Archive for the ‘Nietzsche’ Category

Jungel – God as the Mystery of the World (Part II)

06/28/2011

Eberhard Jüngel’s God as the Mystery of the World is a remarkable book, ranging impressively from constructive appropriations of the theologies of Hegel and Bonhoeffer, particularly their understanding of the incarnation, to theological evaluations of atheism in Nietzsche, Fichte, and Feuerbach, and to masterly and original theological insights on the analogous talk of God (which he carries out adroitly in conversation with Barth), all while trying to avoid a simplistic dichotomy between theism and atheism. Perhaps the only real weakness in the book is that it’s missing a discussion with, or even mention of, Altizer, given that so much of its contents centre around discussing the meaning of the death of God. Jungel also represents one the finest example of constructively building of Bonhoeffer’s theology in the Barthian tradition, which seems to some degree to have ignored some of Bonhoeffer’s more radical insights (although I realize there are somewhat different schools of thought regarding how one should interpret Bonhoeffer’s corpus, particularly his famous Letters).

Although this is becoming something of a platitude in prefaces to my posts, I would like to note that this book is peculiarly difficult to summarize, although, to be fair, this is probably due as much to my poor skills of summarization as it does with Jüngel’s distaste for succinctness. As an example of Jüngel’s work, I want to isolate a small section where he discusses Nietzsche and Paul together on his chapter of the unity of perishability and God.

Jüngel speaks of this antithesis between the metaphysical conception of God, which cannot think God as anything other than totally apathetic and immutable and cannot, consequently, think of God as crucified. Paul’s understanding of God, Nietzsche astutely realized, was not a continuation or a mere revision of the God concept understood thusly. It was its complete negation, deus, qualem Paulis, creavit, dei negation (205).  The “God” who Paul creates as the crucified one, the God who is the sole source of discussion in the apostolic literature, is a God who confounds the wisdom of the world. As Jungel writes, “For Paul, the Crucified One is weak, subject to death” (206).  This thinking of God as weak – of linking perishability with God – was not a source of sorrow for Paul. On the contrary, this is the centre of the gospel, the source of joy and rejoicing. Jungel notes that, for Paul, there is one phenomenon that does not see a contradiction between power and weakness: love. (One could, consequently, read God as the Mystery of the World as a commentary on the statement “Deus caritas est” from John’s Epistle). “It is the unity of power and weakness, and such is certainly the most radical opposite of the will to power which cannot affirm weakness. Pauline ‘theology of the cross’ (theologia crucis) is, accordingly, the most stringent rejection of all deification of self-willing power” (206). For Nietzsche, even if this God was true he could not believe in him (ibid).

This robust logic understanding of the incarnation, the logic of which Jüngel outlines with the help of Nietzsche, Paul et al, is for me the most impressive part of Jüngel’s work. Jüngel has no fear of exploring the consequences of the death of God. Few are the theologians who truly pursue the logic of the incarnation to its end.

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A Nietzschean Critique of Psychoanalysis

06/28/2010

“Man, as the animal that is most courageous, most accustomed to suffering, does not negate suffering as such: he wants it, even seeks it out, provided one shows him some meaning in it, some wherefore of suffering” (On the Genealogy of Morals, 136).

Nietzsche was right: man is hungry for meaning. Man will go to the furthest extremes to deny the meaninglessness of life. I think here we can begin to offer a critique of a certain way of conducting psychoanalysis. I read a paper the other day by a psychoanalyst who apparently cured a psychotic person suffering from schizophrenia without the aid of neuroleptics. According to the analyst, it is imperative that analysts attend closely to the babble of the psychotic individual in search of meaning. From his perspective, the psychotic anticipates that the analyst will not discern the meaning amidst the garbled signifiers, which will only serve to confirm the psychotic’s previous experience with parents and professionals who did not and could not understand his speech. The psychotic person intentionally distorts their speech believing that the meaning behind the nonsense will in fact be missed. Here is where I take issue. According to the analyst, psychoanalysis posits that beneath the chaos lies meaning. But perhaps psychoanalysis is the culprit here. Perhaps, psychoanalysis cannot deal with the meaninglessness of the psychotic’s speech and embrace the sheer contingency of biological determinism. In the company of the psychotic, the analyst herself feels anxiety about losing her mind. The analyst knows that psychosis is something, which seems to be heavily determined by genetics (50% heritability rate in identical twins). Ultimately, the analyst guards against her own anxiety about losing control by positing meaning amidst the chaos of nonsense. She cannot ever imagine being totally isolated by herself cut off from the Symbolic order.

