zondag 19 juli 2015

Is the world sound?

In newspaper interviews with several refugees recently the Iranian Pouya Zarchin was cited. He fled in 2011 from Iran to the Netherlands with a fake Spanish passport and tells how scared he was. “If I would get caught and returned to Iran, prison sentence would await me. Or worse. Dutch people can not understand that fear.”

Another, but related story was Wanda Reisel’s, referring to the persecution her family suffered during the Second World War. Because of the impact of that familyhistory she sees herself leading a double life. “My fantasy life is as important as, perhaps even more important than real life. In my head, everything is in order and secure, but the outside world is threatening and unreliable: before you know it you’ll be betrayed, arrested and put on transport. Because you show who you are”.

What resounds in both quotations is a conception of the world as something threatening, chaotic, unreliable. At best, its frightening character is to overcome by building a strong inner life over against it. Anyway, the mood of the quotes does not know of an objectively existing, sound ordering of the world, in which we would participate.

Then, indeed, the feeling about life recently expressed by the philosopher Ger Groot is entirely different. For him, there is order, deep down everything is all right. “Despite appearances to the contrary, right in our hearts we are convinced that the world is in order, that our existence is harmonious, that happiness is the raw material of reality.”

Groot is not unique in this way of experiencing the world. On the contrary, therewith he is an exponent of what rightly could be called the ‘Western order-thinking’. At its largest that order thinking is expressed in the Christian worldview. Its clue is the idea that, no matter how perverted our earth may get, the world has in fact already been redeemed and the results of such redemption are at our disposal in the form of sacraments and other objectified salvation.

In fact, the latter is wasted on Ger Groot, because he is an atheist. But the underlying mood, indeed, is his: fundamentally, there is order in the world, the world is just right. And for holding that view one does not necessarily have to be Christian, as is evident from the world view of even the most skeptical stream of Greek thought, the Stoa. The Stoa’s philosophy is based on the idea that everything in nature happens in a necessary manner. There is nothing to stop it, but with the help of reason you can give everything a place and defuse negative emotions. By joining the prevailing order, you will still be happy.

If it is true that both movements, Christianity and the Stoa, go back to Greek thought, it indicates how much the idea of a sound world is a Greek idea. One of the most powerful recent expressions of this order thinking – with once again an appeal on Greece – comes from Heidegger. He bases on it, with all his pessimism about the technocratic direction of Western civilization, a deep faith and an intense joy. But he always kept it half hidden, which was reason for Cornelis Verhoeven to refer once to Heidegger as ‘that cheat’.

How different from that sounds for example the Israeli writer David Grossman, in a recent interview with Ikon-House. “We Jews are looking for a different way of being in this world. Without being defined by fear and by wars, without enemy. To rely upon our Being. One of the simplest definitions of ‘Jew’ through the centuries is: someone who, collectively or individually, never felt at home in the world.”

You could explain the latter mood because Jews for centuries have been living in the diaspora, in constant dependence on the whims of others. So from a kind of accumulated post-traumatic stress disorder.

But it could also be that doubt about a just world order was much earlier articulated in Jewish culture. That would, already centuries before the beginning of the era, have found its way into biblical writings, like the Book of Job.

Whatever explanation you choose, both developments may help us to understand a little better why in the course of history Jews for Christians and other ‘Greek’ thinkers posed a threat: they questioned the Greek and Christian base feeling of a ‘sound world’. From that confrontation you can get very chagrined.

Also see Plato disproved and Order