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According to Meillassoux, correlationism has developed into two distinct strands: the transcendental (represented by Kant) and the speculative (represented by Hegel). In Meillassoux’s own words: “…the correlation can be posited as unsurpassable either from a transcendental (and/or phenomenological) perspective, or a speculative one. It is possible to maintain the thesis according to which all that we can ever apprehend are correlates, or the thesis according to which the correlation as such is eternal.”[1] The former of these two types of correlationism falls directly under the critique of the ancestral: if the thought-being correlation is understood to be logically primary, then the ancestral cannot be known. However, it is the latter of these two that seems to escape this inconsistency: “In this latter case, which is that of the hypostasis of the correlation, we are no longer dealing with correlationism in the strict sense of the term, but with a metaphysics that externalizes the Self or the Mind, turning the latter into the perennial mirror for the manifestation of the entity… the ancestral statement presents no particular difficulty: the metaphysician who upholds the eternal-correlate can point to the existence of an ‘ancestral witness’, an attentive God, who turns every event into a phenomenon, something that is ‘given-to’…”[2]

For our purposes, we will call this the ‘theological account for the ancestral’. The theological account for the ancestral has two main theses: 1) Along with correlationism, the thought-being correlation (being-as-givenness) is logically primary to all other relations; and 2) Over against the sciences, there has never been a period anterior to givenness. As Meillassoux makes clear, the eternal-correlate is able to sufficiently think both the arche-fossil and ancestrality. However, the fallout of this consistency is that the correlation itself must be hypostatized – it must be given flesh. In the religious tradition, this hypostatization is generally referred to as God.

If we take for granted the fact that Meillassoux’s critique of the Kantian philosophical tradition is accurate, then the theological account for the ancestral is the only live, historical option. According to Meillassoux, Cartesianism best represents the circularity of the God-proof: “Since he conceives of God as existing necessarily, whether I exist to think of him or not, Descartes assures me of a possible access to an absolute reality – a Great Outdoors that is not a correlate of my thought.”[3] In this way, the absolute necessity of God guarantees the knowability of the ancestral. There has never been a time anterior to givenness as such, so the thought-being correlation is effectively considered to have been in place from eternity-past.

Obviously, the fact that the theological account for the ancestral hinges on the ultimate accuracy of the ontological argument is less than desirable for the theologian.[4] According to Meillassoux, once the Gordian knot of Cartesian certainty has been cut, the absolutization of the correlation (previously mentioned as represented by Hegel) is all that is left. For Hegel, the idea of the in-itself itself is the problem in Kant. The in-itself is therefore unthinkable, and all that remains is the relation between subject and object. Thus, “a metaphysics of this type may select from among various forms of subjectivity, but it is invariably characterized by the fact that it hypostatizes some mental, sentient, or vital term…”[5] Meillassoux mentions Hegel’s Mind, Schopenhauer’s Will, Schelling’s Nature, Nietzsche’s Power, and Deleuze’s Life as all possible candidates for this absolutization of the correlate.

From the theological perspective, it is easy to see how God can fit this role. It follows naturally then that whenever God is understood theologically as the hypostatized absolute term that governs all knowledge, any and all forms of materialism are rendered impossible: “The primacy of the unseparated has become so powerful that in the modern era, even speculative materialism seems to have been dominated by these anti-rationalist doctrines of Life and Will, to the detriment of a ‘materialism of matter’ which takes seriously the possibility that there is nothing living or willing in the inorganic realm. Thus, the rivalry between the metaphysics of Life and the metaphysics of Mind masks an underlying agreement which both have inherited from transcendentalism – anything that is totally a-subjective cannot be.”[6]

For Meillassoux, this de-absolutization of metaphysics has led to a strict fideism in contemporary philosophy. “It then becomes clear that this trajectory culminates in the disappearance of the pretension to think any absolutes, but not in the disappearance of absolutes; since in discovering itself to be marked by an irredeemable limitation, correlational reason thereby legitimates all those discourses that claim to access an absolute, the only proviso being that nothing in these discourses resembles a rational justification of their validity… by forbidding reason any claim to the absolute, the end of metaphysics has taken the form of an exacerbated return of the religious.”[7] It is Meillassoux’s claim that we must reconstruct the ability to again think the absolute without falling back into ideological dogmatism (in our particular case, classical metaphysical theology).[8] In this way, he proposes that we, like Kant, must move beyond both the dogmatism of the ideological absolute and the skeptical fanaticism of various fideisms.

