TRENT, Italy, SEPT. 27, 2002 (ZENIT.org–Avvenire).- Jean-Luc Marion, professor of philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, is the father of the so-called phenomenology of gift and a respected Catholic thinker.
Here, Marion reflects on the theme of the congress that brought him to Italy recently: “Between Religion and Non-Religion: Fundamentalism and Indifference.”
Q: Can fundamentalism and religious indifference be regarded as two sides of the same coin?
Marion: From my perspective, this coin is nihilism. The question is, if faith is a product made up by us, for our use and consumption or, instead, as I believe, if our recognition of a fact is stronger than we are, independent of us.
Q: How can one emerge from the morass of religious indifference and fundamentalism?
Marion: If religion is reduced to our own knowledge, we would only be able to choose between indifference and fundamentalism. We would use religion as a means of personal gratification, of self-identification.
Instead, if we conceive religion as a relation, then this implies experience — perhaps even suffered — of otherness; as revelation begins on the other side of the world, by the distant One who comes close to me. I cannot use it as a means of self-identification. In Christianity, the Other is the most distant Father, who existed long before me.
In sum, I think that revelation is the antidote for the double illusion of fundamentalism and indifference.
Q: But the problem arises when the other closes himself, as is typical of fundamentalism. Is it not illusory to seek an opening in the other when we meet only with blind opposition?
Marion: I think the first problem is not in opening up to those who are closed, but in the risk of our becoming as closed as they are. The first difficulty is not to convert others but that we not behave as they do. It is easy in these times to transform the other, regarding him as a “thinking object.” Instead, we must experience fraternity, beginning with the experience of the otherness of God.
And what does this mean? I was able to ask myself. Even if we are very different, this difference between us men is much smaller that the greatness of God in relation to us. Our common Father is much greater than all our great differences.
Q: What contribution can philosophy make to spirituality?
Marion: I think spirituality can give more to philosophy than what philosophy can give. For example, the very concepts of otherness or of gazing do not belong to metaphysics.
Q: You are famous for your book on the phenomenology of gift, and now you will publish in France a new text on the philosophy of love. Can you tell us something about your latest research?
Marion: The principal idea is that love is not a secondary, peripheral determination of human experience, but the center. We must review, from its origin, the definition of the subjectivity of love.
In the history of metaphysics, I think in Descartes or in Hegel, the first definition of man was elaborated on the basis of the concept of knowledge of the object. The experience of feeling and of love was studied later. I think that the first question we must ask ourselves is not “what can I know in truth?” but rather “Is there someone who loves me?” This is the first question.
Q: You stress the centrality of love, despite the crisis of Western thought that still seems to be mired in the void of a nihilist crisis. Could your philosophical perspective be judged as too optimistic in relation to the historical facts and the report of events?
Marion: Optimism and pessimism are categories for imbeciles, Georges Bernanos said. Nihilism is the result of a crisis that has its origin in the definition of philosophy beginning with knowledge.
Instead, I think that the initial element of philosophy is included in its own name, it is the “desire to know.” Why do we have this need? Well, precisely because we have a need to love! By definition, philosophy is a question arising from the desire to love.
To overcome nihilism, the only way open is to return, beyond knowledge, to the desire to know, the love of learning. Therefore, we must ask ourselves about the meaning of our first need to love and desire.
Q: This meeting held in a castle in northeastern Italy, has remained enveloped in mist. What is the mist that impedes contemporary man from confronting truth?
Marion: Fear of fear. We are very afraid. We all feel the weight of our culpability, of our fear. We are convinced that we have lost, although we do not know what it is that we have lost. But we are convinced that the game is over.
Q: What can help us to overcome this fear?
Marion: The only force to overcome the force of fear is the experience of being loved. The only remedy that contemporary man has to overcome fear and despair is to understand that we alone cannot give ourselves hope.