Mikhail Epstein

Post-Atheism: from Apophatic Theology to "Minimal Religion"

In the book: Russian Postmodernism: New Perspectives on Post-Soviet Culture (with Alexander Genis and Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover, in the series Studies in Slavic Literature, Culture, and Society, vol. 3). New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1999, 528 pp.345-393.

1. From Apophatic Theology to Atheism

2. Secularization and the "New Middle Ages"

3. Theomorphism: the "Other" in Culture

4. Angelism as a Postmodern Religion

4. Angelism as a Postmodern Religion

5. Post-Atheist Spirituality in Russia: Minimal Religion


We are turning demystification

inside out: within the profane, we are discovering the sacred.

Mirca Eliade

There are numerous philosophical investigations into the relationship between religion and art. However, what interests me in the present chapter is not the eternal question traditionally broached, but the phenomenon of a new type of religious consciousness­or, more precisely, a religious unconscious­that is coming into existence in twentieth century Russian culture. The term 'religious unconscious' is applied here specifically to the state of Russian spirituality in the Soviet epoch and in particular to its latest phases when the official atheism is succeeded by various forms of post-atheist mentality.

What is commonly understood by the term 'unconscious' is the sphere of primal drives and vital instincts, which the religious consciousness seeks to repress and eliminate. However, what was repressed and excluded during the Soviet epoch was precisely the religious consciousness, which occupied the sphere of the unconscious in place of the baser instincts of hate, aggression, cruelty and destruction, ousted from it, transformed into consciousness, and promoted into ideological doctrine. This unique historical experiment, which reversed the relationship of these two spheres of the psyche and relegated religion to the sphere of the unconscious, requires radical theoretization to match the radical nature of the revolution that it represents. The West, too, has witnessed a similar process of relegating religion to the unconscious. However, as will be seen later, this process of secularization was much more moderate, and it has already received theoretical explanations from a theological point of view.

In his late text, Civilization and Its Discontents (1929), Freud establishes a close connection between religious feeling and the unconscious. Both appear to share their origin in what Freud describes, alluding to a letter from his friend, Romain Rolland, as the "oceanic feeling." "It is . . . a feeling as of something limitless, unbounded ­ as it were, 'oceanic.'" According to Rolland, who is paraphrased by Freud, "[T]his feeling . . . is a purely subjective fact, not an article of faith; it brings with it no assurance of personal immortality, but it is the source of religious energy which is seized upon by the various Churches and religious systems, directed by them into particular channels, and doubtless also exhausted by them. One may . . . rightly call oneself religious on the ground of this oceanic feeling alone, even if one rejects every belief and every illusion." Freud then goes on to explain the nature of this oceanic feeling by positing that there is no impenetrable barrier between the conscious Ego and the unconscious Id. The Ego is only the façade of the unconscious, an island, as it were, surrounded on all sides by an ocean. The same image recurs in C. G. Jung's writings, in his reflections on psychology and religion. "[T]he psyche . . . reaches so far beyond the boundaries of consciousness that the latter could easily be compared to an island in the ocean. Whereas the island is small and narrow, the ocean is immensely wide and deep and contains a life infinitely surpassing, in kind and degree, anything known on the island . . . " Using this metaphor, it is possible to compare the atheization of Russian society in the Soviet epoch to the sinking of the ancient island of Atlantis, when all forms of conscious religiosity were not so much destroyed as banned into the depths of the unconscious, relegated to the bottom of that ocean from which they were once raised by the consciousness of many generations of religious believers.

A few remarks on the use of terminology in this investigation. The concept of 'the unconscious' is not used in any strict psychoanalytic sense but rather as the notion of a general cultural paradigm, which can be pinpointed at various levels, including the psychological level, on a par with the historical, social, aesthetic and theological. The unconscious is thus a sphere of either the psychic, the social or cultural life of the human subject, which lies beyond the boundary of his/her consciousness and is in a conflictual relationship with the individual's conscious attitudes. Thus the unconscious can be defined only in terms of the conscious ­ as its other.

1. From Apophatic Theology to Atheism

Under the pressure of censorhip­in both the social and psychoanalytic meaning of the term­the religious unconscious acquired new depth during the Soviet period. However, the repression of religious consciousness was not imposed from the outside alone, by an external force. This repression was rooted in the very heart of the religious and theological tradition dominant in Eastern Christianity and particularly in Russia. It is by no means an accident that huge religious persecutions and the rise of mass atheism took place within this cultural domain. This is because ever since the Byzantine period, Eastern Christianity has been home to the tradition of apophatic, or negative theology.

According to the spiritual precepts of Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagite (writing around the 5th or beginnning of the 6th century AD), God can neither be represented in images nor designated by any name, because He is more profound than any definition. God, or "the supreme Cause," "is neither knowledge nor truth. It is not kingship. It is not wisdom. It is neither one nor oneness, divinity nor goodness. Nor is it a spirit, in the sense in which we understand that term," wrote Pseudo-Dionysius, author of the Areopagitica, who rejected all the names for God without leaving us his own name. "I pray we could come to this darkness so far above light! If only we lacked sight and knowledge so as to see, so as to know, unseeing and unknowing, that which lies beyond all vision and knowledge. For this would be really to see and to know: to praise the Transcendent One in a transcendent way, namely through the denial of all beings." What we can conclude from this is that God has no place in consciousness, since the latter operates by the use of positive terms. To paraphrase Husserl, consciousness is always "consciousness of something", while God is not "something" and so escapes the definitions offered by consciousness. If our consciousness of God is false, that means that only through overcoming and negating consciousness can we reveal the truth about Him. Since consciousness is correlated with being, the aim is to reach non-being; and to do so, the aspirant must remain on the other side of consciousness. The locus of faith is thus transferred to the unconscious, and all positive sources of knowledge are extinguished and dispersed in its dark abysses.

Negative theology found expression above all in the Eastern branch of Christianity. According to Vladimir N. Lossky, an eminent Russian Orthodox theologian of the twentieth century, apophaticism "constitutes the fundamental characteristic of the whole theological tradition of the Eastern Church."

The early 18th century Russian icon, entitled "John the Evangelist in Silence," symbolises this tradition. As is known, the Gospel of St. John is generally regarded as the most secretive, the most 'mystagogic' of the Gospels and hence mystically connected with Orthodoxy. By the same system of symbolic correspondences, inherited from Church traditions, the Apostle Peter is connected with Catholicism, and St. Paul, by the the freedom of his theological speculations, with Protestantism. To St. John is attributed not only the Fourth Gospel but the concluding chapter of the New Testament, Revelation. Hence the apocalyptic vision of the end of the world and the extinction of its visible and tangible forms also has a figurative connection with the Eastern theological tradition.

This icon depicts John the Evangelist, using his right hand to hold open the beginning of his Gospel. We read: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him . . ." John's left hand is raised to his lips, as if to make the sign of silence over the words themselves, sealing them with the mark of the inexpressible. At first glance, the meaning of these gestures might seem contradictory: the right hand reveals "the Word" while the left hand conceals it. But this is the very paradox of negative theology: it is because "the Word was God" that it must be enunciated in silence. All other words may be uttered: only this one mysterious Word must remain unuttered, through which everything came to be. In Eastern theology, this "rule of the left hand" was particularly respected. It barred the Word preached by the Gospel from the speaking mouth.

There have been many manifestations of apophaticism in Russian theology. The most fundamental was the suppression of theo-logy itself, the cutting off of logos, or discourse on God. This Russian "anti-theology," with its fervent adherence to the principle of "inexpressibility," surpassed even Byzantine theology, which despite its advocacy of "wise silence," remained noisy and effusive. This perplexing self-erasure determines the peculiarity of Russian theology, in the sense that Georgii Florovsky defined it in his classic study The Paths of Russian Theology: "The history of Russian thought contains a good deal that is problematic and incomprehensible. The most important question is this: what is the meaning of Russia's ancient, enduring, and centuries-long intellectual silence? . . . Old Russian culture remained unformulated and mute. The Russian spirit received no creative literary and intellectual expression. The inexpressible and unexpressed quality of Old Russia's culture often appears unhealthy."

Certainly, no one would deny that Russian theology produced numerous works in the fields of liturgy, dogmatics, and other disciplines, and that it experienced a particular upsurge in the second half of the 19th and early twentieth centuries. The point is in the fundamental attitude: in Russia, theology has never been regarded as a particularly important function of faith. Instead, the shortest path to God was either through the incessant repetition of the eight-word prayer to Jesus, or via "inexpressible sighs." Even when, on occasion, Russian theology reclaimed its right to speak about God, it used as its inspiration the very tradition that denied the possibility of speaking about God. This is what happened in the period of Metropolitan Makarii (the 16th century), when the theological foundations were laid for the culture of Muscovite Russia, and when for the first time perhaps, according to Florovsky, the attempt was made "to build culture as a system." Here, while taking a very selective attitude toward the Byzantine heritage, Muscovy betrayed its predilection for the works of the Areopagite: "Contemplative mysticism and asceticism­the best and most valuable part of Byzantine tradition­played no role in the conservative Muscovite synthesis. . . However, the Athonite translation of Areopagitica did pass into Makarii's Great Reading Compendium or Meneloges [Velikie chet'i minei ] and generally enjoyed an unexpectedly wide circulation and popularity (Ivan the Terrible greatly admired the Areopagitica)."

It remains something of a mystery why Ivan the Terrible, whose reign was marked by alernating bouts of unbridled sinfulness and equally intense repentance, was so drawn to this work of negative theology. Perhaps there was a kind of correspondance between the apophatic paradox of knowing God through lack of knowing Him and the Russian Tzar's style of behavior, his mixture of extreme cruelty and fool-in-Christ (iurodivyi) humility: perhaps he found a confirmation of his superhuman calling in the very horror of his acts. According to this logic, if non-knowledge of God is the surest way to knowledge of God, then deviation from God's commandments is the way to God, a way to fulfil His unspoken will. Ivan the Terrible's piety was in itself a paradox: while filled with self-denial and repentance, it also drove him to commit new crimes or at the very least could be easily reconciled with them.

It is useful to remember that negative theology developed in a Monophysite environment, which rejected the idea of Christ's human nature, accepting only his divine nature and hence attributing a certain virtuality, conditionality and illusoriness to his human incarnation. It is noteworthy that "the initial proclamation of the works of Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagite provoked discussions between the Orthodox and the Monophysites in Constantinople in 533 AD, during which the head of the Orthodox rejected their authenticity." Later, however, these works became part of the canon of Orthodox patristic literature. It is also a fact that the ideas of negative theology played an important part in Western mystical heresies, mixing with Manichaeanism and Monophysitism ­ for example, the Cathars, Manichaeans and Anabaptists saw the elevation of the divine in the desecration of the human. Since matter constituted absolute evil, any method by which it could be erradicated­including lying, murder, betrayal, extreme asceticism or its opposite, reckless debauchery­was considered a good. . Such an interpretation of "saintliness through blasphemy" is close to the religious philosophy of Ivan the Terrible, although whatever else he may be accused of, he remains innocent of deliberate sectarian deviations. However, while Monophysitism itself was always deemed heretical among the Orthodox, a certain element of "negative theology" became part of Orthodox religiosity.

