In early May of 2004 I was at home in the evening watching an old movie when smoke suddenly entered the room, at first gradually but then almost immediately with an overwhelming power, and as I rushed to its source in the kitchen I discovered that my house was on fire, and an enormous blaze of fire was hurtling itself towards me. It was all that I could do to get out to the porch where there was a phone and call for emergency help, fortunately, Buck Hill Falls, the village where I lived, has an excellent constabulary and very quickly one of them was outside calling to me with great urgency to jump. Jump I did, about a twenty foot drop, and the officer was able to grab me in such a way that my injuries were lessened, but as the house with an incredible rapidity burned to the ground I realized how close I had come to being burned alive. Soon an ambulance arrived and I was taken to the hospital which is about twenty miles away, but not until I had seen the ending of my beloved home, for it was a house which I had come to love, and there I had assembled all that I needed for my solitary and meditative life. Indeed, many exciting times occurred here, with marvelous visitors and intense discussions, and, yes, exciting parties too. Now everything was gone, and seemingly my life had actually ended, or everything that I had come to know as life. Had I not been given an all too real taste of that damnation which I had so deeply been expecting, even a literal taste of the fires of Hell, and in an ultimate event so overwhelming as to go beyond every previous primal event that I had experienced?
After having been treated in the hospital, but only after an interminable wait, and as I later learned from my orthopedist, misdiagnosed in a dangerous way, for they failed despite many X-rays to detect two important fractures, I was taken to a nearby motel where I was able to call Lissa McCullough, and she immediately agreed to come early the next morning as my guardian angel. That she was, but at first I was still numb from my injuries, and my pain was not yet overwhelming, although I had been given strong pain pills, but as I later discovered these were actually insufficient to more than marginally affect the pain, and I became initiated into a new life of continual physical pain. Of course, the pain is now far less than it then was, but despite a wide variety of diagnoses and treatments, it is clear that I shall know such pain the rest of my life, so that I am now realizing a new life. Throughout the initial period of recovery I often thought of the terrible pain which Ray Hart, Bob Detweiler, and Charlie Winquist had suffered, thereby discovering a new union with them, but as I gradually recovered I actually discovered, and did so involuntarily, that I was accepting this catastrophe, ressentiment was apparently absent, and I knew that this was a horror which I must finally bless, and even bless with an ultimate gratitude. The greatest loss was the loss of my library, although Lissa and Brian Schroeder did recover many of the books, frankly this was an exciting library, my most prized possession, but I all too gradually came to the realization that I was now called to a thinking that must be independent of books, or independent of an immediate reliance upon books, and, yes, a work more solitary than before.
Unfortunately, a serious diminution of my energy has occurred, and while perhaps this lessens my pain, it make real work all the more difficult, and I often wonder if I can ever do genuine work again. But never am I visited by fantasies calling for a repentance for my work, or calls for its reversal, nor even a new guilt for my theological blasphemy, and I now more than before relish the memory of that plot against me in Oregon in the sixties when I was to be shot while giving a televised lecture but in such a way as to be able in my dying agony to beg forgiveness from God. My new book, Godhead and the Nothing, had been published the previous year, as yet it was unreviewed and I recognize that few now can understand or respond to my work, but this book has a fuller inquiry into evil, and into an absolute evil, than does any other book, and it calls forth the radical evil of the Godhead itself so as to make possible an understanding of the apocalyptic transfiguration of the Godhead. This transfiguration is now my deepest theological commitment, and I wonder how this could be a truly new theological motif, for such a transfiguration is at the very center of modern apocalyptic thinking and vision, even if it is wholly ignored by the whole world of theology. Indeed, both the worlds of philosophy and of theology virtually ignore the ultimate problem of evil, a truly untouchable subject, and untouchable because if genuinely posed it must inevitably ask if a radical or absolute evil is embodied in God.
