16 février 2011

The philosophical itinerary of Roger Garaudy

FROM MARXISM TO ISLAM: THE PHILOSOPHICAL ITINERARY OF ROGER GARAUDY


By: Neal Robinson

Yahde 'llahu li-nuri-hi man yasha, "Allah guides to his light whomsoever he wills"(Qur'an 24:35). At the level of secondary causes, however, there are many reasons why a Western intellectual might embrace Islam. In the case of the French Marxist philosopher Roger Garaudy, who was born in 1914 and converted in 1982 when he was 68 years old, the key factors were arguably his conviction that Western society is based on a false understanding of man, and his own life-long quest for transcendence. That is the view which will be taken in the present paper. Nevertheless, other factors undoubtedly played a part. Some of them will be reviewed briefly by way of introduction.
Factors which played a part in Garaudy's conversion

During the Second World War, Garaudy was interned with other Communists and spent nearly three years in prison camps in North Africa. On one occasion, when he was in a camp in Djelfa in southern Algeria, he and his fellow prisoners were saved from summary execution because the Arab guards defied orders to shoot them. He subsequently learned that they owed their lives to the fact that the guards were Ibadi Muslims whose religion forbade them to fire at unarmed men. Their unconditional obedience to a higher authority than their French commandant deeply impressed him and prepared the ground for his conversion over forty years later.
In Garaudy's earliest account of the above-mentioned incident, however, his discovery of the transcendent values of Islam is overshadowed by his recollection of the feeling of elation caused by the group solidarity of the prisoners and their fraternal relations with the guards. He actually describes the whole affair as his first experience of militant action. This leads me to mention a second important factor in his conversion, namely his commitment to revolution. Garaudy returned from the war fired with revolutionary ardour. In 1948, he led the sixty-day miners' strike in Carmaux. In 1962, he visited Cuba at the invitation of President Castro. In 1968, he was vocal in support of the student uprisings in Paris. Inevitably, Islam's power to mobilise the masses in the Iranian revolution of 1979 fascinated and attracted him.
Ayatollah Khomeini dubbed America 'the Great Satan' and was equally outspoken in his opposition to Israel. Garaudy's own intense dislike of the USA dates back to 1966, if not further. In that year he went to Missouri to give a lecture, and the American Legion organised a campaign against him declaring that his presence was 'an insult to God, the flag and our troops in Vietnam. ' I have been unable to find early evidence of his anti-Zionism, but this may be taken as read, because the official line of the Communist Party has always been that the founding of the modern state of Israel was an exercise in Western neo-colonialism. In 1982, together with Fr. Lelong and Pastor Matthiot, Garaudy paid to have a full-page article in the French daily newspaper Le Monde. In the article, which appeared on 17 June, the authors argued that the recent massacres in the Lebanon, far from being an unfortunate mistake, were consistent with the internal logic of political Zionism. As a result of this, Garaudy received several anonymous death threats and was widely ostracised. A fortnight later, he converted to Islam. Although he had been contemplating doing so for some time, we may surmise that the support that he received from Muslims who endorsed his criticism of Israel gave him additional impetus.
Garaudy's fellow contributors to Le Monde were a Catholic priest and a Protestant clergyman. In the 1960s, when he was still a member of the Communist party, he had been active in Marxist-Christian dialogue. After his expulsion from the Party in 1970, for stating that Russia was no longer a socialist country, he was increasingly drawn to Christianity, and by 1975 he openly claimed that he was a Christian. However, he was never particularly at ease in that capacity. There were three reasons for this. First, ever since his Communist days, he had held that the Roman Emperor Constantine had adopted Christianity for political ends and that throughout history the high ideals of Christianity had frequently been used by those in power to manipulate the down-trodden and oppressed and keep them in their place. Second, he was highly critical of the Church's attempt to define the person of Christ using the static terminology of Greek philosophy. He argued that the formula adopted by the Council of Nicea in 325, which stated that Christ was 'of one substance with the Father', had been unintelligible to the masses at the time and had given rise to a whole series of 'heresies' whose adherents were brutally persecuted. Third, he realised that although individual Christians might still strive to live out their faith for the good of humanity, institutionalised Christianity was a spent force which had ceased long ago to influence Western economic and social life and relations with the Third World. He was attracted to Islam because it seemed still to have the moral influence which Christianity had lost. Moreover, there was no need for him to revise his opinion of the deleterious effect of the Romanisation of the Church and the hellenisation of its doctrine; for such views have a respectable Muslim pedigree reaching back to Abd al-Jabbar, the eleventh-century cadi of Raiy.

