In Praise of Heteronomy: Making Room for Revelation

In Praise of Heteronomy: Making Room for Revelation

In Praise of Heteronomy: Making Room for Revelation

In Praise of Heteronomy: Making Room for Revelation

Synopsis

Recognizing the essential heteronomy of postmodern philosophy of religion, Merold Westphal argues against the assumption that human reason is universal, neutral, and devoid of presupposition. Instead, Westphal contends that any philosophy is a matter of faith and the philosophical encounter with theology arises from the very act of thinking. Relying on the work of Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel, Westphal discovers that their theologies render them mutually incompatible and their claims to be the voice of autonomous and universal reason look dubious. Westphal grapples with this plural nature of human thought in the philosophy of religion and he forwards the idea that any appeal to the divine must rest on a historical and phenomenological analysis.

Excerpt

Marcion was a second-century Christian heretic. He sharply distinguished Yahweh, the God of the Hebrew scriptures, a vengeful, tribal demiurge, from the loving, universal God of Jesus. of course, in order to refashion Christianity along these lines he had to either ignore or delete from his canon the judgment parables of Jesus and Paul’s teaching about the wrath of God. Pick and choose.

Freud rather tendentiously equates theistic religion with a kind of Marcionite theology. Like dreams, religion is about wish fulfillment. So, “We shall tell ourselves that it would be very nice if there were a God who created the world and was a benevolent Providence, and if there were a moral order in the universe and an after-life but it is a very striking fact that all this is exactly as we are bound to wish it to be.”

Not quite. That moral order of the universe might not be too friendly when we are the immoral ones. So we tweak this theology. “Over each one of us there watches a benevolent Providence which is only seemingly stern”—at least so far as we are concerned. So far as our enemies are concerned, or even those who are just different, we are quite happy to see evil punished with rigor. Which leads to a second amendment of the original dream, moving from “me” to “us.” in relation to this Father we would like “at least to be his only beloved child, his Chosen People.” This takes us to “the historical beginnings of the idea of God.” Freud is obviously speaking of his own Jewish people at the source of Abrahamic monotheism. “Very much later, pious America laid claim to being . . .

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