Simone Weil

Affliction is an uprooting of life, a more or less attenuated equivalent of death, made irresistibly present to the soul by the attack or immediate apprehension of pain. If there is complete absence of physical pain there is no affliction for the soul, because our thoughts can turn to any object. Thought flies from affliction as promptly and irresistibly as an animal flies from death.

[“The Love of God and Affliction,” in Waiting for God, p. 68.]

As some of you know, I did my undergraduate thesis in Religious Studies on the French mystic-philosopher, Simone Weil. At the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, I was introduced to Simone Weil by one of the philosophy professors, who described herself as a Platonist Anglican. For those of us fortunate to take her classes, she also assigned the Platonist novelist, Iris Murdoch, not surprisingly.

I was enraptured by Weil. I hated her and loved her with equal passion. She demands nothing less.

Simone Weil was a Gnostic. I resisted the “Gnostic” identification for Weil for a long time, even though it is common in Weil studies. I resisted it because Weil is far more interesting, far more important than the libel associated with Gnosticism. “Anti-matter”? “Anti-creation?” Superficially, yes, because our profound suffering requires a love that supersedes all principalities and powers. But alongside suffering, she believed that beauty was the surest path to God, and she believed this with the utmost seriousness and an integrity that should put us all to shame.

Simone Weil is an anomaly. She makes other anomalies appear tame by comparison. Pascal and Kierkegaard are her immediate forebears, at least in general qualifications and applications. This is why she is homeless. Feminists do not know what to do with her. Christians are equally perplexed.

Weil is a heretic, but she is a noble heretic. She is a heretic that the church needs in order to survive and thrive.

In the marriage feast of the new creation, I will drink wine with Simone Weil. I will wipe her tears, and she will kiss mine.



I have been watching and enjoying the television drama, Vikings. I’ve been especially interested in the treatment of religion, both the native Norse religion of the Vikings and their encounter with the Christians. This has been drawn-out primarily through the capture and enslavement of a monk during one of the raids, but the most recent episode (#8) was entirely devoted to the Vikings’ pilgrimage to the temple at Uppsala in order to make a sacrificial offering to the Norse gods, for the purpose of continued protection and future prosperity. It is a powerful episode, including the struggles of faith by the monk, but especially in the depiction of human sacrifice by the Vikings.

There have been some historical inaccuracies in the series noted by historians, such as the form of politics among the tribes (portrayed as autocratic instead of more democratic), but the sacrifice of humans is attested in the manuscripts. Most of these manuscripts are, naturally, from Christian sources — but not all. In fact, earlier in the series, we saw human ritual sacrifice during the ship burial (episode #6), which was attested by an Arab source in the 10th century (Ahmad ibn Fadlan).

During my undergraduate days, as a Religious Studies major, we studied neopaganism through anthropological studies of their nature festivals. The overwhelming feature of this movement is their desire to connect with nature in protest to a mundane and technocratic society, as well as in protest to Christianity’s perceived rejection of nature (understood in terms of eros). The more ardent advocates of neopagan religion actually advocate the recovery of the various mythological gods (although there is debate over the realist or symbolic nature of their existence). Anyway, I have yet to hear any advocates for the reintroduction of human sacrifice. That seems to be a feature of their innocent nature religion that is left out.