Nietzsche knew man would die to believe in meaning. Sometimes, psychoanalysis seems willing to die to confirm its own biases. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve read works by analysts and been simply shocked by their utter laziness and lack of creativity. Some analysts seem absolutely stricken with the illness of reductionism. Given any situation they can bring it back to a couple of trite metaphors. Another problem exists when someone offers a psychoanalysis of X (let X = religion, politics, sociology). So many times we have the same boring results offered to us without the least bit of insight. Recycled metaphors and boring symbols continue to dominate. In the end, it might just be anxiety. They’d rather believe that these cute ideas and theories could completely explain the universe, rather than embrace that some things lie beyond the scope of psychoanalysis. Fortunately, I believe there does exist a psychoanalysis that does not chain the unconscious down and control its movement. The unconscious is wild and fluid constantly manifesting itself in a multiplicity of ways. It refuses to play by the same old rules.

Barth on Nietzsche and the Crucified

06/21/2010

According to Barth, Nietzsche never gave a damn about God’s existence; it was by instinct Nietzsche declared that God is dead. He would never bother offering arguments. At the end of the day, the most important thing to Nietzsche was ethics. He absolutely detested Christian morality. While Nietzsche favors the “lonely, noble, strong, proud, natural, healthy, wise, outstanding, splendid man, the superman, a type which is the very reverse, and so far has managed to do this successfully with its (Christianity’s) blatant claim that the only true man is the man who is little, poor and sick, the man who is weak and not strong who does not evoke admiration but sympathy, who is not solitary but gregarious – the mass-man. It goes so far as to speak of a Crucified God, and therefore to identify God Himself with this human type, and consequently to demand of all men not merely sympathy with others but that they themselves should be those who excited sympathy and not admiration” (CD III/2, 239).

Barth believes Nietzsche envisioned the true threat of Christianity, which “confronts him with the figure of suffering man. It demands that he should see this man, that he should accept his presence, that he should not be man without him but with him, that he must drink with him at the same source. Christianity places before the superman the Crucified, Jesus, as the Neighbour, and in the person of Jesus a whole host of others who are wholly and utterly ignoble and despised in the eyes of the world…the hungry and thirsty and naked and sick and captive, a whole ocean of meanness and painfulness. Nor does it merely place the Crucified and His host before his eyes. It does not merely will that he see Him and them. It wills that he should recognise in them his neighbours and himself” (CD III/2, 241).

Finally Barth writes, “[w]ith his discovery of the Crucified and His host he discovered the Gospel itself in a form which was missed even by the majority of its champions, let alone its opponents, in the 19th century. And by having to attack it in this form, he has done us the good office of bringing before us the fact that we have to keep to this form as unconditionally as he rejected” (CD III/2, 242).

The Logic of Sense

03/31/2010

So today I finally finished Deleuze’s Logic of Sense. Another really difficult but rewarding work. I think I enjoyed Difference and Repetition more, if for nothing else its sheer comprehensiveness. For those of you wondering where to enter Deleuze’s corpus, I’d suggest reading an essay in the appendix of the Logic of Sense entitled Plato and the Simulacrum. It serves as a really nice summary of Deleuze’s ontology. As a student of psychoanalysis, I also enjoyed the second half of The Logic of Sense that focused heavily on Freud, Klein, and Lacan. The relationship between sexuality and language was especially interesting. I figured I’d pull out a couple of key quotes that I especially liked.

“As for the subject of this new discourse (except that there is no longer any subject), it is not man or God, and even less man in the place of God. The subject is this free, anonymous, and nomadic singularity which traverses men as well as plants and animals independently of the matter of their individuation and the forms of their personality. “Overman” means nothing other than this – the superior type of everything that is” (The Logic of Sense, 107).

“The eternal return is Coherence, but it is coherence which does not allow my coherence, the coherence of the world and the coherence of God to subsist. The Nietzschean repetition has nothing to do with Kierkegaardian repetition; or, more generally with the Christian repetition. For what the Christian repetition brings back, it brings back once and only once: the wealth of Job and the child of Abraham, the resurrected body and the recovered self. There is a difference in nature between what returns “once and for all” and what returns for each and every time, or for an infinite number of times. The eternal return is indeed the Whole, but it is the Whole which is said of disjoint members or divergence series: it does not bring everything back, it does not bring about the return of that which returns but once, namely, that which appears to recenter the circle, to render the series convergent, and to restore the self, the world, and God” (The Logic of Sense, 300-301).

