15 August 2013

religion is responsibility or it is nothing at all

     According to Patočka [in his essay "Is Technological Civilization a Civilization in Decline, and If So Why?") one can speak of religion only after the demonic secret, and the orgiastic sacred, have been surpassed [depasse, also "outstripped," "outmoded"]. We should let that term retain its essential ambiguity. In the proper sense of the word, religion exists once the secret of the sacred, orgiastic, or demonic mystery has been, if not destroyed, at least integrated, and finally subjected to the sphere of responsibility. The subject of responsibility will be the subject that has managed to make orgiastic or demonic mystery subject to itself; and has done that in order to freely subject itself to the wholly and infinite other that sees without being seen. Religion is responsibility or it is nothing at all. Its history derives its sense entirely from the idea of a passage to responsibility. Such a passage involves traversing or enduring the test by means of which the ethical conscience will be delivered of the demonic, the mystagogic and the enthusiastic, of the initiatory and the esoteric. In the authentic sense of the word, religion comes into being the moment that the experience of responsibility extracts itself from that form of secrecy called demonic mystery.
     Since the concept of the daimon crosses the boundaries separating the human, the animal, and the divine, one will not be surprised to see Patočka recognizing in it a dimension that is essentially that of sexual desire. In what respect does this demonic mystery of desire involve us in a history of responsibility, more precisely in history as responsibility?
     "The demonic is to be related to responsibility; in the beginning such a relation did not exist" (110). In other words, the demonic is originally defined as irresponsibility, or, if one wishes, as nonresponsibility. It belongs to a space in which there has not yet resounded the injunction to respond; a space in which one does not yet hear the call to explain onself [repondre de soi], one's actions or one's thoughts, to respond to the other and answer for oneself before the other. The genesis of responsibility that Patočka proposes will not simply describe a history of religion or religiousness. It will be combined with a genealogy of the subject who says "myself," the subject's relation to itself as an instance of liberty, singularity, and responsibility, the relation to self as being before the other: the other in its relation to infinite alterity, one who regards without being seen but also whose infinite goodness giver in an experience that amounts to a gift of death [donner la mort]. Let us for the moment leave that expression in all its ambiguity.

Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death (1995: 2-3)