Thank you Jerusalem !
Thank you Viviane Chetrit-Vatine, and Gaby Shefler ,
A warm thank you as well to our generous donors beginning with Josabeth Fribourg who was the first to give us her vote of confidence, along with Dr Arnold Richardson, William Frost, William Ackman, Bruce Slovin, and Martin Peretz.
I would also like to thank the Psychoanalytical Society of Israel and all those who have made the creation of this Standing Forum on Religions in Jerusalem possible.
And thank all of you for being here with us today.
Hardly two years ago, when I came to Israel for the publication of my book Tales of Love (1985) in Hebrew (thanks to Michal Ben Naftali’s translation which I’ve been told is excellent), I confided to you a dream I’ve had to create a on-going forum of reflection on religion, here in Jerusalem, drawing inspiration from the history of this unique city and from the still insufficiently reflected upon heritage of Freud. What I envisioned was a forum with its basis in psychoanalysis, therefore, but which would branch out into other human and life sciences, and perhaps even include the participation of theologians from different religious traditions to attempt to analyze – without prejudices and fratricidal rivalry – these enigmatic and currently reactivated constructions that are systems of belief, the clashes of which seem to threaten today’s globalized planet. At the time, as I shared my ideas for the project with you, I didn’t think it would develop beyond the utopian stage, and certainly didn’t expect it to take shape so quickly. Clearly I underestimated the enterprising spirit of psychoanalysts and the energy of our accomplices! Here we are today, about to set down the first stone of the edifice, hoping that this same passion and efficiency will see us through the immense work we have ahead of us. For this task reaches beyond the destiny of each of us: by addressing the memory of religions, psychoanalysis takes full responsibility for its epochal vocation and justifies its experience, not beyond the cure that absorbs us daily in the experience of transference, but to better hear the logic of this transference in the memory of history and on the horizon of the future.
Thank you especially for entrusting me with this inaugural conference which the organizational committee has sought to open up not only to specialists in the field, but to a larger audience historically - and geographically - concerned by this major problematic. You will understand then, I am sure, that alongside the honor you’ve paid me comes an immeasurable worry I would like to share with you straight off. The worry arises from my certainty of being able to convince you that – in spite of the seriousness of our session – what I have to say should be heard neither more nor less than a “big question mark,” casting a shadow of “heavy seriousness,” as Nietzsche once wrote. The challenge I’ve set for myself at this time is to raise questions, and to question the very answers I sketch out. It is a “cruel, long and exacting” challenge to quote Sartre on the subject of atheism.
Brief Historical Overview
My thoughts are currently directed to Sigmund Freud, to his genius which, from Totem et Tabou(1912) and Moses and Monotheism (1930) – to only cite these two – opened up a new way of thinking religious experience. By thinking about it, I mean: by living it out. It seems to me that one of the duties of this Forum which opens today will be to devote one of its future sessions on rereading Moses for example, and, from here, exploring the paternal function and its modulations today. Freud explored this fundamental axis of monotheism while attentively studying neurosis and psychosis, relying heavily on its tragic dramatization by Sophocles, and the anthropology of the late 19th and early 20th century. He followed this line of thought to the discovery of how the Oedipus complex and the consequences of the incest taboo function to bring about the emergence of the capacity for psychic representation, access to language and the development of thought as well as their fantastical investment in diverse religious constructions.
An essential step in the post-Freudian approach of religion was taken by the structuralist inspired work of Claude Lévi-Strauss and Jacques Lacan. Observing the universality of the incest taboo, Lacan devised his conception of the “symbolic” as the realm of the Law, which regulates desire in the Oedipal complex. This complex is understood as deriving from a primary or symbolic interdiction against incest, unrelated to any biological factors necessitating such a taboo. « Transcending » in a sense the human lineage, might the “symbolic,” which coincides with the incest taboo, be the substratum or at least the condition, a condition, of the “divine”? Moreover, the « symbolic » has come to be defined as encoded by linguistic structures themselves (God is language and the unconscious?), and as framing the relationships of kinship, if and only if “the symbolic position” of the Father is maintained as an anthropological, paradigmatic and unconscious constant whatever the historical variants of paternal roles throughout history may be. Would the « symbolic » be a « theological drive » which seeps into psychoanalysis, the “symbolic position” being understood as an idealization of the norm or the Law as an insurmountable authority, even as a transcendental function of the speaking being, - because of the very fact that he speaks and regulates his kinship? Would saying the symbolic “is not in man but elsewhere” be a way of showing God the door out (which Freud does by chasing “the future of an illusion”(1927) and inviting him back in through another as Lévi-Strauss feared? Lacan responded that there « is no Other of the Other» : we can interpret this as meaning that no exterior mandate can guarantee the foundations of the symbolic order, this chain of linguistic, parental, interpretive, and cultural signs in which the speaking being is caught: “we are so far inside that we can not get out of it.”