This as-of-yet unpresented third option works through the form of immanent critique. According to Meillassoux, the dialectical movement made from Kant to Hegel needs to be re-made. Just as Hegel’s (and all other strong correlationist’s) critique of Kant ended in the absolutization of the very principle critiqued (i.e. the antinomy between the in-itself and the for-us is absolutized into One entity), so the contemporary philosopher must absolutize the very principle that marks out strong correlationism from its Kantian heritage: in this case, the absolute, radical contingency of the in-itself. As Meillassoux explains, “…instead of construing the absence of reason inherent in everything as a limit that thought encounters in its search for the ultimate reason, we must understand that this absence of reason is, and can only be the ultimate property of the entity. We must convert facticity into the real property whereby everything and every world is without reason, and is thereby capable of actually becoming otherwise without reason. We must grasp how the ultimate absence of reason, which we will refer to as ‘unreason’, is an absolute ontological property, and not the mark of the finitude of our knowledge.”[9]

But what prevents the correlationist from making the same criticism of this absolutization as he did of the absolutization of the ideological dogmatist (i.e. Leibniz or Descartes)? The agnostic correlationist will claim the following: “The speculative thesis is no more certain than those of the realists or the idealist. For it is impossible to give a reason in favour of the hypothesis of the real possibility of every envisageable… eventuality, rather than in favour of the necessity of one among those states proposed by the dogmatic hypothesis.  Thus, both the speculative and the metaphysical theses are equally conceivable, and we cannot decide between them.”[10] For Meillassoux, the answer to this quandary must come from within the correlationist circle; that is, in the fact that the agnostic correlationist, while disallowing the knowability of any objective scenario, must allow its thinkability. “The correlationist does the opposite of what she says – she says that we can think that a metaphysical thesis, which narrows the realm of possibility, might be true, rather than the speculative thesis, which leaves this realm entirely open; but she can only say this by thinking an open possibility, wherein no eventuality has any more reason to be realized than any other. This open possibility, this ‘everything is equally possible’, is an absolute that cannot be de-absolutized without being thought as absolute once more.”[11] The correlationist’s epistemological ‘nothing’ of the in-itself is thereby transformed into a positive ontological ‘something’ – the absolute possibility of any thing. The correlationist is caught in the trappings of her own circle: “…one cannot think unreason – which is the equal and indifferent possibility of every eventuality – as merely relative to thought, since only by thinking it as an absolute can we de-absolutize every dogmatic thesis.”[12]

With this absolutization of facticity intact, Meillassoux charges the reader to risk his bold claim: we must reject the Leibnizian principle of sufficient reason, and subsequently affirm its negated predicate. Instead of “everything exists for a reason X”, we must state “everything exists for unreason, or for no reason whatsoever.” As Meillassoux explains, “We are no longer upholding a variant of the principle of sufficient reason, according to which there is a necessary reason why everything is the way it is rather than otherwise, but rather the absolute truth of a principle of unreason. There is no reason for anything to be or to remain the way it is; everything must, without reason, be able not to be and /or be able to be other than it is.”[13] Consequently, our query becomes: can theology take hold of this charge?

It will be our contention that theology must make this forward movement toward a reconceived metaphysics if it is to last. The absolutist dogmatics of scholastic theology have clearly been defeated by Kant and his progeny, and the various fideisms of post-critical theologians from Hamann to Von Balthasar have ultimately proven ineffective in attempting to ground the reality of science and knowledge (i.e. they are bad metaphysics). If theology is to move beyond this impasse, it must, like Meillassoux, affirm the radical contingency of everything. In theological terminology, it must think the contingency of God. All traditional Christian theology has affirmed that the world is unnecessary for the being of God. Our assertion will be the converse: God is unnecessary for the world.

“Man can be human without God. There is no doubt that man can do that. He can live without experiencing God. He can speak, hear, think, and act without speaking about God, without perceiving God, without thinking about God, without working for him. And he can do all of that very well and with great responsibility. The human person can well live without God, can listen attentively, think acutely, act responsibly… Man can be human without God. One can!”[14] At first glance, one would expect these words to come from the pen of Pierre Laplace or Friedrich Nietzsche, or perhaps even from a late 20th century ‘death of god’ theologian. Instead, this recent advocacy for the metaphysical non-necessity of God comes from the German theologian and heir to Karl Barth’s theological legacy, Eberhard Jüngel.

