June 19, 2007

REMEMBERING PAUL TILLICH (AND OTHER STUFF)



Caption: Daddy Rabbit should reflect on theological matters--the cat is after him.

Welcome to Goat Rope. El Cabrero is on a theological jag this week. If this is your first visit, please click on yesterday's entry.

Paul Tillich (1886-1965) was one of the 20th century's greatest theologians. He grew up in eastern Germany and studied and taught at several universities there. When the Nazis came to power, he was fired from his job and emigrated to America, where he spent the rest of his life, becoming a citizen in 1940.

He was a deep (his favorite spatial metaphors went down) and systematic thinker (hence the title of his 3 volume Systematic Theology wasn't just a clever name). Tillich wrote big dense books, little dense books and the occasional accessible little and middle-sized books. His books of sermons, however, such as The Shaking of the Foundations, The New Being, and The Eternal Now are his most accessible works.

Tillich believed that

Theology must be "answering theology"; it must adapt the Christian message to the modern mind while maintaining its essential truth and unique character.


While essentially Christian and Lutheran in perspective, he was also keenly interested in the perspectives of other world religions and Christian traditions and believed that the truths of revelation transcended the trappings of conventional religion.

For him, God was not an anthropomorphic "gaseous vertebrate" (to quote the German biologist Haeckel)or even a being among other beings but rather being-itself or the ground of being:

God does not exist. He is being itself beyond essence and existence. Therefore to argue that God exists is to deny him.


Religion for him was less about supernatural beliefs than about the subject of our "ultimate concern," which remains when all our finite concerns about daily living have been addressed.

Jesus for Tillich embodied "the New Being," in which all the tragic limitations of the human condition were overcome.

The demonic for him wasn't about little imps with pitchforks but rather with the bad consequences of trying to elevate any finite thing to an ultimate level. For example, nationalism in itself isn't necessarily harmful, but it becomes evil when the nation idolizes itself, and so on. Religion becomes demonic when its concrete form matters more than the realities towards which it points.

Sin represented separation: the separation we experience when we are alienated from others, from creation, from ourselves and from the ground of all being.

Grace was the overcoming of that separation, which is real even though we don't deserve it and could never earn it.

About which more later...

INTERESTING ANTIQUITIES ITEM. OK, so the ancient north African kingdom of Kush doesn't have all that much to do with economic justice issues...still this Times item is pretty cool.

MORE ON TASK, this report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggests how tax credit reforms could make higher education more affordable to low and moderate income families.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

6 comments:

thinkulous said...

As usual, a fine, fine post, my friend.

Tillich as you define him reminds me of the little I know of C.S. Lewis (I loved "The Problem of Pain"). Tilich's definition of sin is almost identical to Lewis' of hell. Which I always thought was fabulously true and open-minded. And unforgiving!

Tillich goes on the list.

Keep up the great work!

El Cabrero said...

Tillich is a keeper. I'd recommend the sermon books to start with. I don't think Lewis cared much for Tillich as he was much less literally minded.

Thanks!

Juanuchis said...

God does not exist. He is being itself beyond essence and existence. Therefore to argue that God exists is to deny him.

Owie! My brain hurts. Interesting stuff though.

The demonic for him wasn't about little imps with pitchforks but rather with the bad consequences of trying to elevate any finite thing to an ultimate level. For example, nationalism in itself isn't necessarily harmful, but it becomes evil when the nation idolizes itself, and so on. Religion becomes demonic when its concrete form matters more than the realities towards which it points.

Spot on. I think of people who idolize the Bible.

I am enjoying your blog, though my feeble mind isn't up to many pithy comments. :)

El Cabrero said...

Re: worshipping a book--I think you are exactly right on that one. He talks about that in several places (I think Dynamics of Faith is one of the main places).

Tillich is a good one for making one's brain hurt.

Thanks and watch out for monothelitism!

Bonney said...

You're just trying to lure me out there, aren't you Rick? Tillich happened to be one of my favorites and a key player in my master's thesis.

This is one of my favorites:
http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=62

El Cabrero said...

Yep--it's a trap. That one on hope was good--especially the part about waiting, which, as we all know, is the hardest part.

How ungodly long is your thesis?