“Islam basically is acceptance. And this acceptance is not exactly identical with the Christian faith. Islam has—this is what interests me very much—in the Islamic perception of the mystery, I would say it is more open to the mystery: that God can also destroy. There’s no happy end guaranteed.”—Bernard Sartorius
Transcript of podcast interview for ‘Psychology & The Cross’ with Jungian Analyst and scholar of Islamic Studies, Bernard Sartorius.
Date of interview: 16.07.2021
(0:38) Jakob Lusensky: Welcome to Psychology and the Cross. In this episode, I talk to Jungian analyst and scholar of Islamic studies, Bernard Sartorius. Bernard holds a degree in theology from the University of Geneva, and is a training and supervising analyst at the International School of Analytical Psychology in Zürich. In this episode, we discuss individuation and Islam, the attitude of psychological agnosticism, and the motive of surrender in the context of a dream that Jung shares in the biography Memories, Dreams, and Reflections. We also return to Jung’s statement, “I don’t need to believe; I know,” when asked in an interview at the end of his life if he believes in God. But let’s start from the beginning. How did it all begin?
(1:26) Bernard Sartorius: It was in high school that I discovered my interest—within a Christian type of movement of high school students—my interest in theology. Because they started to look at the bible, and I was particularly interested in the figure of Jesus. But not of Jesus Christ as a mythological figure, but as a very inspired—a very, very highly inspired—human being, saying most important things for our psyche. I already felt it at that moment. And this led me then to study theology. I had another choice, another option, which was attractive to me, which was medicine. And I was hesitating in the last moment. I was even enrolled in a medical faculty, but then I changed it to theology because I noticed that the spirit of medicine was a purely scientific spirit, and I felt right away already then that there was something excessive in this way of looking at reality.
At the end of the studies, we had to write a diploma paper, and I did this in America, in a Russian Orthodox seminary. I had chosen a topic, which by the way was not so far away from the theme of our discussion today: the divinization of man, the deification of man. I called in to a Greek φαλλός [cleric and theologian] whose name was Grigórios Palamás. I wrote this thesis, this topic, and then I got a scholarship to write this thesis within the framework of a Russian Orthodox institute. And I had a glorious year, I must say, at this Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, close to New York, where I was all the time with the future priests of the American Russian Orthodox churches.
There were many students. They were mainly American boys—a very pious orthodoxy—going to the choir, singing in the choir. I was also a part of it, going every Sunday, singing in the liturgy. And the boys—it was not my case, because I had my girlfriend in Switzerland—were so happy to go to the parish, because they had a chance to meet their future wives. So during the time they were singing, they were always looking at the young parishioners. . . So it was a very nice, a very human, kind of thing, and at the same time, very, very different from the Calvinistic kind of situation I was in in the faculty in Geneva (the theological faculty in Geneva), which was very strict, very Calvinistic, very intellectual.
The Orthodox church, especially with its music and the icons, touched me very, very deeply at that moment. I did not think about conversion because at that point I was going to another institution, but I felt that, henceforth, something which was not also involving our symbolic acception of the mystery was not my way anymore. So in fact I more or less left on the inside: I left the Reform church, the Presbyterian church. Though, as I came back from America, I had to work for five—seven—years in this church because of—for financial reasons. At the beginning I was working at the parish, and then I was working with youth work (it was easier), and during this time I did my studies at the Jung Institute.
(5:53) Jakob Lusensky: Shortly, about this transition, or deciding to study, was that a long process, was it something—?
(6:00) Bernard Sartorius: It was a long process because I realized—I knew it already—that I was not going to work in the church, but I had to work in the church, and for some time I had absolutely no alternative professionally. I thought for some time that I would work as a teacher, a history teacher—because I could work for some time in the high school—but this was now closed: one could not have access anymore, unless one had a PhD in philosophy. Anyway, so this was locked, and I was at the same time in a very existential, deep crisis. My whole life, in fact, was concerned. And that’s when I started analysis, with [name of analyst], first with [name of analyst], and then with [name of analyst]. And that’s where, in fact, in this process that I discovered—I would say very deeply—that this was going to become my way to become an analyst. It was then of course the classic courses: the dreams were supporting it; the orientation was supporting it. I was getting much better psychologically, as I had found this way. And so then it was clear that I was entering the Jung Institute, still while working in the church, because for years I had absolutely no money—my parents had no money to give me—and so I had to work continuously in the church.
