Ecotopia and Political Expectations
Updated: Nov 6, 2020
Three Lectures on Paul Tillich
by Paul Lee
“There is a divinity that shapes our ends rough-hew them how we will.” Shakespeare
There are three concepts to consider at the outset: palimpsest, occultation, and aletheia, the Greek word for truth.
Palimpsest is the overlayering of texts, literally meaning “scraped again,” as in erased and written over; occultation is an astronomical term, meaning one heavenly body passing in front of another, obscuring it from view; aletheia, means remembering what is forgotten, or, as Heidegger puts it almost unintelligibly in English, unconcealedness. I like hide and seek. Or garbled (to sift, select, inspect and remove the worst from the best).
I mention these terms to set the stage for my account of the influence Tillich has had on my life and the associations I make about that influence when I think of what I have experienced, in the line of social work. In other words, at least in my case, ve get so soon old und yet so late schmart.
I want to pay tribute to Tillich’s work in Selfhelp and give you a brief account of my work with the homeless in Santa Cruz, which has inspired my utopian plan for economic development: Ecotopia/USA. This plan relates to Tillich’s writings on utopia, largely collected in the volume: Political Expectations. I will comment, as well, on the theme of the “ecology of being” and give my understanding of the environmental crisis based on the following thesis.
The Physicalist/Vitalist conflict in the system of the sciences is the key to understanding how the integrity of organic nature was undermined, accounting for the environmental crisis in the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society.
Tillich gave an address on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Selfhelp, of which he was Honorary Chairman: “The Philosophy of Social Work,” (The Quality of Mercy, Homelessness in Santa Cruz–l985-l992, by Paul Lee, Introduction by Page Smith), l992.
It is one of the characteristic gems he was so noted for–his ability to define and formulate, as well as inspire. The simple reiteration of the dignity and worth of a human being against the objectification of social service case work is typical Tillich. The following sums up the address:
“This leads to a final aim of social work. In helping all individuals to find the place where they can consider themselves as necessary, you help to fulfill the ultimate aim of human beings and their world, namely, the universal community of all beings in which any individual aim is taken into the universal aim of being itself.” p. l3l.
This view is curiously contrapuntal to a formulation of the infinite dignity of the human being by Joseph Popper Lynkeus, who exaggerates the issue of human dignity to the point of absurdity, in order to make the point. I’m afraid the point is as follows: humans are so devalued, the most absurd ad hominem argument is needed to awaken us to the truth of their value to us. Here is what Popper Lynkeus says:
“When any individual, of however little account, but one who does not deliberately imperil another’s existence, disappears from the world, without or even against his or her will, this is a far more important happening, than any political, or religious, or national occurrence, or the sum total of the scientific and artistic and technical advances, made throughout the ages, by all the peoples of the world. Should anybody be inclined to regard this statement as an exaggeration, let them imagine the individual concerned to be themself or their best beloved. Then they will understand and accept it.”
Disappearing from the world is close to Tillich’s remark about feeling unnecessary, a prelude to despair and hopelessness. In The Courage To Be, Tillich mentions how people in the Great Depression thought they had ceased to exist because they were unemployed. Having a job in America meant existence itself. Not having a job meant ceasing to exist–disappearing. You saw it in the photographs of the faces of men sitting on park benches, in the depths of despair, absent from themselves.
Existentialism, according to Tillich, is the outcry against such inhumanity, a protest against industrial society, substituting machines for human beings and turning them into cogs in the wheels of production and consumption, on daylight saving time, on the assembly line, or worse yet, turning them out into homelessness.
Industrial society uproots us from our existence. Gardens are an effort to replant the root of our existence, to restore a lost vitality. Organic gardens are symbolic of the re-affirmation of the integrity of organic nature, which industrial society has undermined and supplanted. The experimental laboratory is the equivalent of gardens in industrial society. Scientists moved into the lab from the great civic botanic gardens of the European Renaissance, the successors to medieval herb gardens, after civic botanic gardens developed astronomical observatories and chemical labs in the advance of physics and chemistry, especially after the triumph of organic chemistry, the chemistry of artificial synthesis.
I have spent years thinking about the juxtaposition of synthetic and organic, as well as industrial society and its impact on organic nature as a consequence of the development of modern science in alliance with technology. Tillich characterizes this development in his MIT address as an aim without an aim. It is clear that the concept of telos is almost as despised and rejected in modern science as vital force.
I want to get back to the garden, re-affirm the integrity of organic nature, and engage in utopian expectations. In my view, gardens best symbolize the utopian imagination–they are the memory of the Garden of Eden and an anticipation of the future restoration of the original horizon of goodness in the Kingdom of God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, Paradise, the New Heaven and New Earth, where ripe fruit never falls.
The historical sequence, beginning in the Renaissance, looks like a betrayal of this vision: first they went out throughout the world looking for the Garden of Eden. Columbus was looking for it when he discovered America. When they could not locate it geographically, they settled for the great civic botanic gardens throughout Europe as Eden restored. The rebirth of Western culture was celebrated in botanic gardens, the major expression of the Renaissance, beginning with Padua and Pisa, in Italy. And then they became seedbeds of modern science and the age of the Plantocracy gave way to the emerging Technocracy–from Plantocrat to Technocrat.
I first heard Tillich speak when I was a student at St. Olaf College, in l952-53. He gave three lectures on Existentialism. I didn’t understand a word. I mention in my reminiscence of Tillich that I lay awake arguing with my roommates, who also hadn’t understood a word, whether what he had said was important.
I thought it was appropriate to show a little humility in the face of the truth that was over one’s head.
I went on from St. Olaf to Luther Theological Seminary to pursue a career in the Lutheran ministry. The Seminary thought Tillich was the enemy and they were ill disposed to Luther, so I transferred to Harvard Divinity School, because Tillich had been appointed to Harvard. I became his teaching assistant for his last two years there. This reflected glory was not particularly good for me because we were applauded every time we opened our mouths. Students applauded me because I told them what Tillich meant sans his German accent. You could hardly blame someone for thinking Tillich meant “virtue” when he said “worldview.” I think I misunderstood Plato and Aristotle on aspiring to divinity and thought the line was “to become as similar to Tillich as possible.” God knows I tried.
After Tillich left Harvard, I went on to teach at MIT at the invitation of Huston Smith, and from there I went to UCSC in l966. I had the impulse to start a garden project soon after arriving on the campus, partly because it was a great ranch landscape, partly because my name first appeared in a book about the garden and desert motifs in Western thought–Wilderness and Paradise, by George Hunston Williams, who had been my professor of church history, at Harvard, partly because “Flower Power” was in the air, wafting down on a cloud of marijuana smoke from the Haight in San Francisco.
Tillich’s quote on gardens again sets the stage:
The “garden” is the place where the curse upon the land is overcome. In it vegetable nature is liberated from chaos and self-destruction; “weed” there is none. This “garden of the gods,” of which every human garden is a symbol and an anticipation, will reappear in the salvation of nature.”
