Thursday, August 25, 2016

David Congdon and Use of Heidegger in Bultmann, Barth, Pannenberg


¶ 1


First, I would like to consider the important role of existentialism as theology considers the nature of humanity. The issue in the Barth-Bultmann debate is whether Barth was right in saying that the role of existentialism in Bultmann is similar to that of a full-blown natural theology. His concern is that such an approach so heightens the thoughts and observations of human beings that it devalues our reliance upon revelation for knowledge of God. Congdon will say that Barth is quite wrong, and I would tend to agree. This debate has led me to re-visit existentialism. As important as philosophy has been to the history of theology, theology needs to be sure its engagement is a critical one. I will explore the way Bultmann, Barth, and Pannenberg make use of Heidegger and see what we can learn of a proper theological use of a philosophical perspective.

The tie that Bultmann developed with existentialism was the reason Pannenberg thought Bultmann eclipsed Barth in the theological world, at least in the 70s and 80s. Barth would likely concur, since in the early 60s he thought the academic world of theology had already set him aside. The place of existentialism is far more obvious in Bultmann than we find it in Barth. In CD III.2, Barth will be in a subtle conversation-debate with existentialism. On an anecdotal level, I must say that even in conservative Christian schools I attended, reading Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Sartre, and Camus was important, even if to argue against, in some cases, was the primary purpose. Congdon suggests that Bultmann had a far more modest approach to his use of existentialism than Barth thought. Bultmann would agree with Barth that a philosophical perspective should not become a worldview. I will show that we have some different approaches to Heidegger in these theologians.

Bultmann was a faithful pupil of Wilhelm Herrmann. One of the things Bultmann learned from him is the exclusive relation to existence or self of all statements about God and divine action. Hermann could say that the object of theology is God, but that theology discusses its object by speaking of the God who confronts human beings in the light of faith. Faith becomes a matter of comprehending our existence, which is at the same time comprehending God. If we speak of God, then we must speak of ourselves. This amounts to saying that statements about God and divine action bear on human existence. This means the rejection of objective statements about God that do not bear directly upon human existence. Such objective statements about God that do not bear upon existence are the realm of myth and world-picture. This connection to Herrmann is one that Barth noted. He described it as the ethical and anthropological form that Bultmann gives to the message and faith of Christianity. Bultmann also derives from Herrmann his holy respect for the secular rules for the world and science.[1]

In a limited way, Bultmann sought a point of contact between theology and nontheological anthropological studies. Heidegger was that point of contact. To view the matter from the perspective of Barth for a moment, Barth refers to Heidegger as developing a modern ontology instructed by Kierkegaard. It interprets human existence historically, projecting itself toward nothingness. He thinks that Bultmann sought to understand human existence prior to faith along the lines of Heidegger. Bultmann shares the methodology of Schleiermacher, which means the analysis of human existence provides the framework of a general view of humanity.[2] Barth will stress that modernity is not the measure of all things, even while it appears indispensable. Existentialism will have a successor. The time of the dominance of Hegel had more justification for the place it gave Hegel than do persons today have for giving existentialism such a dominant role. He thinks theology needs to be more far-sighted and reject any attempt to co-ordinate with this temporarily predominant philosophical trend of existentialism. Yet, on the positive side, Barth admits that we need to consider and learn from the typical philosophical thinking of the day.[3] For Bultmann, one can elaborate existentially the subject matter of theology only in the form of anthropology. He sees the point of contact as resolving the opposition of revelation to the human being as sinner. However, he viewed revelation as a judgment on the negation of the human. Thus, he did not achieve a critical appropriation of an anthropology based on existential philosophy. Yet, he regarded this anthropology as normative. He accepted as valid the pretheological interpretation of the person given in the analysis of human existence by Heidegger, but without any critical discussion of the individual claims made in that analysis. He offered a global negative evaluation of it as a description of the understanding of human existence by the sinner and used it in this form as a negative foil for theology.[4] My hope is that the discussion will show how a theologian might engage in a critical discussion of existentialist analysis.

