While at the Half Price Bookstore the other day, I picked up two books on Paul Tillich along with the book I got on Postmodernism I posted about recently. I’m not exactly sure what inspired me to buy them. I think I had gotten Tillich confused with Teilhard de Chardin whom Milosz and Merton had been discussing in their letters. (Both said they didn’t much like him.) Whatever possessed me, I’m glad I got them because I’ve enjoyed Tillich. I’ll give some time to Teilhard and figure out why it is that Merton and Milosz don’t like him another time.
Tillich is a Protestant Theologian and I’m kind of amazed at how comfortable I feel reading him. He comes at things in a way that makes me feel right at home. Tillich refers to God a lot, but like Merton and ACIM, his use of God does not refer to the traditional, mythic God – it isn’t a transcendent judge.
For Tillich God is the symbol of our “ultimate concern”. God is whatever concerns us ultimately, whatever is most important in our lives. Tillich says this is true even if you deny God. “Where there is ultimate concern, God can be denied only in the name of God.” Likewise, for Tillich, faith, and religion are “ultimate concern”. Paradoxically, he sees religion itself as one of the greatest dangers to religion because when a religion becomes rigid, it suppresses the inquiry, the dynamic, the love, and the insight that gave it its original inspiration and growth. It therefore denies the “ultimate concern” rather than reaches for it.
Ken Wilber says that Tillich’s God as “ground of being” is right on target and even Sam Harris (the guy who wants to put an end to all of religion and wrote The End of Faith) has no problem with Tillich recasting faith “as a spiritual principle that transcends mere motivated credulity.”
Interestingly, Merton and Tillich have a lot in common, too. One thing they share is the idea of kairos. I’m wondering if this at all fits with Fuzzo’s comment on my post on Postmodernism? Fuzzo wrote:
“…now, what’s really cool about all this is that the very same thing happened in America at the end of the first world war. it returned in a very weak wave as the war in vietnam drew to a close, and now here it is again – full blown – aided by the information age…”
In Morality and Beyond, Tillich says kairos is a Greek word that means “the right time”. He writes:
All great changes in history are accompanied by a strong consciousness of a kairos at hand. Therefore, ethics in a changing world must be understood as ethics of the kairos. The answer to the demand for ethics in a changing world is ethics determined by the kairos. But only love is able to appear in every kairos. Law is not able, because law is the attempt to impose what belonged to a special time on all times. An ideal that appeared at the right time and was valid for this time is now considered to be the ideal for history as a whole, as that form of life in which history will find its end. The outcome of this attitude is inevitably disillusionment and the rise of ethical libertarianism and relativism. This is the point at which the dynamic-naturalistic solution, despite its destructive consequences, was in the right, and still battles rightly against Catholic and bourgeois ethics. Or, expressed in terms of church history, this is the point at which Luther was right in his opposition to Aquinas and Calvin. Love, realizing itself from kairos to kairos, creates an ethics that is beyond the alternatives of absolute and relative ethics.
Tillich wrote about kairos existing at the end of World War I and encouraged his contemporaries to respond to that kairos. He was disappointed when it passed thanks to Hitler’s rise to power. Merton likewise wrote about kairos during the American Civil Rights movement and was likewise disappointed that people failed to respond to it. In an article entitled “Religion and Race in the United States” in the New Blackfriars magazine (Vol. 46 Issue 535 Page 218 January 1965) Merton wrote:
Is it possible that when the majority of Christians become aware that ‘the time has come’ for a decisive and urgent commitment, that time has, in fact, already run out? There can be no question now that the time for a crucial Christian decision has come and gone. In 1962 and finally in 1963, there were “moments of truth” which have now passed, and the scene is becoming one of darkness, anarchy, and moral collapse.
Fuzzo says we are here again, full blown. Is this another kairos?
According to Tillich, in order to recognize kairos, it is important to realize “a moral act is not an act in obedience to an external law, human or divine. It is the inner law of our true being, of our essential or created nature, which demands that we actualize what follows from it…An antimoral act is not the transgression of one or several precisely circumscribed commands, but an act that contradicts the self-realization of the person as a person and drives toward disintegration… Freedom is replaced by compulsion. Deliberation and decision, the hallmarks of freedom, become mere facades for overwhelming drives that predetermine the decision. The voice of man’s essential being is silenced, step by step; and his disintegrating self, his depersonalization, shows the nature of the anitmoral act and, by contrast the nature of the moral act.”
It’s also important to understand “love”. If we simply understand it as an emotion, we have misunderstood it. “Love, in the sense, of agape, contains justice in itself as an unconditional element and as its weapon against its own sentimentalization.” This love has very little to do with pity, as was noted by Nietzsche. “…love liberates us from the bondage to absolute ethical traditions, to conventional morals, and to authorities that claim to know the right decision perhaps without having listened to the demand of the unique moment…It breaks the prison of any absolute moral law, even when vested with the authority of a sacred tradition. Love can reject as well as utilize every moral tradition, and it always scrutinizes the validity of moral convention. But love itself cannot question itself and cannot be questioned by anything else.”
Tillich says that it is a moralistic distortion to classify the “teachings of Jesus” as another law. It is his word (not his “teachings”) that point the way to the new reality in which the law is not abolished, but has ceased to be commanding. (Fuzzo mentioned that he thought language was everything.)
In Love Power and Justice (which was written before Morality and Beyond) Tillich claims that “Ontology is the elaboration of the ‘logos’ of the ‘on’, in English of the ‘rational word’ which grasps ‘being as such’”. He claims he wants us to turn to something older than naive nominalism and realism to a philosophy that asks the question of being before the split into universal essences and particular contents took place. He says that this philosophy is older than any other and is the most powerful element in all great philosophies of the past. It is the philosophy which asks the question: “What does it mean that something is? What are the characteristics of everything that participates in being?” This is the question of ontology. The way to verify ontological judgments is not through experimentation, it is through experience. (Authenticity rather than authority?)
The problems of love, power and justice categorically demand an ontological foundation and theological view in order to be saved from the vague talk, idealism, and cynicism with which they are usually treated. Man cannot solve any of his great problems if he does not see them in the light of his own being and of being-itself.
I could probably easily work through two weeks of posts based on all that I highlighted in these two books. But alas, I’ve got other things I want to get to like Nietzsche and Buddhism and Nietzsche and ACIM. St Theresa’s recommendation about Translucence, Dreyfus’s class on Heidegger. The list goes on and on… So I will have to come back to Tillich and study him in more depth at a later date.
Tillich was heavily influenced by Heidegger (and Kierkegaard, of course) which makes me that much more interested in getting to Dreyfus’s class. I’d been looking for Being and Time at the used bookstores for months because it’s an expensive book and found it on Sunday, the same day I found these books by Tillich. Synchronicity on top of synchronicity – so much fun. I had no idea Tillich would fit in so well with existentialism or Merton! (And, potentially, Fuzzo’s comment on Postmodernism.)