Easter thoughts from Paris

It is the heart which is aware of God and not reason’, wrote Malcolm Muggeridge in, “The End of Christendom”.

Did God decide to demonstrate this by making an Almighty bonfire of a shrine erected to Him? ( some difficulty here with the personal pronoun: apologies to all readers whose vocabulary in these matters is not based on the King James bible).

Did He decide to sacrifice a forest of venerable oaks and a few seventeenth century paintings in order to witness the overwhelming spiritual orphanage and desire for communion felt and demonstrated by millions?

Perhaps. This, we mere mortals shall never know. Did He halt the event half way through, as the iconic spire fell? ‘Enough’, He thought, ‘they have understood’.

A mighty God, no doubts on that score: a canny politician too? One wonders.The upsurge of emotion has , at least for some time, swept across the disputatious French, now aware of themselves as the guardians of an inestimable public treasure, and , moreover, visibly heirs to a sacred tradition.

Despite a schooling by Jesuits, “The Hounds of God”, Mr. Macron, not a regular subscriber to God and all his works, has been dealt a new and excellent hand.With the Grand débat he was already delighting in his rôle as a peripatetic revivalist, now he may well be thinking that he really has got God on his side.One winces at the memory of others who thought this: Oliver Cromwell and Otto von Bismark come to mind.

With this new tandem at the helm France may well be poised to head the campaign for a European Renaissance based henceforth on Christian values.

But, as Malcolm Muggeridge wrote, “God is a great prankster”. Who knows?


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21 Comments on Easter thoughts from Paris

  1. Thanks for this Krishnan. (What a thrill not to be talking about brexit for a change.) I mostly agree with you, as does St Thomas Aquinas. He said, Beware the person of one book (though he himself wanted heretics killed!). He also said we could live in harmony if we accepted that we were all wildly in love with the same God – more or less your last point I think.
    As to whether we need to understand ultimate reality, Aquinas emphasised that faith not reason was the reliable guide. Am I right in thinking that Buddhism and Hinduism believe that there is an ultimate Oneness of which we are all ultimately a part? There were C19th philosophers like Schopenhauer who were impressed by what they learned from the east: it confirmed what they themselves thought, that behind the world of appearances there was some force beyond the grasp of the human mind. Modern physics, and the scientific method generally, would seem to bear that out – that theories are all eventually refuted and new pones tested – newton, Einstein, Heisenberg – and who knows what one fine day. Seems to me that we are still addressing the same problems that the Greeks and Hebrews and Buddha addressed and not getting much further.

    • Michael, while I respect the spirituality behind religious monotheisms, I have, over the course of reading and observing, become a fervent critic of monotheistic religion and the influence it has had on the world at large. A “belief” is supposed to be the arbiter of all “morality” which is then supposed to dictate your behaviour in the now?

      The equation of the practices lazily called Hinduism with monotheism comes mainly from a critical viewpoint. It goes something on the lines of – if our one God is ridiculous, what about your millions of gods? Doesn’t that make your a million times ridiculous? It is charming in its innocence; the sophisticates just ignore the debate while the unsophisticated feel a need to engage in a debate with novices. I am actually not much interested in the Ultimate Reality, for it is a given, of sorts.

      Far more interesting is the politics and the machinations created by the monotheisms. Just think about it – people have been killed in the name of God clubs. And people are taught, from an early age, to spite and hate someone else based on – belief and an artificial sense of moral superiority, the lack of which is apparent on the slightest inspection. It is nauseating and annoying. Before Middle Eastern and European interference in the East, political violence was a given – think Asoka, Chola, Suryavarman, Majapahit Emperors, Tang Emperors etc. But none of these conflicts were over any notion of God. Even Buddhism spread as an accent over existing beliefs rather than as any form of replacement. Until the wars were waged against Muslim overlords, Indians themselves never organised on “Hindu” lines.

      Religious conflict is a monotheistic invention. And if one considers the amount of blood spilt and valuable heritage lost through vandalism and violent erasure of history over the centuries, at some point a bright spirit with some sense will bear the weight of regret at the loss and utter futility of it all. That’s when religion as we know it ceases to be about divinity, rather about something far more earthly – resources and money. When you look at it that way, “religion”, especially monotheistic varieties, become little more than tools of imperial expansionism. The only way a monotheism can avoid this cycle is to enter into a sort of dance with an existing polytheism, much like Sikhism or Jainism does in India.

