Theological discourse is (too) easily cast into two opposing methods: the kataphatic and the apophatic. The former suggests there is much we can and must say about God. The later asserts that there is far more that we cannot say about God and we must therefore be silent. Moreover, these two ways both succumb to tendency to see itself as the only way, exclusive of the other. The artificial boundary between the two is in fact much more porous and, as we shall see, Kearney takes complete advantage of this, exercising an anaphatic back and forth between the two domains. Finally, both ways show up in theology in extreme ways. Kataphatic theology is inclined towards decisive statements about God with varying degrees of certainty. Apophatic theology is equally swayed towards resolute denials that are also held with differing intensities of certainty. Both are steadfastly intent on saying something about God, whether by affirmation or denials, and both hold their statements quite tightly. The kataphatic becomes too confident in their capacity and authority to say things about God; they forget that they are talking about something inherently mysterious and unknowable. The apophatic may steer themselves too closely to the shores of apathetic silence: If we can’t say anything, why bother?
The kataphatic theologian exercises everything that language can muster in order to say something about the Divine. In order to say something, the kataphatic can and must make use of “vocabularies by analogy from many another discourse, whether of science, literature, art, sex, politics, the law, the economy, family life, warfare, play, teaching, physiology, or whatever.” Given this definition, I would almost argue that Kearney is exclusively a kataphatic thinker. But more often than not kataphatic theology takes the form of popular theology where confident assertions about God’s nature are stated without due credit given mystery and the realization that theology is an interpretative discourse and therefore must be open to re-interpretation. The kataphatic can quickly forget that they are not God’s public relations officer. In considering the kataphatic dimension of Kearney’s anaphatic way, one should not confuse him with the unreflective kataphasis of popular piety wherein calling God ‘Our Father’ is forgotten to be metaphor through and through; or in asserting God’s (assumed) support for a particular social doctrine, one confuses their personal political agenda with the Kingdom of God.
Throughout this interpretation of Kearney’s anatheistic hermeneutic, I will refer to the via negativa as an overarching route that includes the apophasis of Christian theology and mysticism and the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ of atheist and agnostic critics of religion. On a more technical level, these two vias are obviously different in their purpose and operation. But in actuality, they are kissing cousins which hold much more in common than is often assumed. The apophatic mysticisms of the Christian tradition remain oriented around the revelation of God in Christ while borrowing significant modes and themes from Neo-Platonic categories of being, cause, essence, actuality, and self-sufficiency. The Christian apophatic sets out on the via negativa to become united with God in a pure relation established apart from concepts and language—the earthly things that get in the way of true communion with the Divine. Theology, along the via negativa, is not necessarily a rational discourse, but rather theoria, or contemplation. This means that the via negativa does not follow a precise linear route. It seems self-contradictory at times; it revels in paradox, the ‘holding together’ of opposites. Indeed, apophasis is inherently critical of literal renderings of Theology; but it is also inherently critical towards attempts to classify a Theology as apophatic. The apophatic way evades precise definitions of what it is and how it is exercised. In other words, negative theology (a more nontechnical term) is not necessarily meant to be taken literally. Away from speech, a loose translation of apophasis, is also not necessarily meant to be taken literally. In fact, if one looks more closely, the via negativa criss-crosses the affirmative and negative. Apophasis is not always negative. But for our purpose here, I will rely on a definition of the via negativa suggested by Denys Turner in The Dark Side of God:
‘Apophaticism’ is the name of that theology which is done against the background of human ignorance of the nature of God…It is the conception of theology not as a naïve pre-critical ignorance of God, but as a kind of acquired ignorance, a doctra ignoratia as Nicholas of Cues called it in the fifteenth century. It is the conception of theology as a strategy and practice of unknowing…Finally, ‘apophaticism’ is the same as what the Latin tradition of Christianity called the via negativa, ‘the negative way.’
