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The End of Theology

Carl A. Raschke
Journal of the American Academy of Religion
Vol. 46, No. 2 (Jun., 1978), pp. 159-179
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1462219
Page Count: 21
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The End of Theology
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Abstract

In this article I argue that we have arrived at the "end" of theology. By the "end" of theology I do not mean that theological reflection and inquiry as an academic undertaking has abruptly ceased, or that it will not persevere as a widespread occupation in the foreseeable future, but simply that significant theological discussions in the familiar sense have been cut loose from their historical and metaphysical moorings, which have rotted away. The article attempts to analyze the dilemma of theology from the standpoint of the crisis of Western thought as a whole, especially in light of the radical verdict concerning the "end" of the Graeco-Christian metaphysical tradition that has been enunciated in the past century by Nietzsche and, more strictly, by Heidegger. However, the essay seeks to confront the exhaustion of the genuine possibilities for theologizing in a broader systematic and philosophical manner than was offered by the death-of-God movement during the previous decade. The line of argument draws heavily on the insights of the later Heidegger, but does not merely "apply" Heidegger to a conventional set of theological issues. The radical character of Heidegger's philosophy has been unfortunately slurred over by contemporary theologians, and thus a "Heideggerian" theology is no more cogent than a squaring of the circle. Heidegger contends that Western thinking has always been "onto-theological" in nature. He calls for the "overcoming" of ontotheology, which at the same time implies the transcendence of theology as a discipline. The transcendence of theology amounts to a passage beyond the traditional manner whereby theological thinking has been concerned with the ens realissimum and has based its deliberations on a particular metaphysics of language that serves to re-present the divine as an object for a subject, or as the transcendental subject. Heidegger holds that the end of metaphysics corresponds to the collapse of the subject-object division in thought along with the removal of the grounds of metaphysical certitude implicit in the thinking of this division. The Cartesian revolution shifted the foundations of certitude from that of the "constant presence" of the metaphysical object to the self-validation of the subject as arbiter of truth, implied in the cogito. Modern empiricism translated the Cartesian cogito into what I have termed the experior. But it still kept intact the subject-object distinction entailed in theologico-metaphysical point of view, with the frame of reference for talking about changing to reflection on the structures of consciousness, a position Heidegger dubs "subjectist." The article concludes with a review of some samples of recent theological writing, including that of David Tracy, Louis Dupré, and Wolfhart Pannenburg, in order to illustrate Heidegger's suggestions about the career of theology. It also inquires about what might lie beyond the "end" of theology, and considers what Heidegger means by thinking the "unthought" as the "veiled arrival" of a new presence of divinity in the aftermath of God's death.

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