Christianity In Ruins

I think it is safe to say Heidegger studies may be living in the twilight of their existence. As the extent of Heidegger’s anti-semitism is now being fully grasped, the monographs are starting to appear that simply declare his later philosophy to be Nazi apologetics and so not worth bothering with. See this article in The Conversation.

Heidegger is certainly interesting to read, although with around 100 book length manuscripts and libraries of secondary literature it’s a little presumptuous to consider oneself a Heidegger expert. I think the fate of Heidegger will be that of most of the post destru(k)tion philosophers like Deleuze and Derrida whose intentionally cryptic and obscure way of writing really takes away from any serious engagement with them. Heidegger will often introduce and rely on a concept for hundreds of pages without explaining what it means until much later or even in another book entirely. Foucault once said to Searle that French publishers expect works to have a certain level of obscurity in them to add to their mistique.

When I was part of the Heidegger Circle discussion group, I brought up this issue, and said reading Heidegger needs to be more like sifting for gold amidst a mountain of sand rather than trying to appreciate everything the philosopher wrote. They did not take this very well, lol. That will be their fate, then, devoting their lives to a Nazi.

I think Christianity, if it is to survive, is in much the same position, but for different reasons. I appreciate Christianity, for instance for its philosophy of agape and transforming/transfiguring life instead of being passive about it. This gave birth to modern Cognitive Behavioral Psychology. However, the bulk of it is the product of an age that, to use Stephen King’s language, the world has moved on from, like Paul’s denunciation of the “worldly” which doesn’t fit with modern approaches to the world. In this way, if Christianity is to survive, it will only be by virtue of inerrancy becoming a cafeteria model. Christian views on sex hardly fit with a world where pornography, polyamory, etc are normalized.

And Heidegger? He saw a homeless world and saw in Hitler and the Nazis a venue to resituate society in meaningfulness and purpose, what the Greeks called “parestios,” the one in the sphere of the hearth fire. Although horrific to us, consider the purpose felt by being someone in the Hitler Youth at the time, for instance. Heidegger’s time has not come yet because Heidegger asked the question of Being for the first time since Plato’s critique of Antisthenes, and this question was as much at the forefront of Heidegger’s work in the 20’s as it was in the later books on Nietzsche. What was it in a nutshell?

In order to be able to intelligibly encounter this being as the being it is, it must already be “recognized” generally and in advance as a being, i.e., with respect to the constitution of its Being. Plato gives the example in the Sophist that the dog is not just a “this here,” but is already being made intelligible by an understanding of Einai, Being, choris, separate from, ton allown, the others, and kath auto, in itself. I encounter the dog as a “not me,” for example. To be particular is clearly a universal characteristic of things. If we look more closely, then, we realize that these particular things are in each case this, this door, this piece of chalk, this here and now, and not those of Classroom 6 and not the ones from last semester. Also, we could not have the experience of beings that we do unless we had in view such things as variation/equality by the mind’s eye in order to encounter various things; a view of sameness/contrariety to encounter ourselves as self-same in each case; a view of symmetry and harmoniousness allow us to arrange and construct things; etc. Aristotle said philosophical life was the answer to the tragedy of existence, a living the life of perpetual fire of youth like the ambrosia eating gods, deathlessness (athanatizein), as opposed to the tedium and listlessness of old age. The philosopher is attuned to eternal Being rather than the transitory becoming of the Everyday.

These are philosophical issue that are still important and meaningful for us today, as they speak to something basic and fundamental to the human condition. As an atheist, I try to read Christianity in the same cafeteria way, although there is a lot of brussel sprouts sitting on top of the steak that need to be ignored. I must say, all the hours I spent carefully following Heidegger’s pathmarks through his wood paths as he heaped Nothing upon Nothing until he finally made a point was tortuous. Reading Christian Origins is much the same thing. The writers were not just creating works, but puzzles to test your skills on. Consider how long it took us to understand the intertextuality of the New Testament, how extensively it imitates the Hebrew Scriptures and Greek literature! On the other hand, if everyone “got it” simply because they’d done the reading, where’s the fun in that? lol