This brings me to the final point which I wish to mention in connection with Garaudy's conversion: his conviction that Western civilisation has reached an impasse from which neither Communism nor Christianity can provide an escape route. The suicidal myth of Western-style progress and Western-style growth has led to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; the ever-increasing gulf between rich and poor; and the ruthless exploitation of the world's mineral resources. In 1979, Garaudy wrote Appel au vivants ('Summons to the Living') in which he argued that there was still time to find a solution to these problems by listening to the age-old wisdom of non-Europeans and how they perceived their relationship with nature, other people and God. This was followed in 1981 by L'Islam habite notre avenir ('Islam inhabits our future'), in which he argued persuasively that Islam is a living force with a vital contribution to make to tomorrow's world. He identified that contribution as 'transcendence and community', two essential dimensions which Western man has lost because of the exaltation of individualism. Four years later, in Biographie du XXème siècle ('Biography of the 20th Century'), he defined transcendence as recognition of man's dependence in relation to God the creator, and thus of absolute values.
The philosophical itinerary which led him to this belief, and the meaning which he attached to the words 'God the creator' are the subject of the rest of the paper.
The West's false view of man and its consequences

Garaudy maintains that the root cause of the present global crisis is a false view of man which has dominated Western thought since the sixteenth century, and which may in part be traced back even further. The seeds were sown in ancient Greece when Plato instituted a radical dualism between body and soul, and the sensory and the intelligible. However, a decisive threshold was crossed with Galileo. In Galileo's conception of the world, mathematics constituted the veritable 'being in itself' of nature. As a result, the relation between the sensory and the rational became a mystery, for the mathematical model of the world is in fact an impoverished one produced by eliminating both the sensory qualities of the known object and the initiative of the knowing subject. Slightly later, in France, Descartes formulated his celebrated dictum, Cogito ergo sum - 'I think therefore I am'. Garaudy maintains that Descartes's highly individualistic philosophy underlies modern Western culture and has led to man's progressive alienation from nature and to the fragmentation of society.

Garaudy does not, of course, deny the legitimacy of man's scientific and technological quest. He holds that Galileo and Descartes were right to stress the importance of observation and analysis, and to break with the tradition of explaining everything in terms of divine intentions. However, it was a short step from this to something even worse than individualism, namely positivism: the dogmatic a priori exclusion of transcendence. As a result science and technology have become ends in themselves rather than means to an end, and man and his environment have become subservient to their autonomous development. It is as if our civilisation were based on the implicit postulate that everything which is technically and scientifically possible is necessary and desirable.
Garaudy holds that the influence of positivism is even more insidious in the realm of economics. In the eighteenth century the links between economics and ethics were severed, and in the nineteenth it came to be regarded as a pure science like mechanics or physics. Hence the relationships between human beings and societies were assimilated to those between things, and were held like them to be governed by necessity. This resulted in economic growth coming to be viewed as an end in itself divorced from all reflection on the meaning and purpose of life.
Individualism and positivism are not the only causes of the global crisis; what Garaudy calls 'Eurocentrism' has also played a major part, although the world is now dominated more by the USA, Europe's offspring, than by Europe itself. The scientific Renaissance of the sixteenth century saw the birth not only of capitalism but also of colonialism. Fired by the Eurocentrist myth - the belief that the Renaissance built directly on the foundations laid by the ancient Greeks, and that Europe was the sole centre of historical initiative and the sole creator of values - Europeans colonised the world in the conviction that they possessed the only true culture, the only universal religion, and the only model of development; and they destroyed other peoples and their cultures in the process.
Garaudy's critique of Descartes
 