The Meaning of Health
Tillich places the symbolism of gardens in the context of myths of salvation and their correspondence with myths of cosmic disease, which he says can be shown point by point: “the disintegration of nature is overcome in salvation, the act of cosmic healing. A new earth, an everlasting spring (i.e., a vitality of the cosmos which never declines), a renewal of paradise is envisaged.” ibid, p.l6.
I remember when I found the essay in which this quote appears when I was studying at Union Seminary one summer because Tillich was lecturing. The essay: “The Relation of Religion and Health.” It was a godsend to me because I had forsaken medical school to study theology and Tillich showed me the relationship between the two fields, as he did with so many subjects because of his boundary line position and his devotion to a theology of culture, which was anticipated in his early work, The System of the Sciences. I copied out the essay in longhand and eventually published it in a small volume: The Meaning of Health.
Williams’s book is an extraordinary account of the biblical sources of the motifs of garden and desert in Western thought and the significance of these motifs in the origins of the institution of higher education in this country, where pioneers from the East, went West into the wilderness to plant a garden to start a school, following the biblical directives. So I thought a garden was appropriate on a former ranch, on the edge of the wilderness, where the frontier had run out to sea.
Once the garden at UCSC began, we were able to apply the Virgilian and Goethean theme of Arcadia to the biblical themes of Eden and Paradise, in terms of garden motifs, because the gardener I hired to do the job practised a form of horticulture, which had its origins in Goethe. The Biodynamic system of food and flower production, which was developed in the early decades of this century, by Rudolf Steiner, the great follower of Goethe. He had been the editor of Goethe’s botanical writings, at the Weimar Archive, when he was a young man where the seed for Biodynamics was planted.
Goethe had taken a famous walk in the late l8th century–his Italian Journey–for which he adopted the slogan: Et in Arcadia Ego. And I am in Arcadia. Chadwick and I took it as our motto for the garden project. According to Panofsky, it expresses the idea, “namely, the retrospective vision of an unsurpassable happiness, enjoyed in the past, unattainable ever after, yet enduringly alive in the memory.”:
Our gardener, not unlike the gardener in the absurdist novel by Kosinski–Being There– pun intended, was a major event in my life. He simply appeared, as though on a cloud, to assume the duties of developing a student garden project. His name was Alan Chadwick. He was Chauncey Gardener. We produced an organic garden at the university that was unique in the world, not least of all because it exposed the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict in the system of the sciences and the organization of what counts for knowledge in the aftermath of the scientific revolution. The defeat, refutation and elimination of Vitalism accounts for the abrogation of the integrity of organic nature.
This was why an organic garden was an offensive repristination in the eyes of the scientists on the campus, because it seemed like a Neo-Vitalist spook come back from the dead. This startled me as I had no idea such an ideological grudge lurked in the precincts of the scientific revolution. I should have known better. After all, when I taught at MIT, I found out that the students, in a rare instance of self-awareness, referred to themselves as “tools.”
By the time we were done, I had come to characterize Chadwick’s work as divinely ordained to replant the vital root of existence in the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society as a world above the given world of nature and therefore devoid of vital roots. Put more simply, Chadwick, with his spade, broke through the Physicalist crust and hardpan of the University and with a Neo-Vitalist affirmation, renewed the integrity of organic nature.
The garden opened up for me the basic conflict in the organization of knowledge at the University, which I came to see as the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict in the system of the sciences. Physicalism was burdened by its refutation and rejection of Vitalism, understood simply as the argument in behalf of the integrity of organic nature, against its reduction to physical and chemical forces. Searching for an illustration of the point, I found the key date–l828–when the German chemist, Friedrich Woehler artificially synthesized urea, the experiment credited with the refutation and collapse of Vitalism, the experiment and its consequences responsible for undermining organic nature, such that it had to be re-discovered and re-affirmed a century and a half later in the environmental movement, a NeoVitalist revolt.
Centuries earlier, Galileo and Newton, with mathematical physics, had laid the foundation for this chemical insult. The mathematization of nature and the reduction of nature to “dead things in space,” the triumph of Physicalism, is detailed by Husserl in his famous essay, a penetrating critique of Physicalism, The Crisis of European Sciences. Hans Jonas calls this development since Galileo, an ontology of death, juxtaposed to Vitalism, an ontology of life, in a broad interpretation of Western culture from its origins in Ancient Greece, with the European Renaissance as the dividing line.
The first chapter in his Phenomenon of Life–“Life, Death, and the Body In the Theory Of Being”, is one of the best essays I have found on the issue, along with Husserl’s Crisis and Tillich’s MIT address: “How Has Science Changed Man’s View Of Himself?”
It is instructive to demonstrate the shift from life to death in the history of key terms: the Greek word for nature, physis, which meant “plantation,” “what grows,” became the word for physics, the study of dead things in space. Hyle, the background or subground of nature, in Greek, meant “forests.” It went to mater in Latin, rather than silva. Mater, mother, Mother Earth, becomes materialism, the dead stuff underlying the dead things in space.
After commenting on the ancient ontology of life, where everything is alive and death is the big mystery, Jonas describes their reversal:
“Modern thought which began with the Renaissance is placed in exactly the opposite theoretic situation. Death is the natural thing, life the problem. From the physical sciences there spread over the conception of all existence an ontology whose model entity is pure matter, stripped of all features of life. What at the animistic stage was not even discovered has in the meantime conquered the vision of reality, entirely ousting its counterpart. The tremendously enlarged universe of modern cosmology is conceived as a field of inanimate masses and forces which operate according to the laws of inertia and quantitative distribution in space. This denuded substratum of all reality could only be arrived at through a progressive expurgation of vital features from the physical record and through strict abstention from projecting into its image our own felt aliveness. In the process the ban on anthropomorphism was extended to zoomorphism in general. What remained is the residue of the reduction toward the properties of mere extension which submit to measurement and hence to mathematics. These properties alone satisfy the requirements of what is now called exact knowledge: and representing the only knowable aspect of nature they, by a tempting substitution, came to be regarded as its essential aspect too: and if this, then as the only real in reality. This means that the lifeless has become the knowable par excellence and is for that reason also considered the true and only foundation of reality. It is the “natural” as well as the original state of things. Not only in terms of relative quantity but also in terms of ontological genuineness, nonlife is the rule, life the puzzling exception in physical existence.” p. 9-l0.
I remember the moment when a chemist stepped it off with me to the dinner table at the home of a colleague and said: “You know, the garden has done more to ruin the cause of science on this campus than anything else?” “Well,” I thought, “maybe there is hope.”
Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, only instead of a Trojan Horse and Achilles with his ash spear, we had Alan Chadwick and his Bulldog spade. We had sneaked in an organic garden, in the strictly Vitalist tradition of Steiner and Goethe, mirabile dictu, under the unsuspecting noses of the members of the science establishment, who were sleeping at the switch, thinking the debate had long been put to rest with the burial of the dead corpse of Vitalism securely in the grave.
After the synthesis of urea, the coffin lid was nailed down in successive blows, which I will enumerate: the formulation, by the students of Helmholtz, of the Physicalist Oath, taken in blood; Freud’s “Project”, where consciousness is defined as a qualitative leap in the neurone, reminiscent of Oparin, the Russian biologist, who defines life as a qualification of dead matter; the Vienna Circle of Logical Positivism, the Philosophy of Physicalism and the elimination of metaphysics and all “theses devoid of sense” (Neurath); reductive behaviorism and the elimination of consciousness; cybernetics and artificial intelligence; psychedelics and the artificial synthesis of mysticism, or psychosis, depending on how you define hallucinations.
