Saturday, December 14, 2013

Modernity and Christianity - The Death of God (Part 3)


If this is your first time visiting this blog, thank you for stopping by! I highly recommend reading my introduction

Anyone who has ever blogged will know that a blog can take on a life of its own. Anticipating this eventuality will help stave off frustration. I feel like some topics I've written about earlier than I had originally planned and I've taken longer on other topics. The heart of this blog is my journey to Eastern Orthodoxy, much of it concerning the philosophic, and that is where I want to return with this post.

Read Part 1 and Part 2

In the first part of this series I asked the question: How did we go from cogito ergo sum to the madman's prophetic, Gott ist tot? I've already briefly mentioned Kant; nevertheless, I want to start with him and clear a path through German Idealism so we can arrive at Nietzsche's madman, who's public spectacle heralded the death of God.

Idealism dates back to Plato. Kant's idealism differed quite a bit from Plato's. The latter believed the true, real world are the universal Ideas or Forms, which existed beyond the physical. The concrete is merely a shadow of the eternal Forms.  Both Platonism and neo-Platonism were influential on the early church. A cursory glance will lead one to the conclusion that early Christianity quickly succumbed to Hellenism. Of course, this idea of a platonized Christian theology is not without merit; however, many of the great Church Fathers adapted language and terminology, not so much concepts to the point of syncretism--but to some this is a moot point. 

Kant modernized the Greek words noo├║menon and phainomenon, in English: noumenon and phenomenon. For Kant noumena are the objects of reality, the things-in-themselves which may exist but are beyond experience, they are unknowable. In Critique of Pure Reason, Kant explains that humans structure reality by "concepts of understanding", these concepts are innate categories. Like I said in the last part of this series, the average Anglo-American reader would think that a distinct subject-object relationship is the norm and what Kant proposes, the objects we perceive are products of the mind, foreign. Kantian epistemology is better understood when one allows for a difference between analytical and synthetic judgments.

In all judgments wherein the relation of a subject to the predicate is cogitated...this relation is possible in two ways. Either the predicate B belongs to the subject A, as somewhat which is contained (though covertly) in the conception of A; or the predicate B lies completely out of the conception of A, all though stands in connection with it. In the first instance, I term the judgment analytical, in the second, synthetical.  (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason)

He goes on to say that in regards to analytical judgments, the predicate and subject are based on identity and the synthetic are not. "All oncologists are doctors", is an analytical judgment, because if one can define both words, one understands that to be an oncologist is to be a doctor--doctor is contained within the definition of oncologist. You may recognize in the Kantian definition of analytical judgments the Thomistic explanation of self-evident propositions. Now, saying "All oncologists are rich" is synthetic because one would need to define both words and possess knowledge not contained within those definitions, i.e from experience. The analytical is not empirical, it "stands firm a priori." To further confuse things, there are synthetic a priori judgments, not just analytical, such as in the study of metaphysics.

According to Kant: "reason is the faculty which furnishes us with the principles of knowledge a priori...pure reason is the faculty which contains the principles of cognizing anything absolutely a priori." The transcendental disciplines are concerned with the mode of our cognition, not with the objects themselves; these modes are a prior.  These a priori modes allow the subject to interpret and give form and order to the empirical.  To clarify this I'm going to use Kant's conception of Time. Time is not an empirical conception, meaning it does not exist as an external entity, or does not subsist of itself, but is a form of intuition; man's ordering of things based on Time is really a product of the mind. Of course Kant is verbose when explaining this and goes more in depth.

What Kant did for philosophy is equal to what Copernicus did for astronomy, which is why he is credited for the Copernican Revolution, metaphorically speaking.

Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects. But all attempts to extend our knowledge of objects by establishing something in regard to them a priori, by means of concepts, have, on this assumption, ended in failure. We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge. This would agree better with what is desired, namely, that it should be possible to have knowledge of objects a priori, determining something in regard to them prior to their being given. We should then be proceeding precisely on the lines of Copernicus' primary hypothesis. Failing of satisfactory progress in explaining the movements of the heavenly bodies on the supposition that they all revolved round the spectator, he tried whether he might not have better success if he made the spectator to revolve and the stars to remain at rest. A similar experiment can be tried in metaphysics, as regards the intuition of objects. (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason)

The subject, the self-conscious, transcendent "I" is the center. No longer do we as subjects need to conform our knowledge to the external world, the "I" structures reality.

If you read my last blog post in this series you'll remember Thomas Reid. Kant's Idealism is diametrically opposed to Reid's common sense realism; whereas for the latter we have direct contact with the objects of reality, a subject-object dichotomy, for the former perceived objects are  products of the mind.

