Non-Metaphysical Theology After Heidegger
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Non-Metaphysical Theology After Heidegger

Peter S. Dillard

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Non-Metaphysical Theology After Heidegger

Peter S. Dillard

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Using Martin Heidegger's later philosophy as his springboard, Peter S. Dillard provides a radical reorientation of contemporary Christian theology. From Heidegger's initially obscure texts concerning the holy, the gods, and the last god, Dillard extracts two possible non-metaphysical theologies: a theology of Streit and a theology of Gelassenheit. Both theologies promise to avoid metaphysical antinomies that traditionally hinder theology. After describing the strengths and weaknesses of each non-metaphysical theology, Dillard develops a Gelassenheit theology that ascribes a definite phenomenology to the human encounter with divinity. This Gelassenheit theology also explains how this divinity can guide human action in concrete situations, remain deeply consonant with Christian beliefs in the Incarnation and the Trinity, and shed light on the Eucharist and Religious Vocations. Seminal ideas from Rudolf Otto and Ludwig Wittgenstein are applied at key points. Dillard concludes by encouraging others to develop an opposing Streit theology within the non-metaphysical, Heidegerrian framework he presents.

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© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016
Peter S. DillardNon-Metaphysical Theology After Heidegger10.1057/978-1-137-58480-9_1
Begin Abstract

