Chapter

when East meets west

A proper starting point would have been to ask the Schellingian question: what does the becoming-man of God in the figure of Christ, His descent from eternity to the temporal realm of our reality, mean for God Himself? What if that which appears to us, finite mortals, as God's descent toward us, is, from the standpoint of God Himself, an ascent? What if, as Schelling implied, eternity is less than temporality? What if eternity is a sterile, impotent, lifeless domain of pure potentialities, which, in order fully to actualize itself, has to pass through temporal existence? What if God's descent to man, far from being an act of grace toward humanity, is the only way for God to gain full actuality, and to liberate Himself from the suffocating constraints of Eternity? What if God actualizes Himself only through human recognition?1

We have to get rid of the old Platonic topos of love as Eros that gradually elevates itself from love for a particular individual, through love for the beauty of a human body in general and the love of the beautiful form as such, to love for the supreme Good beyond all forms: true love is precisely the opposite move of forsaking the promise of Eternity itself for an imperfect individual. (This lure of eternity can take many forms, from postmortal Fame to fulfilling one's social role.) What if the gesture of choosing temporal existence, of giving up eternal existence for the sake of love—from Christ to Siegmund in Act II of Wagner's DieWalkure, who prefers to remain a common mortal if his beloved Sieglinde cannot follow him to Valhalla, the eternal dwelling-place of dead heroes—is the highest ethical act of them all? The shattered Brunnhilde comments on this refusal: "So little do you value everlasting bliss? Is she everything to you, this poor woman who, tired and sorrowful, lies limp in your lap? Do you think nothing less glorious?" Ernst Bloch was right to observe that what is lacking in German history are more gestures like Siegmund's.

We usually claim that time is the ultimate prison ("no one can jump outside of his/her time"), and that the whole of philosophy and religion circulates around one aim: to break out of this prison-house of time into eternity. What, however, if, as Schelling implies,

£ eternity is the ultimate prison, a suffocating closure, and it is only the ^ fall into time that introduces Opening into human experience? Is 0 Time not the name for the ontological opening? The Event of "incarnation" is thus not so much the time when ordinary temporal reality touches Eternity, but, rather, the time when Eternity reaches into time. This same point has been made very clearly by intelligent conservatives like G. K.Chesterton (like Hitchcock,an English Catholic), who wrote, apropos of the fashionable claim about the "alleged spiritual identity of Buddhism and Christianity":

Love desires personality; therefore love desires division. It is the instinct of Christianity to be glad that God has broken the universe into little pieces. . . .This is the intellectual abyss between Buddhism and Christianity; what for the Buddhist or Theosophist personality is the fall of man, for the Christian is the purpose of God, the whole point of his cosmic idea. The world-soul of the Theosophists asks man to love it only in order that man may throw himself into it. But the divine centre of Christianity actually threw man out of it in order that he might love it. . . . All modern philosophies are chains which connect and fetter; Christianity is a sword which separates and sets free. No other philosophy makes God actually rejoice in the separation of the universe into living souls.2

And Chesterton is fully aware that it is not enough for God to separate man from Himself so that mankind will love Him—this separation has to be reflected back into God Himself, so that God is abandoned by himself:

When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.3

Because of this overlapping between man's isolation from God and God's isolation from himself, Christianity is terribly revolutionary. That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already; but that God could have His back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents for ever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king.4

Chesterton is fully aware that we are thereby approaching "a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss . . . a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in that terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt."5 In the standard form of atheism, God dies for men who stop believing in Him; in Christianity, God dies for Himself. In his "Father, why hast thou forsaken me?," Christ himself commits what is, for a Christian, the ultimate sin: he wavers in his Faith.

This "matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss" concerns what cannot but appear as the hidden perverse core of Christianity: if it is prohibited to eat from the Tree of Knowledge in Paradise, why did God put it there in the first place? Is it not that this was a part of His perverse strategy first to seduce Adam and Eve into the Fall, in order then to save them? That is to say: should one not apply Paul's insight into how the prohibitive law creates sin to this very first prohibition also? A similar obscure ambiguity surrounds the role of Judas in Christ's death: since his betrayal was necessary to his mission (to redeem humanity through his death on the Cross), did Christ not need it? Are his ominous words during the Last Supper not a secret injunction to Judas to betray him? "Judas, who betrayed him, said, 'Surely not I, Rabbi?' He replied, 'You have said so'" (Matthew 26:25).The rhetorical figure of Christ's reply is, of course, that of disavowed injunction: Judas is interpellated as the one who will hand Christ over to the authorities—not directly ("You are the

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