Turner adds that ‘apophatic theology’ is simply, “that speech about God which is the failure of speech.” When kataphatic and apophatic forms of theology converge, they do so in mutual and self ‘subversion’ meaning that they ‘undo’ each other and then ‘undo’ themselves resulting in “disorder.” If the kataphatic says, ‘God is Three,’ the apophatic responds, ‘God is not Three,’ and the “negation of the negation” that comes after “is not some intelligible synthesis of affirmation and negation,” such as ‘God is Three and One.’ The co-operation of the two modes of theology result in “the collapse of our affirmation and denials into disorder…[expressed]…in bits of collapsed, disordered language…” Thus, ‘God is Three but One, One but Three.’ Language descends into chaos. Rambling. Paradoxical. Garbled.
The atheistic via negativa, a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ that calls into question all that is sacred, is the path that has been taken by a diverse cadre of individuals who have set out to demolish religion with various means. But in their actualization, these two seemingly opposed vias, the theistic and atheistic, bear significant family resemblances. Negations are not only generated by the theological tradition of the via negativa but also by the critique of atheism. Atheism, in this sense, is a negative theology, or perhaps we might call it an atheology. In fact, Jacques Derrida, who finds negative theology to be lacking despite his sympathy for its aims, maintains that embedded within any negative theology is a proclivity for atheism. The French deconstructionist comments that “apophasis…at times so resembles a profession of atheism as to be mistaken for it.” The religious apophatic has often been “suspected of atheism” because of the apophatic push to speak of God as being nothing or beyond being.  Thus, it is no surprise that a few Christian mystics appear strikingly a-theistic, such as Meister Eckhart who sought to empty himself of ‘God,’ while some atheists have taken on an apparent religiousness to their atheism and have even sought a sort of mystical union with God in the context of a literature, such as Rainer Maria Rilke’s love poems to ‘God.’
A. Negation as a Corrective Lens.
While Kearney does engage with the ‘anti-God squad’ of the Dawkins sort, he is far more interested in more modest atheists who are not carrying out, with a ‘religious’ fervour, an intellectual (anti-) Holy War. Instead, Kearney draws on his mentor Paul Ricoeur’s identification of the unholy trinity of the greatest critics of religion, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and Sigmud Freud. Ricoeur, Kearney’s doctoral advisor, is the ancestral source of the anatheistic appropriation of atheism as a form of corrective surgery. Atheism, in Ricoeur’s landscape, is at once a canyon dividing religion from faith and also a bridge that can allow us to traverse the gap, from an inauthentic expression of faith, viz. religion, to an authentic articulation of something more, a “postreligious” faith. The anatheist incorporates this Ricourean synergism between theism and atheism which fosters the retrieval of symbol and metaphor from the confines of fetishism and literalism. Both fetishism and literalism are paradigms for idolatry. The former is an obsession, an elevation of someone or something to Divine status. The latter forgets the metaphoric nature of religious experience and language and turns religion into a matter of facts, verifiable, logical, and rational.
Ricoeur, applying Nietzschean and Freudian hermeneutics of suspicion, argues in his twin essays On Accusation and On Consolation that the Biblical metaphor of God as Father and the construal of God as the moral lawgiver have spawned regressive traits in human life: dependency, fear of reprisal and punishment, the sacrifice of blood to appease and exact justice, anxieties that keep the self from being poetic (that is, creative). Moreover, certain religious frameworks have led to a life under commandments of obligation and unquestioning obedience, and a model of ethics that demands imitation for no other reason than it is given by a lawgiver who can use force and coercion to bring about fidelity to the law.
The atheism that exposes the fixation on God as Father and moral Lawgiver is vastly different from the atheism of the empiricists and positivists who dismissed the supernatural on the basis of being improvable with reason. The atheism that is passed through, on the way from religion to faith, is a particular kind: that of Nietzsche and Freud who were not so much concerned with arguing about the existence of God, but rather they were intent on offering “a critique of cultural representations [that is, religion and ethics] considered as disguised symptoms of desire and fear.” They set out to critique the “false consciousness” that religion has created in human culture. Theirs is a cultural critique aimed at deconstructing religion from the ground up. Rather than starting with God, they start with human behaviour and culture. Kearney, referring primarily to Freud and Nietzsche, summarizes the allegations made against faith:
religion is a cultural representation of disguised symptoms of fear and need. In this way they did not bother with arguments for proving for disproving the existence of God but concentrated on deconstructing forms of prohibition and punishment. They thus advanced a critical ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ directed towards the illusions of religion, determined to unmask the hidden motivations of piety.