(7:30) Jakob Lusensky: And you mentioned it before, that your interest during your theological studies, and the research around it—the divinization of man, or the deification of man—that might link to the theme of today. And I was wondering if you could say something about that link. I guess what comes to my mind is, yes, the idea—or Jung’s idea—of the process of individuation.
(7:56) Bernard Sartorius: It’s very fascinating that you ask this question, because it is, in fact—I find it also fascinating that it was already at this time—I was already thirty-three—it was already an issue for me, this question of divinization, of divine energies, as it was called technically. My thesis was around a Greek Church Father. His name was Grigórios Palamás, of the twelfth century. And he tried—and then of course in my thesis I just explained how he tried this—I had no connection with Jung at this point, so I could not make any kind of parallel at this point—but he tried to make the distinction between the energies coming from God, which are in human being, and which give him life, which give him the spirit, which give him the soul, which give him the sense of duty—everything which makes a human being a human being—and the essence of God himself, who remains completely unknown, and in a lot of reality cannot be grasped in any way throughout our age. So he tried to work on this distinction, between divine qualities which have become human—which have, first of all, been expressed in the figure of Jesus Christ (in man in God), but then were given to some extent to every human being, to share in his psychic life—while keeping the mystery of the transcendence: completely unspeakable, completely untouchable, and completely mysterious.
(10:03) Jakob Lusensky: And would you say that individuation is a process of man realizing his or her divine nature, or is that taking—?
(10:16) Bernard Sartorius: Yes, divine nature, but not in the sense of something wholly good, as we imagine it, no—no, no. I mean, this can be also something absolutely horrible—can be very destructive for mankind, for people. I am personally very suspicious of any kind of idealization of the individuation process, that it would go into some kind of “perfect man” kind of direction. This I’m very, very suspicious of. But it’s not realistic; it’s very simple. It’s not true. It’s an idealization. I mean, there is a colleague I won’t mention now, but he gave a description of the individuation process which ends with some kind of perfect man. It’s completely unrealistic: well connected to his self, knowing well his shadow, connected erotically to his anima—I don’t believe in this anymore.
(11:30) Jakob Lusensky: What’s the value of this turn, in your mind, of individuation? What value does it have for you?
(11:35) Bernard Sartorius: It has the value of something very, very open, absolutely open in the sense of being basically different between each person, from person to person, and having very much to do with becoming oneself without the possibility to say “What is me?” Because this “becoming oneself” means something different for each person; so we cannot make a general definition. I would even not, anymore, give too much value to clinical criteria, which could be—some people believe that they would indicate how far the individuation process for somebody has gone—I don’t believe in that anymore. Because I have seen too many illusions in my work, and also among my colleagues, where this process is concerned.
(12:44) Jakob Lusensky: Too much illusion—?
(12:45) Bernard Sartorius: Illusions, yeah. Illusion, illusion. Hopeful, wishful thinking. And if one looks at reality as this, really, it’s, phenomenologically, it’s far from ideal, it’s far from catastrophic. Simply, it’s very different from person to person. Everything we think in psychology about somebody, about ourselves, about somebody, is ultimately hypothesis. Hypothesis. Analytically speaking. We are all hypotheses. No acclamation.
I can make hypotheses. It can be helpful. Because hypotheses are questions, but open questions. If I give a diagnosis about, let’s say, the psychological constellation of somebody, and I make this diagnosis with the sense that this is it—this now really is the situation of this person—and has—let me take an example—a classical example: it’s repressing its instincts. And doesn’t see what his dreams, in which animals are getting wild, and then we see it’s very typical, the repression of the instinct. And of course that’s why this person’s dreaming of animals becoming aggressive—yes, as a hypothesis. But when I believe this, that this is now reality, that this is the situation of this person, I close something. I lock this person in—into something—even if I am not expressing it to the person.
(14:55) Jakob Lusensky: In previous episodes, I spoke, for example, to Murray Stein about what we could learn, maybe, in an analytical psychology, from Christianity. Very broad question. But he said, “Well, I think we can learn to have faith.” And he spoke of the faith in the process; he spoke about faith in the therapeutic room. And I was wondering, because now when you speak, you speak about agnosticism, you speak about keeping the idol relation as holy: we don’t know.
