indifference: in that case one could choose among
the various parties also that of the Samaritan: but it would be like choosing one role rather
than another in a comedy: there can be no place for true charity in the Christian sense,
which is necessarily connected with faith in God the Father. One is a saint because one
believes in God and one loves Him above all things, one cannot be a saint as a hobby.
      True existential atheists are not those who do not believe in God: they are those who
do not feel God. Only God, inserting himself in the creatures and the life of men, gives
value to things. Those who really do not feel God do not even feel the value of things.
They do not feel and do not love, and all is strange to them. They are insensitive to what
for the generality of men are the most dear affections.
      In the limit, even the most sacred family relationships come to lack in a lived
atheism: those between parents and their offspring. Here, too, love cannot be object of a
pure choice, as a Sartre or a de Beauvoir would have it: one either loves one's little boy or
does not love him; one cannot play at being a mother.
      In an atheism fully lived as experience of disaffection there comes to lack, as I said,
even the affect that binds parents and children: and the ones and the others look at each
other with indifference: There is no longer the love that renders dear our father and our
mother, our little boy, even with all his defects: he no longer seems to us as under the
microscope and we analyze him more coldly.
      I should like to say by the way that love is an act of synthesis that is destroyed and
annulled by an excessive analysis: does one not dissipate Love when Psyche wants to
observe it well by the light of lamp? One could again cite Camus' Stranger as an example.
But here I should like to quote a lengthy passage from Moravia's La noia (Boredom),
which is the one that impressed me most, and in which there is expressed with magisterial
evidence the very void of God – even though the author does not call it such – that
underlies the lack of every affect, every interest for life.
      The protagonist, Dino, who narrates in the first person, describes the appearance of
his mother in the following terms: "She walked slowly, very slowly, like somebody who
looked around and liked what she saw, prolonging its contemplation for as long as
possible. My mother wore a two-piece turquoise dress, with the jacket very close-fitting
at the hips and very wide at the shoulders and an extremely tight skirt, almost a sheath.
She always dressed like that, always with close-fitting dresses rendered her small and
rickety person even more lanky, rigid and puppet-like. She had a large head on a nervous
neck, with hair of a crinkly and opaque blond, always carefully waved and pointed.
      "The pearls of her necklace were so big that I could clearly see them even from afar.
My mother loved to adorn herself with showy jewels: massive rings that danced around
her meagre fingers, enormous bracelets laden with amulets and pendants that seemed as if
at any moment they might slip from her bony wrists, excessively rich brooches for her flat
chest, ear rings too large for her ugly cartilaginous ears. I even noted once more, with a
mixed sentiment of familiarity and vexation, that the shoes she had on her feet and the
handbag she clenched under her armpit seemed too big.
      "In the end, therefore, I decided myself and called her: "Mamà". With characteristic
diffidence, she suddenly stopped as if someone had placed his hand on her shoulder, and
then turned without moving her legs, with her bust only. I saw her skinny face with its
hollow cheeks, sucked-in mouth, long and narrow noise, vitreous blue eyes that looked
askance at me. She then smiled, turned fully around and came towards me, her head low,
her eyes fixed on the floor, saying as if it were a duty: "Good morning and a hundred of
these days"; and even though the intention was affectionate, I could not but note that the
sound of her voice remained as usual, dry and croaking, similar to the call of the crow"
(La noia, I).


                                             69
       Let me recall that among the definitions of "boredom" there was also the following
one: "a sickness of the objects consisting of a withering or almost abrupt loss of vitality".
Even my mother seemed "withered", like all other things. There was a loss of vitality in
her: not a "person" who animates herself and lives in the love of the son who speaks of
her, but a wooden and somewhat puppet-like figure with artificial gestures, a stereotyped
and almost repugnant voice when coldly analyzed.
       The most absolute indifference can be grasped in the manner in which Meursault,
Camus' Stranger, speaks of his old mother, who died in a hospice. As to Sartre, Sartre as a
person, what seems to me truly exceptional is the unprejudicedness – certainly not devoid
of spirit, but absolutely devoid of soul – with which he represents his parents and family
members in his autobiography Les mots.
       With this I obviously do not want to say that the disaffection for his family is of
itself an index of insensitivity for the sacred! If I mention this particular aspect of Sartre's
psychology, it is only to note that it is once again perfectly in line with the other tesserae
of the mosaic.
       What does love between the two sexes become for Sartre? Nothing other than the
tired sexual relationship. There is a custom of calling these sexual relationships "intimate
relations", but in actual fact nothing could be less intimate than a relationship that
becomes established in this spirit. Let us once again give the floor to Roquentin, who
offers us the clearest of examples: "As to myself, I live alone, completely alone. I do not
speak with anybody, ever; I receive nothing, give nothing. The Autodidact does not
count. There would be Françoise, owner of the "Club of the Railway Workers". But do I
talk to her? Sometimes after having eaten, when she serves me a mug, I ask her: "Do you
have time this evening?". She never says no, and I follow her into one of the large rooms
on the first floor that she rents for an hour or for a day. I don't pay her: we make love as
equals. She takes her pleasure (she needs a man a day and has many others apart from me)
and I purge myself of certain melancholies of which I know the cause only too well. But
we only barely exchange a few words. To what purpose? Each for himself; moreover, for
her I remain first and foremost a client of her café" (Tuesday, January 30).
       It is natural that when the physical contact comes to lack, there should also
automatically come to lack any other relationship, as is noted by Meursault, who has been
separated from Maria by arrest and imprisonment: "Outside or now divided bodies,
nothing bound us or reminded one of the other" (L'étranger, II, V)..
       Given the multiplication of the examples around us, there is no point in quoting
others: in everyday life and even in the most valid works of art, where attention is being
polarized on a sexuality that is ever more an end in itself, as also in the desperate search of
a tangible value that can still give sense to a life that has seen the collapse of every other
value and hope. But, once the instinct has been placated, a sexuality reduced to a pure
mechanism quickly reveals to us how melancholic and empty it can be.
       The existential atheist does not love anybody, is wholly impermeable as far as this
sentiment is concerned, and therefore does not understand how others can love. He finds
the love of others not only bothersome, but incomprehensible and suspect. Faced with the
effusions of others, he immediately thinks that these others who show their affection for
him do so on account of a subtle form of egoism, or for second ends or simply for the
pleasure of reciting.
       All play this comedy, even the parents: it is a motive that continuously recurs in
Sartre's Les mots and, even before that, in the story of autobiographical inspiration that
constitutes the final part of Le mur and Childhood of a leader: "It was amusing, because
they were all reciting: father and mother were playing father and mother; mother was
worried because her little treasure was eating so little; father had to read his paper and
every now and again agitate his finger in front of Luciano's face, saying: 'Badabum,

