From Atheist to Christian

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Nick A
Reply Fri 25 Apr, 2008 10:14 pm
"Pity them my children, they are far from home and no one knows them. Let those in quest of God be careful lest appearances deceive them in these people who are peculiar and hard to place; no one rightly knows them but those in whom the same light shines" Meister Eckhart

Hello All

Simone Weil (1909-1943) is one of the few that is worthy of this profound observation by Meister Eckhart. I cannot do justice to her in this introduction but hope to elaborate in future posts from different directions. I hope to be part of presentations around her 100th birthday 2/3/09 so this is good practice.

I have a great admiration for true religious individuality. Where many find it comforting to talk of the unity of humanity in idealistic terms, I admire those that have experienced the human condition for what it is in themselves as well as society and personally grown as a result in the direction of the true human spirit.

Simone Weil was, I believe, such a person. She was such an individual that she really is impossible to classify. She is one of those few that can only be called an "event". She was a trained philosopher and taught philosophy. Now her ideas are taught with the respect one gives to Kierkegaard.

It almost seems absurd that a woman born in 1909 and dies in 1943, living a brief 34 years, should now become for me not only one of the most profound female thinkers I've read but one of the most dedicated to be brutally honest with her beliefs in relation to herself. I've read some of her writings and will gradually read more but I am in awe that such depth, courage, and sincerity could exist in someone so young.

Needless to say, attempting to deal with what was obvious an inner calling annoyed many. She was very "odd." and probably even frightened some. It was part of a growing process in a world alien to her being.

She was born a French Jew in a fairly well to do home and her parents were fond of Marx and Freud. When very young she was a brilliant anarchist and Atheist and Marxist.. "Boris Souvarine, who had been head at one time of the French communist party, but later broke with Stalin, and who was the first to write an authoritative biography of the still living dictator, admired Simone immensely: "She's the most intelligent woman I've met since Rosa Luxemburg," he said".
But not just a talker, she lived her principles and voluntarily entered factory work to experience the human condition.

Her life appears to be a contradiction but when seen in the context of the purity of her search it couldn't be any other way. Though brilliant the university couldn't deal with her individuality.The Director of Career PlacementPolice Commissioner of Le Puy to the Prefect in a 1932 report to the Prefect wrote: "In the interest of public security it would be advisable that this person be distanced from Le Puy, where she has never ceased to preach revolt." Her brother Andre, another genius wrote of her affectionately: "It will now be I think 23 years that you made your entry into the phenomenal world to create the greatest pain in the ass for rectors and school directors." A brilliant person who realizes the obvious absurdities surrounding her will be a pain in the ass and we need more of them.

She also had a heart that beat around the world. It must have been terribe to experience the human condition as she did. Here is an exchange between Simone Weil and another brilliant student:

"Weil's fellow student, the feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir, wrote of Weil in her book Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter:[INDENT]She intrigued me because of her great reputation for intelligence and her bizarre get-up; "A great famine had broken out in China, and I was told that when she heard the news she had wept: these tears compelled my respect much more than her gifts as a philosopher. I envied her having a heart that could beat right across the world. I managed to get near her one day. I don't know how the conversation got started; she declared in no uncertain tones that only one thing mattered in the world: the revolution which would feed all the starving people of the earth. I retorted, no less peremptorily, that the problem was not to make men happy, but to find the reason for their existence. She looked me up and down: 'It's easy to see you've never been hungry,' she snapped."

From "Simone Weil: A Saint for our Time":

According to Francine du Plessix Gray in a recent biography of Weil,[1] Pope Paul VI claimed her as one of the three-with Pascal and Bernanos-most important influences on his intellectual development. It may be that the only reason she is not and is never likely to be Saint Simone is that she was never baptized. She refused baptism a number of times, the last as she lay dying. She regarded herself, however, as a true Christian, too true, by her own understanding, to become a member of the Catholic Church (the only existing church to which she felt drawn). She felt she could be "faithful to Christ" without being a member of the Church; perhaps even more so because she was outside it. "A few sheep should remain outside the fold to bear witness that the love of Christ is essentially something different."
So we have this brilliant pain in the ass and celebrated philosophy student of Emile Chartier in France. She was such a contradiction that only seven people outside her family attended her funeral.

