Most atheists value philosophy

Philosophical Christmas - St. Ludgeri sermon series - Advent 2018
Part 1

A voice alien - and yet so close: the Jewish philosopher Baruch de Spinoza and the mystery of Christ

I.
Every few years I venture into the project of a series of sermons on a specific topic. At the beginning there was a parforce ride through the entire Bible, then a walk through the creed, and finally sermons about the challenges of the new atheism. This time it will be about how philosophers react to the Christmas message, how it is interpreted and how it is used to gain impulses for their own thinking. This is true for an astonishingly large number. I had to make a selection - and I hope to have chosen those who provoke us most as believers, that means: calling out from the usual Christmas thoughts, which are usually distorted beyond recognition by their emotional kitsch and economic exploitation. But it is precisely against this that it could be a tried and tested antidote that we will be talking about today.

II
One of the most widely read philosophical books for more than three and a half centuries has been David Hume An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding (Study on the Human Mind) of 1748, a series of essays on fundamental epistemological questions. In the tenth text, Hume also deals with Christianity - with the result that no sane person could accept the Christian faith unless by a persistent miracle which overrides his common sense for this purpose, so that he makes it true could hold what is completely contrary to the usual everyday experience.1


For broad circles today, this conviction has long since become Hume's common sense - only it is brought up more drastically:

“Think of the children who have a Christian upbringing today. What will happen to these people later? They only have one belief system; they have a principled course of action and that is avoidance of fun. That’s the same thing in Christianity when it comes to real life. You kneel down and worship this dead guy "2

says one of the interview partners in Douglas Rushkoff's cult book Cyberia.

III
Incidentally, this derogatory tone is not really new either. As early as the second century when Christianity entered the area of ​​cultural publicity, one of the sharpest objections in the then dominant intellectual milieu of Neoplatonism was that the new religion was simply tasteless because of the incarnate God, who then also dies on the gallows aesthetic offense - and therefore at most something for idiots, in keeping with the - so literally - "idiotic character" of its founder, as the great neo-Platonist Kelsos put it. Starting with him through many others to Nietzsche and at the end of the 20th century the Romanian existentialist Emile Cioran, the very idea of ​​the Incarnation, more precisely: the Incarnation of God, was the philosophical provocation par excellence that emanated from Christianity:

“The incarnation,” Cioran once wrote, is the most dangerous flattery we have received. It has given us an immoderate statute that is out of proportion to who we are. By elevating human anecdotes to the dignity of cosmic drama, it has deceived us about our insignificance, it has plunged us into the illusion, into a pathological optimism ... "3

That's what it says in his book The failed creation.

All these astute critics of Christianity sensed and knew for a long time - often more so than Christians themselves, incidentally - that the Christian conviction of the incarnation of God is something like a thorn in the flesh of reason, a challenge that even where rejected is supposed to act on its critics in a peculiarly transformative way.

IV
But that's not all. The mystery of Christ has not only moved so-called Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure or Nicholas of Kues in their philosophical thinking - they too, of course. But what is more exciting, it seems to me, is that the same applies to philosophical thinkers and the modern age and even the present: in particular for Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Hölderlin and also a Feuerbach, the first philosopher who presented and meant an argumentative atheism so first to carry out the Christian principle of love anchored in the Incarnation to the very last resort.

The Christian systematists in the early days of the church once such as Justin the Martyr, a Clement of Alexandria, an Origen of course - certainly the greatest at that time -, later in the Latin area then Augustine - they were all convinced in comparison to the Greek thinkers before for them - from the pre-Socratics to Plato and Aristotle themselves to Plotinus - to be the better philosophers, because their thinking had its unifying and determining center in that Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, whose oldest title, as evidenced by the Gospel of Luke, was not "Lord "Or" Son "or" Master "is, but" sophia "- that is, wisdom. And - even more important: it is he who is referred to in the first verses of the Gospel of John with the untranslatable and inexhaustible name "logos", the very expression that had long before become the absolute basic word of occidental philosophizing through Heraclitus.