A third post-structuralist and feminist inspired movement examines the role of the “second sex” in the attempt to deconstruct the monotheist, paternal onto-theology. It behooves our Forum to highlight and discuss what this movement has established by examining the work of our divinity school and gender study colleagues, notably from American universities. And because the maternal vocation is a key figure of the sacred, on the border of biology and meaning, and because secularization is the only civilization which lacks a discourse on motherhood, it is up to us here to further current research on the early mother-child bond, the understanding of which is key to ensuring the survival of our species.
To further simplify this perfunctory overview of several essential points of the interface between psychoanalysis and religion, I shall add that listening to the Freudian unconscious allows us to think about transcendence (and I don’t forget Husserl’s transcendental ego with its phenomenological consequences) as immanent to the speaking-being. It is like an irreducible alterity that inhabits us and which modulates in the power struggles of the bonds of desire in the Oedipal triangle, between the speaking being and his maternal and paternal imagos. There exists an irreducible alterity that is universal and dual (father/mother, man/woman) but no less plural because it conjugates in the singular for each of us: an ardent pole of singular desires, this alterity makes me speak, think, love, hate. Religions celebrate it as a limit or figure of the sacred: the Other, which manifests itself in the plurality of polytheist gods while monotheism insists on the unicity and singularity of this universal and irreducible alterity coextensive to the unicity of the speaking being. Do you call this God? Let’s talk about it.
What exactly is the Copernican discovery of psychoanalysis? Psychoanalysis discovered that “there is other”; the other that makes me speak – that I invest in and from whom I separate – by love – and – hate; traces of these immemorial experiences that are inscribed in me and that I do not control, traces of “love-hate,” a strangeness in me which alters and transcends me, and which we will call the unconscious. It invites me to consider each person in her irreducible alterity: “every I is an Other.”
This immanentist conception of transcendence which inscribes the Other in Me has already been seen in Christian theology and in Christian inspired philosophy. But more radically than other branches of monotheism, Judaism was constituted as the witness of the speaking being’s founding alterity. A neurologist friend recently reminded me of a story my grandmother used to like recounting, that of a gentile who asks a rabbi to teach him the Talmud. The rabbi begins with the story of two Jews who, walking on a rooftop, fall down the chimney. One comes out all black, the other all white. The rabbi asks which man will go wash himself. The dirty man, answers the gentile. Wrong, objects the rabbi, explaining that each man judges himself by looking at the other’s face. The clean man, seeing the other man’s dirty face, believes he is also soiled and goes to wash up. Confused, the gentile recognizes his mistake and asks for another test. The rabbi tells the same story. The gentile, believing he’s understood, responds that it is the clean man who goes to clean up. Wrong again, replies the rabbi, for learning from the former episode, the man with the dirty face sees that the clean man goes to wash his face and deduces that it is his face that is dirty, and therefore goes to wash up.
With a rare obstinacy, the Jewish people testifies – in regard to world history – the Other exists ; by devoting itself to a Yahweh who sets it apart from others, and simply by existing politically as the “chosen people,” it is therefore Other, (and non-proselytizing). There can and will be violent drifts resulting from this assertion of difference. The weave of religious history is threaded with these and the threats that weigh on this region today make it felt. Vigilance is imperative. And yet, that the assertion of the existence of the Other can take the shape of a state – the State of Israel – seems to me a necessity that is more than metaphysical today. It becomes an anthropological necessity if it incites all others to try to think from the point of view of the other.
Having given this sweeping overview of the psychoanalysis/religion interface and in regard to the immense continent we are opening up, I suggest we investigate four themes which we will surely elaborate on in our forthcoming forums:
1. The need to believe and the need to know.
2. The Bible : taboo versus sacrifice or how to construct the subject in man.
3. The beaten son/father of Christianity: from love to death to sublimation.
4. Islam or how to understand the problem of murder.
5. Secularization and cultural diversity: ruptures and questioning.
1) The Need to Believe and the Desire to Know
Let us take psalm 116 :10.: « He' emanti ki adaber... » ; «My trust does not fail even when I say, ‘I am completely wretched. In my terror I said, ‘No human being can be relied on.’ » Saint Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians 4 :13, said echoing Psalm 116 « Epistevsa dio elalisa » (Greek translation), « Credidi, propter locutus sum » (in Latin), «I believed and therefore I spoke » ; in English.
The context of the psalm is more explicit: it associates faith (“emuna” in which we hear the root “amen,” faith or belief) which commands the enunciation with specific, indifferent and, therefore, deceptive utterances. Faith holds the key to the act of speech itself be it that of complaint (I’m unhappy, people lie to me etc.). Because I believe, I speak; I wouldn’t speak if I didn’t believe; to believe what I say and to persist in saying it grows out of the capacity to believe in the Other and not from the inevitably disappointing existential experience. But what is this “belief?”
