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Post-Metaphysics and the Paradoxical Teachings of Jesus. The Structure of the Real.
New York-Washington/Baltimore-Bern-Frankfurt a.M.–Berlin–Brussels–Vienna–Oxford: Lang 2010. VII, 327 S. gr.8° = American University Studies. Series VII: Theology and Religion, 301. Geb. EUR 63,50. ISBN 978-1-4331-0861-7.
In his first major monograph, Cameron Freeman, a scholar of philosophical theology, gives an assessment of what he considers the West’s dispiriting and mal-approached theo-philosophical projects. Traditionally, these have been far too tied to rationalistic metaphysics, including their theological appropriations of Jesus. F. claims upfront, then, that his goal is »to escape from the totalizing aspirations of the Western metaphysical tradition by uncovering the authenticity of Jesus’ challenging call for the Kingdom of God« (5). F. pursues this end throughout six dynamically unfolding chapters, which I will briefly outline.
The first chapter treats the Western metaphysical tradition through Heidegger, especially the traditions’ ties to what Heidegger calls onto-theology: a rational search for an ultimate rational ground. F.’s point in the chapter is to show that this metaphysical pursuit has begun to come to a close in Heidegger’s critical statement that there is no ultimate meaning underneath being. There is »nothingness,« a point that F. briefly develops through both Eastern and Western mystical thought.
F. continues his Heideggerian exploits in the second chapter, which he extends through an exposition of Derrida. The interpretation is a good one in which he comes to treat the contours of deconstruction as the actual consummation and end of Western metaphysics. F.’s main question, however, is »whether it is possible for Christian theology to employ a non-metaphysical form of thought and language« when talking about God (71)? The answer, F. believes, is yes, the possibility of which F. pushes in terms of a interest in mystical theology. This mystical starting point rejects more traditional forms of theology with their focus on stable, all-defining centers filled with cadres of pre-given truths.
The nature of F.’s post-metaphysical theology begins to emerge, then, in the third chapter, which unpacks traditional Chalcedonian (two natures, one person) predications of Jesus as pointing beyond themselves to the truth of Jesus’ being. Jesus, F. seems to claim, is in himself a paradox that holds together opposing dualities – humanity and divinity; he develops this point through an existential appropriation of Nicholas of Cusa and Nishida Kitana. Both of these thinkers, F. argues, present a truer understanding of this God-man than the metaphysical Christian tradition, for they present the possibility of Jesus as transcending the divine-human duality, thereby uprooting the possibility of a stable center of meaning through which to appropriate Jesus at all. Jesus points beyond himself to the unspeakable non-duality at the core of his – and everyone’s – being.
F. expands this point in his fourth chapter, which eventually examines and unfolds the so called structure of the Real. This structure, which Jesus himself points toward, emerges in terms of what F. calls »bi-polar reversals.« By bi-polar reversal, F. means a logic that overturns normative and social categories constituting one’s interpretation of reality – more or less what F. had been indicating with his notion of mystical non-duality in the previous chapter. He argues, however, that this logic composes the structure and meaning of Jesus’ parables, which he endeavors to show by examining these parables along the intellectual lines of Crossan, the Jesus Seminar, and the hermeneutic theologian, Fuchs.
Through his parables, Jesus ushers in the Kingdom of God, which is this overturning and deconstructing of established and metaphysical norms; so, at least, F. argues in the fifth chapter. This parabolic and paradoxical Kingdom is established throughout the entirety of Jesus’ life and teachings, which are consummated in the ultimate parabolic and paradoxical expression: the crucifixion. In this event, that which should have no capacity for death and suf-fering – the divine – is, in a bi-polar reversal, killed on the cross. At any rate, the main point of the chapter is to show that Jesus’ authentic parabolic teachings have a striking resemblance to postmodern prophets such as Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida. Jesus is the first and preeminent deconstructionist.
In the sixth and final chapter, F. attempts to move beyond the purely negative theological categories thus far established and, again, through the parables of Jesus, say something positive, albeit post-metaphysical, about God. The positive statements that F. makes of God center around the Pauline notion of kenosis – an idea that pointedly marks the paradoxical nature and reversal of expectations that constitutes the being of God. God is a »zero-logic,« who de-centers any binary parameter that would ignore its polar opposite. Such a »God« is at the heart of the existential, non-logo-centric truth of the Christian faith. Accordingly, 21st century Christians can and should orient themselves toward such a logic and the paradoxes that mete this zero-logic out in their daily lives, F. claims.
With this summary in mind, however, I would like to return to a problem that arises in the book. To speak generally, the pursuit of authenticity often entails a desire for freedom from the day’s so-cial-horizons to the degree that they are perceived to be detrimental to progress, worn-out by traditional and historical values. Presumably, therefore, these traditional values are negative in impact, covering over the core truth lying beneath them. A strange paradox, however, always arises in this pursuit of authenticity. The ideal often turns back on the one seeking it, for the one who claims to understand the authentic and unsullied truth of a matter apart from his social horizon can only do so because his pursuit is grounded in the social horizon determining his values. As such, one is never free from the inauthentic, for only the so called inauthentic traditions from which one’s values are derived could give rise to aspirations for the authentic in the first place. The question is whether F. has fallen into this trap in this book.
F. may claim to avoid this trap by pointing to the fact that he espouses a non-dualistic and paradoxical understanding of truth as established in the parables of Jesus; he certainly argues that this conceptualization can withstand traditional critiques of deconstructionist thought (237). The real answer, however, is the oppo-site: F., too, succumbs to the logic of his pursuit, for F. critiques the West for its totalizing onto-theological tendencies by offering a counter-proposal that is bound explicitly to the same form as that from which he tries to gain freedom. In other words, F. tends to deal in absolutes, forming a series of totalizing statements that en- deavor to separate a definitive true and false, a right from wrong, approach to theology – the very problem in the history of the West that he wants to get around. This concrete contradiction by no means takes away from some of F.’s highly interesting descriptive and expository points, which makes this book still worth reading. It does, however, self-deconstruct some of the normative arguments F. wants to push, which tend not to be post-metaphysical and self-proclaimed revolutionary insights, but, rather, new points along the same old plotline of the West in its basic metaphysical trajectory.