If, as Garaudy alleges, modern individualism, positivism and Eurocentrism are all descendants of Cartesian rationalism, it is vitally important to expose the error in Descartes's position. While he was still a schoolboy, Garaudy drafted an initial response The first certainty is not cogito, I think, but amamus, we love.
Later, as a Communist, he lamented that in fulfilment of Descartes's wish, man had become the 'master and possessor of nature', to such a degree that he was now able to destroy every trace of life on earth. For Garaudy's full-blown critique of Descartes, however, we have to wait until the mid-seventies. It runs as follows. In the first place, he points out that the ego is not present at the beginning of a human life, but only gradually distinguishes itself from a confused mass of people and things. Or, as he later put it Man is not born Robinson Crusoe. He has a father and a mother. He lives in a community, in osmosis with it. The idea of a self-sufficient individual ego is an abstraction.

Regarding the primacy which Descarte gives to thought, Garaudy traces it back to Plato for whom what could not be translated into concepts did not exist. He holds that Descartes pushed this notion to extremes, thereby eliminating love, aesthetic creation and all activity other than technology. As for the word 'therefore', Garaudy asks
What 'logic' can this 'conclusion' call on? What distance is there between my thought and me? Between my love and me? Between my action and me? And if it existed, what thought process could cross it? How can the pieces of this dismembered man be stuck back together: here the soul, there the body; here me, there the others?
Finally, he demands to know what this mysterious human essence or nature which is implied by the words 'I am' actually consists of, and whether we can grasp it like an exterior object and describe it independently of its activity as if it were a machine.
Garaudy's early metaphysical materialism 
 
As a member of the Communist Party, Garaudy was confident that Communism alone would create the real conditions of a society where love will cease to be a hope or a moral law to become the objective law of society in its entirety.
Thus he had found, or thought he had found, 'community'. Nevertheless, his philosophical position initially left far less scope for 'transcendence' than Cartesian rationalism had done. His Paris doctoral thesis on the materialist theory of knowledge was published in 1953. When he wrote it, he was a thorough-going metaphysical materialist. He defended the claim of Lysenko, the Soviet botanist, that acquired characteristics may be inherited; he explained the emergence of consciousness in terms of Pavlovian reflexes; and he toed the orthodox Soviet line that knowledge is a reflection of reality, or in other words, as Lenin put it, that the objective laws of nature are translated more or less exactly into man's head.
From this perspective, religious belief is also a reflection of reality, albeit a distorted one. Garaudy quotes Engels as stating that the first gods were personifications of the forces of nature, and that as religions developed these gods took on a form which was more and more supernatural, until finally, by a process of abstraction or distillation, the number of gods was restricted and the concept of the exclusive God of the monotheistic religions was born. He endorses Engels's theory, modifying it slightly to include the personification of the forces of society in an epoch when man was powerless in relation to the forces which were opposed to him and dominated him, these forces were incomprehensible to him and he lent them a supernatural character.
These forces were first of all those of nature.
Then the forces of society were added to them.
Religious representations are the fantastic and deformed reflection of these forces in the life of men.
There is thus no room for a transcendent Deity who is above the universe and independent of it, for on this reckoning belief in such a being is a delusion, a product of human alienation.
Even in this early stage of his career, however, Garaudy was careful to distinguish Marx's view of alienation from Feuerbach's. According to Feuerbach, men created the gods in their own image and then became subjected to these projections of themselves. For Marx, on the other hand, religious alienation is only one specific example of man's alienation, which begins as soon as he is divested of the fruits of his labour. Transcendence, in the secondary or attenuated sense of surpassing or rising above the human situation, was therefore already of crucial importance for Garaudy, even though he seems not to have employed the word itself in his thesis. He believed that under socialism all forms of alienation would be abolished because, instructed in dialectical materialism and its theory of knowledge, human beings would become conscious of the laws of nature and the laws of social life which have dominated them for millenia. They would thus be able for the first time in human history to make use of these laws in the interests of society. In short, knowledge of necessity brings with it the only freedom which is humanly available, the freedom to transform the world.
Marxism as a philosophy of praxis, and Marxist-Christian dialogue 
 