(15:25) Bernard Sartorius: Yeah.
(15:26) Jakob Lusensky: I very much like that, but I’m wondering about the idea of faith. Is that then excluded? Or is that something that you see that we can actually practice as an attitude as analysts?
(15:37) Bernard Sartorius: That’s also a very good question. You see, that’s maybe where the question comes in, about Islam. Because Islam basically is acceptance, and this acceptance is not exactly identical with Christian faith. A Christian faith contains also, I would say, acceptance, to a certain extent, but it is—of course it’s not a very sharp distinction—it’s rather a question of emphasis—in Christianity, the way that I experienced it (at least it’s my subjective experience), faith means the outcome will be good. The outcome will be good. Whatever I fantasize when I say good, but God is love, God loves me, God has saved me through Jesus Christ. So doubt cannot be good, if I have faith. Faith is the trust in this loving God, and then things either way or not will be fine. Some very completistic beliefs in miracles, that a miracle will happen, in the fundamentalist churches: believe somebody completely, up to a very highly spiritual way of experiencing this, that ultimately, the individuation process leads towards a good direction. And that connection with the self, or whatever, the so-called self, Islam has—that’s what interests me very much. And the Islamic perception of the mystery, I would say is more open to the mystery: that God can also destroy; there’s no happy end guaranteed; there’s no guarantee that everything is going to be fine. There can’t be an idol because this abandonment to whatever Allah is, or what most of us have the slightest idea in fact of what it is—this is really open. It’s really open in the fullness. . . So what image of God is this? It’s an image of God which is completely mysterious, in the sense of, it does not go into a direction that we can really sympathize with: with our desire, our wish, that things will be fine. And this gives, basically, I would say—though of course in the social world, it’s different now. I believe probably many would not accept what I am saying, but in my way of seeing this, it gives an openness to the mystery which ultimately can only be described as agnostic. That’s where we have to make the link. We do not know.
(19:24) Jakob Lusensky: So when you speak like this, what I am reminded of is Jesus on the cross. Forsaken at the cross. Don’t we find that also there? Or in Islam, it’s more integrated?
(19:48) Bernard Sartorius: I would say to a certain extent it’s more integrated. That the wish, you know, when the Muslim says inshallah and here he is mostly belonging to the culture, he would really say now, if I say, “I will arrive,” I don’t know, “I will take the plane and I will arrive at five o’clock in Berlin, inshallah.” He means there’s a possibility that God brings the plane down. He has somewhere integrated this inshallah, because he hopes that the plane will arrive in Berlin safely, but he has integrated the possibility that the plane might crash. So it is really already in the language, you know, “so God willing,” inshallah, “so God willing, I will arrive in Berlin at five o’clock.” And this is a daily expression that, yes, ultimately, we do not know the will of God, or the will of destiny, or however I want to call it.
(21:00) Jakob Lusensky: And you feel sometimes in Christian faith, that that’s lacking? Or how Christian—?
(21:06) Bernard Sartorius: Yes, I would say this: this familiarity with God, you know, through—special through—Jesus Christ, who is our friend and close to us, one of us, and with the same kind of God, the Son of God—this familiarity, one could almost say—from which, by the way, this sequence which you have just reminded me of, what happened on the cross, when Jesus said, “Why have you abandoned me?”—this is very central . . . this is one of the passages which is not very often preached about in the churches, because it’s very hard. It does not fit very nicely into the Christian image of God. It is a fact. God has become, let’s say, in church Christianity—it’s always good to know about of which kind of God we are speaking, so I’m speaking of the church God—yes, a nice good, good little friend, who means good for me, and who asks me also to be good with my fellow man. But all this is very nice, and has lost, to a large extent, at least in Protestantism, its real mystery, a sense of mystery. And it’s not enough to say, yes, God is unknown—you see what I mean—I mean, to preach that God is unknown, and to verbalize all this. It’s a question of sensing it. It’s interesting to see that in all the Orthodox church is (we have a possible connection with what we said before): this sense of mystery, you know, that God is really not just available to fill out our wishes. But that he is really the unknown also. This is much more strong. In the Russian Orthodox liturgy, we feel it. This Christ figure on the top of the roof of the Orthodox church is looking, with terrible eyes, down. He’s not a nice little—a nice fellow.