Let us consider human brokenness under the theme of the theological understanding of original sin. Barth will argue that the empirical psychological data had no connection with Christian theological statements about human sinfulness. When we know Jesus Christ, we know the sinfulness of humanity.[5] Yet, this would mean that those who do not believe would have no realization of the brokenness that characterizes human existence. At the same time, it seems self-evident that those who have no faith must still face the confrontation between their human destiny on the one hand and the structure of their behavior on the other. Thus, one can legitimately make a point of contact between theology and philosophy as the philosopher might disclose dimensions of human brokenness. Heidegger could certainly have insight into the nature of that brokenness. Of course, Barth is partially correct, for the knowledge of God makes it possible for us to see the perversity of the behavior of sin arising from a turn from God. Such knowledge arises from a turning in faith to the self-revelation of God.[6]

If we turn to Pannenberg, we see a theologian who is going to be willing to re-think the notion of original sin in light of the exploration into human existence we find in existentialism in general and Heidegger in particular. He will focus upon the insight that anxiety or dread is primary as we consider the structure of human existence. Thus, Kierkegaard is largely correct. He came close to dissolving the transcendental concept of the subject of idealistic philosophy. The subject is in a state of becoming with regard to its selfhood and therefore its freedom. Dread for him has no definite object, other than the one experiencing dread as a concern for the unity of the self. Dread particularly experiences the loss of connection with the Infinite, and thus grasp at finite things to bring wholeness. As the synthesis of the Infinite and the finite, he is describing the same thing that many thinkers describe as self-transcendence, openness to the world, and exo-centricity. As finite beings, humanity reaches beyond finitude and toward the Infinite and Eternal. This reaching out would not be possible if human beings were simply finite. Theologically, we can think of the brokenness of the synthesis as a reflection of the dignity of humanity as made in the image of God and the misery of humanity in its sinfulness. Heidegger will take the phenomenon of dread or anxiety as a paradigm for the basic structure of human existence in the world. He will remove anxiety from a tension between the Infinite and Eternal as seen in Kierkegaard and locate it fully in the experience of individuals in this world. Care with regard to self determines the structure of human existence. Self-love becomes the focus of human existence. As care for self dominates us, our lives no longer have a life characterized by trust that becomes the basis for behavior. Rather, we strive for security. A life dominated by such striving for security and control of the conditions of our existence means self-love rules us. Sin is our ruler. Self-preservation is normal and natural, but when it proceeds from anxiety and worry, it distorts our behavior with undue self-love. Heidegger provides confirmation that anxiety or dread is an expression of sin.[7] Bultmann will see this as well.[8]

Human brokenness is such that the process of achieving our personal identity becomes a way of revealing the brokenness of human existence. In Heidegger, one can achieve identity by knowing one’s destiny, which one achieves through behavior. One has a certain kind of indebtedness of existence that we find expressed in being responsible. Heidegger describes this experience in terms of human beings owing it to themselves to correspond to this destiny. One is responsible to oneself. To appropriate this thought critically, responsibility to God is a particular form of responsibility to the self. After all, the identity of the self, or the destiny of the self, has its ground in God and one can achieve this destiny only through the power of God.[9]