The Latin credo comes from the Sanskrit «kredh-dh/srad-dhā» which denotes an act of “confidence” in a god, involving restitution in the form of a divine favor accorded to the faithful; it is from this root that the financial term “credit” was derived; I set down a good and await my pay. The psychoanalytical experience of the child and the adult attests to this crucial moment of development where the infans projects himself onto an outsider with whom he identifies: the loving father. Primary identification with the father of individual prehistory, dawn of the symbolic outsider who replaces the fascination and the horror of the dual interdependence of the mother-and-child, this confident recognition offered by the father-who-loves-the-mother and is loved by her and that I, in turn, devote to him, changes my stammering into linguistic signs whose value he determines.
Signs of objects, but mostly signs of my jubilations and my fears, of my early years of life, speaking, they transform my angst into “waiting belief”: Gläubige Erwartung, wrote Freud. Loving paternal listening gives meaning to what would otherwise be an inexpressible trauma, a nameless excess of pleasure and pain. But it is not I who construct this primary identification, nor is it the loving father who imposes it on me. It is “direct and immediate,” like lightening or an hallucination. It is through the father-loving mother’s sensitivity and discourse – a mother to whom I still belong and remain inseparable – that this “unification” of me-in-another-who-is-an-outsider imprints itself in me and structures me. I cannot speak without this shoring up that is my “waiting belief,” addressed to the loving father of individual prehistory: my mother’s other who loves her no less than the mother/woman in me and who possesses the “attributes of both parents”; this father who was already there, who was supposed to be there, before Laius was, before the henceforth famous “Oedipal” father came to formulate his interdictions and laws.
We readily say, too readily, that we all speak a “mother tongue.” Winnicott set out to discern the conditions, which allowed the mutual excitation between mother and baby to transform into language: a “transitional space” is necessary he concluded. For example, the mother’s reverie, or an external object between her and the baby, but which exactly? We had forgotten that Freud himself, a Jewish atheist, a man of the Enlightenment had sketched out, without dwelling on it, this “believing” destiny of the father of primary identification
The imaginary father, by recognizing me and loving me through the mother lets me know that I am not her but other, and makes me believe that I can “believe.” Freud uses the verb “to invest.” To believe and/or to invest, not in him as the “object” of need or desire (this will come later: for the moment my “object” of need and desire is mother), but in his representation of me and in his words – in the representation that I make of him and in my words. “I believed and therefore I spoke.”
On this foundation alone, my need to believe, thus satisfied and offering me optimal conditions for language acquisition, can be accompanied by another capacity that is both corrosive and liberating: the desire to know. Carried by this faith that lets me hear a loving/loved outsider, I burst into questions. You see that I haven’t forgotten our “big question mark.”
Who hasn’t witnessed the pleasurable trance of a child asking questions? Still straddling the border between the flesh of the world and the kingdom of language, the child knows with an hallucinatory knowledge that all identity – object, person, himself, the adult’s response – is a constructible-deconstructible chimera. And he continuously brings us back to this flimsiness of names and beings, of being which no longer frightens him but makes him laugh because he believes that it is possible to name and to have things named. Before this young, vibrant Me gets trapped in the certainties of the super ego, this “pure culture of the death drive.” And before «I believed and therefore I spoke” is transformed into clichés, into depression.
Lacan thought that the motto for psychoanalysis should be « Scilicet » : « you can know ». Indeed, you can know where children come from, where what you say comes from etc. He forgot to mention that “you can know” if and only if you believe you know, to be able to understand why you believe, what you mean to say believing, what you believe… From knowing to believing and vice-versa, the eternal turnstile of speakbeing (parlêtre). To carry the possibility of knowing to point of the need to believe, without renouncing the necessity to question historical contexts, beliefs and their truths.
The ego, writes Freud in The Ego and the Id, made up of verbal traces and perceptions (« perceptions are to the Ego what drives are to the Id »), this co-presence of perception and verbalization establishes itself henceforth as a “region”, a “district” at the border between the Id and the consciential Superego and, by this very fact, as the object par excellence of the cure. Psychoanalysis’ experience of this frontier, neither purely interior nor simply exterior, is meant to transform inexpressible mnesic traces of the “thing alone”, of more or less traumatic excitation, into perception/verbalization on the condition that transference – ultimately Oedipal – occurs. This means that the analytical interpretation – this “theory” that only “applies” as a singular poetics attentive to the immeasurable singularity of each one of us – will always be a formulation viewed through the Oedipal lens (as we call the accidents of the paternal function) not to be confused with a formulation reduced to the Oedipal complex.
