The A-theology of Theology: Theological Discourse as Atheism

by jdavidcharles

A fundamental paradox underlies all treatment of language—that of desire and invocation. Do we call upon the other to desire her or throw ourselves at her that we may speak about her? This paradox of formal orientation towards the thing and the desire that is defined by its orientation underlies all discourse. We are creatures grounded in the call of seeking and the projection of the call, or according to St. Augustine we “ seek you […] in calling on you, and call on you in believing in you.” (Conf. 1.1)

In order to invoke a discourse, that is to agree, critique, reject, or otherwise, I must have cast judgment upon it. I must be oriented towards it. This typically occurs in a pre-conscious way, a meaning I cast upon the thing in that I am in a world endowed with meanings. This meaning I find “in” things in that I am in a world always suggesting a hermeneutic is inherently an existential project—it is in the lived world. Every object I approach is already interpreted and named in a fundamental, often pre-conscious, way. I never have to learn a prejudice. However this human pre-judgment of the thing in turn opens up the object for experience, allowing me to then bring to light my biases and critique them through my self-awareness. Hermeneutics is first silent and often in the background. It is not an issue of the “mind” or consciousness or awareness even, but of the hypostatic body—I am always already in a world interpreted.

So what does this have to do with theology? Well, theology often elevates its speculations beyond the grasp of hermeneutics and biases to think itself some eternal metaphysic or chain of Being. The point of this post is to say our biases do not belong to us so much as we belong to them—we belong to a world of interpretation which is always ahead of our consciousness, which is just another way of saying we do not possess language but rather belong to it. Human error and difference is not something one can do away with, as in an objectivist epistemology, but rather is the groundwork of existence, as it is in all hermeneutics.

Discourse then is an abstraction grounded in the difference of its own speaking. Theology as a term then refers to a certain gamut of error and prejudice in speaking, the falling-short-of-grasping-the-thing of a language game. Theology is grounded in its a-theology as all discourses are grounded in their differences and absences. Theology is always a talking-about the thing and therefore always not the thing—further it is precisely in the silence of theology where the thing, Theos, is named. Here we do not speak of apophantic theology alone, but rather that all positing posits negations that gird the positive.

Perhaps a better title for this post would have been “Theandric Theology”, that is, a theology whose very grounding rests without or outside the divine, with humanity. Theology, like all discourse, is an extension of humankind, an extension upwards, but its base is in humanity not divinity. Though the object we invoke with our discourse, Theos, may be Other, the calling and language we use will always be a-theistic in that it is our language, the language of the Same.