All of a sudden she is discovered. T; S. Eliot reading some of her essays and learning of her life published more of her works calling her "A woman of genius, of a kind of genius akin to that of the saints"

Albert Camus the existentialist philosopher after reading her profound works was so taken that in a letter to Weil's mother in 1951 wrote

"Simone Weil, I still know this now, is the only great mind of our times and I hope that those who realize this have enough modesty to not try to appropriate her overwhelming witnessing.
For my part, I would be satisfied if one could say that in my place, with the humble means at my disposal, I served to make known and disseminate her work whose full impact we have yet to measure."

It was her incredible talent and her uncompromising desire to be real that allowed I believe a genuine transition in human psychological growth where she could understand the natural connection between the attractions of Christianity and Atheism. Now who but a true individual could grasp and reconcile such an apparent contradiction?

She experienced, I believe, something similar to what St. Paul did when she writes "Christ himself came down and took possession of me." It is notable that she writes: " God in his mercy had prevented me from reading the mystics, so that it should be evident to me that I had not invented this absolutely unexpected contact." It minimizes the role of imagination. Since she wrote this to a friend knowing she had TB, I don't suspect the usual urge to try and create appearance. Anyhow, before getting into her conception of the connection between Atheism and Christianity, I'll first copy this excerpt from this compilation of her letters and notes"

Excerpt from WAITING FOR GOD by Simone Weil - Harper & Row, New York, 1951, translated by Emma Craufurd (title is also translated as "Waiting ON God")[INDENT] Quote:
There was a young English Catholic there from whom I gained my first idea of the supernatural power of the sacraments because of the truly angelic radiance with which he seemed to be clothed after going to communion. Chance -- for I always prefer saying chance rather than Providence -- made of him a messenger to me. For he told me of the existence of those English poets of the seventeenth century who are named metaphysical. In reading them later on, I discovered the poem of which I read you what is unfortunately a very inadequate translation. It is called "Love". I learned it by heart. Often, at the culminating point of a violent headache, I make myself say it over, concentrating all my attention upon it and clinging with all my soul to the tenderness it enshrines. I used to think I was merely reciting it as a beautiful poem, but without my knowing it the recitation had the virtue of a prayer. It was during one of these recitations that, as I told you, Christ himself came down and took possession of me.

In my arguments about the insolubility of the problem of God I had never foreseen the possibility of that, of a real contact, person to person, here below, between a human being and God I had vaguely heard tell of things of this kind, but I had never believed in them. In the Fioretti the accounts of apparitions rather put me off if anything, like the miracles in the Gospel. Moreover, in this sudden possession of me by Christ, neither my senses nor my imagination had any part; I only felt in the midst of my suffering the presence of a love, like that which one can read in the smile on a beloved face.

I had never read any mystical works because I had never felt any call to read them. In reading as in other things I have always striven to practice obedience. There is nothing more favorable to intellectual progress, for as far as possible I only read what I am hungry for at the moment when I have an appetite for it, and then I do not read, I eat. God in his mercy had prevented me from reading the mystics, so that it should be evident to me that I had not invented this absolutely unexpected contact.

Yet I still half refused, not my love but my intelligence. For it seemed to me certain, and I still think so today, that one can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for the truth. Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.

After this I came to feel that Plato was a mystic, that all the Iliad is bathed in Christian light, and that Dionysus and Osiris are in a certain sense Christ himself; and my love was thereby redoubled.

I never wondered whether Jesus was or was not the Incarnation of God; but in fact I was incapable of thinking of him without thinking of him as God.

In the spring of 1940 I read the Bhagavad-Gita. Strange to say it was in reading those marvelous words, words with such a Christian sound, put into the mouth of an incarnation of God, that I came to feel strongly that we owe an allegiance to religious truth which is quite different from the admiration we accord to a beautiful poem; it is something far more categorical.

During all this time of spiritual progress I had never prayed. I was afraid of the power of suggestion that is in prayer -- the very power for which Pascal recommends it. Pascal's method seems to me one of the worst for attaining faith.