We can see Heidegger working on the achieving of personal identity in the theme that human existence has its concern for the being that it must be. Human existence is disclosure, for human existence is being-there in the world and is there for itself. We can understand this as an explication of the consciousness of human existence of its own being. As such, Heidegger is correcting the classical philosophical analysis of self-consciousness. For Heidegger, the future about which human existence has concern and which it must be is decisive for its being as a whole. The present being of human existence has its basis in the future with which it has concern to be. He has introduced the time factor into the analysis of self-consciousness that yields its meaning only on the basis that the constitution of human existence is by the future in the whole of its being. As he would put it, the question of personal selfness is accessible only by anticipating the future of one’s own death. The “extreme” place that death has in a human life becomes revelatory way as we “anticipate” that future in all this nothingness. Sartre would later connect this anticipation with the question of God. The point of Heidegger is that as long as human existence is as an entity, it will never reach its wholeness. The gain of its wholeness is the loss of Being-in-the-world. Heidegger has transformed the important notion of self-transcendence as transcendence toward nothingness. The only way out of the questionable quality of human existence is the anticipatory knowledge of the death of the person. The anticipatory knowledge opens the possibility of the certainty of one’s Being. The certainty comes specifically through the call of conscience. The calling is from oneself. Answering the call is the achieving of identity. This ecstatic being-ahead-of-oneself in the future of the person has a positive understanding of the present as moment. The present is the moment in which human existence returns from its future in repetition to its past.[10]

This view of achieving personal identity has several challenges that deserve critical appraisal. One is the material abundance of possibilities of life preceding death apart from knowledge of inescapability of one’s own death. The contingency of events leading up to death argues against Heidegger here. In addition, death does not round out human existence into a whole. Death breaks off life. Even in the best instances, the successful life remains a fragment. We could also say that the intention toward wholeness necessarily reaches beyond death. The intended wholeness transcends the finitude of human life. The web of social life is part of this transcendence. Yet, the reciprocal relation of the social group and the individual suggests a bond that transcends them both that we might call the destiny of humanity. Self-transcendence is toward something rather than nothing. Yet, Heidegger is quite right to point to the importance of anticipation as the means through which humanity experiences its wholeness.[11]

Let us shift our attention to Barth in these matters for a moment. If Heidegger should receive commendation for his introduction of time into human existence, Barth will offer his approach to a critical appropriation of the insight in his attempt to correct it in light of revelation. Barth discusses “the time of revelation,” with the first section becoming a discussion of “God’s time and our time.” To discuss the notion of God revealing whom God is to discuss the occurrence of an event. This means, “God has time for us.” Yet, he gladly points out that he shall not have to take as a basis any time concept gained independently of revelation itself. He rejects the approach of both Augustine and Heidegger. He refers to Being and Time, Section 65. Temporality is “original time” and becomes the possibility of existence in virtue of which one may have anxiety as one lives ecstatically by means of a preliminary resolve to achieve one’s possibility of existence. One attains oneself by facing a guilty past and thereby possessing a present. Existence “is” by bringing to fulfillment of one’s future. Humanity possesses time by creating it. He sees the problem that if we create time, time might be lost. Time in Heidegger becomes a self-determined of human existence. Reality lies with this existence, with temporality as the possibility of existence, but not with time as such. He will go on to discuss his notion of the time of revelation. Heidegger strips time of its objectivity in order to regard it as the way in which human beings exist. We are not sure what we mean by the present, we are not sure if it begins and ends, and we just wonder if we can say anything of time if we do not also speak of eternity.[12]

Barth will also have an important reflection on Nothingness in CD III.3 [50] as he wrestles with evil in creation. In the process, he discusses the role of Nothingness in Heidegger. He will offer his critical appraisal of the term. In Heidegger, Nothing is something in the sense that one has to reckon with it as an original factor that precedes our negation and affirmation. “Nothing” is dynamic and active. It obtrudes upon us. It discloses itself to us in dread, which is the nihilating work of “Nothing” as the rejecting, reprimanding, and elusive being. Dread discloses the previously hidden alienation of the other. Here is the path toward self-hood and freedom. Nothing belongs to the essence of being. Existence derives from manifested nothing. One can define existence as a projection into Nothing. He agrees with Hegel and that pure being and pure nothing are the same thing. We have discussed the disclosure that occurs in affective states like joy and boredom. However, the basic mood that reveals Nothing as constitutive for existence is dread. The revelation of Nothing occurs in dread. Dread reveals nothing because we elude ourselves. Dread strikes us dumb. Revelation of Nothing discloses the strangeness of human existence. Heidegger wants to show the potency of Nothing against existence. Along with dread, Nothing brings peace and rest. Barth will make the point, in fact, that Nothingness has the nature and function of deity. He notes the underived, comprehensive dynamism, and activity of this Nothing. Openness to Nothing is the virtue of existence. Distortion of Nothing is a sin. Nothing exhibits the nature and mode of what philosophy would normally refer to as transcendence. Nothingness in its dominant and dynamic depth takes the place of deity. Nothing is the divine. Nothing is the basis, criterion, and elucidation of everything. He notes that while Nothing has traditional attributes of deity as aseity, uniqueness, omnipotence, omniscience, infinity, and so on, Nothing has no relation to the biblical concept of God. Of course, the notion of Nothing in Heidegger, he says, has nothing to do with what he has considered as nothingness before God. Thus, Nothingness in Heidegger is really something. Nothing is being that has some dimension of the holy and divine. Peace, serenity, and daring, overcome the revelation of Nothing in dread. Nothingness becomes something fruitful, salutary, and radiant rather that something dreadful and horrible or a dark abyss. In this regard, Nothingness in Heidegger is nothing like the Nothingness of Christian usage, where the sickness unto death confronts real nothingness.[13]

