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This is an essay in conjecture—and deliberately so. In doing so, the central figure from which to base this engagement is the great German-American theologian Paul Tillich; but because this is a deliberately discursive, conjectural essay, other figures arise, are named, perhaps engaged with and other times just briefly alluded to.
A central aim of this essay is to draw theology back into a critical engagement with the Philosophy of Religion, positioning a radical secular theology as a way to think a future secular Philosophy of Religion. As the collection of papers to which this essay belongs addresses, there appears to be a widespread sense of crisis within the Philosophy of Religion. This seems to have arisen due to an overly focused attention and discussion on arguments as to the existence or non-existence of God. The issue is that having debated this, what can now be said? But for most people this is an increasingly irrelevant argument.
To be blunt, the crisis is one of relevance. Kevin Schilbrack has identified a similar set of issues, stating the traditional view of Philosophy of Religion is too narrow , intellectualist and insular Schilbrack, : p. And therein lies the nub of the issue—even for someone attempting to rethink the future of Philosophy of Religion—because, how is that reality performed and experienced, expressed and constructed? For most people, the question is twofold: firstly, what is done or not done in the name of religion and why; and secondly what can be done or not done in the name of religion and why?
For religion is as much a way of doing as a way of thinking; or perhaps in a more nuanced way the question could be: how does the doing of religion affect our thinking and how does the thinking of religion affect our doing? Yet this is where theology can be of help, for theology has never just reduced itself or limited its main focus to the question of the existence or non-existence of God. Rather theology seeks to apply the critical thinking regarding questions of God and religion to all of existence.
Footnote 1 This is why the rethinking of Philosophy of Religion is undertaken via a critical engagement with Theologies that themselves had to rethink their future in modernity. But unless this unusual usage of ours is adopted we have to accept the paradox that those who reach opposite conclusions about certain questions must be regarded as having shown themselves to have been engaged in different disciplines. So, we could say at the outset, that the future of Philosophy of Religion is to regain that name of philosophical theology and so be open to the expressions noted above in For just as theology had to come through its own crisis of meaning in modernity, perhaps Philosophy of Religion or a reworked Philosophical theology?
Crucially, such theologies understood theology to be a constructive task of critical engagement and meaning, and it is here that the theological thought of Paul Tillich provides both a model and resource. These first decades of the twenty-first century seem to be decades of crisis—whether economically, politically, or socially. At such times, the manifesto arises as the claim of the need to rethink so we can act in new ways. As such the manifesto moment is where the critical thinking is done, thinking that is necessarily both conjectural and radical, thinking that seeks to overturn existing orthodoxies and expectations in the hope of creating the possibility of something new, something better: a call for emancipation.
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What follows is an attempt to do via considering the future of Philosophy of Religion. We find ourselves in a time of crisis for the Philosophy of Religion—a crisis of meaning, a crisis of focus, a crisis of intent. Of course, it would be easy to state that such a crisis is inevitable given the two constituent elements of philosophy and religion; that is, what we have is the magnification, the concentration of existing crises in philosophy and religion.
These are crises of meaning and crises of what future—if any—they hold that is positive. Yet is perhaps the sense of crisis is to be expected. If philosophy and religion do not think of themselves as existing in some form of crisis in modernity then we have, in effect collapsed out of modernity into that situation defined by Jean-Francios Lyotard whereby the post-modern is the return to pre-modern ways of thinking Lyotard: p.
Central to this is the challenge modernity throws down regarding religion as collective expression and claim of truth and religion as individual belief. We can trace this to the rise of the Enlightenment and the challenge to religion as political, cultural, and intellectual power. To be modern, I would argue, is to find some problem with religion as collective and individual claim; that is, to find a problem with how religion both seeks to interpret the world and human existence and meaning—and more so, how religion as collective entities and religious individuals may seek to challenge and undo modern understandings and values.
For to be modern is to seek to live after religion—and yet religion continues, as both collective and individual claim, signaling that modernity is a project and not a realized state. Furthermore, if we trace religion back to relegare to bind together and to relegere to re-read then religion operates as the claim of an alternative to how things are organized and thought in modernity.
To be modern is perhaps to attempt to live after religion—yet not be able to properly do so. To be modern is to recognize the existence of religion as a collective and individual sign that the hopes and dreams of modernity have yet to be realized. Therefore, when religion is not seen or experienced as a problem perhaps that is when we have slipped-over into the post-modern? As we shall see, the postmodern is also perhaps the end of the hopes and dreams of modernity, a type of collective and individual giving up of the modern aim of emancipation.
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We saw this shift into the post-modern with the rise of religion as just yet another lifestyle choice and part of identity-politics. That is, religion for many was not viewed as either an individual or collective problem, rather it did not matter whether people were religious nor what type of religious.
lenrenogdist.ga We could say that such a turn to religion became an uncritical form of what Foucault termed the technologies of the self. Foucault, Religion became a personal choice and expression and was not regarded nor experienced as a challenge nor critique of the collective status quo of contemporary society.
Instead we saw a retreat into prosperity gospels, ecstatic Pentecostalism, and forms of evangelical emotionalism and pietism all focused upon personal salvation, often in a perverse combination of spiritual and economic divine favor. We also saw the rise of various forms of New Age beliefs as well as the turn to western Buddhism. In neo-Weberian terms, this is re-enchantment of the self, within capitalism. Or perhaps, to be more accurate and in particular, Christianity was no longer experienced as such.
At most, Christianity was regarded as a personal and collective oddity— and importantly, often regarded and dismissed as irrelevant to contemporary society.
Even the rise of American evangelical Christian politics can be understood as part of this postmodern turn because this was a retreat into a form of Christianity that, in the main, turned its back on the challenges of and from modern theological and biblical scholarship. Also, its pursuit of various forms of Christian theocracy if often never named as such was in itself the pursuit of a pre-modern Christian governance.
Likewise, the rise of Islamic politics was and is in its own way a retreat into types of postmodern identities—whether in the rise of the revolutionary Islamic state in Iran or that of Isis, which combines postmodern identity-politics, social media religion, and nostalgic Islamist politics to tragic ends. For a theocracy can never be modern, but it certainly can be postmodern and the theocratic tendency is one form of the postmodern in the contemporary world.
Similarly, the only form of religion that is really regarded and experienced as a problem in the West is that labeled radical Islam or Islamist and is so regarded because of terrorist actions and its challenge to both secular and Christian social and cultural norms. Rather Islam is more often regarded as an alien problem, an external problem, a problem not central nor internal to Western self-definition.
For Islam is often regarded as expressing a non-Western religion and culture despite—or rather perhaps because of, the long history of Islam in the West. To understand how this may be so, it is useful to consider what TS Eliot expressed in the appendix to his Notes towards the Definition of Culture Eliot also saw the possible reconciliation of Modernism and Christianity as the way to restore an anti-romantic modernity against the newly defeated Volkgeist of Germany. He was, however, careful to state that the basis of European unity in a history of Christian culture did not necessitate or imply a unified contemporary Christian culture.
Rather, in the modern world, the acknowledgment of a shared heritage to be drawn upon does not necessarily involve a shared belief in the present day. An individual European may not believe the Christian faith is true, and yet what he says, and makes, and does, will all spring out of his heritage of the Christian faith for its meaning. Importantly for our discussion, Western philosophy arose primarily from a combination of, reaction to, and various rejections of classical thought and Christianity—especially, Christian theology.
As has been argued, the shift to the postmodern was a shift that at a cultural level no longer saw any need to seriously engage with or even acknowledge this Christian cultural heritage. I have referred to Eliot because I believe he expresses a cultural truth that we seem in danger of either forgetting or misinterpreting today. While there was indeed the need of a corrective turn toward the acknowledgement of plurality away from a mono-cultural, mono-theological hegemony, this can and did, too often and too easily, result in a dismissal of any shared heritage or cultural lineage as merely hegemonic imposition.
This in itself raises serious issues for Philosophy of Religion, for does it follow such moves down an essentialist, romanticist line and become in effect a de facto justification for such forms of postmodern religion? For as noted earlier, the Post-modern openness to a plurality of beliefs and cultures and viewpoints has also, unfortunately, resulted in the rise of conservative—and increasingly extremist—religio-cultural claims that increasingly circulate through both non-digital and digital outlets, expressions and networks: political parties, lobby and protest groups, print and digital media, social media, and the internet.
This rise in what can be termed counter-modern positions has occurred because the theory of postmodernism as applied to beliefs, spirituality, and cultural difference to challenge hegemony and allow difference as has been replaced by the bureaucratic politics of postmodernity as applied to cultural identity the creation of new hegemonic demands of classification, reordering, and rights. In short, we have seen the rise of the demanded tolerance of the intolerant.
European culture has a particular legacy that each particular individual responds to by dint of being European. Yet this legacy of Christianity and Christian culture is not a collective demand as a belief upon any European individual as an individual. The individual, although they may find their thought, actions and creations occurring under the cultural influence of the legacy of Christian culture, are not, as individuals required, demanded or imposed upon to believe in Christianity.