We are not in a position to pursue all the lines of development of the apophatic theological tradition, but they very clearly lead us to the Russian Nihilism of the 19th century and the Soviet atheism of the twentieth, in which negative theology becomes the negation of theism itself. God is transposed beyond the region of knowledge as such, and all predicates of being attached to the notion of God are rejected. This dark and unhealthy side of apophaticism has been part of Russian theology through its entire history. According to Florovsky, "many believers acquired a dangerous habit of doing without any theology whatsoever, substituting it with whatever came their way ­ the Book of Rules, the tipikon , myths about ancient times, customs, or lyricism of spirit. What came into existence was a retrograde renunciation and avoidance of knowledge, a kind of theological aphasia, a surprising adogmatism and even agnosticism, for the sake of a self-deluding piety. This was the heresy of the new gnoseomachists. . . . This gnoseomachy threatened the very health of spirituality."

The anti-intellectual stance of Orthodoxy may account for the atheistic inclination of Russian thought. The opposition to knowledge of, and thought about, God­gnoseomachy­drove faith into the unconscious, clearing the way for the conscious cult of science, revolution, and social ideals. Theological 'aphasia' and 'agnosticism'­the malaise of word and knowledge­prepared the ground for atheism as a spiritual neurosis, a phenomenon of exiled religiosity. Superficially, it seemed that the nihilist negation of "everything," beginning with society, government, art and morality, extended ultimately to the negation of "the holiest of holies." This is how the trend is described in a conversation between the "first nihilist" Bazarov and the gentleman Pavel Petrovich in Turgenev's Fathers and Sons. In reality, however, nihilism began with the 'sacred,' from which it spread to more peripheral areas, sanctified by religion. "There is no God" was the beginning of Russian youth's fascination with Buchner and Marx, with chemistry and revolution.

But where did this "there is no God" come from? Is its origin not in the ambivalence of apophatic theology itself, which by denying God any cognizable features plunges us into the depths of thoughtlessness-about-God and non-knowledge-of-God, ultimately leading to indifference toward or simple rejection of God?

According to Lossky, " [a]ll knowledge has as its object that which is. Now God is beyond all that exists. In order to approach Him it is necessary to deny all that is inferior to Him, that is to say, all that which is. (...) Proceeding by negations one ascends from the inferior degrees of being to the highest, by progressively setting aside all that can be known, in order to draw near to the Unknown in the darkness of absolute ignorance." Nihilism is the ultimate and most extreme of such negations. Faith is plunged into the sphere of non-knowing about its own subject and about itself, while in atheism this non-knowing evolves into a militant ignorance and deliberate rejection of God.

It is in this sense that Soviet atheism can be regarded as the paradoxical development of apophatic theology, as its logical next step, leading to the erasure of its 'theistic' and 'theological' components. God is not only deprived of all His attributes, but of the predicate of existence itself. Godlessness and lack of faith become as it were the natural consequence of the apophatic negation of God and of the erasure of conscious faith. S. L. Frank noted this remarkable convergence of theology and atheism in the negation of the existence of God himself. "If the word 'to exist' is to be understood in the sense of 'to be constituted in objective reality,' paradoxically the absence of faith and faith must converge in the negation of this predicate in its application to God . . . The concept of atheism consists in the fact that in our immediate experience of objective reality, we do not encounter an object such as God . . . This proposition as such is incontestable, and with regard to it faith is essentially concordant with non-faith." The only difference is that in the first case the negation of God is but a step towards attaining God, while in the other it is the final point, at which reason stops and is petrified. That which serves to purify faith in apophatic theology becomes the negation of faith in atheism, and it is difficult to define logically where extreme apophaticism ends and nihilism and atheism begin. Clearly, God does not exist in the same way a visible object or perceptible phenomenon does. If this world exists, then God does not exist. If this tree exists, then God does not exist in this sense of 'existence.' In the final analysis, negative theology negates itself as theology, becoming atheism.

One might ask at this point why apophatic theology is most intimately, though not exclusively, connected with Eastern Christianity. Perhaps it is for the same reason that the Orient has been the cradle of religions embodying a negative infinity, represented through a "no" ­ nirvana in Buddhism, tao in Taoism. According to S. L. Frank, "negative theology is guided by the intuition that God's being as the primal source and primal foundation of being is super-logical and super-rational . . . Consciousness here becomes immersed in a completely new, usually unknown dimension of being, receding into some sort of dark depths, which remove it endlessly from the ordinary 'earthly' world . . . The practical sum total of this attitude is a limitless and excessive spiritual aloofness, which makes it in some respects similar to Hindu religiosity."

Byzantium and Russia are thus close to the Orient in this respect but are not to be equated with it. Since apophatic theology still remains a Christian theology, it cannot deny the positive manifestation of God in the image of His Son, sent in flesh and blood to expiate the sins of man. But precisely because Christian revelation is essentially positive, and even iconic­that is, it is revealed in the fullness of the human personality of Christ,­the development of negative theology in Christianity had to lead to atheism.

It is one thing when Shankara, the great Hindu thinker, attains to Brahman through the negation of all its definitive traits: "Now there is no class of substance to which the Brahman belongs, no common genus. It cannot therefore be denoted by words which, like 'being' in the ordinary sense, signify a category of things. Nor can it be denoted by quality, for it is without qualities; nor yet by activity because it is without activity . . . Therefore it cannot be defined by word or idea; as the Scripture says, it is the One 'before whom words recoil.'" Or when Chuang Tsu, the great Taoist thinker, attains Tao through the negation of all positive characteristics in order to clarify the empty and formless nature of Tao itself: "The Tao cannot be heard; what can be heard is not It. The Tao cannot be seen; what can be seen is not It. The Tao cannot be expressed in words; what can be expressed in words is not It. Do we know the Formless which gives form to form? In the same way the Tao does not admit of being named."

It is a different matter when a similar method is applied to the God of Christian theology; for this is a God who revealed himself, who descended to earth to assume human form, who died, was resurrected, and whose crucifixion wounds were physically touched by the apostle Thomas. Negative theology thus denies the positive attributes of a God whose very essence, according to Christian revelation, became visible and tangible in the figure of Christ:

It is not soul or mind, nor does it possess imagination, conviction, speech, or understanding. Nor is it speech per se, understanding per se. It cannot be spoken of and it cannot be grasped by understanding. It is not number or order, greatness or smallness, equality or inequality, similarity or dissimilarity. It is not a substance, nor is it eternity or time . . . It is not sonship or fatherhood and it is nothing known to us or to any other being. It falls neither within the predicate of nonbeing nor of being. Pseudo-Dionysius' formulations, so similar to those of Shankara and Chuang Tsu, acquire a different meaning in the context of "positive" religion. They dissolve its very core, the humanness of Christ, his "sonship," his existence in time and his possession of speech. They potentially border on atheism.

In the Orient, the negative forms of knowledge of God do not lead to atheism. They remain forms of knowledge of God to the extent that their divine object is the absolute nothing, a pure and all-embracing emptiness. Nihilism is here not a denial of religion, but represents its profound essence and dignity. Within the Christian tradition, issuing from the fullness of the incarnation of God, the development of the negative moment in the knowledge of the divine is at first directed towards the cleansing of faith from idolatry and pagan superstitions. However, it ends by falling outside the framework of the knowledge of God -Man, and leads to atheism. The negation of the positive attributes of Nothing is a religious extension into that Nothing. The negation of the positive attributes of God, who appeared in the flesh and who continues to nurture the faithful with his flesh, is already atheism.

However, this does not lead to the conclusion that atheism, in developing apophaticism to extremes, completely annihilates the religious principle. The paradox lies in the very fact that while apophaticism contained the seeds of atheism, atheism retains the seed of apophaticism. That is, atheism retains its own unconscious theology. Apophaticism is a liminal phenomenon, through which faith crosses into atheism, while atheism itself reveals the unconscious of faith. Radically expelled from consciousness, the religious descends into the bowels of the unconscious, from whence it makes its presence felt by means of numerous clear or blurred signals. In the same manner repressed sexuality, according to Freud, can 'betray itself' through either criminal deviations, attacks of sadism and masochism, psychic illness,--or the subtlest and loftiest artistic sublimations.

The atheistic society literally seethes with religious allusions, symbols, references, substitutions and transformations. In part, this importunate neurosis of repressed religiosity is lived out by crude political action: the creation of idols, the adulation of leaders and their images, and all sorts of state worship as well as regressions into forms of primitive tribal rituals. Nevertheless, the religious unconscious is expressed most strongly in the artistic works of an atheistic era. According to Freud, it was in fact artists who first discovered the unconscious; and this primacy is retained even in those societies that ban and repress, not so much the libidinal drives, as higher religious aspirations.

This religious unconscious is encoded with great finesse in both artistic works and the personalities of the artists themselves, and it takes a lot of careful critical activity to decode it. If it can be said that Lev Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky influenced their readers through the acuteness of their religious consciousness, and by the force of their religious teaching, then in the atheistic period, the religious unconscious is often expressed by meaningful silence and the refusal to make any kind of confession or declaration of faith.

This skirting around religious topics is not a case of writers using coded, Aesopian language or allegory to express their religiosity. Although there are numerous illustrations of this kind of practice in Russian literature (for instance, Akhmatova's Poem Without a Hero and much of Pasternak's work), we have in mind here a fundamentally different phenomenon. It is the unconscious revelation of religious intentions and not the conscious concealement of them. Russian culture of the Soviet period offers unique material for the study of the psychology of the religious unconscious.

2. Secularization and the "New Middle Ages"

Until now we have been emphasizing the specificity of Eastern apophaticism. Now we must incorporate it into the general perspective of the historical development of Christianity. Although apophaticism is innate to Eastern Christianity, there is no denying its long-standing influence on Western spirituality. Evidence of it can be seen in the works of several Western Christian mystics, such as Meister Eckhart, Nicholas of Cusa, and Jacob Boehme, all of whom glimpsed the "foundationless foundation" of God himself, His rootedenss in nothing. "Knowing unknowing," or "learned ignorance," is the name Nicholas of Cusa gave to the method for approaching Him.

It has already been pointed out that the ideas of "negative theology" had a place in the religious heresies of the West. However, it is secularization that best sums up the religious 'convergence' of East and West whereby God becomes 'nothing' on both sides of globe.

In this sense, atheism is a crude and violent form of secularization. Soviet [sovetskaia] culture thus represents the reverse side of secular [svetskaia] culture, hastily errecting its earthly gods in the absence of the heavenly God. The difference between secularization and atheism is not only in the choice of means: tolerance versus violence, gradual development versus haste, democracy versus totalitarianism. The difference lies in the fact that atheism, as a rule, transfers the energy of its negation into the affirmation of a new, earthly hierarchy, replacing the heavenly one. Godlike leaders make their appearance along with state forms of holy ritual, piety and the 'cult of personality.' Secularization is slower to come to this process of transfer of faith and the replacement of its transcendental object. It does not use the new copper and bronze idols to try to cover up the gaping heavens. Rather it leaves the void empty, without substituting it with a quasi-faith, and through this facilitates the flooding of the unconscious with religious spirit.

If apophaticism itself is paradoxical, then atheism and secularization can be represented as two sides of one and the same paradox. Atheism is the possibility of quasi-faith, issuing from the negation of faith. Secularization is the possibility of faith, issuing from the absence of faith itself. God's place is not allocated to someone or something else, but in its emptiness is a reminder of the impossibility of seeing or perceiving Him palpably.

Of course, this sharp division between atheism and secularization understates the various shades of 'unbelieving pseudo-faith' and 'believing non-faith,' widespread in both the Eastern and Western Christian world. However, what this division does provide is an explanation for the positive religious meaning of secularization, even if it consciously rejects religion, and the negative meaning of atheism, which consciously erects new idols.