While it is true that this is certainly absolutely fundamental for Hegel, his language so disguises it that very few are aware of it, and if it is Boehmeís vision that initially made this possible for Hegel, only such a ground makes possible a fully dialectical theological thinking, which is yet another reason why we have never been given a fully dialectical theology. Could it be that at a time when there is so little speaking of God, or serious speaking of God, that an ultimate blasphemy could be even more forbidden than before, and is it possible that a full and actual speaking of God today must inevitably be blasphemous, and even ultimately blasphemous? Already we can fully observe this in Nietzsche and Joyce, and in Kafka, too, but is it possible that today this is true even in our common language and speech, or is so when that speech is a fully actual or fully embodied speech? In my experience, whenever one with a genuine sensitivity happens to hear a television sermon, he or she hears a genuine blasphemy even if unnamed as such, a blasphemy leaving a nasty taste, and one not easily forgotten. The clergy today probably have a lower general reputation than ever before, and even if this is commonly undeserved, ďGod-languageĒ is offensive today, and most offensive to those who are most sensitive, or even at bottom most religious. Nothing more fully demonstrates this than our deeper or purer literature, and it is fascinating that two generations ago literature and theology was a rapidly advancing discipline, whereas now it has virtually disappeared.
One opportunity that perhaps now lies before me, is that of bringing my work into a new and more comprehensive unity or coherence, allowing The Self-Embodiment of God to be reborn as it were, but now drawing into it those theological movements which subsequently occurred, and with a full centering upon the apocalyptic transfiguration of the Godhead. Apparently the motif of radical or absolute evil is absent from The Self-Embodiment of God, but if so that book is thereby truly incomplete and impoverished, and this is not a minor or lessor lacuna, but one deeply affecting its very enactment. We are coming to see all too clearly how the absence of any real understanding of ultimate evil from the whole world of theology is a truly and decisively crippling emptiness or void, but the same could be said of the world of philosophy, except, of course, for Hegel and Nietzsche, but this is just the point at which contemporary philosophy is most distant from Nietzsche and Hegel. True, Alphonso Lingis can not only think but also envision an absolute evil, but thereby Lingis is even more isolated and alone than is Leahy, and if Leahy and Lingis are now our most ultimately radical Catholic thinkers, they are also and perhaps even thereby our most solitary thinkers, and this despite the fact that Lingis has had an enormous impact, and yet almost no impact upon theology itself.
I now often ask myself why do I write theology in a world which is so closed to theology, or closed to a genuine theology, and even if one ultimately writes to oneself, it is precisely then that one attempts to be most real, and most real in writing the impossible, and now virtually everyone thinks that the writing of theology has become impossible. While I do hope that I have at least written fragments of theology, perhaps they are fragments in a Kierkegaardian sense, which means that they have an enormous potential, even if one wholly beyond that power which I have been given. But there is another and deeper sense in which our theological condition is truly unique, for despite the crucial and necessary communal ground of theology, now this appears to be impossible for any genuinely theological thinking, and impossible if only because of the advent of a truly new world, and a truly new atheological world, a world wholly divorced from everything that we have known as a theological ground, a literally Godless world, and this despite that new ďGod-languageĒ which appears to be everywhere. Is this not precisely the time in which we are most in need of an ďatheisticĒ theology, a theology truly negating everything that we have known as God, and only thereby becoming open to whatever theological possibilities are actually possible for us? So perhaps it is a truly ďGodlessĒ world that is the new communal or corporate ground of theology, one making possible a truly universal theology, or truly universal in this new world. Now just as I believe that we are all given a theological vocation, is it possible that this is now more actual than ever before, or more necessary for anything that we can truly know as life itself?
If this is true, however, not only is a wholly new theology demanded, but one fully released from its previous enactments, now the very word Ďtheologyí is perhaps unusable, or possibly usable only by those profoundly conservative or reactionary currents which are now overwhelming us, thereby giving us not genuinely conservative but rather reactionary theologies. This is most purely manifest in that radical Neoplatonism which is being reborn in our midst, and reborn by way of genuinely radical thinkers such as Levinas and Derrida, so that this truly is a radical theological thinking, but one absolutely removed from our world, or any possible world. Thereby such thinking profoundly differs from our fundamentalisms, and if for the vast majority of us theology simply is fundamentalism, the conjunction of fundamentalism and radical Neoplatonism gives us the either-or of either a purely reactionary or a purely other-worldly theology. Something like this dilemma is also now present politically as well, so that ours is truly an ultimate crisis, and one deeply affecting every dimension of our lives. If only in this perspective, perhaps the true importance of theology can once again become manifest, for theology is finally inescapable, and above all inescapable in times of ultimate crisis, so that all too clearly theology is inescapable for us.