Garaudy subsequently adopted a more positive attitude towards religion when he became aware of the subtlety of Marx's thought. He discovered that Marx himself, unlike many of his superficial disciples, had never espoused metaphysical materialism. What Marx had advocated was not materialism as opposed to idealism but rather a philosophy of praxis as opposed to a philosophy of being. In the Theses on Feuerbach, Marx criticised earlier materialists for treating the world as an object of intuition rather than as something to be grasped subjectively by concrete human activity. His starting point was man's creative act, the specifically human activity of work which is characterised by the fact that consciousness anticipates reality. Starting with the conditions in which it is born and in accordance with them, it projects its own ends, its projects.
As an advocate of Marxist-Christian dialogue, Garaudy recognised that religion, like every ideology, is a project a means of tearing oneself away from the given situation, of transcending it, of anticipating reality, either to justify the existing order or to protest against it and attempt to transform it.
Hence, there could be no question of rejecting religion as an error pure and simple, as pre-Marxist materialists had done and as he had done, at least implicitly, in his thesis.
On the contrary, Garaudy now argued that Marxist humanism is interested in the questions which men ask about the meaning of their life, death, origins and purpose. Religion's greatness is its need to answer these questions, but its weakness lies in its claim to give definitive and dogmatic answers when they are in fact provisional.
The answers which religions bring to the questions which men pose, by the very fact that they purport to be definitive, that is dogmas, have the character of myth, that is to say knowledge which purports to be timeless whereas it is always linked to historical and social conditions.
Religion is thus a human project but a mystified one, because those who participate in it are unaware of the material conditions out of which it arises. Like Christianity, Marxism seeks to transform the world not merely by re-organising society but by a spiritual metamorphosis which will liberate man. Thus although Marxist criticism rejects the illusory answers of religion, it does not reject the real aspirations to which they are a response. Marxism poses the same questions as Christianity but, because it is a critical philosophy, it does not consider itself authorised to transform the questions into an answer. It does not give in to the temptation to affirm behind the act a being who is its source. The religious project no more proves the existence of God than a person's thirst proves the existence of a spring. Whereas, for the Christian, the infinite is a promise and a presence, for the Marxist it remains an absence and a demand.

Because of the high premium which Garaudy set on transcendence in the sense of surpassing or rising above the human situation, he was already in his Communist days an inveterate opponent of all those brands of materialist philosophy which tend to deny human creativity and subjectivity. For example, although he recognised the legitimacy of structuralism as a scientific method for analysing various aspects of human and social reality, he rejected the claims of Althusser and Foucault that it was a philosophy which could give an exhaustive account of both.
By the same token, he was sympathetic to the attempts of French Catholic thinkers to reintroduce transcendence by implanting it in existence, in history and social life, or in science. Indeed he was a critical admirer of two such thinkers, Maurice Blondel and Teilhard de Chardin, whose works were banned by the Church. Blondel was an emeritus professor at Aix during Garaudy's student days. His key idea, first expressed in Action written in 1893, was that man can only fulfil himself by moving beyond himself, and that God alone can fill the void that man finds within himself and around him. He held that each of man's acts implies a greater project and that we thus arrive eventually at an ultimate project which defines our attitude to the world. Whereas Blondel tried to reintroduce transcendence via existence, the Jesuit palaeontologist De Chardin tried to reintroduce it via science. He maintained that all phenomena including inorganic matter, plants, animals and human beings, are interrelated, and that the universe is evolving towards an 'Omega point' of supreme consciousness at which the Universal and the Personal will culminate simultaneously in each other.
Blondel's thought appealed to Garaudy because, like Marxism, it was a philosophy of praxis rather than a philosophy of being. However, he found De Chardin's ideas even more attractive because De Chardin's holistic view of the universe resembled Engels's, and his 'Omega point' closely corresponded to Marx's definition of Communism as the overcoming of alienation and the creation of a social order where man would be defined by what he was rather than by what he possessed. In Garaudy's opinion, De Chardin's only serious shortcoming was that he dealt with social, economic and political problems as a biologist and failed to analyse them in terms of alienation and the class struggle.
Of course, Blondel and De Chardin ostensibly believed in God, whereas Garaudy spoke of himself as an atheist. However, we should note that one of the reasons why Blondel and De Chardin fell foul of the ecclesiastical authorities was that they were suspected of immanentism, denial that there is a God who is above and independent of the universe. For Christian immanentists, transcendence as a divine attribute and transcendence as a human dimension are closely related because man encounters God by involving himself in the world rather than by renouncing it. Some of them, like the Anglican bishop John Robinson, whose best-seller Honest to God Garaudy read with approval, wrote as if transcendence was no longer an attribute of God
but a dimension of man, a dimension of our experience and our acts, that which there is of the specifically human in man in contrast to that in him which is animal and which is alienated.
It is arguable that Robinson in effect abolished the notion of transcendence as a divine attribute and retained the word 'God' as a convenient label for what he perceived, in the last analysis, to be a purely human phenomenon.
Despite Garaudy's empathy for radical Christian thinkers and activists, and his whole-hearted commitment to Marxist-Christian dialogue, during his Communist days he held that art and poetry offered man a surer means of rising above the human situation than religion. In his work on Marxist aesthetics, he combated the narrowness of 'socialist realism', seeking the point where the act of artistic creation, the act of faith in a socialist future, and political action, coincided. He acknowledged that all works of art are realist in the sense that they refer to a reality exterior to themselves and independent of them, for it is not consciousness which determines life but life which determines consciousness. Nevertheless, in his view, to be a realist is not to imitate the image of the real, but to imitate its activity; it is not to give an exact copy or duplicate of things, events or men, but to participate in the creative act of a world which is in the process of maturing, to discover its inner rhythm.