In the preceding section we tried to explain how apophaticism can turn into atheism; in this section we shall try to see how secularization can facilitate a regeneration of faith and its purification from the idols of consciousness. The submergence of religion in the unconscious is interpreted, in a series of twentieth century Western theological studies, as a means for religion's own salvation. In its act of self-consciousness, religion substitutes itself for God, becoming a form of ritualism and idolatry that worships only itself and its own earthly kingdom. Karl Barth stresses that it is precisely the unconscious nature of religion which can serve to assure its authenticity: it is what it is when it does not know what it is. "At the moment when religion becomes conscious of religion, when it becomes a psychologically and historically conceivable magnitude in the world, it falls away from its inner character, from its truth, to idols."

Up to a point, secularization itself can be regarded as a phenomenon of modern religious apophaticism, of faith existing through the negation of faith. Such a repressed, unconscious religiousity can be observed in many works of art of the twentieth century. Unlike their Soviet counterparts, however, Western artists were not obliged to conceal this religiosity from their public. Rather, they tried to hide it from themselves.

Having consciously absorbed secular and even atheistic attitudes, both Soviet and Western artists found their own religiosity exiled to the unconscious. Thus instead of being expressed in the content of their works, it found expression in the formal aspects of their art. This is particualrly true of the avant-garde artists ­ Duchamps and Malevich, Brecht and Mayakovsky, as well as the Surrealists. For what could inspire the apocalyptic visions of the Surrealists better than religious motifs? In his memoir, Salvador Dali mentions that any attempt to raise the subject of religion with André Breton, the leader of the Surrealist movement, was met with absolute silence. He "refused to hear a word about religion," despite the fact that Dali did not wish to draw him into a discussion on traditional church doctrine, but a new religion, "which would be at once sadist, masochist, and paranoid." All of Dali's efforts in this regard provoked nothing but a smile from Breton and a reference to the atheistic arguments of Feuerbach. This difference of opinion led to Dali's expulsion from the Surrealist ranks and his later conversion to Catholicism.

The religious unconscious was not limited to the avant-garde. It also largely determined the work of authors such as Andrei Platonov and Osip Mandel'shtam, and even the works of theoreticians such as Mikhail Bakhtin and Alexei Losev. None of these artists and thinkers made any explicit comments on matters of faith in their mature works; indeed they conspicuously avoided them. Nevertheless, they built their artistic and intellectucal worlds on the foundation of a "suspended," "sublated" or "ousted" religious experience and revelation. For example, Bakhtin's theory of the polyphonic novel is not ostensibly corellated with Dostoevsky's religious ideas. But it is perfectly clear that Dostoevsky's "polyphony" is internally connected with his understanding of Christian brotherhood and "the spirit of communality" [sobornost' ], the problems of empathy and atonement, universal guilt and responsibility (the carrying of "each other's burdens"). Also in evidence is Bakhtin's indebtedness to the ideas of Martin Buber, who regards dialogue as the initial mode of communication between Man and God, since only God is that primary and eternal "Thou," in whose presence Man defines himself as "I." One might assume that Bakhtin did not dare use Soviet publications to declare openly the religious subtext of his ideas. However, he offered no direct testimony about his own religious convictions either in his numerous personal notes of the late period or in conversations with friends and followers. The explanation would seem to lie, rather, in the profound apophaticism that permeates all of twentieth century culture, finding in Soviet atheism merely its most barbaric incarnation.

As Ludwig Wittgenstein remarked, "What one cannot speak about one must pass over in silence." Having concluded his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus with this sentence, the thinker himself fell silent for the next twenty years. If in according with the apophatic principle, one cannot say anything about God, then He should not be spoken about at all. This would be in complete agreement with the Third Commandment: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain." This tendency to avoid the use of God's name, this refusal to engage in theological apologetics, declarative confessions of faith and religious instruction, is characteristic of twentieth century spirituality. Hence the development of a critical attitude towards religion as distinct from faith, even among theologians themselves. For instance, Karl Barth writes: ". . . Religion forgets that she has a right to exist only when she continually does away with herself. Instead, she takes joy in her existence and considers herself indispensable." Such a self-satisfied religion, seeking to triumph in the world, is inimical to the essence of faith, which is always "not of this world." Similarly, the self-denial of faith is testimony to its authenticity. Faith guards its unconscious core, its non-manifestation and even readily passes itself off as absence of faith.

Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) has a story about a priest who is endlessly devoted to his ministry and deserves the love of his parishioners. In the course of the action it is revealed that he is a non-believer and that he performs the rites only out of love for his neighbors, inflicting terrible suffering on himself through this duality. The hero of the story genuinely perceives himself as a godless man, whose piety is a masquerade. But for the author, the truth lies at an even deeper level. As the title "Saint Manuel the Good, Martyr" itself indicates, beyond his godlessness, of which Don Manuel is aware, there lies a genuine, unconscious saintliness, a readiness to serve and be martyred in the name of his fellow men, which means in the name of God. Thus the illusion of consciousness is uncovered twice. Don Manuel goes through a revelation about the illusion of faith and perceives his own lack of faith with horror. At the same time, the author reveals the illusion of atheism, showing the reality of faith that lies behind it.

This is not a mere literary device but a two-step historical process within European religiosity: in the first, religion loses its privileged position in consciousness; in the second, it reclaims it in the 'underground' of the unconscious. The starting point for this process was the religiosity of the Middle Ages, which permeated the consciousness of European society. In the Renaissance, under this external cover of Christian civilization, irreligiosity grew as an historical force, ultimately resurfacing in the 18th century to determine the ideology of the French Enlightenment. In the 19th century, it took the form of conscious atheism in the writings of Feuerbach, Darwin, Marx and Nietzsche. The re-evaluation of all values extended for approximately a century, between the appearance of Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity in 1841 and Freud's The Future of an Illusion in 1927. Thus the Holy Trinity was reinterpreted as the representation of the human family (Feuerbach), while God as the adult projection of childhood dependence on an almighty father (Freud). The antithesis was drawn: religious consciousness gave way to antireligious or irreligious consciousness.

However, the movement of European religiosity did not end there. In the twentieth century religiosity has been increasingly revealed as the secrete, unconscious subtext of secular and atheistic movements. Nietzsche's anti-Christianity is revealed as an unconscious imitation of Christ, a Mangodhood complex (a reversal of Christ's Godmanhood). In Marx's communistic teaching as well as in the revolutionary movement of the proletariat, which presented itself as the atheistic affirmation of the world of here-and-now, Messianic and eschatological motifs are conspicuous. The very beginnings of secularization and the rise of capitalism are seen as evolving out of the religious tendencies of Protestantism, which Max Weber's explored in his famous The Protestant Ethics and the "Spirit'" of Capitalism (1905). The following remark by Georgy Florovsky is illuminating: ". . . people try to uncover in religious movements their social foundations. But weren't, on the contrary, the socialist movements directed by a religious instinct, only one which was blind?!" If the nineteenth century was busy seeking the socio-historical and bio-psychological origins of religion, the twentieth century has seen a gradual change in this attitude. The religious dimension is now perceived as that depth of the unconscious from which many irreligious or anti-religious movements of history have emerged. These include liberalism, communism, fascism, nationalism, the development of science and technology, the conquest of outer space and so on. Secularization itself, according to the Protestant thinker Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), is the form of humankind's new religious maturity, capable of independent acts of creation in the image and likeness of God. The self-deceptive kind of godlessness that Don Manuel confesses to himself is confessed by the entire European civilization of the twentieth century. Its godlessness has turned out to be a superficial mask of faith, just as, conversely, the 18th and 19th centuries perceived religiosity as a mask of a deep skepticism and indifference to God.

Hence the appropriateness of the feeling, expressed by the Russian thinker Nikolai Berdiaev (1874-1948), that with the twentieth century, the world has entered "a new Middle Ages." The values of modern civilization­humanism, individualism, and secular culture­are already exhausted. It is now a time "when the movement away from God has ended and the movement towards God has begun," a time when "God should once again become the center of our entire life," while "knowledge, morality, art, government and the economy should become religious, but freely and from inside, not by compulsion and from outside." At first glance it would seem that this prediction, made by Berdiaev in 1923, has not come true, just as the idea of a "universal theocracy," proposed by Vladimir Solovyev in the 1880s, did not. Discounting the scattered and ultimately insignificant fundamentalist movements, which appeared on the periphery of the political, cultural and economic life of the twentieth century, it is impossible to discern any conscious movement towards theocentrism and even less towards theocracy in our time. Even less can one see the fulfilment of the Berdiaev's prophecy, which referred to Russian and European culture, in the sparks of Islamic fundamentalism that have flared up in Iran or Pakistan.

However, if we do not automatically equate the new "Middle Ages" with the old Middle Ages, and if we concede the shift of the religious vector into the sphere of the unconscious, then the picture of the twentieth century changes, acquiring a new spiritual depth. The "new medievalism" does not suspend the process of secularization but imparts a religious dimension to it. The essential point is that the religious dimension alienates itself from human consciousness in the course of secularization, assuming forms of the unconscious, which transcend the scope and level of human individuality. It was not only individual consciousness that freed itself from religiosity in the course of Modernity. Religiosity itself freed itself from individual consciousness and now appears as something alienated, issuing from a non-individual unconscious. This is what Berdiaev probably had in mind when he spoke about the "end of humanism, individualism, formal liberalism of the culture of the Modern Age, and the beginnings of a new epoch of collective religiosity, in which . . . everything which has remained in the subsoil and the unconscious of the new history, must come to the surface." In the course of the Modern Age, extending from the Renaissance to the beginning of the twentieth century, the religious unconscious germinated, like a shadow cast by the gigantic effort of individual consciousness at self-liberation. Individuality has apparently achieved its ends, its 'human rights' are recognized, at least formally, in almost the entire world. But to the extent that individuality freed itself from the shackles of religiosity, religiosity has freed itself from the constraints of individualism, emerging in trans-human and non-individual forms.

What should perhaps be the chief concern of the theology of the "New Middle Ages" is the assimilation of the religious meaning of alienation. Moreover, it should formulate the fundamental principles of a new dogmatics, issuing from the category of alienation. The old dogmatics had as its starting point the 'appropriation' of God by the human subject. That is, it humanized God, who was conceived as an intimate being close to humans. This is where the concept of kenosis originated, meaning the expending of the godly nature in Christ in the process of His becoming man and suffering an earthly fate. But the ascension of Christ, and more importantly, his 2000-year long absence as a man amongst men, cannot fail to generate a demand for new concepts, at the basis of which lies the alienation of the Divine from the human.

This, then, is the religious meaning of the depopulated heavens: the Divine recedes into the distance, beyond the human. In its place arises a new religious sensibility, initially taken for atheism, which Sartre and Camus proclaimed to be the atheism of ultimate human liberation and despair. In actual fact, what we are facing is an extreme form of apophaticism, in which God appears as the radically Other, the Stranger, irrevocably distant from humans. Conversely, man feels alienated from God and, just as Camus portrayed him in his novel by the same name (L'Etranger), a stranger in relation to both God and world. This is not just the otherness of God in relation to humans, this is the divinity of otherness itself. Man feels this divine otherness in and around himself, as the resistance of his own creations and his creative force, which elude his domination. The New Middle Ages are cultivating the theology of alienation in new modes of the impersonal. One of its first variants is dialectical theology, which declares God's radical inaccessibility to humans: "He is not a thing among other things, but the Wholly Other, the infinite aggregate of all merely relative others." This is the source of God's inaccessibility to thought: "The affirmation of God, man, and the world given in the New Testament is based exclusively upon the possibility of a new order absolutely beyond human thought; and therefore, as a prerequisite to that order, there must come a crisis that denies all human thought ."