                                              70
young man!' And even Luciano recited, but ended up by not really knowing what part he
was reciting. That of the little orphan? Or that of Luciano? He looked at the water jug.
There was a small red light that danced at the bottom of the water and one could have
sworn that father's hand was in the water jug, enormous and luminous, with its tiny black
hairs on the fingers. Luciano suddenly had the impression that even the water jug was
reciting the part of the water jug (Le mur, V).
      It is true – as one might note – that man is an animal that recites: it is true that
wearing a uniform corresponding to a role, typifying one's attitudes in accordance with
the norms of a label is peculiar of all men, from the primitive to the civilized and the
nonconformist; but from recognizing this fact to reducing everything to a comedy is an
absolute is an absolutely illegitimate passage.
      In many people there really is a fullness of affective life: one may not sympathize,
but one cannot deny it a priori and see hypocrisy and comedy in everything. Often we
judge another person a hypocrite only because we are not capable of feeling sentiments
similar to his, while the fault really lies in our own aridity. We do not succeed in
understanding how others can have sentiments that we do not have: inversely, we
attribute to others sentiments similar to our own: the existential atheist accuses the others
of reciting, and this above all because it is he who recites: he who in a life devoid of real
significance is led to see essentially a comedy.
      The desire of being loved, the desire of receiving spiritual help from the others, is
already an index of at least some implicit experience of God. The more the experience of
the Christian God deepens in a man, the more profound becomes the creatural sense in
that man and the more he feels to be nothing by his own virtue, and feels debtor for
everything, dependent, poor in spirit, a mendicant of being.
      Wholly opposite is the attitude of the atheist who wants to deepen his atheism. He
would like to adopt the words of another of Sartre's personages, Matthieu Delarue: "To be
free. To be the cause of oneself, to be able to say: 'I am because I want to be'. To be my
own principle" (L'âge de raison, III). The atheist does not want to recognize himself as
dependent: he wants to have everything that he is or possesses, and wants be so by
himself. He wants to have, to be everything he possesses. For the atheist. accepting
something as a gift means contradicting himself to remain in a position of dependence
vis-à-vis the donor. This man, who neither gives nor wants to receive love, who lives
solely for himself, closed in his egoism, is a solitary person: of a solitude of which he does
not feel the weight, that causes him neither suffering nor regret, because - as it crystallizes
around him – it has become almost a comfortable shell for him.
      Among these incommunicable microcosms there can become established a modus
vivendi, a coexistence of egoisms; but it is a question of an unstable and provisional
equilibrium, because each man tends to affirm his personality by invading that of the
others: and hence psychological warfare without quarter of each against all the others,
hence the situation, magisterially described by Sartre, in which "hell are the others".
      As we have seen, the existential atheist poses himself as a solitary in a world of
things. This does not necessarily mean that the world of itself is a world of things: it is the
existential atheist who sees it like that (in opposition to, for example, the religious
primitive who sees it as a world of spirits). It is the atheist who tends to codify all beings,
and even men.
      For as long as his neighbour remains "in his place" and lets himself be "thingified",
the atheist limits himself to looking at him with indifference: he does not love him, but
neither does he hate him; at the very most, he sees him as an obstacle or a means, but
coldly, without passion, with a technical eye. Now, the fact is that nobody lets himself be
thingified and instrumentalized beyond a certain limit. The other reacts and thus – as I
was saying – we have the inevitable war of each against the others. As I likewise said,

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even before that the struggle becomes unleashed at psychological level. The first
formidable weapon is the look. With his look, which passes through us and lays us bare,
the other seeks to petrify us: to reduce us to things. Pacific living together does not last
very long, the relationship with the other is a perennial conflict between personalities that
seek to overwhelm each other.
      As we can see, we are still fully in the thematics of Sartre. Let us re-read a few lines
from his novel Le sursis (The delay) where he describes what for Daniel is a constant
motive of torment. The intrusiveness of the look of others: "He was the object of a look. A
look that rummaged right to the bottom, that penetrated into him like the blows of a
dagger and was not his own look; an opaque look, the night in person that expected him
down there, at the very bottom of himself, and condemned him to be himself, vile,
hypocrite, pederast for all eternity".
      The look of others and the perennial struggle between the human personalities, each
of which wants to give a particular significance to the world and wants to impose its
project, are motives that recur a little in the whole of Sartre's work: theorized in L'Être et
le Néant, translated into action in the novels and the dramas, they reveal all their tragedy
in Huis clos (Closed door).
      The plot of this famous one-act play is well known. A man, Garcin, and two women,
Estelle and Ines, condemned to hell, settle down in the place of expiation that has been
assigned to them: a room without windows, the door locked from outside, but
comfortably furnished in Second Empire style. At the beginning, these three, who have
died only recently, are astonished by the fact that they do not feel sufferance, and wonder
what might constitute the eternal penalty to which they have been condemned.
      But then, little by little, each of them realizes that that this torment is precisely being
obliged to live together with the others, to be seen by the others, to bear their
psychological invasion. Turning suddenly to the other two, the man eventually exclaims:
"Oh, are there only two of you? I thought there were many more of you… Is this the hell
then? I would never have believed it. Do you remember? The sulphur, the raging fire, the
grating… buffooneries! No need for gratings; Hell are the Others" (V).
      The lack of love and the aridity of the soul make the man feel ever more lonely.
Even before being an objective fact, solitude is an attitude of the spirit, an interior
experience by means of which one can be spiritually alone in the midst of millions of
people. The "solitary" does not love the others. At the very most, he can have for them
love in the wider sense that one can have for objects (so that one calls certain people
"lovers" of pictures or furniture). In the eyes of the "solitary", the others are precisely
things that can at times interest him on account of their beauty or their usefulness as
instruments. The solitary does not succeed in seeing men as "persons" and tries to avoid
the occasions when they could appear such. He avoids the "human relationship", in which
he averts something like an undue interference of the other in his intimate life. For this
reason he distrusts the forthcoming attitudes of others: what causes him the greatest
bother are precisely affection and generosity, cares, "comprehension". He does not want
to do anything for the others, does not want to receive anything from them. As far as they
are concerned, he detests everything that may seem an implicit appeal to come out of the
egoism in which he has enclosed himself.
      When somebody feels desperate on account of his solitude, it is a sign that he feels
in his mind an at least obscure need of affection and communion: love is not wholly spent
in him. Unlike him, the true solitary has overcome even the desperation, because he has
by now descended below the human in a purely machine-like existence. And around
himself he sees nothing other than a world of things precisely because he has turned even
himself into a thing. Cut every live contact with living beings, his existence gradually
loses spirituality and life, resembles ever more that of brutes, becomes petrified, and sinks

                                               72
into the unconsciousness of non-being: in the limit, the solitude of the existential atheist
tends to become a form of living death.




                                         Chapter XI

                               ATHEISM AND NIHILISM

      Only God can help us to be something. Only the Eternal can render us eternal. If we
are not immortal, if everything we do for improving ourselves and our world is a sand
castle on the shore that a more powerful wave can wash down from one moment to the
next, what point is there in taking so much trouble? And what purpose, what sense has all
our life? What we do would not represent anything other than a leisure time pursuit or a
distraction: a means for preventing us from thinking of our condition of being condemned
to death. God, and nobody other than he, can donate us eternal life, saving us not only
from physical death, but also from the death of the soul, from the vegetating similar to the
death that is solitude: condition of the man who lives locked in his egoism, without love,
like an arid planet.
      Revealing itself to us like Love itself, God inspires us to love Him, to pursue him as
supreme good and end of our existence. Principle of every life, inserting himself in us,
God communicates to us the fullness of the life towards which every human aspiration
tends in the limit. Only God, granting us the gift of himself, can permit us to elevate
ourselves to a divine condition.
      If God does not exist or, if he existed, does not donate himself to us, every effort of
ours is vain, our existence is nothing but "being for death", "checkmate" and "shipwreck",
"useless passion"; and is wholly devoid of sense, and we are nothing. This is the
conclusion at which there arrive the atheists who manage to live the adventure of atheism
to the full, in all its implications.
      For the atheist Sartre, the Being is not a divine Spirit who participates himself to
man in order to render him similar to himself; he is not man's friend, is estranged from
him and indifferent: he is the negation of any spiritual life, inert stupidity in the pure state,
brute matter devoid of even the least glimmer of rationality, opaque and absurd.
Therefore Sartre can well say that the human subject is absolutely free and that the
absolute Being can do absolutely nothing against his freedom, and that even death does
not concern him. De facto, Being is like a wall that from one moment to the next can
tumble down on man and crush him, vanifying all his projects and confirming the
absurdity of his entire existence. To man there thus remains nothing other than the wholly
philosophical and verbal satisfaction of reciting the part of the "thinking reed" of
Pascalian memory.
      In vain man seeks to escape in desperation, placing a curtain of words between
himself and reality. At times this is even done by Sartre himself, for example, when he
says that, in spite of everything, man is free to choose himself as he wishes, of conferring
upon things the significance he wants, and in this way nothing can touch his absolute,
sovereign liberty. "Men are impotent only when they themselves admit that they are so"
(cited by F. Jeanson, Sartre par lui-même [Sartre seen by himself], 2).
      But these are nothing but fine phrases that leave the de facto situation unchanged:
like the words of Matthieu Delarue, protagonist of L'âge de raison, who "kept repeating
phrases that at other times had exalted him: - Being free. Being the cause of oneself.


