In the second installment of Controversy, Vincent F. Hendricks talks to four men about religion and the state. They all embody states and non-states, thoughts and non-thoughts, and some clothes in between. I, for one, had a hard time focussing on the guests - a Lutheran priest, a catholic old man and former member of the Board of Ethics, a director of a Danish free school, and an atheist - as the camera kept cutting to pretty ladies in the front-row behind them, and who were flashing their checkered shirts, thus matching the one the host was wearing. “Ah, symmetries,” I thought to myself. The ones prone to observing them, will always see them all over the place. But, “no matter,” as Beckett used to say, we don't always have to be so attentive to goddamned everything, or disturbed by petty things.
The topic was the function of the Danish national religion, which is Lutheran, and which is still part of the state. Should Denmark keep its tradition and have religion and the state together - a tradition which, as was pointed out by the very sober and sound sounding catholic, has also been part of the constitution and is thus hard to change - or should religion and the state, each go their merry way?
Religion was thus discussed mainly from a political and economical point of view, insofar as what was stressed was the fact that prioritizing the state religion over the other some 116 religions in Denmark is not a sign of equality, as these other religions do not have access to the pockets of the individuals and their monthly tax as the Lutheran church does. For it is a fact in Denmark that everyone becomes automatically a member of the church at birth, and remains so, unless people later elect to either officially drop out or join other religions. In principle, however, it bothers the Lutheran church little if a person is a member of several orders. Money talks.
What makes people religious was not discussed, but the fact that it may be problematic to wear muslim or Jewish attire in official capacity while under Danish laws was discussed. So again, in anno domini 2010, it ain't anymore about the church and the state but about the church and fashion. So now that I think of it some more, the presence of fashionable women in the front row at a debate show about religion may not seem so far off the mark, after all. As I'm also sure that some would swear by the fashion God.
So, yes, what was the outcome? There wasn't any, unless we valorize incongruity. And we do, for as much as religion was discussed in its relation to tradition, culture and symbol, thus emphasizing a collective memory that we all share – basically we like to be Christians, Jews, or Muslims, because it makes us feel safe – references to the relation of the ineffable, and divine power to politics were absent all together. Ah, the poets knew it, of course, that such things are on retreat, when they formulated this type of incongruity, between man, memory, and God, ever so eloquently. A favorite of mine, Edmond Jabès once said: “God despises memory, he travels.” Unless one insists, like I do, on the mystery of the unspeakable, of “that which happened,” and which mediates between the courage to look inwards, at ourselves, and the flight through religious thought towards the outward realm of traces where language operates.
Thus an example: At 6.30 pm today I zipped at the office. I took the path by the lake and the field outside the university, as I like to see the swans and the goats floating and roaming. Two men with big guns passed me by, and I said to myself: oh, my, the big bad boys are out playing. One of them looked at me intently, but I was busy with my own imagination. Half an hour later I came home to find just about every neighbor hanging out of their balconies over the gelander. Oh, my, that was some vision, and I instantly saw myself as a catholic priest making the sign of the cross onto everyone. You don't get so many chances, so you can imagine what my head was going through. I started laughing, when I saw the police around. One of them asked me to let him in. I did, and then asked: “what's going on?” He said that someone saw people with guns around. Before I got to say, “me too,” he was up the stairs in a flight.
In thinking religious thoughts, there's only one question that is relevant: where does the limit go? This is what I had in mind while almost touching the Kalashnikovs on my walking tour. Now I can't help thinking about the closeness to limits that we all must experience. One minute you're here and the next you're gone, one minute you're almost there, and the next, ah well, there's is no 'next,' as you fall into oblivion faster than you can think. Meanwhile, we see what we want to see, and this is very much related to the perennial religious dilemma: is existence a question of being or one of vision? Why is the thought of seeing a judge wearing a priest's gown so disturbing? And why does it interfere with my thoughts of the promise of eternal life?
I'll take this question up with my mathematician friend tomorrow, for he was the one I was thinking of when this thought befell me: it's a good thing the wackos didn't start shooting, as I have a rendez-vous with a man who promised to demonstrate 3 theorems for me at 5.30 pm sharp, in front of the City Hall in Copenhagen. So how could I possibly die before that? Indeed, there must be angels up there, guardians of the baptism in numbers.