“In another respect, it is our epoch, which has discovered theology. One no longer needs to believe in God. We seek rather the “structure,” that is, the form which may be filled with beliefs, but the structure has no need to be filled in order to be called “theological”. Theology is now the science of nonexisting entities, the manner in which these entities – divine or anti-divine, Christ or Antichrist – animate language and make for it the glorious body which is divided into disjunctions. Nietzsche’s predictions about the link between God and grammar has been realized; but this time in the full sense of the disjunction, and placed in the service of the Antichrist – Dionysus crucified. If perversion is the power befitting the body, equivocity is the power of theology; they are reflected in one another. If one is the pantomime par excellence, the other is reasoning par excellence” (The Logic of Sense, 280-281).

Now, one can be expecting more Lacan since I’ve finished my way through Deleuze for now. I plan on finishing Seminar XI and then moving on to Seminar III, XVII, and XX.

Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 12

02/27/2010

[Under the pages section I’ve compiled this book review in one location]

Apocalypse

Altizer sees our world as being severely troubled. While this last century was unique in experiencing an absolute totalitarianism, a new totalitarianism is being released on society in which all boundaries between public/private, conscious/unconscious are dissolving. Even the interior realm is no longer only interior but rather absorbed into this new world. “That ending is the advent of a new nothingness, a nothingness that is not beyond our horizon but rather is our horizon, and is our horizon because horizon has disappeared” (177). Another crisis we face is that that our world can no longer be celebrated with a Yes that is solely Yes. The Yes and Amen with which Nietzsche welcomed the eternal recurrence and the Yes to coming of the Here Comes Everybody for Joyce is no longer possible in the world we inhabit. The inability to name Satan is likewise an inability to name Christ any longer. The name Christ is no longer speakable in our world precisely because the absolute distinction between Christ and world can no longer be maintained. The inability to name Christ also suggests that “a truly and unique interior and individual presence have ever more comprehensively disappeared” (180), in our anonymous world. Our world is now totally and absolutely an abyss. Altizer raises the question that if are inability to name Christ in our abyssal world might indicate that this “very incapacity to could be a decisive sign of the full presence of an apocalypse” (183).

Perhaps if we can think of the abyss as a consequence of grace, a grace that shatters our previous notions of grace, then maybe this “grace must perish before grace itself can be all in all, just as Christ must perish before Christ can be all in all, and just as God has perished so that God can be all in all” (183). If our modern emptiness is total and full then this must be because of the present apocalypse “which is being enacted even now” (187).

Altizer concludes Genesis and Apocalypse with these words:

“When we recall that it was an original apocalypticism that called forth the dark emptiness of the impotent will, we can be prepared for a darkness that is inseparable from light, and a light that can only appear in the heart of darkness, for only in the transfiguration of that darkness is an apocalyptic transfiguration. Then even if we cannot say Yes and only Yes, we can say a No that inseparable from Yes, and while that No for us can never be a pure No-saying, it is precisely that absence which evokes a Yes, and evokes a Yes in the very center of darkness” (187).

Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 10

02/26/2010

The Apocalyptic Christ

Altizer believes that Barth’s Church Dogmatics is a response to the death of God and Nietzsche’s vision of eternal recurrence. What Altizer most appreciates in Barth’s theological system is his doctrine of election. For Barth, Christ is the “Elector and Elect, and again the one Rejector and Rejected” (149). Barth’s doctrine of election is one in which Christ Himself is damned by God. He is forsaken and suffers, Christ becomes a curse for us. This is radical because now “Christ is the only one rejected, the only one who has suffered the damnation of Hell” (151). However, this damnation of Christ is the very ground of our redemption. If “it was Nietzsche who must fully proclaimed the death of God in the modern world, it was Barth who most fully proclaimed that death as the very essence of the gospel, for that death is the actualization of an eternal election, and thus for Nietzsche and Barth alike the death of God is an absolute Yes and Amen” (151). While Barth’s theology was relentlessly Christocentric so Nietzsche’s philosophy was entirely grounded on the death of God. Again we see that Nietzsche’s Yes-saying to eternal recurrence is repeated in Barth’s celebration of God’s gracious double predestination. Although Altizer realizes that Barth opposed apocalyptic theology, he believes Barth’s Christology is unique and radical. It is radical and apocalyptic because the No-saying of Christ in inextricably linked to the Yes-saying, a Yes-saying that is finally apocalyptic because it affirms the absolute end of damnation itself.