Almost a millennium and a half later, these intellectual impulses were still unused - only that now young philosophers, who often originally wanted to be evangelical pastors, made the claim, in comparison to a doctrinal and manual theology that has become bony and authoritarian, without touching the pulse of their time to be the better theologians. Hence the fact that the first surviving traces of thought are Fichte's sermon samples and sample sermons are among the earliest thought-provoking documents of Hegel. And this is why modern philosophers - regardless of the often sharp criticism of the church buildings of the time - not only deal with New Testament core passages, but also make them the starting point and guide for extensive philosophical reflection. And again and again it is conspicuously the thought of the descent of the Almighty, of God making himself small, that casts a spell over philosophizing, i.e. the incarnation that is completed on the cross. The verses of the Philippians hymn in particular have done it to them, that one

"He was like God,
but didn't hold on to being equal to God
but emptied himself
became like a slave and equal to men.
He humbled himself, was obedient to the point of death,
until death on the cross ... "

A Schelling ponders it, a Kierkegaard, a Wladimir Solowjew in Russia, a Simone Weil, Miguel Unamuno is one of them. At the forefront, of course, is Hegel, with his bold youthful thought of speculative Good Friday, through which the cross, as the completion of the incarnation, became the center of gravity of the most ambitious philosophical systematic thinking in the West. There is such a thing as a christological glowing core in modern philosophy - until today. Where do you come across him?

V.
The fact that the talk of a christological fiery core is not an exaggeration, especially in modern philosophy, is guaranteed in a special way by a thinker from whom one would least of all expect this for the time being - if only because he was neither a Christian nor a critic of Christianity, but an out Jew excommunicated from his own religious community because of heresy: Baruch de Spinoza. In a conversation with Leibniz he called Christ a “Summus philosophus”, Leibniz put this down in writing.

How does this radical rationalist, co-founder of historical-critical exegesis, razor-sharp dissector of traditional speech about a personal God come to such speech? Why does he call Christ in his letters “the mouth of God” or “the voice of God”, “the way of salvation”, one who “communicates with God from soul to soul”?4

My tentative answer is twofold: On the one hand, Spinoza was fascinated by the moral profile of Christ, apparently so much that something like a spiritual kinship glimmers underground5. In a sense, Spinoza, the persecuted and exiled, saw Jesus as a forerunner. Incidentally, the continuous theme was the philosophical reception of Spinoza from the end of the 18th century to the startling literary transfigurations of Spinoza from the beginning of the 19th century to contemporary literature: there is a whole chain of Spinoza novels, the majority of which are based on this inner one The solidarity of Jesus and Spinoza as ardent seeker and Godfinder (!) Stand out, so that from the damned atheist - grounded by his beyond suspicion of life - one of Goethe called something like "theissimus" and "christianissimus"6 "Most divine and most Christian saint Benedictus" could become.

Behind Spinoza's high esteem for the figure of Christ, however, a second, little-noticed, metaphysical motif seems to be at work: He saw in the figure of Christ, the thought of the incarnate Son of God, regardless of the distance to the historical claim of the Christian, something like a model and Standard for the answer to the question that took his entire life's work to answer: the question of how the relationship between the finite and the absolute should be appropriately thought. Any thinking that did not ask this question already surrendered, so to speak, before its first challenge. Because if there is finite - and there are at least us as finite, who think precisely this finite thought - then it is obvious that this finite must be based on an absolute and come from it, because otherwise nothing would have happened and nothing comes from nothing. But if that is so: If there has to be an absolute so that finite things can be, how can finite things really be, since - the absolute is really absolute - nothing else can exist outside of it! So finite should really be - and yet we are! - then only in this way and because it is thought in the absolute. The in-being of the finite as such in the absolute is the first question of every philosophizing arising from the concern of a consciously led life. Spinoza's answer was:

"Everything that is is in God, and nothing can be or be understood without God."7

And every word was meant radically: that the being of all finite God's being and every understanding of a finite God is understanding and in the last sense understanding God in the sense of a genitive subiectivus - that in all understanding he understands himself and that all comprehension of the Beings, the more strictly, the more, especially as mathematics, an affirmation of what is thought, that is, love of beings and thus love of God and, in the very last place, God's love of himself, which in its execution comes entirely out of itself - as if one were to look at a picture puzzle look, that keeps tipping back and forth between two totally different figures, although, no: because it is one.