Both the three Masters’ suspicions and the empirically-based atheistic critiquesare advantageous, but the atheism of Nietzsche and Freud are exegetical and genealogical critiques of who we are in light of religious belief. This form of the via negativa uncovers the damaging ramifications of certain conceptions of God and religion on every day, ordinary life. As such, they demand attention not just from academics, theologians, clergy, but from each ‘believer.’
As such, Ricouer’s attention to the three Masters of Suspicion redirects our attention away from seeing atheism as being something to be argued against and instead points us to see it as vitally necessary to authentic faith. The talk between religion and atheism is not one of sparing with philosophical arguments, an attempt to outwit the other and bring the other side to its epistemic knees by forcing them into a corner where they must admit that their side is ‘irrational’ and the other side is the most reasonable. The three Masters pose questions that get to the heart of who we are; at our deepest level, they set out to question everything we once thought was clear and self-evident.
In conclusion, Ricoeur rightly asks which God is dead. This is the “true question” that arises out of Nietzsche’s statement. Ricoeur answers:
Which god is dead? We can now reply: the god of metaphysics and also the god of theology, insofar as theology rests on the metaphysics of the first cause, necessary being, and the prime mover, conceived as the source of values and as the absolute good. Let us say that it is the god of onto-theology, to use the expression that was coined by Heidegger, following Kant.
When Kearney does invoke the apophatic way, he does so for the purpose of creating a corrective lens through which interpretations are to be viewed. The via negativa is not travelled for the mere sake of being travelled, but rather for the purpose of one becoming aware of the aberrations, obvious and obscure. The iconoclastic moment of the via negativa in anatheism opens for us the option to critique concepts of the Divine, rescuing the sacred from idolatry and other obsessive fixations. The “protest” of the iconoclastic moment entertains the “abandonment of accredited certainties,” an abandonment “crucial [for a] transition to deeper faith.” One way is sacred, the other secular. In contrast to the typical hard and fast boundaries of the sacred and secular, which one dare not cross in violation of their community’s orthodoxy and purity, anatheism re-negotiates the relation between the sacred and the secular so that the two are no longer antithetical, but participatory in one another while remaining distinct. The co-participants of atheism and critical theism, joining together in the via negativa, result in a tempered means of speaking about God that prevents the ‘sacred cows’ of religious ideology from becoming taken as literally true about Transcendence. “No longer a given, faith becomes a choice,” writes Kearney, “a matter of interpretation.”
Kearney’s anatheism is interpretative, a hermeneutics of religion, “resolved in spite of all to say something about the unsayable, to imagine images of the unimaginable, to tell tales of the untellable…” This is a hermeneutics that concedes a space for silence while simultaneously admitting subdued speech into the space. The thread that binds the whole of Kearney’s work together is the basic wager that interpretation is everything. In the beginning was the Word, and therefore, in the beginning was hermeneutics. For Kearney, the hermeneutical activity is “less a science than an ‘art’ of deciphering indirect and layered meanings.” As such, all discourse about God is interpretation. The received narrative traditions of particular religious communities are interpretations of events that took place throughout their history. Hence, the Bible is an interpretation of the activities of God in the life of the Israelite people, the person and work of Jesus, and in the post-Resurrection community. The scriptures are interpretation but not fact in the sense of being empirically verifiable and free from all bias. As a result, constant re-interpretation takes place because the texts are not fixed scientific facts.
