Louis Aragon vs Catholicism (1927)

from “The Pen” in Traité du style

You can predict that I am about to speak ill of religion. That which over the years has showered everything I worship with curses, anathemas, insults, and vomit will now be paid back in coin. In the first place, I am not losing my train of thought. And what if I were? If finding it deserves praise, losing it requires the same effort and is equally deserving. Since I would like my comments to be interpreted broadly, and since I am aware of what inanities people who trouble themselves with comparing different religions are usually driven to, I shall examine religious sentiment in Christianity only and—not being a fanatic—I shall deal specifically with Catholicism. I shall study religious sentiment as a solution to the problem of existence along the lines of escape, etc. Isn’t this the way the petticoated gospel pushers explained things to me long ago by candlelight on the catechism benches of a suburban church where the old maids brought snot-nosed kids by the hair? Quo, unde, qua: this threefold question bluntly cast at these childish souls in order to mark them for life—isn’t it in fact the same old song served up to adults today by barren intellectuals and nymphomaniacs of fate? The heart of all ecclesiastical teachings is that, without religion, life is intolerable. Religion is presented as the palliative panacea for all problems. It pretends to believe in immortality and claims that the chosen will be compensated in another world. It does not believe in immortality, and its pleasures are of this world. It proposes to its patient an exclusive, positive method which has been laboriously perfected to accede to its delights. Of all possible sexual perversions, religion is the only one to have ever been scientifically systematized. The Christian virtue guaranteed by orthodoxy is the principle of normalcy which the practice of confession restores and maintains, much as psychoanalysis restores and maintains so-called “normal” sexuality. The problem is twofold: first, to divert the attention of the mindless victims once and for all from anything that they might prefer to religious practice by making them devote all their energies to the production of a particular pleasure; and second, at the same time, to place these victims at the mercy of dealers in celestial drugs, bosses of prayer brothels, masturbators of consciences, pimps and blackmailers all. And above all, no fucking, except to the extent that the civil authorities who tolerate and protect, ever so generously, this dirty undertaking have a need for workers and soldiers: and besides, with monogamy, where the woman is prohibited from washing herself, as soon as she gets pregnant, the couple once again immediately become prey to preachers who have taught them how to act religiously even in bed; and sperm serves their god, as they euphemistically say, it goes to their head, if you will pardon the expression. Prayer can then provide all the desired effects and, when practiced as it should be, can compete with nocturnal emissions, not to mention mortifications of the flesh. And notice how, so that nothing is lost, the church appeals to tastes of all kinds, known in this century as vices, [1] modifying as required the obscene images it parades before its subjects’ eyes. The various images of Jesus, from the little skivvies on the cross, to the flagellations, to the unbelievable Sacred Heart, all the martyrs, etc.: what rich pickings for sadists! And for masochists: the sufferings of hellfire, threats, and the whip actually permitted. And for fetishists: scapulars, relics, Mary’s garters, the slippers of saintettes. Perversity made simple: how convenient for the fainthearted! So many virgins for Lesbos! So many Saint Sebastians for Sodom! And so, everything is to the glory of the Savior, whose name can at long last be understood, like these words until now obscure: may your sins be absolved. The tears you shed at the altar atone for, do you understand, atone for those tears you have caused to be shed elsewhere. In this way, all the diverted powers find in the Church a use which saves the world from scandal. The maniacs of impotence become the voyeurs of divinity, but if your temperament allows, once hysteria has done its work, you will become saints, soil your pants in your rapture, you will hear voices, and even get to touch the robes of angels.

This technique has recently come into favor once again with writers who did not know how to get out of the little trap into which they had carelessly put their foot, thinking it was proper. Besides the noisy commotion that conversion has always exploited, one can honestly believe that converts have all of a sudden been seduced by the possibility of reconciling the reality of their lives, whether they like it or not, with the impression they would like to give of themselves. Solutions of this sort hardly differ—except in their repulsiveness—from those proposed by sports, although the latter at least have the advantage of not attributing a metaphysical cause to the exhaustion one experiences at the end of a foot race. Since I am attempting reasonably to brush aside the arrangement with heaven, without the sectarian’s ardor, and to put it on a level with the other sophisms invoked to justify the vilest and most pernicious of human activities, I will confine my remarks to the following: piety does not resolve the problem one whit. It is content to offer a few diversions, a few pastimes, which I judge not. No sensible person could be fooled by this vulgar vision of happiness. Religion reappears as a nuisance. We were speaking about something else, don’t bother us. It perhaps remains to be said that nowadays a Neothomist virus that attacks arts and letters more than science has been unleashed, attempting to turn influential poets like Baudelaire, Rimbaud, etc., into pillars of the church, and the partisans of the Host have realized that quite a few souls have been escaping them in that direction: this was something new, which had not yet been taken into account, and which required the machine to be readjusted to this unexpected psychological factor. The Litanies of Satan as proof of God’s existence! But we have been aware of this old mechanism for some time. One cannot argue with it.

In every sphere, the same models are used again and again to create objections of stupidity and hypocrisy. Who among us does not recall having heard inanity after inanity spouted on the subject of atheism? It always comes down to this brilliant platitude: if the little feller does not believe in God, what’s to stop him from pissing on your boots? We have also heard it said that if private property were eliminated, without the lure of personal gain the average Joe would do nothing but twiddle his thumbs. And today we hear that man lives by hope alone, and if he doesn’t hope for something he will assuredly fret his hour upon the stage and kill himself. And yet, I shall continue to maintain that we live without any hope at all, that everyone lives without hope, and that the first idiot who had the brilliant idea to raise the rabbit ears of hope was a real harebrain! One can imagine having invented the wheel. But hope! How odd, how strange. And for those who cannot figure it out by themselves, let us add yet another curious postulate: despair is the opposite of hope.* What gibberish, my friends. The afterlife — contradiction in terms—cannot be perceived by anyone. Those who claim they have seen it are liars. They think only of happiness, sometimes parabolically, but of happiness nonetheless. A persistent illusion of the worst kind. How odd.

1. If the Catholic church had sought in good faith to restrict the absurd concept of vice—as the Marquis de Sade attempted to do—it would deserve some respect. But no! It has done nothing more than extend the notion of vice well beyond the usual stupidity. There is plenty to say about the birth of vice: I am in favor of abortion.

SOURCE: Aragon, Louis (1897-1982). Treatise on style (= Traité du style); translated and with an introduction by Alyson Waters (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991), from Part 1, “The Pen” (pp. 19-79), pp. 48-52. Written 1927, originally published 1928. (Boldface mine — RD)

This quote is famous:

“Of all possible sexual perversions, religion is the only one to have ever been scientifically systematized.”

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Uploaded 27 February 2022

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