The process of alienation in the Marxist-Existentialist tradition has as a rule been treated in a sociopsychological framework. Such a treatment, while correct, is not sufficient. It is a fact that society gives rise to structures that are heterogeneous to the human being, alienated from his individuality and incommensurate with his consciousness and intellect. In comparison to these structures­technological, communicational, political, and financial, all grown to a planetary scale­individual consciousness and individual beliefs are infinitesmally small. The twentieth century has in part rebelled against this form of alienation, striving to restore to the individual everything s/he created. Hence the revolutionary experiences of reverse 'appropriations,' the expropriation of the expropriators, which included God as the chief expropriator of human knowledge and power. But as a result of all these collectivist uprisings against alienation, new rigid structures, which are even further removed from the individual and the personal, have come to reinforce the total effect of alienation.

It would appear that this curse will have no end. The more Man toils on Earth, the more prominently the Non-Human emerges in him: in governments and cities, technology and architecture, science and politics, poetry and painting. Man himself was engendered by the Non-Human, and now by an incomprehensible act the Non-Human is engendered by Man. Modernism and Postmodernism have strengthened this feeling for the Non-Human, which issues from Man himself but no more belongs to him than the Unconscious or the Other, forming his inaccessible roots. . . It was Paul Valéry who remarked that language was the most powerful tool of the Other, residing in ourselves. Later, the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan produced the formula that the unconscious is a language. If even the language with which we express our thoughts is a tool of the unconscious, a tool of the Other, speaking through us, then what can be said of technology or politics, which have always used man as a tool?

We thus come to the conclusion that the struggle against alienation is useless. Struggle only strengthens its power, encumbering man with new super-human structures, such as those produced by the revolutions of the twentieth century, paving the way for totalitarianism. But what is the meaning of this growing alienation? Perhaps it is time to realize that alienation is not just the guilt and curse of man, but a form of judgement about him, a form of his preparation for the encounter with God. The non-human, issuing from man: is this not the same Non-Human, from which man himself was fashioned? The only thing to do is to recognize the religious meaning of alienation and accept the belief that the Non-Human, transcending humans over the centuries, is nothing but the Divine itself. The It that created man is returning to pass judgement on him. To judge him by the measure of his own works, the non-human result of which is the premise of this unavertable judgement.

3. Theomorphism: the "Other" in Culture

There is an unbridgeable gap between our contemporaries and their creations. It is as if something alien interposes itself between creator and created, something unconscious and elusive. This form of the Other is the main revelation of contemporary culture arising not from a "beyond," but from its own self-alienating core. It is what is being enacted in contemporary culture, or, to be more precise, it is what is being enacted with it, since the latter is consciously demonstrating the unconscious character of its own creations by manifestly 'mis-re-cognizing' them, underlining and playing up to their alienating effects. Everything that is said by postmodern writers and thinkers is placed between quotation marks. It is not they who are saying and writing it all, it is It speaking through them, the thinking and writing Other. The art of the twentieth century, especially postmodern art, is an art created on behalf of this Other. The author erases his signature since It speaks for him: Language or the Unconscious.

It is in this sense that one can speak of the "New Middle Ages," in which man is de-centred in the world, ceding his centrality to the Other. The distinguishing feature of this Other, in contrast to the "old" medievalism, is its apophatic concealment. It cannot be illuminated for the individual consciousness and even less for the faith of the masses, it cannot become an object of religious perception, it cannot even take on the name of "God." Postmodernism insists on the alien origins and irreducibility of this Other, which cannot be mastered through history, science or theology. Even the term "theocentrism" does not apply to it, not to mention 'theocracy,' since they positively designate God as a "center" or "power." It is fitting to speak only of the theomorphism of the New Middle Ages, since it alone imparts to all things and all created works the form of the Other, of the absent God, of the religious unconscious.

An example of ancient theomorphism is the mandala ­ an Oriental figurative symbol, whose unconscious religious substance was studied by C. G. Jung: "Prejudiced by historical analogies, we would expect a deity to occupy the center of the mandala. The center is, however, empty . . . . We find no trace of a deity in the mandala, but, on the contrary, a mechanism. In the mandala there is not a trace of the Divinity . . . Instead of God, we find a mechanism. The centre [of the mandala], as a rule, is emphasized. But what we find there is a symbol with a very different meaning. It is a star, the sun, a flower, a cross with equal sides, a precious stone, a cup filled with water or wine, a coiling snake, a man, but never God." Nonetheless, it is undeniable that "mandalas are expressions of a certain attitude which we cannot help calling 'religious'. Religion is a relationship to the highest or most powerful value, be it positive or negative." In the theomorphic representation there is no trace of God, but the locus and form of his absence are precisely indicated as the "highest or most powerful value," even if this value is a negative one.

In this sense, theomorphism permeates the poetic works of Mandel'shtam and Pasternak. Images of deep winter, the squeaking sound of the frozen snow-crust,

or, on the contrary, light snowfall, whirling snow-flakes are all theomorphic. They indicate the 'Talmudic' mentality of Mandel'shtam (God as Law) and the Hasidic sensibility of Pasternak (God as Free Chance and Play). Though these two great Russian poets of the twentieth century never considered themselves representatives of Jewish spirituality, a religious orientation is revealed in the unconscious, theomorphic subtexts of their imagery. Pasternak's poetry may be understood as a manifestation of an Hasidic sensibility, with its emphasis on the transitional and miraculous, and its vision of the divine chaos of the universe, where spirituality flashes like sparks from the most ordinary things. In Mandel'shtam, whose work reflects a Talmudic mentality, the divine is evoked in terms of the weightiness and severity of the Law. Significantly, the poet identifies himself as a pupil studying the textbook of the Universe. Theomorphism is also evident in the works of contemporary Russian poets such as the Conceptualists and Presentalists, in whose works we find "a mechanism instead of God."

A "mechanism instead of God" does not indicate a naive reification of God. On the contrary, it points to a subtle attempt to de-reify the whole conception of God. The fact is that the image of God can easily be taken for God himself. However, the image of a mechanism, which takes God's place, resists such an identification. This is where we find the greatest difference between pagan idolatry (polytheism) and contemporary theomorphism (post-theism). The pagan world identified God with an object. Theomorphism reveals and simultaneously conceals the Divine in the object and through this de-reifies the image of God himself. This explains why in contemporary theomorphic art, the objects selected for representation are so far removed from the Divine ­ trivia, toys, mechanisms, insects, natural phenomena with little aesthetic appeal, and "low" cultural phenomena. These objects seem to be the least appropriate to bear witness to God; rather, they indicate his presence through his absence, as in apophatic theology. In these objects we recognize the trace of God with surprise but, thanks to the irony that accompanies such inadequate representations, we are prevented from confusing these trivial objects with God himself.

Apophatic theology proceeds from the most probable to the least probable assertions and comparisons concerning God. As Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagite put it,

a manifestation through dissimilar shapes is more correctly applied to the invisible. So it is that scriptural writings, far from demeaning the ranks of heaven, actually pay them honor by describing them with dissimilar shapes so completely at variance with what they really are that we come to discover how those ranks, so far removed from us, transcend all materiality. /.../Sometimes the images are of the lowliest kind, such as sweet-smelling ointment and corner stone. Sometimes the imagery is even derived from animals so that God is described as a lion or a panther, a leopard or a charging bear. /.../ So true negations and the unlike comparisons with their last echoes offer due homage to the divine things. The least adequate images are the most truthful since they bear witness to the impossibility of representing an authentic image of God. "Is it not closer to reality to say that God is life and goodness rather than that he is air or stone?" Negative theology arranges its descriptions of God in a descending order of decreasing congruity, proceeding from images of grace, light, and beauty down to images of animals, mechanisms and trivial things. Thus the irony of negativity progressively underlies the order of human assertions about God. In this sense, the entire history of Western religiosity can be understood as a transition from positivity to negativity, from affirmative to apophatic modes of theological reflection, increasingly advancing the least congruent images of God and eventually falling into silence about Him. Paganism was the most positive in its identification of God with visible objects of nature. Postmodernism embraces the pole of negativity, the extreme de-objectification of God.

Theomorphism in art also calls for the selection of objects that demonstrate the crisis of the 'object' as such, its dissolution into formlessness and absence. An object reaches its highest degree of alienation when it ceases to be an object, when it can no longer be contained in the hand or seen with the eye, when it disappears as an "object" of possession or perception. The object marks the trace of its own disappearance, fading from the visual field before our very eyes, visibly showing the degree of its invisibility. Such a de-reification of objects can also be understood as a sign of their increasing theomorphism. God himself, according to the conception of dialectical theology, is "an absolutely groundless source of the crisis of all objecthood . . ., the non-being of the world." Since art is concerned with the representation of the world, to reveal the non-being of the world means to reveal its own non-being, to become anti-art.

The entire culture of the New Middle Ages is religious not in the sense that it has its own ready-made religious object, passed down through the generations. It is religious in the sense that it has no knowledge of its religious object, but is prepared to comply strictly with the rules of this un-knowing, clearly demarcating the figure of the Other, without smearing it with its own individualism and affectivity. Contemporary culture is religious in the sense that it is looking for nothing other than Otherness itself. The New Middle Ages are developing strict forms of non-knowledge of God; forms of non-feeling, non-cognition, non-ecstasy, non-illumination, non-grace. These forms are as strict as the positive forms of God-knowing and God-feeling (bogomyslie i bogochuvstvie) of the old Middle Ages. The New Middle Ages has taken an apophatic stance, not shirking even atheistic suppositions, provided they are theomorphic, that is, adhering to the form of God-as-Absence. The atheism of the 19th century, inherited by Soviet culture, was still infected with the pathos of militant humanism and collectivism. It assailed God with unseemly questions and demagoguery, which are unacceptable in polite society. God was asked to account for the injustices of this world, and to suffer and tremble before the mighty attacks of the revolutionary masses, storming the heavens. In this sense, Soviet atheism was still a product of the transitional period from humanism to the New Middle Ages. The Soviet period is thus reminiscent not so much of the old Middle Ages as of the barbarous times that preceded it, and which separated the Middle Ages from Antiquity ­ the period when the Classical gods had died but before the new forms of Christian civilization had taken hold. In this transitional state "between gods," man easily regressed into barbarism and bestiality.

By asserting that the New Middle Ages will differ from the "old" by its free acceptance of religion and a consciously creative experience of it, Berdiaev paid tribute to a form of humanism that he had earlier denounced: "The call to the new Middle Ages in our era is a call to a revolution of the spirit, to a new consciousness." All spheres of life "should become religious, in a free manner and from the inside, not through coercion and from the outside." These words of Berdiaev carry faint echoes of the 19th century, which wanted to carry its humanism over into the New Middle Ages, transplanting its principles of freedom and voluntarism, reason and enlightenment. But the New Middle Ages­at least as it has come to be embodied in the twentieth century­is not distinguished from the "old" by the freedom of religious consciousness. Rather, its distinguishing feature is the profundity of the religious unconscious and its growing power over consciousness.

