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Sermon : Sodom and Gomorrah

Kohák: The Human Place Within the Universe

Kohák's definition of humanness is nebulous and precise, vague and obvious—and rightly so. It is a rather difficult task to pinpoint what purpose exactly the presence of the human serves; yet, the humanness Kohák attempts to develop is one that feels quite innate and nearly tangible. Human beings as only fully realising their humanness when in their rightful place within the universe, as opposed to over it, is a bold and strange idea in our times, but is an idea of great worth and of immeasurable import to consider. It is an idea, to be sure, that has gained some steam at least to a certain extent, albeit by way of a different starting point: the current fad of our day is not only social justice but also 'ecological justice,' and thus, in effect, gives flesh to Kohák's plea to give voice to 'our animal kin [who] cannot speak for themselves.'8 In that sentiment we join Kohák in positioning ourselves as brethren within the cosmos - brethren with not only our fellow humans, but also our fellow creatures. Moreover, it places us humans specifically within the pattern of the cosmos, a notion our 'artifacts' keep hidden by neutralising the reality of the world as die Lebeswelt Gottes, as φυσιs.

Nature, as propounded by Kohák, is not 'an aggregate of physical properties. . . . It has its own intrinsic sense'—a sense of value that is not a superficial utility but is instead an ontological inherency.9 Kohák moves to re-personalise the cosmos and in this way approaches a perspective somewhat reminiscent of Vladimir Solovyov, who argued that God is made manifest in matter which in turn is divided into distinct 'grades of existence.'10 These grades Solovyov defined to be five individual yet interrelated kingdoms—each kingdom providing a foundation for the next, but in a very different manner than Darwin put forward, not as giving rise to the next, but as including the preceding within it. In a section that is strikingly parallel to one of Solovyov's, Kohák challenges the view of reducing animals (and humans) to the level of 'elementary chemical interactions' in order to explain their actions.11 Kohák argues in many places that being is necessarily incarnate and particular, and that incarnation is in turn necessarily comprised of 'the atemporal and the inorganic.'12 This thought pattern seems to draw almost directly from Solovyov, who believed 'matter . . . ceases to be mere matter in so far as it enters into the special plan of organic life, which makes use of the chemical and physical properties of matter but is not reducible to them.'13 For Kohák, every animal, plant and boulder is a life in the sense of subjective experience and finds its reality in a higher order. Similarly, Solovyov believed that the significance of every being is realised in the 'perfect moral order' of the Kingdom of God14—a notion which is implied in much of Kohák's ideas, though not explicitly stated in such a way. Each being, in both philosophers' schemes, is realised as having value, not as utility but as intrinsic, for each scheme posits plants, animals, humans and everything in between as ends in themselves and not merely as means. In opposition to a Darwinian kinship of descent, both Kohák and Solovyov neither deny humanity's similarity to other animals, but nor do they insist that we have come from them. Kohák, like Solovyov, recognises each of our unique places within the universe and that ties us together with all of creation as an indirect sort of family. Darwin's hypothesis only fits insofar as evolutionary steps are left at the door—that is, Darwin rightfully recognised the place of humans within the cosmos as significant and, in some ways, inescapable; however, he posits human beings along with every other creature as merely links in a chain and thereby empties creation of its intrinsic value by defining us and other animals as means to a progressive ends.

The concept of the universe as die Lebeswelt Gottes seems far from Darwin's thought but possibly compliments Solovyov's as the kingdoms together form a φυσιs—from the kingdom of the inorganic to the kingdom of the spiritual humanity, a purpose is being filled and a life is being lived. For Kohák, as well as Solovyov, the universe is undeniably personal—indeed, it is not impersonal, but instead is ontologically alive. All our 'artifacts' and dead-matter-universe constructs, however, keep us blinded to the rhythms and reasons—the life—of nature and thereby obstructs our realisation of the place within the cosmos we hold, our unique location in the special plan of organic life as a whole. Instead of recognising the true φυσιs of the universe, the τεκνη we have endowed with so much meaning and power along with the hubris of our dominium has caused us to forget and become oblivious to the λογοs of the cosmos—and we therefore re-define ourselves as the masters of the world, as human gods. But in a moment of stillness, of silence—of night and pain, as Kohák so rightfully put it—we catch a glimpse of our ineptitude, our smallness, our futility—and indeed we are futile in a world impersonal and strictly material.

  1. Ibid., 213.
  2. Ibid., 69-70.
  3. Vladimir Solovyov, The Justification of the Good: An Essay on Moral Philosophy, trans. Nathalie A. Duddington (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005), 158.
  4. Kohák, Embers and Stars, 199.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Solovyov, Good, 159.
  7. Ibid., 157.