Freud, who was the least religious man of his century did not hesitate to postulate, by commenting on the destiny of paternity which has control over the establishment of significance and its accidents, « a high design for humans » :« Das höhere Wesen in Menschen ». Far from betraying some idealistic regression, this theorization indicates logics of an immanentization of transcendence, which the founder of psychoanalysis discovered by and in the process of transference within the “speaking cure” he invented.
The analysis makes new ties possible. I will say that the tie the cure enables the analysand to establish is none other than the tie of the investment of the symbolization process itself. For the « object », whichever it may be (sexual partner or friend, professional role, symbolic idea etc), and however optimal it may seem, cannot exist in the long run unless the speaking-analysand subject is capable of infinitely constructing-deconstructing its meaning: from the need to believe to the desire to know and vice versa.
Thus only in relation to ethics and its ancestor, religion, but also in proximity to new “sciences of the mind” does the speaking cure of psychoanalysis open another path in the relationship to the process of signification that constitutes human beings. And I insist firmly on this fact: it is this displacement of speaking in relation to itself, this infinitesimal revolution, constitutive of our practice, that disturbs the world. My fear is that psychoanalysts are not clever enough in the art of selling this exceptional singularity which consists in “speaking in psychoanalysis”: I think that I can know. And yet this experience seems to me to be the only one that can save us - not from a culture that psychoanalysis has revealed to be dominated by the death instinct - but by diverting this drive – deferring it, diverting it, rerouting it, knowing its causes. The experience is infinite and questions the very conditions of speaking, including the need to believe.
The Bible : Interdiction Versus Sacrifice, or How to Construct the Subject in Man.
If it is true that biblical election constructed the subject in man, a psychoanalytical reading of the Bible will find therein a veritable “strategy of identity.” The distinction pure/impure, tôhar/tâmê, appears in the biblical episode of the holocaust that Noah offers to Yahweh after the deluge: “Noah built an altar to Yahweh and, choosing from all the clean animals and all the clean birds, burnt offerings on the altar.” This recognition of the difference between pure and impure seems to oblige Yahweh to defer his judgment. The opposition, though it is not absolute, inscribes itself in the fundamental concern of the biblical text to separate, to constitute strict identities without any mixing. The theological corpus is based on this gap between man and God. Yet this fundamental difference, in fact, subsumes others: life and death, vegetal and animal, flesh and blood, healthy and sick, alterity and incest. Topo-logically, these variants correspond to the admission to or the ban from the holy place of the Temple. Summed up, this is logically a matter of conforming to a law, the Law of purity or the Law of holiness.
Biblical impurity is straight off linked to the religious cult because the impure is excluded from the Temple, it concerns things (food, menstrual blood, leprosy, gonorrhea etc.) not immediately related to the sacred place. It is therefore secondary, by metaphor, that impurity concerns the temple, just as, consequently, that which is excluded from it, in particular idolatry. In fact it is only during the Second Temple, upon return from exile, after Ezekiel, and in Isaiah particularly (56-66), that the distinction pure/impure became fundamental to the religious life of Israel.
The space and the law of One do not exist in a series of separations oral, corporal or even more generally material and, in the last instance, relative to the fusion with the mother. The pure/impure scheme bears witness to Judaism’s battle against paganism and its maternal cultures, a struggle essential to its constitution. In our personal lives, this scheme points back to the force of the struggle that each of us must lead to separate from the mother and become a speaking subject and/or a subject of the law. In this way, we will say that the “material” semes of the opposition pure/impure which punctuate the Bible are not metaphors of divine interdiction based on material archaic customs, but rather the reply, from the viewpoint of the subjective economy and the genesis of the speaking identity, of universal symbolic Law that constitutes language and/or even the possibility to make meaning.
The introduction of the opposition pure/impure coinciding with the holocaust, thus immediately begs the widely examined question of the relationship between taboo and sacrifice. It seems more tenable to say that the Bible, by its emphasis on taboo, protect itself from sacrificial intervention or at least subordinates it (sacrifice) to taboo. Biblical abomination would then be an attempt to halt murder. By upholding abomination, Judaism distinguishes itself from sacrificial religions. And to the extent that religion and sacrifice overlap, biblical abominations perhaps constitute the logical clarifying of the religious (without acting out murder which is rendered useless by the revelation and respect of taboos.) With biblical abomination, does not religion clearly aim to surpass itself?
Patiently, meticulously, obsessive defences against the desire to kill transform into an ideal self, the taboo into ethics. What initially appeared to us as a foundational opposition between man and God (vegetal/animal, flesh/blood) consequent to the initial contract “Thou shall not kill” becomes an entire system of logical oppositions. Different from the holocaust, this system of abomination presupposes it and guarantees its efficiency. Semantically dominated, at least initially, by the life/death dichotomy, it eventually becomes a code of differences and similarities in relation to the holocaust. A system of taboos is constituted as a true formal system - a taxonomy.
