Saturday, August 27, 2005


The other day I chanced upon an interview with the Catholic theologian and sociologist Gregory Baum on the online journal Philosophy and Scripture, which examines the multiple relationships between the disciplines of critical reflection and communally authoritative textual traditions. What particularly attracted me was Baum's comment about the tension between esse and agape at the end of the excerpt below (see italicised section).

Here is more than a routine rehearsal of the theodicy conundrum. Baum points, whether consciously or not, to the genuine contradiction between the god of onto-theology and metaphysics, rightly critiqued by Heidegger, and the biblical God's character as pain-bearing love, affirmed by Bonhoeffer from his prison cell. To embrace the latter is necessarily to deconstruct the former, and to begin to speak of God 'beyond being'.

This takes us further along the road opened up by Kazoh Kitamori in his Theology of the Pain of God (John Knox Press, 1965) and subsequently by Douglas John Hall Hall -- a step beyond both the modified Hegelianism (though see Gillian Rose) and the separation of ethics and theoria to which Surjit Singh points.

[Incidentally, I note that Radical Philosophy didn't think that Rose's death-bed baptism was worth mentioning in its obituary; whereas arguably, and certainly for her, it was a singular event that made sense of her life's work. Agapic love is both the source and resource for our existence and for our capacities to give.]

OK, here's Baum:

"The mystics claim that in the process of opening themselves to God, there comes a time—sometimes a long time—when they are so much aware of the obstacles to God in their heart, so much aware of their inner fragmentation and outer superficiality, that God seems to disappeared altogether for them, so much so that they wondered if they had become atheists. They called this the dark night of the soul. But they also say that you have to wait patiently in the night, for it will end through the opening of a new and surprising window. Today, I have the impression, many Christians pass through a different dark night of the soul. They are deeply disturbed by the suffering in the world, the cruelly unjust maldistribution of wealth and power, and the indifference of the official churches to this scandalous situation that they find it increasingly difficult to believe in divine providence. They feel that they are becoming atheists. Some Christians—friends of mine among them—have never left the dark night. They became non-believers because they were inconsolable. They became agnostics for theological reasons—for which God will reward them. Yet other Christians pass through this night and eventually come out of it. They learn that God is in solidarity with the victims of history. A Jewish rabbi once wrote that the Holocaust has brought the end of “untroubled theism.” The more we believe that God is love, the more difficult it is to believe that God exists. We don’t want a faith that does not raise uncomfortable questions. We long for a faith that is both serene and troubled."

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