Contact with you was not able to persuade me to pray. On the contrary I thought the danger was all the greater, since I also had to beware of the power of suggestion in my friendship with you. At the same time I found it very difficult not to pray and not to tell you so. Moreover I knew I could not tell you without completely misleading you about myself. At that time I should not have been able to make you understand.

Until last September I had never once prayed in all my life, at least not in the literal sense of the word. I had never said any words to God, either out loud or mentally. I had never pronounced a liturgical prayer. I had occasionally recited the Salve Regina, but only as a beautiful poem.

Last summer, doing Greek with T-, I went through the Our Father word for word in Greek. We promised each other to learn it by heart. I do not think he ever did so, but some weeks later, as I was turning over the pages of the Gospel, I said to myself that since I had promised to do this thing and it was good, I ought to do it. I did it. The infinite sweetness of this Greek text so took hold of me that for several days I could not stop myself from saying it over all the time. A week afterward I began the vine harvest I recited the Our Father in Greek every day before work, and I repeated it very often in the vineyard.

Since that time I have made a practice of saying it through once each morning with absolute attention. If during the recitation my attention wanders or goes to sleep, in the minutest degree, I begin again until I have once succeeded in going through it with absolutely pure attention. Sometimes it comes about that I say it again out of sheer pleasure, but I only do it if I really feel the impulse.

The effect of this practice is extraordinary and surprises me every time, for, although I experience it each day, it exceeds my expectation at each repetition.

At times the very first words tear my thoughts from my body and transport it to a place outside space where there is neither perspective nor point of view. The infinity of the ordinary expanses of perception is replaced by an infinity to the second or sometimes the third degree. At the same time, filling every part of this infinity of infinity, there is silence, a silence which is not an absence of sound but which is the object of a positive sensation, more positive than that of sound. Noises, if there are any, only reach me after crossing this silence.

Sometimes, also, during this recitation or at other moments, Christ is present with me in person, but his presence is infinitely more real, more moving, more clear than on that first occasion when he took possession of me.

I should never have been able to take it upon myself to tell you all this had it not been for the fact that I am going away. And as I am going more or less with the idea of probable death, I do not believe that I have the right to keep it to myself. For after all, the whole of this matter is not a question concerning me myself. It concerns God. I am really nothing in it all. If one could imagine any possibility of error in God, I should think that it had all happened to me by mistake. But perhaps God likes to use castaway objects, waste, rejects. After all, should the bread of the host be moldy, it would become the Body of Christ just the same after the priest had consecrated it. Only it cannot refuse, while we can disobey. It sometimes seems to me that when I am treated in so merciful a way, every sin on my part must be a mortal sin. And I am constantly committing them....
No cutsey pooh everybody loves everybody stuff. Just profound experience of one searching with courage for meaning in a world hostile to their efforts.

So how does she unite Atheism and Christianity? She does so with a realistic appreciation of the divided state of human nature without any condemnation. She had experienced both with pure intent so her connection was natural. Consider these two quotations:

1. "Religion in so far as it is a source of consolation is a hindrance to true faith: in this sense, atheism is a purification. I have to be atheistic with the part of myself which is not made for God. Among those men in whom the supernatural part has not been awakened, the atheists are right and the believers wrong."

2. An atheist may be simply one whose faith and love are concentrated on the impersonal aspects of God.
[/INDENT]How can such a young person see what so many have missed? Religion isn't for consolation but awakening which the Atheist in their own way invites us to do. Both Atheists and the Religious will dig their heels in and snarl at one another while she only relates her experience of reconciliation. At one time in her life her concern was purely for the society and as Atheistic as one could be. But her courage and desire for the truth itself required her to be open and not just close off in defense of an agenda. In this way she could experience what I believe to be the natural transition into higher understanding that our arguments and egotistic self justifications close us off to. Her individualism demanded being open to reality at the expense of her beliefs. She was able from her atheistic background to distinguish between the secular and the sacred in terms of religion itself.

How could she come to such profound experiences? It was her intelligence matched with her purity and need to "understand" She wrote:

"To believe in God is not a decision we can make. All we can do is decide not to give our love to false gods. In the first place, we can decide not to believe that the future contains for us an all-sufficient good. The future is made of the same stuff as the present....

