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PDF Self and Other: Essays in Continental Philosophy of Religion

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In my broad overview of some of the key responses to the criticism of metaphysics by contemporary philosophers of religion, I briefly discuss the work of Caputo, Nancy, Stoker, Kearney and Schrijvers. For Caputo, the possibility of faith in a postmetaphysical era lies in the "passion of non-savoir [not knowing], impassioning the desire for the impossible and the unforeseeable" Caputo Such faith is a "religion without religion", a messianic expectation without a messiah, a non-supernatural expectation that is mostly materialistic.

The transcendent cannot be accommodated within this messianic view as something metaphysical or radically transcendent. Although this "postmetaphysical theology" does allow for religious discourse religion without religion , the space for theology or God-talk in this context is only one of "theopoetics":. Since these quasi-phenomenological forms of theopoetics never reach the stasis of a fundamental Absolute reality, one must acknowledge that religion is Vorstellungen all the way down!

Caputo For Caputo, the transcendent is found on a horizontal level within language, text, and on the boundaries of space-time, but not in a metaphysical sense. Theopoetics does not concern itself with the unknown beyond the text in a metaphysical sense , but with the unknown alterity in the text. Although "theopoetics" has some definitive advantages, the notion of a "religion without religion" seems too far removed from traditional theology to be acceptable.

It is, therefore, worth examining another response to Derrida's philosophy. Jean-Luc Nancy's book, Dis-enclosure: The deconstruction of Christianity , is an attempt to deconstruct Christianity in line with Derrida's philosophy. He does not view the deconstruction of Christianity as the end of sense meaning.


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The world still has sense contrary to what the nihilists say even after we eliminate grand narratives and ultimate signifiers, as the world is "continually taking place" Nancy However, the sense of the world should "not be sought in one or the other transcendental signifier that would decide on the meaning of our world" Schrijvers Sense emerges and is present in any inner-worldly encounter thinkable - it arises from our everyday encounters with one another.

What is advanced here is what one can call a "praise of everydayness" Nancy The relation to transcendence is no longer found in a term inus outside the world, like God. It is transcending without a Transcendent, without anywhere or anyone to transcend to except for the gap that is the world. Transcendence "goes nowhere outside of the world, but rather stays in the world" Gerber , not as substance, but by moving transcending to another, as circulating - a movement of "transimmanence" Hutchens With transimmanence, not only is transcendentalism where meaning is found in a source outside the world rejected Nancy takes Nietzsche's notion of the death of God seriously , but also immanentism or the search for a being or substance or absolute reference point inside the world in the realm of immanence.

In this sense, "transcendentalism and immanentalism are two sides of the same coin" Gerber -both seek an ontotheological grounding principle. Nancy rejects both, but still finds sense in the world in transimmanence - the circulation of sense between one another, through the cutting across of being-with.

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It is here where transcendence is to be found, but then not as a substance, but as the movement trans of sense meaning as circulating between the subject and the other without being fixed in either, nor in an external source. However, this "open-immanence" leaves no room for a metaphysical god, or even an openness of transimmanence to the theological concept of eschatology Verhoef A different understanding of transcendence is needed to maintain a metaphysical theology.

For that we need to go to Stoker. The Dutch theologian and philosopher, Wessel Stoker , reacts to the criticism of metaphysics by reconceptualising transcendence in heuristic terms as, first, "radical transcendence" Stoker a This is a "vertical" type of transcendence where the absolute God is viewed as the totally other, and clearly distinguished from mundane reality. Thirdly, Stoker interprets the radicalisation of immanence as a type of transcendence, namely as "radical immanence".

This transcendence is regarded as "the default position in contemporary culture" Van der Merwe In radical immanence, the absolute is not sought outside mundane reality; rather, both realities flow into the immanent for example, Deleuze's "plane of immanence". Fourthly, Stoker presents an alternative view of transcendence as "alterity" that primarily seeks to retain something of the metaphysical and existential nature of transcendence. Transcendence as alterity returns to radical transcendence and builds on it, emphasising the ineffability of the "Other".

PHILOSOPHY, RELIGION, AND THEOLOGY

It differs from radical transcendence, since it rejects the notion of transcendence and immanence as opposing concepts. Instead, one should think beyond this opposition and acknowledge the "totally other" that is in "every other" Levinas and Derrida. The challenge to think between these two poles is taken up by Kearney with his concept of anatheism. In his postmetaphysical thinking, Richard Kearney has recourse to Derrida's notion of the future that is not deconstructable the messianic future - as Caputo discussed it and to Levinas's view of the other as the Other.

In his books, The God who may be and Anatheism , he follows Derrida's understanding of the messianic as "the form of any promise of something to come" Derrida This is something that transcends us: the "God who may be".

