Dialogues between Faith and Reason

Dialogues between Faith and Reason: The Death and Return of God in Modern German Thought

John H. Smith
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 328
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    Dialogues between Faith and Reason
    Book Description:

    In Dialogues between Faith and Reason, John H. Smith traces a major line in the history of theology and the philosophy of religion down the "slippery slope" of secularization-from Luther and Erasmus, through Idealism, to Nietzsche, Heidegger, and contemporary theory such as that of Derrida, Habermas, Vattimo, and Asad. At the same time, Smith points to the persistence of a tradition that grew out of the Reformation and continues in the mostly Protestant philosophical reflection on whether and how faith can be justified by reason. In this accessible and vigorously argued book, Smith posits that faith and reason have long been locked in mutual engagement in which they productively challenge each other as partners in an ongoing "dialogue."

    Smith is struck by the fact that although in the secularized West the death of God is said to be fundamental to the modern condition, our current post-modernity is often characterized as a "postsecular" time. For Smith, this means not only that we are experiencing a broad-based "return of religion" but also, and more important for his argument, that we are now able to recognize the role of religion within the history of modernity. Emphasizing that, thanks to the logos located "in the beginning," the death of God is part of the inner logic of the Christian tradition, he argues that this same strand of reasoning also ensures that God will always "return" (often in new forms). In Smith's view, rational reflection on God has both undermined and justified faith, while faith has rejected and relied on rational argument. Neither a defense of atheism nor a call to belief, his book explores the long history of their interaction in modern religious and philosophical thought.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6327-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. Introduction Logos, Religion, and Rationality
    (pp. 1-22)

    One can wonder, as did Erasmus, Lessing, and many others, whether this darkly profound sentence is in fact a good beginning for theological understanding of the nature of faith and Christianity. Its ambiguity and metaphorical richness have certainly encouraged two millennia of philosophical reflection, but clarification of meaning will hardly be forthcoming. ¹ However, if we are to understand how thinking about religion has unfolded over at least the past five hundred years, we must come to an appreciation of how this opening to the Gospel according to John has introduced a contradiction into the very foundation of Western/Christian religious...

  5. Chapter 1 Erasmus vs. Luther: Philo-logos vs. Faith
    (pp. 23-44)

    Throughout the 1520s, Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466–1536) and Martin Luther (1483–1546) engaged in one of the most heated and central debates of the early modern period. Given the occasional vehemence of its tone, this exchange, which the authors referred to under the rhetorical genre of “diatribe,” pushed the limits of what could even be considered a dialogue. It set out the basic arguments that separated a form of Christian Humanism from the more radical views of the Protestant Reformation.¹ The topic of the debate was the status of the free will, with Erasmus claiming in the opening salvo,...

  6. Chapter 2 God and the Logos of Scientific Calculation (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Pascal)
    (pp. 45-67)

    Luther, as we know, had his way. He insisted on promoting his “vital and eternal verity” and thereby brought about what he was prepared to endure: “even though the whole world should not only be thrown into turmoil and fighting, but shattered in chaos and reduced to nothing” ( Discourse on the Will, 108). A century of religious war and bloodshed ensued. But not only the Thirty Years’ War between Protestants and Catholics created the sense of chaos. The fragmenting within Protestantism and the generation of competing sects also brought about a profound sense of doctrinal confusion and conflict. The...

  7. Chapter 3 Kant: The Turn to Ethics as Logos
    (pp. 68-94)

    I open this chapter on Enlightenment theology and critique with two brief references to twentieth-century discussions in order to provide a contemporary context for the historical analyses to follow. At issue is the key relationship between religion and ethics. While for many, religion forms an indispensable foundation for ethics, Kant, we will see, inverts this priority to ground religious faith on rationalist moral principles.

    First, in his debate with a group of contemporary theologians, Jürgen Habermas discusses the need for theology in a “postmetaphysical” world like our own to “translate” the language of religious discourse into that of philosophy. While...