The very forms of God-Absence are no less strict, coercive and alienating than the corresponding forms of God-Worship in the "old" Middle Ages. Conscious religiosity is just as vigorously expelled from contemporary culture as the protest against religious dogmas was quashed in the Middle Ages. God has no place in culture, He should not be anywhere ­ not as a name or a commandment, neither as a prohibition nor as an injunction. Any consciously religious element in a contemporary text is inevitably taken as dated or rhetorical, or simply as bad taste. The smallest allusion to a center, a hierarchy, to some privileged place in culture is perceived as a boring lapse, a breach of the rules of proper conduct. On the other hand, contemporary culture becomes very receptive the moment it is faced with God's Absence, with the presence of the Other, whether it be in the form of the unconscious, language, structure, play, or the sign (in the absence of a signified) ­ anything that an individual does not have at his command. Such an admission of his own lack of power is a credit to an individual, at least as long as he does not spoil it by struggling against and attempting to overcome this alienation. The best thing to do is to mutely agree with this alienation, accepting its relative truth. Contemporary culture thus sees itself as the locus of the Absent God lurking in the unconscious.

The new religiosity cannot assert anything about God, since He has not yet appeared ­ he is the God of the second coming, the God of the end. The "old" Middle Ages lived by the memory of the first coming, by the positive religion of revelation, manifested in the Old and New Testaments. Berdiaev correctly identified the "new Middle Ages" as a transitional phase between two epochs, "when the movement from God ends and the movement towards God begins." But the essential fact is that this movement is not a movement in reverse, it is not humankind's return to the same God it abandonned, or God's return to the humankind He abandoned. If anything, it is an even farther withdrawal of God, a disappearance into an oblivion of the old God. It is a plunging of faith into the unconscious, from which one day a new religious consciousness may be born. This consciousness would be so new that it would not be turned towards the beginning but towards the end of time, to a God who will come to witness the end of the world and to judge the world. While God is still not here, His place remains empty in human consciousness and is taken up by different forms of the Other, such as language, nation, technology and nature, which are theomorphic to the extent that God is the first and last Other. Through His Absence, God allows everything belonging to the Other to manifest itself in humans as their self-alienation. Thus alienated, a human being has the opportunity to anticipate how s/he will appear at the last judgement, before the face of the Other. Not only Man's works but Man himself will appear alienated from himself, when the time comes for him to be judged.

What follows from the above is that the concepts of 'faith' and 'image' should also be understood in their apophatic sense: faith embraces non-faith, while the artistic image encompasses the erasure and destruction of the image. Both non-faith and non-image find expression in Russian Postmodern art. To write the particle "non" with a hyphen means to reveal a double meaning. Non-faith is not simply a negation of faith, but a negation that retains the original sense of the word, its vacant place, transferring faith from consciousness into the unconscious. The non-image, too, is approximately equivalent to the eschatological saying of Paul, that "the fashion of this world passeth away" (1 Corinthians, 7:31). If this world is about to lose its form, then art must also attempt to represent the loss of the image. From graphic, tangible, representable visual images, art moves into the sphere of the unrepresentable. This is what the faith-less world and image-less art of the New Middle Ages looks like.

Although language has no words to substitute for "faith" and "image," the apophatic approach is essentially an attempt to overcome the limitations of language and to find the Other in language. "Faith and image" represent the theme of our reflection, while the result of this reflection can be expressed in all the grammatical permutations of these words, in their negation, their bracketting off in quotation marks, and their meaningful omission. Thus religion and art become part of a discussion at the outer limits of their meaning, encompassing both atheism and anti-art.

4. Angelism as a Postmodern Religion

In the current phase of the New Middle Ages, theomorphism has acquired certain features of angelism. The figure of the angel is a key image in postmodern spirituality. The angel represents the purest form of God-presence in the absence of God himself. The angel is a peculiar form of the Divine, alienated from both God and Man, roaming in a mysterious expanse between sky and earth. Although it appeared that angels had left our world in the Renaissance, remaining only as a rhetorical figure in poetry and serving as a shibboleth for mystics, they have returned in the Postmodern age. They are a kind of exquisite machine for the production of alienated forms of spirit. These forms are distinct from both the theocentrism of the Middle Ages and from the anthropocentrism of Modernity. In the religious tradition, the angel is a mediator between God and Man. In contemporary consciousness, the angel appears as the "other," the absolute "stranger," a pure mark of difference.

In recent times, a number of serious books and films have appeared, whose main heroes are angels. The most famous of these is the film Wings of Desire, directed by the German Wim Wenders, where angels descend to partake of earthly existence, mingling with human beings and even becoming human. Hugging them and peering into human eyes, the angels smile their lucid and sad smiles, in which ubiquitous understanding borders on complete non-understanding. The key here is that the angels have no specific message, they are not trying to teach human beings anything. The film ends with a scene in which an angel named Daniel, having become a man, stands in a circus arena, firmly holding a rope on which his beloved acrobat Marion is flying, turning and soaring. The masculine awakens in the angel, the angelic is revealed in the feminine. As he descends, she ascends.

These new angels cannot be segregated neatly into light and dark spirits. Unsure of their own mission, they enter tortuous relationships with human beings, unable themselves to make sense of them.

The question is: why do artistic works dealing with angels and their simultaneously alienated and participatory relation to earthly life, elicit such mass interest? Why are they perceived as a revelation of the spiritual condition of our times?

In the Middle Ages, God stood in the center of the universe. In Modernity, Man came to occupy this spot. It is now clear that both theocentrism and anthropocentrism have negative aspects: the pyres of the Inquisition and the furnaces of Auschwitz. This is why it is now necessary to find an intermediary link in the spiritual hierarchy, one that is not so other-worldly as to deny the taste of earthly life, but not so worldly as to lose touch with a higher mode of existence. It is angels that occupy this intermediary zone. And this is why angels are at the center of the contemporary semi-religious consciousness.

One could suggest that the privileging of the world of angels in contemporary spirituality is in step with the development of the most 'alienated' layer of culture, namely the "technosphere." Telephones, television sets, computers, airlines and rockets are all angelesque. They represent the otherness of spirit in self-propelled physical bodies. The ultimate technologization and depersonalization of the social sphere reveals within itself theomorphic identities of "other spirits," called angels. Angelization is thus the newest phase of history, or rather of post-history, following industrialization, automation, atomization and other radical technological accomplishments of the modern age. At the end of the twentieth century, we are witnessing not simply the "soulless" results of technological progress but also the mysterious and trans-human forms of its strange, alienated spirituality. What the Modernist critics of Western civilization­Marxists, Existentialists, humanists and psychoanalysts ­regarded as alienation and de-humanisation was, in fact, angelization, now revealed to the Postmodern consciousness. Thus the Modernist critique of a soulless civilization and nostalgia for either archaic and elemental, or classical and rational forms of culture, is replaced by the Postmodern admiration for the new, spiritually alienated angelesque forms of that civilization.

Following several decades of technological innovations, the supernatural and esoteric is making a come-back in the flesh of this world, as the sum-total of the world's estrangement from itself. Images separated from their originals, sounds divorced from speech, silver airplanes disappearing into clouds, are the hallmarks of our civilization on the eve of the 21st century. Were a medieval man to stray into this world, he would surely perceive it as the habitat of angels (whether dark or light ones is another issue). This angelesque sphere features super-human capacities realized in the form of automotive and self-propelled instruments. The world is covered with an invisible communications network. The telephone, with its ability to immediately transmit the sound of a voice from one end of the globe to the other, is reminiscent of those 'voices' that come from who knows where, or from the vibrating waves of the air itself. Even the computer, on which I am at this moment writing these lines, and which is capable of storing them forever in its memory, is not merely a machine facilitating physical labor. It is an angelesque body, accomplishing for me, in my place, the work of my mind, and showing me its fruits by conjuring them up from the invisible radiant depths of the disk.

According to ancient belief, angels were servants of God, sitting at His throne, singing hosannas to him. In contemporary angelism, as a rule, there is not even a mention of the Creator. Contemporary angels are messengers without a Message, sovereign spiritual beings who do not relate to any single supernatural will or Supreme Being. They are spirits in and of themselves, manifesting the plurality of the transcendental worlds almost in the same manner in which multiculturalism demonstrates the plurality of the social worlds. One can thus say that angelism is multiculturalism, or rather multispiritualism of the supersensible realm.

The interest in angels is symptomatic of the contemporary state of culture, simultaneously wanting and not wanting to be religious. The anatomy of the angelesque is at the same time an anatomy of Postmodern spirituality, which has escaped monotheistic religiosity but does not dare return to polytheism. The tortuous temptations of atheism and the tired insipidness of agnosticism having been overcome, Postmodern religiosity has left behind both the belief in the Almighty and the dis-belief in Him. What remains is communion with angels as pure spirits, representing a plurality of supersensible reasons and wills. Angelism is a sort of heavenly pluralism. It is the religion of Postmodernity, which affirms the multiplicity of equally valid and self-valuable spiritual pathways in place of a single truth and a single ruling canon. If the traditional religious outlook subordinated the diversity of the earthly world to the single will of its Creator, and if agnosticism celebrated the diversity of the earthly world as opposed to the presumably unitary and authoritarian Will beyond, the contemporary post-agnostic era has rediscovered the transcendental as the realm of pure difference.

Angelism is a new transcendental adventure of the Western spirit, seeking pluralism not only as an empirical phenomenon of cultural and political life, but as the ultimate revelation of the diversity of spiritual worlds. One could ask: if the idea of pluralism is so crucial to the contemporary West, why does it not return to polytheism, which worships nature's elements in their diversity? The answer is because neopaganism, which is presently making tentative inroads into religious practices, knows the locus and origins of the gods, whereas angelism is profoundly and principally ignorant about them. The difference between gods and angels, despite the grammatical plural which they share, is that angels are transparent and lonely, while gods rule the earth with glee and fury. Paganism sacralizes the originary forces of nature and can act in concert with ecological and neo-fascist movements. But it scarcely touches the nerve of the new religiosity, born of the death of God and not of His transformation into Pan or a Naiad. Polytheism cannot bring true satisfaction to the contemporary mind that quests for a trace of the Divine rather than its fleshy presence. The sumptuously carnal gods of paganism can satisfy only desparate fringe-groups and those who have fallen outside their own times, living in dreams about an 'archaic revolution' ­ that is, of a revolutionary return to the "Great Tradition." To adulate the gods of fire or earth is a bookish project. The direction of neopaganism is thus backwards, into the world of children's book illustrations and the primal polytheism that has long since been thought through and discarded. Paganism does not look ahead, beyond monotheism and atheism.

Angelism, by contrast, is a post-atheistic and post-agnostic phase of religiosity. Angels are not gods, they are merely emissaries, who have forgotten who sent them, or who conceal that knowledge. This mission without a cause endows angels with a certain absent-mindedness and an alienated look. The contemporary individual recognizes himself in angels because he, too, has severed his connection with the ground of tradition and is flying in who-knows-what direction. Having left all points of orientation behind him, seeing the exhausted earth disappearing in industrial fumes, he has no sign-posts to direct forward, toward the fading outline of the One Creator. Is it possible, in such a situation of uncertainty, spiritual transparence and loneliness, to worship the all-powerful gods, to celebrate the play of elemental forces?

Angels appeal to the contemporary religious sensibility because, unlike the gods of old, they wander bodiless at the limits of the earth. From time to time, at their own risk, they transgress these limits, with a feeling of guilt and under peril of punishment. Angelism overthrows the metaphysics of God's presence. It cleanses faith of the inevitable attributes of knowledge, religious certainty and ontological authenticity. The origin of angels is unclear and can never be clarified, while God originates from Himself. Both the pagan gods and the God of monotheism are endowed with the fullness of a self-produced essence. Angels, by contrast, are representatives of some Other, which never manifests itself. An angel is a trace in the Derridean sense, a trace leading into a world beyond but not attesting or bearing witness to its reality. Angelism is thus the consequence of a religious deconstruction of the other world, which leaves its 'traces' or signifiers but does not reveal its signifieds. It sends messengers but does not reveal the Sender of the messages. Angelism is thus testimony to a profound groundlessness of the world. Even the forces from beyond this world, which are called upon to explain and substantiate it, remain without 'origins' or 'divine nature' and are 'secondary' and 'mediating.' Postmodernism thus languishes in this infinite circle of representability, a continuous annunciation without a Sender.

