Book Notes – Anatheism: Returning to God after God

Posted: August 5, 2014 by admin in Books
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Richard Kearney
This was a great book.  Kearney doesn’t get into faith development or stages of human development, but his writings would seem to pair well with that sort of thing.  My notes are below.
  • What do we mean when we speak of God? Omnipotent causality or self-emptying service?
  • “Home Rule is Rome Rule” (Irish saying)
  • Kearney > This will be an “anatheist space where the free decision to believe or not believe is not just tolerated by cherished.”
  • “Hermeneutics is a lesson in humility (we all speak from finite situations).”
  • “Hermeneutics reminds us that the holiest of books are works of interpretation—for authors no less than readers. Moses smashed the written tablets; Jesus never wrote a single word (only a scribble in the sand to prevent a woman being stoned); and Muhammad spoke, after much hesitation, but left writing to others. If Gods and prophets talk, the best we can do is listen—then speak and write in turn, always after the event, ana-logically and ana-gogically, returning to words already spoken and always needing to be spoken again.”
  • “God must die so that God might be reborn.”
  • “We choose to remake our story according to the history that makes us.” [more…]
One: Prelude
Introduction: God After God
  • “My wager throughout this volume is that it is only if one concedes that one knows virtually nothing about God that one can begin to recover the presence of holiness in the flesh of ordinary existence.”
  • “Even Christ found himself questioning his Father on the cross—“Why have you forsaken me?”—before he could return to renewed belief in life: “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
  • “Without non-knowing (a-gnosis) there would be no motivating urge to know more, to understand differently, to think otherwise, and therefore no possibility of seeking to re-cognize (ana-gnorisis) truth as it begins anew, again and again.”
  • “Philosophically speaking, therefore, the anatheist wager is marked by a moment of radicalized “innocence” (in-nocens) that opens the door to ulterior dimensions of truth. Without disorientation no reorientation.”
  • “The shortest route from wonder to wonder is loss.”
Chapter 1: The Uninvited Guest
  • Kearney discusses Abraham’s visitors (Genesis 18:14)
  • “But, if Abraham is the first prophet of strangeness, he is also the first to experience the temptation of closure: namely, the urge to confound the sacred with the tribe. The temptation, in short, to fold his tent and build a fortress. To reduce divinity to territory and thereby exclude the stranger.”
  • “Loving your Other is more divine than loving your own.”
  • The stranger is only subsequently recognized as the divine.
  • “If divinity moves toward us kataphatically in the face of the foreigner, it also absolves itself apophatically from the immediate grasp of cognition.”
  • The sacred cannot be embodied without openings towards the strangers.
  • Love of the guest becomes Love of God this is similar to Keegan’s subject becomes object = transformation
  • When Jesus insists he is the Way it is the Way of the Stranger, not the Sovereign
  • Islamic traditions honoring Stranger particularly Averroes
  • Kearney also explores the role of the stranger in Hafiz of Shiraz and Kabir Das.
  • Kabir: “If God be in the mosque, then to whom does this world belong?” (beautiful poem at loc 955)
  • “In the beginning was the Word; which means in the beginning was hermeneutics.”
  • A temporary athiesm is necessary to experience God as stranger.
Chapter 2: In the Wager, The Fivefold Motion
  • “When a great moment knocks on the door of your life it is often no louder than the beating of your heart and it is very easy to miss it.” – Pasternak in Letter to Olga
  • Five main components of the “anathiest wager”:
    • Imagination
    • Humor
    • Commitment
    • Discernment
    • Hospitality
  • Components are not necessarily sequential, but “equiprimordial aspects of a single hermenuetic arc.” They are complex, “shrouded in a halo of multilayered motions” and occur “in an instant.”
  • Imagination:
    • Withouth imagination there is no empathy between the self and other
    • Edith Stein: Empathy is the ‘experience of a foreign consciousness.’
    • Empathy can only work my analogy (or imagination) – imagining what it is like to be the other
  • Humor:
    • “By humor, I mean here the ability to encounter and compose opposites: what I see as impossible and possible at one and the same time.” Like Sarah’s laugh.
    • Let the inconceivable be conceived.
    • Bergson: Humor is a creative response to paradox/contradiction.
    • Humor shares a common root with human, humility, etc.
    • “Come and have breakfast” are not the first words the apostles expected to hear from their risen Messiah! (John 21:12)
    • Drama of the “Holy Fool disappearing in presence and reappearing in absence.” (Jesus)5cz x
    • Humor, in this sense, is deep humility before the meaning carried by a divine stranger
    • Eckhardt: “God told me a joke and seeing him laugh taught me more than all the Scriptures.”
