and political order. But this solution is problematic in Hegel's own terms: the problem is that, in the modern times of Reason, religion can no longer fulfill this function of the organic binding force of social substance—today, religion has irretrievably lost this power not only for scientists and philosophers, but also for the wider circle of "ordinary" people. In his Lectures on Aesthetics, Hegel claims that in the modern age, as much as we admire art, we no longer bend the knee before it—and the same holds for religion.
Today, we live (in) the tension designated by Hegel even more than people did in Hegel's own times. When Hegel wrote: "It is a modern folly to alter a corrupt ethical system, its constitution and legislation, without changing the religion, to have a revolution without a reformation,"5 he announced the necessity of what Mao called the "Cultural Revolution" as the condition of a successful social revolution. Is this not what we have today: (the technological) revolution without a fundamental "revolution of mores [Revolution der Sitten]"? The basic tension is not so much the tension of reason versus feeling, but, rather, the tension of knowledge versus the disavowed belief embodied in external ritual—the situation often described in the terms of cynical reason whose formula, the reverse of Marx's, was proposed decades ago by Peter Sloterdijk: "I know what I am doing;nonetheless,I am doing it. . . ."This formula,how-ever, is not as unambiguous as it may appear—it should be supplemented with: "... because I don't know what I believe."
In our politically correct times, it is always advisable to start with the set of unwritten prohibitions that define the positions one is allowed to adopt.The first thing to note with regard to religious matters is that reference to "deep spirituality" is in again: direct materialism is out; one is, rather, enjoined to harbor openness toward a radical Otherness beyond the ontotheological God. Consequently, when, today, one directly asks an intellectual: "OK, let's cut the crap and get down to basics: do you believe in some form of the divine or not?," the first answer is an embarrassed withdrawal, as if the question is too intimate, too probing; this withdrawal is then usually explained in more "theoretical" terms: "That is the wrong question
0 to ask! It is not simply a matter of believing or not, but, rather, a ■J- matter of certain radical experience, of the ability to open oneself to a certain unheard-of dimension, of the way our openness to rad-u ical Otherness allows us to adopt a specific ethical stance, to expe-■J rience a shattering form of enjoyment. . . ." What we are getting 0 today is a kind of "suspended" belief, a belief that can thrive only as not fully (publicly) admitted, as a private obscene secret. Against £ this attitude, one should insist even more emphatically that the ■J "vulgar" question "Do you really believe or not?" matters—more u than ever, perhaps. My claim here is not merely that I am a ma* terialist through and through, and that the subversive kernel of Christianity is accessible also to a materialist approach; my thesis is much stronger: this kernel is accessible only to a materialist approach—and vice versa: to become a true dialectical materialist, one should go through the Christian experience.6
Was there, however, at any time in the past, an era when people directly "really believed"? As Robert Pfaller demonstrated in Illusionen der Anderen,7 the direct belief in a truth that is subjectively fully assumed ("Here I stand!") is a modern phenomenon, in contrast to traditional beliefs-through-distance, like politeness or rituals. Premodern societies did not believe directly, but through distance, and this explains, for instance, why Enlightenment critics misread "primitive" myths—they first took the notion that a tribe originated from a fish or a bird as a literal direct belief, then rejected it as stupid, "fetishist," naive.They thereby imposed their own notion of belief on the "primitivized" Other. (Is this not also the paradox of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence? Newton's wife was not a naive ("innocent") believer in her husband's fidelity—she was well aware of his passionate love for Countess Olenska, she just politely ignored it, and acted as if she believed in his fidelity. . . .) Pfaller is right to emphasize how, today, we believe more than ever: the most skeptical attitude, that of deconstruction, relies on the figure of an Other who "really believes"; the postmodern need for the permanent use of the devices of ironic distantiation (quotation marks, etc.) betrays the underlying fear that, without these devices, belief would be direct and immediate—as if, if I were to say "I love you" instead of the ironic "As the poets would have put it, I love you," this would entail a directly assumed belief that I love you—that is, as if a distance is not already operative in the direct statement "I love you'' . . .
And perhaps that is where we find the stake of today's reference to "culture," of "culture" emerging as the central life-world category. When it comes to religion, for example, we no longer "really believe" today, we just follow (some) religious rituals and mores as part of respect for the "lifestyle" of the community to which we belong (nonbelieving Jews obeying kosher rules "out of respect for tradition," etc.). "I don't really believe in it, it's just part of my culture" effectively seems to be the predominant mode of the disavowed/ displaced belief characteristic of our times. What is a cultural lifestyle, if not the fact that, although we don't believe in Santa Claus, there is a Christmas tree in every house, and even in public places, every December? Perhaps, then, the "nonfundamentalist" notion of "culture" as distinguished from "real" religion, art, and so on, is in its very core the name for the field of disowned/impersonal beliefs— "culture" is the name for all those things we practice without really believing in them, without "taking them seriously." Is this not also why science is not part of this notion of culture—it is all too real? And is this also not why we dismiss fundamentalist believers as "barbarians," as anticultural, as a threat to culture—they dare to take their beliefs seriously? Today, we ultimately perceive as a threat to culture those who live their culture immediately, those who lack a distance toward it. Recall the outrage when, two years ago, the Taliban forces in Afghanistan destroyed the ancient Buddhist statues at Bamiyan: although none of us enlightened Westerners believe in the divinity of the Buddha, we were outraged because the Taliban Muslims did not show the appropriate respect for the "cultural heritage" of their own country and the entire world. Instead of believing through the other, like all people of culture, they really believed in their own religion, and thus had no great sensitivity toward the cultural value of the
0 monuments of other religions—to them, the Buddha statues were q just fake idols, not "cultural treasures."
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