But even if it is inescapable it may nevertheless be impossible, and above all impossible as a forward rather than a backward movement, and while innumerable voices are insisting that there is no longer any real distinction between backward and forward, we can surely know our manifest theologies as backward moving theologies, and precisely thereby theologies which must be reversed. Yet they cannot be reversed by a thinking taking us wholly outside of history and consciousness, as does every genuine Neoplatonism, or every genuine Neoplatonism today, nor can they be reversed by a thinking refusing to think about God, or refusing to think about God in a contemporary language. No, we are impelled to think about God, and to think about God by way of our own horizon and world, and even if this will inevitably call forth a horror religiosus, that horror is now inescapable, and inescapable for us. This is just the point at which my own theological voyage could become manifest as a universal theological voyage, or universal in our world, and even if mine is finally an insignificant voyage, it could nevertheless be significant as a theological model, a model echoing far more profound and ultimate voyages, but echoing them in such a way as to make them open to all of us. This, I believe, is the real calling of the theologian, a theologian who is a voice of everyone, and now a voice of an apocalyptic Here Comes Everybody, an everybody who is no one and everyone at once, and yet an everybody who is undergoing an ultimate voyage, and even if this is now a voyage into the depths of emptiness and horror, it is an ultimate voyage, and therefore it finally releases an ultimate joy.
Could the burning of my house be yet another paradigmatic model for us, a genuine burning which is truly necessary for an ultimate clearing, a clearing it is true wiping away all of our given theologies, but is it only with such a clearing that a genuine theological voyage is now possible? I do believe that I am finally called upon not only to accept but to bless the burning of my house, certainly I needed a deep purgation, and a purgation that would burn me out theologically, and even if this only occurred all too partially, occur it did, as witness my present fragility. Never have I known a more fragile condition, but my theological pride appears to have abated, fantasies of theological power are not occurring now, and it seldom occurs to me that anyone should pay attention to my work, or that anyone is encountering that work. Thus if I am now invisible theologically, and unheard as well, that could be essential for a theological voyage today, and essential for its very universality. Despite Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, or perhaps in part because of them, a genuine singularity is truly disappearing today, a disappearance which could call forth a truly new universality, a universality only made possible by profoundly singular voyages, but the resolution of those voyages ends singularity as such. This is clearly true in our great Christian epics, just as it is true in Augustineís theological voyage, which inaugurated everything that we know as theology today.
Now if Augustineís theological voyage was from paganism to Christianity, or from an ancient world to a Christian world, is our theological voyage one from historical Christianity to a truly new world, and new not only in the perspective of Christendom, but new from the perspective of every previous horizon? It is precisely this newness, this novitas mundi, that demands a refusal of every old world, including every previous theological world or horizon. Hence a theological purgation is essential to this voyage, and just as this deeply occurs in each of our Christian epics, and occurs both comprehensively and cumulatively, a genuinely forward movement is thereby decisively manifest, even if it culminates in an eschatological and final ending. That is an ending now ultimately calling us, but it is a truly cumulative ending, one which is the consummation of a vast and comprehensive movement, a movement which is itself fulfilled in such an ending, and fulfilled precisely as an absolute ending. Now it is just an absolute ending that has never been realized theologically, or only realized as an absolute beginning rather than an absolute ending, and if this is an ending to which we are now being called, it is an ending that can only be realized as a universal ending, and a universal ending enacted by each and every one of us. This alone is a decisive difference between an absolute ending and an absolute beginning, and if only God or the Creator can enact an absolute beginning, everyone or everybody enacts an absolute ending, an ending only possible by way of the dissolution or transfiguration of the Creator. This is just the transfiguration which the Christian epic enacts, and only that transfiguration makes possible apocalypse, and makes possible the apocalypse of God.
Ultimate or absolute apocalypse could only be the apocalypse of Godhead itself, and if an understanding of such an apocalypse has long been the goal of my theology, perhaps such an understanding can only fully be realized corporately, and realized in that apocalyptic body which is the apocalyptic body of Godhead itself. Blake and Joyce have given us glorious visions of that body, and these are visions which each of us is called upon to enact, and that enactment is our deepest realization, and one finally bringing us an ultimate joy. But that joy is inseparable from a passage through a horror religiosus, a truly apocalyptic horror, and a horror certainly embodied in our world, but if even that embodiment is the embodiment of God, and the embodiment of the darkness of God, that darkness is absolutely essential to apocalypse, absolutely essential to an apocalyptic transfiguration. One of the deeper motifs of Godhead and the Nothing is the transfiguration of evil, and a transfiguration of evil which is finally the ďSelf-SavingĒ of Godhead itself, a self-saving which is an absolute transfiguration, and an absolute transfiguration of an absolute horror. If our clearest vision of that horror is Moby Dick, this is a genuine vision of a uniquely modern epiphany of God, one going far beyond its ancient Gnostic counterparts, and beyond them as an actualization of absolute evil, but an evil absolutely essential to a genuine apocalypse, and to a truly apocalyptic transfiguration.