Thus great works of art, such as Saint-John Perse's poems and Picasso's paintings, help us perceive new dimensions of reality. In each epoch, the work of art functions as a myth. That is to say it is the personalised and concrete expression of the consciousness of what is lacking and what remains to be done. It is not the reflection of an already existing world but the project of a possible order. Hence the artist does not merely interpret the world; he participates in its transformation.

Garaudy's Christian phase: a lapse into Hegelianism? 
 
In 1965, in his classic work on Marxist-Christian dialogue, Garaudy wrote that recent research set the historical Jesus in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets for whom God's transcendence was thought of as a permanent future, a summons and a demand. Jesus continued their eschatological message, but went beyond their protest against Jewish legalism and announced that the times are fulfilled
and that the present is the time of decision. From now on to believe is to be entirely open to the future. Man no longer thinks of himself as a fragment of the city, and beyond that of the cosmic whole: he no longer defines himself as logos but as power of choice, as the ability to be responsible for answering or not answering God's summons by tearing himself away from his past.
In 1968, two years before he was expelled from the Communist Party, he was interviewed by a catholic priest who asked him what significance he attached to Jesus. Garaudy replied that he thought Jesus must have lived in such a way that his whole life signified that every one of us can at each instant begin a new future. The evangelists expressed this good news in the imagery of simple folk who dream that everything is possible: the blind man begins to see, the lame to walk, the hungry are satisfied. Following this through to its logical conclusion, they depicted him announcing by his own resurrection that all limitations had been overcome, even the supreme limitation of death. In view of what was said earlier about Garaudy's approach to aesthetics, we may infer from these two statements that as a Communist he viewed Jesus, and the Christian myths to which he gave rise, as having the same sort of transforming power as great works of art.
Six years earlier, in 1962, Garaudy had published a detailed study of Hegel under the title Dieu est mort ('God is dead'). When he eventually embraced Christianity in 1975, he arguably did so as a Hegelian. In Parole d'homme ('Man's Word'), published in that year, he quoted with approval Hegel's description of Christ as the man in whom the unity of God and man has appeared, who has shown by his death and his history in general the eternal history of the Spirit. He stated that the resurrection is to be grasped by faith: it is neither a historical event nor a scientific fact but something accomplished each day in our creative acts in which we break with routine, complacency and alienation, not as isolated individuals but by our common participation in the only ultimate reality, the reality of human decisions, initiatives and creations. In Appel aux vivants, published in 1979, Garaudy's Christology is even more blatantly Hegelian. He claimed that we cannot know anything about God other than what Jesus' life, teaching, death and resurrection have revealed, and he even spoke of God dying on the cross beneath the face of Jesus Christ. He maintained that Jesus did not reveal a being or a reality which exists already outside us and without us, for God is the power to transform the world: a power of which we are the bearers and for which we are responsible.
Garaudy, Islam and transcendence
 
