Matt Welch

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© 1986-2004

essay "Politics and Conscience."

"We must honor with the humility of the wise the bounds of that natural world and the mystery which lies beyond them, admitting that there is something in the order of being which evidently exceeds all our competence."

In a review of Havel's Letters to Olga, German writer Heinrich Boll surmised that, "This could well be someone who shrinks from saying the word 'God.' What we are possibly dealing with here is the manifestation of a new form of religiousness, which out of courtesy no longer addresses God with the name that has been trampled underfoot by politicians."

Letters to Olga, written during Havel's 1979-83 prison term, represented his first in-depth public questioning of his own spirituality. "There is no doubt that I could substitute the word 'God' for my 'something' or for the 'absolute horizon,' and yet this does not seem to me to be a very serious approach," Havel wrote. "What I am lacking is that extremely important 'last drop' in the form of the mystical experience of the enigmatic address and revelation."

In Disturbing the Peace, a book-length interview with Karel Hvizdala published in 1986, Havel said he was no longer "so certain" he needed that last step, but that he still did not consider himself "converted."

"I believe that all of this -- life and the universe -- is not just 'in and of itself.' I believe that nothing disappears forever, and less so our deeds, which is why I believe that it makes sense to try to do something in life, something more than that which will bring one obvious returns," he explained.

Though he no longer shied completely away from using the word "God" (especially when lamenting how modern science "kills God and takes his place on the vacant throne"), Havel still didn't provide much definition of the "absolute horizon" he was increasingly convinced humanity needed to rediscover. His spiritual exploration, however, continued.

In February 1990, only six weeks after being inaugurated as president, Havel invited the Dalai Lama to Prague and spent several hours in spiritual consultation and meditation with the Tibetan holy leader.

Havel has also taken great pleasure in speaking with Pope John Paul II, whom he met for a third time this March. "Once again, your wisdom, nobility, breadth of vision and personal charisma have irradiated me in a very special way, and I felt the sudden gift of renewed energy, the will to go on with my work, the faith that this work makes sense and the ability to delight in its outcome," he told the pontiff.

The papal visit came on the heels of wider religious wanderings by the Czech president, who has never attended church regularly and claims to have never prayed. "I have recently visited the most holy places of different religions -- Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism -- and in the atmosphere of those places, I was made aware again that the basis of all religion lies in the idea of tolerance, of understanding for others, of helping one's neighbor -- in short, the idea of the good that God expects from mankind," he said.

Havel's God is one who encompasses the best of all the world's religions, whose specific structures and cultural interpretations are much less important. In Philadelphia, Havel referred to the Gaia Hypothesis, "named after an ancient goddess recognizable as an archetype of the Earth Mother in perhaps all religions. According to the Gaia Hypothesis, we are parts of a greater whole. Our destiny is not dependent merely on what we do for ourselves but also on what we do for Gaia as a whole."

In the Fourth of July speech Havel argued that the end of communism and colonialism has effectively brought the modern era, with its allegiance to rationalism and science, to a close.

"A modern philosopher once said: 'Only a God can save us now.' Yes, the only real hope of people today is probably a renewal of our certainty that we are rooted in the earth and, at the same time, the cosmos."

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