NB: This will be an exploration as much as it is a review.
With Pope Francis playfully linking communism and Christianity the dispute has not yet been settled between the materialist ethos of Marxism and the transcendence of orthodox religion. The supposed antagonism between Marxism and spirituality is much more complicated than meets the eye. Marxists are firmly, didactically against any spiritual balm, following Marx’s precept that religion is the opium of the masses, an illusory balm for the otherwise oppressed. This dictum is largely left unchallenged, even with the rise of liberation theology. Gardavsky attempted to explore this rift in the late sixties, and to envision what can be reconciled in the adversarial relationship between Judeo-Christianity and Communism, and genuinely locating the bedrock of the two belief-systems. In his criminally forgotten work, God is Not Yet Dead, Gardavsky boldly deciphers the monuments of mainstream worship, and the communist response.
God is Not Yet Dead is deceptively simple, evidencing the professorial background of Gardavsky, a Czech intellectual who briefly rose to prominence during the aborted Prague Spring. This is a far more approachable slice of philosophy than the previously reviewed A Study on Authority’ by Marcuse. Gardavsky relies on a writing style that is clear and concise, rather than the theoretical blather that constitutes much of Marcuse’s work. Gardavsky’s focus is also a major departure from authority studies – the essence of God is Not Yet Dead deals with liberation, not with the voluntary enslavement that formed the bedrock of A Study On Authority.
Gardavsky is also much more interested in the freedom of choice found in the orthodoxies of Communism and Christianity. It is clearly influenced by existentialism and humanity’s search for meaning and transcendence – the reader can understand why Gardavsky was blacklisted following the crushing of the Prague Spring by Soviet troops. Existentialism was viewed as heresy by the Soviet orthodoxy of the sixties, especially considering existentialism’s emphasis on the individual rather than the mass. Gardavsky’s heresy confronted mindless “atheism” of the traditional left. He was himself a full-on atheist Communist, but the mere mention of (to say nothing of teaching) the heretical French philosophy was as dissident as burning images of Lenin on Red Square.
All that Gardavsky attempted to analyze was the fundamental roots of religion as well as thoughtful (not knee-jerk) rejection of the same. The study is roughly broken in half, with Judeo-Christianity at the beginning and the atheist response constituting the later chapters. Gardavsky stresses the individual in his examination of both sections – rather than making blanket statements about entire movements, Gardavsky maintains a sharp focus on individual and representative actions within the greater context of the movements in question.
This is especially true of the monotheism section. If you’re looking for big names and key philosophers, you’ll get them, but within context. Gardavsky time and again places the individual within their social milieu, but individual choices are given preference. The exploration of monotheism, like the rest of God is Not Yet Dead, is interested in the choices made to transcend oneself, the search for an unknown omega of existence. The dialectical relationship between the individual and the big Other is the hallmark of these studies; the interaction between the individual and the essence is mediated by the divine in monotheism, while this search is more elusive for the atheist. God is not anthropomorphic in any event – divinity and the indefinable Higher Essence form the rough shape of godliness, even with the God-man of Jesus Christ.
Gardavsky makes the contentious point that it is harder to be an atheist than it is to be Christian; by this he meant a genuine atheist, someone who has sought alternatives to faith in the divine when considering the motor of existence. Atheism is easy when it takes the form of literal anti-clericalism or the sloppier life of the agnostic. Once again, humanity is looking for the essence, the true transcendence of oneself with what can be termed a higher plane of consciousness. The interaction is the same as monotheism, but the self-reflective atheist has to make do without the aid of a god to help out with the dialogue. This can lead to an existential crisis, as the thinking person confronts the eternal infinite of the universe and humanity’s place in the cosmos.
There is a way out of this dilemma, and that is via a realistic appraisal of the interrelations between individuals and their concrete community and the consciousness of a given community influencing and supporting the individual search for meaning in a greater whole. Greater society has far more meaning and concrete impact than the uncaring infinity of the cosmos; society is both the by-product and producer of our own search for meaning, and the work that we accomplish within the interrelations will lead to a more concrete knowledge of oneself. This community also buoys up and defeats the tragedy of mortality – Death, while being a physical certitude, is marred by the individual’s place within a progressive society. The individual is finite – human society is not, not at this point anyway.
I would just like to note that all of the above is a gross simplification of Gardavsky’s philosophy. God is Not Yet Dead may be out of print, but used copies can be gathered. Considering the emphasis on the continuation of existence within a conscious community, it would be frightful if this work was left to moulder on some shelf.
The brutal suppression of the work and the destruction of its creator marks the essentially counter-revolutionary stand-point of latter day Soviet ideology. Just mentioning Christianity, even within the framework of a defense of Marxist atheism, was enough bait for the bureaucrats of the Soviet bloc to invite total reaction and rejection. Gardavsky was banned from teaching his heretical (but still fundamentally Marxist) views, and it would be a shame if this was left in the dustbin of history.
This is such an important text that I’m tempted to transcribe it and put it online as a PDF; let the community of ideas judge and interpret it. This is a welcome synthesis of Marxism and existentialism, and far more approachable than the indecipherable French school.