1. Introduction: What Has Jerusalem to Do with Todtnauberg?

Peter S. Dillard1
Tucson, Arizona, USA
End Abstract
An honest religious thinker is like a tightrope walker. He almost looks as though he were walking on nothing but air. His support is the slenderest imaginable. And yet it really is possible to walk on it.1
In October 1960, at its annual meeting held that year in Bethel bei Bielefeld, Germany, the circle of Rudolf Bultmann’s former pupils known as “the Old Marburgers” debated the significance of Martin Heidegger’s later philosophy for contemporary theology. The star of the conference was Heinrich Ott, a young Swiss theologian who in 1962 went on to succeed Karl Barth as professor at the University of Basel. Ott presented a paper in which he argued for a structural similarity between Heidegger’s later thinking and a fundamentally Barthian conception of systematic theology as the hermeneutical arch spanning scriptural exegesis and Christian preaching.2 Much of the ensuing debate turned on the exact nature of this alleged similarity. Heidegger, who attended the conference, advanced the idea of an analogy of proportionality (analogia proportionalitatis), whereby A (Heidegger’s later thinking) is to B (being as it is understood non-metaphysically) as C (theology as thoughtful reflection on faith) is to D (divinity).3
Barth himself had previously rejected any analogia entis, including an analogy of proportionality, as a static philosophical construct that, by distinguishing God from being, reduces God to a mere being and subordinates Him to a purely human concept of esse. Mindful of Barth’s criticisms, Ott proposed that the similarity in question was instead a “correspondence” (Entsprechung) between Heidegger’s thinking response to the happening of being and the believer’s thinking response to the divine gift of faith.4 According to Ott, the purpose of theology is “simply to unfold thoughtfully without presupposing any philosophical schema the meaning-content experienced within believing from within the experience itself.”5
Ott’s proposal, though quite provocative, is also premature. To determine whether any interesting correspondence obtains between Heidegger’s later philosophy and contemporary theology, there must first be a determinate body of thought recoverable from Heidegger’s later writings that prima facie has theological relevance and that can then be compared to Barthian theology or other contemporary theologies. Many of Heidegger’s texts from the decade roughly between the mid-1930s and the mid-1940s, as well as a few even later texts, feature a number of enigmatic remarks about “God,” “the gods,” “the last god,” “the godhead,” “the godly,” “divinity,” and “the holy” that certainly seem to have potential theological import. However, it is far from clear whether this constellation of comments articulates a stable and coherent way of thinking.
Sometimes Heidegger suggests, contra Barth, that God is a being:
“Being”—that is not God and not a cosmic ground. Being is farther than all beings and yet is nearer to man than every being, be it a rock, a beast, a work of art, a machine, be it an angel or God. Being is the nearest. Yet the near remains farthest from man.6
Elsewhere in the same text, Heidegger reinforces this impression by distinguishing the holy as the “dimension” for divinity, gods, and God from being insofar as it understood non-metaphysically and subordinating the holy to being:
But the holy, which alone is the essential sphere of divinity, which in turn affords dimension for the gods and for God, comes to radiate only when Being itself beforehand and after extensive preparation has been illuminated and is experienced in its truth.7
If the non-metaphysical being experienced in its truth provides a radiating dimension for gods and God as it does for rocks, beasts, tools, works of art, and machines, then evidently God is a divine being that is disclosed along with these non-divine beings.
But in his lectures on Friedrich Hölderin’s poetic hymn “The Ister,” Heidegger does not differentiate between the holy and being: “The hearth is the word for being, it is that appearing that is named in Antigone’s word [παρέστιος from the choral ode from Sophocles’ Antigone] and that determines everything, even beyond the gods.”8 Later, in the same lecture, Heidegger elaborates:
The gods are “without feeling,” “of themselves,” that is, remaining within their own essence, they are never able to comport themselves toward beings. For this, a relation to being is required (i.e., to the “holy” that is “beyond” them), being as shown to them through the Other who is the sign [namely, the poet].9
Here, the holy beyond the gods is said to be the same as being, and consequently neither subordinate to being nor any kind of being, since “being is not an essent [i.e., a being].”10 Whether the gods as what are determined by the holy/being are themselves beings is left unclear.
In yet another text from the same decade, Heidegger changes course again. He emphatically declares that “The god is neither a ‘being’ nor a ‘nonbeing’ and it is also not identified with beyng [Heidegger’s term for the non-metaphysical event of being].”11 He then goes even further: “For beyng is never a determination of the god as god; rather, beyng is that which the divinization of the god needs so as to remain nevertheless completely distinct from it.”12 Since the holy as divinizing dimension for the god is a determination of the god as god, Heidegger’s remark that beyng is never a determination of the god as god implies that beyng is not the same as the holy. Moreover, by saying that the holy as divinization of the god “needs” beyng, Heidegger seems to subordinate the holy to non-metaphysical being. On the other hand, Heidegger also says that “the essential occurrence of being grounds the sheltering, and thereby the creative preservation, of the god, who pervades being with divinity always only in work and sacrifice, deed and thought.”13 If the divinity of the last god lets the non-metaphysical event of being “end in its uniqueness, divine and rare and the strangest amid all beings,”14 then apparently non-metaphysical being needs the holy as well.