VI
Certainly: the way Spinoza answered that question about finite and infinite, creates a whole cascade of new questions, quickly lets labels such as solitude, monism, pantheism or atheism and the like and sometimes everything come out loud at the same time. But he has answered the question and whoever does not confuse the answer with one of their cheap variants, which are also in circulation, but perceives in the whole of Spinoza's thinking, will have to come up with a lot to find a better answer to that basic question, even if many other questions can be answered more easily in other ways. I am not saying this because I am so simply a Spinozist, but because I am convinced that Spinoza must be understood in terms of the Christ event:

"[...] Spinoza [...] implicitly presupposes that whoever thoroughly knows the being and the mystery of Christ, at least is the reflection of the perfect philosopher, participates in him."8

In other words: Spinoza's thinking cannot be understood without Christianity, including its Jewish roots, and precisely without looking at the incarnation.

Which of course - think of the picture puzzle - just as conversely means no less than: Even from a Spinoza, light can fall on the mystery of Christ. If the old councils preferred to speak of him in negations - about the unmixed and undivided God and humanity of Jesus Christ, for example - Spinoza gives rise to an inkling that and why there, where reality is thought through to its ultimate foundation, where reason and mysticism, Meaning and love emerge as their last pivotal points, the face of Christ, the God-Man, begins to shine through.

In the instance of the voice of philosophy - that goes without saying - not everything is said about Christ and certainly less than even the simple words of the Creed measure out. But without this voice, something was missing that gives our creed wherever it is accountable on the forum of reason and according to its own conviction, according to 1 Pet 3:15, which gives it essential depth of field. For Christian theology sees itself as knowledge that knows about the power of a love that may unconditionally be named - so unconditionally that it does not have to keep anything for itself in order to be itself, so that - again the picture puzzle - it does most of it it becomes itself that it gives itself away and spent itself. One can therefore outline the Christ event with the philosophical formula that God makes himself completely accessible by making himself dependent on what knows himself to be dependent. Perhaps that would be a thought that stays close to Spinoza's and yet is less likely to be drawn into some suspicions that the enigmatic thinker likes to arouse. Whatever the case, one thing remains for us: Spinoza's tacit and obvious conviction that anyone who really knows the mystery of Christ is not far from real philosophizing. The generation after Kant, for whom Spinoza became the central point of reference for complex reasons in the context of their critical continuation of the Kantian program, not only assumed this unspoken but also asserted it with the greatest possible clarity. The most extreme example of this is also the easiest to represent. It can be found in the thinking of Johann Gottlieb Fichte. I'll introduce it to you next Sunday.


1See Hume, David: An Inquiry into the Human Mind. Transl. And ed. by Herbert Herring. Stuttgart 1976. (reclam; 5489). 141-167.
2Rushkoff, Douglas: Cyberia. About hackers, techno shamans and cyberpunks. From the americ. v. Johannes Schwab, Munich 1995. (Knaur-TB; 60366). 150.
3Cioran, Emile M .: The failed creation. Frankfurt am Main 1979. 33.
4Spinoza, Benedictus de: Theological-political treatise. Transferred and introduced by Carl Gebhardt. Reprint of the fifth edition in 1955. Hamburg 1965. 24.
5Cf. Tilliette: Christologie (note 14). 80.
6Goethe, Johann Wolfgang v .: Letter to Jacobi from 9.6.1785. In: Ders .: Goethe's works. IV. Department: Goethe's Letters. 7. Vol. Weimar 1891. 62.
7Spinoza: ethics. I, proposition 5. Quoted from: Werke. Vol. II. Ed. By Konrad Blumenstock. Darmstadt 1980. 107.
8Tilliette: Christology (note 14). 92.