Taubes and theology as the crisis of religion

I have been wanting to record a few points as I have been reading through Jacob Taubes’s From Cult to Culture.  The middle section of this collection of essays focuses on theology.  Part of what I have enjoyed about Taubes is his writing style.  There is always a hint of polemic but not overwrought, rather, the posture comes through in a basic clarity and force.  I have also really appreciated the introduction to a number of thinkers that I had either never heard of (Joachim of Fiore) or did not realize their significance (Franz Overbeck).

In any event I wanted at least to outline a few quotes from his article on Tillich and theology.  In this and other articles Taubes draws attention to the notion that “theology signals a crisis in religion” (here he is quoting Plato).  Theology emerges when “a mythical configuration breaks down and its symbols that are congealed in a canon come into conflict with a new stage of human consciousness” (193).

From the very beginning the church was thrown into a difficult situation in which extreme eschatological symbols were brought into the stark realities of history.  “The history of the development of Christian theology is a tragic history because there is no ‘solution’ to the conflict between eschatological symbols and the brute fact of a continuing history” (197).  Theology continued to employ a basic allegorical approach to canonical texts but the tension was heightened to a sort of impasse with the emergence of historical criticism.  This process working within the texts of the church came to view Christianity as “a ‘religion of Jesus,’ discarding all Christological doctrines as dead weight” (197).

Taubes introduces Paul Tillich’s theology as exemplifying the theological impasse of being a discourse for and within the church but possess tendencies to overcome or go beyond the confines of the church.  Taubes sees this as  a dialectical process moving between a ‘theology of the logos’ and a ‘doctrine of the church’.  And in its nature “the dialectical method is not a coach that can be stopped at will” (202).  In this way theology cannot be systematic “because the incarnation of the Christ cannot be treated as a systematic axiom” (203).  It is artificial and disingenous to put the allegorical genie back in the bottle.  We need to remain faithful to the impasse.

Taubes is trying to put a fine point on the paradoxes and contradictions at work within the projects of modern theology.  Again, what is at stake is the nature of revelation as a given authority.  While this is a tension that is typically recognized as being between theology and modernity Taubes is clear that this is between religion and theology.  And his response to remains suggestive,

Perhaps the time has come when theology must learn to live without the support of canon and classical authorities and stand in the world without authority.  Without authority, however, theology can only teach by an indirect method.  Theology is indeed in a strange position because it has to prove its purity by immersing itself in all the layers of human existence and cannot claim for itself a special realm.  In losing itself in the forms of the world, theology would not betray its destiny. . . . Theology must remain incognito for the sanctification of the world.  Theology should not strive for the vainglory to present a sacred science ‘separated’ from the sciences by special doctrines or dogmas, but rather it should serve in ‘lowliness of mind’ the secular knowledge and life. Would theology miss its point if instead of insisting on a separating circle, it would make itself of no special reputation and take upon itself the form of incognito? In such a fashion, theology would become more likely to present  the relation between the divine and the human in our time. (205)


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