Dasein, The Second Coming and The Nature of God: High Gravity Pt. 2 (Heidegger)

Week two of High Gravity is complete and so it’s time to digest a bit of what was discussed. We looked at the German continental philosopher Martin Heidegger in his work entitled “The Phenomenology of Religious Life.” In this work Heidegger begins to outline his philosophy of phenomenology which he later expands in his magnum opus Being and Time. He does so by examining Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians through his own philosophical lens.

Heidegger is not easy to understand. In fact, if it weren’t for Pete and Tripp’s conversation about this work I would have been left in the dark concerning what he was trying to accomplish. The reason why Heidegger is so difficult to understand is because he creates new language in an attempt to get us thinking in ways that we’re not used to thinking.

Much of Heidegger could be understood as a critique of the scientific worldview of the post-Enlightenment era. What science had us do was examine the relationship between objects. The scientist (subject) examined natural phenomena (objects) in order to come to an understanding of the way the world works. Heidegger saw this way of looking at the world as fundamentally flawed. For Heidegger, before we even begin to experience the world through the subject-object lens we find ourselves fully immersed in the world.

A few examples that Pete used to illustrate this point:

When a carpenter uses a hammer it is almost as if the hammer doesn’t exist for the carpenter; it simply becomes an extension of his own self. It’s not until the hammer breaks that the hammer is then examined as an object by the carpenter.

In the same way, when you’re video chatting with a friend over the internet you can almost forget that you are separated by a distance. It’s not until your internet cuts out that you remember that you are talking at a screen.

So this sense of being fully immersed in the world, what Heidegger called dasein (a German word literally meaning “being there”)is fundamental for Heidegger.

In order to play out what Heidegger means by dasein he turns to Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. In looking at this letter Heidegger is not concerned with what Paul believed about God but rather, how Paul experienced the world and how Paul was experienced by his community.

In this part of our lecture there were a number of things that struck a chord for me. I’ll share two.

For Paul, the past and the future collapse into and are embodied in the present moment. Thus, the notion of conversion for Paul, rather than being something that happened in the past, lives on as a living memory in the present.

In the same way, the second coming of Christ is not discussed as an objective future event in Paul.  In fact, in 1 Thessalonians Paul does not speculate about when the second coming will take place. Doing so would be a mistake because when something is relegated to the future you can distance yourself from it and remain unaffected. For example, if I’m my homework is due in two weeks then I can put it off until the night before. This is precisely what Paul is trying to avoid. So rather than speculating about the time of the second coming, Paul simply assumes that his audience experiences its immanence in their own lives and then calls them to be affected by this experience. The second coming for Paul is something that lays claim on the present moment; it’s embodied in the life of the believer in the here and now.

Another way of putting all of this is that Heidegger sees in Paul a move away from abstraction (the second coming will happen at some point in the distant future) to temporal enactment (how are you living the second coming right now?).

This comes out in the way Heidegger conceives of God as well. Rather than speculating about the metaphysical nature of God, Heidegger is more interested in the way God is experienced by the Christian in everyday life and the way in which God is embodied in the life of the believer. The word “Being” is not a word that Heidegger would have us use to describe God because in doing so we would fall back into the subject-object distinction that Heidegger wants to avoid (I, the subject, examine and attempt to understand God the capital ‘B’ Being [object] ). This radical rejection of God as Being lays the foundation for later thinkers like Caputo to imagine God in other terms (like God as “Event” – cf. Caputo’s The Weakness of God).

Ultimately, this all comes back to dasein, our full immersion in our own existence.

Anywho, Heidegger was fun. Next week we look at Bonhoeffer’s Religionless Christianity.

Faith Beyond the Masters of Suspicion: High Gravity Pt. 1 (Ricoeur)

One of the ways in which I’m nerding out this summer is by participating in an online course on the Radical Theology tradition. It’s put on by Tripp Fuller over at Homebrewed Christianity as well as author and post-modern philosopher Pete Rollins. Each week we read a passage from someone who’s contributed to the Radical Theology tradition before posting our questions and areas of clarification on a discussion board. Tripp and Pete then take up the questions in a lecture that introduces the thinker and his contributions to the tradition. It’s been a fantastic experience of alternative education thus far and I’m really looking forward to the rest of it.