    • Grand Inquisitors are incapable of laughing
    • “We laugh or weep when we do not know.”
  • Commitment
    • This is the moment of “Here I Am”
    • We don’t know the truth, but we do the truth.
    • “Orthopraxis precedes orthodoxy. Trust precedes theory. Action precedes abstraction.”
    • Commitment is metanoia
    • Performative truth
  • Discernment
    • Faith leaps are not irrational, but considered.
    • Every seeing is a “seeing as”
    • Prayer is attention to otherness
    • “Discernment is a matter of prereflective carnal response to the advent of the Other before it becomes a matter of reflective cognitive evaluation.”
    • Discernment begins with the carnal and emotional; even the unconscious
  • Hospitality
    • The knowledge embedded in other elements (e.g., discernment, humor) doesn’t necessarily trump love.
    • “Love God (the Stranger) and love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • Interreligious Hospitality
    • Linguistic hospitality is the translation of the language of particular confessions between one another
    • Eucharistic hospitality is the acceptance/translation of the self
    • Scriptural interreligious moments: Moses taking an African spouse; Solomon embracing the Shulammite woman; Jesus greeting the Samaritan woman at the well
    • “Crossreading” is a core principle of interreligious hermeneutics.
    • It involves and endless and reversible process of translation between one religion and the next. The aim isn’t unitary fusion, but enhancement.
    • “Only through the shock of affinity through alterity does something new emerge.”
    • At location 1235, see powerful paragraph on interreligious syntopical readings which accomplish the shock referenced above
    • “God may be described as a postdogmatic God”
    • “The greatest danger for religion is to assume sovereign power.”
    • “Theodicy and theocracy are miscreant offspring of theistic Sovereignty”
    • “Jesus resists all attempts to apprehend him in a categorical way. In fact it is only the “demons who claim to know Jesus.”
    • “Christian caritas, as a refusal of exclusivist power, is a summons to endless kenosis”
    • I suggest finally, that we may opt to read the frequent injunctions against idols and graven images in both Judaism and Islam. Namely, as a refusal to possess the sacredness of the wholly Other in anthropomorphic projections.”
    • “Anatheism cherishes the Siamese twins of theism and atheism and celebrates the fertile tension between them.”
Chapter 3: In the Name: After Auschwitz Who Can Say God?
  • “Elie Wiesel sounded the deathknell of conventional theism—namely, the belief in an omnipotent God—when he famously declared that “God” died on the hangman’s rope at Auschwitz. I put God in inverted commas here because the God who died was the Omni-God of celestial Might: the divine grand master who sustained triumphalist notions of religion for millennia.”
  • “The idea that God orchestrates good and evil alike was no longer tolerable.”
  • “no theological statement should be made that could not be credible in the presence of burning children. For what could you say about an omnipotent God when an innocent infant is burning alive? Nothing” (Rabbi Irving Greenberg)
  • “Citing the famous Hasidic line that ‘no heart is so whole as a broken heart,’ Greenberg adds that ‘no faith is so whole as a broken faith.'”
  • as the old Talmudic adage had it, to the completion of the seventh day of Creation. (Yahweh himself was unable to accomplish it without becoming a God of Totality.
  • Post-Holocaust faith does not believe that God could have stopped the torture—and didn’t. It believes that a Messiah will only come (or come back) “when we are able, ready and willing to bring the Messiah.”
  • “we may save the divine ‘name’ by refusing to determine its content.”
  • God is weak and powerless in the world and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt 8.17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering. (Etty Hillesum)
  • “The Bible directs man to God’s powerlessness and suffering; only the suffering God can help.” (Etty Hillesum)
  • “Ours is without doubt the time when humanity is connected to God by his silence and his absence.”
  • “Resurrection is to be understood accordingly as the event that returns us to the world.”
  • It is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith…. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gethsemane. (Bonhoeffer)
  • “In other words, when Christ said “it is finished,” he meant it.”
Chapter 4: In the Flesh: Sacramental Imagination
  • Kearney > Husserl, Heidegger, and other phenomenologists don’t actually return to the things themselves but in their talking about the things in themselves in abstract terms remain captive to transcendence. Monty Merleau-Ponty (MMP) is the first phenomenologist to actually return to the things themselves.
  • MMP: “The same way the sensible has not only a motor and vital significance, but is nothing other than a certain way of being in the world suggested to us from some point in space, and seized and acted upon by our body, provided that it is capable of doing so, so that sensation is literally a form of communion.”
  • In quote above, MMP makes an case by analogy – things affect us the same way grace does in communion
  • “My point is that, from a philosophically agnostic viewpoint, he [MMP] offers an intriguing phenomenological interpretation of eucharistic embodiment as recovery of the divine within the flesh, a kenotic emptying out of transcendence into the heart of the world’s body, becoming a God beneath us rather than a God beyond us.”
