Overcoming Onto-Theology: Toward a Postmodern Christian Faith

Overcoming Onto-Theology: Toward a Postmodern Christian Faith

Merold Westphal
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 306
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  • Book Info
    Overcoming Onto-Theology: Toward a Postmodern Christian Faith
    Book Description:

    Overcoming Onto-theology is a stunning collection of essays by Merold Westphal, one of America's leading continental philosophers of religion, in which Westphal carefully explores the nature and the structure of a postmodern Christian philosophy. Written with characteristic clarity and charm, Westphal offers masterful studies of Heidegger's early lectures on Paul and Augustine, the idea of hermeneutics, Schleiermacher, Hegel, Derrida, and Nietzsche, all in the service of building his argument that postmodern thinking offers an indispensable tool for rethinking Christian faith. A must read for every student and professor of continental philosophy and the philosophy of religion, Overcoming Onto-theology is an invaluable collection that brings together in one place fourteen provocative and lucid essays by one of the most important thinkers working in American philosophy today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4733-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xxiv)

    Some of the best philosophers whom I count among my friends are postmodernists. But they do not share my faith. Others of the best philosophers whom I count among my friends share my faith. But they are not postmodernists. Decidedly not. At varying degrees along a spectrum that runs from mildly allergic to wildly apoplectic, they are inclined to see postmodernism as nothing but warmed-over Nietzschean atheism, frequently on the short list of the most dangerous anti-Christian currents of thought as an epistemological relativism that leads ineluctably to moral nihilism. Anything goes. When it comes to postmodern philosophy and Christian...

  5. 1 Overcoming Onto-theology
    (pp. 1-28)

    Not long ago I participated in a conference on biblical hermeneutics. It asked about the relation between trust and suspicion for Christians reading the Bible. The keynote addresses by Walter Brueggemann and Phyllis Trible were brilliant. But for me the highlight of the conference was the workshop led by Ched Myers, whose radical reading of the gospel of Mark is one of the finest pieces of biblical interpretation I have ever read.² To be more precise, the highlight was the moment in the middle of the workshop when he had us sing.

    He was developing the claim that biblical interpretation...

  6. 2 Heidegger’s “Theologische” Jugendschriften
    (pp. 29-46)

    Early Heidegger is proving to be every bit as interesting as early Hegel. In both cases the posthumously publishedJugendschriftenare of intrinsic interest as well as providing invaluable keys to the subsequent writings. Heidegger’s postwar lectures as Privatdocent in Freiburg (KNS 1919 to SS 1923) have already appeared in volumes 56–59, 61, and 63 of theGesamtausgabe. Now volume 60 appears under the titlePhänomenologie des religiösen Lebens. It consists of (1) “Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion,” a lecture course from WS 1920–21 based on fiveNachschriften(IPR); (2) “Augustine and Neoplatonism,” a lecture course from...

  7. 3 Hermeneutics As Epistemology
    (pp. 47-74)

    Richard Rorty announces the end of epistemology in part 3 ofPhilosophy and the Mirror of Nature, entitled “From Epistemology to Hermeneutics.” He makes it clear that he is not offering, with help from Quine and Sellars, a new and better epistemology but a complete abandonment of the whole idea of a theory of knowledge, for which no legitimate task can be identified.⁴

    What Rorty repudiates as epistemology he associates strongly with Descartes, Locke, and Kant. As is clear from the above citations, the three of them contribute toward identifying epistemology with the broad, generic task of reflecting on the...

  8. 4 Appropriating Postmodernism
    (pp. 75-88)

    Once upon a time, not yesterday, but not so very long ago, I’m told, there was a minister in the Reformed tradition whose sermons all had three points. In itself that is not unusual, but in this case they were the same three points, regardless of the text. Each text was expounded in terms of (1) what it said against the Arminians, (2) what it said against the papists, and (3) what it said against the modernists.

    It would no doubt be going too far to call this zealous preacher a postmodernist. But he certainly was persistent in expressing his...

  9. 5 Christian Philosophers and the Copernican Revolution
    (pp. 89-105)

    Should Christian philosophers be favorably or unfavorably disposed toward Kantian idealism? I want to suggest that they should be favorably disposed, that there are important affinities between Kantian idealism and Christian theism—important resources in the former for expressing themes essential to the latter.

    This is not a majority report. Christian philosophers, both Catholic and Protestant, have often felt a strong need to be realists and have exhibited a correspondingly strong allergic reaction to Kantian idealism in all its forms. No student of Art Holmes is likely to say that there is only one way to be a Christian philosopher;...

  10. 6 Totality and Finitude in Schleiermacher’s Hermeneutics
    (pp. 106-127)

    We can take “root and all, and all in all” to be poetic longhand for ‘completely’ and “God and man” to be a synecdoche for ‘all there is, the totality of being’. The poet says, in effect, “If I could understand the tiniest partcompletely, I would understand the whole show.” On the other side of this coin we find the holist, telling the poet, “Yes, and unless you know the totality of being and know it completely, you cannot understand any of its parts aright.”