Hunting down mixing and promiscuousness, the impure becomes definitively distanced from the material register and expresses itself as a profanation of the divine name. The defiled will now be that which attacks the symbolic unicity, such as simulacrums, doubles and idols. Moreover, it is in the name of this “I” to whom, through Moses, a entire people conforms, that moral interdictions subscribing to the same logic of separation will follow: justice, honesty, truth.
Contrary to certain structuralist psychoanalytical schools who see the symbolic Law as an absolute, the prophetic insistence on abomination as a permanent fixture in the very “election”, signals that the strategy of identity is never gained once and for all. And that if the symbolic paternal order in which the identity of the speaking being is constituted is certainly absolute and universal, it is nevertheless singularly contingent, and must ceaselessly be won over by he who is elected by it.
Our tendency is to reduce Freud hastily to Future of an Illusion and we’re not exactly wrong to do so, for it is always a question of aiming for the abuses of religious obscurantism when it stirs up conflicts around identity. But we forget that not only is illusion indispensible to psychic life (as attested to by the role of fantasy in the psychoanalytical process) it even constitutes it (let’s think of the « transitional » role according to Winnicott). We forget the extent to which imaginary constructions (myths, fables, narratives, religious stories, rites and all the arts) constitute for Freud the « precursors » in his quest for logics intrinsic to the life of the “psychic apparatus.”
The logic of biblical abomination and its psychoanalytical elucidation seem to me to constitute a radical means of sounding out the emergence of the subject in man, on condition that it puts into action, into place and into metaphor-metonymy the series of separations that articulates singular identity and/or symbolic election, such as it operates by the posited/supposed agency of the Other as Creator.
The Beaten Son/Father of Christianity: From Love to Death to Sublimation.
Although paternal connotations of the divine Creator in the Bible abound, it is Christianity that actively and perseveringly exploits the paternal axis of the symbolic order, and it does so specifically through the complex relationship between Jesus – the Man-God Son of God and God the Father Himself. Without claiming to offer an exhaustive overview of this complex topology, I would like to propose a possible interpretation alongside a rereading of Totem and Taboo (1912) and “A Child is Beaten” (1919) by Freud, yet also informed by my clinical observation of the “desire for the father”, of sado-masochism and of its sublimation.
Remember that for Freud the murder of the father is a foundational act, a historical reality in human civilization. In a similar way, for Christians, Christ is a historical character and the murder they commemorate is a real one. I take these considerations into account, whilst nevertheless distancing myself from them in what follows. I am only interested in the psychic reality, which generates fantasies in the subject who believes in such events, whether or not they actually occurred.
On another point: although Christ is the Son, it’s as the Father that he is put to death (according to St Paul); and from the perspective of the Trinity it is not possible that his suffering to death not also be that of the Father.
What would happen if Jesus were not only a child or a beaten brother, but a beaten father – beaten to death?
By combining the son and the father, this scenario has the advantage of appeasing both the incestuous guilt that weighs on the desire for the Other (Sovereign Father) and of encouraging virile identification (even in the case of girls and women) with this tortured man: but only under the cover of masochism promoted, even recommended by this double movement.
The path is thus paved in the unconscious, for the oedipal father who is usually the agent of the Law and Prohibition to be now able to fuse with the subject of the guilty amorous passion that “I” am, as a girl loved by this same father. The superman father is humanized, even feminized by the suffering he undergoes; and because of this he is at once my ideal love object and my double, an ideal ego. A complicit “us” is formed by and in the father’s passion. From here on we shall share love, guilt and punishment together.
It follows that for the unconscious, these father/daughter reunions suspend the incest taboo in and by the suffering of the two punished lovers, in such a way that this suffering will necessarily be experienced as a marriage. The suffering of the father beaten to death – sexualized under the “whip of faith,” this love without pity is the paradise of masochism, but also its only way out: sublimation.
By placing the fantasy of the father beaten to death at the summit of the evangelical narrative, so that it calls out for our identification, Christianity does not content itself with reinforcing prohibition of desires; paradoxically it displaces them and paves the way to work through them, to sublimate them.