In his memoirs, Garaudy remarks that conversion is not necessarily a change of faith but a change of the culture in which it is expressed. Although, from the context, he appears to have been thinking of religious conversions in general, the statement is clearly pertinent to an assessment of his own conversion to Islam. In many respects, his views have remained remarkably constant throughout the Communist, Christian and Muslim phases of his life. He has persistently favoured revolution; opposed the USA and Zionism; criticised the Romanisation of the Church and the hellenisation of its doctrine; and attributed the global crisis to the false view of man which has dominated Western thought since the sixteenth century. We are therefore justified in asking whether his conversion to Islam involved a genuine change in his beliefs about God or whether his references to 'God the creator' are simply another way of expressing his faith in humanity's creative power to transform the world.
There is no straightforward answer to this question. To the present writer, it seems undeniable that there are serious tensions in Garaudy's recent thought. Part of the problem lies in the ambiguity of the word 'transcendence'. As a Communist, and later as a radical Christian, Garaudy believed in transcendence in the sense of surpassing or rising above the present human situation, but his Marxist background made it very difficult for him to countenance a transcendent Deity above and independent of the universe. Shortly before his conversion, however, he appears to have become convinced that such a belief was morally necessary and that the Islamic tradition had within it the resources for making it intellectually tenable. His views on this matter as evinced in L'Islam habite notre avenir ('Islam inhabits our future'), Biographie du XXème siècle ('Biography of the 20th Century'), L'Islam en occident: Cordoue, capitale de l'esprit ('Islam in the West: Cordoba, Capital of the Spirit') and Grandeur et décadences de l'Islam ('Greatness and Decadences of Islam'), which were published in 1981, 1985, 1987 and 1996 respectively, are relatively consistent. We will therefore begin with them before examining the position propounded in Les Fossoyeurs ('The Grave-diggers'), which was published in 1992 and which is strikingly different.
Although Garaudy wrote L'Islam habite notre avenir before he officially became a Muslim, many people interpreted it as an eloquent and impassioned defence of Islam. By way of explanation, he said to one admiring reader, 'You can speak with love even of visions of the world which you do not share'. As mentioned earlier, his principal thesis was that Islam has an important contribution to make to the future of the world because it values 'transcendence and community', two vital dimensions which are lacking in contemporary Western society. He observed that the Islamic community serves ends which go beyond it, ends fixed by God; the community transcends the individual and God transcends the community. He was particularly attracted to the basic principles of Islamic economics. Unlike European law which defines property as 'the right to use and abuse', Islam asserts that God alone possesses. Muslims are therefore forbidden either to accumulate wealth or to squander it. Moreover, the institution of zakat, a fixed-percentage charitable tax which is payable annually on both revenue and capital, functions as a form of social security and in theory rules out the possibility of hereditary fortunes.
So much for the moral appeal of belief in God the creator, but is such a belief intellectually viable? Garaudy observes that the Qur'an is God's Word, not his self-revelation. Moreover, in describing the function of the mihrab or prayer niche in a mosque, he writes not only does this niche not shelter any statue or image, but it signifies, by this very absence, the God who is here honoured, a God everywhere present but everywhere invisible. This emptiness is characteristic of the art of Islam. Nothing is reality, if not this emptiness, at the heart of all reality, and first and foremost of the mosque, as of the heart of the believer, the sole but invisible reality.