Rumors are passed on, but it is impossible to reveal their origin. Arising as rumors, they are by definition something 'already' heard. Angels are these rumors from the world beyond, but no one knows who started them, or what they correspond to, or who is behind them. Angelism can also be expressed as the construction of faith in the subjunctive mood, following the demise of faith in the indicative and imperative moods, which stood for what was essentially true and what ought to be. The religious mind in this hypothetical modality thus moves along the thin line separating thesis and antithesis, faith and non-faith, avoiding taking sides and finding their synthesis impossible. This narrow line between them is the mark of a gentle difference, not sharp opposition. Difference, in turn, generates angels, which constitute the pluralist choice of the religious mind no longer prone to dogma and infallibility.

In the Postmodern age, pure polytheism, monotheism or agnosticism are impossible. All that remains possible is the condition of possibility itself, embodied in the phenomenon of angels without God, messengers without a Message, and vague metaphysical rumors instead of Revelation reaching us from the beyond.

5. Post-Atheist Spirituality in Russia: Minimal Religion

The visual possibilities of angelism, with its magic plasticity of multidimensional bodies appearing out of nowhere and disappearing into nothing, have been welcomed by Western video culture, which has been courting these new religious tendencies with its commercial and technical talents. Angelism, as the brainchild of video culture and Postmodernism, has not yet been transplanted to Russia. This is partly connected with the previously mentioned apophatic roots of Russian religiosity, which negates any form of bodily incarnation or manifestation of faith. The cult of angels would be as discordant with the traditions of Russian spirituality as sculptures are incompatible with the interior of Orthodox churches. The question we want to examine is how this apophatic tradition manifests itself in contemporary Russian religious life, on the eve and after the demise of the atheistic State and its ideological apparatus.

Atheism, as has already been pointed out, was the crassest and most extreme manifestation of apophaticism. It negated not only the possibility of knowing God but the very existence of God. In practice, atheism took the form of persecution of priests and the faithful, the closure of churches, and the eradication of all traces of religious culture.

This spiritual vacuum, created by Soviet atheism, gave rise, in the 1970s and 1980s, to a new type of religiosity. In an essay written in 1982 I called this post-atheist spirituality "poor," or "minimal" religion. It took the form of "faith pure and simple," without clarifications or addenda, without any clear denominational characteristics. It manifested itself as an indivisible sense of God, outside historical, national and confessional traditions. Thus minimal religion became the next stage of apophaticism after it had crossed the line of atheism and reclaimed its religious content. The atheistic negation of all religions gave rise to a "minimal" religiosity negating all positive distinctions among historical religions. Paradoxically, this "faith as such," "faith in general" was prepared by the atheist denial of all faiths.

A typical expression of such "minimal religiosity" can be found in the simple "credo" of a well-known contemporary Russian artist, Garif Basyrov (born in 1944). Asked if he could be considered a faithful Muslim, Basyrov replied: "That's ridiculous. As any normal person I feel I am approaching something . . . To use high-flown words, you can say I am on my way. But I am neither an expert in Islam, Buddhism, nor Christianity. All these rituals are not for me. One thing I do know for sure: God exists."

For a minimal believer, God exists above and beyond all religions, thus nullifying their historical divisions. What is at issue here is the possibility of establishing a unitary religious consciousness through the experience of the negative void of the atheist world. This post-atheist spirituality is as historically unprecedented as the phenomenon of mass atheism that preceded and conditioned it.

The seven decades of Soviet atheism, whether one calls it 'mass atheism,' 'scientific atheism' or 'state atheism', was unquestionably a new phenomenon in world history.

Mass heresies were known before, but these did not change the core of a religious perception of the world. They did not suspend the belief in God, the Holy Scriptures, or the possibility of the soul's salvation. The German Anabaptists are a case in point.

In the past there have been periods of libertine thought, but these touched only the intellectual tip of the social iceberg without altering the religious mood of the masses. The French Enlightenment is a case in point.

Only in the Soviet Union did militant atheism penetrate into the masses. It created several generations of non-believers. Even if the majority were not antagonistic to religion, they became profoundly indifferent to it. Even if they themselves did not destroy churches and burn icons, neither did they pray or invoke the name of God; indeed they forgot about His very existence.

Could religion, which had been subjected to such a long period of persecutions and negations, be simply reborn in its earlier traditional forms? Or, on the contrary, could it be inferred that, since atheism was an historically new phenomenon, post-atheist spirituality, which superseded it, would have to be even more of a novelty?

* * *

What is taking place at present in post-atheist Russian society can be divided into three major tendencies.

One of these tendencies constitutes a "religious revival" proper. It is a return of Russian society to its pre-atheist beliefs. The traditional religions­Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism­are regaining their status and influence in the spiritual, cultural, and even political life of Russia. Not surprisingly, these newly-converted believers bring an emotional ardor and dogmatic ignorance to the life of their new Church. They are also bearers of a protective, romantic nationalism and messianism. However, in the end none of it goes beyond the confines of tradition: it merely fine-tunes the tradition to meet current needs.

Another tendency seeks to restore not the pre-revolutionary, but the archaic layers of religious traditions and can be characterized as neopaganism. As its adherents see it, Russia's salvation is not to be sought in a religion of the spirit, but in the ancient cult of nature. What is required is an immediate restoration of the pre-Christian Russian and Arian pantheon. More often than not, neopaganism is mixed with elegiac ecological sentiments, in which the pagan cult of nature is presented as the defender of nature against the encroachments of civilization. It is even more common to see Orthodox Christianity interpreted in the pagan spirit, as a special branch of Christianity, intimately connected to Russia's state and military apparatus and its God-bearing people. The advantage of Orthodoxy vis-à-vis other Christian confessions lies in its doubling as both a religion of the Heavenly Father and an ancient cult of Mother-Earth. Orthodoxy in this context appears as a militant form of patriotism, destined, from time immemorial, to defend Holy Russia from the "heresies" of Judaism, Catholicism, Freemasonry and other "foreign contaminations." The new paganism also features the cultivation of magic, extra-sensory perception, para-psychology, spiritism and other similar beliefs, which go back to the earliest animistic and fetishistic practices.

Together with the return to traditional religion and the parallel immersion in pagan and Orthodox archaism, a third tendency can be observed in contemporary Russian religious life. To date, it has attracted the least attention because it tends to escape all forms of objectification. Its "minimality" almost precludes the formation of dogma or ritual and can be identified only as an internal impulse, a state of spirit, or a disposition of mind. This is what I call "poor" or "minimal" religion. For a Western observer, a more "recognizable" name for it would be religious modernism, universalism or ecumenicism, even if these terms do not exactly correspond to the Russian phenomenon.

Imagine a young man from a typical Soviet family which, for two or three generations, was resolutely cut off from all religious traditions. Suddenly hearing a spiritual call in his soul, he cannot decide where to go in search of salvation. He tries the Othodox Church, the Catholic Church, the Jewish Synagogue, Baptist and Lutheran services. He finds historically shaped traditions of faith everywhere. Yet he is eager to experience spirit as whole and indivisible. Looking for faith he finds only different denominations.

It is in this disparity between faith and beliefs that "minimal" religion emerges. It is a religion without an order of service, holy books, or specific rituals. It is notable that many more people are now abandoning atheism than joining specific denominations. These people can be characterized as "poor believers" who do not subscribe to any specific set of conventional religious practices. They belong to "religion" as such, without further definitions or qualifications. Their relationship to God is holistic, mirroring the wholeness and indivisibility of God Himself.

Thus the religious revival in post-communist Russia is not only a renaissance of traditional beliefs, which were widespread before the atheistic revolution: it is also the naissance of a qualitatively new, post-atheist kind of spirituality. In the soul of a "poor believer" there are no dogmatic or ritual preferences created by either a continuous historical tradition or long-standing family religious commitments. Just as the divisions among farmers' holdings were destroyed during collectivization, turning fertile land into wasteland, so the confessional divisions were also erased. This prepared the post-Soviet wasteland not only for a revival of old traditions, but also for a renewal of the religious consciousness as such, capable of transcending historically established boundaries.

In the prophet Isaiah we read: "There is a voice that cries: Prepare a road for the Lord through the wilderness, clear a highway across the desert for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, every hill and mountain brought low: rugged places shall be made smooth and mountain-ranges be made a plain. Thus shall the glory of the Lord be revealed, and all mankind together shall see it: for the Lord himself hath spoken " ( Isaiah, 40:3 -5).

A question arises: Was not this prophecy implemented, with uncanny precision, by Soviet atheism? Did not atheism actually prepare a road for "the glory of the Lord" by persecuting all beliefs, levelling all mountains and valleys, smoothing out different beliefs so that a trans-confessional spirituality could arise?

* * *

When I wrote the essay "Minimal Religion" in 1982, there was no way to substantiate my observations with sociological data. Now, with the development of democratic procedures in Russia, we have the instruments to test statistically the validity of these theoretical assumptions. A poll conducted in December 1995, by the Center for Sociological Research of Moscow State University, under the direction of S. V. Tumanov, shows (from a sampling of 3,710 respondents) that 37,7% of the Russian population characterized itself as believers who do not observe religious rituals; only 12,8% of the respondents characterized themselves as observant believers. With regard to confessional self-determination, 12,8 % of the religious population identify themselves as Christians in general (non-denominational), as compared with 71,0% Orthodox, O,2% Catholics, and 0,7% Protestants. In addition, 2,7% of the believers do not perceive any essential difference among denominations, and 2,5% have their own perception of God. Based on these statistics we can conclude that approximately 18% of the Russian religious population is non-denominational.

Lyudmila Vorontsova and Sergei Filatov cite even more striking statistical data concerning what they call "just Christians" in contemporary Russia. "The growth of religiosity and the increase in those who believe in God has not been accompanied by a growth in the popularity of Orthodoxy. Indeed, the years 1990-1992 saw a sharp fall in its popularity. /.../ Orthodoxy's main competitor is not other religions, but the swiftly growing category of people with no denominational adherence: 'just Christians.' They grew two and a half times over the three years 1989-92 and in 1992 made up 52 percent of the population, while the number of Orthodox (of all jurisdictions) decreased. /.../ 'Just Christians' are the neophytes who believe in God and have come to faith but are not prepared to enter the church unconditionally and to accept church disciplines. . . The fact that the number of 'just Christians' is growing at the expense of Orthodoxy testifies to the rebirth of Christianity not in the form of Orthodoxy as it was 70 years ago, but on a more modern, universal level.""

* * *

The phenomenon of 'minimal religiosity' is illuminated by numerous works of Russian literature of the 1970s and 1980s. The literary protagonists of Andrei Bitov, Yuz Aleshkovsky, Yuri Trifonov, Vasily Aksyonov, Bella Akhmadulina and Venedikt Erofeev all crave for a higher spirituality. To satisfy this craving, the heroes of this 'new' Russian literature cannot turn to traditional forms of religiosity, because for several decades such forms had no common currency in Russian life. The new religiosity, which these fictional characters come to embody, is alienated from all objectified historical traditions.