This is an ultimate theological truth which virtually everyone profoundly resists, I could only reach it after a long and arduous pilgrimage, but apparently I am incapable of communicating it to others, and perhaps incapable of truly integrating it into my own theological thinking. Kierkegaard deeply taught us that it is the purest theology which is the most ultimate offense, and apart from that offense theology is truly unreal, but is anything more offensive theologically than an evocation of the absolute evil of God, and of the absolute necessity of that evil, and its absolute necessity for apocalypse itself. Now it is not insignificant that a genuinely apocalyptic theology has been virtually impossible, theology has primarily if not wholly known redemption or salvation as a consequence of an eternal return, an eternal return which is the very opposite of an apocalyptic movement, and precisely as a backward or return movement to eternity. Theology has been truly closed to a forward movement to eternity, hence finally closed both to eschatology and to apocalypse, and this is true of our greatest theology, and thus true of an Augustine, an Aquinas, and a Barth. Only Christian heterodoxy, and the deepest heterodoxy, has been truly apocalyptic, and if this has been the domain which I have been called upon to explore, it is only thereby that I could become an apocalyptic theologian, and thereby I have been theologically alone. Yet if ours is now an apocalyptic situation and condition, then it is just an apocalyptic theology that now could become real, and become real to each and every one of us.
Indeed, it could be that it is just because our given theology is a non-apocalyptic theology that it is either wholly unreal in our new world or wholly bound to its most reactionary forces. We must never forget that in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam alike, normative theology, or that theology which became an established theology, arose in conjunction with if not as an expression of a dissolution or transformation of apocalypticism, so that here theology is inseparable from an anti-apocalypticism, and the deepest heterodoxies have largely if not wholly been apocalyptic heterodoxies. So likewise the deepest heterodoxies in both the medieval and the modern worlds have been apocalyptic heterodoxies, and while apocalypticism can be truly demonic, as it is in Nazism and a totalitarian Marxism, it has also given us our most ultimate hope, and the only hope that is an absolute hope. Only apocalypticism envisions an absolute and total transfiguration, but a transfiguration finally inseparable from the transfiguration of Godhead itself, hence it is here and only here that we may discover ultimate or absolute heterodoxies. This is a heterodoxy fully embodied in a Hegel or a Nietzsche, but also in a Blake and a Joyce, and if it is just here that we may discover the most profound offense, that is finally not only a theological offense, but a purely theological offense, and an absolute blasphemy.
Is it possible not to be tempted by blasphemy in our world, or possible for anyone who is awake, or anyone with an ear for the actuality of speech? And is it not true that our greatest blasphemers have been our prophetic blasphemers, including not only Blake, Nietzsche, and Joyce, but the earliest prophets of Israel and the classical prophets of Taoism, and if it is here that the greatest dichotomy between priestly and prophetic religion occurs, is not such blasphemy essential to priestly religion itself, or essential to religious or even human sanity? Is real humor itself possible apart from blasphemy, and if it is our most terrible situations which give rise to the deepest humor, just as it is tragedy which has given us our purest jesters, can deep comedy exist apart from deep tragedy, or life itself truly exist apart from death? All such questions have been truly avoided by our theologies, but can that continue to be true, and is it not the most blasphemous questions that are now the truest theological questions, or those questions now most impelling a theological response? Yes, it is our most agonizing questions that most impel a genuine theological language, and not only questions which are seemingly impossible questions, but questions which truly assault their hearers which effect the most ultimate challenge, and if all such questions are dissolved in our common theology, is that not a dissolution of a real or actual humanity? Hence it is the common theology in every world that most impels blasphemy, and not only is blasphemy inseparable from a sacred or holy ground, but it can only genuinely be answered by a blasphemous theology, and by a truly or radically blasphemous theology.
