atheism for lent, day 26: death of god theology
This coming AfL week, we’ll be looking at thinkers who propone “death of God” theology from within confessional Christianity. All of these thinkers are well-read in the atheistic thinkers we looked at last week. This week’s confessional Christian thinkers remain sensitive to the idea that our beliefs in God speak about ourselves as much as any “God.”
But this week’s thinkers are interested in something that’s going on in the name “God.” Religion is an all-too-human thing…but there’s something going on in it that cannot be reduced to a mere reflection of ourselves. There’s some mysticism in here, but it’s not quite mysticism.
Thinkers this coming week include Karl Barth, Simone Weil, Barnett Newman, Gabriel Marcel, Jean-Luc Marion, and Paul Tillich.
Karl Barth’s critique of Christianity comes from the time of Nazi Germany. Especially in his commentary on Romans, Barth discusses what he calls “Krisis theology,” the idea that God is not what’s contained in religion, but God is what ruptures religion. Try to connect Jesus to a specific political party, and it’s eventually going to go bad; you’ll end up manipulated and deceived. What is going on in the name “God” can’t be reduced to any one ideology; if you try to reduce it to one, you’ll end up with nothing but projections of your own personal history.
Simone Weil was known as one of the greatest intellects of her generation in France. She was drawn to mysticism and identification with the poor, especially the proletariat during WWII. She said that religion opens up a space of not-having, a spatiality we cannot grasp, an unspeakable core that generates our desire. There’s some psychoanalysis in this, with desire as central to what it means to be human. She said the purpose of religion isn’t to give us God but to open us up to longing.
Barnett Newman, a secular Jew, created art that is partly a memorial to the Holocaust but also evokes the sense that something incredibly significant and transformative remains in the aftermath of suffering.
Gabriel Marcel absolutely embraces the modern human condition and the material world — but also says there is something irreducible to the material. Something shines through, something is happening, that stands apart from the universe we (think we) understand.
Jean-Luc Marion says we need experience with concept. Experience without concept is a sort of blindness, and concept without experience is empty. But what religion talks about is an experience that is beyond concept, an experience that concept cannot grasp.
Paul Tillich introduces two types of religion: narrow (Christianity, Buddhism, secularism, etc.) and universal. Universal is a type of “ultimate concern,” a call to commitment beyond our self-interest. Here, the best of religion speaks of something ultimate and true that we can never fully articulate. We’re always haunted by this “X” we cannot grasp.
These thinkers all embrace the functionalist critique of religion (religion as a form of talking about ourselves) — but to them, the crux is that we must go so deeply into religion until we find something irreducible. You cannot grasp the truth…but you can be grasped by the truth. You can never articulate justice, but you’re caught up in the pursuit of justice. You can’t articulate love, but you’re caught up in love. You can’t articulate God, but you’re caught up in seeking God.
Looking forward to this week!