Damnation is unique to Christianity. This is manifest because damnation is wholly absent from the Hebrew Bible but absolutely pervasive in the Greek Bible. Damnation of the crucified would become interiorized in Augustine’s negative will and in Nietzsche’s ressentiment. This damnation in Christianity is the forsakenness of God the Son by the God the Father. “This is the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ, a gospel in which the damnation of one is the salvation of all” (156). Barth recognized that we can only know God by knowing His absolute grace, that “grace is the rejection of damnation of God by Himself’ (156).

The “sacrifice of God by God and a sacrifice of God to God, a sacrifice which Christianity in its very beginnings knew as atonement, an atonement occurring through the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God” (158). Christ must bear the weight of sin and suffer the wrath of God alone. This damnation is our salvation, and “[g]uilt becomes grace when it is the guilt of God, or the guilt which God ascribes to Himself in Christ” (159).

“Accordingly, an apocalyptic condemnation is absolutely No-saying and absolute Yes-saying at once, and if it can be known interiorly and individually only as No-saying or guilt, it is known or realized universally only as the Yes-saying of grace, a grace that is an apocalyptic grace, and is an apocalyptic grace because it is all in all. But is all in all only by being the damnation of God in Christ, a damnation which is an apocalyptic damnation, and is an apocalyptic damnation because it and it alone actualizes the election of all…the apocalypse of Christ, an apocalypse in which guilt has wholly passed into grace, and in which the Almighty has wholly passed into Christ” (159-160).

[After reading this chapter I’m really looking forward to reading more of CD, especially Volume II. I’m dragging my feet at the end of CD I/2. Fortunately, I’m still on pace, and I’ll be beginning Volume II starting next week]

Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 9

02/26/2010

Predestination as Eternal Recurrence

Altizer thinks that Nietzsche is our most Augustinian thinker, and Nietzsche brings to end the Christian historical world that Augustine inaugurated. Both thinkers are perhaps are most God-obsessed thinkers, and both “know God by knowing guilt” (134). While Augustine could know our negative will as one captivated by guilt, Nietzsche would name this negative, impotent will ressentiment. Nietzsche identified ressentiment as a slave morality that was a byproduct of a prophetic revolution in Israel. Furthermore, just as Augustine thought the fall more than rigorously than any other thinker so could Nietzsche identify “the origin of ressentiment as an original fall, a fall which is the origin of a bad conscience” (137). For Nietzsche, the beginning of history entailed that man repress his instincts and drives and devalue them as weak and vulgar. Bad conscience was engendered by these repressed drives turning against the self. While Augustine could affirm the totality of events as being a manifestation of total grace so Nietzsche, likewise, could affirm infinitely willing the eternal recurrence of the same. Nietzsche stands at the end of Christianity and the end of history itself, and the eternal recurrence is truly post-Christian. Eternal recurrence is “a vision of total grace, and an eternal grace which is an eternal consumption of evil or sin, each is a vision of, each is a vision of a real and actual transfiguration of evil” (139). Augustine first broke with the archaic world by thinking an utterly individual, interior will. Nietzsche’s will to power is a reversal of the individual will because the will is “without an actual direction, purpose or goal…[it] breaks and dissolves the individual will” (139. So Nietzsche’s will to power is a conversion of the individual will that reverses that will and depersonalizes it in our post-Christian world.

