3:AM: What made you become a philosopher?
George Pattison: I’m not sure that I ‘am’ a philosopher – but I do engage with questions that are generally recognized as philosophical questions, such as the character of human existence and what makes for a good human life. In a sense these are questions that most people ask themselves to some extent. They become philosophical when asked with a persistence and rigour that pushes past conventional or evasive answers. It’s nothing to do with acquiring a technical facility in an academic discipline.
3:AM: Tillich and Barth are theologians of the beginning and mid last century very much tuned in to the humanist world laid waste and existentialist meaninglessness. You quote Beckett’s Estragon to capture the position theology talked to: ‘there’s no lack of void.’Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Hegel too have been post boys for this position for some. Is this still a possible stance or is Cupitt right to say that the mourning is over and must stop?
GP: Perhaps this is an area where every generation starts from scratch. Although the crisis of the First World War inaugurated an especially strong period of disillusion with regard to the optimism of the previous age, the pattern has repeated itself in many ways in more recent times, e.g., the loss of faith in politics as a means of advancing human well-being. And perhaps this also has to do with basic elements in growing up. I still read a lot about teenage angst! Of course, any kind of mourning CAN become pathological and then it ‘has to stop’, but to move through life untouched by the loss of hopes, beliefs and aspirations once cherished is also questionable.
3:AM: What are the practices and claims of Derridean post-structuralist theology and why is it helpful in this post-theism context? Does Heidegger’s notion of ontotheology fit in with this?
GP: These are big questions. I’m not sure how far Derrida’s later ‘theological’ interests are really rooted in post-structuralism or whether they don’t rather reflect a kind of Kantian-Marxist trajectory—with a French twist on the centrality of liberty, equality and fraternity (cf. Politics of Friendship). Not to mention the role of Levinas and, behind Levinas, Judaism’s twinning of eschatology and the call for justice. What it does remind us is that ‘God’ is not to be separated from the quest for the Kingdom of God and is not and cannot be the object of any detached ‘scientific’ contemplation. Heidegger’s critique of onto-theology is also driving a wedge between speaking of God and the aims of science—not so as to get rid of God but rather to free God from a false objectification.
Read the full interview here.
Related reading: George Pattison on Heidegger