I've been thinking about the chaplain's position at Maine State Prison in Warren Maine. It's open.
What kind of chaplain would work well there?
No doubt the one chosen for the job.
[Emmanuel] Levinas was, notoriously, a severe critic of Simone Weil, whom he evidently never met despite their being contemporaries. Levinas’s criticisms, however, were not aimed explicitly at Weil’s notion of decreation, nor even at any aspect of her thought that could conceivably be characterized as philosophical. Instead he condemned her inability, as he saw it, to understand the Judaism into which she was born (but not formally raised)1 and which she seemed evidently determined to reject. Her desire for mystical union with God struck Levinas as merely a selfish pursuit of personal salvation. He was dismissive of her hatred of the Old Testament Jehovah, who could order the extermination of entire peoples, pointing out that she herself—all too true, unfortunately—had strangely little to say about the crimes committed in her own era against Jews, often in the name of Christianity.2 These disagreements, serious as they are, nonetheless conceal a deeper resonance. For Weil, the main form God’s love takes in this world is ordinary human compassion, the neighbor love we show for one another as fellow creatures infinitely removed from their creator. Weil’s God is surprisingly limited, a God “absent from the world, except in the existence in this world of those in whom His love is alive”—those whose “compassion is the visible presence of God here below.”3 As we shall see, the compassion she speaks of is essentially a form of self-denying openness to the other that could easily be characterized in Levinas’s terms as “being divesting itself of being.”
More problematic might seem to be the similarities in the criticisms often leveled at Levinas’s and Weil’s understandings of ethical agency and selfhood. Each has been faulted for proposing an ethical passivity that makes responsible action by a free moral agent impossible. Here it is important to realize, however, that Levinas is not primarily interested in offering moral guidance but is attempting to ground normativity—in fact, the very meaning of human life—in the face-to-face encounter. What is new in Levinas is not a new ethics, but the idea that subjectivity itself is “ethical” in a foundational sense we normally do not notice. Hence the goal of this essay is not to prove that Simone Weil’s is a Levinasian ethics, but to show how Levinas’s fundamental approach to human existence clarifies certain aspects of decreation that many have considered questionable or extreme—such as Weil’s claim that we should desire nonbeing precisely in order to confirm our neighbor’s being. In turning to Levinas, we should not make the mistake of assuming that we are confronted with essentially the same paradox again when he proposes that we are fundamentally passive before we are free moral agents—for as we shall see, Levinas is making a different type of claim altogether: a metaphysical one about the nature of human agency, not an ethical one about how we would best orient or structure our lives. This metaphysical claim, particularly in the form of Levinas’s concept of substitution, seems to provide a plausible philosophical foundation for Weil’s notion of decreation.
Decreation, frequently mentioned in Simone Weil’s late writings, is not always referred to by name. In the New York notebook (1942), for example, there are many passages such as the following in which the word never occurs:
Every man, seeing himself from the point of view of God the creator, should regard his own existence as a sacrifice made by God. I am God’s abdication. The more I exist, the more God abdicates. So if I take God’s side rather than my own I ought to regard my existence as a diminution, a decrease.
When anyone succeeds in doing this, Christ comes to dwell in his soul.
As regards myself, I ought to repeat in the opposite sense the abdication of God, I ought to refuse the existence that has been given me, to refuse it because God is good. As regards other people, I ought to imitate God’s abdication itself, to consent not to be in order that they may be; and this in spite of the fact that they are bad. (FLN 213)
Why not try this: Seelsorge!
Yes, care/cure of souls.