With Anatheism: Returning to God after God, Richard Kearney carries on a tradition of philosophy "after the death of God." Building upon philosophers such as Paul Ricoeur and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Kearney finds himself squarely within the continental tradition of philosophy of religion. Kearney opens Anatheism with the following sentiment:
"What comes after God? What follows in the wake of our letting go of God? What emerges out of that night of not-knowing, that moment of abandoning and abandonment? Especially for those who--after ridding themselves of "God"--still seek God? That is the question I wish to pursue in this volume. And, so doing, I propose the possibility of a third way beyond the extremes of dogmatic theism and militant atheism: those polar opposites of certainty that have maimed so many minds and souls in our history. This third option, the wager of faith beyond faith, I call anatheism. Ana-theos, God after God. Ana-theism: another word for another way of seeking and sounding the things we consider sacred but can never fully fathom or prove. Another idiom for receiving back what we've given up as if we were encountering it for the first time. Just as Abraham received back Isaac as gift, having given him up as patriarchal project. In short, another way of retuning to a God beyond or beneath the God we thought we possessed."2
In other words, Kearney's anatheistic "wager"3 consists in "The return to God after the disappearance of God"4 because there are said to be too many problems with the traditional God of "the Abrahamic faiths."5 Kearney later writes, "...ana-theism is neither antitheism nor antiatheism but a form of post-theism that allows us to revisit the sacred in the midst of the secular."6 It becomes clear that in the midst of twentieth century evil, for Kearney, there must be some sort of reinventing of the wheel when it comes to God, and anatheism allows for this deconstruction and reconstruction of God.7 Kearney proposes then, a post-religious turn which seeks the best of how the different religions of the world have spoken of God, specifically with regard to "hospitality toward the Stranger."8
Criticizing this way of thinking must be done with gentleness as is commanded in Scripture and must be given a special care given the sensitivity of this issue. As noted above, this whole discussion in some ways revolves around the question of evil and is written through a post-war lens.9 However, it is not difficult to see that this proposed idea is really without basis.
Kearney bases his thesis on the problem of evil; however, without the God of the Bible there is no ground for calling anything evil. Kearney's entire proposal involves something of a subjectivity, as it is asking the question of how people might go to God after they have rejected God. This however, has much more to do with verbally referring to something or someone as God than affirming an actual God. And if there is no ultimate God, then there can be no foundation for good or evil. If there is no absolute God, then there is no absolute evil and no absolute good.
The biblical God, however, does in fact give definition to goodness because He is goodness. Psalm 34:8 says, "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!" According to Scripture, God does not simply possess goodness, He is good. The Belgic Confession affirms as much when it says in article one, "We all believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that there is a single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God-- eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty; completely wise, just, and good, and the overflowing source of all good." Not only is God good, but He is the "overflowing source of all good." Because He is the ultimate good, there is no good apart from Him. Everything that has goodness receives this goodness from Him. And if He is ultimate good, then there is no basis for anything "not good" if He does not exist.
Kearney argues that he is not really saying anything new10--and that much is certainly true. Men have always sought to make the very same turn from the true God to a god of their own imagination. Romans 1:25 testifies to this when it speaks of those who "exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator." To exchange the God of the Bible for a god more palatable and comprehensible to man is the natural inclination of the human heart. But there is hope only in the true God--the God who is truly good, the God who is truly sovereign and the God who truly exists.
Though it is the tendency of every man to seek to devise a god in his own image, the God of the Bible and of the Reformed Confessions presents the only true alternative to this way of thinking. The God of the Bible, according to the Scripture, has dealt with evil at the Cross of Christ, where Jesus took our sin upon himself. When we see the horrors of the past century, we should look to the Cross. It is in the Cross that we truly see a God who hates evil. It is also in the Cross that we truly see the kind of hospitality and love that Kearney is ultimately seeking--Christ Jesus came into the world to die for sinners. He died for those who were truly estranged. It is in this Jesus and this Jesus alone that one may truly find a shelter and a home.
1. Richard Kearney, Anatheism: Returning to God After God (West Sussex: Columbia University Press, 2010).
2. Ibid, 23 (electronic edition).
3. Ibid, 24.
4. Ibid, 25.
5. Ibid, 24.
6. Ibid, 82.
7. Ibid, 83.
8. Ibid, 219.
9. Ibid, 83-84.
10. Ibid, 28.
James Richey is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS. He currently serves as the director of youth ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Pooler, GA.