I find Kant's philosophy intriguing, even though I don't agree with all of it. His philosophy married the two dominate schools of thought of his day, rationalism and empiricism, and pushed modern philosophy forward, I believe, in a better direction than where the strict empiricists were taking it. The categorical imperative is a formidable foe of the utilitarians--anyone looking to read Kant for the first time (please don't limit yourself to what I wrote here, I covered the very, very basics of his thought) should start with his moral philosophy, read Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. However, he believed that faith should be within the limits of reason. Kant's religious views are oft disputed. Some Christians claim him while over looking his agnostic proclivities. While secularists and the non-religious practically raise him to "sainthood" while forgetting that he penned an argument for God's existence and spoke of God as the Moral Lawgiver and Jesus as a great teacher. Anyway, no matter what your opinion of Kant is, he had an enormous impact on modern thought. There's so much more we can talk about in regards to his philosophy but we need to move along to...

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Many consider Kant the father of German Idealism, Hegel is the next in line. He has to be the most  difficult, and therefore most misunderstood, thinkers in the history of philosophy. Some may say Nietzsche but I cast my vote with ol' Hegel. He's another one of those philosophers who's thought greatly interests me even thought I don't agree with most of it. As I said, Hegel is difficult to understand--greatly difficult, he's loathed by many philosophy majors for his, at times seemingly intentional, obfuscating prose. And, like some philosophers, differing groups try to claim him as their own. Protestants on one side, Marxists and other socialists on the other. Kierkegaard vehemently fought Hegel as though they were archenemies. Respected scholars and theologians such as Rowan Williams and Hans Urs von Balthasar have written about Hegel with an apparent nod of approval, albeit, while critically avoiding the pitfalls of his philosophy.  All of this is my way of prefacing the slightly more in depth look at Hegel's philosophy with the caveat: don't take what I say here as definitive, I may be misunderstanding and/or oversimplifying.

Acquainting oneself with Hegel, one quickly realizes that he is a philosopher of history. Not a philosopher who studies history as historical events but a philosopher who sees history as an unfolding of thought--this unfolding is towards the Absolute--the march of Spirit. If I could sum up Hegelian philosophy with just one word it would be dialectic because it is his philosophy insofar it brings into question negativity and its result in Spirit. According to Hegel, dialectic is not a force or a power but a result from these, or "the tremendous labor of the negative."

Hegelian philosophy has been branded totalitarian. It attempts an all encompassing knowledge and, if politicized, as Marx did, power. In the famous preface of Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel delineates the following tome of his philosophy--the Phenomenology sets the stage for Hegel's later work, I recommend at least reading the preface to this influential and controversial book.  He writes of the pure "I", even though this is a continuation of the Enlightenment project, Hegel is critical of his predecessors, especially Kant, who's entire thought is in the negative.

In my view, which can be justified only by the exposition of the system itself, everything turns on grasping and expressing the True, not only as Substance, but equally as Subject. At the same time, it is to be observed that substantiality embraces the universal, or the immediacy of knowledge itself, as well as that which is being or immediacy for knowledge. If the conception of God as the one Substance shocked the age in which it was proclaimed, the reason for this was on the one hand an instinctive awareness that, in this definition, self-consciousness was only submerged and not preserved. On the other hand, the opposite view, which clings to thought as thought, to universality as such, is the very same simplicity, is undifferentiated, unmoved substantiality. And, if, thirdly, thought does unite itself with the being of Substance, and apprehends immediacy or intuition as thinking[...]Further, the living Substance is being which is in truth Subject, or, what is the same, is in truth actual only in so far as it is the movement of positing itself, or is the mediation of its self-othering with itself. This Substance, is as Subject, pure, simple negativity, and for this reason the bifurcation of the simple; it is the doubling which sets up the opposition, and then again the negation of this indifferent diversity and its antithesis [...] Only this self-restoring sameness, or this reflection in otherness within itself--not an original or immediate unity as such--is the True. (Hegel, excerpt from Phenomenology of Spirit)

According to Hegel, Substance is Subject. This takes the idealism of Kant and Fichte further. With Kant objects existed but we can never really know them apart from the concepts of the mind. Hegel goes as far as to say the substance of things are the same as the Subject, the "I." The movement of the subject going out and back into itself resulting in a synthesis constitutes the movement. This is where Hegel's dialectic may have been misunderstood by many. The reading of Hegel as thesis + antithesis = synthesis is an inane. Unfortunately, this is a popularized understanding of Hegel, Marx even utilized this somewhat. I'm no expert but when I read the Phenomenology I did not understand the dialectic this way. I'm going to quote another blogger who, explains why this is a stupid and unrewarding way to read Hegel, I believe he says it best:

"It completely erases negativity from the dialectic. The antithesis of the thesis is not merely the opposite of the antithesis. It is its negation. That is, given the basic phenomenon of being, if we posit being as a thesis, nothing is not the antithesis because nothing is the opposite of being. rather, it is what happens when being grounds itself in itself as itself to the point that it can no longer be called "being." This is nothing. Furthermore, the synthesis of being and nothing is becoming not because becoming is something that interposes itself between being and nothing as a sort of "compromise" that will resolve both terms into one. Rather, it is again the grounding of nothing in itself (which was the grounding of being in itself) such that it can no longer be called "nothing," or, more accurately, "nothing-that-once-was-being." 