"...It is not for man to seek, or even to believe in God. He has only to refuse to believe in everything that is not God. This refusal does not presuppose belief. It is enough to recognize, what is obvious to any mind, that all the goods of this world, past, present, or future, real or imaginary, are finite and limited and radically incapable of satisfying the desire which burns perpetually with in us for an infinite and perfect good... It is not a matter of self-questioning or searching. A man has only to persist in his refusal, and one day or another God will come to him."
She brings to philosophy what it has been missing. Jacob Needleman calls it the "Heart" of philosophy" and wrote a book by the same name: From

Book Description
Philosophy as it is frequently taught in classrooms bears little relation to the impassioned and immensely practical search for self-knowledge conducted by not only its ancient avatars but also by men and woman who seek after truth today. In The Heart of the Philosophy, Jacob Needleman provides a "user's guide" for those who would take philosophy seriously enough to understand its life-transforming qualities. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author
Jacob Needleman is a professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University, and the former director of the Center for the Study of New Religions at the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley. His many books include The American Soul, Money and the Meaning of Life, and Time and the Soul. --This text refers to the Paperback edition

How is it that she touches people so that people like Albert Camus would publish her works without thought of money but because they are so valuable and so many different types of people are taken by her brilliance and purity? I've learned that it is much better not to try and classify those like Simone but instead try and grasp what they have to offer though a severe mind stretch to do it. If philosophy is really the search for wisdom, Simone has her place within this great tradition. She has done a great deal in revealing the connection between Platonism and Christianity. Her essay on the Iliad is considered one of the most profound explanations of this epic poem,

"Humanism was not wrong in thinking that truth, beauty, liberty, and equality are of infinite value, but in thinking that man can get them for himself without grace." Simone Weil.
Reply Sat 26 Apr, 2008 06:21 pm
@Nick A,
It is almost impossible to read Ms. Weils' works without learning something of yourself in her honesty and brutal lack of tact.
Master Pangloss
Reply Sun 20 Jul, 2008 11:32 am
I completely agree. She has an incredible insight into the human condition and she communicates it in the most bare, essential language possible. This makes her very difficult to read at times, but all the more powerful at that. She is also one of the few philosophers, save for the existentialists in general, who genuinely lived her philosophy to the bitter end. She is a model for humanity and a true Saint.
Reply Mon 21 Jul, 2008 12:18 pm
@Nick A,
Very Nice Entry Nick, Its not often someone write a bio or review that really makes hunger to read the source material. Now i gotta read it.
Victor Eremita
Reply Tue 9 Sep, 2008 03:42 pm
Simone Weil sounds interesting, never actually read anything by her; anyone recommend a good place to start?
Nick A
Reply Tue 9 Sep, 2008 09:39 pm
@Victor Eremita,
Wow. I thought this thread was dead and I got a notice that someone responded and I see others have as well.

It is hard to know where to start reading Simone since it depends upon a person's interest. "Waiting for God" is a religious work consisting of her notes, essays, and letters etc. "Gravity and Grace"s more philosophical. "The Need for Roots" is very cultural and describes how France should be rebuilt after Hitler's devestation. Then there is "Lectures on Philosophy" which consists of careful notes by one of her students. There have been recent anthologies which are also good.

She is so far ahead of her time in appreciating the eventual unity of science and religion which will allow science to serve man rather than man becoming a slave to scientific advancement.

Simone Weil: A Life, Random House, 1976, p. 488
Victor Eremita
Reply Wed 10 Sep, 2008 05:06 pm
@Nick A,
Thanks for the tips Nick
Nick A
Reply Wed 10 Sep, 2008 05:55 pm
@Victor Eremita,
Victor Eremita wrote:
Thanks for the tips Nick

Vic, I see tht you like Kierkegaard. She is the only woman I know compared to Kierkegaard.

Simone Weil (Bauer) - CESNUR 2002


She was fourteen when that picture was taken.
Victor Eremita
Reply Thu 11 Sep, 2008 12:58 pm
@Nick A,
That's very interesting. Arendt and Beauvoir are compared as philosophical descendants of Kierkegaard; but Weil is compared as an equal religious thinker to Kierkegaard which is intriguing.

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