Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Simone Weil is a fascinating figure. She was very spiritual, very sincere, and very moral, and lived at times a harsh, almost masochistically ascetic life. For a time she worked as a laborer in different factories so that she could better understand the life of the working classes. In this way, she was a precursor to George Orwell, who later did likewise and published his experiences in Down and Out in Paris and London.
Waiting for God is a collection of Weil's thoughts about the relationship between mankind and God. Below are some quotations from the book.
To give up our imaginary position as the center, to renounce it, not only intellectually but in the imaginative part of our soul, that means to awaken to what is real and eternal, to see the true light and hear the true silence.
In this first quotation, Weil encourages the reader to give up the illusion that we, as humans, are the centre of God's creation. Before Copernicus, in the 16th century, produced evidence to prove that the Earth was not the centre of the universe but revolved around the sun, it was assumed that God had put us at the center of the universe because we were His most important creations, created in His image. This was a geocentric world view. Copernicus introduced a heliocentric world view.
Nonetheless, hundreds of years after Copernicus, mankind still tends to think of itself as at the centre of things metaphorically, if not literally. Weil encourages us to let go of this self-aggrandizing illusion and instead embrace the humility of relative insignificance. We are not secondary gods at the center of things, but rather humble servants at the edges. And only, Weil proposes, when we humble ourselves by accepting this truth will we be 'quiet' enough and receptive enough to "awaken to what is real and eternal." In another of her books, Gravity and Grace, Weil uses terms like "real and eternal" to describe what she understands as God's grace.
Some saints approved the Crusades and the Inquisition. I cannot help but think they were wrong. I cannot withdraw from the light of conscience. If I think I see more clearly than they do on this point—I who am so far below them—I must allow that on this point they must have been blinded by something very powerful. That something is the Church as a social thing. If this social thing did such evil to them, what evil might it not also do to me, one who is particularly vulnerable to social influences, and who is infinitely feebler than they?
This second quotation captures rather well Weil's own humility and also her liberal, compassionate character. Although she disagrees with those saints who approved of the Crusades and the Inquisition, she refuses to consider herself in any way more informed or more tolerant than them. That she herself disagrees with the Crusades and the Inquisition points to her compassion (for those who suffered and died) and, furthermore, points to how she was unafraid to think for herself. The broader point that she is making in the quotation is that the Church, specifically here the Catholic Church, can sometimes get in the way of our relationship with God. And this, according to Weil, is because the Church encourages a sense of social belonging, and in turn an 'us versus them' mentality. The implication is that people, like the aforementioned saints, perhaps sometimes blindly follow the decisions of the institution of the Church rather than their own moral compass. Weil admits freely that she is afraid of this...
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kind of group mentality, in part because she imagines that she herself might fall victim to it given the right, or wrong, circumstances.
When I think of the Crucifixion, I commit the sin of envy.
This third quotation offers an interesting insight into Weil's views on religion. She says that she feels envious of Christ's crucifixion, suggesting that she herself longs to be, like Christ, a martyr. She can imagine no greater, nobler meaning to life than to be a martyr for others. This compulsion to sacrifice herself for others, or for Christ, informed much of her life. For example, when Weil was a child, she refused to eat more than what she absolutely necessary, because she was acutely aware that some children like her were starving. Weil's aspirations for martyrdom also dovetail with her predilection for masochism. As a child, she would sometimes burn the backs of her hands with cigarettes.
My greatest desire is to lose not only all will but all personal being.
This final quotation offers another interesting insight into Weil's approach to religion, or, perhaps more accurately, to spirituality. It also represents a culmination of the aforementioned preoccupation with martyrdom and masochism. In this quotation, Weil says that what she desires most of all is to lose herself and so, almost paradoxically, lose the burden of the desires that come with the existence of the self. She wants to be completely subsumed by God. This is, arguably, the ultimate expression of masochism. It is the desire for a complete annihilation of the self in the name of something much greater.