Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Heidegger II

Yesterday's post on Heidegger and his Nazi involvement kept me thinking about false gospels. False gospels are not just for Joe the Plumbers. They appeal to the elite and not just the uncritical followers of mass culture. Our hearts are made for God.  It's not just prosperity preachers that counterfeit the gospel and distribute it to the great unwashed. When it comes to knowing God we are all, Joe the Plumber and Martin Heidegger, the great unwashed. The Cross, like death, is the great leveler. Only faith and baptism lead us to regeneration in Christ.

Heidegger's parallels with Christianity fascinate even as they disturb. So close and yet so far.
  • He believed that history was headed in a purposive direction, even it was the Thousand Year Reich, a heretical echo of the Millennium. 
  • His fascinaton with language paralleled the Christian emphasis on The Word. 
  • He also deals at length with the sense of a guilty conscience. Robert Solomon in his lecture on Heidegger:  "Heidegger joins a long train of continental philosophers in making the suggestion that we are all, in some essential sense, guilty. Not guilty of any basic original sin, not guilty of any particular transgression, but just guilty. Conscience, for Heidegger, is not to be construed in terms of the voice of God within us, nor is it to be construed as a Freudian superego- the voice of mom and pop- but rather, conscience is that nagging voice inside of us that always reminds us as we are engaged in activities, as we're perhaps a little bit too comfortable in our job or simply settling back into a marriage, but what it means to become your own self is to reinsert yourself in that job and reinsert yourself in the marriage in an entirely different way."
  • Heidegger's thought also builds on the concept of  "fallenness". Again, Solomon: "The term harks back to the biblical story of the fall, and certainly Heidegger does have something in mind about it, of that sort. Fallenness is falling back from our sense of authenticity to the inauthentic self, to falling back from a sense of being our own person, to simply being part of the crowd." Here fallenness contrasts to fullness of life.

Like the later John Paul II, Heidegger was a critic of the consumerist society. Modern technological consumer society erodes the authority and guidance that flows from tradition and leaves us vulnerable to being manipulated by the forces of big government and big business. He despised America for being tradition-less and ahistorical and overcommercialized.

The irony is that Heidegger was himself manipulated by an invented, false tradition of German supremacy. He sought to spiritualize the Nazi movement and help lead "a conservative revolution." While rector at the University of Freiburg he applied Nazi racial policy to student life and denied financial aid to Jewish, Marxist and non-Aryan applicants. Heidegger also fired the Catholic anti-Nazi Max M├╝ller, a former student of his from 1928 to 1933. His rectorship at Freiburg was considered a failure and he blamed it partly on miscalculating the srength of intellectual Christian resistance to Nazism.

Another irony: Both Heidegger and Edith Stein were outstanding students of Edmund Husserl and even worked together in 1915 editing Husserl's papers. When Heidegger a decade later published Husserl's lectures that had been so laboriously edited by Stein, he didn't even mention her contribution to the project. Their later destinies couldn't have been less similar.

Husserl was a Jewish convert to Lutheran Christianity (1886) and was suspended from Freiburg a few weeks before Heidegger was appointed rector in 1933. When Husserl died in 1938 Isaiah 40:31 was read at his funeral:

Those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Heidegger did not attend the funeral of his master, Husserl.

Edith Stein was also a Jewish convert but to Catholicism, became a Carmelite nun, and was exterminated at Auschwitz in 1942. She became known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

Martin Heidegger remained a Nazi party member throughout WWII and never repented or rejected his involvement. His explanation was simply that it had failed to live up to its original promise.

Heidegger had a false understanding of the Word, of the Fall, of the Millennium, of the Messiah, and of the person's salvation. He was surrounded, nevertheless, by God's grace and in Husserl, Stein, and Mueller, at the very least, he had relationships with peers who were ambassadors of Christ. Who around us needs to see and hear a witness to Christ? Who around us teeters on Heidegger's precipice?  The Gospel remains shallow enough for an infant to wade in and deep enough for an elephant to drown in. The deep and profound ones of this world are no better prepared to receive the gospel than the shallow and superficial. Paris Hilton and Martin Heidegger are equally those for whom Christ died.


  1. Mr. Kresta, et al.

    I really enjoyed this two-part piece. I'm only tangentially familiar with anything worth calling "in-depth" in philosophy, but my understanding is that Heideggar really turned 20th-century philosophy on its head with his critique of "being". I had a philosophy professor in undergrad who was devoted to people like Heideggar and it was a tough going listening to him critique stalwarts like Plato and Aristotle, and of course the Gospel.

    Indeed, Heideggar even earned a place in Pope Benedict's "Introduction to Christianity" - a piece I've thoroughly enjoyed being beat up by (by its beauty and intellectual rigor, not by any negative qualities). My question to you concerns Pope Benedict XVI, and it has two parts:

    - Do you know of any other works by our Holy Father that address the criticisms of someone like Heideggar? Perhaps Pope John Paul the Great addressed him more directly as a philosopher. My reason for questions like this is that a friend of mine is very caught up in writers like Nietzche and Heideggar, and I'd like to help him if my peanut brain is able.

    - Related to the first question, do you know of any works that address Pope Benedict's association with Nazism? I've got a few naysayers at work who seem to think the Pope was/is a Nazi. I'm sure you can imagine how difficult that is to hear.

    I appreciate any feedback you can give. Thank you.


    Matthew Wade

  2. Joseph Cardinal Ratizinger: "Milestones" - Pope Benedict's autobiography - places his association with Nazism accurately.