Anatheism: Returning to God After God Paperback – May 17 2011
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Richard Kearney is an eminent contributor to Continental philosophy and to the Continental turn to religion. This book is an important contribution to the turn toward the philosophy of religion. Kearney helps to define a field that is new: the return of religion not only to the center of public and intellectual life but also to the center of significant discussion in the humanities.
Anatheism is an exciting, imaginative, and robust account of the life of faith in the postmodern world, a world marked by cultural plurality and religious strife, by militant faiths and militant attacks on faith. Richard Kearney moves with ease across a breathtaking amount of literature and cultures in an effort to retrieve a more mature and complex faith, beyond both doubt and dogmatism, to find the sacred in the secular, to see God in the world. Hospitality is first among the virtues for Kearney-both the hospitality that religion is and the hospitality to be shown among religions. This book is everything we have come to expect from Kearney-clear, fascinating, and engaging, all in all a major contribution to the contemporary continental philosophy of religion.
Anatheism is a philosophical and personal exploration, reminiscent of Augustine's Confessions, of how one might envisage God after his demise. The book weaves a rich philosophical tapestry of cultural, literary, political, and religious reflections that give witness and content to how the God who has become a stranger might be ethically welcomed today. This remarkable work is, in the most positive sense, an intellectual 'tour de faiblesse.' It advocates a form of post-theism that enables a rediscovery of a 'powerless' sacred in the midst of a self-assured secular. A phenomenological and hermeneutic exercise that is of great significance and assured controversy.
Kearney invites us all to a space he calls 'anatheism,' a place that precedes belief and unbelief where the close-minded dogmatism of either theism or atheism is left at the door and a respectful encounter ensues. It is a most welcome invitation.
A heartfelt, pragmatic, and eminently realistic argument about how one might continue to think aboutand even dedicate one's life toGod after the 'death' or 'disappearance' of God over the last hundred years or so.... Richard Kearney wants to see what is left of God, in the time after God, and he does so superbly well.(The New Yorker)
I enjoyed Kearney's book tremendously, especially the ana-theme: the distinction between going on believing as before or believing again. This is a profound distinction for our age. The possibilities opened up by the 'ana' offer a large palette of expanding choices combining and recombining new and old positions of belief and non-belief.
Numerous dogmatic believers possess the consummate art of rendering God utterly insupportable to any free spirit... while certain atheists can be so obtuse in their scientific utilitarianism that one feels like converting at the nearest altar. It is to avoid these extremes that the Irish philosopher, Richard Kearney, has written this remarkable hermeneutics of faith.... One must salute this thought-provoking book written with rare honesty and openness of mind.
I find the notion of ana-theism extremely pertinent as a way of witnessing to the death of the death of God (a double privative) while opening a third way: a path beyond both theism and atheism, beyond metaphysics and religion, which returns to the possibility of the divine event as such.
provides a thought-provoking exchange between the religious and contemporary continental philosophy.(Robert W.M. Kennedy Symposium)
As always, Kearney's work is poetic and thoughtful.(Forrest Clingerman Religious Studies Review)
This book is the outcome of a rich philosophical journey... I highly recommend this book to readers who wish to move beyond well-trodden paths in the debate between theism and atheism.(M. Moyaert Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses)
A heartfelt, pragmatic, and eminently realistic argument about how one might continue to think about―and even dedicate one's life to―God after the 'death' or 'disappearance' of God over the last hundred years or so.(James Wood Page-Turner blog, The New Yorker)
About the Author
Richard Kearney holds the Charles H. Seelig Chair of Philosophy at Boston College and is visiting professor at University College Dublin. The author of two novels and a volume of poetry, his most recent philosophical works include the trilogy Philosophy at the Limits: Strangers, Gods, and Monsters: Ideas of Otherness, The God Who May Be: A Hermeneutics of Religion, and On Stories (Thinking in Action).
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Top Customer Reviews
He put language on a starkly disorienting experience I had thirty years ago, of letting go of false gods and "returning to God after god". Now I know better "We see through a glass, darkly...."
A rare and helpful book. Thank you
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Kearney's book is concerned with the fact that the "God" question is returning today with a new sense of urgency (xi). But the book is much more than this - it is about the experience of anatheism - the returning to God after the disappearance of one's sense of who or what God is or was (5). This experience he says is critical and centres on the idea to recover the presence of holiness in daily life one 'has to concede' that in fact we really know nothing about God. One has to begin with an epiphanal, anatheistic moment of not knowing, of doubt and disorientation, letting go of received certainties and opening to a faith beyond the taken-for-granted and one that which rebirths in an experience of second belief.