Then came Earth Day. The coffin, with it’s lid nailed down, came unglued. The corpse of Vitalism revived and sat up. Now the question is whether the environmental movement is anything more than the death rattle of defeated Vitalism. Who can say, as the future of the earth is being weighed in the balance.
This sketch of the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict gave me the basis for a new view of the significance of the history of Existentialism as a movement of thought. Tillich refers to the lectures of Schelling, in Berlin, as the “ur-text” of Existentialism. The date is l841-42. Goethe had died a decade earlier. The lectures mark Shelling’s turn (Kehre) away from Hegel. In the class to note it are Bakunin, the Russian anarchist, Lenin, Jacob Burkhardt, and Soren Kierkegaard. We have the ur-text itself, seventy-five pages of notes in Kierkegaard’s hand, translated by Howard Hong.
What occurred to me as I thought about the Physicalist/Vitalist
conflict and the origins of Existentialism, after the synthesis of
urea (l828) and the death of Goethe (l832), is the following:
Existentialism is chief mourner for defeated Vitalism.
Appropriately, Existentialism ends with Earth Day 1, on the weekend of April 22nd, l970.
Rachel Carson summed it up in her ballad of Cock Robin–Silent Spring:
Who killed Cock Robin? (read: Vitalism) I, said the Sparrow, (read Physicalism) with my bow and arrow. (read: the artificial synthesis of urea) Who will be chief mourner? I, said the Dove, (read: Existentialism) because of my love. And all the birds of the sky fell to sighing and sobbing when they heard of the death of poor Cock Robin.
We had stumbled onto this subtext that seemed to be taken for granted. Hardly anyone talked about it. It was considered a done deal. C. P. Snow opened up a version of it in his “two cultures” debate, but he was on the side of the Physicalists and thought the humanities guys ought to learn a little science, just to come up to speed. Kuhn characterizes it brilliantly in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions, but he gives it a strictly formalistic account, without referring to the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict as the concrete historical case. After all, he published his study under the auspices of Carnap and the Vienna Circle, the international camp of the Physicalists.
An anecdote is in order here. Juxtapose Tillich’s System of the Sciences with Carnap’s Encyclopedia of Unified Sciences and you have the issue in a nutshell. When Tillich had a public debate with Carnap, Carnap acted as if there was nothing to talk about, they inhabited such discrete universes of discourse, reminiscent of J. Heywood Thomas’s response when Tillich asked him to raise his finger whenever Tillich made a logical mistake. Thomas replied he would have to keep his hand up all the time. Tillich, in his wisdom, thought he would break the ice and asked Carnap how he would define blushing! Carnap, of course, talked about a certain pigmentation in the cheeks while everyone watched him blush.
Let me diverge from the Physicalist/Vitalist theme which the garden opened up for me and describe another line represented by the garden–call it the utopianism of voluntary work service– issued as a challenge for the century, when William James gave his address at Stanford in l906: “A Moral Equivalent of War.” This talk reveals the historical background of my garden theme as a good example of the palimpsest subtext. The reason Chadwick had come to Santa Cruz was to visit his old friend, Countess Freya von Moltke, who was the companion of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, a visiting Professor at UCSC, from Dartmouth, where Page Smith, the Provost of Cowell College, had been his student in the late ’30’s. I assume you know about Rosenstock-Huessy, one of the great thinkers of this century and the author of one of the finest books ever written about Western culture: Out Of Revolution, Autobiography of Western Man.
At Dartmouth, Eugen and Page and others had started Camp William James in l940, a leadership training camp for the Civilian Conservation Corps. Eugen had been inspired by William James and agreed with notion that Americans harbored a. spark of civic virtue. All you had to do was blow on it to make it incandescent. F. D. R. blew on the spark with the C.C.C.. Years later, following upon his experience with the C.C.C., shortlived because of the onset of war, Page wrote a letter to Hubert Horatio Humphrey detailing the idea of the Peace Corps, which Humphrey then proposed to President Kennedy.
The UCSC Garden Project was on this line of inspiration, although we didn’t know it at the time–it was a subtext. The Garden eventually developed a Farm and an Agro-ecology Apprentice training program in organic horticulture and agriculture, the first in the country. In effect, it was the replay of Camp William James without our knowing it, where the reaffirmation of the integrity of organic nature takes its place in the historical tradition of the moral equivalent of war.
Chadwick introduced me to two themes that became guides for the future: an economy of gift and an ethic of superabundance, although the formulations came from Paul Ricoeur. Chadwick gave away everything he grew, and he grew more than anyone could imagine, the slogan for which, I call–“too much zucchini”. John Jeavons, who took the Chadwick Method international, wrote a manual describing it: How To Grow More Vegetables On Less Space Than You Can Imagine.
In l972, seven years after arriving in Santa Cruz, my career was over. I thought the Garden, which took an immense amount of time, would count for a bad book, but I was wrong. I was denied tenure over “publish or perish.” As St. Augustine said: “I had perished, had I not perished.” Page Smith resigned in protest on the line–“any place that doesn’t have room for Paul Lee has no room for me”– and out we went.
I had anticipated the demise; I wasn’t completely blind to the handwriting on the wall; so, in l970, I started a nonprofit corporation–United Services Agency, hopefully to give myself something to do when I was out. The influence: George Hunston Williams again and James Luther Adams. Adams was the advocate of nonprofit corporations, in his work on voluntary associations, as a Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard Divinity School. I learned from him that one of the first acts of Hitler was to close all offices with a phone and a typewriter, namely, what we would call nonprofits. Williams provides the historic date for the inception of voluntary associations, when Joseph Blaurock, a Roman Catholic priest, was re-baptised, initiating the Anabaptist movement of the left wing of the Protestant Reformation, representing the free spontaneous behavior of the redeemed and establishing the principle of the freedom of assembly or the freedom of worship.
It was a propitious move. We started the Whole Earth Restaurant on the campus for the garden to supply and eventually organized over twenty affiliate projects exceeding a couple of million dollars a year in cash flow. I wrote it up but never published it: How To Become A Spiritual Millionaire When Money Is No Object.
The William James Association was the second nonprofit. I remember the day when Page walked in and sat down at our kitchen table and said we should start the William James Association and re-establish the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was fine by me, since I saw it as a vehicle for the Chadwick Method of organic gardening and replanting the vital root. It needed an army. In l976, Jerry Brown, then Governor of California, announced a California Conservation Corps and invited us to help organize it. Eventually, almost every state in the nation would organize a Conservation Corps, leading to the formation of the Corporation for Public Service, now headed by Harris Wofford, and Americorps, Clinton’s domestic Peace Corps, in addition to Vista. His account of the formation of the Peace Corps is given in his book: The Kennedys and the Kings.