                                               73
Being able to say: I am because I want it; being my own principle. – But these were empty
and pompous, irritating words of the intellectual" (L'âge de raison, III).
       Here it is Sartre himself who in a moment of pitiless lucidity recognized the purely
verbalist character of his attempts of edifying a positive and constructive philosophy on
the vain foundation of his atheist premises.
       It is Sartre in person who recognizes himself in Matthieu: this is confirmed by what
he was to say about himself in Les mots: "since I had discovered the world by language,
he confesses, for a long time I mistook language for the world. Existing was possessing a
deposited denomination in some place, above the infinite Tables of the Verb; writing was
registering new beings there or – and this was my most tenacious illusion – taking things
live in the trap of the phrases: if I ingeniously combined the words, the object became
entangled in the signs, was mine". And again: "For a long time, writing was an asking
Death, Religion, in masked form to snatch my life by chance. I was priest, militant, I
wanted to save myself by means of the works; mystic, I tried to reveal the silence of being
by an irritated rumble of words and, above all, confused things with their names: it is
having faith. I was having hallucinations. For as long as I had them, I deemed myself out
of danger" (III, II).
       According to me, this important autocritical admission applies also to many cases in
which Sartre tries to construct an ethic and a humanism, of somehow giving a sense to
life and to certain things, contradicting – without being conscious of it – his own nihilist
atheism.
       Another way for masking to ourselves the vain absurdity of an atheist existence that
emerges from nothing and moves towards nothing can be that of foregoing to think, of
renouncing to have a conscious, spiritual and authentic life of our own, to immerse
ourselves in a frenetic experience without pause and almost mechanical in an impersonal
life dominated by day-to-day worries, in a less conscious existence similar to that of
animals.
       Heidegger has written famous pages about what man does to hide his true condition
to himself. Heideggger says that in his everyday life man tends to forget himself, turns
solely to exterior things and lives entirely absorbed in them and in the society of which he
forms part. He immerses himself to such an extent in social life that in the limit he no
longer acts as an individual with an existence and thoughts and problems that are personal
and peculiar, unique, irreplaceable, but solely as part of an impersonal, amorphous and
anonymous mass, where the "I" is lost in the "one": one says, one does, one lives, one
dies.
       This is what Heidegger calls "dejection": "daily", "banal" and "inauthentic"
existence, characterized by "chatter, curiosity and equivocation". Everyday life is a
temptress for man, this in the sense that it illudes him to have resolved all his problems, of
having seen and understood everything, of possessing and conducting a genuine and full
life, gives him security, tranquillizes him.
       Man, as Heidegger notes, normally does everything to hide to himself his true
reality of "being-for-death": "The One does not have the courage of anguish before death"
(Sein und Zeit [Being and time], II, I, 51).
       For this reason man does not normally look death in the face as his own death; and
finds that "this or that acquaintance", close or distant, "dies". Unknowns "die" every day
and at all hours. Death comes to meet us like a well known intramundane event. As such it
does not issue from the picture of what comes towards us every day …
       "The One has a ready interpretation also of this event. The discourse about this
argument, be it explicit or "slippery" as happens for the most part, is this: sooner or later
we shall die, but for the moment we have not yet died… In such a discourse death is
conceived as something indeterminate, which undoubtedly will end up by happening

                                             74
some day or other, but which in the meantime is not yet present and therefore does not
menace us.
       "The 'one dies' introduces the conviction that death concerns the anonymous One.
The public interpretation of the Being here and now says: 'one dies'; but, since the
allusion is always to each of the Others and ourselves only in the form of the anonymous
One, this is understood as: o.k., o.k., it's not me. In fact, this One is nobody. In this way
the 'dying' is levelled into an event that certainly concerns the Being here and now, but
does not belong to anybody personally… The One is founded on and deepens the
temptation of covering to oneself one's own "being-for-death" (ibid.).
       It is in the experience of the "anguish" that man acquires clear, profound, lived
consciousness of his condition of being vowed to death. The anguish is never fear of
something determinate and has the indeterminate as its object; better still, it has nothing
as its object: "the anguish reveals the nothing, transforms man into a "sentinel of
nothing". In his anguish, man at last looks in the face of his true reality, death, and ideally
anticipates it; he knows and understands himself; he clearly sees the inauthenticity, the
desperation, the illusory nature of the "One", and frees himself of it. In this decision of
"being authentically himself", man celebrates the sole true liberty he is permitted to
realize: "liberty for death".
       For Heidegger, human existence is truly "being for death", "being for the end". For
each one of us men, death is "an overhanging imminence", "a constant menace"; it is
possible at any moment, even though its "when" is indeterminate. It is "the extreme
possibility of one's own existence", "the most proper, unconditioned, insuperable and
certain possibility". It is not we who create this possibility for us, additively and
occasionally, in the body of our being; each one of us is "thrown" into it, he carries it
within him from the moment he exists. "The Being there, in the same way that, for as long
as it is, is already constantly his not yet, but is also already his death… Death is a way of
being that the Being here and now assumes from the moment it is there. "As soon as he is
born, man is already old enough to die: (op. cit., II, I, 48; p. 258). In certain sense death is
already within us: "death, as end of the Being here and now, is in the being of this body
inasmuch as it "is-for-the-end" (op. cit., II, I, 52).
       For Heidegger death is the end towards which – as we might say - there tends the
life of each man by – as we might say - its nature: it therefore belongs to human life, is
essential to it and in some way gives it a sense. For Sartre, on the other hand, death, far
from being a project of mine, is the destruction of all my projects: far from being
something that intimately belongs to me, it is the destruction of everything that is mine:
"Thus death is never what gives its proper sense to life: quite the contrary, it is what in
principle deprives it of all significance" (L'Être et le Néant, IV, I, II).
       Death is neither the term of life, nor its interruption; it is a fracture; it is the absurd
par excellence: "What one has to note before every other thing is the absurd character of
death. In this sense, an attempt to consider it an accord at the end of a melody has to be
rigorously discarded" (ibid.).
       Sartre consoles himself – and I would say a little too readily – noting that, if death is
beyond every possibility or project of mine, it is estranged from me and therefore does not
concern me, does not any way harm my freedom, which remains infinite. To be sincere,
this gives me the impression of being just another of those verbalist attempts of evading a
problem that are rather familiar to Sartre, as we had occasion to note a moment or two
ago: if death crushes me, how can it possibly not concern me? It is true that I can refuse to
take it into consideration, but this does not change anything: and death de facto remains as
the fundamental absurdity that deprives my life of every sense, every value, every
importance.


                                               75
       This is what Sartre himself recognizes in Le mur (I). During the Spanish Civil War,
some militiamen captured by the falangists, after having been summarily tried, are
enclosed in a cell in expectation of being put before a firing squad. And there, face to face
with death, we have the lucid, pitiless considerations of Pablo Ibbieta, where Sartre really
comes to grips with the problem in all its crudeness without barricading himself – as he
often does – in his famous word castles: "A quantity of memories came to the fore again,
lots of them. There were good ones and bad ones, or at least that was what he had called
them before. There were faces and facts… With what ardour he had run after felicity,
women, freedom! And what had he wanted to do with them?
       "I wanted to free Spain, admired Pi y Margall, had joined the Anarchist Movement,
had spoken at meetings: I had taken everything seriously, as if I had been immortal. At
that moment I had the impression that all my life was in front of me and thought: 'It's a
dirty lie'. It was not worth anything, seeing that it was finished. I asked myself how I had
been able to go around, joking with girls: I would not even have moved my little finger if
only I had been able to imagine that would have died like this.
       "My life was in front of me, closed, sealed like a purse, and yet everything inside
was incomplete. For a moment I tried to judge it. Could have told myself: it's a fine life,
but one could not form a judgment on it, for it was only a draft; I had passed my time
issuing promissory notes for eternity, had not understood anything. I grieved for nothing:
there were lots of things that I could have grieved for, the flavour of manzanilla or the
bathing I did in the summer in a small bay near Cadiz; but death had deprived everything
of its enchantment".
       At a certain moment they come to take Pablo and lead him to a small room full of
smoke on the first floor, where two officers interrogate him. At first they try to frighten
him, but "if anything, I felt like laughing", as Pablo tells us. "It needs a lot more to
frighten a man who is about to die […] After all, these two braided types with all their
boots and switches were men who were going to die. A little later than me, but not all that
much. They were concerned with finding names on their jotters. Looked for other names
to imprison or suppress them; they had opinions about the future of Spain and other
subjects. Their little activities seemed to me irksome and ridiculous: I could no longer put
myself in their place, they seemed mad to me".
       Pablo goes on to confess that, if they had come to tell him that he could return home,
that they had pardoned him, the thing would have left him indifferent: "a few hours or a
few years of expectation are absolutely the same thing once you have lost the illusion of
being eternal".
       Similarly, once Camus' Stranger has "realized" what death really means, once he
has understood that all men are nothing other than condemned to capital punishment,
feels an indifference similar to that of Pablo Ibbieta when faced with the possibility of
being pardoned: "For the whole day I had the form for the grace request. I think I
exploited this idea to the greatest possible extent. I calculated the effects and obtained the
best return from my reflections.
       "I always started from the worst supposition that the request would be rejected.
'Very well, in that case I shall die'. Sooner than many others, obviously. But all know that
life is not worth being lived and, all said and done, I was not unaware that it matters little
whether you die at thirty years of age or at seventy when you know well that other men
will live in either case and will do so for thousands of years.
       "In short, everything was very clear: it was always I who died, no matter whether I
died right away or twenty years later. What disturbed me a little at this point in my
argument was the terrible void I felt in me at the thought of twenty years of life not yet
lived. But I only had to suffocate it by imagining what would have been my thoughts after
twenty years, when I would in any case have found myself at the same point.

