Philip Blond on the big question between philosophy and theology, from Post-Secular Philosophy
In his inaugural lecture “What is Metaphysics?”, delivered in 1929, Heidegger gives his definition of metaphysics: “Metaphysics is inquiry beyond or over beings which aims to recover them as such and as a whole for our grasp.” In a much later text, published in 1957, Heidegger claims: “The wholeness of this whole is the unity of all beings that unifies as the generative ground.” Heidegger points out that a thinking which attempts to think beings as such and as a whole is metaphysical, and that thinking is in turn onto-theological. The metaphysical is, thus, synonymous with onto-theology. Now this seems a strange claim. particularly when we consider this in regard to the thought of Nietzsche, the last “metaphysical” thinker. If what is being claimed here is that Nietzsche as a “metaphysical thinker” is also an onto-theological thinker, then the situation looks decidedly odd. Nietzsche, we object, proclaims the demise of God and the effectiveness or power of any such notion. No longer are we compelled to watch the flickering shadows on the walls of Plato’s cave. The real and apparent, worlds have at long last fulfilled their mythical status. To unravel this puzzling aporia, to which Heidegger brings us, we need to think the further term “onto-theology” and dwell longer in the proximity of its speaking.
It is Heidegger’s contention that Western metaphysics since the age of the Greeks has been both ontology and theology. Theology in the secular sense of the ancient Greeks is a “mytho-poetic utterance about the gods, with no reference to any creed or ecclesiastical doctrine”. He further claims that theology is the science of God. This claim, drawn from the same text as the above quotation, appears commensurate with his position stated in 1927. in the lecture “Phenomenology and Theology”, where he asserts that theology is a positive science and as such irremediably divorced from philosophy. Heidcgcr’s thinking, however, does scent to have gone through some transitions between the earlier and later texts. Whilst still maintaining that theology is a science, there appears to be a subtle slippage between the earlier and later phases of his thinking. In the earlier lecture theology is characterized as a positive science, and more akin to mathematics and chemistry than philosophy. This characterization, of course, runs contrary to any popular notions regarding the relationship between theology and philosophy. According to such a conception theology and philosophy have, to a certain extent, the same area as their theme: human life and the world. They are, however, guided by different perspectives. Theology proceeds from faith, and philosophy from reason. Heidegger’s contention, as we know, is far more radical: theology as a positive science is absolutely different from philosophy. Moreover, theology is, on this earlier interpretation, the science of faith.
We are thus confronted with two definitions of theology from out of Heidegger’s own works: the science of God and the science of faith The former is closer to the dictionary definition and, I think, what we conventionally understand by “theology” when we hear that term spoken: “Theology: The science treating of God, his nature and attributes, and his relation to mail and the universe; any particular system of this” (The Pocket Oxford Dictionary). As to the question “What is called Theology?”, we are in possession of two distinct answers as to its nature Are we thus confronted by a paradox? Has Heidegger’s thinking undergone such a radical change that he now sees theology only in terms of what we ordinarily and conventionally understand? Or is there something extremely important going on in this seemingly ambiguous relationship with theology? Rather than trying to surmount this ambiguity by trying to get a perspective from a higher vantage point, let us try to think from out of the very region of the ambiguity itself. Thus, we take up the challenge of a thinking offering us no easy answers. To accomplish this we need to take a step back into the proximity of the questions posed initially: “What is called Theology?”; “What is called Religion?” The “What is?”. as we have already seen, called us into a thinking relationship with what is the “matter” (Sache) of our questioning. When we keep this matter firmly in view we hear the question speaking to us in different ways. “Was heisst Theologie?”, “Was heisst Religion?” we ask once more, this time in German: what calls for theology, and what calls for religion: what is this “thing” called theology and what is this “thing” called religion? Thus, out of the speaking of the question we have two disparate strands, two ways of asking the question “What is?”.