GOD AND MAN AND MAILER
A tsunami of letters–from Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, humanists, existentialists and the unaffiliated (almost all of them men)–denounced Norman Mailer’s “On Sartre’s God Problem,” our June 6 reprint of Mailer’s remarks, in Libération, commemorating the centenary of Jean-Paul Sartre’s birth. A sampling follows. –The Editors
Sartre had no God problem, but obviously Norman Mailer does. Without a scintilla of evidence, Mailer promotes the notion of a “God who is an artist,” an imperfect God “who suffers the uncertainties of existence.” Of course, Mailer is free to hypothesize about the divine, but even he has no authority to suggest that Sartre somehow fell short by refusing to embrace such speculative religiosity. Mailer criticizes Sartre for being “alien to the possibility that existentialism might thrive” if it would simply “assume that indeed we do have a God,” but he should realize that such “assumptions” were perhaps too “simple” for a thinker of Sartre’s caliber.
DAVID A. NIOSE
North Miami Beach, Fla.
Poor Norman Mailer, who is lost and rudderless in his narcissistic semanticisms and agnosticisms. And poor Nation readers, who deserve to celebrate Sartre’s centenary with greater insights, higher hopes and better existential road maps to the potentials of the present pregnant moment for self and social actualization of our humanity.
RALPH ALAN DALE
New York City
It’s down on our knees, is it, Norman? Of course you’ve always had the inside line on cleanliness, godliness and sexiness, and now you have the special authority that comes with senility. But your basic point is well taken. We wasted too much of our youth heeding the dictates of Sartre. When I’m your age I hope to be able to write much the same dismissal of your inflated reputation. Not, however, on the grounds of atheism. Just windbaggery.
Norman Mailer’s view of the universe seems absurdly anthropocentric and ethically limited. To suggest that the devastation wrought by a tsunami is evidence of a failure in the design of tectonic plates, as if the whole universe ought to be designed for the accommodation of humans, is rather like suggesting that your armpit ought to be designed for the accommodation of the trillion or so bacteria that live there and the unpredictable cataclysms wrought by inundation with soap are evidence of divine neglect.
The body of the earth may be supposed to have its own purposes, independent of those of its residents, though interacting with them. The failure of humans to understand those purposes or seek ways to minimize the adverse interactions is not evidence of divine limitations but of our own. Many of these are chosen, not intrinsic: We know enough that we could do better if we would. Blaming an imperfect God for the results of our own environmentally reckless and personally callous choices is a callow cop-out.