However, being beaten as this son-father is beaten, the subject’s unconscious releases his desires from guilt’s hold, and enables them to take form in what must be called sovereign, divine suffering. This is no longer the suffering of guilt which is the suffering resulting from transgression, but rather suffering as the sole way leading to the union with this ideal that is the Father. A new kind of suffering: Christic or Christian which is not the flip side of the Law but a suspension of Law and guilt to the benefit of jouissance in idealized suffering. A jouissance in calling out, in longing, in the essential failure of satisfying the desire for the father: the suffering-jouissance in the ambivalence of the longing for the father, a reorientation of desire towards the father (remember the latin “versus” from which the French vers le père and hence père-vers). The father beaten to death does not make suffering commonplace or banal, nor does he authorize incest but, by the glory and grace of our suffering-together, of our com-passion, he adjusts and justifies it.
Moreover, the adoration of the beaten father leads to another otherwise fundamental consequence: with and beyond the surreptitiously accepted incestuous link with the father, it is symbolic activity itself which I am encouraged to sexualize through paternal passion.
The activity of representing-speaking-thinking, attributed to the father in patrilineal societies and which connects me to him, now becomes the privileged realm of sadomasochistic pleasure, the “kingdom” indeed, where suffering opens out, justifies and appeases itself. Along with Freud, we call sublimation this displacement (metonymy/metaphor) of pleasure starting with the body and sexual organs and culminating in representation. Perversion and sublimation are the flip sides of this flexibility, if not of this fabulous suspension of the incest taboo induced by the beaten- to-death father. Through this fantasy, Christianity maintains the inaccessible ideal (Jesus is an extra-sensitive God, a prohibited father who prohibits that I touch him, that I draw near him) on the one hand, and on the other (without avoiding contradiction), it also resexualizes the ideal father-son whose happy suffering links me – in the guise of guilt – to his passion, by the Eucharist first, but also by the intense activity of aesthetic representation.
Christianity has thus both acknowledged and denied the putting to death of the father. This is precisely the particular solution it managed to impose on the authority of the universal dead father the religious commemoration of which characterizes our human condition.
Islam or How to Reflect upon the Problem of Murder.
What is the relationship between the divine and the paternal function in Islam? Numerous specialists
point to the “resemblances” between Allah and Aristotle’s God, “that final unmoved mover, at the periphery of the universe” (Phys. VIII, 10), who would perhaps even be a cause of the world, distanced from the world. This god would be this “source” of Islamic radicalism, pushing believers to the point of mechanical obedience and terror!
The pivotal figure of this paternity at once juridical and loving is none other than the biblical Abraham who spares Isaac: for his obedience to the divine commandment moves God Himself to the point of making him suspend, with the sacrificial judgment of the son, the passion between men, the “Oedipal” desire (Freud would say) to death. The path is thus paved for the messianic tendencies of the pistis : Jesus accomplishing the « faith working through love» of the biblical God (Gal, 5-6) plays out the Abrahamic destiny, for he only temporarily dies on the cross to resurrect by and for the love of the Father. In Islam, this foundational event presents itself differently. In Moses and Monotheism Freud points out that in Islam there would be a “recuperation (Wiedergewinnung) of the sole and great original Father,” (Urvater) but that it would “lack the development that produced, in the case of the Judaism, the murder perpetrated against the founder of the religion,” which Christianity, on the contrary, would be on the point of admitting.
Let us add to this the fact that in Islam uncertainty persists around the identify of the son to be sacrificed or spared: the illegitimate Ishmael of Agar or Sarah’s legitimate Isaac? Furthermore: how do we interpret the fact that in the Koran Abraham dreams of the sacrifice (rather than receiving the injunction from God Himself): is this an unconscious desire to possess the son, in all senses of the term, to take pleasure in him and to abolish him? Or is it a veritable avoidance of immolation and murder?
These « details » structure the subject of the three monotheist religions differently, both in its relationship to the Law and to the bonds between men, and in the sadomasochistic pleasure experienced in the murder of the other, by the killing of the child in oneself, and even by one’s own death.
For Freud, Islam remains foreign to the development of this love-hate of and for the father experienced in Christianity. This is due less to a supposed loyalty to Aristotle than to a split from Jewish and Christian monotheisms, by distancing its conception of the Divine from all ideas of paternity as well as from numerous crucial points of the Old and New Testaments which relate to the loving bond between the Creator and His creations: thus, for example, the absence of original sin in Islam (guilty for having listened to Satan, Adam and Eve are chased out of paradise, but their posterity does not bear the burden of their fault) or the sacralization of the Koran, revealed to Mohammed alone and, therefore, the belief that the revelation was not in part received from the Judeo-Christian tradition, but deformed by it.