  8. Chapter 4 Hegel: Logos as Spirit (Geist)
    (pp. 95-119)

    We can get an initial sense of Hegel’s position within the long development of theological thought that we have been pursuing by considering again some passages from Goethe’s Faust that capture what Hegel would have called the “Bedürfnis seiner Zeit,” the lack in and need of his age, to which he was offering a philosophical response.¹ After Faust, the weary academic, quickly rejected the translation of “Word” ( Wort ) for logos, he turned instead to “sense/meaning” ( Sinn ). But sense, too, seemed, in principle, too abstract, and so Faust tried “force” ( Kraft ) before finally settling on...

  9. Chapter 5 Logos and Its Others: Feeling, the Abyss, Willing, and Kritik (Schleiermacher, Schelling, Schopenhauer, Feuerbach)
    (pp. 120-151)

    It should be clear from the last chapter that Hegel’s philosophy is one of the greatest modern attempts to save (Christian) religion by grounding the identity of logos and God in a notion of absolute spirit ( Geist ). It would seem, then, that to attack it would be to destroy the foundations of Christian faith. However, we will see in this chapter that four major responses and alternatives to Hegel argue that only by attacking the dominance and apparent self-sufficiency of rationality can the truly religious be understood and, perhaps, salvaged. Not that these four figures were somehow “outside”...

  10. Chapter 6 Nietzsche: Logos against Itself and the Death of God
    (pp. 152-174)

    Near the opening of his essay on religion, Derrida offers an initial definition of, or approach to, the singularity of religion: “Before even envisaging the semantic history of testimony, of oaths, of the given word (a genealogy and interpretation that are indispensable to Whomever hopes to think religion under its proper or secularized forms), before even recalling that some sort of ‘I promise the truth’ is always at work, and some sort of ‘I make this commitment before the other from the moment I address him,’ . . . we must formally take note of the fact that we are...

  11. Chapter 7 Being after the Death of God: Heidegger from Theo- to Onto-logos
    (pp. 175-204)

    So God is dead, the study of God and religion reduced to sociology, psychology, economics. Where do we go from here? Is there any way to “save” theology or the philosophy of religion or religion itself from being anything other than “historical” disciplines/phenomena that consider the past and since superseded beliefs? And what role could philosophy play? One option, we saw, was taken by the anti-Hegelians of the early to mid-nineteenth century: the radical withdrawal of belief into subjectivity and a critique of rationality. This represents a return to a pure Lutheranism, a rejection of both the historico-rational-critical direction started...

  12. Chapter 8 Dialectical Theology (Gogarten, Barth, Bultmann)
    (pp. 205-235)

    Western philosophy had taken its course and reached its end in the death of God. Theology and religion would have to be reconceived out of the collapse of logos. Indeed, this collapse was seen, after the disaster of the First World War, as the consequence of a three-hundredyear development of “modernity.” We will look at two attempts to formulate a theology in light of these developments, both decidedly post-Nietzschean and often in tandem with Heidegger. First, in this chapter, Protestant theology as it formed in the first half of the twentieth century (Gogarten, Barth, and Bultmann) and second, in the...

  13. Chapter 9 “Atheistic” and Dialogical Jewish Theologies of the Other (Rosenzweig and Buber)
    (pp. 236-257)

    At the same time as Heidegger was formulating his existential ontology out of a revision of Husserl’s phenomenology and Protestant theology was renewing itself through a critique of liberalism and historicism, Jewish thinkers were reconceptualizing the place of their tradition in relation to modern (esp. German) life. In fact, just as we have seen that the first two developments were mutually influential—e.g., the overlap between Heidegger and Bultmann, the prominence of the turn to Saint Paul after WWI, the focus on “decisionism”—so, too, the German-Christian- Jewish dialogue between philosophy and religion created a network of intersecting personages and...

  14. Chapter 10 Fides et Ratio: “Right Reason” and Europe in Contemporary Catholic Thought (Benedict XVI)
    (pp. 258-274)

    Beginning in the 1990s, both Pope John Paul II and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, published a series of encyclical letters, major writings, and highly publicized lectures in which they addressed what they considered the crisis of the contemporary period. Given the strong philosophical interests of these two religious leaders and scholars, it should come as no surprise that they offer a powerful version of the historical developments we have pursued up to this point. As we will see, however, their somewhat less “ironic” or “dialogical/dialectical” conception of the unfolding relationship between faith and reason than the one...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 275-292)
  16. Index
    (pp. 293-310)