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Habermas' Religion and Rationality


Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God, and Modernity.

Habermas, Jurgen. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002. 184 pp., $17.95, soft-cover. ISBN: 0262582163.

Critical theory has always recognized that no theory of the social could do so much as breach the foyer of what we call the Real without considering the Deity and his resultant and contingent narratives -- and that is to say that in theorizing the social, we need recognize that the metaphysical architecture of Deity that scaffolds the context of the human life has informed us, our agencies, and hence our societies, since the beginning of that which we need only refer to as "history." Adorno and Horkheimer discussed that the "moral teachings of the Enlightenment bear witness to the hopelessness of attempting to replace enfeebled religion by an intellectual motive for enduring within society when material interest no longer suffices..." [1 ] -- a negation of the strategy of reason; and Habermas' indebtedness to Frankfurt school critique as replacement theory, that is, the replacement of Enlightenment rationale for Adorno and Horkheimer, and the replacement of their negative theology with yet again, Enlightenment reason, for Habermas -- is ideally presented in this edited collection of essays. In Religion and Rationality, we scan the Habermasian period from the early 1980s to present, accompanying Habermas as he discovers the multifarious manifestations of Deity, Enlightenment rationality, their intersections and interstices, and ultimately, the diminishing fecundity of the prospect of Deity-driven discourse in this world.

Religion and Rationality ranges from a consideration of German idealism adapted to Jewish theological "ferment," as perceived by Habermas by whom he posits were the culturally "assimilated" Jewish philosophers of modernity, to an interview with Habermas entitled "A Conversation About God and the World," wherein which he observes that modern faith has become reflexive, and is on the defensive, because in a "homogenizing media society, everything loses gravity, perhaps even institutionalized Christianity itself" [2 ]. Habermas goes on to say in that interview that the "unholy trinity of colonialism, Christianity and Eurocentrism" has been illuminated by critical inquiry, but to little avail, because the rhetorical image that this trinity now purveys, that of free markets, human rights, egalitarianism, universalism and the like -- is "without any clearly recognizable alternative" [3 ]. Habermas offers a consideration of potentialities in light of the aforementioned problematic in The Postnational Constellation [4 ].

At the center of this text are Habermas' critique of theological discourse and its purported boundaries and possibilities. That Habermas' critical theory need deal with theological discourse in such a concentrated fashion, as in Religion and Rationality, seems reactionary, yet necessary, in light of theological attack on Habermas' position by various theologians. Indeed, in the essay "Transcendence from Within, Transcendence in this World," he answers objections from this group in detail. Since Habermas posits a certain religiosity in the Frankfurt school founders, in "Reflections on a Remark of Max Horkheimer" he lambastes Horkheimer for succumbing to metaphysical needs "that not only philosophers but even theologians themselves must today get along without" [5 ]. It would seem that for Habermas, "methodical atheism," is central to the structure of his project. In describing methodical atheism, Habermas quotes Jens Glebe-Moller, a radical Danish theologian, writing that methodical atheism does not purvey that there is "no thinking about God or that the thought of God is emptied of all content," but rather that the trajectory of history has brought us to such an epochal moment where metaphysical language loses cohesion, becomes fragmented and hence demythologized, and must deliver on its truth claims or be supplanted by a postmetaphysical rationale [6 ]. Thus, the challenge for theology, religiosity, philosophy and other models of thought, discourse and praxis is how a model is to justify its truth claims, because the profusion of technicity as a rationale in contemporary Western culture leads us to reject metaphysical solutions to what in our era can only be viewed as real-time problems. For Habermas, we must inhabit the era of the "postmetaphysical."

In his introduction to the text, Eduardo Mendieta states that the reason for this project is that it serves as a clarification with regard to the perhaps pervasive misunderstanding of Habermas' position concerning religion in the context of his work, as well as to display the merits of his contributions to considerations of modernity and what he views as the waning operational role of religiosity and metaphysics in this world, as well as the ever-increasing value of reason as our postmetaphysical guide. This collection of essays showcases Habermas keen dissection of that discursive space which philosophy, theology and religion all inhabit, metaphysically, postmetaphysically, and otherwise. His indebtedness to Frankfurt school rationale, as betrayed in this work shows that his affiliation is perhaps more historical, or based on the theoretical interdisciplinarity that Frankfurt school theory embraces, rather than specifically in linear intellectual procession from the Frankfurt school founders. The argumentative thread that sustains this work is its focus upon the postmetaphysical contemporaneity Habermas inhabits and whether or not he can persuade us that we inhabit it as well. Essentially, Religion and Rationality attempts to make a case for the cultivation of an exclusively postmetaphysical rationale that operationally must become political in order to have social effects, and for the rejection of the project of metaphysical logicians that cannot justify their moral claims, and thus have failed to inform our burgeoning era of global capital.

Nicholas Ruiz III
Florida State University


[1 ] Horkheimer, Max and Adorno, Theodor W., Dialectic of Enlightenment, Stanford; Stanford University Press (2002), p66-67. [^]

[2 ] (Eduardo Mendieta, ed), Habermas, Jurgen, Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God, and Modernity, Cambridge; MIT Press (2002), p152. [^]

[3 ] Ibid. [^]

[4 ] Habermas, Jurgen, The Postnational Constellation, Cambridge, Polity (2001). [^]

[5 ](Eduardo Mendieta, ed), Habermas, Jurgen, Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God, and Modernity, Cambridge; MIT Press (2002), p96. [^]

[6 ] Ibid, p77. [^]