In view of Garaudy's earlier belief that there is no transcendence other than the future which human beings strive to create, it is easy to understand the attraction for him of a God whose presence is marked by his visible absence. Not that God is wholly absent, for according to the Qur'an everything is a sign, everything is a manifestation of God. There is no reality apart from him. In Garaudy's opinion, the Qur'an, as interpreted by Ibn Arabi, introduces a radically new perspective on the relationship between the real and the unreal: nothing can be seen fully except in God, and God can only be seen fully in the totality of his creation. Moreover this unity is not a matter of being but of praxis. The only incontestable proof of God is our experience of his creative activity within us.
In his subsequent works, Garaudy repeats and clarifies the views which I have just outlined. In Biographie du XXème siècle, he states that to affirm transcendence is to recognise man's dependance on his creator; the absence of any continuity between man and God; and the primacy of absolute norms, not deducible by reason. He reiterates that God's existence is not of the order of being, in the sense that one says of things that they are. He is the source of their being and the act that creates them. He stresses that Islamic thought is, however, invulnerable to pantheism because the act of creation cannot be identified with the totality of what it creates; it is always beyond it, that totality being no more than the provisional trace left by it. In L'Islam en occident, he defends Ibn Arabi against the charge of pantheism in these terms
Pantheism consists in considering God as the additive totality of beings. This is not the case at all for Ibn Arabi: for him, this additive totality is nothing other than the sum total of the illusions born from the limited camera work of individuals. It has no reality in itself. The only real being is God, in his unity and transcendence, in his creative act.
He also insists that it is simplistic to view Ibn Arabi as a Platonist, because for him everything begins with the incessant creative act of God rather than with the static Platonic ideas. Similar notions are found in Grandeur et décadences de l'Islam, the most recent of his works to be considered; it contains nothing to make us suspect that Garaudy has changed his mind on these key issues.
When we recollect Garaudy's earlier attraction to Teilhard de Chardin, it is hardly surprising that as a Muslim he became an ardent champion of Ibn Arabi. Unfortunately, however, we cannot end our examination of his philosophical itinerary at this point, for between L'Islam en occident and Grandeur et décadences de l'Islam he wrote Les Fossoyeurs. In this book he seems to have lapsed temporarily into a Hegelian pantheism of love of the sort which he espoused earlier as a Christian. In a most un-Islamic fashion, he stresses the importance of Jesus' crucifixion for our understanding of God. He argues that whereas the Greeks, Romans and Jews thought of God as an omnipotent king and lawgiver, Jesus reveals God not through power, royalty and commandment but on the contrary in the most impoverished man, born poor and working class, then a wandering preacher, and finally, victim of the powerful, held up to ridicule, and dying by the most ignominious means of execution reserved for slaves, namely crucifixion.
A few pages later, he asserts that Jesus was a man inhabited by the presence of the all, and conscious of not existing except in relation to the all; that it is by his death that he is fully divine; and that his death shows that the omnipotent God of the ancient theisms is dead.
The reasons for this temporary lapse are unclear but Garaudy's memoirs, which were published three years earlier, contain a number of possible clues. When he was on the verge of converting, he had feared losing Jesus' message. He had been deeply anxious lest his fellow-Muslims failed to accept the mystery of love, which he held had become through Jesus the warp and woof of every life. After embracing Islam, he visited many Muslim countries. In Turkey, as he worshipped in the Süleymaniye Mosque, he wondered whether it had not suffered the same fate as Christianity in becoming an impoerial ideology Constantinople, the city where in the time of Constantine Christianity married an empire, might it have had with Suleiman this grandiose and baleful vocation to transform yet again the humble praise of God into a hymn to the power of a sovereign?