Part of this transition involves these anomic moments where one has to stand, at least for a time with the likes of Neitzsche, acknowledging/accepting that many of the received ideas of God don't actually work for us. He notes that atheism can be really useful in bringing to our attention the delusional, silly, destructive, harmful and oppressive aspects that have become part of so much religion today (73). Anatheism opens up the possibility for belief after experiences of un-belief, disbelief and atheism (74). And this is such a credible position as he brings forth the insight that much of systematised belief has grown out of limited human understanding of who or what God is. Individuals, he says, have drawn on their assumptions, presumptions (15), interpretations, insights and experience, all trying to make sense of the Other within limited cultural frames, bound in time and space, that have drawn upon the often under-developed intellects of the day. And then these understandings have been reified themselves - my god is the only true god - and ordering society according to select understandings across time and space. Organised religion is, he suggests, not a lot more than various cultural struggles, binding communities to certain practices and customs based on limited insight (20). Before we can believe again, we must first empty ourselves of this baggage.
In the latter chapters of this book Kearney explores the idea that in studying other experiences of belief, one learns more about one's own. He is not promoting pantheism or the birth of a global religion. He brings forth the insight that at their core, various belief systems, though culturally bound and interpreted, in fact have much in common with regards the lived aspects of belief and spirituality. At the same time (and yet without quoting Jung), he brings forward Jung's insight that while we may learn deeply from others systems and experiences, such encounters serve to reinforce, and yet renew, the depths of one's own faith experience. Central to anatheism is the freedom to converse with those who remain alien to one's own faith (149). We can also learn from each other and admit equality without necessarily embracing sameness (151). he draws forth the insight that responsible believers are those who have ventured thru rival interpretations of belief making the the best decision they can - picking and choosing aspects of belief and practice are central, not marginal to an anathesitically informed faith that is based on deep discernment (169-170)
And so in finding God after God, there is a journey to be undertaken - beginning with the epiphanal moment in which one realises that what one once grew up believing, no longer works for you; and so the journey begins: "without dispossession no return; without sundering, no arrival' (13). This book engages with the many of us who can neither accept the God we were taught to believe in, nor turn our backs on that which calls us deeper and seeks to engage with us. To this end Kearney suggests that 'one has to liberate oneself from creedal attachments - at least provisionally - in order to liberate oneself into an awareness of the holy beyond habitual constructions' (16). This is the first essential message within this book, albeit studied from a variety of experiences and perspectives.
The second message is that the divine is to be found and experienced 'in each human who asks to be received into our midst' (20). Here Kearney seeks to move beyond embedded notions of an all powerful, omni-everything god, who smites some, saves others, pull levers here and drops thunder bolts over there. No, God is in fact manifested in the Stranger (hospes - hospitality), the vulnerable, the defenceless - the human persona of the divine - and who at the same time calls for justice (21). 'Eschatology is realised in the presence of the alien in our midst. Love of the guest becomes love of God (29)'. He in turn explores this dynamic across the three Abrahamic faiths while also noting the presence of this dynamic in other faith systems as well. What a conceptual shift, to move from the God who is omnipotent to a realisation of God who is not impotent, but certainly one that does not exercise power as we once thought they did. A key problem with the sovereign god has been the ready translation of such notions of power into theocracies and other forms of violence justified in terms of belief (146). Kearney notes that in Islamic belief, for example, the Prophet was sent to the white and the black, that is to all people alike' (147). Similar messages are evident in Christianity as are many excesses. Kearney then deeply challenges the reader to reflect on their model of God - be it an absolutist, a sovereign or a God manifest in the stranger (148).
The third message is the rediscovery of the sacred in everyday life (153) - an engagement with the incarnate standing before us; a new attunement of the sacred in flesh and blood (166). He goes on then to examine three examples of lives so lived.
Anatheism does not propose a new God, a new belief, a new religion. It simply invites us to see what has always been there - a second time around (167). Yet Kearney is implicitly calling for a continued reformation of organised religion and in so doing provides a coherent legitimation for much of that which many of us have been going through (168). He also notes that simply because religion has been mis-used, it doesn't mean that there was not something valuable there in the beginning. At the same time, organised religion must continually subject itself to critique and change.
I thoroughly enjoyed most of this book, albeit I skipped over the middle section as I am not really into literary criticism per se. For me it addresses a vital part of this journey many of us are undertaking; moving beyond the silly, simplistic, emotionally, intellectually and culturally immature aspects of much of organised religion and being open to what we can learn from other experiences. Importantly, this experience is not just an intellectual one, for one's experience of the anatheistic journey is also emotional (and related to identity and practice) and spiritual. If it is the case that at the beginning of the journey we do not actually know God, then the journey has to have an aspect of encounter within it. And while Kearney acknowledges this, in that one may explore other faiths and practices along the way, the book stops short of engaging us in this process of the renewed encounter with the Other. What I think Kearney is really trying to do in this book is to legitimate the need many of us have, to set aside the many aspects of belief systems that don't work for us, so that we can free ourselves to encounter the Other on their own terms. And once having grown in and thru that encounter, the Other manifests itself to us in the stranger we see in our midst everyday.
Sam Harris' new book Waking Up would probably be a good co-read with this.