In l985, Page and I turned our attention to the homeless problem and organized the Citizens Committee for the Homeless and opened the first public shelter. In l989, I started the Homeless Garden Project and the chickens came home to roost. We were able to get apprentices from the Chadwick Garden to help teach the homeless how to garden and out of this came a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program where over one hundred families paid x number of dollars for a share in the coming harvest. This brought back the themes of an economy of gift and an ethic of superabundance, which I had learned from Chadwick. We got the J. C. Penny Golden Rule Award (three times), and Peter John sent me the essay by Paul Ricoeur: “The Golden Rule.” It was that text that interpreted my experience and opened my eyes. The Golden Rule, the stuff of an ethic of reciprocity, quid pro quo, or du ut des, is shattered by Jesus, when he says: “Love your enemies,” and “lend, without expecting anything in return.” It was the economy of gift and the ethic of superabundance in a nutshell. Do you know why? Because it leads to the ecstatic utterances of Paul about how it comes back to you, heaped up, overflowing, pouring out in your lap. The measure you give is the measure you get back. The lack of measure is the good measure.
Then came Ecotopia. I was inspired. I thought I would never hit bottom in despair over the homeless. I thought of the homeless as the symbolic scapegoats of the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society. Their homes had self-destructed and they were the victims out in the cold. As Tillich says in his Selfhelp talk: “…..somebody who doesn’t feel necessary at all, who feels that he or she is a mere burden, is on the edge of total despair.” p. 131. And didn’t Heidegger say that to be homeless is the spiritual fate of modern times–for all of us?
The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program established with homeless labor prompted me to score Santa Cruz as Ecotopia. I even have a Web Page: http://www.ecotopia.org. I took the term from Ernest Callenbach’s novel, where he describes how a region of Northern California, Oregon, and Washington, breaks away from the industrial society, takes charge of its own destiny, and invents a survival-oriented “stable-state” way of living which uses technology instead of being used by it.
I was going to turn Santa Cruz into Ecotopia. It would be easy to secede. The geography is ideally suited for the stunt. Close off Highway One, north and south, and Highway l7, coming in over the hill, from San Jose and you’ve got it. Border kiosks would admit you, where you would get your Ecotopia passport, your green consumer card and discounts. Your visit would be scored for you according to your environmenal interests beginning with two featured attractions–the Circle Trail and the Ecology Hall of Fame.
Ecotopia would be ready for the ecotourist of the new millennium.
I started to look to the next millennium as a possible horizon of hope. So I called the Director of the California Conservation Corps and said let’s get back into a cooperative venture. It was twenty years later. He said: “O.K., call Joe Griffin, the District Director.” I did and Joe came to visit and said: “Apply for an Americorps grant and I’ll do your budget and be your fiscal agent.” I said, “O.K.”
I got it! I just signed an Americorps contract for a million dollars for our Homeless Garden Project, giving us 24 positions at ten grand, plus five grand (an education bonus), per recruit, for three years. Gardens are being dug at ten schools in Santa Cruz as we speak.
This should be utopian enough for one lifetime, but I still have a few years left. None of this runs smoothly, let me tell you, community service can often be a royal pain. But one sets one’s course and goes ahead with it. I learned a good lesson from Chadwick about enduring all the vicissitudes of personality conflict and cross purposes, because he was a classic neurasthenic
and subject to quite remarkable temper tantrums, which his training in classic theatre gave him the stops to pull. The lesson was the difference between idiosyncratic display and institutional process. Keep your eye on the prize. Personality displays are like the weather. Take them in stride.
Now for the cold shower. I read Voegelin’s “Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme: A Meditation”, Chap. l3, in his Published Essays, Vol. l2, this summer. It was a major whoops. Nothing like subjecting yourself to the most penetrating and unrelenting criticism. So here it is. This is Voegelin’s gloss on utopians of every stripe. I had read his piece on Sir Thomas More, which is dutifully appreciative. He did not release his venom until this one. Listen to the phrases and then I’ll give you a couple of sentences and then the gist.
…threatened in our humanity by the massive social force of activist dreamers…
…liberate us from our imperfections by locking us up in the perfect prison of their phantasy..
…seriously molested by somebody’s Utopian imagination…
…the desire to attract public attention and make a career…
He must imagine himself to be a magician and a sorcerer…
…a diseased consciousness which understands its own deformation as the possession of a magical power to transfigure reality…
This attack is carefully taken into account in Tillich’s analysis of the downside of utopia when he speaks of the negative meaning of utopia–its untruth based on a false image of man, its unfruitfulness and impotence leading to disillusionment. Tillich then says something we should all try to understand, especially if it applies to ourselves, as he says it does.
Speaking of the impotence of utopia leading to disillusionment, one is disturbed in one’s inmost being, having confused what is ambiguously provisional with what is unambiguously ultimate.
“Two consequences arise from this which are both very destructive because of the impotence of utopia. The first is that those who are disillusioned may become fanatics against their own past. This is especially true of those–the intelligentsia above all–who at some time in their life committed themselves to a utopia not as something preliminary but as something ultimate
and then had to learn not only that it was preliminary and ambiguous but also at times unequivocally demonic. This has happened to the intelligentsia in America, and objectively and humanly it is one of the saddest and most problematic experiences of American existence, as I believe it to be of Western existence generally and far beyond. This whole class of men represents today one of the most tragic groups in human society and in a certain respect one of the most dangerous because they inevitably transfer their fanaticism against themselves to everyone who does not share it and whom they therefore take to be a secret friend of those against whom their fanaticism is directed.” “The Political Meaning of Utopia,” Political Expectations, p. l72.
There is a questionable aspect to Tillich’s discussion of utopia and wholeness, the question of a centered self in a self-destructive society, when he says the power of utopia is the power of man in his wholeness. Leaving aside the complication of the doctrine of original sin on the issue of a redemptive wholeness, I will try to pinpoint what I see as a possible contradiction in Tillich’s account and then see if I can work it out. It reminds me of the 3rd use of the law in Lutheran doctrine, of which I have a rather garbled understanding, I am willing to admit. It is mostly rejected by Lutherans as a Calvinist heresy that sneaked in under Melancthon. I define it as the free spontaneous behavior of the redeemed. The imp in impulse is not always a demon. The Greeks had a positive view of this imp, spelling it with an ‘a’–daemon. Socrates called it his guardian who always told him what not to do, a kind of negative check on impulses. Aristotle called it eudaemonism–a state of blessedness.
It turns on Tillich’s discussion of disappointment and disillusionment upon the failure of utopian expectations. But the contradiction of expectations is central to the biblical picture of the Christ as Paradox and Offense. It is what drove the disciples to forsake him and flee when he wa s arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed.
You can imagine Tillich’s disillusionment over the triumph of Hitler as the one to smash his investment in religious socialism and his sense of kairos, the pregnantly ripe time for the New Being to appear in all of its transforming power.
There is a protective measure against the inevitable disillusionment of utopian expectations–the confession of self-delusion as expressed in the Platonic Dialogues as a central feature of Socrates, usually misunderstood as the confession of ignorance where it loses its bite. Delusion is thinking you know when you don’t and ignorance is not knowing something when you could have found out. The confession of self-delusion is the Socratic equivalent of repentance which Luther says is a continuous frame of mind.
