A brilliant individual, and a lasting example of living out your philosophy, Simone Weil is a light in the modern age pointing toward living out the truth. We can admire her in the way we might admire Nietzsche and Foucault as she lived out her philosophy in her daily actions and to her early death. But unlike Nietzsche and Foucault, we can emulate some of her actions.
Simone Weil’s letters and essays in “Waiting on God” provide an intellectual path to follow which forces the mind to wrestle with our beliefs and understanding of others and pierces our heart with a call to action through a better understood affection and respect.
As a modern philosopher she provides a view on friendship and a definition of its perfect form. As I’ve spent the last few years looking at ancient philosophical views on friendship, I’d like to offer a modern’s view on this important element of our lives.
Simone Weil truly understood the Christian faith. While we cannot point to a conversion moment and most scholars would argue against her acceptance of Christ, we would be fully convinced from her writings she was a believer in Christ as Lord. I would compare it to today’s popular commentary from phycologist Dr. Jordan Peterson. Peterson knows the Bible and its tenants better than most Christians, and his practices and ethics match that of Christianity, but he is not a professed believer.
“Waiting on God” is a combination of letters and essays. Many of the letters were interactions with a Catholic Priest, Father Perrin, who became a close friend of Weil and who very much prayed for and longed for her confession and entrance into the Church.
Weil was Christlike in that she lived and worked with what she would call the “afflicted”. The poor, the suppressed, the malnourished, the forgotten and the enslaved. She lived on limited rations to match that of French laborers for years and her health grew worse over time. In her weak state she contracted tuberculosis and died at 34 years of age. She understood the afflictions of others because she was willing to bear it with them in solidarity. She could have enjoyed a career in the most esteemed universities, but she chose to live out her convictions and love for others. She said of affliction, “Extreme affliction, which means physical pain, distress of soul, and social degradation, all at the same time, is a nail whose point is applied at the very center of the soul.” 1. She continued, “Affliction…deprives its victims of their personality and make them into things.” 2. And she adds, “Affliction is an uprooting of life, a more or less attenuated equivalent of death, made irresistibly present to the soul.”3.
Weil is calling us into friendship with those around us who are struggling. She is asking us to follow Christ’s instruction to, “Love your neighbor.”
She saw Christ as the perfect example to follow. God steps out of his glory because of his love of each individual creature and lives among them and takes on their affliction in an effort to restore individuals to their proper place. Christ comes not out of pity but of love. He engages with humanity out of affection. Not because of their poorness or distress, but because he is just and loving and wants to reestablish that which is just. To give back what belongs to humanity, “and if children, heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17)
Christ also understands those who experience affliction. Weil states that Christ did not experience suffering on the cross, but something much worse, complete affliction. For Weil suffering is something very temporal, but affliction unescapable.
Christ came in love, and he came to save. He did not come to exercise his strength over humankind, but to give friendship, grace, and mercy. The same calling, we have in engaging in friendship with others. “He who treats as equal those who are far below him in strength really makes them a gift of the quality of human beings, of which fate had deprived them. As far is it is possible for a creature, he reproduces the original generosity of the creator with regard to them. This is the most Christian of virtues,” writes Weil of the attitude we should bring in the friendship of others 4.
Weil warns us that if in our relationships we do not see the person as m equal, we make them an object and elevate ourselves to a place of greater strength, importance, and place our ideas of truth and justice over the other individual.
Weil writes, “Beyond a certain degree of inequality in the relations of men of unequal strength, the weaker passes into the state of matter and loses his personality.5.
Our actions in friendship require what Weil calls, “supernatural virtue”. We diminish ourselves and place others above us and never below us. “One gives oneself in ransom for the other, it is a redemptive act.” 6.
Aristotle spoke of friends of utility. We use the relationship for gain. Even in relationships where one gives to the other, it can become a process of not healing the other person but making yourself feel better that you have behaved well, which is still self-serving.
Anyone who shares about their giving or sacrifices is serving themselves and not the afflicted. Ministries and individuals which post themselves in action showing themselves with their hands upon the poor or lost, are self-serving. Photos of themselves worshiping are just as self-serving. We do not need see the elevated serving the one perceived to be in need. “Almsgiving when it is not supernatural is like a sort of purchase. It buys the sufferer.”7.
Photos and videos are used to generate more support or to gain prestige -this is cruel to the sufferer. It makes them an object.
In our friendships we must guard against using another individual as a means of enhancing our view of ourselves. Nor should friendship be used for us to ever praise ourselves, “I am kind, I give of my time and money, I am a good person.” These would be lies anyway as even our best works are called “dirty rags” and fraught with selfishness.
For Weil we achieve perfect friendship only we when desire the good of another and are willing to deny the good for ourselves. In this way we never make an object of others. For Weil, “The love of our neighbor has in it something of a sacrament.”8.
Weil is drawing us toward what she calls, “pure friendship” along with a warning, “Pure friendship is rare.” It is rare because few people are willing to be intentional in their interactions. Self-sacrifice without expecting glory, giving without praise, giving without an expectation of reciprocity, and a willingness to aim for equality with someone very different. She writes, “If the gift is rightly given, and rightly received, the passing of a morsal of bread from one man to another is something like communion.”9.
In her thoughts we feel the sanctity of friendship. Relationships rise up into something holy and important and it elevates the person to a level nobility and us to the action of service. If we consider her view, we are forced to judge our intentions toward another and are much more cautious with our behavior and attitudes.
People are craving pure friendship as it is elusive. Who in our lives would we say has treated us as a noble individual worthy of service? How many simple acts of kindness could we identify on a weekly basis from others? Much more importantly we should ask, who have we treated as noble and what simple acts of kindness have, we deployed this week? Who have we treated as a friend?
I encourage to read “Waiting on God” and discover the philosophies of Weil. Even more, to consider the ideas of God concerning individuals in our path. She looks to the example of Christ and asks us to live as he lived and to love one another.
1Simone Weil, Waiting on God, G.P Putnum’s Sons (New York, 1951) First Harper Perennial Classics 2009, 81
2Simone Weil, Waiting on God, G.P Putnum’s Sons (New York, 1951) First Harper Perennial Classics 2009, 73
3Simone Weil, Waiting on God, G.P Putnum’s Sons (New York, 1951) First Harper Perennial Classics 2009, 68
45imone Weil, Waiting on God, G.P Putnum’s Sons (New York, 1951) First Harper Perennial Classics 2009, 88
5Simone Weil, Waiting on God, G.P Putnum’s Sons (New York, 1951) First Harper Perennial Classics 2009, 88
6Simone Weil, Waiting on God, G.P Putnum’s Sons (New York, 1951) First Harper Perennial Classics 2009, 91
7“Simone Weil, Waiting on God, G.P Putnum’s Sons (New York, 1951) First Harper Perennial Classics 2009, 91
8Simone Weil, Waiting on God, G.P Putnum’s Sons (New York, 1951) First Harper Perennial Classics 2009, 137
9Simone Weil, Waiting on God, G.P Putnum’s Sons (New York, 1951) First Harper Perennial Classics 2009, 84