Jüngel agrees with modern atheism that God is not necessary. However, this move is more a theological repositioning than an academic surrender. Jüngel asserts that the proposition “God is necessary” is “not worthy of God”[15], since, in this formulation, God’s existence is simply a function of human need. When construed in this fashion, as humanity “comes of age”, it slowly realizes that it no longer needs God to perform these functions, and eventually this ‘God of the gaps’ is dismissed altogether (e.g. Laplace’s dictum, “I have no need of that hypothesis”). In this way, “proof of the necessity of God is the midwife of modern atheism.”[16] As many modern materialists have noted, only within the realm of philosophical monotheism was modern atheism born.[17]

Paradoxically, then, for Jüngel, atheism is correct in asserting the possibility of human existence without God. Like Meillassoux, Jüngel argues that its crucial mistake occurs in assuming the necessity of this godless humanity. Over against both theism and atheism, Jüngel argues that “God is not necessary… He is more than necessary.”[18] In Meillassoux’s terms, if God exists, his existence is factical, a brute actuality without ties to absolute necessity.

In order to explain the meaning behind this difficult statement, Jüngel prioritizes the freedom of God, saying that this freedom is ‘self-determination’. The uniqueness of the Christian understanding of God is that this self-determination is founded upon the humanity of Jesus. Therefore, “God comes to God, but with man. God’s humanity belongs to his divinity.”[19] This is an act that pours forth from the boundless love of God, not from metaphysical necessity.

Jüngel goes on to explain how this notion of freedom, when combined with Barth’s centralization of the doctrine of election in the Triune life of God, necessitates the non-necessity of God: “This self-determination, if it really is a decision of love which desires to come to itself with another one and only with that one, implies the freedom of God and man as opposites of each other. If God has created man as the one elected for love, then man is what he is for his own sake. For one is loved only for his sake or not at all… If then man is the one elected for love, he is what he is in a relationship to God which is determined by freedom. This relationship could only be diminished by any talk of the necessity of God for man.”[20]

In essence, the convergence between the arguments of Meillassoux and Jüngel is found in the latter’s point that there is nothing in man that warrants God. Meillassoux would simply extend this to say that, if God exists, then there is nothing in the world that necessitates this fact. God does not fulfill a purpose latent within the nature of mankind or the world. In this way, we can say with Jüngel that God is more than necessary. Down to His very nature (because of the primacy of election), he is pure gift.

Thus, Meillassoux allows us to construe God in terms where he is not metaphysically necessary to the world. God is the one who is revealed through the miracle of revelation and worshipped as the one who delivers from sin, and it is only in these terms that God’s necessity and aseity are to be understood. Jüngel grounds these doctrines in terms of gracious and free action, in terms of the being of God known primarily as ‘love’. “Thus the traditional attributes of self-determination, omnipotence and transcendence are now construed on the basis of a theology of gracious personal action rather than on metaphysical necessity, and are accordingly transformed in their meaning.”[21]

The way in which this understanding of God differs from the theology of metaphysical necessity is explained as follows: “In place of the God who is in heaven because he cannot be on earth there comes the Father who is in heaven in such a way that his heavenly kingdom can come into the world, that is, a God who is in heaven in such a way that he can identify himself with the poverty of the man Jesus, with the existence of one brought from life to death on the cross.”[22]

The key in this theological move is its metaphysical import. As discussed earlier, the Cartesian circle (where God is invoked to secure the accuracy of sense perception) has been the dominate form of ‘metaphysical guarantee’ for almost all forms of pre-critical philosophical dogmatism, and it does not require much of an intellectual leap to realize that dogmatic theology often falls under the same charge (especially in the theological account for the ancestral). From Plato to Aquinas to Descartes and beyond, it has been the key feature of every absolutist dogmatism to utilize the God-hypothesis in order to shelter its own particular metaphysical realism from the onslaughts of skepticism. With Kant, there is a clear sea change as this guarantee is no longer ontologically, but transcendentally conceived – it is the universal breadth of mental categories that safeguards knowledge. As has been made clear, the subsequent rise of strong correlationism is a reaction to the supposed naïveté of this Kantian optimism.