Mystical Theology and Continental Philosophy | Reading Religion

This God is not definable in traditional religious doctrines, in "dogmatic formulae" Kearney , but may be the other as the Other and, therefore, we must live with openness, and hospitality to strangers - whether gods or monsters Kearney He describes this "religious" position as Anatheism - not a theism or atheism, but a return to God as something else, an openness to the stranger, the other, the future, the God that may be. Kearney has thus an implicit metaphysical expectation.

The God that might not be here now except perhaps in the other as Other, but not as an external source or substance , may be there or here in the future. This eschatology leaves a gap for a possible metaphysical understanding of transcendence, as a transcendence in immanence. It is only in our immanent future expectation micro-eschatologies and in our immanent experience with others in this world the epiphanies of the everyday that transcendence is to be found. Ultimately, it is doubtful whether Kearney succeeds in moving beyond Derrida and Caputo's "religion without religion", although his concept of Anatheism does seek to allow for more "particularity" Kearney in religion in order to avoid "empty secularism that merely aestheticizes religion by removing its faith content" Kearney For Joeri Schrijvers it raises three questions.

Should we do away then with specific religious expectations and content, with belief? Does this not entail a loss of faith in any theistic transcendence in the end? Schrijvers surmises that the ontotheological constitution Heidegger of metaphysics is inevitable.

However, Schrijvers argues that we should not attempt to rid ourselves of ontotheologies and metaphysics. Loss of faith - becoming indifferent to all that transcends our finite lives - might make us lose sight of the excess found in this world love in Binswanger's phenomenology. Schrijvers xvii wants to avoid this, because it is in and through love that one encounters, embraces, and holds on to a sense that surpasses the endless finitude of things.

We should thus remain open to the infinite, to transcendence, and to God. This openness or faith does not necessarily entail a move back to belief. Nor should belief or faith be separated. We should instead explore being between belief and faith, and embrace its potential.

However, the question remains as to whether this "between belief and faith" position is sufficient space for metaphysical theology to function. We need to explore whether and how these philosophers open up a space for theology and religion in the postmetaphysical era. A radical metaphysical understanding of God as in Radical Orthodoxy, Barth and Jenson has become untenable. Theology that denies or ignores these epistemological, ontological and metaphysical challenges risks lapsing into postmodern fideism.


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It is postmodern in the sense that it accepts the notion of truth as subjective and determined by me or my group and fideistic in the sense that it does not attempt to rationally justify its beliefs. This postmodern fideism can quickly lead to an "apathetic pluralism" where. This kind of fideism leads to a type of particularism where everyone's presuppositions are valued at least as much as anyone else's other.

Therefore, theology needs to take the criticism of metaphysics seriously. Theology must address contemporary questions. Not to do so holds the danger that theologians might "resemble the band that kept on playing on the Titanic, not realizing that their audience had already left" Schrijvers However, in addressing contemporary challenges presented by postmetaphysics and postsecularism, we run certain risks.

Theology may adopt the norms of postmetaphysics or radical immanence, as in the work of Thomas Altizer the death of God theology; kenosis as the complete emptying of God , Sally McFaque the world as God's body , and some liberation theologians God incarnated in the poor. Such theologies find it difficult to view God in metaphysical terms and opt instead for His embodiment in the concrete world Verhoef , veering towards pantheism. Continental philosophers of religion have not eliminated the space for theology and religion , but have transformed it.

They appear to offer two options to theologians in South Africa. One is to take the criticism of metaphysics seriously. The other is to continue reinterpreting theology within, or in relation to, this space by remaining faithful to the theological tradition. Describing South Africa as "postmetaphysical" is problematic because of its diversity. However, South Africa is not isolated from global developments and challenges.

This exposure to trends and ideas from all over the world through the media and the results of international cooperation means that it is increasingly postmetaphysical at least secular. This applies to all the various cultures in South Africa. Intellectual integrity demands that theology move beyond particularism and avoid postmodern fideism.

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Self and Other: Essays in Continental Philosophy of Religion

We need to find new "spaces" for doing theology for the sake of intellectual integrity and more importantly for continuing to explore the existential questions that are at the heart of theology. Intellectual integrity seeks to move beyond particularism or lapsing into postmodern fideism.


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An apathetic pluralism will neither serve the interests of theology nor a diverse South African society. The second point of relevance lies in the focus on fundamental questions that help us make sense of our lives. Theology in South Africa is very diverse and can appear very fragmented with a focus on public theology, social justice, ethics, feministic, ecological, the poor, and so on.

A metaphysical theology has the merit of creating a coherent understanding of all these issues. Such a coherent metaphysical answer cannot be a move back to premodern fundamentalism, and it cannot be an uncritical move towards a new metanarrative. This theology - if it takes the criticism of metaphysics seriously - can give answers that take account of its constant need to question itself.