The hermeneutics that Kearney advocates is not interested in “Final Answers,” “Master Narratives,” “totality,” or “closure.” Interpretation always keeps the door ajar, allowing new perspectives to enter and old meanings to depart. The iconoclastic moment is an opportunity for the hermeneutics of suspicion to run wild for a moment before being called back by a negation of the negations. But, the iconoclasm of via negativa can always re-enter. The temptation of the negation in the iconoclastic moment is to become “fixated on negation” which inevitably becomes a zealous atheistic atheology. Thus, the need for something positive, hopeful, constructive, and affirmative that can guide us back from the edge of the abyss to moments in which justice, love, mercy, and hospitality become incarnated in the everyday. Thus, the possibility of affirmation must always be available, even if the affirmation is a negation (e.g. atheism).
B. Avoiding the Abysses of Excessive Negation and Excessive Affirmation
If negative theology inhabits a place of denials, negations, rejections, impossibilities, and other dilemmas, unfettered and unreflective kataphatic theology is overly optimistic about human ability to speak about the Divine. Foundationalism and propositionalism bring God too close to human grasp, and all too often, this grasp becomes controlling, choking out the mystery of the Divine. “If [apophasis]…tends to place God too far beyond being…” writes Kearney, “the [kataphatic] is sometimes tempted to reduce God to being…” Kearney’s unease with negative theology is not so much its ability to critique and negate, but with its tendency to disembody the Divine, removing the sacred from the secular. Action is difficult if not impossible at the extreme of radical negative theology. The prophetic facet of anatheism calls for the re-affirmation of God, albeit with chastened theological language, and thus it signals the possibility of a return of sacred enfleshment in the secular. But, this re-affirmation can only come after a “traversal of the abyss.”
Kearney’s anxiety about a purely negative theology (or philosophy) is that it can too easily go to a drastic and dangerous extreme of radical apophasis that is ultimately “mystical atheism” where one comes to the edge of a precipice at which the Divine and Abyss, Good and Evil, the Stranger who brings life and the Stranger who kills, all become indistinguishable from one another. Kearney directs his readings of religion through a third way between the two poles of the apophatic way. He considers his hermeneutics a mi-lieu, literally translated from the French as ‘middle-way.’ This median space is between a the “hyper-ascendant deity of mystical or negative theology” and the equally extreme “consigning of the sacred to the domain of abyssal abjection.” While he values the deconstructive abilities of these two extremes, he views both as lacking the ability to keep us ‘grounded’ in the realities of this world. Negative-oriented mysticism and theology can all to easily become untethered from the ‘earthiness’ of human life. It can lead to one practicing an escapist contemplativeness, turned inward on the self, ignorant of the others around itself, ignorant of one’s responsibility to the other ethically, socially, and religiously. In a radically negative theology, Kearney argues, there seems to be a “radical absence of any historical instantiation of the divine—no epiphanies, songs, testimonies, no sacred embodiments or liturgies.”
On the one extreme, a radical via negativa ushers us into a wasteland. This is not the desert of purgation, renewal, and ultimately resurrection, as found in many corners of the Christian spiritual tradition. It is a nameless, bottomless, wholly empty, desert where there are no contours on the horizon to get one’s bearings. The word ‘God’ is not even on the radar because no language can give any direction, meaning, description, or any other indication of where we are from, where we are now, and where we are going. There is no radar, no orientation, no clarity. The radical apophatic is more or less an untethered astronaut in the midst of the vacuum of outer space: which way is up, down, left, right, straight, back, is all unknown. One has no way of knowing whether the Divine that one encounters in this darkness is goodness or a pure monstrosity. This extreme apophasis rebuffs the embodied presence of any Divine in the world and history, and thus prevents us seeking justice and love for strangers. If meaning-charged language, like theology, is meaningless, then how can any meaning make sense with simple everyday words? If all language fails, what is there to speak about? What is there to use to communicate? Why bother communicating? Why speak? Why live? Radical negativity leads to unfettered pessimism and cynicism that cannot be sustained in any significant way, because there is no significance to be had. A via negativa that winds its way around any and all possibilities of affirmation can only result in nihilism. “I am…convinced that some hermeneutic stitching and weaving needs to be sustained if we are to keep alive the practice of responsible judgment and justice,” Kearney discloses.