If I insist on these different points it is in attempt to approach the question which underlies today’s political crises (though it does not explain all of them): where do we situate the major difference that makes difficult and even prevents a possible meeting with Islam? By identifying this difference with an aggravated “Aristotle-ism,” we fail to question the specific character that constitutes, to my mind, the Muslim’s relationship to divine authority – a tie likened to a juridical pact – which departs from the bond to a paternal Creator whose function is to elect (in Judaism, whose spirit, though legalist, does not suspend the creationist component which calls for an effort of reflection and questioning), or to love (in Christianity, such as in the trials of abandonment and passion). Of course Sufism and notably Ibn Arabi (1165-1240), brought subtle developments to the “big sacrifice,” interpreted in the tradition as a sacrifice of the self, the « nafs » or psyche in the face of nothingness. It is nevertheless a concern that certain particularities of Islam which I have pointed out very schematically make improbable, even impossible, an Islamic theology or even a “discussion” between its Sunni and Shiite branches, and certainly any open dialog with the two other monotheisms.
There is all the more reason, therefore, not to give in to the terrorizing, even terrorists drifts latent and internal to Islamic obedience, but to try to emphasize the most open currents of thought, as well as anthropological and sociological, even psychoanalytical research devoted to Islam today, in order to open the dialog. This should also be one of the priorities of our Forum in our ensuing encounters.
For, although Islam seems far from a possible interpretive return to its history and its resemblances-differences in relation to its monotheist predecessors, the current political and economic reasons that seem to explain this impossibility, only hide the structural difficulties that constitute it. For this reason, it behooves those who read religion as an analyzable given – anthropologists, sociologists, psychoanalysts – with or without specialists of religion, to attempt approaches likely to create bridges beyond the differences anthropologically identified and interpreted. Is this utopian? Or is it the only step possible when faced with today’s “clash of religions?”
Whatever it may be, the manner in which Islam has become stuck in the fundamentalist mire raises a more general question concerning homo religiosis within his very structure. Homo religiosis would only know how to transcend the love-hate that overwhelms him by stepping aside: by taking himself as the object of thought; by developing his theology, or better, the infinite interpretations of his need to believe, the multiple variations of his needs to believe. Is this not what Freud accomplishes when he claims that it is possible to speak one’s love of the other, infinitely? Would psychoanalysis be a variation of theology? It’s ultimate variation?
Secularization and Cultural Diversity: Ruptures and Questioning.
It is not the least of our imperatives, in inaugurating our Forum and envisioning its future, not to dodge the question that inevitably addresses itself to the actors of secularization, trained and versed in the secular tradition, that we are. In The Origins of Totalitarianism and elsewhere, Hannah Arendt strongly insisted on this new phase of anti-Semitism which was furthered in Europe by multiple causalities, but also by the “assimilation” of Jews in the stride of the Enlightenment.
We’ll remember that by stigmatizing secularization, Arendt attacked the reduction of human difference to the generality of « zoon politikon » becoming the generic « Man » in a reductive understanding of the “rights of man.” Though Arendt did not reject the fact that a certain atheism may have contributed to the end of ethics, she maintained that the totalitarian phenomenon is unique. She also took great care to differentiate her philosophical questioning from whatever religious position it may be, by connecting the political use of the “divine” to the pernicious nihilism she combats: «Those who conclude that because of the terrible events of our time we should turn back to religion for political reasons seem to me to show as little faith in God as their opponents. »
The last, but not the least enigma which the third millennium and its galloping globalization confront us with concerns the mutations of the singular subject, which, whatever its forms, was constituted in the wake of the Greco-Judeo-Christian tradition. The disruption of Oedipal structures in the recomposed family – due to the weakening of paternal authority, the assertion of the psychic bisexuality of the two sexes and assisted reproduction – do not really abolish, to my mind, the universality of anthropological constants such as were discovered and set down by monotheist religions, and which psychoanalytical experiences since Freud have been trying to elucidate. These disruptions, however, oblige us to confront, with a combination of firmness and tolerance both the ethical codes needed for the subject’s autonomy of thought which were crystallized in the stride of this tradition and through its ruptures; and their transgressive, rebellious, queer or impure contingencies. A new fact: modern secularization and its new techniques asserts these transgressions not as perversions (of Oedipus, the Law, the symbolic order) but as invitations to modernity to invent new kinships, new families, new legalities.
In another way, people whose psychic life has been formed by different religious contexts – Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shintoism, animism, etc. – and who do not seem to share the same logic of libertarian singularity, yet due to globalization find themselves attracted to certain ideas uncovered and continually developed by psychoanalysis, push us strongly to rethink these discoveries (hence, the triadic trials of Oedipus for example, among others). In a context where religions shy away from rather than welcome these challenges, it is up to psychoanalysis to interpret these differences – beyond the clash of religions. And to assure their respect as well as the defense and the illustration of this model of individuation and human freedom of which our therapeutic experience reveals the fecund complexity for individual and collective fulfillment: a heritage this tradition has bequeathed us and of which Jerusalem is the symbol and psychoanalysis, the rebellious child who knows how to pay his debts.