(23:42) Jakob Lusensky: After finishing my training in Zurich, I was drawn in to Luther, and the theology of the cross.
(23:52) Bernard Sartorius: Right.
(23:52) Jakob Lusensky: And especially how Luther speaks about how God works. He does this alien work. He’s always working in opposites. So in Luther, I think both the mystery, and the cross, and the paradox of suffering, is very present. There’s not this cozy identification with a God. He does not believe in only a good God. There’s a surrender to God’s will, yeah? And there’s the breaking of the will, of the human will—
(24:23) Bernard Sartorius:—Yes—
(23:24) Jakob Lusensky:—for the sake of God’s—
(24:25) Bernard Sartorius:—I agree with you. You know, there are many, many overlaps. It’s a question of emphasis. I am, of course, I realize, you know, as I am listening to what you are saying. I am very much connected to Christianity the way I experienced it in my parish work, and in my church work. And as a Christian in the church, what I hear in the sermons. I grant with you absolutely that if you go deeper, to the Church Fathers, and Thomas Aquinas, and to Luther, and Calvin, you get many more substantial types of perceptions of the mystery of God, and of course of the place of the suffering. But I still, despite that, my impression was—as I started to have contact with the Islamic world—that they, possibly better than the West, have kept the mystery of God, a sense of the mystery of God, to put it very simply.
Of course, the interesting thing is that Westernized Muslims are the ones who give the—how to say?—who are the breeding ground for the terrorists. It’s very interesting to see that most of the people in ISIS, and the people of 9/11, they were educated in a Western way. And then found again some kind of perverted connection to the sense of transcendence, through their terroristic activities, really death—they are going themselves into death—but this death-wish—this thought for oneself—is of course connected with transcendence. And when transcendence is not experienced anymore—psychologically, one would say—then it can take this type of pathological shape, that it has to be acted out, for instance . . . . But this is a small, small, small part of the Muslim world.
I just experienced it very strongly in Syria, and in Morocco, that this sense that the human being is not in the center of the universe—to say this very simply, it is lived. It’s not a theoretical proposition. While in the West, for a reason which could be interesting to explore, the human being is the Alpha and the Omega of everything—this is very, very, very strongly maintained, and even has become so more strongly since the diminution of religion. The sense that really God is—that God is the center of reality and not man—this is not something that you find in the West. Of course you find it in some pockets, and you find it in some books, but as a general tendency, you find this is really a general tendency in the Muslim world. Less anthropocentricity.
(28:07) Jakob Lusensky: Staying with this, when you speak of Islam as acceptance, and the theme around surrendering, I remember when you and I spoke some years ago, and you made me aware of the passage, and that dream in Memories, Dreams, and Reflections. Jung has a dream with his father.
(28:28) (Recorded voiceover) Jakob Lusensky: Here’s a segment of the dream. If you want to listen to the whole dream, visit cross.center, or go on YouTube and search for Psychology and the Cross.
(28:38) (Male narrator reading from Jung): In the dream, I suddenly saw, that from the center, a steep flight of stairs ascended to a spot. High up on the wall, which no longer responded to reality, at the top of the stair, was a small door, and my father said, “Now I will lead you into the highest presence.” Then, he knelt down, and touched his forehand to the floor. I imitated him. Likewise, with great emotion, for some reason, I could not bring my forehead quite down to the floor. There was perhaps a millimetre to spare, but at least I had made the gesture with him. Suddenly I knew, or perhaps my father had told me, that the upper door led to a solitary chamber, were lived Uriah, King David’s general, whom David had shamefully betrayed for the sake of his wife, Bathsheba, by commanding his soldiers to abandon Uriah in the face of the enemy.