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       "Since we die, it obviously doesn't matter how and when. Thus (and the difficult
thing was not to lose wholly sight of the thread of the reasonings that this "thus"
represented), thus I had to accept that my request would be rejected" (L'étranger, II, V).
       If we men are all condemned to death, and mounting the scaffold today or ten or
fifty years' time does not make a great difference, there should ultimately be no good
reason for rejecting suicide as an immoral solution. As I have tried to make clear, one
cannot speak of ethics in a world without God. In the absence of any criterion of moral
valuation, deciding to kill oneself or deciding to survive should be considered two equally
valid solutions from the ethical point of view.
       Lacking an objective criterion, there would still remain the subjective criterion of
valuation that is given by the conditions of spirit, the inclinations, the tastes, the personal
preferences. One man will feel capable of facing life, to fight the struggle for survival to
his last breath even in the most painful and unbearable condition; another will feel
tempted to cede, to abandon the field, to let himself die: it is a question of temperament. In
certain extreme cases, not deciding in favour of suicide may even be a heroic act: in the
name of what imperative ought we to act as heroes?
       And then, where is it said that suicide must necessarily represent an act of
abandonment, of more or less vile renunciation? Who tells us that in the eyes of
somebody suicide cannot constitute a free choice undertaken for an ideal motive? Let us
read here a famous page from the diary of Cesare Pavese, November 1937: "…I cannot
think of death even once without trembling at this idea; death will necessarily come for
ordained causes, prepared for the whole of a life, infallible, so much so that some day it
will have happened. It will be a fact as natural as the falling of rain. And to this I cannot
resign myself: why does one not seek voluntary death, a death that is the affirmation of a
free choice that expresses something? Rather than letting oneself die? Why? For this. We
always postpone the decision, knowing – hoping – that another day, another hour of life
could be affirmation, expression of a further will that we exclude by choosing death. In
short, because – and I am speaking of myself – we think that there will always be time.
And we shall have lost the great occasion of performing the most important act of the
whole of a life for a reason" (Il mestiere di vivere [The craft of living], Turin 1964,
pp.67-68).
       And what could a Heidegger, a Sartre, a Camus reply to a "desperate and lost" man
who "no longer has anything to desire on this earth, except the one that fifteen years of
failure exclude", and decides to give himself death, act of freedom. Supreme revolt
against a destiny that has already condemned him to death and in expectation of the day of
execution does not concede him anything but a life devoid of joy, devoid of scope and
sense?
       Even though he defines human existence as "being for death", Heidegger is
decidedly against suicide, because by means of suicide man "would deprive himself
precisely of the basis of being-for-death" (Sein und Zeit, II, I, 53). If being-for-death is
"being-for a possibility and more precisely for the more specific possibility of the Being
here and now", giving oneself death would be equivalent "to the annulment of the
possibility of the possible by means of executing the act. Giving himself death, man could
no longer live his existence authentically conscious of being protended towards death.
       And yet, what arguments would Heidegger oppose to an aspiring suicide to
dissuade him from his intention? Would he tell him that, giving himself death, he would
become inhibited from realizing himself in anguish, in the anguished and resigned
contemplation of his destiny of imminent death? But could this being "authentic" in
Heidegger's manner be a duty? Heidegger would be the first to deny it: he himself stresses
that the "authentic" and "inauthentic" terms limit themselves to expressing two realities of


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fact that certainly do not want to mean appreciation and condemnation in the moral sense.
Can one therefore condemn those who de facto choose suicide?
       Let us now pass to Sartre, rather, let him speak for himself: "Suicide cannot be
considered as an end of life of which I would be the foundation. Being an act of my life, it
also calls for a significance that only the future can give it; but, since it is the last act of my
life, it is devoid of this future; it thus remains completely indeterminate. Indeed, if I
survive and the attempt fails, will I not later judge my suicide as an act of cowardice?
Could the event not indicate to me that other solutions would have been possible? But,
seeing that these solution cannot but be my own projects, they can appear only if I live.
Suicide is an absurdity that makes my life sink into the absurd" (L'Être et le Néant, IV, I,
II).
       One may object to Sartre that his atheism – as has been made clear – deprives him of
an ethic and makes it impossible for him to formulate any moral judgment on any action,
including suicide. One may also note that for Sartre, if suicide is an absurdity, life is no
less absurd: therefore one does not understand in the name of what we would have to
consider ourselves committed to living it at all costs.
       Let us now come to Camus. Very rightly, at least according to me, he declares
beforehand that "there is only one serious problem: that of suicide. Judging whether life is
worth living means answering the fundamental question of philosophy" (Le mythe de
Sisyphe, I, I).
       It is not necessary that life should have a sense: quite the contrary, "it will be lived
all the better inasmuch as it does not have any sense. Living an experience, a destiny,
means accepting it fully. Now, one will not live this destiny, knowing it to be absurd, if
one does not do everything to keep in front of oneself this absurd placed in the light of
consciousness… Living is giving life to the absurd".
       Unlike Eurydice, the absurd dies when one turns one's back on it. Suicide is thought
to be a revolt: quite the contrary, "it is an acceptance of one's own limit" It "resolves the
absurd, because it drags it into death itself". Now, "to maintain itself, the absurd cannot
resolve itself". The absurd "escapes suicide to the extent to which it is both consciousness
and refusal of death at one and the same time".
       It is the revolt that gives its value to human life:
       "For a man without eye-shades there is no more beautiful spectacle than the one of
the intelligence struggling with a reality that exceeds it. The spectacle of human pride
cannot be equalled". Consciousness and revolt are the contrary of renunciation: "We are
concerned with dying irreconciled and not already in full agreement. Suicide is a not
knowing. The absurd man cannot do anything other than exhausting everything and
exhausting himself, the absurd is his extreme tension, the tension that he constantly
conserves with a solitary effort, because he knows that in this consciousness and in this
revolt, day by day, he attests his one and only truth, which is his challenge (op. cit., I, IV;
pp.81-84).
       Camus refuses suicide: for him life is worthwhile to be lived, because man can
realize a value by living it in a given manner. Camus is very careful not to say this
explicitly, but it is clear that the value he affirms, human life as a revolt against the
absurd, wants to be an absolute value in its own way. Consequently, when one looks into
the face of the absurd in an attitude of rebellion, the value of living is something that
greatly resembles a moral imperative.
       But can there be ethical imperatives in the logic of Camus' thought? Does he not
himself proclaim that everything is indifferent, and that man is supremely free from any
kind of preconstituted ethic? This "profound freedom" of his derives not only from the
fact that "there does not exist a tomorrow", but above all from the fact that God does not
exist. When God – the only absolute – comes to lack, there also comes to lack the

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absoluteness of the moral norm. And thus, in what sense is living to the very last in
consciousness of the absurd and in revolt against it preferable to suicide?
       "For a man without eye-shades there is no more beautiful spectacle than that of the
intelligence struggling with a reality that exceeds it. The spectacle of human pride cannot
be equalled". It seems to me that whether or not one finds the spectacle to one's own taste
depends on who actually enjoys the spectacle. If God does not exist, if the whole of reality
is therefore absurd, there follows the impossibility of establishing criteria of absolute
validity. It will be up to the subject to decide whether it is true that in a reality devoid of
sense it is his task to give a sense to his own life, to his freedom. In the particular
significance that I give to my life, suicide can constitute the best solution and nobody will
convince me of the contrary on the basis of inexistent objective criteria.
       But to decide whether or not I should conserve my life, I could be induced by other
motives that are no longer of an ethical but of what we might call a eudemonistic order:
nothing obliges me to live, but something makes me want to do so. What could that be?
Heidegger's anguish of feeling myself being-for-death? Sartre's nausea of discovering
myself situated in a world of wholly absurd realities, all in excess, and feeling even
myself in excess? Camus' pride of maintaining consciousness of my absurd living right
through to the last breath, and my challenge, goodness only knows against whom?
       I recognize that in the philosophy of these three authors there is also a constructive
part and a positive spirit that becomes more and more accentuated as their thought
evolves; but I am asking myself how all this can be deduced from their atheist premises,
and from the nihilist rigour with which they develop them… to a certain point.
       If life really responds to the definitions, to the representations that they give of it,
one can certainly not say that a suicide is wholly wrong. The tendential nihilism of the
philosophies of Heidegger, Sartre and Camus should justify suicide if it wanted to remain
thoroughly coherent with itself: if God does not exist – or if, as Heidegger substantially
says, God existed, but is for us humans as if he did not exist – very well, if God really or
practically does not exist, and if everything is being-for-death, devoid of positive
finalities and sense, what special value can it have for us to prolong at all costs our
expectation in this kind of "death row" that is the world?