I want to take some time to blog through some of the insights I pick up from the readings as well as the lectures so that I can both better internalize the content and broaden the conversation to include those who read the posts on my blog. Much of the content is pretty dense and difficult to wade through especially if you’re not versed in philosophical concepts and jargon. The two pieces we’ve read thus far, one from Paul Ricoeur and another from Martin Heidegger, were not easy for me to grasp (although the lecture definitely helped!) given my lack of experience in the realm of the primary sources of philosophy. For these reasons, what I want to do here is not provide an exhaustive introduction to the thinker and the piece that I read for the course (I don’t feel qualified to do so) but rather just highlight a few insights and offer some commentary when necessary.

We began the course by reading two essays by the French thinker Paul Ricoeur entitled “The Critique of Religion” in which he discusses who he calls the masters of suspicion (MoS), namely, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud and the implications of their critiques of religion for the Christian and, the second essay, “The Language of Faith” in which he attempts to formulate a way for us to use religious language in a world that has internalized the critique of the MoS.

Ricoeur begins by touching on the critiques of each of the MoS.

(What follows is obviously a gross oversimplification of the critiques of the three MoS. Feel free to add to and/or nuance each of the critiques I summarize in the comments)

For Marx, religion is used as a mechanism of oppression. Those who are submissive in this life are said to be rewarded with a paradise in the next and those who are in power in this life are given an ideological foundation for their spot at the top of the hierarchy of classes. Thus, religion rewards the passivity of those in the working class who, rather than submitting to the oppressive ruling class in the name of obedience to God, ought to be engaging in a revolution aimed at overthrowing them.

Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity comes out in a quote that Tripp read for us in the lecture:

“Belief in what? In love with what? In hope for what?—There’s no doubt that these weak people—at some time or another they also want to be the strong people, some day their “kingdom” is to arrive—they call it simply “the kingdom of God” as I mentioned. People are indeed so humble about everything! Only to experience that, one has to live a long time, beyond death—in fact, people must have an eternal life, so they can also win eternal recompense in the “kingdom of God” for that earthly life “in faith, in love, in hope.” Recompense for what? Recompense through what? In my view, Dante was grossly in error when, with an ingenuity inspiring terror, he set that inscription over the gateway into his hell: “Eternal love also created me.” Over the gateway into the Christian paradise and its “eternal blessedness” it would, in any event, be more fitting to let the inscription stand “Eternal hate also created me”—provided it’s all right to set a truth over the gateway to a lie! For what is the bliss of that paradise? Perhaps we might have guessed that already, but it is better for it to be expressly described for us by an authority we cannot underestimate in such matters, Thomas Aquinas, the great teacher and saint: “In the kingdom of heaven” he says as gently as a lamb, “the blessed will see the punishment of the damned, so that they will derive all the more pleasure from their heavenly bliss.”

Thus, for Nietzsche when Christians claim that they love those whom they say will be damned they are merely perpetuating a delusion. Underneath, our talk of love is really a deep-seated hatred of the other. Nietzshe called this the “will behind the will.”

Freud’s critique is that religion is really a means of satisfying humanity’s hidden desires. In other words, religion is nothing more than a coping mechanism in the face of our worst fears (like fear of death) or a way for us to superficially satisfy our deepest longings.

It’s been my experience that many well-meaning Christians respond to these potent critiques of Christianity in one of two ways:

  1. They ignore them. By plugging your ears to the most cogent critiques of Christianity you never have to face the holes in your own belief system.
  2. They dismiss them as atheists who don’t have anything true to offer us.

For Ricoeur both of these responses are unacceptable. If one is to have a genuine faith in the modern world one must pass through the brutal critique of the MoS and somehow come out on the other side. If this is not done then we’re left with nothing more than a shallow faith that holds no water in a world that has thoroughly internalized and accepted as true the critiques of the MoS. In other words, we as Christians must face the facts: our faith is often a mask that is covering something unhealthy at best or, at worst, sinister that’s going on beneath the surface.

In order for us to move forward we must begin to dream of what faith looks like beyond the critiques of the MoS. We must acknowledge the ways in which our own faith has indeed been a means of oppression or of masking our secret hatred or of coping with our deep-seated fears.

In what ways have you seen these critiques operating in the lives of Christians?

What might faith look like on the other side of the MoS?