Allow me to conclude on a more personal note. Like you, I am visiting Jerusalem’s memory charged Biblical quarters.
The Wailing Wall is not the vestige of a bygone time, nor is it a memorial that preserves us from possible future Shoah’s, though it is that too. These rocks, blanched by years that appease a tormented earth, the mineral predestination of the history of Israel; the notes slipped into the cracks, confiding to the rock, sorrows turned into hope through the written word; the women who walk away backward as if their bodies could not “be of it” - of hope, salvation, eternity… This wall and its rites trace an invisible scar of heaven (nothing like the dragon of the Great Wall of China), which situates each of the globe’s inhabitants between wound and rebirth, collapse and survival: an anthropological truth which confers to those who revere or share it, a persistent dynamic energy.
The Valley of Hinnom, the sacred site of the god Baal where “sons and daughters” were offered in sacrifice. The Bible transforms sacrifice to interdictions. Here ethics germinates from the body and does not content itself with descending from Ideas alone, as in Greek metaphysics, at least with Plato. It inhabits desires, passions, the flesh, basar or sheer, the mortal nature of men.
As for the Mount of Olives, the spasmodic density of Jerusalem reveals itself in its very contraction. David and Absalom, Salomon…Bethany, the Ascension…The curve of the hill unites the breast of Mary and the shape of the Pietà, while the torture of the Son is appeased in the faded green of the olive trees, the branches of which stretch out over the graves below. And I am ready to believe, not the resurrection of the body, of course, but in the infinite exhaustion of desiring to death in the amorous intelligence that Spinoza identifies with the divine.
At the birth of my son, a name imposed itself, sovereign and vulnerable: David. According to the tradition, the letter “d” signifies “poor”: the king can only be he who doubly recognizes himself as poor! For the royal victor over Goliath was a mere shepherd who played the harp. And his ancestor, Ruth the Moabit, both excluded and foreign, made her sovereignty curious and hospitable, hungry for others and for herself as Other.
While Bagdad, with its Sumerian memory and its Muslim present is ablaze in daily explosions, while in the shadows of Taliban drug lords working the poppy crop, women in burkas set themselves on fire out of desperation, while Palestinians and Israelis continue to clash on either side of the wall, a wall perceived by the Israelis as an indispensable protection and by the Palestians as an unbearable humiliation, I return to the meaning of Akeda as explained to me by the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain. According to him, Akeda goes beyond any “narrow sense of identity” and opens the path to “dignity in difference.” The Alliance would be a “bond of trust” which manifests the “tender concern of God” since it considers that a “bond does not exclude other bonds” and that, consequently, the traditional enemies of Israel, Egypt and Assyria can be “elected together with Israel.” The Alliance would not be unique but… double? Triple? Infinite?
Greco-Judeo-Christian civilization alone continues on from rupture to rupture, while breaking with “the course of tradition” (according to Tocqueville and Hannah Arendt). Today we know that this “broken course” giving rise to extravagant freedoms of which the most precious is the freedom to think, presents a major risk if we content ourselves with pointing to the abuses of obscurantism, and forget to probe and appreciate the benefits of this “course.”
God is not necessary, in fact, but the need to believe – both a carrier net a strangling knot – is, to my understanding, both a pre-religious and pre-political anthropological necessity. I have discovered that the illusion of eternal life can attenuate a fear of death and turn a Carmelite named Saint Teresa of Avila into a ecstatic writer who self-analyzed: « Look for yourself in me », the Eternal other was to have said to her – then into a “business woman” who shook up the politics of the Church. Present and past history teach me that the promise of absolute love lavished by an Ideal God the Father soothes the sadomasochistic rivalries of brothers…when it doesn’t sharpen them to death. And I question myself. Because secularization alone was able to “cut the course of tradition,” we can finally reflect on all traditions, without ecumenism, by putting them into perspective and hearing how they resonate.
The heirs of Judaism have paved the way by opening a philosophical dialog with biblical tradition. Normative modernity was hence sprung from the work of Herman Cohen, Hans Rosenzweig, Gershom Scholem, Emmanuel Levinas ; but also critical modernity from the work of Kafka, Benjamin, Arendt – which were reappropriated by Nietzsche and Heidegger. A third modernity is searching for itself, the modernity of analytical atheism which, inspired by Freud, can open all the world’s religious traditions to the experience of thought. « There where it was» I can happen. You say : « spirituality » ? I answer : « I travel within myself».
Once again we are going to journey down a long road that goes back to prehistory, traverses the unconscious and heads toward the unknown: a new stage has been opened before us by our common ambition to explore the memory of religions using the analytical experience as our guide and with the contributions of all who would like to join us.
FORUM INTERNATIONAL DES RELIGIONS du 19 au 24 novembre 2008 à Jérusalem