In reviewing my own projects, I try to practice this frame of mind in order to keep from the disillusionment. Tillich describes as the price one pays for utopian dreaming. I know it is small potatoes in the larger scheme of things. I always thought I had the propensity for the orotund, inflating that little slope where we started our garden, as the place for replanting the vital root of existence, just what Heidegger said Kant recoiled from and Heidegger himself couldn’t see right under his nose. If only he had been a gardener! I overcame the Kantian recoil from the unknown root when I developed a second career in the herbal industry after I left the university and thought vital roots–medicinal and culinary herbs–were the antidote.. I worked up a cookbook on vital roots as an answer to Heidegger, called Being and Thyme, as yet unpublished.
Reading Voegelin’s essay happened to coincide with a massive failure on my part in the planning of Ecotopia. I organized a Circle Trail event for National Trails Day in June of this year (l987) and I was going to inaugurate the Ecology Hall of Fame. Almost no one came. OK, it was an unusually hot day. The fact of the matter is that people in Santa Cruz don’t want to come out for environmental events anymore. Earth Day 27 a month before, was also a flop. So I folded up my Hall of Fame tent and stole home. So much for my Ecotopian phantasies. The Americorps grant bailed me out. There is nothing like a million dollars to cheer you up. Employing 24 people who are willing to sacrifice a year or more in the name of civic virtue and a moral equivalent of war is still a meaningful undertaking in my view. And a garden in every school by the year 2000 is as good a utopian aim as I can imagine. It is not going to turn around industrial society, by any means, but it is going to make a little dent in the mess, and that’s good enough for me.
Paul Lee: The Quality of Mercy, Platonic Academy Press, l993
Florence the Goose, Platonic Academy Press, l993
George Hunston Williams: Wilderness and Paradise, Harpers, The Radical Reformation, l978
George Prest: The Garden Of Eden, Yale University Press, New Haven, Ct., l984
Robert Pogue Harrison: Forests, The Shadow of Civilization, University of Chicago Press, l992
Armytage: The Rise of the Technocrat, University of Toronto Press, l964
William Alexander McClung: The Architecture of Paradise, Survivals of Eden and Jerusalem, University of California Press, Berkeley, l983
Joseph Rykwert: On Adam’s House in Paradise, The Idea of the Primitive Hut In Architectural History, MIT Press, 1981
The Dancing Column, On Order in Architecture, MIT Press, 1996
George Venturi: The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture, MIT Press, l992
John Onions: Bearers Of Meaning, The Classical Orders in Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 1988
Paul Holberton: Palladio’s Villas, Life In the Renaissance Countryside, John Murray, London, l990
Wilhem and Marion Pauck: Paul Tillich, His Life and Thought, Harper and Row, l989
Paul Tillich: “The Philosophy of Social Work”, in The Quality of Mercy, by Paul Lee, Platonic Academy Press,1992
Paul Tillich: The Meaning of Health, Introduction by Paul Lee, North Atlantic Press, l981
The Courage To Be, Yale Press, l956
The Spiritual Situation in Our Technical Society, ed. by J. Mark Thomas, Mercer University Press, l988
Paul Ricoeur: “The Golden Rule”
The Symbolism Of Evil, Harpers, l968
Klibansky and Paton, eds., Philosophy and History, Essays Presented to Ernst Cassirer, “Et In Arcadia Ego,” by Erwin Panofsky, Peter Smith, l975
Edmund Husserl: The Crisis of European Sciences, Northwestern University Press, l970
Erich Voegelin: Published Essays, 1966-1985, Vol. l2, “Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme: A Meditation”, Louisiana State University Press, 1990
George Callenbach: Ecotopia, Banyan Tree Books, l975
Hans Jonas: The Phenomenon of Life, University of Chicago Press, l982
Jerzy Kosinski, Being There, l971
Martin Heidegger: Being and Time,
Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics
Parmenides, Indiana University Press, 1992
Erich Heller: The Disinherited Mind, Harcourt Brace, l975
Popper-Lynkeus, Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Paul Edwards, ed., Macmillan and Free Press, 1967
Page Smith: Killing the Spirit,
Paul Tillich: A Reminiscence
by Paul Lee
Paul Tillich came to lecture at St. Olaf College when I was a senior philosophy student, studying under Howard Hong, the translator of Kierkegaard. It was l953. He gave three lectures on Existentialism and I didn’t understand a word. Neither did my roommates. We argued long and loud into the night over whether it was important that we didn’t get it and whether what was said was important if we didn’t get it. I was certain it was important. Tillich was one of the most impressive figures I had ever heard. I knew I was right so I became a Tillichian. I thought a little humility was in order when confronted by the truth that was over one’s head.
For me, it was a providential encounter. I went on to Luther Theological Seminary, thinking I might pursue a career in the ministry and avoid the Korean war. There was some confusion at St. Olaf between a call to be a Christian and a call to the ministry. The latter seemed to be the way to strike a deal, as if to settle with it. “O.K., God, if I become a Lutheran minister, will You leave me alone?”
My mother’s family was filled with Missouri Synod Lutheran ministers and the name was a famous one because of the Old Testament theologian in Germany, one of the best–Otto Eissfeldt.
They didn’t like Tillich at the seminary and they didn’t teach Luther. They had to bring in a Finn to give special lectures. I came to call it Pseudo-Luther Non-theological Cemetary. The President was a character out of a bad Ingmar Bergman movie–Thaddeus T. Gullickson. He looked like his name.
I broke off and went to Union Theological Seminary the summer of l954, because Tillich was giving courses. It was like swimming in the ocean off the coast of Maine. Les Larson, who had been a student at Union and knew Tillich, took me in to meet him and he gave me a copy of Love, Power, and Justice, and autographed it “To My Defender,” after I told him about representing him to the critics at Luther.
He gave a special series of lectures at Columbia which became Biblical Religion and the Quest For Ultimate Reality, where he discussed the relation of Athens and Jerusalem, biblical revelation and Greek ontology. I thought the hair on the back of my head would never lie down. It was philosophical theology at the summit. We all looked down and breathed the rarefied air and were exhilarated to be in the presence of one who knew.
Who could formulate it like he could? The Great Formulator! It was Tillich’s chief strength–he knew how to put it and you were relieved that you were in the presence of someone who could. There was an adequacy that was almost Latinate. There is nothing like the right word: the adequatio between thought and thing.
Tillich had it down cold. I thrilled at the reformulation of the slogan of the Reformation which Lutherans had got wrong by abbreviating it: justificatioin through faith by grace, had turned into justification by faith, which meant you had to believe something unbelievable and then you were saved. Tillich exposed the distortion with “accept the fact that you are accepted in spite of being unacceptable.” Well, it had a certain ring at the time.
I had to return to Luther because I was caught copying a book report. It was Workman: On Monasticism. It forced me back for another year and then I transferred to Harvard because Tillich was there. I remember the moment, reading the acceptance letter, standing at the back door, off the driveway, in North Milwaukee. I was going to go to Harvard and study with Tillich.
