Anatheism: What I’m Reading at the Beach

Ok, so this is not your typical Stephen King or Mary Higgins Clark, but it is what I happen to be taking in while I spend a little time on the sands of the Atlantic while in town for a talk. It’s nice that, given my schedule these next few weeks in August, I have a little time to relax and read what I want to read. While there is always work to be done, and in my line of work that often involves reading books for review or research, I like the opportunity to read something just because that’s what I want to do. Such is the case with the latest book by Boston College philosopher Richard Kearney titled, Anatheism: Returning to God After God (Columbia University Press, 2010).

This book has been out for a few months, but I haven’t had a chance to read it until now. It is great. I have been largely influenced by one of Kearney’s primary interlocutors in the realm of postmodern continental thought — John D. Caputo — and I really appreciate the work that Kearney is doing as well. Until now I’ve only read a few essays of Kearney’s, but the setting and description of this latest project just compelled me to check it out.

This is a very creative project, drawing on sources and exemplars that at first seem disparate, but in the end come together the illustrate the philosophical enterprise at hand — what Kearney frequently refers to as his “wager.” The undergirding theme is the idea that there is something of a vorgriff-like or a priori¬†condition for an encounter with the divine that precedes (or perhaps stands apart from) the typically binary “theist” and “atheist” dichotomy.

On that note, I wonder why some of the modern transcendental theologians (e.g., Karl Rahner) aren’t engaged as dialogue partners in this text. It would seem that their advocation of an unthematic or pre-thematic human-divine encounter would connect well with Kearney’s project. Then again, Kearney makes clear in his introduction that he sees this book as a philosophical exploration and not a theological one, perhaps that’s why the Rahners and Lonergans of history are not invoked.

Despite the seemingly a-theological character of such a project, rooted as it is in an explicit philosophical agenda, there are many intersections with the theological, particularly from the noticeable reflections on the Catholic imagination with this book’s overt Sacramental fixation. The use of figures like Dorothy Day and Jean Vanier also evoke a catholicity that, while not magisterial or dogmatic in the sense that some of the self-proclaimed “Catholic police” of the blogosphere would like, certainly reveals a latent, but influential, strain of thought.

I definitely recommend this book, particularly for those who are interested in what some folks are doing with the post-structuralist canon in light of ostensibly theological endeavors. I wonder if Kearney deliberately shirks the theological description of his project because of the critical reception of his friend and colleague, Caputo’s effort to “do theology.” At least that’s perhaps the biggest critique I’ve heard about Caputo’s work from theologians, that some feel as though he is still very much a continental philosopher masquerading as a theologian. Meanwhile, I should say, I do believe that Caputo’s work offers theologians much by way of resource and heuristic focus, as does Kearney’s, therefore I don’t know that one needs to dwell on whether or not Caputo can “rightly pass as a theologian.” Nevertheless, Kearney’s avoidance of that pitfall altogether will spare him that criticism I suppose.

All this to say that I won’t proclaim Richard Kearney as a “theologian that rocks,” because he’d likely not welcome that distinction. But one thing is for sure, he certainly rocks! Check out this book!

2 Responses to “Anatheism: What I’m Reading at the Beach”

  1. Bro. Dan,

    I share your admiration for both Kearney and Caputo (as well as with an especial appreciation for the latter). I would align Kearney more with the “theological turn in phenomenology”: recall also that his teachers were both Paul Riceour and Emmanuel Levinas. If you’re enjoying this latest of Kearney’s (which I confess to having only fully worked through yet), you might also enjoy his earlier “The God Who May Be,” which generated a number of critical responses in both Irish Theological Quarterly and Modern Theology, among other places. There’s much else to recommend by Kearney, but I’d put a plug in for the volume of critical engagements with and responses to his work (and edited by one of his former BC grad students): “After God: Richard Kearney and the Religious Turn in Continental Philosophy.”

    As for your remark about the felt similarities between Kearney’s recent work and transcendental Thomism, I think part of the connection might stem, at least between say Kearney and Rahner, from certain shared Heideggerean influences/moves and concerns with such matters as hermeneutics and historicity. Still, while Kearney is much more open to naming and dealing with concrete messianicities (one of his major criticisms of both Derrida and Caputo is their continued attachment to the noumenal messianic), I still think he feels most comfortable tarrying with the phenomenological: that is, I don’t think he’s willing to take the descriptions he gives of such phenomenalities and judge them according to certain theological orthodoxies. What, I think, remains important to him are the imaginative possibilities opened up by phenomenonal/embodies realities, and not to which particular Divinity they are tethered.

    Thoughts?

  2. Ken Lovasik Says:

    Dan,
    Thanks for introducing me to Richard Kearney. I already purchased the book you’re reading from amazon.com and am currently reading it on my Kindle. I’m going to follow up with Nic’s suggestion at the end of his post. Hope you’re enjoying the surf and the sand at Long Beach island!

    fraternally,
    ken

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