      The ray of sunshine here is, that every empire has met its end, and so will monotheistic religion if it follows its natural course. Which is where polytheistic cultures, with indigenous roots and non-expansionary tendencies, such as Indic traditions in India and East Asia, Sinic traditions in China and East Asia, South American native traditions will end up being the default spiritual homes of those peoples. Just recently, there was a clip on Youtube of a Venezuelan village where they started praying to a late local gangster as a form of a “protector” now that Jesus apparently had failed to stem crime levels there. It wouldn’t shock me to find many Muslims in the Middle East adopting similar stances in the light of the continuous barrage of difficulties they are facing. But the tragedy is they’ve been so deracinated of their own ancestral cultures after the adoption of Islam – what do they seek comfort in? There is no pre-Islamic culture in the Middle East to speak of; the risk is of a people going completely and utterly berserk. It is poignant that little to nothing remains in Arabia of the pre-Islamic cultures over there. A real tragedy for the people there.

  2. Robert, Christ’s teachings in The Sermon on the Mount, like Moses’ commandments, are indeed unequalled in history, but only a minority of Christians have followed them. Where was the spring of fresh water when a Christian mob tore the skin of Hypatia whose crime was to use mathematics to understand the universe, or when protestants and Catholics slaughtered one another in C16th, or today in El Salvador where raped and miscarried girls are jailed for life by sadistic clerical perverts, or in ugly places like Texas where Christians kill doctors for removing a bunch of unwanted cells but are happy to have children aborted in primary schools by their church going gun worshipping comrades? cast the first stone would you?

    • I don’t think daughters and wives in Islamic societies wish to escape their families. They wish rather to escape Islam. It is just another example of a monotheism dictating family values. There may be examples of women (and men) wishing to escape Arab culture in general, but the tyranny of morality makes them all the more inflexible and brittle and generally more unlivable. It’s not their parents they hate, it’s the tyrannical moral policing.

      I think you are drawing incorrect parallels when you equate looser families to more democratic societies. Looser families lead to looser societies with less meaningful achievements in my view. Come to think of it, Indian civilization claims to be the oldest living major one based on little but its unbroken traditions passed down through families. Countless states have come and gone in the meantime.

    • Your first sentence underlines my whole point. However many people follow or do not follow the truth makes no difference – the truth remains the truth.

      • But how can you possibly know Robert? I’m putting the case that all human knowledge is uncertain and we struggle to escape what nature deals us and the circumstances we are born into. Does it not occur to you that if you or I had been born to dalits or brahmins in India, or polygamous imams in Iran, or to Athenian slaves or Spartan ephors that we might be arguing for a different truth? (Or women instead of men?) That is why I think we should hold fast to one thing only, and that is uncertainty and accept that whatever ultimate reality there is we cannot know anything about it except that all life, human, animal or plant, is part of it.

        • Jesus said: “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

          There is nothing else we need to know. I have no more to say on this matter.

          • Robert, Allah has something similar to say as well on that subject.

            How is amity supposed to exist between a Christian such as you and a Muslim when both your doctrines claim exclusivity? Isn’t conflict the natural outcome of such a discourse? And isn’t that what is manifested time and again through history?

            Michael, it is not the search for “truth” that causes problems but claims of exclusivity that does. Robert very politely says “that is all we need to know.” A Muslim disagrees. Five times a day. Violently at times. A Jew would say they are God’s Chosen People so they get message rights. What is of concern is what happens to temporal relations in the name of this truth seeking exercise? The purest exercise of monotheistic intimidation today is carried out by Muslims esp. in less economically wealthy societies. A day never passes when Hindus aren’t barraged with “You are a fool” or “Your gods are false.” Whatever that means. The vitriol is poisonous and bloody annoying, which explains the backlash.

            Would it be right to say that Christianity takes “tolerance” and “kindness” as exercises in patience and strain rather than a positive celebration? Even “The meek shall inherit the earth” has more than a little menace to it, cloaked as it is in harmless verbiage. What positive joy do the pious actually get by having their declared “sinners” “repent”?

            It makes little sense to me that Africans in Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Egypt and Indian-types in Sri Lanka are blowing one another up over this. Continuing episodes like these have two effects – one, it engenders among people a contempt for the other based on religion and a desire for revenge, and two, it gets people to think about the point behind monotheistic religion as such. Note that Islam claims to be the religion of peace – and I have a bridge to sell you. What is being lost is the appeal to divinity inherent in all spiritual practices.

            On abortion, I tend to support the conservative position.

            Michael, I hold the position that one does not need to know the ultimate purpose of anything before choosing to decide how to contribute, because time never stops. In common law terms, follow precedent. It makes things much much easier.

  3. Not a Christian here. Worse, idol-worshipping pagan. Not sorry.

    But with Notre Dame, it did seem that the spirit had left the structure a long time ago, much like the soul leaving a body. People are outraged that a structure has been damaged; that a part of French history and culture, nay, Western history and culture, has been lost.

