Simone Weil’s insight into decreation

Why affliction is necessary. From a LARB review of Simone Weil and Theology


Pascal noted it before Weil — that there is nothing that seems more accursed than being alone with our own emptiness. Rather than bear the suffering of our existential voids, we manufacture distractions to help us to steer clear from them. Ironically, our current age, with all of its high-tech wizardry, makes us perhaps more vulnerable to this danger than our less technologically savvy ancestors.

“Decreation,” the act of eclipsing one’s own ego, becomes, for Weil, the means by which we allow ourselves to tarry in the hollows of our being. It is the proper antidote to our perpetual flights of fancy, our castle building in the sky, our refusal to inhabit the present moment. We are at our holiest when we imitate God’s own denial of power for the sake of something else: the very definition of love, for Weil. To “decreate” is to cultivate within ourselves the capacity to refuse self-expansion. The death of the self qua ego gives birth to a more attentive and compassionate way of being in the world.

Weil’s concept of God is striking, even if it is not entirely original to her, in that she forces us to contend with the possibility that we have radically misunderstood the referent “God.” She challenges the view, popular among many believers, of God as a superhero. Ironically, many if not most atheists operate with a similar definition. Though Weil has no sympathy for Freud’s ultimate denial of God, she would nevertheless probably concur with him that the conventional view of God has its roots in infantile psychology, in the frightened ego’s need for security and comfort.

Remaining faithful to the New Testament, Weil locates the genuine experience of the divine in our encounters with the homeless, the prisoner, the exploited — with any afflicted being. Yet Weil insists that divine love cannot be about this or that particular person. She goes to great lengths — as do the Stones in turn — to say that we must first be attentive to the anonymous and impersonal experience of affliction before we can truly love a particular flesh-and-blood person.


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