I remember another moment, a few years later, when Bob Kimball said “you lucky bastard,” or something like that, when we were in Tillich’s apartment for a seminar and I said “why?”, and he said “you are going to succeed me as Tillich’s assistant for his last two years and he is going to teach a four semester sequence in Western thought: “The Self-Interpretation of Man” and you get to give every third lecture.”
I thought: “I can do that.”
I also had to read all the papers and give all the grades and I was so dumb, I didn’t think of asking for help. There were six hundred students in the class. The story about throwing papers down a long stairwell and grading accordingly, struck me as a really good idea.
One time Tillich took me by surprise and said: “How come you never ask me to do anything for you?” Like what? Tie my shoes? I didn’t know what to ask for. It was like my youth in Milwaukee and not knowing what to say to a girl. You mean you can just say: “Kiss me!”?
There had been an interlude the year or two before I assisted Paulus. It was my Bonhoeffer period. It was partially liberating and it made it even better to associate with him again and re-connect. I needed a little leverage and a little relief from my discipleship. Bonhoeffer, moreover, gave me the date for what Paulus called the end of the Protestant Era. It ended with Bonhoeffer’s execution.
The Post-Protestant Era would be lived out under the sign of “justified godlessness,” in a world come of age. In spite of Bonhoeffer’s Barthian rejection of Tillich, when he said that the world threw him from it’s saddle in his attempt to understand it, like a previous Paul, from his horse, he was the pre-eminent theologian of a secular Christianity. “Justified Godlessness,” which Eberhard Bethge told me summed up Bonhoeffer’s view, would be a good title for a book on Tillich.
I am envious of the memories of Tom Driver and Durwood Foster, and their uncanny ability to recall the intimacy and detail of knowing the Tillichs, mine seem so fitful and arbitrary now. I remember going in to tell Paulus I was going home to get married and he wished me well. He was more interested in meeting my wife than I could possibly know. The sly fox, the womanizer, escaped me entirely. He was just this absolute epitome of the German professor, in exile, who knew everything and knew how to put it. Everything. As though he had learned it, thought it through, in some former life and then came back to express it on any and every occasion. It was like what they said about Samuel Johnson speaking twice edited prose. In fact, Tillich was as good an example as you could get of Plato’s doctrine of recollection. He had seen the mystery of being on his chariot ride between death and rebirth and had returned to recall it and communicate to everyone who cared.
He would go to sleep in seminars. Everyone would notice. The heavy breathing, the volcanic sighs were always the case, anyhow; then the hands would fall limp, still fingering the signature paper clip fetish, and the head would tilt and he would be in deep slumberland. When it came time to comment he would rouse himself and get right to the point as if reading from cue cards. I always wondered how he could do that. There was something uncanny about it.
There was a time when I thought he was going to fall out of his chair while lecturing. His voice was hypnotic and the class was in a trance. It was an emergency situation. He started to list to the left. I had to ask him a question, interrupt him, just to wake him up, I was so worried he would roll out onto the floor. He was talking about the shock of nonbeing which sounds funny now and I raised my hand and said in a very loud voice: “Professor Tillich, I understand the shock of nonbeing regarding my death, but not regarding my birth, which, once born, is unassailable. There is no shock in terms of the hypothetical possibility that I might not have been born, given the fact of my existence.” Not bad for an emergency, I thought. Tillich mumbled something and revived. I had saved him from a broken neck, although I am still wondering if this existence really is necessary.
I gave a talk about Bonaventure in a seminar on mysticism. He looked perplexed. He grew increasingly agitated. He asked me what I was talking about, which frightened me, because I didn’t know myself. Bonaventure, I said, with my midwest nasal twang. He repeated it to himself a few times, shaking his head in confusion. “Oh, Bone-a-ven-toora!” He lit up. We went on.
I was in seventh heaven during the two year sequence. It was reflected glory like none other. We were applauded after every lecture. Sometimes they stamped their feet. I made Tillich clear to the students and they loved it. Who could blame them for confusing “virtue” for “worldview,”
We got to the bourgeoisie and I read D. H. Lawrence poems about Willy Wet Leg.
He gave an illustrated slide lecture of the great art of the period after each semester and it was as only as he could do it. But he was nervous and ill-tempered and worried about projector malfunction or slides upside down. I think it went without a glitch, but he was in a state and it was when I wished some gelassenheit for him. He needed it.
We were invited to East Hampton and saw his little backyard park where he had planted his trees, he was so proud of. On a stairway, I saw the photo of Hannah on the beach, in her youth, her hair all tousled by the wind, looking like a Brechtian Medusa. She was something else. I remember her Dodge Dart and how pleased she was to drive around and how much she liked the Disney film: A Hundred and One Dalmatians.
We went to see a matinee viewing of Last Year In Marienbad and walked around in the sunshine of Boston Commons afterward and talked about it, while we looked at the swanboats.
We went to Camelot, when it opened in Boston before the Broadway run. The Tillichs were friends of Tanya Holm, the choreographer. We got to go backstage and saw Richard Burton take off his makeup and T. H. White, who had just arrived from England and Robert Goulet and Julie Andrews. We went to a restaurant with Tanya and they reminisced about Berlin.
They came to dinner often and loved being invited. We introduced them to Erik and Joan Erikson, who were mad to meet them. It was an ecstatic evening. They fell into one another’s arms and quoted Heine. We were swept away. I could get a good Rothschild Bordeaux at a wine store in Harvard Square–I think it was a l949. I had a case in the basement.
The last two years he was at Harvard live in my memory like a dream–they were halcyon days. I would go to pick him up before every lecture and we would chat about this and that. I remember giving him Kahn’s Anaximander and the Origins of Greek Cosmology, and he was happy to review it and concur with the main points, when he was covering the Presocratics, in the opening lectures of the course. I think it was the best course in the humanities ever given in this country, but I could be partial. It opened up Western culture for me, after having taught in the Harvard General Education program–Hum. 2, “The Epic and the Novel” and “The Epic and Drama”. Tillich filled in the gaps.
His lectures introduced me to the theme of the rise and evolution of rational self-consciousness, from Homer to Socrates. Although he didn’t use that phrase he knew how to chart the course. The subject matter became a life-long pursuit of great fascination and interest for me: the archaic smile, as the period of innocence before the emergence of rational self-consciousness and the subject object split, illustrated on the faces of archaic scuptures. The earliest gropings of thought trying to grasp the meaning of being through great symbolic concepts: water (Thales), air (Anaximines), fire (Heraclitus) and the apeiron (Anaximander).
And then the chariot ride of Parmenides to the vision of Being and that it is and can not not be! The unassailable affirmation of Greek ontology. Xenophanes, the first Greek theologian (although Plato coined the term) and his criticism of the Homeric gods. The hot, the cold, the dry, the moist: the elements and their opposites.
Empedocles on reincarnation and the play of love and strife. Anaxagarous and nous, the concept of mind in all things along with the Heraclitean logos. Democritus and atomism. All names on the rosary of philosophy to be reverently fingered and intoned, preparing the way for Socrates who would embody and fulfill the anticipation, not unlike the Messiah foretold by the Prophets. Only Tillich understood what appeared in the person of Socrates, the existential personification of the Platonic ideal. He was the great Idea whose existence grasped and transformed Plato, to whom he bore witness in the Dialogues, just as the Gospel writers bore witness to Jesus the Christ. With Athens as the birthplace, Reason was born from the forehead of Socrates, just as Athena was born from the forehead of Zeus.