The autobiographical protagonist of Bitov's story "Birds" [Ptitsy] is a typical "poor believer." Caught in a terrible thunder storm, which to him appears to presage the end of the world, he feels the need to pray to the Almighty, but his prayer comes out as "some sort of lowing prayer without words." He is utterly shocked when, under the influence of his fear, he suddenly crosses himself quickly and correctly as he had never done before.

Another 'poor believer' of Russian fiction of the 1970s is Venia Erofeev, the autobiographical protagonist of Venedikt Erofeev's novella Moscow to the End of the Line (Moskva-Petushki). Venia occasionally turns to God with the plea: "Oh, Lord, you see what I possess. But do I need all this ? Is this what my soul pines for?" Venia's "Lord" exists outside all traditions and confessions. He has no temple in this world other than the littered train from which the hero's soul addresses itself to Him. The hero also has no church, no preconceived notion of religion, and no other method of proof of God's existence than the "hiccups" that overpower and release him with equal suddenness. "The Law is higher than all of us. Hiccups are higher than the Law . . . We are trembling creatures while hickuping is almighty. It is God's Right Hand, which is raised over us all . . . He cannot be conceived by the mind, therefore He exists. So be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect."

The "sixth" proof of God"s existence­proof by hiccups­may appear blasphemous or at the very least parodic in relation to canonical theological discourse. However, its main function is not comic or parodic. It acts, instead, as a revelation of the apophatic spirit of "poor" religiosity, which is on a par with the sacrilegious and eccentric behaviour of the Russian fools-in-Christ, or "holy fools." The same logic of the negative knowledge of God applies here. Man knows God through things that man cannot control by his will or reason. Hiccups are an elementary example of such a thing: they are a sequence of unwilled bodily movements at unregulated temporal intervals. Using this negative logic, Erofeev can make the assertion, which appears to have come straight out of a treatise on apophatic theology: "He [God] cannot be conceived by reason, so consequently He is."

The transitional stage between (Marxist) atheism and (Christian) faith is admirably illustrated in Yuz Aleshkovsky's narrative The Ring in the Case (Persten' v futliare), with the characteristic subtitle "A Christmas Novel." This didactic and grotesque narrative portrays the transformation into a "poor believer" of one Helio Revolverovich Serious, a die-hard atheist and "third-generation fighter against bourgeois prejudices," whose efforts to stamp out the belief in God have earned him a position in the upper ranks of the party hierarchy. Shaken by the disintegration of his relationship with his beloved woman, and reduced to the breaking-point by the misery of his physical and spiritual existence, Helio suddenly experiences the need for prayer, not knowing to whom to address himself or about what to pray:

"Perhaps I should have another try at praying to . . . but what can one pray about? That's the question . . . About love?. . . It's too late . . . About salvation?. . ."

The numerous marks of omission are significant. They are a graphic embodiment of his impoverished religious feeling or, to be more specific, the apophatic nature of this religiosity, which cannot use images or words to describe the One, Who . . .

The hero then resorts to poetry and addresses Him with a line from Pasternak: "O Lord, how perfect are Thy works!" However, he never specifies­neither for himself nor for the reader­whom he actually means when he says "Oh, Lord!" The phrase is pronounced almost like an interjection, a sigh ­ "Oh, Lord!" But in this case the universal character of the interjection does not signify indifference or automatism. On the contrary, it bears the stamp of a meaning attained through suffering and deeply-felt experience. What would seem more natural for this seasoned atheist, erudite in the dialectic of 'relativism' ("The Moslems picture him as Allah, while for the Christians he is simultaneously Father, Son and Holy Ghost, which shows that the assumptions of the different religions contradict one another, revealing their complete implausibility . . ."), than to ask himself: whom am I addressing, which God?

And that is precisely the point: twentieth century atheism used the diversity and historicity of the world's religions and spiritual traditions as its most powerful argument against faith; that is, since there are so many religions, each with its own god, then there is no god. It was atheism that asked all those official, "passportlike" questions, trying to specify to which tradition or confession "god" might appertain: "date of birth," "nationality," "place of residence," and so on. It was a natural reaction on the part of post-atheist religiosity to erase this entire panoply of historical and national "essences" and to make a fresh start by setting up a pure, universal, "poor" and singular name, analagous to the interjection "Oh, God!" or "Oh, Lord!" lacking all specificity and without any determinants whatsoever. Atheism had used the diversity of religions to argue for the relativity of religion. Consequently, the demise of atheism signalled the return to the simplest, virtually empty and infinite form of monotheism and monofideism. If God is One, then faith must be one.

Sooner or later, a minimal believer usually joins a specific religious tradition, becoming an Orthodox Christian, a Baptist, or a Jew. But after having experienced this resonant space of the void, of the wilderness, of the "darkness upon the face of the deep," s/he preserves this new feeling of openness forever. It is there, in a wasteland of spirit, without any preparations, baptisms, and cathechisms, that God suddenly grabbed hold of him. In most places around the world, people are raised within a specific religious tradition and are brought to a church, a mosque or a synagogue from childhood. In contemporary Russia, however, many people first experience the spirit in their hearts and then come to houses of worship. There are two different ways of conversion. One is a conversion to God through the church. This is the normal way of 'conversion' in the world with established religious traditions. The other is a conversion to the church through God. This was the way of conversion in the times of Moses, Christ, and Luther. It is also the way of conversion in late atheist and post-atheist Russia.

One might speculate that this thrust toward religious reformation will dominate the spirit of twenty-first century Russia. The restoration of pre-atheist traditions is the focus of the current religious revival, but the atheistic past, the experience of the wilderness, cannot pass without a trace, and this trace of 'the void' will manifest itself in a striving for a fullness of spirit, transcending the boundaries of historical denominations. Those people who have found God in the wilderness feel that the walls of the existing temples are too narrow for them and should be expanded.

Thus we have seen that three tendencies can be discerned in the misty dawn of Earth's first post-atheist society. One is traditionalism, which is housed in existing churches and subscribes to the existing religious subdivisions. A second is neopaganism, which is focused on archaic objects of worship such as the soil, blood, and national identity. The third is 'poor' or 'minimal' religion, which is free from historical divisions and seeks the unification of all religions in the gap between existing churches and the fullness of a future Epiphany.

It is significant that Russian religious thought of the early twentieth century, which now serves as a general reference point on all questions of Russian spirituality, furnishes models for all three tendencies. Traditionalism is connected with the figure of the priest Pavel Florensky. Its firm basis is in the philosophically interpreted Church canon and the heritage of the Church Fathers. The second, archaist, tendency is connected with the name of Vasily Rozanov. It is close to paganism and the primal cults of sun and earth, consecrating the universe of sex drives and fecundity. The third, Modernist, tendency, inspired by Nikolai Berdiaev, issues from the apophatic conception of pure freedom, which posits itself as anterior to God and the act of creation. It presupposes an ecumenical unification of all religions in anticipation of the future Coming of God and the eschatological end of history.

* * *

While resisting and transcending totalitarianism, the post-atheist tendency of minimal religion nevertheless seeks to create a possibility for a new totality. Though the value of difference is not abandoned, post-atheist spirituality presupposes the value of something that is different from difference itself: some new, tentative, virtual, hypothetical, non-violent form of unity.

The very concept of spirituality seems strange and dated in the postmodern age, requiring theoretical revitalization. By de-emphasizing the category of 'spirituality,' postmodern theory demonstrates its own limitations and points to the need for a new, broader paradigm of thought. The Russian post-atheist experience is valuable not only because it can be related to certain postmodern theological speculations which undermine the representability of God, but also because it leads beyond the conceptual framework of Postmodernism by restoring the meaning of such an 'obsolete' category as spirituality.

The notion of "Russian spirituality" evokes, for me, a distinct image, found in the first lines of the Book of Genesis: "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters" (Genesis, 1:2). Essentially, Spirit is named and identified only at the very beginning of the creation of the world. In the subsequent acts of creation, God divides the world into light and darkness, separates water from dry land. But there is no mention of spirit, perhaps because spirit precedes all divisions, sweeps across all boundaries. And this is also true of the Russian mode of spirituality. It is as if this country were once again, through the destruction of all established religious forms and confessions, being thrown back into the atmosphere of the first day of creation. As Nikolai Berdiaev remarked, "[T]here is that in the Russian soul which corresponds to the immensity, the vagueness, the infinitude of the Russian land: spiritual geography corresponds with physical. In the Russian soul there is a sort of immensity, a vagueness, a predilection for the infinite, such as is suggested by the great plain of Russia." Through division, new structures come into existence. But spirit is undivided and indivisible. It is both total and negative. It negates all forms because it moves in the void and in darkness, on "the earth without form."

Spirituality, as it emerges from the ruins of totalitarianism, recognizes the dignity of diverse ethnic and religious traditions but is not satisfied by any single one. Rather it seeks to establish a sacred space across the boundaries of cultures. Through such a phenomenon as minimal religion, Russian culture allows a glimpse of a new, post-postmodern perspectiveon spirituality, anticipated by its tragic experience of atheism, this "darkness upon the face of the deep."

In 'classic' postmodernism, difference is opposed to unity ­ a unity whose totalitarian claims postmodernism rightly regards with suspicion. But in this rigid form, difference is confined to one dimension, ironically tending to foster relativistic indifference toward the various traditions and values. If all things and positions are simply different, there can be no deep mutual involvement among them, since any involvement presupposes at least the creation of a virtual unity. The question is: What is different from difference itself? How can difference be what it is without incessant differentiation precisely from what it is? Multidimensional difference would be the process of self-differentiation, giving rise to new, non-violent, non-totalitarian totalities "different from difference," thereby proceeding not from a single will or power, but from the "zero point" or "border line" within diversity. Minimal religion can be regarded as one possibile form of these new, non-totalitarian totalities.



The literature covering the problem of the relationship between religion and art is vast, since the aesthetic works of all the major Western thinkers ultimately converge on this problem. This is true of the works of Kant, Hegel, Schelling, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Vladimir Soloviev, George Santayana, Ernst Cassirer, Nikolai Berdiaev, Jacques Maritain, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich and many others.

For example, Harvey Cox, The Secular City: A Celebration of its Liberties and Invitation to Its Discipline, (New York, 1965).

The Freud Reader, ed. Peter Gay (New York, London, 1989), p. 723.

C. G. Jung, "Psychology and Religion," in his Psychology and Religion: West and East , 2nd ed., trans. R.F.C. Hull (Princeton, 1969), p. 84.

Pseudo-Dionysius, "The Mystical Theology," in Pseudo-Dionysius, The Complete Works. , trans. Colm Luibheid. (New York, Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1987), 141. The author "Areopagite" wrote in the name of Dionysius Areopagite, an Athenian of the 1st century AD, converted to Christianity through the ministry of the Apostle Paul.

Pseudo-Dionysius, "The Mystical Theology", op. cit., p.138.

Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, (Crestwood, New York: St.Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1976), p. 26.

My observations are based on the reproduction, published by the Irkutsk section of the Soviet Cultural Foundation (VRIB, "Soiuzreklamkultura", 1990).

Prot. Georges Florovsky, Ways of Russian Theology (1937), in Georges Florovsky, Collected Works, (Belmont, Mass.:Nordland Publishing Co.,1979), vol. 5, p.1.

This is the so-called "Jesus prayer": "Gospodi Iisuse Khriste, syne Bozhii, pomiluj menia, greshnogo" [Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner].

Prot. Georges Florovsky, Ways of Russian Theology, op. cit., p. 27.