Closely related to human brokenness and the difficulty of achieving personal identity is the questionable character of human existence. It suggests perpetual openness of humanity to the future. It suggests the provisional nature of choices and beliefs. For Barth, humanity itself is a question to which the divine is the answer. Barth (Romans, 41) could say that when the final human question awakens in us we receive the divine answer. He sees a correspondence between the question and the divine answer (Romans, 80, 271-2, 380 and The Word of God and the Word of Man, 191). The value of the Law and the multiplicity of religions is that they keep the question open (Romans, 254). He stresses the point that the divine call precedes the question. People call upon God, but God has already answered (Romans, 383). The answer to the question that animates human existence is the personal presence of God. In fact, God has placed us in question precisely because God is the answer to the question of our existence (Romans, 80, 282). He developed this point further in Christliche Dogmatic (1927) by stressing that humanity is the question, but that the divine answer discloses the questionable character of human existence. In fact, the answer awakens the question. Barth will abandon this mode of thinking in Church Dogmatics. He had given up on the possibility of claiming human existence itself as a witness for the truth of revelation. Thus, Barth can say that religion is a confirmation that sin has not destroyed the relation of humanity to God (IV.1, 483).[14] Religion in early dialectical theology is the self-assertion of humanity that feels its lost condition. In contrast, faith is the human response to the self-revelation of God. This contrast between faith and religion was a criticism of the middle class Christian world emerging in Europe. It directed itself against all forms of religion, including that of Christianity.[15]

Bultmann will stress that the very existence of humanity already has the character of a question and is in fact the question of God. Our finitude and self-awareness of it raises the question of Infinity and our relationship to it. Humanity raises the question about itself because God has called humanity into question. God is the answer to the question humanity of itself. He will stress that since humanity is a question to itself it already knows about God. Philosophy knows about faith in that it knows the freedom of human existence, which suggests the questionable character of human existence. Bultmann sees an unobservable, hidden correlation of God and self. Questionableness is the structure of human existence. The self is in quest of itself. He affirms a reciprocal relation between our existence and God. We can know God only as we know self; we can know self only as we know God. Faith provides moral certainty of God. The self arrives at authenticity only in God. Of course, one does not objectify any of this. Only science objectifies the world and the phenomena of the human. Faith allows one to transcend the observable world. Scripture itself arises out of the quest for authentic existence and speaks to our quest for the same. Thus, Bultmann remains faithful to Herrmann in seeing this hidden correlation between God and self. The emphasis of Karl Barth on the Trinity as the self-revelation of God gives way in Bultmann to the disclosing of the authenticity of human existence. In a sense, Bultmann replaces proof of God from nature and history with a proof of God to the believing self and existing authentically. This dialectic between human existence and transcendence has replaced the language of religion that connected soul and God. Its connection with Augustine is that nothing is so certain that we are aware of our existence and therefore know God. This path to knowledge of God from knowledge of self continued in Bernard of Clairvaux. Even John Calvin worked out a dialectic relation between the knowledge of God and self-knowledge. In criticism of this view, we should not it has a weakness that it shares with existentialism in general. We arrive at self-knowledge through participation in the world that science describes.[16]

