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If God incarnated himself in man, died and rose from the dead,
All human endeavors deserve attention
Only to the degree that they depend on this,
I.e., acquire meaning thanks to this event.
We should think of this by day and by night.
Every day, for years, ever stronger and deeper.
And most of all about how human history is holy
And how every deed of ours becomes a part of it,
Is written down for ever, and nothing is ever lost.
Because our kind was so much elevated
Priesthood should be our calling
Even if we do not wear liturgical garments.
We should publicly testify to the divine glory
With words, music, dance, and every sign.

If what is proclaimed by Christianity is a fiction
And what we are taught in schools,
In newspapers and TV is true:
That the evolution of life is an accident,
As is an accident the existence of man,
And that his history goes from nowhere to nowhere,
Our duty is to draw conclusions
From our thinking about the innumerable generations
Who lived and died deluding themselves,
Ready to renounce their natural needs for no reason,
To wait for a posthumous verdict, every day afraid
That for licking clean a pot of jam they go to eternal torment.

If a poor degenerate animal
Could have reached so far in his fantasies
And peopled the air with radiant beings,
Rocky chasms with crowds of devils,
The consequences of it must be, indeed, serious.
We should go and proclaim without cease
And remind people at every step of what we are:
That our capacity for self-delusion has no limits
And that anybody who believes anything is mistaken.
The only gesture worth of respect is to complain of our transience,
Of the one end for all our attachments and hopes,
As if by threatening indifferent Heaven,
We fulfilled that which distinguishes our species.

Not at all! Why either-or?
For centuries men and gods have lived together,
Supplications have been made for health or a successful journey.
Not that one should constantly meditate on who Jesus was.
What can we, ordinary people, know of the Mystery?
Not worse than our neighbors and kin,
We pay homage to it every Sunday.
It is better that not everyone is called to priesthood.
Some are for prayers, others for their sins.
It’s a pity that their sermons are always so boring
As if they themselves no more understood.
Let scientists describe the origin of life.
Perhaps it’s true, but is all that for human beings?

Day follows night, trees bloom in the spring—
Such discoveries are certainly less harmful.
May we not care about what awaits us after death
But here on earth look for salvation,
Trying to do good within our limits,
Forgiving the mortals their imperfection. Amen.

Czeslaw Milosz, “Either – Or”

Indeed, why must it be either – or?

from Provinces, Translated by the Author and Robert Hass, (New York: The Ecco Press, 1991), 37-38.

Rebecca Koerselman

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.

One Comment

  • RLG says:

    Rebecca, your article taken from “Provinces, begins “If God incarnated himself in man, died and rose from the dead…” That’s an awfully big “if,” don’t you think? What “if” he didn’t? Of all the religions of the world, it is only Christianity that makes such a claim for the person of Jesus. In fact many religions such as the Jewish religion or Muslim religion say he didn’t. These are religions that make the same claim of divine inspiration for their Scriptures, as does Christianity, and therefor absolutely true.

    “Provinces” and you seem to imply that life is meaningless apart from an incarnated Christ. But every other religion and people apart from religion find that life is full of meaning. David, of the Old Testament and pre-incarnation, found meaning and direction in the God of nature or the Creator God. Isn’t that also possible today without buying into an incarnated God? So it seems that the “if” of Provinces leaves some pretty big questions or even doubts. Thanks, Rebecca, for stirring our thoughts.

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