  • MMP: “He is not simply a principle of which we are the consequence, a will whose instruments we are, or even a model of which human values are the only reflection. There is a sort of impotence of God without us, and Christ attests that God would not be fully God without becoming fully man. Claudel goes so far as to say that God is not above but beneath us—meaning that we do not find Him as a suprasensible idea, but as another ourself which dwells in and authenticates our darkness. Transcendence no longer hangs over man; he becomes, strangely, its privileged bearer.”
  • MMP: “some Christians might agree that the other side of things must already be visible in the environment in which we live.”
  • “From the moment when we say that God is Being, it is clear that in a certain sense God alone is” [quoting Étienne Gilson].
  • MMP: “To posit God as Being [in the metaphysical sense] is to bring about a negation of the world.”
  • Kearney phrase: “Kingdom of as-if”
  • Kristeva: Notion of “tran-substantiation” (building on MMP’s analogy) bridges the false divide of transcendence and immanence [Todd: My interpretation of a dense passage from Kearney explaining Kristeva; may not be quite right]
  • According to Max Scheler, St. Francis of Assisi’s major contribution was to “combine love of God with a sense of union of love for God the Father to embrace ‘all the lower orders of nature,’ while at the same time uplifting Nature into the glory of the divine.”
Chapter 5: In the Text: Joyce, Proust, Woolf
  • Kearney of these three authors: “A sense of transcendence is alive in their work, I will argue, but it is one inscribed in everyday immanence. Mystery is preserved, even celebrated, not as ecclesiastical dogma but as a mystical affirmation of incarnate existence: Word made Flesh in the ordinary universe.”
  • “The anatheist paradigm may allow it [art] be both at once: religion as art and art as religion.”
  • Kearney: Epiphanies are “the consecration of ordinary moments of flesh and blood thisness as something strange and enduring.”
  • Ephiphany: “It constitutes an event of semantic reinvention where the impossible is transfigured into the newly possible.”
  • Word: kairological
  • “Formula of the Passover/Eucharist” “remembers a moment of saving while at the same time anticipating a future (“until he comes”).
  • ‘At the beginning of Ulysses the question is asked: “What is God?” To which Stephen replies: “A cry in the street.”’
  • Eckhart: “The abandonment of God so as to recover a God beyond God.”
  • Etty Hillesum: “by excluding death from one’s life we deny ourselves the possibility of a full life.”
  • Word: cryptotheists
  • “All hallows to Halloween, St. Nicholas to Santa Claus, or the Mass of Christ to the commercial holiday of Christmas”
Chapter 6: In the World: Between the Secular and Sacred
  • How do anatheists in a secular age respond to the question, “What is to be done?”
  • Bonhoeffer: “secular and sacred are not opposed but find their unity in Christ….that which is Christian is to be found only in the natural, the holy only in the profane.”
  • Stanislas Breton & Gianni Vattimo both show “how a kenotic moment of ‘nothingness’ and ’emptiness’ resides at the core of a postmetaphysical faith.’ But it isn’t the last word, “abandonment leads back to action, surrender resurfaces as service.”
  • Vattimo: “the Incarnation as God’s relinquishing of all power so as to turn everything over to the secular order: the hallowing of everyday existence”
  • Vattimo: secularization is the “constitutive trait of authentic religious experience.”
  • “W. H. Auden actually held that the point of psychology and psychoanalysis was to ‘prove the Gospel.’ For the natural need to break from the authority of one’s parents involves ‘liberation from the superego, obeyed like the parents whom Christ enjoined us to abandon.’ When asked once about Freud’s influence on his work, he relied that it was the same as what he had learned from the Agony in the Garden.”
  • W.H. Auden: “Thou shalt love God and thou shalt be happy mean the same thing.” Kearney continues, “which is not to deny suffering but to always be thankful for what is.”
  • Auden: “At the last supper, [Christ] took eating, the most elementary act of all, the primary act of self-love, the only thing not only man but all living creatures must do irrespective of species, sex, race or belief, and made it the symbol of universal love.”
  • Auden: “I wondered why I reacted as I did against the [Nazi] denial of every humanistic value. The answer brought me back to the Church.”
  • In The Scapegoat, Girard argues that the only way to combat this is to put our natural violent instincts into check and welcome rather than kill the stranger.  In other words, the antidote to the atavistic instinct for repetitive bloodletting is to acknowledge our guilt and make the radical choice for gracious hospitality over cyclical hostility.”
  • Gilles Deleuze: “God became the animal that was slain [lamb], instead of the animal that does the slaying [lion].”
