Taboo on God

In cultures where both world and Man are taken to have their origin in an omnipotent Creator and thereby in an overwhelmingly powerful will behind origin and being, it is – tendentially at least – very difficult for the “wish never to have been born” to come to clear expression. In the three monotheistic religions this “wish never to have been born” is tantamount to a “critique of God” that has a taboo placed on it because, as a general tendency, it is perceived as liable to be punished by the withdrawal of salvation. The “wishes never to have been born” encountered in the writings bearing the names of the prophets Job or Jeremiah had necessarily to be somewhat “defused” and reinterpreted as imprecations cast by Man not upon God but upon himself: “Man curses the day of his birth because it is only through this day that he acquires the possibility of sinning,” we read in an exegetical textbook by Balthasar Corderius from 1646 (quoted from Rölleke, S. 16) The taboo on God is a bulwark from which any impulse to curse God or His creation tends, as it were, to rebound, becoming reflected instead as a curse which Man casts upon himself.

Thus, regret at having been born remained, in cultural history, essentially a self-related regret and achieved only a passive form of expression. It is only in certain isolated cases that the hint of a reproach directed against the Creator Himself makes itself heard – in the form of the question as to why – given the uncertainty of salvation – this Creator decided to create His creatures at all, since this involved either a passing or an eternal experience of hellish suffering. In a certain Frankfurt passion play the cry is even directed at Christ Himself: “Woe to you that you were ever born!” (quoted from Rölleke, S. 23) Here we are only a short way from an accusation against God Himself, since it was not by two human beings that Jesus was begotten.  

As the notion of a divine presence withdraws from our lives, indeed, the taboo on God likewise becomes less strict. The “wish never to have been born” is no longer reflected back into Man’s own abjection but begins to emerge and assert itself now as an imprecation on existence/Creation. Milton and Shakespeare count among the better-known voices articulating this idea. Equally interesting, however – though barely appreciated – is that “accusation against God” articulated under the auspices of Islam which we find, for example, in the poets  Attar and Chayyam (1048–1131).

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