Wednesday 28 December 2016

Pierre Manent Mercredi (7): reconciling human experience with religion

From Le Regard Politique, my translation. (The English version of the work is Seeing Things Politically.)

Those works which successfully combine a faithfulness to human experience with a religious perspective are rare. Or, to be exact, in my opinion. there is only one work, only one text in which the two perspectives are strangely, paradoxically reconciled. Unsurprisingly it's the Bible, especially the Old Testament in which you get, at the same time, directly and immediately, human experience in its ignorance of God, and yet also, mysteriously, a presence of God which does not suppress or cover up the authenticity of that experience. The text of the Psalms especially is shocking because, in a chaotic and popular language, it maintains a balance that only the greatest spiritual masters of religion can maintain so perfectly: it is a text where human beings at the same time complain, scream, protest, want to kill their enemies, are afraid of death, are sick, and yet, also, mysteriously, there is an experience of of something which is radically different from any human experience but which does not prevent this human experience from being lived and described in all its truth, in all its nudity.


My commentary:

Manent emphasises here a characteristic position: a refusal of an easy reconciliation between different perspectives. (He talks elsewhere of living within a tension between religious, political and philosophical perspectives.) There is an echo here of twentieth century theological debates on natura pura: roughly, whether there is a sharp division between a (philosophical) perspective on nature uninformed by revelation and a theological perspective informed by revelation. (My sympathies are with the defenders of a concept of natura pura for what it's worth.)

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