                                        Chapter XII

                   EXPERIENCE OF THE SACRED AND FAITH

       As we saw, we can condemn suicide only in the name of an ethical imperative that
indicates to us in an absolute sense that suicide is bad. Perhaps Heidegger, Sartre and
Camus think that there is something absolute in life? According to me, they would be
right to think so; in all cases, each one of them contradicts what he had affirmed about his
philosophy.
       The premises from which they move are practically all atheist. Conducted with
rigour on both logical and the existential plane, the explication of what the premises
contain highlights their nihilist consequences. But, arriving at the core of the matter, the
problem of suicide, all three of them reject suicide in an absolute manner as something
that must not be done: this means that they attach some value to life; and it must be an


                                              79
absolute value if it is true that to all intents and purposes it gives rise to an absolute
imperative: not to kill oneself.
       In words they could deny this absolute affirmation of theirs; it would nevertheless
remain valid, at least on the semantic level of the vital attitudes, if not on the level of
apophantic judgments.
       Let me again recall the words of Camus: "There is only one serious problem: that of
suicide. Judging whether life is worth living means answering the fundamental question
of philosophy". Heidegger, Sartre and Camus replied that life is worth to be lived. This
answer may not be very coherent with their philosophies, but, if these are not gully valid
to confute the philosophy of suicide, their vital attitudes have the full value of a response
to the problem of suicide: "Yes, life is worth being lived; and this I affirm and witness
with all my being".
       It does not follow, as Camus notes, that denying a sense to life must necessarily lead
one to say that it is not worthwhile living it. There are those who arrive at denying a sense
to life, and yet do not want to conclude, but continue to interrogate. There are also those
who, though replying no, act as if they thought yes. In spite of all this, man remains
attached to life. First of all, it is his physical nature that refuses to die.
       Camus is the first to profess this immense, irreducible love for life. Man himself is
symbolized in the protagonist of The Stranger, Meursault: all of us are condemned to
death. In Meursault there is "the divine readiness of the man condemned to death, in front
of whom there open the doors of the prison on the dawn of a certain day, the incredible
disinterest for everything, except for the pure flame of life (A. C., Le mythe de Sisyphe,
The absurd freedom).
       Meursault is indifferent to all the values, except that of life. He well incarnates the
thought of Camus, for whom "wherever there reigns lucidity, the scale of values becomes
useless" and "what matters is not living the best, but for as long as possible" and,
precisely, "feeling one's own life, one's own life of revolt and one's freedom as intensely
as possible is equivalent to living for as long as possible" (ibid.).
       Whether or not he wants to say so explicitly, this love of life has something of the
absolute in Camus. It truly seems that life, even in its absurd lack of sense, hides a sense,
and absolute value for Camus. Camus can deny the absolute in words, but he lives and
expresses himself as if he believed in it.
       How can this absolute love of life be explained? Does life really have something of
the absolute in it? Is there in life the manifestation of an absolute reality, of a God, that we
existentially grasp with this absolute love? Can we attribute an absolute value to a life that
in itself is not such? Can we be mistaken up to this point? And if we are not mistaken,
does that mean that, notwithstanding everything, the sense of life is sacred? Would that
mean that in the life of the individual, in my life, there is present the sacred, the Absolute,
God himself? Certainly, I can profess all the theories I want, I can say everything I want
in words; but in reality I act as if I were intimately convinced that my life is an absolute
inasmuch as the Absolute itself is expressed and incarnated in it.
       May I be permitted a digression. To be truthful, very often men attribute absolute
value to realities that later prove to be contingent and ephemeral: a simple look at history
makes us see that innumerable men have struggled for the defence of communities that
sooner or later collapsed: each of these men saw in his own community, in his own state,
in his empire an absolute and incollapsible reality. Today the earth is full of the ruins of
empires that have disappeared. These communities have left something of themselves, an
ideal patrimony that has been inherited by new communities, but they now no longer
exist: therefore, they were not the absolute realities they appeared to be for those who
fought and suffered to the extreme sacrifice for them.


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       Did these men therefore illude themselves? Or, perhaps, did they see things rightly,
notwithstanding everything? Was operating in full dedication for that community not
indirectly a way of working for a more universal, higher and only really absolute life? The
heredity of these former reigns lives and continues in the present-day society of men.
What has been done for that community was done for the grand human community. And
the same seemingly useless sacrifices, made for causes that were not worth fighting for,
were nevertheless sacrifices, testimonies of an ideal, and therefore have the value that can
be attributed to any testimony offered to an ideal that transcends man.
       To return to the starting point of this digression, I began by noting that very often
men attribute absolute value to realities that later prove to be contingent and ephemeral,
and had taken history as an immense nursery of examples: but now, reflecting more
closely, I cannot find a single example of such a faith in a community or civil ideal, I
cannot find a single example of such a love of one's own community and of dedication to
it that I can affirm with certainty to be wholly vain, illusory, useless.
       When one sees something of the absolute in a reality, when one loves it as
something absolute and offers oneself to it with absolute dedication, there always remains
the possibility that – even though that historical reality may subsequently prove to be
ephemeral – believing in it, loving it and offering even one's life to it was not only
beautiful and noble, but effectively useful and valid in the full sense.
       When one sees something of the absolute in a reality, when one loves it as
something absolute and offers oneself to it with absolute dedication, there always remains
the possibility that – even though that historical reality may subsequently prove to be
ephemeral – believing in it, loving it and offering even one's life for it was not only
beautiful and noble, but effectively useful and valid in the full sense. For those who
believe in a divine reality that transcends us, any act of love for any reality that transcends
us, is in its own way an act of love for Transcendence, namely a concretely positive and
constructive act in the spiritual order; and any offer is implicitly an offer to God. If God
exists, nothing could ever be wholly vain and useless. But everything can be useless if
God does not exist.
       Naturally, a mere analysis of the mundane and historical reality cannot give us any
definitive confirmation of the existence or otherwise of God, of the vanity or otherwise of
our human actions. Even after the most ample analytic study of nature and history there
may remain the doubt whether the absolute value we attribute to our life is real or illusory.
Remaining the doubt, just as we posed the existence of God as condition for our life to
have an authentic and absolute value, one can also formulate the contrary hypothesis:
God does not exist; life does not have any absolute value; any absolute value that we can
attribute to it is not really such, is illusory.
       One might say that life is absurd: wholly absurd: not absurd up to a certain point, so
that, together with Camus, one could love it with an absolute, unconditioned and
non-exhausted love. Life is absurd in such a way that it is not worth being lived, that love
for life and the desire of living are wholly unjustified, that suicide is the perfectly logical
solution. And yet, having formulated this atheist hypothesis, how can one explain this
absolute love that nevertheless binds each one of us to his own life?
       A simple consideration of the world of nature shows us in the most evident manner
that each life tends to conserve itself and develop, from the life of the plant to that of man,
from that of any organism to that of a germ that threatens it. Even the germs of an illness
tend to multiply, corroding the living being in which they have established themselves,
killing it, installing themselves in other organisms to nourish themselves at their expense
and then killing them in their turn. The illness thus progresses, expands, becomes
perpetuated like any living reality. Certainly, considered from the viewpoint of the living
being that suffers from it, that illness is something absurd. But from a more general point