Does Heidegger conceive of God, the last god, or any other kind of god as a being or not? Does he think that the holy as the dimension for divinity is the same as the non-metaphysical event of being or different from it? If the holy and being are different, then is the holy subordinate to being, is being subordinate to the holy, or do the holy and being stand on equal footing? “In what does the divinity of the gods consist? Why beyng? Because of the gods? Why gods? Because of beyng?”15 Since Heidegger gives incompatible answers to these questions in his later writings, it is difficult to extract from them any clear perspective concerning the gods, the last god, God, divinity, and holy, as opposed to a mishmash of orphic sayings and contradictions. If there is no clear perspective here, then the question of whether Heidegger’s “thinking” corresponds in any interesting way to contemporary theology is wholly groundless. In debating the nature of a relation—analogia proportionalitatis or “correspondence”—Ott and his interlocutors have apparently overlooked the fact that a crucial relatum—Heidegger’s later philosophy of the holy—is missing.
However, before embracing this skeptical conclusion, it is useful to provide some additional historical context. Contributions to Philosophy, a sort of philosophical diary that Heidegger kept from 1936 to 1938, contains numerous entries about being, divinity, the last god, and related notions. A key text of the celebrated Kehre, or turn from Being and Time to Heidegger’s later writings, the original German version of Contributions was not published until 1989. Thus, at the time of their debate, Ott and his fellow theologians lacked access to a substantial body of material in which Heidegger ponders, among other things, the nature of the holy. Even if Contributions had already been available, nevertheless it is an extremely challenging work that demands great patience in order to digest its obscure contents. For these reasons, the possibility cannot yet be ruled out that close attention to relevant portions of Contributions will help to bring some of Heidegger’s ideas about the holy into sharper focus.
An allied consideration is that although in his writings between the mid-1930s and mid-1940s Heidegger gives conflicting answers to questions about gods, God, and so forth, it does not automatically follow that these texts do not set forth or intimate any coherent view of the holy. They may gesture toward several divergent views, among which one is clearly superior. Or perhaps critical reflection on the texts will reveal some entirely different view of the holy that avoids the problematic aspects of the other views. Before comparing Heidegger’s later writings with contemporary theology in search of possible parallels, then, a careful appraisal needs to be made of the discrepancies, tensions, and conflicts pertaining to the nature of the holy that already exist in Heidegger’s later writings themselves.
The central claim of the present study is that thinking through what Heidegger has to say about the holy leads to a radically different way of doing theology that is neither inherently metaphysical, purely deconstructive, nor indeed like any other kind of pre- or post-modern approach to the subject. An immediate obstacle to embracing this claim is the serious misgiving many readers may have that Heidegger’s later meditations on the holy—if not Heidegger’s later “thinking” as a whole—lack any discernible intelligible structure, either in the form of a step-by-step progression from premises to conclusions or a dialectical interplay among theses, objections, and replies. A related concern is that the later writings seem devoid of rich phenomenological content and existential urgency. Etymological wordplay and clever puns seem to have replaced the vivid descriptions in Being and Time of “ready-to-hand” equipment, “present-at-hand” objects, everydayness, Angst, resolve, and other aspects of our “being-in-the-world.” Instead, there seems to be only a quasi-poetic wooliness coupled with a pious waiting for some mysterious, post-metaphysical advent of being as “appropriation.”16
Chapter 2 begins to allay the first misgiving by laying out three proto-theologies that can be extracted from Heidegger’s texts during the 1935–1945 period: that the holy is different from non-metaphysical being and subordinate to (“needs”) it; that the holy and non-metaphysical being are the same; and that non-metaphysical being is different from the holy and “needs” it. After what is meant by “proto-theology” has been clarified, it will then be argued that the first two proto-theologies are problematic for reasons Heidegger himself articulates. Although the third proto-theology circumvents these problems, it does so at the expense of yielding an abstruse and highly attenuated notion of divinity that Heidegger also has reason to reject. Nonetheless, the third proto-theology is embraced and serves as the foundation for all subsequent reflections in this book. Another positive result of the chapter is that Heidegger’s later thinking about the holy is not an amorphous hodgepodge of gnomic utterances but initiates a rigorous inquiry in which divergent conceptions of the holy emerge, specific criticisms arise, and definite conclusions can be drawn. This inquiry is not reducible to any particular set of rules, methodology, or system of knowledge, thereby distinguishing it from logic, natural science, and the metaphysical assumptions Heidegger takes to underlie these disciplines.
In order to address the concern that Heidegger’s thinking about the holy is experientially empty and existentially irrelevant, Chap. 3 provides a path from the third Heideggerian proto-theology, in which the holy is distinguished both from any being and from the non-metaphysical event of being to two possible kinds of Heideggerian theology. The first theology ...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Frontmatter
  3. 1. Introduction: What Has Jerusalem to Do with Todtnauberg?
  4. 2. Is There Any Such Thing as What Heidegger Calls Thinking?
  5. 3. From Proto-Theology to Phenomenology
  6. 4. Deconstructive Scriptural Meaning
  7. 5. A Pair of Ledgers
  8. 6. A Word from Marburg
  9. 7. Objectivity without Objects
  10. 8. From Phenomenology to Agency
  11. 9. Why Only a God Can Save Us: Atonement
  12. 10. The Thickness of Things and the Godding of Gods: Eucharist, Discipleship, and Trinity
  13. 11. Conclusion: Yes and No
  14. Backmatter