His sermons were the high point. One held one’s breath and strained every nerve to catch every word. It was a form of lieder, as good as Fischer-Dieskau, singing the songs of Goethe, by Schubert. They were perfect existential vignettes–phenomenological exercises, on actuely at-home themes: “waiting,” “salvation,” “acceptance in spite of,” “forgetting and being forgotten,”–every one a jewel of homiletical acumen. I had a small church of Norwegian immigrant seamen families, in East Boston, and did my versions of Tillich sermons every Sunday, much to their complete perplexity.
I remember getting stuck on concepts and not knowing how to find my way through the murk: the actualization of potentialities and the play of possibilities, a persistent one, all the while it was happening, without my noticing; and what was the nature of the Christ before the Incarnation and after the Resurrection; and what about the relation of existence and finitude?
Peter John was always around and writing down every word Tillich said and we became close friends, helping me with my PhD thesis. I never would have done it without him.
Then Tillich went away to Chicago and I dreaded the thought of never seeing him again. I can’t remember the circumstances, but I once attended a seminar he gave with Charles Hartshorne, at Chicago, where Tillich would say something and then Hartshorne would put his head down on the desk and think for a long while, as we all sat there and waited and then he would sit up and respond. He would do that every time Tillich spoke. It was impressive.
I ran into Paulus at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. That might have been the last time. I have had recurrent dreams about him, often as though seeing him for the last time, standing outside of the residential hotel, where they lived, saying goodbye. I haven’t dreamt of him for a long time.
I had a terrible nightmare when I was at Harvard about being transported to a cave in Europe where life could be maintained. Now it can be told! Why be denied the progress of science? You could take up residence there and be hooked up to life-support systems and wait out the advances of science over the next fifty years. I was in the cave and observed the bodies in a comatose state, on slabs, covered with sheets, hooked up to a central machine. I woke up groaning “how horrible, how horrible.”
I told Paulus and he told me of his waking nightmare of sheep grazing under the Brandenburg Gate, in Berlin, in the 30’s, although Jim Adams remembers it as the Potzdamer Platz. It was an apocalyptic vision he was obsessed with, much to the perplexity of his friends. Then, when the Allies liberated Berlin, a photo appeared on the front page of the New York Times, of sheep grazing under the Brandenburg Gate.
Tillich taught me the phrase–“the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society as a world above the given world of nature”. I have made it into a mantra and the center of my thought, along with the word thymós, which he also gave me, the courage to be, the unreflective striving toward what is noble, the bridge between reason and desire: what a word.
I took it into the herbal industry, where I developed a second career, in the late ’70’s, and exploited the cognates of thymos–the herb thyme (Thymus vulgarus) and the thymus gland, and pioneered the field of herbal immune enhancement. It was a great pleasure to apply the courage to be to herbal health care and immunology. I even opened a restaurant in Santa Cruz in the early ’70’s, called “The Wild Thyme” and served thymus glands (Ris de Veau) as the specialty of the house, all inspired by thymos.
If anything, any word, could sum up Tillich’s thought it would be thymós. He had it. He manifested it. He transmitted it. One had the sense that here was the fount of the cultural tradition, the thymic source, the lost élan, the vital root, opening up with all the fresh invigorating pulse of the substance of a culture transmitted intact. Just what nowadays is known as the tired, excuse me, dead, white, European, male line.
The Harvard course confirmed the attack: “The Self-Interpretation of Man!” And not a single woman was mentioned in the entire two thousand year sweep. No wonder Hannah Arendt called him “old mutton legs.” We didn’t know any better. Harvard was Harvard and Radcliffe women were sort of accommodated and allowed to attend classes. They were lucky to get a grade. Women’s lib, as well as psychedelics, were waiting in the wings. I remember Leary mentioning how he and Alpert saw Tillich at a hotel having breakfast and introduced themselves and told him what was happening now that they had synthesized the mystical experience. Tillich asked me if the whole context of the medieval town where his father was minister and all the formative forces that shaped his religious life could be condensed in a small tab of minute dosage. It was a little rhetorical, but, I conceded, I doubted it.
I went on to teach at M.I.T., at the invitation of Huston Smith. The Institute celebrated its centennial and Tillich was asked to speak, along with Aldous Huxley, and Robert Oppenheimer. His title was: “How Has Science Changed Man’s View Of Himself?” He spoke of the spiritual telos of the ancient and Renaissance periods and the meaningless telos of the modern period under the sway of science–progress for the sake of progress. For what? Don’t ask.
I would have pushed him into discussing whether science was evil, if I had the chance, all over again, showing him the essay with that title by Karl Jaspers, just to convince him it was all right to bring it up. In other words, the responsibility of science for the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society. I would love to show him my notes on that one, including the worry of Fermi about a wayward reaction when he smashed the atom in the squash court in Chicago. Fermi did math for it to calculate the risk–the math for the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society–there is an equation for it. Compton neglected to tell the Chancellor because he knew he would be asked about the risk and knew that Hutchins would be prompted to call it off if the entire universe was at stake. Compton said he took the responsibility on himself.
He asked me to accompany him to the MIT celebration and I remember sitting with Werner Jaeger, the great scholar of Classical Greece, author of Paideia; it was always like that, the most important figures filing through. I teased Tillich about being a Stoic Emperor, in terms of his lecturing everywhere in the country, a domain, a fiefdom, he relished and encouraged and sustained with indefatigable zeal. He was always buoyed up by his audience and the demand of communicating, taking energy from what was expected of him and the adulation he encountered everywhere.
It was interesting to watch the mail in the office: letters from academics surreptitiously writing to express their appreciation that he knew how to apologize for the Christian message, in a way that meant something to them, although they didn’t want to openly admit it.
Harvard staged a celebration for him, upon his retirement, at the Busch Reisinger Museum. I asked Lotte Lenya to come and sing songs from Mahogonny, but she had a conflict. I gave Tillich the album and he was pleased. He had known Brecht in New York, in the old days.
I think it was the summer of l961, when the Tillichs returned to Germany and had their great reunion with Heidegger. Hannah was especially impressed and compared him to a Zen master. Nothing was said about Heidegger’s Nazi sympathies in those days. His reputation was unsullied and Paulus never brought it up and if it was brought up he would apologize for him, as I heard him do at a talk he gave at the Cooper Union in New York. What most of us around Tillich didn’t know when we were with him at Harvard was that he had delivered 150 or more radio talks to the German nation during the war. They were beamed in from New York and if you were caught listening to them in Germany you were executed. I finally obtained a copy after they were published and fell apart while reading them. They are the most sensitve, tender, probing and profound sermons, addressed to the soul of the German people, anyone could ask for. They should be required reading for anyone entering a Jewish museum dedicated to the holocaust. It was certainly one of Tillich’s finest hours, cumulatively, when he poured out his grief and empathy for the German people suffering under the evil that was Hitler.