 Denys Turner, The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 20. According to this definition of kataphasis, I would almost argue that Kearney is exclusively a kataphatic theologian. Turner adds that “For in its cataphatic mode, theology is, we might say, a kind of verbal riot, an anarchy of discourse in which anything goes. And when we have said that much, narrowly about the formal language of theology, we have only begun: for that is to say nothing about the extensive non-verbal vocabulary of theology, its liturgical and sacramental action, its music, its architecture, its dance and gesture, all of which are intrinsic to its character as an expressive discourse, a discourse of theological articulation” (Turner, The Darkness of God, p. 20).
 See Turner, The Darkness of God, p. 33-36 for a further explanation of this point and relevant examples.
 Turner, The Darkness of God, p. 19.
 Turner, The Darkness of God, p. 20.
 Turner, The Darkness of God, p. 22.
 Turner, The Darkness of God, p. 22.
 Jacques Derrida, Sauf Le Nom (On the Name), edited by Thomas Dutoit, Translated by David Wood, Jr., John P. Leavey and Ian McLeod (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), p. 35.
 Derrida, Sauf Le Nom (On the Name), p. 36.
 It is also pertinent to mention the Death-of-God theologians, such as Thomas J. J. Alizter, and others who advocate for ‘Christian Atheism.’
 Kearney makes a more explicit connection between Ricoeur and anatheism in the essay “Ricoeur and Biblical Hermeneutics: On Post-Religious Faith.” Here Kearney describes at the outset Ricoeur’s intellectual thought and faith as both asking the question ‘What comes after God?’ leading him to suggest that Ricoeur’s thought can be described as a “ana-theos,” a post-religious faith. I am beginning to see that Ricoeur is really the forefather of anatheism, but it is Kearney who fleshes it out in more detail. See Richard Kearney, “Ricoeur and Biblical Hermeneutics: On Post-Religious Faith,” In Ricoeur Across the Disciplines, edited by Scott Davidson, 30-43 (New York: Continuum, 2010), p. 30.
 Ricoeur, “Religion, Atheism, and Faith,” 59.
 See Ricoeur, “Religion, Atheism, and Faith,” p. 98.
 For more on these two dangers, see Kearney’s discussion of persona in chapter two of The God Who May Be.
 Paul Ricoeur, “Religion, Atheism, and Faith in The Religious Significance of Atheism, 60-98 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969), p. 61. See Richard Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur: The Owl of Minerva (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2004), p. 7-8, 26-29 for description of Ricoeur’s dialectic between suspicion (critique) and affirmation (creation). Also see Richard Kearney, Anatheism: Returning to God After God (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), p. 72 for his (brief) explanation of the difference between the three ‘Masters’ and other atheist critics.
 Ricoeur, “Religion, Atheism, and Faith,” p. 61.
 Paul Ricoeur, “The Critique of Religion,” in The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur: An Anthology of His Work, ed. Charles E Reagan and David Stewart (Boston: Beacon Press, 1978), p. 214.
 Kearney, Anatheism, p. 72.
 As such, the atheistic and agnostic moments of the anatheist wager is not, Kearney says, “a prerogative of elite intellectuals” nor is it simply “epistemological.” It is existential, experiential, something lived out in the ordinary life. Kearney writes: “The anatheist moment is one available to anyone who experiences instants of deep disorientation, doubt, or dread, when we are no longer sure exactly who we are or where we are going. Such moments may visit us in the middle of the night, in the void of boredom or melancholy, in the pain of loss or depression. Or simply in the ‘holy security’ of radical openness to the strange. Far from being the preserve of hypercognitive cogitos, the event of radical dispossession is felt by any human being who is deeply bewildered by what existence means. Anatheist moments are experienced in our bonds—moods, affects, senses, emotions—before they are theoretically interrogated by our minds” (Kearney, Anatheism, p. 5).