Meillassoux summarizes the unholy pact between correlationism and theology thusly: “If the strong model of correlationism legitimates religious discourse in general, this is because it has failed to de-legitimate the possibility that there might be a hidden reason, an unfathomable purpose underlying the origin of our world. This reason has become unthinkable, but it has been preserved as unthinkable; sufficiently so to justify the value of its eventual unveiling in a transcendent revelation.”[23] Correlationism, in making the in-itself simultaneously unthinkable yet always possible has allowed speculative absolutism to re-enter the fray through the avenue of an always-potential transcendent revelation that will finally reveal the true nature of the real (and, presumably, a new theological account for the ancestral).[24] In contrast, it has been our thesis that both Meillassoux and Jüngel are willing to accept the “gratuitousness of the given”[25] which refuses the dogmatism of every variant of the principle of sufficient reason in order to affirm the absolute necessity of everything’s non-necessity. By taking this position, we must reject both the principle of sufficient reason as well as the theological account for the ancestral. Along with orthodox theology: God may be understood without reference to the world (vis-à-vis its contingency). Along with modern science: the world may be understood without reference to God (vis-à-vis God’s non-necessity). In this way, a metaphysical theology that follows the speculative turn would be both orthodox (the contingency of the world) and modern (the univocity of being).[26]

From here, it seems as though the practice of theology has three prospective options: 1) Revive ideological dogmatism by reconfiguring the absolute metaphysical necessity of God over against the correlational critique[27]; 2) Accept the correlational circle and proceed to organize a dogmatic theology around an unfounded absolute (what Meillassoux calls ‘fanaticism’)[28]; or 3) Move beyond both of these terms (‘dogmatism’ and ‘fideism’) by accepting the challenge of developing a ‘non-metaphysical absolute’ completely devoid of an ontological guarantee (i.e. in theology’s case, the necessary God). It is our contention that the stream of orthodox theology stemming from Karl Barth and finding its principal expositor in Eberhard Jüngel is, to our knowledge, the only theological tradition capable of taking up this challenge, for it is the only tradition in orthodox theology willing to think the non-necessity of its founding principle; the brute, gratuitous facticity of God.

[1] Ibid., 10.

[2] Ibid., 10-11.

[3] Ibid., 29.

[4] We will take for granted the fact that Kant has sufficiently dismantled Descartes’ argument for the necessity of God in the fourth section of the third chapter of the transcendental dialectic entitled Of the Impossibility of an Ontological Proof of the Existence of God in The Critique of Pure Reason.

[5] Meillassoux, After Finitude, 37.

[6] Ibid., 38.

[7] Ibid., 44-45.

[8] Meillassoux’s position is that we must find this absolute in the absolute contingency of everything including the laws of nature, save the law of non-contradiction. Following his teacher Alain Badiou, Meillassoux posits mathematics as the proper discourse of absolute contingency. For our purposes, we will not delineate the particulars as to how Meillassoux constructs this “mathematical ontology”, as it must not be considered an absolutely necessary move for either the philosopher or the theologian (although the author considers it to be an option worth considering).

[9]Meillassoux, After Finitude, 53.

[10] Ibid., 57.

[11] Ibid., 58.

[12] Ibid., 59.

[13] Ibid., 60.

[14] Eberhard Jüngel, God as Mystery of the World, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 20.

[15] Ibid., 25.

[16] Ibid., 19.

[17] Slavoj Zizek, “Towards a Materialist Theology,” Angelaki 12 No. 1 (2007), 25.

[18] Jüngel, God as Mystery, 17.

[19] Ibid., 37.

[20] Ibid., pg. 39.

[21] Colin Gunton, The Possibilities of Theology, ed. John Webster (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), 17.

[22] Jüngel, God as Mystery, 284.

[23] Meillassoux, After Finitude, 63.

[24] This form of absolutist fideism, where the always potential ‘irruption’ of God into the world is foundational, is in the author’s opinion a form of ‘revelational positivism’. Whether or not Jüngel himself falls into this trap of is beyond our purposes. Suffice it to say that, ultimately, we are simply utilizing Jüngel’s notion of the “more than necessary God” as a ‘line of flight’ from where theology might begin to think Meillassoux’s radical contingency.

[25] Meillassoux, After Finitude, 63.

[26] Here I reference the phrase coined by Bruce McCormack in regard to Karl Barth’s bridging of the gap between orthodoxy and modernity (see Bruce Mccormack, Orthodox and Modern (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008).).

[27] This can be loosely associated with the revival of the ‘Biola school’ of evangelical apologetics.

[28] Here, I have in mind the Radical Orthodoxy school of theology. Incidentally, this notion of theology as an ‘unfounded master discourse’ is precisely how Jamie Smith describes RO (James K.A. Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 60.).