NPJ Book Review: I and Thou by Martin Buber

I and Thou by Martin Buber, Translation by Walter Kaufman 1970 (from Ich und Du 1923)  “Mundus vult decipi: the world wants to be deceived. The truth is too complex and frightening; the taste for truth is an acquired taste and few acquire.”

Buber’s short but philosophically mesmerizing work seems appropriate as we approach what I might describe as the precipice of political and technological meaning. That is, we are in a political and technological transition period in which our theologies need to be re-examined to discern their import and relevance to the very real existential nature of humanity’s “today and tomorrow.” Modern technologies in effect have transcended our public theologies. This may be an opportunity for the brave new world myth concerning ethics, evil, modernity and the implications for our personal theologies.

My take on Buber’s I and Thou is that we strive to approach the “Thou” by naming it. For example, once “I” gives a name to another being or object we make that “being” or “object” approachable and ultimately controllable, giving it attributes whether it has those attributes or not. Therein lies a danger, particularly with the “eternal thou” or “God” which is a name created by humans for the sake of approaching (and designing attributes), the “unapproachable.”

How we treat each other as humans is affected by an understanding of our relationships with each other and between the “I” and “Thou”  – and the interwoven nature of cause and effect. The intellectual depth of Buber’s philosophical work is discovered with each re-reading, as further readings offer potentially variant thoughts.