 Ricoeur defines metaphysics as “the closely woven tissue of philosophy and theology that has taken the form of theodicy in order to defend and justify the goodness and omnipotence of God in face of the existence of evil.” (Ricoeur, “Religion, Atheism, and Faith,” p. 82)
 Ricoeur, “Religion, Atheism, and Faith,” p. 65-66.
 Kearney, Anatheism, p. 7-8.
 This ‘holding together’ of vastly different realities is finds a possible blueprint in the hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ (perhaps the sacred being the Divine nature, the secular being the human). The Definition of Chalcedon affirms Christ’s humanity and divinity are “to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son….” Anatheism affirms the possibility of ‘holding together’ of the sacred and secular—fully sacred, fully secular—without elevating one above the other, or seeing one as more holy than the other. Christ is, in one sense, a perfect image of the sacred ‘inhabiting’ the secular, not overwhelming it, destroying it, calling it vile, but rather elevating the secular through the sacred, and bringing the sacred to the secular, keeping it from becoming an escape from the realities of the world.
 Kearney, Anatheism, p. 11.
 Richard Kearney, Strangers, Gods, and Monsters (London: Routledge, 2003), p. 10.
 Kearney, Anatheism, p. 38.
 Richard Kearney and Victor E Taylor, “A Conversation with Richard Kearney,” Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory Vol. 6, no. No. 2 (Spring 2005): p. 18.
 Kearney, Strangers, Gods, and Monsters, 10. In Anatheism itself, Kearney explains “Anatheism is not a hypothetical synthesis, in a dialectic moving from theism through atheism to a final telos. Anatheism does not subscribe to a Master Narrative about he maturation of humanity from primitive religion through secular critique to a new spirituality for the third millennium (i.e., some postmodern faith composed of the ‘best’ ingredients of all wisdom traditions)….There is no Theology of Fulfillment here. Anatheism is not supersessionism….Anatheism eschews teleology as much as it does archeology. It resists perfect Origins and Ends” (Kearney, Anatheism, p. 6).
 Kearney, Anatheism, p. 153.
 Kearney, The God Who May Be, p. 8.
 Kearney, Anatheism, p. 71.
 See Kearney, The God Who May Be, p. 6.
 Kearney, The God Who May Be, p. 7.
 Kearney, Anatheism, p. 64. Commenting on Derrida’s Sauf Le Nom, Kearney surmises that Derrida’s radical negativity leads us to a “deconstructive ‘faith’ [that] risks becoming so empty that it loses faith in the here and now altogether” (Kearney, Anatheism, p. 65).
 In Derrida’s On the Name we see a substantial example of the reticence of Kearney to fully latch on to a radical negation of all language and concepts of and about God. Derrida argues for the preservation of the name of the Divine by declining to explain its essence: God is not to be named in order to keep God, God (Kearney, Anatheism, p. 63). However, Kearney detects in Derrida a tendency towards disembodiment of the Divine in time and history. For Derrida, Kearney remarks, it “seems at times to mean a radical absence of any historical instantiation of the divine––no epiphanies, songs, testimonies, no sacred embodiments, or liturgies” (Kearney, Anatheism, p. 64).This is problematic for the sacramental ontology that Kearney expressly holds to. Moreover, the further one pushes with negative theology, to the point that it appears to be atheistic, the more difficult it becomes to enact discernment; it becomes difficult to interpret and attest “to holy rather than unholy ghosts…no possibility…of reading the face beyond or through the name” (Kearney, Anatheism, p. 64). Derrida’s radical hospitality requires an ardent agnosticism towards the Other, so that we may welcome the absolutely Other fully without prejudgment or assumptions, is a “terrifying riskiness” that dissolves the human desire to “identify divinity, to look for at least some sort of credentials before taking it in” (Kearney, The God Who May Be, p. 75). Who is this divinity we encounter, a demonic specter hiding in the shadows, or the God who comes to heal and give life? (Kearney, The God Who May Be, p. 75)
 Kearney, The God Who May Be, p. 33-34.
 Kearney, Strangers, Gods, and Monsters, p. 10.