(Even though Hegel was not an apophatic thinker, one could almost arrive at the conclusion that he was, especially if one is familiar with apophaticism in the vein of Denys Turner. Even though I would say the similarities are merely superficial, I could see why one would think this)

 Starting with the most basic perception and moving along to self-consciousness (and ending in Absolute Knowing) through this dialetical "process", or movement, being grounds itself in itself as itself. Once the subject, in a way, grasps something which is other, it soon realizes that the other is same, this is a process of becoming ending in the Absolute. Hegel tells us that "The True is the whole. But the whole is nothing other than the essence consummating itself through its development. Of the Absolute it must be said that it is essentially a result, that only in the end is it what it truly is." Truth (knowledge) is totality. The Subject, the "I" is the becoming through mediation. This mediation is "nothing beyond self-moving selfsameness, or is reflection into self, the moment of the "I" which is pure negativity."

All which is other is mediated. Which to the ears and eyes of a classic theist or trinitarian sounds absurd. God who we say is wholly Other is nothing like us. How can God--the Other--be other if He is mediated? And according to Hegel, we recognize in the other sameness, and we apprehend that which is other, therefore, no longer being other. One can follow this to the inevitable conclusion that many other Hegelians or casual readers of Hegel have also come to. Being is grounded in itself. The Subject is at center. The "I" is Substance, is being--or "Nous, simplicity, is substance."

In the final chapter of this arduous book, Hegel reaches the point of Absolute knowledge. I'm going to share two excerpts from this section so you can see where Hegel's philosophy takes the reader:

The nature, movements and movement of this knowing have, then, shown themselves to be such that this knowing is a pure being-for-self of self-consciousness; it is 'I', that is this and no other 'I', and which is no less immediately a mediated or superseded universal 'I'. It has a content which it differentiates from itself; for it is pure negativity or the dividing of itself, it is consciousness.

And, then, he explains that all which is known is in experience, nothing is felt to be true, nor "given as an inwardly revealed eternal verity" which is considered sacred. Experience is...

the content--which is Spirit--is in itself substance, and therefore an object of consciousness [...] It is itself the movement which is cognition--the transforming of that in-itself into that which is for itself, of Substance into Subject, of the object of consciousness into an object of self-consciousness, i.e. into an object that is just as much superseded, or into the Notion.

Hegelian philosophy radically changed how we speak of Being and thought. Karl Raschke tells us that, "it transformed the critique of metaphysics into a metaphysics of self, where the divine is intimately and triumphantly posited as human thought thinking upon itself. The idea of Being as thought thinking upon itself, of course was Aristotle's original notion of how one comprehends God. But Hegel took the exceptional step of identifying God as Being with the philosophical possibilities of human thought[...]
For Hegel, thought and being are one and the same." If God has always been considered the source of being--or being-itself, as so many theologians have taught--then if Being is merely the Subject thinking upon itself (the apotheosis of thought) and for many God is Being, what does this mean for the concept of God?

And this is where we arrive at Gott ist tot. Nietzsche's famous prophetic madman, in a public frenzy, demands: "Whither is God? I will tell you. We have killed him--you and I. All of us our his murders."

He declares to the masses the death of God. He is dead! Some believe that the madman is Nietzsche. I agree with this. He is merely declaring something which he believes has happened but the crass and naive herd of people have yet to comprehend. His philosophy had quite an impact on the German intelligentsia but failed to come to fruition for nearly a century. In the 1960s there was a flood of postmodern philosophies and death of God theologies, all "thanks" to Nietzsche. 

The Enlightenment was iconoclastic. All authority and knowledge shifted to the rational, autonomous individual. God was relegated to First Cause of a mechanistic cosmos. For many morality is self-evident; for Kant God was the Moral Lawgiver, but even through his categorical imperative the rational individual could determine an ethical course. However, Hegel turned thinking into Being. This here is where God dies. If God was no longer the ground of all being, therefore Being, but man is the center of the cosmos, we essentially have no need for Him.

Nietzsche's death of God pronouncement is interpreted several ways. I side with those who interpret his critique as the death of the God of the philosophers. We have killed God--the First Cause, the Being who is comprehended by thought, who is apprehended by mere mortals...because through the philosophical process over centuries, and discoveries in science, we no longer need God. With the Scottish school of commonsense realism one's mind can come into direct contact with God; with Kantian idealism one is not entirely sure if God exists apart from the categories of the mind; with Hegelian speculative philosophy and dialect one's thoughts are being. God had already been pushed and corralled out of the world--nature runs like a machine--but God was still needed as the First Cause, and for many as the great Lawgiver, but as we saw with Hegel (and Darwin) He was no longer needed for that either. Even though many believe Nietzsche was an atheist (this is debatable), he understood that religion (he speaks of Christianity specifically) is based on an authoritative source, a moral ground, and if that authority is removed the whole structure will fall. The liberal Christianity of the day infuriated Nietzsche, the concepts rang hollow, it was idolatry.

Pascal carried a note with him at all times that basically said: Not the God of the philosophers but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

This was centuries before Nietzsche. Pascal knew then that the god of the philosophers was not the same as the God of Scripture--the Holy Trinity.

In this is a glimmer of hope...


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