Academic journal article Philosophy Today

"In the Beginning Was the Word": Reply to Forum on Return Statements: The Return of Religion in Contemporary Philosophy

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

"In the Beginning Was the Word": Reply to Forum on Return Statements: The Return of Religion in Contemporary Philosophy

Article excerpt

How are we to think about faith today, and does that mean thinking faithfully?" This is the question that frames Matthew Wickman's reply to Return Statements, and I believe, also underlies some basic assumptions in the response by David Newheiser as well. I take both questions seriously and will try to be less elusive for the purposes of this forum. To begin, I feel there is a need to make some preliminary clarifications; first, concerning my invocation of "skepticism," especially given that the term has been associated over the last two centuries with disbelief. In his influential study of the History of Skepticism, Richard H. Popkin shows that many of the most notable skeptics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries asserted, almost unanimously, that they were sincere believers in the Christian religion. The true opposition of the seventeenthcentury skeptic, influenced by the recovery of the original Greek Pyrrhonian sources, was not "faith" but "dogmatism" (Of course, this paved the way for Hume and the crise pyrrhonienne.) Unlike Academic skepticism, however, which came to a negative conclusion from its doubts, Pyrrhonian skepticism made no such assertion, merely saying that skepticism is "a purge that eliminates everything including itself."1 I think this original context is important because it seems there is still some confusion between a statement of negative dogmatism-or its modern tradition, negative theology-and a rigorously skeptical position regarding the question of faith. In other words, what I attempt to recover from a more ancient and pre-Christian attitude of skepsis is neither radical doubt, nor the negation of the positivity of faith, but rather a "suspension of judgement" concerning the destination of both "philosophy" and "religion" in a post-9/11 world.

How does this earlier skeptical attitude relate to the contemporary present described variously as "post-secular" and/or "post-critical"? For example, Matthew Wickman employs the distinction between the affective moods of skepticism and suspicion that is offered by Rita Felski: "Skepticism . . . implies a world view, a metaphysics or anti-metaphysics. Suspicion, however, denotes an affective orientation-one that inspires differing lines of argument and that does not always terminate in the grand abyss of radical doubt"2 Of course, skepticism, ancient or modern, never implies a metaphysical worldview, which would be a contradiction in terms, and it would be difficult to ascribe to a seventeenth-century skeptic like Pierre Bayles the term "anti-metaphysical" since this claim hails from a modern period of philosophy after Nietzsche and Heidegger. Returning to Felski's definition, I would simply note a difference of degree, or affective intensity: skepticism leads to "the grand abyss of radical doubt" whereas suspicion is a more "credulous" affective mood that inspires pluralism. In the fifth "return statement" (on what I call "philosophical fundamentalisms") I trace a similar difference of intensity by referring to a statement that appears in Heidegger's 1927-1928 lecture course in Marburg: "theology is a positive science, and as such, therefore, is absolutely different from philosophy."3 Heidegger's precise use of the term "absolute" refers to a difference that is not soluble, that cannot be mixed up, diluted, or watered down. It is for this reason, as he states later on, that faith is "the mortal enemy" (Todfeind) of philosophy and, consequently, there can be no "Christian philosophy," which is famously likened to a "squared circle."

And yet, I then observed in contemporary philosophy what appeared, at least upon first glance, to be a concerted attempt to leap outside the squared circle of the absolute difference between theology and philosophy. Not only is there something that could be called "Christian philosophy," and even "Christian deconstruction," but I also noted how many so-called philosophers are reading the Christian Bible again with a renewed and somewhat peculiar fervor, including professed atheists such as Žižek and Badiou. …

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