Freud made an interesting remark on the ease with which repentance comes to the heroes of Dostoevsky and (as Freud mistakenly thought) to the author himself, who "alternates sin with repentance." "...Repentance became a technical device, clearing the way to further murders. Ivan the Terrible behaved in similar fashion; this accommodation with one's conscience is a typical Russian feature." Sigmund Freud, "Dostoevskii i ottseubiistvo" ["Dostoevsky and Parricide"], Ia i Ono. Trudy raznykh let [The Ego and the Id: Works of Different Periods ], (Tbilissi, 1991) , vol.1, p. 408. Perhaps the "accommodation with one's conscience" can be understood better if one assumes the following fiendish paradox: by committing sin and giving it externalised shape, I cleanse my soul from it, returning it to God.

S. S. Averintsev, "Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagite", in Filosofskii entsiklopedicheskii slovar' ,[Philosophical Encyclopaedic Dictionary] 2nd ed., (Moskva, 1989), p. 525.

It is of considerable interest to note that Michel Foucault makes a similar paradigmatic connection between the development of what he calls "thought from outside" in Western culture of the early 20th century and the tradition of "mystical thinking that has prowled the borders of Christianity since the texts of the Pseudo-Dionysus: perhaps it survived for a millenium or so in the various forms of negative theology."Michel Foucault, Maurice Blanchot: The Thought From Outside, tr. Brian Massumi (New York, 1987):16 (translator's note).

Gnoseomachy ­ struggle against knowledge (compare "theomachy" - struggle against God).

Georgy Florovsky, Puti russkogo bogosloviia , (Paris, 1937), 503.

Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, op. cit., p. 25.

S. L. Frank, Real'nost' i chelovek: Metafizika chelovecheskogo bytia, [Reality and Man: The Metaphysics of Human Existence ], (Paris, 1956) , p. 179, 180.

S. L. Frank, Real'nost' i chelovek, op. cit., p. 82-3.

Quoted according to Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), p. 24.

"The Writings of Kwang-cze" (book XXII), tr. James Legge, in The Sacred Books of the East, vol 40, ed. F. Max Müller (Delhi, 1988), p. 69.

Pseudo-Dionysius, opt. cit, p. 141.

The paradoxes of this apophatism are dealt with in my book After the Future: The Paradoxes of Postmodernism and Contemporary Russian Culture, (Amherst: Massachusetts University Press, 1995), in the chapters "Avant-Garde Art and Religion" and "The Origins and Meaning of Russian Postmodernism." Russia's idosyncratic religious intuition is such that it constantly needs to assimilate the positive, 'Western' forms of culture in order to explode them from inside, demonstrating their illusoriness.

For specific analyses of the religious unconscious in the literary and artistic works of the Soviet era (Pasternak, Mandelstam, Venedikt Erofeev, Ilya Kabakov, the poetry of conceptualism and metarealism), see my book Vera i obraz. Religioznoe bessoznatel'noe v russkoi kul'ture XX veka (Faith and Image. The Religious Unconscious in Russian Culture of the 20th Century), (Tenafly, New Jersey: Hermitage Publishers, 1994). The present chapter is based on a revised version of the introduction to this book.

Karl Barth, "The Word of God and the Word of Man", in Great Books of the Western World, eds. Mortimer J. Adler et al., Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. 55 (Chicago, 1990), p. 469.

Salvador Dali, Diary of Genius, (New York, 1965), p. 12.

Karl Barth, "The Word of God", opt. cit: 469.

Similarly, in his story Moskva-Petushki (1969) [Moscow to the End of the Line], Venedikt Erofeev compares his hero's partiality to wine with the love of St.Theresa for the stigmata ­ the signs of Christ's passion and crucifixion on the body of the believer. The reverse sense of this comparison means that the "stout rosé" could be a covert form of martyr-like acceptance of the stigmata by Erofeev's hero. For more on this, see the chapter "Charms of Entropy."

It is amazing that Salvador Dali, raised by his father in the spirit of pure Voltairian atheism, felt religiously inspired when he read Nietzsche for the first time: "...He had had the audacity to affirm: 'God is dead!' What? I had just learned that God did not exist, and now someone informed me that he had died. ...Nietzsche, instead of driving me further into atheism, initiated me into the questions and doubts of pre-mystical inspiration, which was to reach its glorious culmination in 1951 when I drew up my Manifesto." He is here refering to theMystical Manifesto that marked Dali's acceptance of Catholic doctrine - ME]. Salvador Dali, Diary of Genius , op. cit., p. 7. Indeed, the very idea of God's suffering and death , in the Nitzschean sense ("God is dead"), contains an unambiguous religious subtext, which is obvious both to Christians and pagans ­ the worshippers of the cult of Dionysus.

Georgy Florovsky, Puti russkogo bogosloviia, op. cit., p. 295.

"We should not embellish the godlessness of the world, but we should see it in a new light. Now that the world has grown up, it is more godless, and perhaps for that very reason is closer to God than ever before." Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Prisoner for God, (New York, 1959), p. 167. What is meant is that man's growing independence from God, and the disappearance of his 'child-like' faith in an Almighty, caring presence, strengthens the image and likeness of God in man as a source of mature independence in the world. Only when the child stops 'obeying' adults does he become mature. So, too, humanity in the 20th century has entered its phase of maturity, of 'Christianity without religion' or 'religion without God.'

Nikolai Berdiaev, Novoe srednevekov'e. Razmyshleniia o sud'be Rossii i Evropy, (1924) [The New Middele Ages: Thoughts on the Destiny of Russia and Europe], (Moscow, 1990), p. 25.

Nikolai Berdiaev, Novoe srednevekov'e, op. cit., p. 24.

Karl Barth, The Word of God, op. cit., p. 471.

Karl Barth, The Word of God,, op. cit., p. 473.

The Russian noun chelovek refers to both 'man' and 'woman' in their collectivity as 'human being.' Hence the translation 'Man' (often with a capital letter) is intended as a gender-neutral term. [Editor]

C. G. Jung, "Psychology and Religion," op.cit., p. 80.

C.G. Jung, "Psychology of Religion", op. cit., ., p. 81.

See the chapter "The Tsadik and the Talmudist: A Comparative Essay on Pasternak and Mandelstam" in Mikhial Epshtein, Vera i obraz. Religioznoe bessoznatel'noe v russkoi kul'ture XX veka (Faith and Image. The Religious Unconscious in Russian Culture of the 20th Century ), (Tenafly, New Jersey: Hermitage Publishers, 1994) , p. 117 ff. English translation: "Judaic Spiritual Traditions in the Poetry of Pasternak and Mandel'shtam," in Symposium. A Quartely Journal in Modern Foreign Literatures. Special Issue on Judaic Literature. Identity and Distraction. (Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY.). Winter 1998, vol. 53, No.2.

See the chapters entitled "Avant-garde and Religion" and "As a Corpse I Lay in the Desert ," in Mikhail Epshtein, Vera i obraz , pp. 31-79 and 80-85.

Pseudo-Dionysius. The Complete Works, op. cit., pp. 150, 152-153.

Pseudo-Dionysius. The Complete Works, op. cit., p. 140.

Compare the essay "Emptiness as a Technique: Word and Image in Ilya Kabakov," in chapter 20 above. Also in Michael Epstein, "Kabakov" (a fragment), in Place Displacement Travel Exile, Five Fingers Review (San Francisco), Special Issue no. 12 (1993): 127-134.

Karl Barth, Der Romerbrief (Munchen, 1922) , p. 57.

Nikolai Berdiaev, Novoe srednevekov'e, op. cit., p. 11, 25.

In the Russian translation of the New Testament, the word 'obraz' is used, which means both 'fashion' and 'image' ("prokhodit obraz mira sego").

Statistics indicate that about eight million Americans had encounters of one form or another with angels. In the 1990s, the study of angelism has gone beyond the confines of esotericism and has been absorbed into everyday culture. In 1995 and in English alone, more than 300 books devoted to angels were published.

I will cite some of the latest popular titles: Bunson, Matthew. Angels A to Z : a who's who of the heavenly host, New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks,1996; Daniel, Alma. Ask your angels: a practical guide to working with angels to enrich your life, London: Piatkus, 1995; Graham, Billy, Angels, Dallas: Word Pub.,1995; Kreeft, Peter. Angels and demons : what do we really know about them? San Francisco : Ignatius Press,1995; Martin, Jennifer. The angels speak: secrets from the other side : conversations along the path. Sacramento, CA: Prairie Angel Press, 1995; Perkins, Robert F. Talking to angels : a life spent in high latitudes. Boston, MA :Beacon Press,1996; Serres, Michel. Angels, a modern myth. Paris: Flammarion,1995; Wauters, Ambika. The angel oracle : working with the angels for guidance, inspiration and love. New York : St. Martin's Press,1995.

According to a leading NBC television programme, broadcast in May 1994 and entitled Angels - the Mysterious Messengers, angels have never elicited as much interest at any other time in history.

The film was awarded the First Prize for directing at the 40th Cannes Film Festival (1987).

I refer, in particular, to René Guénon (1886-1951) and Julius Evola (1898-1974), founders of contemporary traditionalism as a metaphysical system; their views are associated with extreme right-wing politics.

See the section "Cultural Manifestoes."

Cited in Sergei Bardin, "Peizazh s sovietologom", in Garif Basyrov, Grafika. Katalog vystavki. Moscow: Sovetskii khudozhnik, 1991, p. 31.

The results of the poll have been publicized on the Internet by the Russian National News Service (at http://www.nns.ru/elects/president/ank109.html and http://www.nns.ru/elects/president/voprosy/vopr2.html).

Lyudmila Vorontsova and Sergei Filatov , "Religiosity and Political Consciousness in Postsoviet Russia, " Religion, State and Society, Keston Institute (England), vol. 22, No.4, 1994, pp.401-402.

Andrei Bitov, "Ptitsy, ili Novye svedeniia o cheloveke" ["Birds, or New Facts on Man" (1971, 1975), in Andrei Bitov, Chelovek v peizazhe. (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel', 1985), p. 247.

For a detailed discussion of the Erofeev phenomenon, see chapter 23 "Charms of Entropy...", in Section V of the present book.

Venedikt Erofeev, Moskva-Petushki: Poema (1969)[Moscow to the End of the Line: A Poem], (Moscow, "Interbuk", 1990), p. 25.

Venedikt Erofeev, Moskva-Petushki, op. cit., p. 55.

In his Summa theologiae Thomas Aquinas elaborated five logical proofs of God's existence, which were widely discussed in the subsequent religious-philosophical tradition.

Yuz Aleshkovsky, Persten' v futliare. Rozhdestvenskii roman [The Ring in the Case. A Christmas Novel] , published in the journal Zvezda (St. Petersburg), No. 7 (1993), p. 44.

From the poem "V bol'nitse" ("In Hospital")(1956). The title of Aleshkovsky's novel is also taken from this Pasternak poem, which ends with lines addressed by the dying hero to God: "You are holding me like an artefact and putting me away like a ring into a case." Boris Pasternak. Sobranie sochinenii v 5 tomakh, (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1989), vol. 2, p.102.

See, for example, Deconstruction and theology, ed. by C.Raschke, New York: Crossroad, 1982; O'Leary J.S. Questioning Back. The Overcoming of Metaphysics in Christian Tradition. Minneapolis, 1985; Theology at the End of the Century: A Dialogue on the Postmodern, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia,1990.

Nikolai Berdyaev. The Russian Idea.. Trans. by R. M. French (Hudson, N.Y., Lindisfarne Press, 1992), p. 20.