(28:41) Bernard Sartorius: It’s a very, very interesting passage in this book. They were bowing in front of where the highest presence is, and in the highest presence sits—in the dream, it’s in the dream—sits the general—I think it is Uriah—who has been badly betrayed by David, by King David, because King David wanted his wife, and who was sent into battle in a very dangerous situation. He was killed in this battle—what David, in fact, intended to do. And it was so that he could get his wife, the wife of his general. And this Uriah is, so to speak, the symbolic figure of the highest presence. My interpretation of this is the following: what happened, because David—King David, and the Book of Psalms, and one of the very important figures in Judaism, Song of Solomon—a king who was very close to Yahweh, and above this—my interpretation would be the following: what happened to this general, Uriah, it was, how to say it, an incredible abuse. This King David wanted to snatch the wife of this general, and thanks to his power—given, by the way, by God, by Yahweh—he sends the general to the front line, so that the general gets killed, so that he, David, can take the wife. This is just a horrible thing. The king—rather, the general Uriah, was the victim of a fantastic injustice, but a fantastic injustice which is difficult to qualify from an ethical point of view, which was happening by a king chosen by God: by David, by King David.
So we have here a complete paradox. This Uriah for me represents the symbolic figure of someone who is suffering injustice—this is completely unjust—and this unjust suffering seems to be suffering somewhere with the will of God. Not that it happened, at least, but that it happened through somebody that is okay. That’s the difference between Jung and his father. The father seems to represent symbolically that he is bowing in front of the total mystery of God, including the injustice of God, for inducing the suffering of Uriah, for having allowed the suffering of Uriah. He’s in a full attitude of acceptance. Because he touches the ground with his forehead. Jung, at the point of this dream, is not able, and he is not able because he wanted to do it. In the dream, he says, “I wanted to do it, but I didn’t succeed.” So something in him is resisting this total surrender. I’m not, for a second, blaming Jung for not having touched . . . the ground—but his—the self-explanation which he then gives in Memories, Dreams, and Reflections—and why he did not touch it—for me seems to be a little bit constructed. For me, this means the freedom of man. He has to save God. . . in front of the almighty God. This is constructed, because the symbolism of freedom, the theological symbolism of freedom, there’s not an opposition between freedom and God. God, the quality of God, gives also freedom to man. It’s a reductive understanding of freedom, an almost infantile reduction of freedom, to see God as a father who prevents his little boy from being free. This is another superficial understanding of the connection between determination and freedom . . . . [Cites an author]. . .
The paradox is, the closer we are to God, the more we are free. And this closeness to God means also surrender; it includes, of course, surrender. It’s very interesting that Jung has this dream in Tunisia, where he mentions in his Memories, Dreams, and Reflections that he was very much impressed by the call to prayer, which he heard . . . five times a day. Very much impressed, and which are in fact the call to go, to pray, but the prayer, the Islamic prayer, is a prayer of surrender. It’s not a prayer of “give me this, give me that, save me from that, save my soul,” or whatever. It’s an expression of surrender . . . more than the Christian prayer, but there it is very, very precise. So Jung was impressed by this, and he reacted like that with this dream.
(36:23) Jakob Lusensky: What was lacking in Jung at that time?
(36:26) Bernard Sartorius: He had the dream in the 1920s, and, uh—I think it was 1920—he still had not experienced all of the psychic possibilities, you know, the old Jung. Uh, you know, in the BBC interview—one year, I think it was, one year before his death—when this journalist asks him, “Do you believe in God?” Jung answers, “I know.” There is surrender. There I hear more surrender: “I know.”
(37:10) Jakob Lusensky: Can you say something more about that?
(37:12) Bernard Sartorius: Yes, because in the meantime, Jung had experienced his heart attack. This was a long time after the dream in Tunisia. He had experienced his heart attack. And in his heart attack, which he also mentions in his Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, he was very close from dying, and he was called back, to go back to earth; he was already in the cosmos, he had some kind of inner vision during his kind of coma situation—he was in a coma. And then a voice told him—I don’t remember if it was a voice—he just heard that somebody, somehow, something mysterious, told him, “Now you have to go down again into life.” And this was of course a basic, basic religious experience, which he did not have yet at the time of the dream in Tunis.
(38:32) Jakob Lusensky: Two episodes ago, I spoke to Amy Cook, who is a scholar mostly studying Kierkegaard and the relationship to Jungian psychology. She wrote an excellent book on that as well. She takes this statement of Jung as representation of his difficulties with faith. Or that he does not—when it comes to faith, she says—he is not open. There are no dynamics; there’s no dialectic anymore. There’s a knowing, so there is no faith.