    To some, it is a marvel of architecture, an expert arrangement of stones and that is the loss they bereave. The bricks and stones. But the rot set in a very long time ago. Notre Dame, and all it stood for, had started decaying much before that. The fire just manifested the decay, as a coup de grace of sorts. Millions have been pledged to repair the structure; but what amount of millions will return it to life? For what gave the cathedral life is not bricks and stones, it is ritual and practice. The loss of ritual and practice is a far greater reason for lament than, yes, a few stones burning. Meaning can give life to stones; what meaning is there in a reconstructed Notre Dame by the people owning YSL? Notre Dame is not just a Christian church; it is a French monument – a statement to French culture accumulated and preserved over generations.

    What the French really need to ask is “What is French? And what does it mean to be French anymore?” Only then will arranging stones in the shape of Notre Dame Cathedral have any meaning to it.

    • Are you really idol-worshipping? I thought worshipping Krishna, for example, was honouring compassion, not the statue. What Notre Dame conveys to people now cannot possibly what it has conveyed in the past. Beliefs about the world have changed: when ND was built, Christians thought the spirits of the dead walked among us. No one thinks that now outside of a care facility.
      For me, going into an old building, especially a church, gives you a moment to think about how this world is and always has been a world of appearances, illusion. Whatever the ultimate reality, we cannot know it with our limited senses and minds. In that respect the eastern Hindu/Buddist philosophies are in tune (as far as I know them) with modern science which has departed from reality into quantum entanglements and wormholes and other metaphysics that no one seriously believes is the final word.

      • See, this is where you guys get it wrong. We are idol-worshippers because that is the charge levied on us by sundry. Suffice it to say, we fit every description of the horrors which all monotheisms ascribe to us – polytheists, idol-worshippers, self-immolators, cultists, even worse, vegetarians for most of the time.

        People ascribe value to objects; to some, their iPhone has meaning; to some, a human figurine has meaning; to some, a brick hut in Arabia has meaning; to some, Notre Dame has meaning. The conflict is when one meaning claims to be above and beyond the rest, implying that the meaning which others attach to whatever they value is invalid or, as the monotheists love to say, “foolish”. What follows is an open invitation to vandalism and iconoclasm, and the perpetrators, in their mind, have full moral justification for what they do. To them, their meaning is greater over all others.

        I always struggled to wonder why it is that Indic culture, broadly speaking, is “fine” with accommodating different thought streams in a way other, esp. monotheistic doctrines simply cannot. It is a continuing exploration, but I am hovering over the conclusion that it is the idea of and insistence on “One God” and the idea of “One Path to the said God” that is at the root of the conflicts that follow. Atheism, in this argument, is a cop-out because it misses the root of the conflict. God(s) is not the culprit.

        Even the designation “Hindu” becomes relevant only when juxtaposed against other doctrines such as Islam and Christianity. I, or those in my family, feel not the slightest embarrassment in worshipping at a church or paying respects at a mosque and feel worshipful despite being chaste Hindus. It is in the monotheisms alone where God(s) has boundaries and club rules and exclusivity clauses. Even the concept of equality under one God is a flawed notion.

        Now that Sri Lanka has occurred so soon after Notre Dame, targeting in both places worship houses for Christians, I feel while a rebuilding of Notre Dame will restore questionable value, rebuilding the churches in Sri Lanka will definitely restore value, because the people practice actively the concerned rituals. The churches in Sri Lanka mean things much more intimate to the worshippers there than it does to France.

        It be noted that, in Indian cultures which form the subterranean foundation of the culture in much of the lands from India eastwards, it is divinity which is sought not club memberships. In the sense, though most of the victims were Christians, they were attending church on a holy occasion very much in a “Hindu” way. At the risk of sounding heretical, may it be said that Christ is worshipped almost as a Hindu god. So, figurines have value, the church has value etc. I know Christians in India – unless they are thoroughly sensitized of their “differences” from the rest of Indian culture – their practice of Christianity swings easily between whatever the Bible says and back to their ancestral practices in an easy, synchronous dance. The kind of monotheistic competition which is the basis for religious discord is inherently alien to India. The West has gotten over this competition through a progressive rejection of divinity, holding God(s) the culprit. The Indian/Eastern approach has been to allow for complete freedom in interpretation, hence the millions of deities. Every village, and India is at its root a village society, has its caretaker who is attributed some measure of divinity. Every house has. It’s as if every village had its Notre Dame and Jesus. It is an innocence which makes life bearable.

        The Muslim problem seems to arise fundamentally from the fact that the sensitization is so brutal and thorough that they willingly destroy the vestiges of their own cultures. It is funny had it not been so sad. And of course, there are Arab origin people among the Muslims in South Asia, for whom the land and culture is actually alien, but the careless labeling of nationalities in the aftermath of decolonization left many of them with confused identities.