To be clear, the question contained in human existence is not the answer, for the answer is only through revelation. Humanity has knowledge of God in the uncanniness and enigmatic quality of human existence. The inquiry about God arises from the mystery and finitude of humanity. The question of the authenticity of human existence is always ahead. Human life is always provisional. Yet, Bultmann makes it clear that humanity tries to close the questioning off with a positive knowledge of God, which turns humanity into a prisoner. Christian faith celebrates the question raised in the non-Christian, but must point to the answer divine revelation. Here is the point of contact that Bultmann sees with the existential analysis of human existence. The alliance that Bultmann sees with existentialism points to his difference with Barth.[17]

As a brief aside, the method of correlation in Paul Tillich is close to both Barth and Bultmann. For him, what is at stake in the effort to interpret the Christian revelation as the answer to the question of human existence and of finitude generally is the ability of theological statements to compel conviction. Gerhard Ebeling will take this further, saying theology establishes the possibility of its talk about God having the power to compel conviction by explaining it as an answer to the questionable character of human existence and of reality generally as it confronts humanity. For Barth and Bultmann, this would be true as well.[18]

We should also note that the important notion in Bultmann of “pre-understanding” arises from the questioning character of human existence. The questioning without which we cannot understand the text is the presupposition of understanding. The questioning character of the pre-understanding makes room for a revision of any given pre-conception about the content of a text through a confrontation with the text. However, Bultmann restricts the question about the contemporary significance of the past to that which a transmitted text expresses concerning the question of human existence. This restriction of the text to anthropocentric understanding of existence seems to deny the challenge that the past may present to the present. It assumes the present age is self-sufficient.[19]

We have taken a detour into the importance of humanity as a question. The questionable character of human existence is the reason personal identity is so difficult. The detour highlights an important point. One does not achieve identity so easily. A theological approach may help us consider the place of the existential analysis of human existence.

Mood discloses the manner of human existence in the world and discloses it as a whole. Human existence is this disclosedness. Such disclosure is the openness of human existence to the world. People often read Heidegger at this point as focusing upon the mood of anxiety or despair, which leads to isolation of the self from the community. Yet, he also writes of joy and other positive moods as liberating. Such feelings open the individual to the community.[20] The call of conscience is from the person in the mode of keeping silent. The call is from fallenness into “they” and to its unique potentiality for Being. In this way, he shifts conscience from the awareness of fault. Rather, guilt arises from Being with Others and even from relationship to any law or “ought.” In essence, individuals must bring themselves back from their lostness in “they.” “Being-guilty” is the expression of an ought, the content of which is the authenticity of the individual. Guilt as involving a transgression becomes intelligible in this way. He has recovered the notion of guilt as something we owe to someone or something. Guilt involves awareness of obligation before it involves awareness of transgression. Our responsibility for ourselves arises out of this sense of obligation. This idea is similar to that of Paul Ricoeur (Symbolism of Evil, 102), where he said that acceptance of responsibility is the basis of the consciousness of being an agent or author. The concept of action presupposes the concept of responsibility. Both the capacity for action and the sense of responsibility have their ground in the call to an authentic self. The judgment of conscience is a failure concerning achieving one’s self. I become conscious of something I lack and something I need.