(39:05) Bernard Sartorius: We have a different perception of this, of the way he’s quoted. I have listened to Jung many times, because I was also very intrigued by this “I know.” And I just got—every time, since the very beginning, it did not change—the impression that he said it because of an inner experience. And you see this is the fact, I would say it is even more religious than just faith, you see, because faith, you can, to a certain extent, say, “I believe because it’s absurd.” I believe because it’s absurd. There’s a Church Father, Tertullian, who said, Credo quia absurdum:I believe because it is absurd. The more it is foolish, the more I believe. Okay. But that’s maybe the beginning. But that’s not yet the deepest religious experience. In Jung’s “I know”—this is subjective perception—I can perceive the result of an experience, which you could call mystical, or whatever you name it. It’s not important. But of an experience—not just of one experience, you see what I mean? Not just one event. But of a going into this perception, which allows him then to say “I know.” And not “I know” in the sense of “I know that the brain has two halves,” for which we can also use the phrase “I know,” that the brain has two halves. Okay. I know that there are two halves. But the intonation in which he says it is absolutely not the one of this kind—do you see what I mean?—“I know that the brain has two halves.”
(40:56) Jakob Lusensky: I think, yeah, I agree. And I think many people would agree that there’s no doubt that he had these experiences that made him understand that there are other powers. That’s somehow clear to me as well. One can have many of those experiences, but it’s not faith. Faith has to do with the end of life, no? Or with eschatology. It’s also a question of, yeah, what do we have faith in? What’s that highest presence that Jung couldn’t bow to? I’m wondering still about this, what he couldn’t bow to.
(41:36) Bernard Sartorius: You see—I mean, there, I cannot answer that. He didn’t write anything about that. It’s simply there is maybe one little indication which shows Jung’s own ambivalence where this question is concerned. I’ll give a possible answer to this question. When he speaks—I once made a little checker of the passages in which he speaks about the transcendent function. And you the famous, when he says, Deo con volente, God willing, the individuation process will go like this or that. Or what he wrote over the door of his [building]: Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit. Called or not called, God will be here. The transcendent function sometimes is clearly only psychological in some of these expressions. I don’t have now the quotes in my head, but I have written them somewhere. But there is a psychological function, and then at one point there is a third, which results from the tension between the two, and it is a search, it’s a new situation which comes about from the dialectic between the two . . . Then there is when it is quite explicitly metaphysical, and where the God willing, Deo con volente, seems to come from the other side, from the metaphysical side. But Jung himself does not clarify this. One just can notice that there are quotes about the transcendent function, which sometimes leans more towards something purely psychic, or purely psychological, and sometimes leans towards something metaphysical in the true sense, not—that is, pure mystery, not reducible to psychological phenomena. I cannot say more, so—I have the impression that also your question, somewhere, yeah, he was moving in this realm till the end of his life, with probably some more confidence at some point, or surrender. You know it’s interesting, you know, if one sees The Red Book, just to—there are many, many places in which his paintings figure Islamic buildings. Many places. There are about ten buildings. Of course they are not in the center. They are somewhere in the corner. But they are little buildings with a cupola which are looking like mosques. So the theme of surrender is helping him from the very beginning. I think he was deeply impressed somewhere, by the motive of surrender. But at the same time, resisting it.
(45:11) Jakob Lusensky: I hear how you were drawn into your Islamic studies. And I hear the depth and the importance that this has had for you psychologically. And I see, if I go out from my practice and I go a hundred meters, there’s a little mosque. Every day, young men coming with their carpets—running, you know—to them. There’s a pull, there’s an energy. And at the same time, in my little life in Berlin, trying to enter a church, you know. Usually it’s closed, or it’s rented out for some events.
(45:46) Bernard Sartorius: Yes, yes
(45:47) Jakob Lusensky: Or you come on a Sunday, and you sit down with a group of elderly people—nothing wrong with that—
(45:54) Bernard Sartorius: Yes, I understand
(45:55) Jakob Lusensky: So there is something here that we’re standing in the middle of.
