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God Without Being: Hors-Texte.

How is it possible to worship a God who is not--in fact cannot be? Such is the question addressed by Marion, professor of philosophy at the University of Paris (Nanterre), in this remarkable book.

The question is clearly a postmodern one, arising out of the challenge thrown down by Heidegger in his critique of metaphysics as onto-theo-logical in its very structure. Admittedly, for Heidegger, the "God" of onto/theology is not the One whom true believers worship--the One "before whom David danced." His own quest, though, did not lead him to explore the question of God but rather the question of Being, insofar as it is Being, that mysterious process (serving as the Is of what-is) that lets all beings (hence, metaphysics and its structure) be. The precise focus of his interest was Being in its difference from beings, i.e. the "ontological difference" as such.

M.'s question is: Where does that leave the theologian whose task is to ask about "the God before whom David danced"? Beginning with a reflection on the meaning of "idol" (vs. "icon"), M. sees this as the visible term of the human gaze, which, as a kind of one-way mirror, reflects the anthropocentric source of that gaze. Philosophical concepts concerning the "God" of the metaphysical tradition have served precisely as idols of this sort. But the anti-idolotrous thrust of a genuine Judaeo-Christian experience runs profoundly counter to such language, in fact counter to the language of the ontological difference itself, helpless as it is to articulate what in its own terms is admittedly unthinkable. Words like "is" and "being" do not, can not, pertain to this God as revealed. His is not only beyond metaphysics but beyond the ontological difference, and must be thought of simply as a "God without Being."

To emphasize the point visually, M. writes God thus conceived with a Saint Andrew's cross superimposed upon it: God--the crossed-out [of ontological difference] God. Since, for the Christian believer, this God is also the Word of the Father who died on a cross, the crossed-out God is also the cruci-fied God, the same as He of whom John writes, "God is love" (1 John 4:8). When he comes to articulate his conception of this God, Marion meditates on the notion of God as agape: love is pure giving, and human beings, in responding, need not "think" through the idols of philosophical thought but simply accept this love as return.

To bring this off, M. must show how articulating the experience of God can bypass the play of the ontological difference and thus "outwit" Being with its rules of the game. This he attempts to do through the exegesis of three scriptural texts: Rom 4:17, 1 Cor 1:28 and Luke 15: 12-32. The first two suggest a total indifference in Paul to the ontic difference between beings and nonbeings. In the third text, M. focuses on the word ousia. This is a familiar word in the language of the ontological difference, but in Luke's account it refers to the prodigal Son's share of the father's estate that was to come to him as gift through inheritance. According to M., for the son to ask to possess it prematurely as his own property rather than to wait for it to come as a gift, sabotages its gift character. Thus, in the drama as it unfolds, "ousia is inscribed in the play of donation, abandon, and pardon that make of it the currency of an entirely other exchange than of beings" (100), i.e. beyond the economy of the ontological difference.

M. culminates this reflection on gift by distinguishing between giving as it takes place in the self-giving of agape and as the es gibt of the ontological difference, where the latter emerges out of the event of appropriation (Ereignis). In appropriation, the giving and the gift are one in an inseparable correlation that allows no distance between them. In agape, there is indeed a distance between the giver and receiver who returns the gift--distance that can never be bridged. It is within this irreducible distance between giver and receiver in agape that the ontological difference is at play. The book climaxes here and concludes with several chapters that extend this perspective to more specific theological issues.

Any study as daring and profound as this will evoke in the reader more questions than it can reasonably be expected to answer, but no one will doubt M.'s speculative power. In matters most central to his thesis (e.g. the entire Heidegger problematic) his control is admirable, and his attunement to the nuances of other major postmodern thinkers (from Nietzsche to Derrida) is impressive. Devotees of Aquinas may be less satisfied. They will probably feel that Thomas's understanding of the relation between his metaphysics of esse and the theology of charity needs more nuance than can be gleaned from his debate with Pseudo-Dionysius concerning the first name of God. Subordinate issues (e.g. the role of the theologian in the Church, the theology of the Eucharist) warrant closer scrutiny than is possible here. The work is well annotated and indexed, and Thomas Carlson's fluent translation has served M. well.
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Author:Richardson, William J.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Words:866
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