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W The Unique Source of Religion and Morality Eric Gans University ofCalifornia, Los Angeles La religion est une réaction défensive de la nature contre la représentation, par l'intelligence, de l'inévitabilité de la mort. Religion is nature's defensive reaction against the intellect's representation ofthe inevitability of death. (Henri Bergson 1086) Qu'on s'imagine un nombre d'hommes dans les chaînes, et tous condamnés à la mort, dont les uns étant chaquejour égorgés à la vue des autres, ceux qui restent voient leurpropre condition dans celle de leurs semblables, et, se regardant les uns et les autres avec douleur et sans espérance, attendent à leur tour. C'est l'image de la condition des hommes. Let us imagine a number of men in chains, all condemned to death, ofwhom some are slaughtered each day in the sight ofthe others, those who remain see their own condition in that of their fellows, and observing each other in pain and without hope, await their tum. This is the image ofthe human condition. (Pascal, Pensées 199) hy are there no atheists in the foxholes?1 Because they have all made Pascal's bet. In times of crisis, God is present, not in 1 An earlier version ofthis article appeared in the electronicjournal Anthropoetics, I, no. 1 ( 52The Unique Source ofReligion andMorality some ineffable sense, but as the interlocutor of last resort. God is whoever is named by the name we call out in our panic. The customary rationale that we pray in the foxhole out ofprudence, "to keep all our options open," fails to explain why God is an option in the first place. This option exists only because humanity originates in the crisis that both God and language— language as the naming-of-God—were revealed and invented to resolve.2 God's all-powerfulness is the inverse of our powerlessness in the event of human origin, the only crisis the outcome of which could be wholly determined by the language of prayer. The first word is the name of God because by the utterance of his name, the substitution ofthe sign for the appropriative gesture, we defer the threat ofviolent conflict over the object ofour common desire. The source ofthis originary crisis is humanity's susceptibility to mimesis, which even in circumstances ofabundance creates scarcity by multiplying desirability. What we call "humanity" here was not long ago called "man," including, yet not yet including, woman; our hypothesis explains the scandal ofthis exclusion. When we spoke of"man," our species was named by and after its more violent gender; ifwe are now able to abandon this designation, it is because we understand that the origin ofthe human is, not the sacralization , but the deferral ofthis violence, its dijférance by the sign of language. Theoreticians ofthe sign no longer contest the primacy ofthe vertical signifier-signified relation; we conceive the world of signs as a domain separate from and parallel to our conception of reality, as per Saussure's metaphor of the two sides of a sheet of paper. The dominant position of Saussurean verticality—what has been called the "linguistic model"—is accepted even within the field of semiotics, whose founder, Charles S. Peirce, had conceived of signs in "horizontal" fashion as "one thing standing for another." I propose that we take the more radical step of hypothesizing the ultimate identity of linguistic verticality with the transcendental in general. Both the Platonic heaven of the Ideas and the more familiar paradise of the Judeo-Christian or Moslem afterlife are hypostases of the vertical relation ofthe sign to its referent. This is clear enough in the case ofthe Ideas, which are no more than reified words, but it is equally true of the 2 The first linguistic sign or name-of-God is hypothesized to originate from an act of appropriation that must be aborted for fear of mimetic conflict. For my most recent presentation of the hypothetical originary scene of language, the reader is referred to the Introduction of Originary Thinking (7-9). Eric Gans53 eternal abode of souls. Although we obligatorily situate the transcendent...


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