                                              81
of view, could not the whole of life be an absurd? Could not my own life as an individual
be an absurd? An absurd that wants to survive, that wants to develop and perpetuate itself
at all costs. But why do I have to suffer so much on account of this absurd life that is in
me? Why do I have to suffer so much for the sole purpose that this parasite absurdity that
lives within me may continue to grow and multiply itself at my expense as an illness?
       If this hypothesis were the true one of the two, the consequence that I would have to
deduce from it in accordance with logic would be suicide whenever this life becomes
unbearable for me or even simply weighty. Only two things could oppose themselves to
this solution: in the first place the uncertainty (if in spite of everything, God really
existed, so much so as to infuse a value and a sacred sense into my life as an individual?);
and in the second place, the vital instinct: even if I were certain that God does not exist
and that life is an absurd illness, the instinct of conservation would remain within me and
always such as to annul my reasoning and render it inoperative.
       That is why the few persons who arrive at suicide get there under the influence of
violent perturbations of their frame of mind. Among the latter we can always include the
forms of "lucidly" reasoning madness that spring from alterations of the psychic faculties.
A suicide determined by purely rational motives, a pure philosophic suicide, is something
extremely rare.
       In men there may be an absolute love not only for one's own life, but also for the life
of others and of the community of which one forms part. It is an incontestable fact that is
recognized and to which witness is borne even by the thinkers most committed to denying
any sense to existence.
       We only have to consider the example of Camus who, especially in La peste, toys
with the ideal of a fraternal solidarity among men when faced with the evil of an absurd
existence, toys with the ideal of a life spent heroically in help of one's likes. Of a true form
of lay sanctity.
       One could cite the example of Sartre, who – though without denying his own atheist
convictions – abandons the nihilism of La nausée and Le mur, professes himself a
humanist, adheres to communism, turns himself into an extremely committed champion
of many noble causes.
       If we then pass from the testimonies of the philosophers to those of common men,
we cannot but note the great dedication to the community that today we find in those
whose official doctrine denies the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. If
today we look in some category of persons for men who are prepared to sacrifice
themselves for the community of which they form part and for the idea of which it is the
bearer, I believe that we shall not find them anywhere in greater numbers than in the
communist parties.
       One can have such love for the life of others to be prepared to sacrifice one's own:
we need only think of the mother who defends her son, of the man who sacrifices his life
to save one of his likes he has probably never seen before. One can die in war, one may
arrive at suicide. In that case this risking death, this trying to give oneself death is no
longer a negative act, suicide in the proper sense: it is an act of life: it is a life that
sacrifices itself for the advantage of a bigger city of which it forms part, it is the cell that
sacrifices itself for the entire organism.
       Dying is not always an act that is opposed to life. The dying of the being that has
completed its vital cycle and leaves other beings it has generated that continue its work is
not an act against life, but the conclusive act of earthly life, the last act of life. The being
who falls for the defence of the community, or of other individuals of the community, in
conformity with the law of mutual defence for the survival of the species, acts as second
nature, and, dying, does not deny but rather affirms his own life. This could be said of


                                              82
anybody who faces death for a superior need, even if he kills himself for a motive that is
no longer egoistic, but highly ideal.
       It is the same vital instinct that in similar cases can drive us to sacrifice our life as
individuals. In those moments we avert that our life of individuals is solidary with a life
that transcends us. Our true life is something that transcends our pure and simple
corporeal individuality: one can throw away one's own earthly life in a spirit of egoism, of
cowardice, abandoning one's commitments, the responsibilities we have on this earth: and
thus one undoubtedly damages one's life (no matter what might be the motives that can
partially excuse our act). But one may also offer one's earthly existence for a lofty reason,
in a spirit of generosity pushed to the extreme.
       In that case we shall feel that, losing our life, we save it. It may be that in those
moments we avert in a more or less clear and supported by reasoning or vitally obscure
manner that our individual existence will obtain benefit from this sacrifice we make of
ourselves, that our soul – immortal – will become enriched by it, since it is true that every
act of generosity enriches us spiritually.
       A love to which witness is borne by the offer of one's life undoubtedly has
something of the absolute in it. How can this expression in man of such an absolute love
for other persons or the community be explained? Here, once again, such an absolute love
could be interpreted as a testimony that there is an absolute reality: it could be interpreted
as testimony that there is a God, absolute fount of such an absolute love.
       But now, even here, this absolute love for the life of other people and the
community, just like the absolute love for one's own life, could be interpreted as a defence
mechanism of life itself: not only the individual existence of each one, but the existence
of the human species and the communities into which it is organized.
       Each individual life tends to conserve itself and to develop, but more important is
the life of the group of which the individual forms part: in this sense, the individual is like
a cell of the group: and just as the cells live and die and unceasingly change so that the
organism may survive, the individual dies after having exhausted his vital cycle, after
having left offspring capable of continuing the life of the group.
       The offspring have to be defended, because the effects of the continuation of the
species can be even more important than those who have generated them. For this reason
the parents are ready to defend their offspring even at the risk of their lives. What is more,
even the group may stand in need of defence: and thus the individuals that constitute it are
normally also ready to defend it at the risk of their lives. And, since the group is
concretely made up of individuals, a vital instinct drives the individual to risk life in
defence also of other individuals whenever necessary: this mutual defence is another way
of defending the group.
       Here, once again, just as when we spoke of individual life, there remains the
theoretical possibility of identifying the source in the instinct of self-defence of a life that,
no matter how absurd it may be, wants at all costs to survive and continue.
       Summing up, so far we have had occasion to note that the love of men for their own
life, for the life of others, for the community, normally has or can have a character of
absoluteness. We asked ourselves whether this absolute love for life could not be
considered a witness by men that, in spite of everything, deep down we feel that life has a
value and an absolute, sacred, divine significance. In other words, we asked ourselves
whether such an absolute love for life could not in some way constitute a testimony of
God within us.
       We saw that there were not yet sufficient elements to induce us to tend definitively
towards a thesis of this kind. There is always the possible objection that all this is
underlain by a vital instinct: of a life that, no matter how absurd it may be, does not want
to die and that, just like an absurd illness, wants to survive at all costs to diffuse and

                                               83
triumph over everything. Now, let us assume the first hypothesis: that everything can be
interpreted in one way or another as a testimony of God. Very well, those who consider
the facts from this point of view will feel induced to see in reality a continuous
confirmation of their thesis: there are many attitudes in man that could be interpreted
from this point of view as testimonies of the Absolute.
       For example, let us consider man's attitude in the face of moral problems: in man
there is the sense that certain actions have to be undertaken in given circumstances, while
certain others have to be absolutely and unconditionally avoided: one has to act in this
manner not because one can obtain a certain practical result: one has to act in this manner
independently of any result that can be obtained; one has to do because one has to do it,
one has to abstain from this other action because one has to abstain from it.
       It is not a question of a technical, hypothetic imperative subordinate to the
hypothesis that one does or does not want to pursue a given scope: it is a question of a
categorical, unconditional imperative that is independent of any objective of a practical
order.
       Even the most immoral or amoral man of this world will always have some
inhibition of an ethical nature: he will always feel the interior sensation that, in given
circumstances, a certain action cannot be undertaken, has to be absolutely avoided. A
man who has committed a large number of murders may find it repugnant to steal even
the most insignificant of objects. That individual will attribute, for example, great
importance to the word he has given; or he will love children; or feel a profound devotion
for his old mother; and at no cost will he want to offend what for him, in spite of
everything, remain intangible principles. Another man could be an experienced thief, but
at no cost will he be capable of harming even a hair of another person. Faced with a friend
who needs him, a violent man will feel an irresistible impulse to help him. In one and the
same man – it is Dostojevski, above all, who shows us this in many of his personages –
there can co-exist abysses of depravation and profound sensitivity for certain values.
       It is clear that an ethical fact can always be given either a psychological or
psychoanalytical interpretation: one may say, for example, that the absoluteness of the
ethical imperative is such only illusorily and erroneously appears absolute to us for
psychological or psychopathological reasons.
       This objection would be fully valid if God did not exist or if existence were an
absurd sickness that wants to survive and progress at all costs: in that case it would be life
itself to bring into action a certain of its defence mechanisms by virtue of which man
would end up by illuding himself that working for the conservation and the development
of his own species is effectively a moral duty and would therefore feel himself far more
spurred on to work in this sense than he would be if he professed the most rigorous
amoralism. Amoralism can easily lead to suicide, and suicide is against the instinct of
conservation of the species; the instinct therefore reacts, illuding man that there is a
morality. Just as in the previously treated cases, an objection of such a vitalist nature is
always possible.
       But the vitalist interpretation is not the only possible way of interpreting an ethical
fact. This objection could be proposed to anybody who affirmed the existence of certain
moral principles, but such people, at least in certain cases, would immediately reject it if
only it analyzed with a certain attention his frame of mind, if only it analyzed with a
certain attention and profundity what happens in his frame of mind when he feels the
"voice of duty", the "voice of the conscience", in himself.
       He would say: "This vitalist interpretation may be as ingenious as you wish, but I
feel within me that the voice of duty is something that comes only from my psyche or my
vital instinct: its origin is beyond my I. Duty appears to me to be something that I cannot
modify, as something that exists independently of myself, as something truly objective,

