Tuesday, February 10, 2009

De non existensia Dei. Poland's intellectual slumber

The snow fell interminably as I took a bus for Auschwitz. It was early January 2005, 60 years after the liberation of the concentration camps. All I can remember of the journey was the pale, grey empty sky covering a vast expanse of forest. I looked attentively through the windows of our shabby bus for signs of life amid the winter desert. Nothing. Auschwitz is perhaps the only place of pilgrimage worth visiting in Europe. Unlike religious places of pilgrimage dedicated to the infusion of superstition and lies, Auscchwitz confronts us with pure mortality, that to which we are all heading and from which none of us can escape. This is not a holy pilgrimage, it is a hollow one. Going to Auschwitz is like drinking a cold stiff coffee. It is deeply unpalatable but it wakes you from your slumber. Yet, strangely, slumber is one of the first words that occured to me when I visited Krakow that January. Krakow is a fine cultured city yet plagued by unemployment and deep-rooted religiosity. If you go to Krakow on a Saturday night or Sunday morning you will see throngs of young people huddling into the local churches to worship. It is not uncommon to see young men and women attired in full ecclesiastical garb traversing the public squares. For a country with a highly educated population like Poland, it is surprising if not paradoxical that so many should practice religion. Coming back to my hostel from my trip to Auschwitz, I did a search on the internet for Polish philosophers. I wanted to see if this intellectual obsequiousness had always been a feature of Polish life. Could Auschwitz be the reason for the return to religion? Yet, how could they not realise the intrinsic connection between fascism and Christianity? How could modern Poland not see that the only reason their beloved church didn’t murder the same amount of people so quickly was because they didn’t possess the same technology during the 500 years of the infamous Inquisition?
For the most part, my googling left me disappointed. That is until I made a happy discovery. I stumbled upon the name Kasimierz Lyzcynsinski. According to Wikepedia, Liszinski was a ‘Polish noble, landowner, philosopher, and soldier in the ranks of the Sapheia family, who was accused, tried and executed for atheism in 1689.’ As a landowner, Liszinski also functioned as a podsedek, a Polish term for a magistrate dealing with land ownership issues. Liszinskis’s downfall came when he got into dispute with a the nuncio of Brest in Lithuania ( then part of the Polish kingdom), by the name of Jan Kazimierz Bzroska, who owed Liszinski a considerable sum of money. At the time, Liszinski had been reading a book by the theologian Henry Alsted called Theologica Naturalis, who had attempted to prove the existence of God. Unimpressed by Alsted’s thesis, Liszinski wrote in the margins ‘ ergo non est Deus’, therefore God does not exist. When he discovered this, Bzroska quickly informed the local clergy, who immediately ordered an investigation into Liszinski’s writings. It wasn’t long before they discovered the philosopher’s magnum opus boldly entitled ‘ De non existensia Dei, on the non-existence of God. Liszinski was tried and sentenced to death. Among the extracts remaining from this important book are the following.
“that Man is a creator of God, and God is a concept and creation of Man. Hence the people are architects and engineers of God and God is not a true being, but a being existing only within mind, being chimeric by its nature, because a God and a chimera are the same’
Liszinski goes on to proclaim
‘Religion was constituted by people without religion, so they could be worshipped although the God is not existent. Piety was introduced by the impious. The fear of God was spread by the unafraid so that the people were afraid of them in the end. Devotion named godly is a design of Man. Doctrine, be it logical or philosophical, bragging to be teaching the truth of God, is false, and on the contrary, the one condemned as false, is the very true one’
Liszinski also claimed that when intellectuals would try to explain to ordinary people how they were been duped by the church, they in their ignorance would attack those who were trying to free them. For his good sense Liszinski’s tongue was cut out by burning iron and his hands were burned over a slow fire before his head was chopped off. I guess it was the Catholic Church’s way of proving to him the reality of hell! What a pity Liszinski has been forgotten in modern Poland! On the Liszinski Wikipedia page you will find a link to a society dedicated to the promotion of reason in Polish society called racjonalista. Though hopelessly outnumbered by a population slumbering in religion, these intellectuals are nevertheless a ray of hope in a country suffering from the post-traumatic disorder of history.

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