        So you have Arab-origin folks calling themselves Indian, Sri Lankan, Indonesian what have you. To them, Islam the monotheism is the religion of their forefathers and they have the right to do as it commands – they feel righteous in doing so. The “imposition” of forced political correctness in the form of secularism has pushed the conversation to the fringes and forced people to not question these things in the open lest “feelings be hurt”. But, the need for “tolerance”, that is, I hate you but it’s fine I won’t kill you because the law says so, arises only from the tensions raised by monotheistic doctrine. There never arises a question in India, where doctrinal differences between a Shiva and a Vishnu leads to blood being spilt. What’s the point? There is rarely ever a strong case for “Hinduphobia” where the practice of Hindu principles cause unease among other religious groups resulting in exclusionary actions – no one is “afraid” of the outcomes of Hindu doctrine, if ever there was such a thing.

        Conflict is inevitable with monotheistic doctrine or any doctrine which is inspired by it, like Communism. God is not the culprit here. Rather, my god is great yours is not is the problem. In short, I worship Krishna the statue or compassion, why should it bother you in the slightest? Long rant, right?

        • Totally agree that monotheism like all supremacist ideologies is the cause of hate. It’s the negation of the Conservative value of ‘live and let live’. Ina funny way Conservatives ought to be pagans like the ancients! I’ve written an article about this, coincidentally, but don’t know whether it will appear in the Review.
          Good wishes Krishnan.

          • ‘….when ND was built, Christians thought the spirits of the dead walked among us. No one thinks that now outside of a care facility’

            Ha – that’s so pathetically funny. Christ’s teachings are springs of fresh water in the moral desert countless millions of lost sheep wander through today.

        • I guess I was referring to inter-religious relations. Even within a group, however, imposing a morality that is divinely certified as opposed to based on common humanity risks all sorts of misapplication brought about by malignant actors.

          There may be a problem with twinning morality with divinity, or virtue with religiosity. The problem is these are different things. And the setup is then made for the inevitable moral policing and counter-policing. The clergy do the policing, and then get taunted ceaselessly when they break the rules they push on others. The question is: why is Christ the arbiter or morality and upright behavior when, a father or an elder could do much the same? What “religion” does, in this context, is to gnaw away at the innate authority which the elders in a family or society would have in favor of the authority of a higher someone, God. The licensure being implied is you can disobey your elders but not disobey God. The “moral desert” Robert speaks of is more because of the breakup of the family unit across Europe than a decline in religiosity. The authority of religion on morality piggybacks quite substantially on the innate morals which family life cultivate. So, with the breakup of families, religion breaks as a fortifying force, being reduced to bare paeans and showy adherence. It’s the same case everywhere.

          • family structure tends to be a reflection of state constitutional structure and vice versa would you not say (up to a point). Thus the open democratic governments of UK/USA match the open looser family structures therein. The pernicious autocratic intolerant governments of Islamic countries match the authoritarian patriarchal families from which so many wives and daughters want to escape. Nothing is certain in this world and I’m for the widest possible openness to difference and change.

  4. Sorry to spoil your parallel but I think Stalin’s religious education was entirely Orthodox. The Jesuits had been expelled from the Russian Empire in 1820. The notion that he was taught by them derives from the tinfoil hat brigade. It is, however, true that his daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva eventually became a Catholic.

  5. Stalin was taught by Jesuits too – and we all know about his love for old churches and tradition. The most honest thing Macron could do would be to obliterate what remains of the cathedral and replace it with a stylish new shopping mall, or a multi-storied car park, or even a nice super-modern mosque with a giant minaret. I’m sure Richard Rogers and Norman Foster would be only too happy to oblige with their modern, relevant and historically illiterate designs – perhaps a big concrete box with lots of glass, just for a change?

    • Sorry to spoil your parallel but I think Stalin’s religious education was entirely Orthodox. The Jesuits had been expelled from the Russian Empire in 1820. The notion that he was taught by them derives from the tinfoil hat brigade. It is, however, true that his daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva eventually became a Catholic.

  6. France needs to confess its cowardice in 1940 and its complicity thereafter (but records remain closed to a date far in the future) before it can lead on anything other than bluster and selfishness.

  7. “France may well be poised to head the campaign for a European Renaissance based henceforth on Christian values” (?!)

    I very much doubt that. Expect the restored Notre Dame to become an all-inclusive temple to diversity and the PC values which constitute the only religion the all important political / media elite respect.

    The status of the 12 apostles, patriarchal white males all, will be reduced and Mary Magdalen may well be given prominence as a “feminist icon”.

    • I believe they’ve launched a competition to design the replacement minaret. An entry from Saudi Arabia complete with fat cheque stands a good chance.