Hisamatsu came to Harvard, the Zen Buddhist master and had a seminar with Tillich and the discussion was terrific. I remember sitting there completely mystified but enthralled by the look of the man and his bearing. Tillich’s trip to Japan had been a major event for him and he was fascinated by Asian religion, lamenting that the encounter with Asian culture had come too late in his life.
He gave a series of lectures, again at Columbia: The Encounter of Christianity With World Relgions, which I edited for him and did a very good job, but neglected to remind him to mention me in his preface. Oh well.
I wish I could talk to Paulus now and ask him about Dionysius the Areopagite and whether Paul’s reference to the man who was carried into the Third Heaven, where he saw things that no one should dare utter, that God will be all in all, was Dionysius, his convert. I wish I could discuss the apophatic tradition of negative theology. And I would like to ask him what he thought about my Physicalist/Vitalist conflict in the system of the sciences and my formulation regarding Existentialism as chief mourner for defeated Vitalism. I would like to show him Gödel’s proof for the existence of God, in the tradition of Leibniz, and ask him what he thought about it and whether it made existence a predicate again, after Kant.
There are three other greats to mention, along with Tillich, as the foremost teachers of the time, as far as I am concerned: Erich Voegelin, Paul Ricoeur, and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy. I remember asking Hannah what Paulus thought of Rosenstock-Huessy and she said: “Not everyone can be a genius,” which is very funny. I am grateful for all of them. But Paulus was my doctor vater.
“His fatherly kindness, his compassion,” my wife said, when I asked her what came to mind when she thought about him. When I introduced him to my wife, she told him she was an atheist and he threw up his hands in delight and said it was good because she was still thinking. That won her over forever. She was also impressed by the devotion they displayed toward one another, especially Hannah, doting on him and helping with everything. He proudly showed me the split of champagne they had at night for dinner as a little indulgence. He had to watch his health, having fallen ill with diverticulitis. I went to see him in the hospital and he was deathly ill, swollen, feverish. But he recovered and stepped back into his duties with renewed relish. He was fond of talking about some past illness and staring at the red beam in the ceiling and how the color red sustained him and made him live.
I wondered about his clairvoyance–how he knew so much and seemed to have a special channel that was open only to him and now that I look back, I wonder about the subtext that one only gets a sense of, a hint, now and then, a glimpse, rather like the Greek word for truth–aletheia, unconcealedness, the un-understandable translation of Heidegger’s abstruse interpretation. Occultation, is better. Or palimpsest. Freud spoke of the mystic writing pad as a metaphor for consciousness. The sense that some undercurrent one is unmindful of, but that insinuates itself, a kind of manifest absence, what is it Hamlet refers to–there is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will, or the special providence in the fall of a sparrow. It used to be life in the Spirit; now, it is the hollow reverb in the void. There was a depth once upon a time most of us are now unable to fathom.
Nevertheless, we knew we were in the presence of greatness, that he was one of the most impressive intellectuals of the century, in a direct line from St. Paul, St. Augustine, Luther, Schelling, and Kierkegaard. He carried the tradition. When he recited the fragment from Parmenides, everyone in the class thrilled at the intact transmission from the source. It was carried in his voice and in the substance of his person.
After he left Harvard, an exhibit was mounted at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, of the work of Max Beckmann. I was stunned to see an Expressionist artist version of Tillich’s thought. I mentioned it to Erikson and he told me he had exhibited with Beckmann when he was a young artist in Germany. I was in Erikson’s post-graduate seminar on “History and Life-history,” and was struck by the many self-portraits of Beckmann, as a record of his identity, through the course of his life. I communed with them. I wrote a review of the show for the Harvard Crimson. I took Paul Ricoeur. I went so often I met Perry Rathbone, the Director, and he invited my wife and me to dinner to meet Mrs. Beckmann–Quappi. She invited us to New York and took us to Beckmann’s dealer–Catherine Viviano, who brought out five lithographs from his Hell Series. There they were–expressions of Germany after the lst World War, where Beckmann had been an ambulance driver and suffered a nervous breakdown, just as Tillich had been a chaplain at the front and listened to the screams of leiber gott from the trenches and saw the end of Western culture, as prophesized by Nietzsche, as the death of God.
“Did I want them?”, she asked. “How much?”, I asked back. I knew I could borrow the money from Harvard at l% per annum for “general household expenses”. I looked at my wife and she rolled her eyes. I had already borrowed money from Harvard for a Mark lV Jaguar, so I said: “Sure.”
I had my Tillich icons.
Five great lithographs. Two of them are mundane: a nightclub scene, with people dancing, having a good time; a tavern scene with drunken soldiers singing to a violin, as the exhausted owner’s wife waits for them to leave. It is called: “The Patriotic Song.” the other three seem to be in a set apart: one shows an old couple walking through a crowded Berlin street, carrying a corpse, like a loaf of French bread. I think of the corpse as the decline and fall of Western culture, tucked under the man’s arm, a strained look on his face. Another depicts Beckmann looking at a veteran with his face shot off and pointing to his breast, as if to say, your face is shattered like my soul. The third is prophetic, showing Beckmann in a trance, below a pulpit, where a Hitler figure stands screaming his guts out and a Goebbels figure lurks behind him, like an evil menace. A Jew is answering back. An industrialist stands with his arms folded behind his back, eyeball bulging out. Beckmann’s Aunt Minna is in prayer. A hangman sits at the side, his face hooded. A lamp in the shape of a duncecap is over the Hitler figure’s head. It is called: “Die Ideologue.”
The series was done in l9l9, before Hitler knew he was Hitler.
I can remember, as though yesterday, standing outside his office door in Widener and knocking and waiting until I heard his voice to enter and there he would be sitting in his swivel chair at his desk fingering his paperclip and we would confer before going to class. Then we would walk out into the light of Harvard Yard, over to Emerson, where the floorboards squeaked and it reeked of atmosphere, now gone, thanks to the remodel. Students would pour in. The excitement of hearing Tillich would mount and he would assume his position at the lectern and off we would go with his picking up his place in his little brown notebook where he wrote the phrases that would turn into sentences as he spoke. That was another trick. He composed as he went along, speaking slowly enough to give him time to fill out the thought.
He liked getting questions. Another one of his best traits. He could turn a dumb question into a major insight. One time I asked him a question about something, as we walked over to class and he rolled out an answer that even impressed him and he said: “See what you brought out of me?” I think he enjoyed his talent.
Others radiated with it–James Luther Adams, Wilhelm Pauck, John Dillenberger, immediately come to mind. Others resented it, probably out of envy, like Krister Stendahl, or maybe they just wanted to pour some cold water on the adulation to watch the steam.
When I moved to California, I became great friends with Richard Baker-roshi, the Abbott of Zen Center, in San Francisco. At the High Mountain Throne of the Buddha Ceremony, when he succeeded his teacher, Suzuki-roshi, who was dying of cancer and was so ill we thought he might die during the ceremony, he turned and offered incense to him, and said:
“Walking in Buddha’s gentle rain
Our robes are soaked through.
But on the lotus,
not a drop remains.
When Paulus died, with Hannah by his side, according to her account, he blew his life away in one great gasp and on his forehead a lotus bloomed.