Many of us can appreciate the insight Heidegger brings to self-revelation we experience in mood and in guilt in particular. Yet, in the process, engaging Heidegger critically at this point, Heidegger plays down the consciousness of guilt in the sense of having already violated an obligation and done a wrong that one cannot undo. His analysis fails to penetrate the depth of the nonidentity that makes itself known in awareness of guilt because it fails to see the rupture of communal order by a rending of the ties individuals have to their fellow human beings. Had he done so, he would have seen that the authentic self of an individual is a member of the human order to which it belongs. Had he been aware of this, he might have seen the importance of expiation (extinguishing the guilt incurred for the rupture of community, to put an end to the anger or sorrow that results from this disruption) in overcoming the nonidentity experienced in conscience that one is to accomplish in the life of the injured community. The result is that his analysis of conscience leads to an abstraction of the individual from the human community and its ethos. Heidegger has recognized the subjective form of the judgments of conscience. Yet, it abstracts conscience from all reference to the order of the social world. He has also brought into the coming of consciousness the modern notion of alienation. In fact, the call of conscience locates consciousness in its isolation. It leads into despair. Theologically, the notion of repentance opens the door to overcoming the judgment of conscience and the experience of nonidentity.[21] A different way of putting this objection is that in Bultmann we find the reduction of the Christian ethic to the ethical demand to accept one’s self and take responsibility for the world in general. Such a focus upon the individual at least seems to quit the realm of justice and the social order. It runs the risk of becoming socially irrelevant. In addition, describing the church as a community of faith and a community in the transcendent will not disturb the official doings of society.[22]

To conclude, I think I have shown that Bultmann is much less critical in his approach to Heidegger as are Barth or Pannenberg. Both Barth and Pannenberg engage Heidegger in a critical way. While Barth wants to distance himself from Heidegger, he has also drawn from his insights. Pannenberg is allowing existentialism to inform the Christian notion of sin. Yet, he also makes it clear that the theologian brings Scripture and tradition into dialogue with its insights. I have not included his reflections on how he can biblically bring dread and anxiety into an understanding of the brokenness of humanity. In fact, he will criticize Barth at this point. Barth has an incredibly insightful discussion of sin as pride, sloth, and lying in Volume IV. These reflections on sin have strong connections to Christian tradition. Pannenberg wants to move with Bultmann in re-considering (demythologizing) the doctrine of original sin as directing us to the anxiety or dread that is constitutive of human existence.



[1] (Moltmann, Theology of Hope 1965, 1967), 58-60.
[2] (Barth 2004, 1932-67) Volume I, [2.2] 37; [6.2], 192-3.
[3] (Barth 2004, 1932-67), Volume III.3 [50.3] 334.
[4] (Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspective 1985), 19.
[5] (Barth 2004, 1932-67), IV.1, p 389.
[6] (Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspective 1985), 91-2.
[7] (Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspective 1985), 96-104.
[8] Theology of the New Testament, I, 243-44 on fear in Paul and 241-42 on care.
[9] (Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspective 1985), 113-4.
[10] (Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspective 1985), 209-11, 234, 237-9.
[11] (Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology (2 Volumes) 1967, 1971), Volume I, 166-7.
[12] (Barth 2004, 1932-67), Vol. I.2 [14.1] 45-47; 47-9.
[13] (Barth 2004, 1932-67) Volume III.3 [50.3] 334-49.
[14] (Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology (2 Volumes) 1967, 1971), Volume II, 207-10.
[15] (Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Conribution to Messianic Ecclesiology 1975, 1977), 154-5.
[16] (Moltmann, Theology of Hope 1965, 1967), 273-6; (Moltmann, The Crucified God 1973, 1974), 87-91; (Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God 1980, 1981), 15.
[17] (Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology (2 Volumes) 1967, 1971), Volume II, 210-2. He refers to Faith and Understanding and Essays Philosophical and Theological. (Moltmann, Theology of Hope 1965, 1967), 59-65, who also refers to Kerygma and Myth.
[18] (Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology (2 Volumes) 1967, 1971), Volume II, 212-3.
[19] (Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology (2 Volumes) 1967, 1971), Volume I, 107-15.
[20] (Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspective 1985), 254-6.
[21] (Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspective 1985), 301-3, 308-10.
[22] (Moltmann, Theology of Hope 1965, 1967), 314-6, 321.

No comments:

Post a Comment