Suspension of the Ethical

Light of truth

‘Eclipse of the light of heaven, eclipse of God,’ this, as Martin Buber sees it, ‘is the character of the historical hour through which the world is passing.’ It is the human side of ‘the silence of God,’ of ‘God’s hiding His face.’ We are apparently living in very religious times with so many retreat centres, but God’s call is away from us. First of all we are no longer upright. Moral uprightness has left us. The honesty of the other is always in question, but the inner agreement of his existence with oneself is never examined. Secondly, there is mistrust, which not only destroys trustworthy conversation between opponents but also the immediacy of togetherness of man and man generally. The result of this progressive decline of dialogue and growth of universal mistrust is that man’s need for confirmation no longer finds any natural satisfaction. Man seeks confirmation either through himself or through membership in a collective, but both of these confirmations are illusory but is a reality among us. Confirmation is by its very nature a reciprocal process: the man who does not confirm his fellow-man will not only receive no confirmation from others but will find it increasingly difficult to confirm himself. Confirmation through the collective, on the other hand, is pure fiction. Though the collective employs each of its members in terms of his or her particular ability and character, it cannot recognize anyone in his own being and therefore independently of his usefulness for the collective. ‘He who refuses to submit himself to the effective reality of the transcendence,’ writes Buber, ‘…contributes to the human responsibility for the eclipse.’

These two types of illusory confirmation correspond to the false dichotomy which dominates our age, between individualism and collectivism. Despite their apparent opposition, the individualist and the collectivist are actually alike in that neither knows true personal wholeness or true responsibility. The individualist acts out of arbitrary self-will and in consequence is completely defined and conditioned by circumstances. The collectivist acts in terms of the collectivity and in so doing loses his ability to perceive and to respond from the depths of his being. Neither can attain any genuine relation with others, for one cannot be a genuine person in individualism or collectivism. Collectivism, which is a form of communalism is the greater danger to the modern world. Whether in the form of totalitarianism or of self-effacing loyalty to political parties, it represents the desire of this age to fly ‘from the demanding ever anew of personal responsibility into the protective “once for all” of membership in a group. The last generation’s intoxication with freedom has been followed by the present generation’s craze for bondage; the untruth of intoxication has been followed by the untruth of hysteria.’ This hysteria is clearly perceived in the Church in relation to the divisiveness seen in the instance of a scandal. See the social media and the communal hatred propagated apparently to save the Church. “Today host upon host of men have everywhere sunk into the slavery of collectives, and each collective is the supreme authority for its own slaves; there is no longer, superior to the collectives, any universal sovereignty in idea, faith or spirit.”

Collectivism is typical of our age in giving the appearance but not the reality of relation, for in our age the great hopes and dreams of mankind have been fulfilled one after another — ‘as the caricature of themselves.’ Collectivism imperils and destroys the dialogue between man and God and the living communion between man and man. Buber wrote: “Man in a collective is not man with man…. The ‘whole,’ with its claim on the wholeness of every man, aims logically and successfully at reducing, neutralizing, devaluating, and desecrating every bond with living beings. That tender surface of personal life which longs for contact with other life is progressively deadened or desensitized. Man’s isolation is not overcome here, but overpowered and numbed…. The actual condition of solitude has its insuperable effect in the depths, and rises secretly to a cruelty which will become manifest with the scattering of the illusion. Modern collectivism is the last barrier raised by man against a meeting with himself.” That we can no longer carry on a genuine conversation from one camp to the other is the severest symptom of the sickness of present-day. But the destruction of trust in human existence is the inner poisoning of the total human organism from which this sickness stems. He who refuses to submit himself to the effective reality of the transcendence contributes to the human responsibility for the eclipse. Through the suspension of the ethical honest men lie and compassionate men torture. Our prayers and halleluiahs seem to silence God and insulate us from His ethical demands – God’s hiding His face.

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