Sunday, 8 March 2009

After the death of God - a conversation between Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt and Abdennour Bidar

The March issue of Philosophie Magazine has a fascinating conversation between the writers Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, who describes himself as an agnostic Christian, and Abdennour Bidar, who promotes the idea of an existentialist Islam (see Un Islam pour notre temps - 2004, or Self Islam - 2006).
Schmitt, who was taught philosophy by Jacques Derrida, whom he describes as "the pope of deconstructionism", opens the conversation by describing how he gradually began to feel exhausted by rationality which didn't respond to his questions. "Today I identify myself as an agnostic Christian. Agnostic because, I don't know whether God exists. I believe so, but this belief does not engender any knowledge. Christian because the gospels are an inexhaustible ethical and spiritual resource for me."
Bidar also speaks about his experience of trying to make the link between the mystical Islamic Sufism he was involved in with the philosophy studies he was doing in Fontenay. He describes how the two schools of thought - rationalist philosophy and the mystical way - "were telescoped in me at an age when one isn't very gifted to make compromises ... I couldn't find my place anywhere and nearly lost myself in that adventure. Only at 32 did this conflict unknot and I was able to tell the story in self Islam."
At one point in the conversation Schmitt says that one of things he appreciates in Bidar's approach is how it keeps critical solidarity with history and heritage, as opposed to the Western philosophical approach which tends only to progress by a tabula rasa, getting rid of the things of the past, killing God and taking his place.
Towards the end of the conversation Schmitt says:
"Why are you and I interested in God, even though it's been the fashion for more than 200 years to do without God, at least for intellectuals? Because we don't want a humanism which loses a sense of the infinite and the immeasurable."