  • “As if the recognition of God as a ‘nothing and nobody’ enables us to identify with the nothings and nobodies of this world in a movement of loving revolt.”
  • Messiah = “broken reed”
  • Irenaeus: “For what is God if not us fully alive?”
  • “The sacrilization of the secular needs to be supplemented by the secularization of the sacred.”
  • Panikkar: Only secularization can prevent the sacred from becoming life denying, while only sacralization can prevent the secular from becoming banal
  • “The anatheist task, I submit, is to avoid both 1) a dualism that opposes secular and sacred and 2) a monism that collapses them into one.”
  • “Panikkar speaks accordingly of a ‘sacred secularity’ that allows us to reinterpret the secular in such a way that faith becomes a commitment not to some transcendental otherworld but to a deep temporality in which the divine dwells as a seed of possibility calling to be made ever more incarnate in the human and natural world.”
  • “Democratic tolerance does not, therefore, demand a total repudiation of beliefs, Islamic or otherwise, but a modest willingness to expose one’s beliefs to constant examination (in dialogue with others). This, as Fred Dallmayr reminds us, is not relativism but relationism.
  • “To understand God as sovereign rather than stranger is to render divine power all to easily transferable to theocratic power.”
  • Theocratic power enables authoritarian rule
  • “Sovereigns are mirrors of the sovereignty of God”
  • Phrase: “As utopian as the squaring of the circle.” (Hannah Arendt)
  • “There is no reason why democracy should be inherently Western and Absolutism inherently Muslim.” (Lahouari Adi)
  • Anatheism “begins and ends with the epiphany of the divine in the face of the stranger.”
  • See summary of Eastern golden rules on pg 149
  • “The readiness to translate back and forth between ourselves and strangers – without collapsing the distinction between host and guest languages is, I submit, one of the best recipes to promote nonviolence and prevent war.”
Chapter 7: In the Act: Between Word and Flesh
  • “If you have an eye for it, the world itself is a sacrament.” (Augustine)
  • “In each of our lives, Jesus comes as the bread of life – to be eaten, to be consumed by us. Then Jesus comes in our human life as the hungry one, the other, hoping to be fed with the bread of our life.” (Teresa of Calcutta)
  • “contemporary materialism neglects the glory of matter.”
  • We are thus confronted with two visions of society: “a vision of the pyramid, where you have to have more and more power in order to get to the top, or a vision of a body where every person has a place.” (Jean Vanier) {log: I Cor}
  • Gandhi “He saw all spiritual paths as “different roads converging on the same point.”
Conclusion: Welcoming Strange Gods
  • The feeling remains that God is on the journey too. (Teresa of Avila)
  • Anatheism is “amor mundi, love of the life-world as embodiment of infinity in the finite, of transcendence in immanence, of eschatology in the now.”
  • In anatheism, the secular and sacred are not synonymous, but deeply interrelated and inseparable.
  • Max Sheler: “A secret resentment underlies every way of thinking which attributes creative power to mere negation and criticism.”
  • “The deployment of a biological term like virus to indiscriminately describe all theists is, I think, disingenuous, especially if you consider how this might sound if one replaced theist with black or Jew or immigrant.”
  • “The Bible, like most spiritual texts, is an assembly of fables, histories, chronicles, polemics, letters, and moral teachings as well as some inevitably primitive prejudices and errors.”
  • “Anatheism welcomes robust critiques of religion wherever religion makes the “category mistake” of trying to explain the world scientifically (e.g., creationism). There is a difference between history and story, and to read sacred texts as if they were records of verifiable or falsifiable “facts” is to misread them. Abraham’s followers told stories—as Thomas Mann brilliantly illustrated in Joseph and His Brothers—and these holy narratives were never meant to be treated as literal, scientific accounts. Theistic fundamentalists are as guilty of this error as atheistic fundamentalists. For both refuse the hermeneutic complexity of truth claims.”
  • “The shortest route from self to self is through the other.”
  • “Precisely here we discover a complementary partnership between an inner move to inef-fable mystery and an outer move to enlightened awareness. And it is at this anatheist chiasmus, I would argue, that theism and atheism can become, once again, allies.”
  • “In encountering strange Gods we are invited to discover hidden aspects of our own God (often congealed in convention);”
  • “For at the edge of every liaison between self and stranger there remains that “untranslatable kernel,” that irreducible enigma that resists complete assimilation into a home whose doors could be definitively closed. This fundamental alterity is what makes reconciling religions at once necessary and inadequate. There is always something more to be said and understood, some inexhaustible residue never to be known.”
  • “The glory of God is each and every one of us fully alive.” -Irenaeus
  • “anatheism might be said to serve more often as an adjective (or adverb) than a noun.”

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