In Algeria, at a conference on Islamic thought which took place in 1987, he clashed publicly with a Wahhabi scholar from Qatar, who criticised him for speaking of the role of the love of God in Islam. The scholar insisted that there could be no relationship between God and man other than that of master and slave, and he asked Garaudy about his attitude to the fear of God.
'To fear God is not be afraid of his punishment, it is to fear displeasing him, and that is what is meant by love' This led to a long polemic centring on this infamous dialectic of the stick and the carrot, so dear to all despotisms searching for a religious justification, and which makes every religion which accepts it an 'opium of the people'.
I retorted:
'You are defending a proslavery concept of Islam!'
The following morning, Sheikh Karadawi re-embarked for Qatar.
It is probably these incidents and others like them which triggered the thoughts which Garaudy expressed in Les Fossoyeurs. Judging by Grandeur et décadences de l'Islam, however, he has since reverted to a more orthodox Muslim attitude to divine transcendence and to the role of Jesus, on him be peace.
Notes:
-Garaudy has given us three accounts of this incident: Parole d'Homme (Paris: Laffont, 1975) pp. 15-21; Biographie du XXème siècle (Paris: Tougui, 1985) pp. 277-9; and Mon tour du siècle en solitaire: mémoires (Paris: Laffont, 1989) pp. 64-66.
-See op. cit. 1989 pp. 395-400
-Op. cit. 1975 p. 124. This and all subsequent quotations from Garaudy's works have been translated into English by the author.
-Op. cit. 1975 p. 265.
-De l'anathème au dialogue: un Marxiste s'adresse au concile (Paris: Plon, 1965) p. 92.
-Ibid.
-Op. cit. 1989 p. 339 referring to the views he expressed in 1982 a few months before his conversion to Islam.
-See S. M. Stern, 'Abd al-Jabbar's account of how Christ's religion was falsified by the adoption of Roman customs' Journal of Theological Studies N. S. XIX (1968) pp. 28-185.
_ Appel au vivants (Paris: Seuil, 1979).
-L'Islam habite notre avenir (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1981).
-Ibid. pp. 12 and 33.
-Op. cit. 1985 p. 12.
-Op. cit. 1985 p. 40.
-Op. cit. 1969 p. 22.
-L'Islam en occident: Cordoue, capitale de l'esprit (Paris: L'Harmattan, 1987) p. 242.
-Op. cit. 1981 p. 140.
-Op. cit. 1987 p. 243.
-Ibid. p. 242.
-Op. cit. 1975 pp. 158f.
-Op. cit. 1975 p. 258.
-Perspectives de l'homme (Paris: PUF, 1959) p. 4.
-Op. cit. 1975 pp. 143-5.
-Op. cit. 1992 p. 126.
-Ibid. pp. 144f.
-Op. cit 1965 p. 79.
-La théorie matérialiste de la connaissance (Paris: PUF, 1953).
-Ibid. p. 380.
-Ibid. p. 252.
-Ibid. p. 320.
-Ibid. p. 377.
-Op. cit. 1965 pp. 60ff.
-Ibid. p. 66.
-Ibid.
-Ibid. p. 68.
-Ibid.
-Ibid p. 88.
-Ibid. p. 86.
-Perspectives de l'homme 4th expanded edition (Paris: PUF, 1969) pp. 223-50.
-Ibid. pp.123-222.
-Ibid. p. 195.
-Ibid. pp. 192, 202.
-For example op. cit. 1965 p. 89.
-Op. cit. 1965 p. 30. Robinson's Honest to God (London: SCM, 1963) was translated into French under the more provocative title Dieu sans Dieu - 'God without God'.
-D'un réalisme sans rivages: Picasso, Saint-John Perse, Kafka (Paris: Plon, 1963) p. 244.
-Ibid. p. 250.
-Op. cit. 1975 p. 259.
-Op. cit. 1965 p. 100.
-The statement is reproduced in full in Garaudy op. cit. 1989 pp. 228-30.
-Dieu est mort; étude sur Hegel (Paris: PUF, 1962)
-Op. cit. 1975 p. 243.
-Ibid pp. 244-7.
-Ibid. p. 161.
-Ibid. p. 181.
-Ibid p. 183.
-Op. cit. 1989, p. 228.
-Grandeur et décadences de l'Islam (Paris: Alphabeta & Chama, 1996).
-Les Fossoyeurs (Paris: L'Archipel, 1992).
-Op. cit. 1989 p. 338.
-Op. cit. 1981 pp. 12 & 33.
-Ibid. p. 97.
-Ibid. pp. 87f.
-Ibid. p. 148.
-Ibid. p. 172.
-Ibid. pp. 23f.
-Ibid. p. 146.
-Ibid. p. 164.
-Op. cit. 1985 pp. 272-5.
-Op. cit. 1987 p. 161.
-Ibid. pp. 157f.
-R. Garaudy, Les Fossoyeurs (Paris: L'Archipel, 1992) p. 143.
-Ibid. p. 159.
-Ibid. p. 161.
-Ibid. p. 162.
-Op. cit. 1989 p. 340.
-Ibid. p. 351.
-Op. cit. 1989 p. 372.
-Op. cit. 1989 pp. 389f.

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Nazim Hikmet, poète communiste turc (1901-1963), traduit par son ami Garaudy