I started writing this post a few days ago and when I logged back into WordPress, the draft came up as ‘(no title).’ I thought it was a perfect title for a short musing on negative theology.
On our drive out to Alberta on Monday, my wife asked me what sort of conclusions I came to after finishing my papers on negative theology. My reply was something to the effect: “Well, negative theology is critical. It is an absolute must in any theology. It is irreplaceable. We can’t do without it. It allows us to become ‘silent’ and ‘catch our breath’ when we’ve been chattering and making noises about God that we think say it all. Critique is the gift of negative theology. We have to knock down our idols, recognize the total inadequacy of language to encapsulate the Divine. Negative theology helps us realize how idiotic we sound talking about mystery.”
I can imagine this all sounded pretty bleak to her.
I wasn’t done.
“But! But! We must speak! We need to say something about God and that something is poetic. It is not necessarily precise scientific facts, verifiable, fixed once and for all. Instead, we need metaphor, narrative, story, liturgy, art, iconography, and a host of other mediums to ‘speak’ about God in still meaningful ways. And we must always realize that our ‘languages’ about the Divine are interpretations that are open to new possibilities.”
The next day, I randomly came across this quote that I thought was such a simple way of expressing the whole of what I’ve learned this past year.
When those who love God try to talk about Him, their words are blind lions looking for springs in the desert. (Leon Bloy)
The lions need water. But their imperfections prevent them from finding and beholding the totality of the wellspring they search for. Their search is not in vain, but it is a difficult task to undertake.
Unless the eye catch fire
The God will not be seen
Unless the ear catch fire
The God will not be heard
Unless the tongue catch fire
The God will not be named
Unless the heart catch fire
The God will not be loved
Unless the mind catch fire
The God will not be known
I still have quite a difficult time summarizing what exactly my studies are circling around. Most of the time, I just leave things ambiguous and say that I’m studying English and Philosophy. But, if pressed a little further, I’ll say that I’m studying ‘theology.’ Maybe a bit further, and I’ll say ‘anatheism.’ Of course that confuses many people because it sounds like some sort of New Age conglomeration of religion (which it’s not). So I have to explain: ‘Something that takes into account the critiques of atheism and the affirmations of theism.’ Or, ‘something that takes seriously doubt and faith working together.’ Puzzled looks or a polite “Oh interesting” is often the response.
Lo and behold, Richard Kearney, the author of Anatheism did an interview on CBC Ideas this past year and it’s probably the most straightforward explanation of what ‘anatheism’ is. Kearney is pretty good at breaking it down into more manageable bites.
Click here to go to the CBC website to listen to the interview.
Everyone is familiar with the famous expression of the madman in The Gay Science: “God is dead.” But the true question is to know, first of all, which god is dead; then who has killed him (if it is true that this death is a murder); and finally what sort of authority belongs to the announcement of this death. These three questions qualify the atheism of Nietzsche and Freud as opposed to that of British empiricism or French positivism, whose methods are neither exegetical nor genealogical…
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.
This has nothing to do with my research for my paper that I’m currently writing, but I just couldn’t get over how blatantly sharp and apropos Merton’s remarks are.
What is the use of postmarking our mail with exhortations to ‘pray for peace’ and then spending billions of dollars on atomic submarines, thermonuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles? This, I would think, would certainly be what the New Testament calls ‘mocking God’–and mocking Him far more effectively than the atheists do. The culminating horror of the joke is that we are piling up these weapons to protect ourselves against atheists who, quite frankly, believe there is no God and are convinced that one has to rely on bombs and missiles since nothing else offers many real security.
But consider the utterly fabulous amount of money, planning, energy, anxiety and care which go into the production of weapons which almost immediately become obsolete and have to be scrapped. contrast all this with the pitiful little gesture ‘pray for peace’ piously canceling our four-cent stamps….It does not even seem to enter our minds that there might be some incongruity in praying to the God of peace, the God Who told us to love one another as He had loved us, Who warned us that they who took the sword would perish by it, and at the same time planning to annihilate not thousands but millions of civilians and soldiers, men, women and children without discrimination, even with the almost infallible certainty of inviting the same annihilation for ourselves!
It may make sense for a sick man to pray for health and then take medicine, but I fail to see any sense at all in his praying for health and then drinking poison.
While he was writing during the Cold War, are his words any less relevant to our current situation today?