Both Hegel and Nietzsche are our two prophets of the death of God in modernity. Hegel understood the death of God as the resurrection of God that ultimately led to “the return of the Godhead of God as the center and ground of self-consciousness and history” (140). However, Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence conceived of events as ultimate and absolute thus not permitting any resurrection of God. The death of God for Nietzsche is an absolute and final death, a death unleashing a transcendent ground that now grounds a pure and absolute immanence. “Augustine knows the will of God as a totally transcendent and totally immanent will, Nietzsche knows the Will to Power only as a totally immanent will which is a total and absolute will, but a will which can be realized as such only by knowing the finality of the death of God” (141). Altizer notices that Augustine’s conception of the will of God is transformed into Nietzsche’s philosophy as the will to power, which wills everything absolutely and infinitely. The absolute immanent eternal recurrence is just as total as predestination, and it is likewise an act of creation ex nihilo. This nothing that served as the ground of eternal recurrence is the bad conscience that Nietzsche understood as an “interior act of No-saying, but a No-saying which becomes Yes-saying in the willing of eternal recurrence” (144). Both predestination and its post-Christian version, eternal recurrence, are celebrations of the totality of history and events.

With regards to theodicy, Nietzsche went further than Augustine ever could. Nietzsche understood the celebration of eternal recurrence as a grace that is also an affirmation of evil. Altizer recognizes that this absolute joy and affirmation is also found in the Christian’s affirmation of double predestination. However, this celebration of salvation and grace can only be full insofar as it likewise affirms that absolute nature of damnation.

Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 8

02/25/2010

The Genesis of the Will

The individual will is manifested in the I, an I that was totally alien to history until the epistles of Paul. Paul knew better than all of the impotence of the will, a will that he admits being wholly ensnared by in Romans (“I do the very things I do not desire to do”). This negative will is in absolute opposition to the I that consciously wills. Augustine, following Paul, philosophically developed the concept of the will. For Augustine, the I is both free and enslaved simultaneously. We forever are beings torn apart by the two wills battling inside us: the carnal will and the spiritual will. This is why Augustine recognizes that a true conversion must come from outside of us (i.e. grace of God) because we are forever divided. “So it is that the new will is a will of grace, and a will that can only actually enact itself through the breakage or negation of the fallen will, a negation which is a self-negation” (124). This fallen will can thus be understood as an empty will, and we here see the parallel with Augustine’s definition of evil as the privation of being. The guilt that Paul and Augustine knew better than all was actually evidence of the grace of God because the grace of God breaks the fallen will thus leading to the internalization of guilt. This guilt opens up the possibility for real freedom because “that guilty will is a will that is only our own, it necessarily embodies a responsibility that is fully our own, and that responsibility is the very freedom of the will” (126).

Altizer makes an interesting claim that the doctrine or predestination only emerges in the most powerful epochs of history. Clearly, the Reformation re-invigorated the doctrine at the beginning moment of modernity, also Altizer believes that Marxism is our most revolutionary politics that is predicated on realizing the absolute necessity of a (predestined) history.

Nietzsche’s will to power is “a will which is an absolute will, and a will wholly transcending everything which is manifest as mind and consciousness, for the will of will is absolute power, and that power is only manifest and real to the interiority of consciousness as an absolutely negative power” (128). Just as Augustine understood the relationship between the will and predestination, so Nietzsche maps out the relationship between the will to power and eternal recurrence. Here Altizer conceives of Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence as the absolute ending of the archaic visions of eternal return. Eternal recurrence ends eternal return because it begins with the dissolution of transcendence (i.e. death of God), and hence it leads to “a total immanence, a pure immanence which is absolute reversal of every moment which is open to transcendence, and therefore a reversal of an eternal return which is a return of a primordial and eternal moment of time” (128).

Augustine’s doctrine of predestination is the true source of evil. God’s will is the ground of everything. His battle against Manicheanism is ultimately an attack against those Christians so disinclined to admit that God is the source of evil (i.e. a refusal of God’s sovereignty). Augustine knew evil most intimately because his struggles with his rebellious will was evidence of the sheer power of the negative. His belief in the justice of God led him to conclude that God must extinguish evil in the fires of hell. “Predestination is the eternal act of God, and that act is an embodiment of the eternal will of God, a will which is an absolute love and grace but a will which can only be known to the fallen will as absolute judgment, a judgment which is damnation” (131). Altizer recognizes that predestination is both damnation and salvation, but he wagers that the absolute grace of God can only be experienced by those who are completely unworthy of receiving it.

“Augustine is our greatest theologian of grace only by being our greatest theologian of sin. Here sin itself can be known as a consequence of grace, and the origin of sin or original sin can full be known as having its source in God, and its source in the will of God, a will which is carried in an eternal predestination” (133).

Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 3

02/19/2010

The Birth of History

The beginning of history is a consequence of the end of eternal return. Once history begins, events are unrepeatable. Hence, every moment is both precarious and ultimately groundless because this moment is passing away forever never again to be actualized. The past that is forever gone is a profound loss but it also opens up the possibility for an actual future. History opens up man to the absolute groundlessness of the present, which brings to man’s attention the utterly contingent nature of events. This groundlessness of history brings about a consciousness alienated from all possible grounds or horizons. This fall into alienation begins with the self-naming of the I AM. This self-naming of I AM is the death of eternal return and the inauguration of irreversible and unrepeatable events. Israel is unique because it is “the site of the dawning realization of the forward or evolutionary movement of history” (57). Israel’s prophetic revolution revolves around the hearing of the revolution of the words of I AM. Altizer recognizes that Nietzsche recognized this better than most. For Nietzsche, Israel is THE revolutionary event, which resulted in a complete reversal of the morality of the will to power. This slave morality led to the blessing of the weak and humble in the prophetic literature. According to Altizer, the birth of a new consciousness, which led to the individualization of a personal faith in relation to the I AM. Altizer writes, “[t]hat actuality is the judgment of I AM, a judgment occurring the immediate future, and a judgment that will be not the epiphany but the enactment of I AM” (58). This future judgment of I AM judges both the past and present, and opens up the actuality of the future that is predicated on the absolute perishing of the past. This “future whose very sounding transforms the past into total abyss, an abyss that now passes into hearing itself, as hearing now realizes itself as self-judgment, a self-judgment which is an interior actualization of abyss” (59).

Altizer believes that apocalypse is most manifest in the Hebrew Bible in Second Isaiah. This apocalypse is simultaneously creation that that will reconcile Yahweh to his people. However, this reconciliation requires the suffering servant be cursed and damned by bearing out sins away. This suffering is inflicted by Yahweh, but it “an apocalyptic act of Yahweh, for it is a fulfillment of the once and for all event of beginning, and a fulfillment of the self-emptying of the beginning” (60). The parallel to Job becomes clear as Yahweh also crushed Job, and Job’s “innocence seemingly calls forth the total judgment of Yahweh” (61). The Christological parallels become evident, as God’s Son also bore away our sins to the cross by suffering, a suffering that was truly historical. Ultimately, the crucifixion is the self-negation of the I AM, a negation occurring in the actuality of history. The crucifixion is consummation of the self-negation of I AM for two reasons: because it occurs in history, and within history events are unrepeatable and irreversible. Altizer follows St Paul in recognizing the absolute identity of crucifixion and resurrection. He also astutely understands that because the crucifixion happened in history it cannot simply be undone by the resurrection. The self-naming of the I AM was the beginning of history and the end of eternal return. We fall prey to renewing the movement of eternal return by thinking that resurrection disrupts the irreversible historical death of Jesus at the crucifixion. “Hence the acts of God are kenotic acts, or acts of self-emptying, and real and actual acts of self-emptying, for they not only occur in the actuality of history, but they occur in and as irreversible acts” (62).

Altizer realizes the uniqueness of Christianity is its history of salvation. The revelations of I AM are utterly historical, hence irreversible. This history of salvation involves the loss of a primordial, eternal transcendence because “that could never speak or act, and hence the loss of an original eternity that is eternally and only itself” (63). Jesus’ proclamation of the apocalyptic Kingdom of God stands for an attack against the past and present. The actuality of the future is finally enacted in the present by Jesus’ apocalyptic speech. This proclamation signaled the forward movement of history, which only realizes itself in totality at the dawning of the end of history. If this totality can only come emerge fully at this dawning at the end of history, then this dawning must be the advent of a total apocalypse. While Christianity at its roots is apocalyptic, its radically reverse its original ground by negating this core element. However, modern apocalyptic negated this negation, leading to a unique, universal apocalypticism.

“Now alpha is omega, or genesis is apocalypse, but it is so only as an absolutely new actuality, and an absolutely new actuality realizing itself in the history or world, and thereby realizing itself in absolute perishing or death, a perishing which is the final realization of the self-naming of I AM, and therefore the final realization of the self-emptying of an original eternity” (66).

