Once a year in Paris the authorities arrange for all the visitors and residents to enjoy ‘Heritage days’. Various buildings, usually closed to the public – such as the Elysee palace and Balzac’s house – are open for visits; so are museums and churches and lovely mansions. It’s a delight (provided you can beat the queues and actually get to see the interiors of these exclusive buildings).
The Church of Saint Laurent in Paris 10eme duly opened its doors over the weekend of the Heritage days and I wandered around looking at the austere grandeur of the place. I always like the flickering votive candles and the dark tragic paintings of the old masters. I like the mood of devotion; I admire the technical brilliance of the artists.
Just down from the column upon which hangs a memorial highlighting the pain of ‘Miserere’ was another sombre carving with the inscription:
Mon Dieu, Mon Dieu, pourquoi m’as-tu abandonné?
(My God My God, why have you abandoned me?)
The terrific moral philosopher Neil Richards (with whom I worked) would often ask a rather similar question. He would demand: ‘Where was God when this happened?‘ The ‘this’ to which he referred took as its subject genocide, barbarism and the awfulness of terrorism. He agreed with Freud’s remark that ‘the mistakes of philosophers are merely absurd’ whilst those of religion (and totalitarian ideologies) are always ‘dangerous’.