Underlined: Leszek Kołakowski


From a 1991 interview with Leszek Kołakowski:

To be sure, Christianity has been enfeebled. But as it adjusts to the civilization of the next millennium, it might experience a renewal. However wrenching the process might be, as we can witness today on the issue of abortion, conflict and adjustment of just this nature has occurred several times over the centuries.

After confrontations such as that with Galileo, Christianity accepted the autonomy of reason and gave up trying to control science. Hostile to the notion of human rights after the French Revolution, Christianity now accepts and promotes them. Theocratic pretensions have been given up altogether in Christianity.

So, far from secularization inexorably leading to the death of religion, it has instead given birth to the search for new forms of religious life. The imminent victory of the Kingdom of Reason has never materialized.

As a whole, mankind can never get rid of the need for religious self-identification: who am I, where did I come from, where do I fit in, why am I responsible, what does my life mean, how will I face death? Religion is a paramount aspect of human culture. Religious need cannot be excommunicated from culture by rationalist incantation. Man does not live by reason alone. When culture loses its sacred sense, it loses all sense. With the disappearance of the sacred, which imposes limits on the perfection that can be attained by secular society, one of the most dangerous illusions of our civilization arises — the illusion that there are no limits to the changes we can undergo, that society is an endlessly flexible thing subject to the arbitrary whims of our creative capacities.

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The modern chimera, which would grant man total freedom from tradition or all pre-existing sense, far from opening before him the perspective of divine self-creation, suspends him in a darkness where all things are regarded with equal indifference.

To be totally free from religious heritage or historical tradition is to situate oneself in a void and thus to disintegrate. The utopian faith in man’s self-inventive capabilities, the utopian hope of unlimited perfection, may be the most efficient instrument of suicide human culture has ever invented.

To reject the sacred, which means also to reject sin, imperfection and evil, is to reject our own limits. To say that evil is contingent, as Sartre did, is to say that there is no evil, and therefore that we have no need of a sense given to us by tradition, fixed and imposed on us whether we will it or not.

As you put it, there are thus no moral brakes on the will to power. In the end, the ideal of total liberation is the sanctioning of greed, force and violence, and thus of despotism, the destruction of culture and the degradation of the earth.

The only way to ensure the endurance of civilization is to ensure that there are always people who think of the price paid for every step of what we call “progress.” The order of the sacred is also a sensitivity to evil — the only system of reference that allows us to contemplate that price and forces us to ask whether it is exorbitant.

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