Levend Joods Geloof # 4/5 Purim 1997
In this issue:
The calculating believer - Marcel Möring
Also: Short stories by Dutch-Jewish authors Carl Friedman and Chaja Polak. Pre-publication of a fragment from Arnon Grunberg's ('Blue Mondays') new novel 'Figuranten'. The Tomb of Esther in Hamadan, Iran. 'The rabbis decide who is a Jew, we decide whom we help'. Interview with retiring Jewish Social Work Director Wilma Stein.
The Calculating Believer - Marcel Möring
At the end of last year I delivered the annual Herzberg-lecture in 'De Rode Hoed' (cultural-religious centre in
Amsterdam). It dealt with God, and with the renewed interest in religion and religiosity. Since then I have been
visited by a colourful parade of preachers, psychics and followers. I received mail from disappointed dolphin-
swimmers, horse-whisperers, books from the Scientology-movement en phone-calls from hidden prophets
who had not taken their daily dose of beta-blockers. Between the mail there was even a letter from God. The
letter was in English and it contained undoubtedly the best reaction of all. He thought that I took his joke (man,
creation, Him) a little too seriously. God even quoted from my first novel, Mendel. I would have liked to write
back, but because the return-address was 'Paradise', I decided not to. The Dutch mail has enough problems
as it is.
The Book Week is now upon us and I travel through the country to talk about In Babylon, my new novel, and
God. I feel like a rock band on tour. On the way to Leusden or Deventer, Amsterdam or Nijmegen I listen to
the radio and sing along with some of the hits and when I arrive, I talk.
I talk about God. Everyone wants to talk about God nowadays. Sometimes I think I am not a rock band on a
tour, but a gospel group. In Babylon is not about God. It is about mankind. I believe man is more important
than God. Even if I believed in God and heaven and paradise and many wonderful miracles, I would still think
that. I know I would, because as a boy I was a believer, so much that I even spoke with God. Even then, in my
bed, in the middle of the night, I thought it was man that mattered. Most likely, that is because I was never
bothered with religious dogmas, so I was free to form my own thoughts about religion.
The New Agers, whom I dislike so much, also believe that it is man that matters. The difference between them
and me is that I think it is man in general that matters, mankind, and not personal salvation. New Agers, in all
their surprising forms and appearances, are looking for the personal. They want personal depth, personal
insight, personal salvation, personal richness, health, knowledge. Nothing more material than the new
believers. Nothing more neo-liberal. The religiosity of the end of the 20th Century is that of the calculating
believer: what has religion to offer me and how much do I have to invest in it to get a profit? That is the
reason why so many of these new forms of belief look like an overloaded supermarket-cart on a Friday-
evening: everything that was a special offer, that tastes nice, that came with a discount coupon, is in the cart.
Not that which is nutritional and healthy, not that which takes a little chewing. New Age is the tv-dinner among
the religions. Put it in the oven for a bit and it's like eating a real dinner.
Spinoza said that in The Netherlands allthe religions have been touched by Calvinism, the Catholics, the
Protestants, even the Jews. I am an example of this. I donşt believe you get anything for free. I donşt believe
knowledge can be acquired without struggling. Let alone insight. Or religious enlightenment. In medieval
moral illustrations the path of life is often pictured as a choice between two roads: one steep and winding,
through woods, attacked by preying animals; the other as a wide and easy road through a pleasant
landscape, nicely decorated with beautiful women and friendly men, full bottles of wine and ripe fruit
abundantly hanging on the trees. At the end of this last road you always find the gaping sulphur-oozing mouth
of hell. The first road leads to the divine light. I believe in the deep truth of those illustrations. Maybe that is
because I am a writer and I know that a good book is preceded by long toiling, even by desperation, by hard
work and much thinking. But maybe it's because after almost forty years I have seen that it is just the way
During my readings in the country someone always gets up at the end of the evening and wishes to know
whether life has a purpose. In the past, I sometimes carefully answered this question. Now I say bluntly: no. I
say more, but often the rest is not heard. What I say is: does it matter whether life has a purpose? Are we only
able to get a sense of purpose if life itself has a purpose? Art has no purpose and still we apparently need it
very much. We spend millions on it. We watch it with millions. Look at me, I say, I am an artist and I am here
because you want to listen to me. But what I make is of no use to you. You can't buy bread with it, you cannot
stop a leak with it. And still. Life has no purpose, but it is very much worthwhile. I can't imagine God thinks
Translation: Manja Ressler
Dutch-Jewish author Marcel Möring has published three novels. The second one The Great Longing has been translated into English and is available in the UK as well as in the USA. His first novel, Mendel and his new novel In Babylon will be available in trnaslation soon.
This article can be read in Levend Joods Geloof nr. 4/5 1997
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