‘Man is living in an illusionary world, illusionary because it is made up of images transmitted by communications media. His world is no longer that of his daily experience, of his lived mediocrity of his personality or of his repeated relationships. It has become an enormous decor, put there by the thousands of news items which are almost completely useless for his life, but which are striking, arousing, threatening, glorifying and edifying in their radical insignificance. They give him the feeling of living an experience, which is worth the trouble, in contrast to the rest of his experience, which is colorless and too plainly unimportant. It is an odd perversion which leads the person of this age to bestow importance and sense on that which does not concern him at all … while rejecting the importance and sense of that which is in fact his own experience 24 hours of every day’.
Hope in Time of AbandonmentSuperb analysis of a society where God's voice is silent
Jacques Ellul (p. 35)
The "abandonment" that Ellul writes of is the withdrawal of God, and an analysis of what happens in a society where the presence of God is not evident, and the word of God is not heard. "Abandonment" is probably an unfortunate term to use; Ellul is referring to the real spiritual condition of God's "hiddenness" which is discussed frequently in the Psalms. Ellul points out that a society in which the voice of God is silent (or not heeded) bears certain traits: "death of the word" (i.e., language become content with no meaning); "an age of scorn" (i.e., to condemn another person to complete and final sterility; to destroy the honor an dignity of another such that they have no future hope of making a contribution -- this trait in particular is true of contemporary politics, both left and right...the "hate Bush" and "hate Clinton" vitriol that preceded it are perfect examples of what Ellul writes about in regard to "scorn"); mediocrity enveloping the church (i.e., no evidence of power and glory in the church, no evidence of God being active, the church producing only what man himself can produce through his best efforts); and the like.
"Hope" is man's only answer to God's "silence." Hope demands God to speak once again. Hope brings the individual, and society, to a reconsideration of who God is, and causes man to pound on the gates of heaven and demand that God speak and intervene again in the affairs of man.
Ellul, in typical "prophetic" manner, foresaw the day in which we live. We live in a period of "abandonment," of God's silence; and we also live in a day of hope, where man's only reasonable response is to appeal to God to speak again.A flaming torch of hope
Jacques Ellul was one of a kind. A law professor, theologian, anti-technology activist, and recpient of the "Righteous Among the Nations" award for his leading role in the French resistance, he helped redefine Christianity and the Christian's role in the modern world.
This book is pure flame. No one--atheist, secular humanist, Christian, whatever--can come away from the searing power of Ellul untouched. Ellul foresaw the rise of the religious right and the power of the modern world, devoid of hope, to allow this to come into being. Those who condemn, deride, and continually scorn, be they religious or not, are without hope:
"Such is the mentality of modern man. There's no hope. Very well, then, let's make up our minds. Since all is absurd, let's fix it so that I can live to day its fullest, cot loose from the future which is the very thing that makes today's endeavor absurd. For all practical purposes I relegate to the absurd, to the darkness crawling with monsters, the future which no longer concerns me. I have no more desire to be an empire builder nor a world builder. The passion which motivates me does not spring from any conviction nor truth. If there no truth because there is no future, then nothing is worthwhile to live passionately the thing thatI'm doing this instant whatever it might be. I hve no reason to be concerned with its underlying causes, which psychoanalysis and sociology have taught me to go so very deeply into. Nor do I need to bother about its consequences, because history is a tale of disenchantment on that score. The thing is to live absolutely and solely in the present, "caught between the empire of disenchantment and the kingdom of illusion", which I want no part of." (pg. 14).
On the rise of atheism:
"When man builds up these tendencies of hopelessness to the point of seeing himself, with Michel Foucault, as an accident soon to be erased, or with Cioran becomes convinced of the nullity of everything, including all that has gone into greatness as man, he is far from continuing the pious Christian tradition of witness to the virtue of renunciation and humility based on the nothingness of man before God. Neither is he following the Buddist teaching on illusion. The fact is quite otherwise. His attitude contains no serene and transcendent view of the human condition. It is, to the contrary, a frightful grimace, a bitter, empoisoned irony, a pseudo science which pontificates and prophesies the end of man. Doubtless the thinking ofa mere few is not of great importance, but this thinking has not come about by chance. It is in fact the expression of a common movement, as proved by the sudden success of Sartre and the like. Man seeks his own negation in derision, in scorn, in a disavowal if everything that had been his history and virtue up to now. This attempt is no longer spontaneous and accidental. It is formulated, intentional, and directional." (pg. 65).
What could be a better diagnosis of the 20th century and our century even more so? All one need do is flip on the TV and see characters who are sociopaths (The Sopranos is a good example) glorified and made to seem like heroes? And it has become more technological and sophisticated than Ellul or any of his generation could have imagined.
His conclusion that God has abandoned us as a result of our self destructive culture, habits, and lack of faith is understandable but to approached with caution. How do we know? Has God been watching Glenn Beck? Been listening to the diseased, fearful prayers of those who attack William P. Young, author of "The Shack"? Has he meditated on the fate of Dick Cheney's soul? There's no way of knowing.
We need a new Jacques Ellul, and we need people to read his books.