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absolute. Expressing what I feel, I adopt rather inadequate human words, I fully realize
this; and yet these words give an idea of how I feel my duty: as something that cannot in
any way be attributed wholly to the subjective sphere of my psyche and my vital instinct.
It is something absolute; it comes from a sphere that is located well beyond the psychic
and vital sphere".
       If the absolute is by definition just one, God, does not admitting that the moral law
is absolute mean that in the last analysis it is just one with God? One could say: the
fundamental ethical law is just one: the "grand commandment" of love (ama et fac quod
vis, love and do what you want to do); but God himself is love in his intimate nature; God
is therefore not only the Being, but the Good and the Law. Starting from these concepts,
which we here assume by way of hypothesis, the moral experience, which is experience
of something absolute, could be interpreted as a particular form of experience of the
Divine. If the absolute is one only, God, if the moral law is of an empirical character, so
much so as to appear multiple and in a certain way contingent (duty to undertake a certain
action on a given occasion; duty to avoid a certain other action in some other given
situation); but that does not mean that the Law, the Having to Be and the Good are in their
essence wholly one with God: this is the absolute aspect of each ethical imperative that
one affirms not because one wants to say that any moral imperative is absolute under all
its aspects (on the contrary, each moral imperative obviously has an empirical and a
historical aspect).
       In this sense and within these limits, one can put forward the hypothesis that a
so-called moral imperative does not become wholly reduced to a purely psychic,
empirical, historical, human fact, but also has an absolute aspect and is therefore a
participation of the selfsame Divinity.
       For the moment this theist hypothesis presents itself as just as probable as the
vitalist one. Later we shall see whether it is to be preferred and for what reasons, and on
the basis of what elements.
       For the moment let us leave it in suspension together with the other, and pass on to
asking ourselves whether there are not other phenomena that, just like the ethical one, are
susceptible to a theist interpretation, that is to say, can be interpreted as testimonies of
God.
       An ambit where one could speak of a more direct revelation of God, a revelation
more in the first person, is the strictly religious one. Here innumerable men of all epochs
have affirmed that it is possible to establish a personal relationship with God and that they
have de facto done so.
       At times the Divinity is understood as an only God, at times as a collectivity of gods
headed by a supreme god; at times it is understood as transcendental, at times as
immanent in the cosmos, or as a unique Deus sive natura (One-All) or as a multiplicity of
gods, each one of whom corresponds to a particular force or expression of nature: the
Sky, the Earth, the Sea, Lightning and Thunder, the Wind, the Moon and the Sun. Even
individual families or cities or human arts can have their particular protector god who
represents their personification. Rather, all the realities are personified, the entire
universe is personified and animated.
       No matter how the Divinity is seen by men, in their eyes it represents a quid – or,
better, a quis, a "Somebody" – with whom they can enter into a relationship, with whom
they can establish a personal contact. Men of all countries and all times have spoken with
the Divinity to celebrate and glorify it, to make it offers, to promise, to ask, to enjoin, to
entrust themselves to its protection.
       Certainly, far too often men have configured the Divinity in their own image and
likeness, portraying the gods in human form and gradually attributing to them the same
somatic traits or at least the same psychological characteristics of each people; in any

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case, if one wants to abstract from these ingenuous and easily explainable
representations, we may note the presence of a common denominator in the most diverse
manifestations of the religiosity of men: the affirmation of the real, live and active
existence of a Divinity, no matter how one then wants to conceive or represent it.
      Men represent the Divinity in many different ways, and their religiousness
expresses itself in a wide range of manifestations that, from those that we are induced to
define as the most ingenuous and superstitious, gradually rise to what we are equally led
to define as the most pure and elevated, the most spiritual.
      What authorizes us to establish a hierarchy among the various manifestations of
human religiosity? One might say: a certain religious sensitivity (that remains even in
those who profess themselves atheists in words).
      When one says "sensitivity", one presupposes the real presence of something that is
its object: when one says "religious sensitivity, one presupposes the presence of a
religious reality: indeed, one presupposes the presence of the Divinity. If we presumed
that no Divinity existed, this religious sensitivity would reduce itself to nothing other than
an instinct, a subjective phenomenon.
      However, within us there is what we might call a religious "instinct" that, even
when we profess ourselves atheists, leads us to define certain forms of religiosity as more
elevated than certain others. There is something within us that leads us to consider the
Christian concept of prayer as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount as more elevated
than the magic-quantitative prayer of so many forms of archaic religiousness (that
nevertheless can de facto co-exist in full Christianity); there is something that leads us to
consider pardon of offences as an incomparably more elevated concept than the archaic
"eye for eye, tooth for tooth": and thus, to give another example at random, in us there is
even something that induces us to consider the monotheist conception far more elevated
than the polytheist one.
      Our religious sensitivity – or, if you prefer, our religious instinct – in the stage of
maturation attained after many millennia of religious history, leads us to exclude from the
Divinity all imperfections or limits and to attribute it only what corresponds to absolute
perfection.
      Thus we are led to recognize a certain analogy between the Divinity and man, but at
the same time to exclude from it everything imperfect that could be in man: to exclude
from it any corporeity, finiteness, temporality, any moral imperfection (anger, desire for
revenge, cruelty, pettiness) and, on the contrary, to attribute it everything of the most
spiritual that there could be in man raised to an infinite power.
      Attributes of human spirituality are, for example, knowledge, love, dominion of
matter. Elevated to an infinite power, in God these attributes of the human spirit become
omniscience, infinite love, omnipotence: human knowledge is limited and discursive,
only God intuitively embraces all things with a single look; man aspires to joy, can at
times feel a full joy, be it even only for rare moments, but in God there cannot be anything
other than infinite beatitude; man is naturally artist, at times he attains excellence in art,
God is supreme and perfect artist.
      Without leaving the level of a hypothesis, we have spoken of God, of religious
experience of God, of religious sensitivity, without pronouncing ourselves either in
favour or against the idea of a real and objective presence of the Divinity. At the actual
state of the question, religious experience can be given a wide range of interpretations.
Let us schematically reduce them to two.
      The first explanation is that God really exists and that, as man's ascent proceeds
through the centuries, he is grasped by the human spirit in an ever more profound and
adequate manner that, despoiling the Divinity of its more ingenuous representations,
gradually reveals its true essence.

