I just posted this elsewhere, but it pertains to tomorrow's (today's) class so I'll put it here: 
 
The history of European (especially German) philosophy from the 15th century on is the history of a growing and changing movement of anti-theology. Writer after writer attacked theology, yet wrote in a manner that was unmistakably theological. 
 
First you have Catholic mystics (and also Jewish mystics) who reject theology in favor of a more immediate, inspired, visionary experience of God. 
 
Then you have the Protestant reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc.) who argue against Catholic theology for obvious reasons, but who, like the mystics, desire a more immediate communion with God, not mediated by theology or priestly hierarchy. This climaxed with Pietism. 
 
Then you have science and the Enlightenment, which cleared away (Aufklärung) the argument from authority that supported theological writing (but many early scientists and even some Enlightenment philosophes, as well as Deists, thought that they were doing their pious religious duty in doing the work of Enlightenment, following the "book of Nature," just as much, or even more, the creation of God than the Bible... and in this Nature discovering our Natural Religion and Natural Rights....) 
 
Then you have Kant, who was raised by Pietist parents, but who wrote that things-in-themselves were unknowable. This seems to wipe out most of theology, because it would seem that God, in himself, is unknowable. But Kant can be interpreted as setting hard limits on Reason, so as to make room for faith. Particularly in the C.Prac.R., he seems to be saying that we know that God exists through the moral order. But how can this be interpreted? 
 
Romanticism comes next, and at least in part it comes as people try to grapple with this question of how to interpret Kant. Fichte, in particular, declares, "The living and efficaciously acting moral order is itself God. We require no other God, nor can we grasp any other." This begins the atheism controversy, though it’s debatable whether Fichte was truly an atheist... certainly he was trying to clear away theology as he saw it, in a critique of all revelation. Other Romantics are more extreme still: Novalis, in particular, sets the tone for Romanticism of the next couple centuries when he declares a “Liebesreligion” - a religion of love, a religion of the heart, in which the head, reason, (theology) is no longer necessary.
Then comes Hegel, who even clears away even the theology of the Romantics, in favor of something he considers more scientific. But his “Idealism” is in turn attacked young Hegelians, like Feuerbach and Marx, who prefer “materialism.” These are in turn rejected by the likes of Kierkegaard, who has a deep Christian faith and yet a deep distrust of all theology, up to and including the theology of the Hegelians, and, therefore, begins Existentialism. 
 
Nietzsche, too, overturns all of his predecessors, yet can be seen as deeply faithful to the spirit - in some ways, perhaps a true Christian, though clearly a hater of “theological poison.”
 
Husserl, that Christian convert, rejects all forms of knowledge that do not come from immediate experience. Heidegger, later, writes what would be called a “theology without God,” but never quite states whether he believes God exists. Sartre is more extreme: he is an adamant atheist. But his curious existentialist-Marxism will be attacked by the Structuralists as having the structure of a myth. These structuralists have the deepest skepticism towards History. But many of them - Lacan, in particular, and (much of) his school, remain deeply committed to the Christian tradition. And then the Deconstructionists came along. But even they, in the end, remained open to a certain messianic spirit.
 
And so on. Many more examples could be given. In each and every case, the central hero of this motif rejects that which came before as “theology,” but only in the hopes of becoming more deeply in touch with something more immediate, something felt, tangible, real, solid, authentic - a hope which is inevitably spiritual, religious, and yes, theological.... Romanticism is the general form of all of these experiences, but mysticism is the source. A paradigmatic example would be Levi-Strauss, who turned his back on Kojeve’s Hegelianism to go seek something more authentic among the Nambikwara in Brazil. It’s all the same gesture, over and over again - rejecting theology to create theology.
 
This spirit - the spirit of rejection - in particular, the spirit of the rejection of theology - or, better yet, the theological spirit of the rejection of theology - is fundamental to the (for lack of a better word) character of European civilization, or what Hegel would call the German spirit. It is a relentlessly, restlessly negative spirit.
 
As one traces it, one cannot help but notice that what it rejects again and again, from Luther on, is Jewishness - perceived as a slavish devotion to the law. It sees a secret Jewishness inside itself that it must forever cast out, again and again. The Protestants saw this Jewish adherence to the law in the Catholic Church, which for them was too caught up in dogmatic belief to receive grace directly from God. The Romantics saw this Jewishness in the poetic forms that had been adhered to, and therefore made a great display of breaking free from these forms, these laws of aesthetics. Everywhere this European spirit strives for an antinomianism, and everywhere it must convince, persuade, convert the old traditionalists who remain faithful to the Law - or else destroy them.

[posted on facebook, June 27, 2013]

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