I’m on the second book by Viktor Frankl – Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning. I usually skip forewords and prefaces but this time few sentences have caught my eye and I read Preface to the book very carefully. The offered passage is quite big but I like very much Viktor Frankl’s flow of thought towards religion. It cleared some mess in my head and I found it very helpful, well, at least for me.
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The concept of religion in its widest possible sense, as it is here espoused, certainly goes far beyond the narrow concepts of God promulgated by many representatives of denominational and institutional religion. They often depict, not to say denigrate, God as a being who is primarily concerned with being believed in by the greatest possible number of believers, and along the lines of a specific creed, at that. “Just believe,” we are told, “and everything will be okay.” But alas, not only is this order based on a distortion of any sound concept of deity, but even more importantly it is doomed to failure: Obviously, there are certain activities that simply cannot be commanded, demanded, or ordered, and as it happens, the triad “faith, hope, and love” belongs to this class of activities that elude an approach with, so to speak, “command characteristics.” Faith, hope, and love cannot be established by command simply because they cannot be established at will. I cannot “will” to believe, I cannot “will” to hope, I cannot “will” to love – and at least of all can I “will” to will.
Upon closer investigation it turns out that what underlies the attempt to establish faith, hope, love, and will by command is manipulative approach. The attempt to bring these states about at will, however, is ultimately based on an inappropriate objectification and reification of these human phenomena: They are turned into mere things, into mere objects. However, since faith, hope, love, and will are so-called “intentional” acts or activities, along the lines of the terminology coined by Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler, the founders of the school of “phenomenology”, these activities are directed to “intentional” referents – in other words, to objects of their own. To the extent that one makes intentional acts into objects, he loses sight of their objects. Nowhere, to my knowledge, is this brought home to us more strikingly than with the uniquely human phenomenon of laughter: You cannot order anyone to laugh – if you want him to laugh, you must tell him a joke.
But isn’t it, in a way, the same with religion? If you want people to have faith and belief in God, you cannot rely on preaching along the lines of a particular church but must, in the first place, portray your God believably – and you must act credibly yourself. In other words, you have to do very opposite of what so often is done by representatives of organized religion when they build up an image of God as someone who is primarily interested in being believed in and who is rigorously insists that those who believe in him be affiliated with a particular church. Small wonder that such representatives of religion behave as though the saw the main task of their own denomination as that of overriding other denominations.
Certainly the trend is away from religion conceived in such a strictly denominational sense. Yet this is not to imply that, eventually, there will be a universal religion. On the contrary, if religion is to survive, it will have to be profoundly personalized…
To all appearances, religion is not dying, and insofar as this is true, God is not dead either, not even “after Auschwitz,” to quote the title of a book. For either belief in God is unconditional or it is not belief at all. If it is unconditional it will stand and face that six million died in the Nazi holocaust; if it is not unconditional it will fall away if only a single innocent child has to die – to resort to an argument once advanced by Dostoevski. There is no pint in bargaining with God, say, by arguing: “Up to six thousand or even one million victims in the holocaust I maintain my belief in Thee; but from one million upward nothing can be done any longer, and I am sorry but I must renounce my belief in Thee.”
The truth is that among those who actually went through the experience of Auschwitz, the number of those whose religious life was deepened – in spite of, not because of, this experience – by far exceeds the number of those who gave up their belief. To paraphrase what La Rochefoucauld once remarked with regard to love, one might say that just as the small fire is extinguished by the storm while a large fire is enhanced by it – likewise a weak faith is weakened by predicaments and catastrophes, whereas a strong faith is strengthened by them.