Friday, April 29, 2011

Helmut Gollwitzer Miniseries: Lessons for Theology from Encounter with the Marxist Criticism of Religion, Part 4

This is the fourth of an eight-part (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight) miniseries on the concluding chapter of Helmut Gollwitzer’s The Christian Faith and the Marxist Criticism of Religion (Scribner, 1970).

For Gollwitzer, the Marxist criticism of religion sets six tasks for theology. The third of these tasks is an elaboration on the second, which was a discussion of apologetics. Gollwitzer returns now to what he considers to be a very dubious – perhaps the most dubious – form of apologetics, namely, that build on a “God of the gaps” or on a dues ex machine. The problem with this approach isn’t, strictly speaking, that the modern age witnessed the end of the regnant metaphysics that made such argument possible, although Gollwitzer recognizes that this is the case. Instead, this approach is problematic because
To argue against our opponents with this sort of necessity of God was from the beginning a self-misunderstanding of Christian faith (153).
Here is how Gollwitzer parses the nitty-gritty:
Marxism…sums up the results of this end of the great tradition of scholastic thinking in the analogia entis in so far as the latter had claimed to find by speculation the rational ground of earthly being in the divine summum ens (most real being), and therefore conversely to pass by inference from the conditioned to the unconditioned. The presuppositions of faith concealed in these apparently rational operations have long been evident, and give Marxism the opportunity of unmasking this kind of philosophy as disguised theology (ibid).
Gollwitzer is actually being nice to theologians in the scholastic tradition. He recognizes that those theologians worked out of faith’s conviction, which served as a ground for their thought-experiments with reference to God. The problem is that they were not clear about this foundation, nor were they careful to distinguish how this foundation fundamentally sets them apart from broader metaphysical inquiry in the traditions of Plato and Aristotle. The result of these failures is this: when the metaphysics to which theology had been joined was seen to fail, it was not at all self-evident that theology should not ultimately and necessarily fail as well.

The flip side of this is Gollwitzer’s recognition – in the concluding sentence of the above quote –that ultimately the sort of metaphysical inquiry established in the tradition is a form of philosophy rather than theology. For Gollwitzer, this applies to all forms of idealism. Consequently,
Christian theology must see in the Marxist identification of Christianity and idealism a warning for itself not to bind the Christian faith for better or for worse to idealistic metaphysics. It does this, for example, so long as it includes the faith in creation under the inquiry about an explanation of the world. For then if the article of our faith about the creation is understood as an assertion of reason, God is a function of our self-understanding and our understanding of the world… (154).
Here is the payoff:
In view of the idealistic influence on Christian thinking since the time of early Catholicism, the end of Christian metaphysics demands a thorough-going theological self-criticism, to which Marxism (with its interpretation of Christianity as a special case of idealism and idealism as a special case of theology), has given a fruitful impulse (ibid; bold is mine).
Christians owe thanks to Marxism, in other words, for so driving us back to a consideration of our particularity by unceremoniously lumping us in as a species within a broader genus of thought.


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