"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, March 9, 2018

Desire and the Darkness of God

The University of Notre Dame Press sent me their newest catalogue; but it was in reviewing the back lists that brought to my attention a book I missed when it was first published in 2015: Desire, Faith, and the Darkness of God: Essays in Honor of Denys Turner, eds. Eric Bugyis and David Newheiser (UNDP, 2015), 480pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
In the face of religious and cultural diversity, some doubt whether Christian faith remains possible today. Critics claim that religion is irrational and violent, and the loudest defenders of Christianity are equally strident. In response, Desire, Faith, and the Darkness of God: Essays in Honor of Denys Turner explores the uncertainty essential to Christian commitment; it suggests that faith is moved by a desire for that which cannot be known.
This approach is inspired by the tradition of Christian apophatic theology, which argues that language cannot capture divine transcendence. From this perspective, contemporary debates over God’s existence represent a dead end: if God is not simply another object in the world, then faith begins not in abstract certainty but in a love that exceeds the limits of knowledge.
The essays engage classic Christian thought alongside literary and philosophical sources ranging from Pseudo-Dionysius and Dante to Karl Marx and Jacques Derrida. Building on the work of Denys Turner, they indicate that the boundary between atheism and Christian thought is productively blurry. Instead of settling the stale dispute over whether religion is rationally justified, their work suggests instead that Christian life is an ethical and political practice impassioned by a God who transcends understanding.
If you peruse the table of contents you will see a wonderful variety of essays, including those by such notable figures as Terry Eagleton in conversation with Turner over a topic both have written about: the relationship between Christianity and Marxism.

I found Turner's work in the late 90s, and since then have returned to him, not least because he's useful in debunking any efforts towards self-congratulation or self-promotion on the part of the Christian East, some of whose apologists sometimes give the impression of thinking the East has a monopoly on apophaticism in theology--in contrast, of course, to the West's apparent horrid old "rationalism" and "scholasticism." Turner is among those who handily debunk such hoary old tales.

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