Friday, November 6, 2009

Heidegger's philosophy and Christianity

While there might be in some cases a connection between a philosophers politics and his philosophy, and while several writers have assumed that there is a connection between Heideggers philosophy and his politics, I cant visualize what that connection might be.

When I was studying theology, and this may have been when I first encountered Heidegger, I spent some time reading Rudolf Bultmann. It is well known that Bultmann was influenced by Heidegger, and this influence has probably been described by any theologian who has written about Bultmann. For example, in a discussion ofBultmanns use of existentialist categories in order to interpret Pauls view of man (from The Two Horizons, New Testament Hermeneutics and Philosophical Description) Anthony Thiselton writesBultmann refuses to interpret soma in substantival terms, when Paul clearly uses it to characterize human existence. Hence Bultmann concludes that soma in Paul represents a way of being rather than a substance or a thing:Man does not have a soma; he is a soma.

Then on page 40 Thiseltons writes,In due course we shall look closely at Bultmanns use of Heideggers categories for the interpretation of the New Testament. Meanwhile, we may note that a number of writers apart from Bultmann argue that there are close affinities between Heideggers view of human existence and the New Testament portraits of man. The New Testament scholar Erich Dinkler writes:When Heidegger criticizes man as enslaved by the pseudo-security of concrete objects . . . when he analyzes idle talk and gossip as an attempt to escape from ultimate anxiety towards death then he says nothing else than what Paul has said characterizing man according to the flesh. In fact Heideggers portrait of the thrown and fallen man is very similar to what Paul with the Greek term xanthasthai says about self-glorification and boasting. In particular Dinkler considers that Heideggers view of the human tension between fate and freedom comes close to the New Testament description of man. He continues,As a New Testament student I cannot refrain from saying that it is just this interrelation and correlation of freedom and predestination explained by Paul . . . which we re-discover here in philosophical terms.

On page 41 Thiselton writes,It would be a mistake, however, to limit Heideggers relevance to New Testament Interpretation to the so-calledexistentialism of Being and Time. The detailed work of Ernst Fuchs on the text of the New Testament also owes much to the stimulus of Heideggers later thought. . . .

It was Ernst Fuchs who first translated the hermeneutical discussion from the categories of inauthentic and authentic existence derived from Being and Time into the later Heideggers analogous distinction between everyday language of the subject-object dilemma and the uncorrupted language of being.

On page 42, Thiselton writes,The twenty or so writings of Heidegger that span the years 1935 to 1960 reflect a pessimistic assessment of the capacity of the language of the Western language-tradition to convey anything other than the day-to-day practicalia of technology and idle talk. . . .

On page 201, Thiselton writes,. . . Heideggers philosophy is individualistic in two particular ways. First of all, although he rejects Descartes starting point of the cogito, Heidegger rejects not so much beginning with the individual self, but beginning with a self which is isolated from its world as the epistemological subject in an act of cognition. Dasein is more than a thinking subject, but it remains anI am. This is the theme of Paul Ricoeurs essay entitledHeidegger and the Question of the Subject. Ricoeur writes,The kind of ontology developed by Heidegger hives ground to what I shall call a hermeneutics of theI am, which is a repetition of the cogito conceived of as a simple epistemological principle. The objection voiced by Heidegger against the starting-point of Descartes is not that it began with theI am, but that it starts witha previous model of certitude. Indeed,a retrieval of the cogito is possible only as a regressive movement beginning with the whole phenomenon of thebeing-in-the-world. Although he recognizes the centrality of Being and language in Heideggers later writings, Ricoeur concludes that even in this later period thehermeneutics of theI am”’ is not entirely abandoned, since the role ofresolve and freedom in the face of death in Being and Time is taken over byprimordial poeting (Urdichtung)as the answer to the problem of the who and to the problem of the authenticity of the who.

And this isnt intended to portray Heidegger as a Christian, but it is to say that several Christian theologians were inspired by Heideggers philosophy. Apart from the Christians who were influenced by Heidegtger, Sartres Being and Nothingness was written in 1943, some say, as an atheistic treatment of Heideggers existential principles (Being and Time was written in 1927). Surely nothing can be further from the triumphalist, ethnic oriented Fascism than secular existentialism.

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