Martin Buber Today




this date, 47 years ago, martin buber passed away in jerusalem. he was 87 years old.

i regard martin buber as the greatest jewish philosopher since baruch spinoza in the xvii century, and not unlike spinoza, buber’s impact on religious life, to this day, sadly, has remained near negligible. and that is very sad indeed.

reading buber is not an easy task. he must be read as poetry, as jorge luis borges once said. in buber’s writings, we should try to discern what i referred to as his “poetic facts”. facts not about poetry, which wouldn’t be of any real importance, but the kind of facts only poetry can uncover and make manifest. and the key to buber is to understand that his “poetry” is itself a deed, not just a way of talking about deeds. buber’s poetry is a way of living in the world, it is the poetic life.

for buber religion was not connected to theology nor ritual worships. he argued that religion ought not be institutionalized in any form. religion is “religio” a relationship, a dialogue between humans, nature and god.

for buber, dialogue was first philosophy. in his words: “in the beginning it was the encounter” and “all real life is encounter”. and he explained that “the world is not comprehensible, but is embraceable through the embrace of one being”.

for buber, the “essential deed” of our lives is to embrace all beings in dialogue, and dialogue is a deed that can only be done with our whole-being. we are always in a relationship, and it is our choice to relate to the other as either i-thou or i-it. except for the eternal thou. him/her/it who is eternally a thou, can never be approached as an “it”.

the i-thou dialogue is the “essential deed” of our existence because “the lines of encounter between an i and a thou intersect in the eternal thou”. god is found only through each other, not within nor without, but between us. and thus i refer to buber’s philosophy as the “spirituality of the between”, a social spirituality of the inter-human and of the inter-being. within the context of buber’s existential view, religion is essentially a dialogical practice.

buber’s philosophy is a dialogical-ecology project. buber spoke of “will and grace”, or the idea that i am “i” and my circumstances. therefore, to the extent that my will is to say thou to all beings, i myself become a thou. and when i say “it” i myself become an “it”. the circumstances that ensue, are grace. since the presence of god in us is always the presence of god between us, buber’s dialogical project entails the radical transformation of our social, economic and political relationships along the lines of religious, libertarian socialism. 

god is not an entity anywhere, god is actualized in the between of an i and a thou.

may his memory be a blessing.

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