(45:59) Bernard Sartorius: Yes. You see, I hear you very, very well. I must very say, this speaks to me also, what you feel here. Simply, my impression is this: that it’s of course a very personal hypothesis. That this new God, that Jung was trying in his approach as well, that was trying to communicate to him, particularly through The Red Book or so. And wrestling with Christianity, for sure. But this wrestling with something, with a psychic reality, with a spiritual reality, who was still very much alive, to a certain extent, but which was already on its way out. The Islamic reality, as such, with its ethnological aspects, is not necessarily a reality on its way in—because Islam, there’s also a lot of reformation which I’m sure has shapes for a Westerner that are difficult to follow—it has a lot of anachronisms which do not correspond to our old psyche. It’s not easy today to become a Muslim, for a Westerner. But there is something in Islam which I think is highly symbolical of a general movement happening in mankind now.
And a general movement which, in regards to which Christianity is outdated. This is to a certain extent outdated. There are a lot of things which are carried on, but in one main point it is outdated. And this is—it’s my hypothesis, which I know can be attacked, but I am deeply convinced that at least there’s some truth in it. And this is the anthropocentricity of Christianity. That we must not—you know, Christianity is based on Judaism, and then Jesus Christ became Christianity, but firstly it was based on Judaism. And Judaism is a religion in which God, Yahweh, suddenly takes very, very seriously the wellbeing and the destiny of one particular group of human beings. This is amazing. And [this God] even intervenes in history, in the history of this little group, helping them to get out of Egypt, to go to the promised land, and, and, and, and, and—to fight all the pagans, who are, by the way, nature-God believers, who believed that nature has something divine. They were met with [all trials] . . . in the name of God. So first a human group was highly valued—the Hebrews. And then mankind as such, humanity as such, was highly valued—highly valued. God became man. God did not become an animal, or cosmos, or nature. He became man.
So there we have, mythologically speaking, a tremendous emphasis upon the value of human being, which, of course, then laid the foundation of a perception of the value of human needs. Human needs. If human being is so valuable, then his needs are of course very valuable. And there we have, then, the American constitution. The fundamental right of freedom, of love, of happiness, and so forth—that humanity and its needs—and then, ultimately, we have also, of course the consumer society, which at one point, of course, produces perversity (when the natural needs are satisfied, one has to begin to produce some artificial needs to satisfy—you know this better than myself). So this anthropocentricity—this is my impression—is coming to an end. And it is coming to an end, not because of some kind of metaphysical reason, but because we see the effect it has had not upon the planet. It has for a long time allowed a better life for humanity, but with the industrial revolution and technological explosion, maybe it would be difficult otherwise. Uh, it is beginning now to destroy the planet, the very foundations upon which human life is possible. So this anthropocentricity is showing now its dark side—which means centricity upon human desires and satisfaction—and this, I think, is the beginning of a change of civilization.
And there of course, Islam, with its theocentricity, with God being in the center, the mystery, which is also in the cosmos—which, why not, there might be those extra-terrestrial beings landing one of these days, which [God] is behind also them—which is more relevant today than, I think, anthropocentricity, especially for the future. And that’s why some people feed this in Islam. They feed it. And they are attracted by the theocentricity of Islam. And I must say, I myself, that it is also for this way that I have interest in Islam. I felt, yeah, this is not going to solve our human problems, but this is giving again a place—a big place, by the way—to the origin of life and of death and of everything, and giving it an existential way and not just philosophically.
(53:34) Jakob Lusensky: I feel that I need to ask you a very personal question, and you can decide how you’d like and if you’d like to answer to it. Uh—do you believe in God?
(53:45) Bernard Sartorius: In that sense, yes. The way I just said, yes. Full stop, you know—full stop.
(53:54) Jakob Lusensky: It doesn’t matter if it’s a Christian or a Muslim.
(53:57) Bernard Sartorius: I will just say of the various religious expressions, I sense something of within God. Or for Buddhism, because they say also, “We are not, we do not believe in God.” Uh yeah, but they behave like people who are open to the mystery. That’s why I prefer to call it the mysteries, because if we have to, by all means, use a word—and I prefer this one.
(54:37) Jakob Lusensky: Did this episode evoke any thoughts, ideas, or reflections that you’d to share? Do have any questions? Please share your thoughts with me on cross.center/feedback.