    Like Spinoza and Hegel, Schleiermacher is a holist par excellence, especially by virtue of...

  11. 7 Positive Postmodernism As Radical Hermeneutics
    (pp. 128-147)

    Hermeneutics is the form in which epistemology lives on. In one sense epistemology is dead. As the attempt to provide human knowledge with solid foundations, to prove that it can transcend the limitations of its perspectives and be adequate to the reality it intends, it is widely perceived to have failed. As the extravagant claims for clarity, certainty, and completeness necessary forEpistemeorWissenschafthave proved chimerical even for the paradigms of mathematics and mathematical physics, the notion that epistemology is a bad habit that needs to be broken has increasingly carried the day. But as an investigation into...

  12. 8 Father Adam and His Feuding Sons: An Interpretation of the Hermeneutical Turn in Continental Philosophy
    (pp. 148-175)

    The story of the hermeneutical turn in continental philosophy can be told in almost biblical terms. In the place of Father Adam (or Father Isaac) we have Father Heidegger, and in the place of the feuding sons, Cain and Abel (or Jacob and Esau), we have, at least according to one telling, the reactionary son, Gadamer, and the radical son, Derrida.¹

    I find this reactionary/radical dichotomy at least as misleading as it is illuminating.² It is perhaps one of those hierarchical dyads that needs to be deconstructed. But, following the old preacher’s adage, “a text without a context is a...

  13. 9 Deconstruction and Christian Cultural Theory: An Essay on Appropriation
    (pp. 176-196)

    The prospects do not seem bright for an appropriation of postmodern insights in the service of a Cluistian interpretation and critique of contemporary culture. Philosophical postmodernism is widely seen as being, at best, the moral equivalent of leprosy and, at worst, the moral equivalent of AIDS. The need to demonize runs deep. How else do we persuade ourselves, in spite of the evidence to the contrary, that we are really good, the last, best hope of the world? So it is that the temptation to lump postmodernism together with Hitler and Stalin is simply irresistible to some.

    For example, Michael...

  14. 10 Laughing at Hegel
    (pp. 197-218)

    Early inOf Grammatology, Derrida tells us that he is an Hegelian—of sorts:

    The horizon of absolute knowledge is the effacement of writing in the logos, the retrieval of the trace in parousia, the reappropriation of difference, the accomplishment of what I have elsewhere called themetaphysics of the proper.

    Yet all that Hegel thought within this horizon, all, that is, except eschatology, may be reread as a meditation on writing. Hegel isalsothe thinker of irreducible difference.¹

    One of the places where Hegel is a thinker of difference is in his critique of immediacy. The famous chapter...

  15. 11 Derrida As Natural Law Theorist
    (pp. 219-228)

    Postmodern philosophy in general and Derridian deconstruction in particular are rightly perceived as the most sustained critique of metaphysics since logical positivism. Since it is within the natural law traditions, ancient, medieval, and modern, that ethics is most unabashedly metaphysical, the title of this essay will appear to many as simply oxymoronic.

    But there is a difference between positivism and postmodernism that must not be lost sight of. In the former case it was the proponents and practitioners of the position who insisted that the overthrow of metaphysics was also the end of ethics in any objective sense, leaving ethics...

  16. 12 Faith As the Overcoming of Ontological Xenophobia
    (pp. 229-255)

    “My Pa can lick your Pa!” Thus, once upon a time, did aspiring machismo seek vicarious victory over its enemies.

    There is something of an echo of this boast in the claim “My God is more radically other than your God!” The wording may not be as fully explicit in the second case, but the transfer of excellence from the greater to the lesser is, if anything, more satisfying. For when I make this claim I not only bask in the transcendent glory of this glorious transcendence—I take credit for seeing and saying this otherness better than you. Thus...

  17. 13 Divine Excess: The God Who Comes After
    (pp. 256-284)

    The title of Calvin Schrag’s splendid little bookThe Self after Postmodernity¹ makes explicit his assumption that the postmodern assault on the self as conceived by major strands within the western philosophical tradition is not an abolition, not a annihilation without remainder. Schrag’s work is inspired in large part by Paul Ricoeur’s attempt, among the shards of the “shattered cogito,” to develop a “hermeneutics of the self [that] is placed at an equal distance from the apology of the cogito and from its overthrow … at an equal distance from the cogito exalted by Descartes and from the cogito that...

  18. 14 Nietzsche As a Theological Resource
    (pp. 285-302)

    Not every construal of the theological enterprise will be able to entertain the possibility of Nietzsche as a resource, if not exactly an ally. For example, if theology interprets itself onto-theologically, it will be unable to see any ambiguity or irony in his self-designations as immoralist and anti-Christ. They will simply be the literal confessions of a loathed enemy. The possibility of Nietzsche asancilla theolugiaepresupposes at least an interruption of the interpretation of theology in onto-theo-logical terms.

    Heidegger himself suggests that there might be theological motives for such an interruption. Speaking ian Pascalian tone of voice about the...

  19. INDEX
    (pp. 303-306)