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.