Human & Divine


Following up on a very fruitful debate that was sparked by the first issue of the magazine, I think I should clarify some points that were generally, and in a programmatic style, made. This obsessive fixation with the idea of commitment that I, personally, and this magazine, in general, attempts to promote has inevitably prompted a number of people to ask the intuitive question: “Commitment. Yes, but commitment to what?” It seems as if commitment as such is an empty statement that can only be qualified if the object of commitment has been succinctly stated and that only then it is possible to start a coherent debate on anything.

First, I would like to re-state that ‘commitment as such’ is already an ontological thesis in itself that does not, by any philosophical standard, need any further qualification. Or, to put it more crudely, the position ‘commitment as such’ is not in need of any object of commitment in order to be a concrete thesis – in a similar way that when we claim to be believers (or not), to be telling the truth (or not), to enjoy art (or not), to have faith in the supernatural (or not), there is no obligation to qualify what we believe, what art we enjoy, or what is the supernatural entity we believe in, in order for our statement to make sense. In fact, the object of our commitment is of secondary importance, as it is the product of contingencies. Contingent is also the historical product of ideologies.

The real fight nowadays has to be fought on the level before ideologies. Before we ask from people to believe in something, we have to propose to them to believe in the first place. This is why we are so keen to return to the same theme of commitment. The point here is to inspire the ontological state of commitment before we start filling this commitment with ideas. Neoliberalism has not disproven any particular ideology – it has opposed ideology as such and so the fight against liberalism is not a fight against any particular ideology (socialism, capitalism, Christianity) but a fight against ideological abstinence.

‘Commitment as such’ is, thus, the elementary and fundamental step in the battle against neo-liberal vulgarism. The lack of ideological content in the injunction to make assertions, to have a point, to recognise the determinant co-ordinates of our being is one that would release us, to paraphrase Kant, from the self-incurred sceptical tutelage of post-modernism. As such, this thesis’s place is, precisely in the Editorial, setting the ethical grounding of what follows.

Having now compiled, edited and arranged all the material for the second issue of Bedeutung, the question still haunts me: have we taken a stance, have we committed to a position, have we made clear what we believe? On the surface of it, it seems as if we are accommodating an intellectual liberalism that we, ourselves, repudiated most vehemently at previous occasions: not the idea that everyone should have and be provided with the space to express freely what they desire but that expression as such is automatically granted, without any previous qualification. Parenthetically, to refer to a comment made about our programmatic statement, which promised a ‘rounded perspective’, the latter we define not as a roundup of all available and semi-legitimate positions on any particular topic. In this sense, our position is clear: we will not give voice to any and all opinions on a given issue as we are not news broadcasters; we take sides and we promote them. Rather, what was meant by ‘rounded perspective’ is a discourse that begins from abstract, philosophical principles and gradually moves to debates about everyday political concerns. Our aim is, thus, to engage people in concrete ideological struggles but only after we have presented them with the conceptual tools necessary to fight those struggles. To use a familiar example, being critical of environmentalism is a nonsensical, if not an outright ridiculous stance, if it is not invested with at least a minimal bulk of theoretical and philosophical convictions. Even the most crass of political expressions must somehow be justifiable outside the narrow realms of political opportunism and activism. Principles draw their significance precisely because of their rigidity and resistance to particular circumstances.

In this issue, then, our so-called rounded perspective consists of a back-and-forth between semi-radical proponents of two extremes: believers and non-believers. The immediately accessible and, certainly, the popular literature on this debate is disheartening, to say the least. It is a literature fuelled by primitive bedazzlement with rationalism on the one hand –the atheistic trend– and modernised, ideologically distilled and quasi-scientific, but always faith-based, discourse on the other. Both these stances are not only impotent but, also, idiotic. The atheistic literature, leaning against a pillar of knowledge that has managed to send rockets to the moon, either tries to prove how primitive belief in God and angels is by attempting to prove their non-existence, a conclusion at which it arrives using inductive reasoning –in other words the most inappropriate of tools– or it focuses on the negative effects that faith has had throughout the course of history. On the other side of this ring stand the modern believers who try to combine a clearly antiquated system of making sense of the world with undeniable scientific evidence that are, nonetheless, vertically contradictory to their belief. This program produces grotesque examples of hybrid thinking, such as Creationism and Intelligent Design. Incidentally, here we are witnessing one of the neatest examples of intellectual prostitution ever performed: Christianity, instead of continuing, even against scientific evidence, to propagate its traditional teachings –a thoroughly stubborn but, at least, intellectually honest position– tries to appropriate elements from its own enemy in a remarkable attempt to be in tune with modernity producing, as a result, a travesty that is, probably, even more condemnable than an profoundly unscientific stubborn fixation. This offers itself as an eloquent example of our definition of commitment – specifically, of lack of it.

Between the two strands, it is hard to decide which one is worst and it is, in fact, even harder to decide by which criteria one would begin this assessment. One thing, however, that stands out is that both positions are often expressed with the vehemence, hysteria and fanaticism typically found in shaky and uncertain of itself thought. No position that feels confident about itself would need to be expressed in the revelatory and preaching fashion found in both militant atheism and religious indoctrination. As a comment to the confidence remark, it is always amusing to have a personal or literary encounter with those most calm, self-assured and hushed of voices of what could leniently be described as new-age scavengers, namely people that are, on the one hand disillusioned by organised religions and, on the other, unable to deal with the cruelty of capitalism, the banality of consumerism and the contingency and, at the final analysis, baseness of human existence that they have to resort to a rack sacking of cultures and faiths, Eastern, Western and beyond, to make for an imaginary universe, which they try to attune themselves to by burning incenses. These ersatz philosophies or world views that can be swiftly described by the term ‘spiritual tourism’ are, indeed, interesting mutations or, rather, cross-fertilisations of a number of elements: post-modern ethics, capitalistic behaviours and quasi-metaphysical concerns; their external serenity only serves to conceal a deeply violent, antisocial and self-serving mentality.

Bedeutung’s issue on the Human & Divine endeavours to put the two opposed positions, namely faith and reason, religion and secularism in a debate with each other, not in order to announce a winner at the end but to declare what should have been evident from the beginning: that this opposition is irresolvable for the simple reason that the two sides are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. What we hope will emerge at the end of this debate is that there is nothing incommensurable in this apparent opposition simply because, like many others, it isn’t one.

  • About

    Alexandros Stavrakas was born in Athens, Greece. He studied politics, philosophy and economy, followed by graduate studies in philosophy at the LSE and anthropology at UCL. He has written articles, translated, lectured and worked as contributing editor. He is the Editor of Bedeutung Magazine.