Religion and Revolution (4)

This is the fourth in a series of posts under the same title.

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For the mysteries recognized by men are celebrated in an unholy fashion


And they pray to these statues like a man chattering to his own house, knowing nothing of gods or heroes or what they are.



Revolution is return, and return is religion. The reverse also holds true: religion is return, and return is revolution.

Religion is revolutionary return in a sense of re-turn that carries both senses of re- at once. That is, religion is revolutionary turning both again and emphatically. It is an ever-returning again anew, each time with the newness of the very first time.

Returning ever again anew to what?

To the divine.

From what?

From idolatry.

Furthermore, truly to turn anew back again away from the latter, from idolatry, is as such to turn again anew back to the former, to the divine. That is just what the divine itself is, the very definition of the divine: The divine is that to which, in turning from idols, one turns. The divine is the toward-which of the turning from idols and idolatry. Whatever else the divine may be, besides the toward-which of the turning away from idols—whether the toward-which of such turning itself turns out to anything at all, and not far rather nothing—makes no difference to the divine, or to our turning ever again anew away from idols and toward it. 

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Religion, if it is not to dis-figure itself into idolatry, must constantly return to its source, in which return it is yet once again emphatically trans-figured into what it most truly is, whenever it manifests itself as itself, and not in the form of some other thing. It is precisely as such recurrent continual re-transfiguration of itself by turning away from its disfigurement and back toward its source that religion is revolutionary.

That word, revolution, comes from the nominative form of Latin revolvere, “to roll back, unroll, unwind; happen, return; go over, repeat,” which itself goes back to re- plus volvere, “to roll,” from the presumed Indo-European root *wel-, “to turn.” Heard with an ear tuned to that deep derivation, talk of “revolution” is talk of just such turning back or again, but always ever new, just as every wave of the ocean is the return of yet another new surge or lap of water.

Religion is the element of constantly recurring revolutionary renewal of human being through recalling human beings to their source.

            What’s more, it is only insofar as it remains true to its own utterly revolutionary nature that religion can also be genuinely conservative. Only in the linguistic degeneration—the fall of language into mere chatter, in effect—that characterizes what passes for “politics” today, can “conservative” come to signal the very opposite of “revolutionary.”

Conserve comes from Latin com-, in this case used as an intensifying prefix, plus servare, “to keep watch over, maintain,” from the presumed Indo-European root *ser, “to protect.” From that same presumed Indo-European also comes, eventually, the English word serve. However, linguists tell us, our English word serve itself more immediately comes, not from Latin servare,, but from Latin servus, which sounds very much like our English word service but actually in classic Latin means “slave.”

The ramifications of the idea that all four terms together—English serve and conserve, Latin servare and servus—ultimately derive from the same presumed Indo-European root that originally meant “to protect,” are worth further thought in relation to the question of how it stands between religion, revolution, and conservation.  At least one important such ramification might be expressed by saying that it is only when serving, precisely in the sense of keeping watch over and maintaining, gets disfigured into enslavement—whether in its classic forms or under such modern forms as what Marx called “wage-slavery,” or as the use of prison inmates as unpaid labor in the United States today, makes no difference here—that “conservatism” also gets disfigured into its reactionary and even fascist forms.

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Tp be continued.