Religion is man’s way of accepting life as an inevitable defeat. That it is not an inevitable defeat is a claim that cannot be defended in good faith. One can, of course, disperse one’s life over the contingencies of every day, but even then it is only a ceaseless and desperate desire to live, and finally a regret that one has not lived. One can accept life, and accept it, at the same time, as a defeat only if one accepts that there is a sense beyond that which is inherent in human history — if, in other words, one accepts the order of the sacred. A hypothetical world from which the sacred had been swept away would admit of only two possibilities: vain fantasy that recognizes itself as such, or immediate satisfaction which exhausts itself. It would leave only the choice proposed by Baudelaire, between lovers of prostitutes and lovers of clouds: those who know only the satisfactions of the moment and are therefore contemptible, and those who lose themselves in otiose imaginings , and are therefore contemptible. Everything is contemptible, and there is no more to be said. The conscience liberated from the sacred knows this, even if it conceals it from itself.

Leszek Kolakowski