Paul Tillich – German Theologian – The Shaking of the Foundations 1948
‘The state of our whole life is estrangement from others and ourselves, because we are estranged from the Ground of our being; because we are estranged from the origin and aim of our life. And we do not know where we have come from or where we are going. We are separated from the mystery, the depth, and the greatness of our existence. We hear the voice of that depth, but our ears are closed. We feel that something radical, total, and unconditional is demanded of us, but we rebel against it, try to escape its urgency, and will not adopt its promise. We cannot escape, however. If that something is the Ground of our being, we are bound to it for all eternity, just as we are bound to ourselves and to all other life. We always remain in the power of that from which we are estranged. That fact brings us to the ultimate depth of sin; separated and yet bound; estranged and yet belonging; destroyed and yet preserved; the state which is called despair. Despair means that there is no escape. Despair is “the sickness unto death”. But the terrible thing about the sickness of despair is that we cannot be released, not even through open or hidden suicide. For we all know that we are bound eternally and inescapably to the Ground or our being. The abyss of separation is not always visible. But it has become more visible to our generation than to the preceding generation, because of our feeling of meaninglessness, emptiness, doubt and cynicism – all expressions of despair, or our separation from the roots and meaning of our life. Sin in its most profound sense, sin as despair, abounds among us.’
Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ exposes the bleak and tumultuous era of unresolved conflict and military tension; characterised by humanities paradoxical inherent search for identity and purpose in a world of uncertainty. Society’s deep-rooted anxieties and fears stemmed from the witnessing of nuclear annihilation on Hiroshima and the friction between the Soviet Union and America in which was embodied in the Cold War, spark the issues of moral and political ethics. As a result of such an austere context, authors such as Beckett, manipulate and manifest this zeitgeist into the form of their own absurdist fiction work, questioning the nature of science and specifically nuclear power, the rise of humanism and the fall of religion, and man’s search for self and resolve in an ambiguous environment. German Theologian, Paul Tillich mirrors such concepts, exploring the isolated and estranged nature of our lives in response to a lack of purpose or “ground of our being”. He addresses the “eternity” that we are completely bound to and likewise, reveals the fallen state of mankind; echoing Beckett’s portrayal of humanity in ‘Waiting for Godot’.
Beckett explores the conflict between the integral nature of religion that permeated throughout society and the rise in humanism and individuality in mankind. The author highlights the evolution of a community largely associated with Christianity and a reliance on ‘God’, eventually manifesting itself into a secular society. This motif of a questioning of religion and the existence of ‘God’ is evident in Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’, revolving around the central plot-line of ‘Godot’ as an omnipotent being, able to “save” Estragon and Vladimir, or “punish” them if angered. Beckett evidently mirrors this notion of an absent ‘Godot’, from society’s own rejection of religion and faith in ‘God’ and the existential nihilism that was born in consequence. Acting as a catalyst, the horrific outcomes of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings…