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Vattimo and Theology

There is a new series by Continuum Book that engages contemporary philosophy from a theological perspective. Adorno and Theology, Wittgenstein and Theology, Habermas and Theology,  Girard and Theology, Zizek and Theology. They are also offering new readings for the 21st century of Kant and Theology, Hegel and Theology, Kierkegaard and Theology. Most of them look good and will surely engage discussion.

This past week, I went to a book signing for Vattimo and Theology– Thomas Guarino

There is little good material on Gianni Vattimo in English but here is a book review in English and here is Vattimo’s blog (in Italian- Columbia UP has a link to the blog embedded in a translation program).

Vattimo translated Gadaemer into Italian, and took hermeneutics to a Nietzsche influenced extreme. Everything is just interpretation, there is no truth in the text.

Now, how can a catholic priest teaching in a conservative seminary use an atheist, nihilist, gay, anti-clerical, anti-revelation thinker as a basis for a book? The approach not to take is to call this is heresy and forbidden and violates what we were taught. So what does that leave? One can show how other contemporary theologians have rejected his thought. (There is an article in Modern Theology- that does that)  Or one can take Vattimo’s positive points and re-graft them onto tradition.

Instead the author of the new book attempted the following two approaches. One can use it as a self-corrective for how tradition is currently being presented. One can use it to understand what current intellectuals are thinking so that one can respond to the issues of our age

Some of the points in the book:

Cardinal Ratzinger – decried the dictatorship of Relativism, Vattimo argued against Ratzinger that dogmatic claims are the bigger problem and let’s have charitable tolerance.

Secularism, in the post-religious sense, should not be decried but treated as a chance to practice the weak virtues of charity-love without dogma and as a vibrant fruit of religion. Religion has been kept out of the public sphere, but now that it is weakened, it should be brought back into the public sphere.

Vattimo says “I believe that I believe” – meaning that I have faith in the human concept of belief not in an object of believe. So whereas the Enlightenment taught we cant know the truth of religion, Vattimo argues that “faith” is the acceptance that one is heir to a library of the textual tradition of faith and to a socio-cultural world of religion. Modern rationalist liberals want to treat religion as symbolism, or metaphor. In contrast, Vattimo has faith in faith so he takes religion at face values but know that there is nothing behind it. There is no one meaning, all is a fable, all is interpretation, there is no truth out side the cave.

  • “It is only thanks to God that I’m an atheist”
  • “I believe that I believe” (credere di credere)

Guardino argues that this is not theologically sound. We need for revelation, and belief but Vattimo gives us an insight into our age. Guardino best line: “Vattimo makes cultural liberals look like scholastic divines”

Vattimo recites the Latin prayers from the Roman Breviary three times a day, and he says it is not because he believes but as an acceptance of tradition. There was a wide range of opinions what to make of that behavior. Does that give him a weak faith? Does ritual without a traditional sense of faith count? What would Jews make of this ritual behavior?

Unfortunately, we have nothing similar from the Jewish community. We do not have a series like this. There is little Jewish theological engagement since the early 1960’s, except among a few academics. Why cant Jews put out a series like this?

We spend all our time discussing bad ideology about our denominations, maybe responses to actual philosophers might better clarify our beliefs? Maybe a Reform and Orthodox response to Vattimo might teach us more than a rehashing of denominational generalities.

What can Jews learn from Vattimo? Does it reflect our congregants state of faith? How would we respond to Vattimo? What corrective does it offer us?

How would an Orthodox author successful learn from a heretic?

As a side point: It is interesting to watch the major philosopher of our age Jurgern Habermas learning to use Twitter.

Update: Jürgen Habermas says he’s not on Twitter

Over the last several days there has been considerable hubbub around the fact that pioneering media theorist Jürgen Habermas might have signed up for Twitter as @JHabermas. This would be “important if true”, as Jay Rosen put it. Intrigued, I tracked him down through the University of Frankfurt. I succeeded in getting him on the phone at his home in Sternburg, and asked him if he was on Twitter. He said,

No, no, no. This is somebody else. This is a mis-use of my name.

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