Sunday, December 04, 2005

Eco on Christmas

Emphasizing again, how apposite the quote attributed to G.K. Chesterton is, "When a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn't believe in nothing. He believes in anything."

The pianist Arthur Rubinstein was once asked if he believed in God. He said: "No. I don't believe in God. I believe in something greater." Our culture suffers from the same inflationary tendency. The existing religions just aren't big enough: we demand something more from God than the existing depictions in the Christian faith can provide. So we revert to the occult. The so-called occult sciences do not ever reveal any genuine secret: they only promise that there is something secret that explains and justifies everything. The great advantage of this is that it allows each person to fill up the empty secret "container" with his or her own fears and hopes.

As a child of the Enlightenment, and a believer in the Enlightenment values of truth, open inquiry, and freedom, I am depressed by that tendency. This is not just because of the association between the occult and fascism and Nazism - although that association was very strong. Himmler and many of Hitler's henchmen were devotees of the most infantile occult fantasies.

PS: If you've never read "Belief and Unbelief," the series of respectful, public conversations between Umberto Eco and the then Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, Carlo Maria Martini, I highly recommend it!

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