Genesis and Apocalypse – Preface & Prologue

02/15/2010

[Let me offer a brief disclaimer for those of you unfamiliar with Altizer’s writing style. It is repetitive, forceful, and hypnotic. He continues to recycle phrases and concepts exploring them to their fullest. Although, my summaries will try and prevent a sheer repetition, it will be impossible to not reproduce this style. I’ve actually had an interesting emotional reaction to reading his text out loud. It is a violent but sonorous rhetoric that reminds us of Altizer’s Southern Baptist roots. He was and is a preacher, perhaps our last theologian, but one whose theological creativity and power cannot be questioned]

Preface

Modern historical research has revealed that apocalyptic thinking lies at the heart of early Christianity. Altizer believes that modern theology has been most reactionary and conservative in its refusal to acknowledge these findings. Genesis and Apocalypse “is an attempt to evolve a purely apocalyptic theology by way of a full conjunction and even dialectical identity of genesis and apocalypse” (10). The beginning chapters will abstractly focus on genesis, and Altizer vows to continue his dialogue with Hegel who he believes tried but ultimately failed to think of absolute genesis within his logical system. Altizer wagers that apocalypse cannot be fully understood “if it is divorced from genesis” (11). The voyage he will take us on will be one attempting to explore the understanding of the act(uality) of God, which is the dialectical identity of genesis and apocalypse “only insofar as it is simultaneously incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection” (12). He argues that Barth’s Church Dogmatics largest failure was its failure to engage historical, Biblical criticism. As Altizer has said elsewhere, Barth sacrificed the Bible for the church. He also takes Spinoza, Hegel, and Nietzsche to be inspirational thinkers who combined historical scholarship and abstract, systematic thinking effectively. Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-politicus introduced us to a modern historical interpretation of the Bible, and Hegel’s philosophy combines pure thought with history. Nietzsche’s brilliance was his ability to philosophize in such a way as to open up new historical possibilities of thinking in our modern, nihilistic world. Altizer emphatically declares that “Christian theology must finally be either historical or not theology at all” (15).

Prologue

Christianity recognizes that the cross as “the one source of redemption, for it is a death that is crucifixion and resurrection at once” (17). Our modern world is one that is truly atheistic, and it has formally enacted the death of God. It was Hegel who realized that the French Revolution perfectly embodied this act in our history. The death of God for Nietzsche was a nihilism brought about the history of Christianity. Altizer believes that Nietzsche foresaw all too well this nihilism and its inevitable embodiment in the horrors we witnessed in the twentieth century. Although Nietzsche is usually associated with the death of God, it was actually Hegel who first incorporated this into his philosophy. For Hegel, the crucifixion is the dissolution of pure transcendence read through the kenosis of God. Hegel used the crucifixion “as the primary symbol of the self-negation of absolute spirit, for he knew the crucifixion as the final incarnation of pure transcendence, and therefore as the resurrection of an absolutely new consciousness and world” (19). Although Altizer agrees with Nietzsche that nihilism and atheism are uniquely Christian developments, he refuses to concede that Christianity is ultimately nihilistic and hence an embodiment of God’s death. While Hegel understood the historical consequences of the death of God as leading to a radical secularization, Kierkegaard refused to allow this objectification of the world to dissolve the subjectivity of faith.

In The Antichrist, Nietzsche described the No-saying God of Christianity as holy nothingness that was responsible for modern man’s repression. Re-thinking genesis is the task for theology today, and this genesis must come to terms with the origin of nihilism, which will necessarily lead to a study of primordial nothingness. While Altizer praises both Barth and Tillich for being “open to that nothingness”, he also recognizes that “neither of them were able to realize that nothingness dogmatically or systematically, and were unable to do so if only because neither of them could name that nothingness theologically or could grasp it as a ground or a potency inseparable from the uniquely Christian God” (21). Theologians remain ignorant of creation ex nihilo because the nihilo remains a profound mystery. Altizer’s radical theology will try and understand that mystery qua genesis by analyzing it from the perspective of modern nihilism. He has hope that perhaps we can finally recover a Christian systematic theology that can be truly biblical. The early chapters will be a theological voyage into this primordial nothingness that was originally negated in the act of creation. Altizer recognizes that traces remain, and the death of God is ultimately nothing more than the “resurrection of nothingness” (23). Also, our task will be a re-thinking of totality. Modernity involves the shrinking comprehensiveness of our theological thinking. We must resurrect a modern theology that can think totality itself. “Even if such a totality can only appear and be real to us as a nihilistic totality, both faith and vision finally know totality itself as absolute Yes an Amen” (26).