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       The second explanation, i. e. excluding the reality of the Divine, turns man into the
more or less conscious or unconscious arteficer of the idea of God.
       Well known is the interpretation, rendered popular by enlightenment and
positivism, that derives the idea of a plurality of gods from man's fear in front of the
unknown, the fear of lightning, thunder, tempests, the need of security that is in man,
constantly threatened by the forces of nature and desirous of in some way arriving at
some pact with them.
       As to the idea of the one God endowed with all the attributes of perfection, evident
product of a refinement of religious thought through the centuries and the millennia, we
are familiar with Feuerbach's doctrine, which we have already considered.
       Letting himself be inspired a little by Feuerbach and a little by Freud, someone
could put forward a formidable objection: could not this God to whom we attribute
objective reality be the objective projection of our hopes of men? Of our conscious and
unconscious desires? Of a need – vital even more than spiritual – for giving a scope and a
sense to our existence in order not to fall into desperation?
       For Feuerbach, as we saw, the religious illusion is manner in which man acquires
consciousness of his own limited capacities, inherent in the human species as such. This
awareness is not yet direct; this infinity that is within him man is not yet capable of
glimpsing in himself; he comes to know it indirectly, projected into a Divinity that he
imagines endowed with these perfections. For Feuerbach the Divinity is unreal, fictitious
creature of a human fantasy that is as fertile as it is unconscious.
       As regards Freud, we should keep in mind how he conceives dreams: in this illusion
that we mistake for reality there take shape what in a wider sense we might call our
desires: and these desires, from which dreams draw their nourishment and which give rise
to the latent contents of the dream, may be conscious or unconscious.
       Integrating Feuerbach with Freud, one could therefore speak of a God as a dream of
man: of a fictitious God in whom man, through a process of unconscious fabulation,
comes to project certain of his desires, be they conscious or otherwise, certain aspirations
or psychological necessities: the need of giving a sense to life in order to face it and bear
it, the need of feeling protected by a superior Being, the terror of desperation, the need of
hoping. How can we reply to this objection of what we might call the Dream God? Let me
exclude right away that we could oppose a "demonstration of the existence of God"
understood as objective, conclusive demonstration in the rational-scientific sense.
Religious men of every country and epoch, and especially the mystics, could without
difficulty underwrite the affirmation that there exists a certain experience of the sacred:
God is undoubtedly the object of an experience; but certainly not an experience of the
objective type that we can record and measure by means of instruments: the experience
that we can have of God is wholly interior and subjective.
       By this I do not by any means want to say that it exhausts itself in subjectivity: it is
a subjective, interior manner of grasping something very real.
       We cannot define this sacred "reality" with the intersubjective language of science,
and we cannot even verify it in such a manner that certain of its characters should
immediately spring to the eye of any subject, like the dimensions or the weight or the
temperature of a body; we can grasp this sacred reality only by reliving it from within, in
the intimacy of our own spirit.
       If we wanted to establish some analogy between the religious experience and other
forms of experience, we could not in any way compare it with the experience of the
scientist: if anything, we might consider it similar – under a certain aspect – to the
experience of those who study the phenomena of the human spirit: the experience of the
historian, the psychologist, the critic, who find themselves faced with monuments and
documents and material remains that will continue to be a dead letter for them until they

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succeed in penetrating their spirit by re-creating it in the intimacy of their souls and thus
re-living it.
       The religious has an interior experience of this sacred reality: this means that all his
certainties will be interior. He can bear witness to these experiences and certainties of his;
but what he says will be wholly devoid of any objective evidence: he will be understood
only by those who will have been capable of making similar experiences in their own
intimacy.
       The objective methods of verification of which the physical and natural sciences
avail themselves enable them to define, if not the entire phenomenon in its own intimate
reality and origin, at least certain characteristics of that phenomenon; and will also enable
them to define certain characteristics in a relatively precise manner: from which they
draw the name of "exact sciences". Now, our knowledge of God can never be an exact
science. God is never object of a full, absolute, objective evidence equal to the one
requested of phenomena in order to turn them into matter for science.
       The vision we have of God is always imperfect and inadequate: God reveals himself
to us, but at the same time conceals himself: his reality manifests itself to us, but remains
mysterious. The act with which we affirm God is essentially a cognitive act, but not a
hundred percent: there is a voluntary component in it that can vary in entity and of which
one cannot but take account in all cases: this complex act, both cognitive and volitive,
with which man affirms God is the act of faith.
       The act of faith is also an act of will: it does not commit the will in an exclusive
manner. If it were wholly and solely a voluntary act, it would be a purely gratuitous
"jump". But in that case it would contradict the very concept of will: inasmuch as it is
such, every voluntary act is always performed for a reason, with reference to something
that is seen or at least vaguely glimpsed, to something that is known or at least intuited.
       The object of the act of faith is God: precisely inasmuch as it is voluntary, the act of
faith is motivated, presupposes some knowledge of God, that is to say – inasmuch as God
is a real being – it presupposes a certain knowledge of God.
       It is true that in the history of Christianity there is a voluntarist current that tends to
undervalue, to diminish our capacity of knowing God through an experience, and in the
limit therefore tends to reduce the act of faith to a pure act of unjustified, gratuitous will.
This fideist current takes its origin from the Apostle Paul of the Letter to the Romans, of
which it provides a particular interpretation. Interpreted in a certain way, even Saint
Augustine is considered among the progenitors of the trend that among its declared and
explicit adherents includes Luther, Calvin, Jansen, Pascal, Kierkegaard, Scestov and
Barth.
       Naturally, there are considerable differences from one author to another; the fideist
motive is accentuated with an intensity that can vary greatly: with respect to Scestov,
champion of an absolute fideism, Pascal seems almost a rationalist. However, I think that
fideism, when it wants to assume an extreme and exclusive character, is very difficult to
sustain. Because any kind of affirmation about existing realities calls for some experience
of them, the act of faith with which we affirm God, far from being a gratuitous jump,
cannot but spring from an intimate experience of the divine, susceptible to a certain
subjective verification.
       But who assures us that this is truly an experience of God, and not of a dream God?
Here there lacks every objective criterion in the scientific sense. Each subject has to
verify in his own intimacy what is his own personal experience of the sacred. The
verification is subjective.
       "Subjective" does not necessarily mean "private", incapable of accessing the object.
With this term I want to say neither more nor less than personal and intimate experience
of a subject: experience in which the subject encounters, grasps, makes his own – in

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short, knows – a reality that in origin transcended him: an "objective" reality. In other
words, by "subjective experience" I understand the manifestation to the subject of a being
that, of itself, is very objective and very real.
       In the religious experience the divine Being manifests itself only in the intimacy of
the subject and therefore the only possible judgment is the one that will be given by the
individual subject through his particular sensitivity. Irrespective of whether it does not
satisfy a seeker of "demonstrations of the existence of God", that seems to me to be the
only possible conclusion.
       No subject can have the same identical sensitivity of another subject: there can be,
at the very most, a close analogy, but the differences are often very accentuated, and this
explains the difficulties that subjects encounter in reaching agreement every time they
abandon the limited sector of the experiences that can be objectivated. Agreement
becomes possible only when one of the two subjects succeeds in reliving in his own
intimacy experiences similar to those of the other.
       When one has not had a privileged experience, how can one convince the other that
he lacks it? Certainly not by means of a demonstration: contra principia negantem non est
disputandum; and agreement as to the same premises would in this case have to start from
similar experiences, but these have not been had. The subject who "sees" what the other
does not see may do just one thing: guide the other along a spiritual itinerary at the end of
which the other may also arrive at having a similar experience. This experience the other
will have to recreate by himself in his own intimacy: the first can only orient and
stimulate him by means of a special maieutic.
       Let us take the case of a teacher of Italian who wants to acquaint his pupils with
poetry, Dante for example. Excluded that he can do so with purely rational arguments. He
could obtain the desired result only by promoting a poetic sensitivity in his class. But
what permits us to understand Dante is a form of particularly refined sensitivity that
cannot be acquired all of a sudden. Availing himself of a particular maieutic, the teacher
will therefore try to initiate his pupils into an "easier" poetry, and only later, little by little,
to a more "difficult" one, which will become more and more accessible to the youngsters
as they succeed refining their sensitivity, thus rendering it capable of understanding not
poetry in general, but the poetry of Dante: and he can obtain this only by recreating and
reliving the spirit of Dante in the intimacy of his own spirit, turning himself - at least to
some extent – into Dante.
       A similar discourse applies to anybody who wants to initiate others to knowledge of
the "non-scientific" type, which calls for a certain spiritual deepening, an interior
maturation: here we have the case of the historian, the critic of art, literature and music,
anybody who makes an expression or some form of the spiritual life of man first the
object of study and then of teaching. And the same applies in the religious field: a
Christian who wants to convert an atheist will find it very difficult to attain his purpose, if
not wholly superficially, by means of pure and simple "demonstrations of the existence of
God"; he could possibly achieve his intentions only by means of a sapient maieutic, by
means of which he would have to stimulate the atheist, little by little, to relive the
Christian experience in his own intimacy.
       And it is far too obvious that we Christians will hardly succeed in making
Christianity be relived by others if we have not ourselves relived it. No master will be
able to promote in his disciples a sensitivity, a fervour that he does not himself possess.
No apostle will be able to become the guide of another along a path over which he has not
already passed on his own.




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