If I have been given a radically blasphemous theology, it is just thereby that I can be most responsive to our new world, and this, too, is a communal vocation, a vocation wherein one not only speaks for others, but is a voice for their speech, and is only actually voice insofar as one is the voice of others. Genuine theology is always a gift, and not only a gift of grace, but a gift of others, for it is real precisely to the extent that it speaks for all, or speaks for that all within its own horizon. Hence theology is never oneís own, or is oneís own only insofar as it is the consequence of a solitary exploration, but that solitude is real only insofar as it is actual for others, or actual for oneís own world. This is dramatically manifest in a Kierkegaard or a Nietzsche, our most solitary thinkers, and yet those very thinkers who had the greatest impact upon those worlds which they discovered or unveiled. Yes, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard are theologians, our greatest fully modern theologians, and they have given our world its deepest theological inspiration, but thereby they are reborn in others, and reborn in new language worlds which are ever more fully universal, until finally this is a language not only for everyone but of everyone as well. One participates in that language world insofar as one speaks the language of Here Comes Everybody, a language that is the very opposite of everything given us as a common language, and opposite because it is the language of an apocalyptic humanity, or the language of a truly new world.
Now just as every given or manifest theological language is a language struggling against that world, and just thereby a backward moving language, an apocalyptic theological language will necessarily reverse that backward movement, a reversal already occurring in Paul, but this reversal is not a solitary reversal, it is one occurring in the very fullness of the world. Genuine theological languages are inevitably corporate languages, and they are languages which speak us, or speak our deeper ground, and to hear that language is to hear oneís own ground, and even if it is in solitude that this language is most actual, the center of this solitude is a center that is everywhere. Even if all too indirectly and elusively that everywhere is embodied in a genuine theological language, and while such language is commonly cryptic and fragmentary, it nonetheless is the vehicle of a true power, and a liberating as well as an enslaving power. The truth is that theological languages are simultaneously liberating and enslaving, and far more so than any other language, and while in our world theological language is our most enslaving language, it is just thereby that a reversal of our dominant theological language can lead to liberation. So an enormous possibility is present here, the possibility of reversing a truly enslaving language, thereby an actual liberty is possible, and an actual liberty for us.
Let us remember that it is our most negative naming which issues in the fullest possibility if not actuality of the most liberating transformations, so that Hegelís naming of the given or manifest God as the ďBad InfiniteĒ or abstract Spirit is inseparable from an enactment of an absolute transfiguration of the totality of Spirit, or Nietzscheís naming of that God as the will to nothingness pronounced holy is inseparable from the enactment of an apocalyptic Eternal Recurrence, an eternal recurrence which is the very opposite of an eternal return. The truth is that our most liberating language and vision is inevitably a theological language, and while it is equally true that our most enslaving language is a theological language, too, it is this ultimate or absolute opposition which has engendered our deepest theological language, and our deepest visionary language as well. Truly or actually to do theology is to enact such language, and even if this occurs only in the most minimal ways, occur it does, so that an actual theological language is at least potentially explosive, and that explosion is both liberating and enslaving at once. Our world at bottom is perhaps the most anti-theological world in history, and understandably so given the dominance of enslaving theologies in our world, but these very theologies offer an enormous potential, and a truly liberating potential if these theologies can fully and finally be reversed. That has certainly been a fundamental goal of my theology, and of every contemporary theology to which I can respond, and whether or not any actual success has here been achieved, the effort has surely been real.
So in closing this memoir, or in making my adieu, I do so by paying homage to theology, a theology which has been my deepest home, but also that thorn in my flesh that made all peace impossible, even while being the source of an ultimate joy. As I have said again and again in this memoir, I deeply believe that all of us are called to a theological vocation, and that we inevitably exercise that vocation whether consciously so or not. But this is just the reason why we can be so anti-theological, and above all so in confronting those actual theologies which are now at hand, commonly these are little more than parodies of liberation or enlightenment, and when genuine expressions of power do occur, they are almost invariably cryptic or fragmentary, but this does demand an enactment on the part of their hearer, and it is only in enactment that theology is real. Hence theology, as opposed to poetry or philosophy, is only real in its enactment, an enactment which is a bodily enactment, and an enactment in the here and now. In this sense and in this sense only, every theology is a corporate theology, or even a church theology, but here the church is the very body of the world, or the body of that Buddha or Christ who is totally incarnate, and totally incarnate in the emptiness and the horror of our world. No doubt I speak as a ďsick soulĒ in the language of William James, so unlike the healthy-minded I cannot accept the world as it is, nor can I accept myself as I am, the only acceptance that I can genuinely know is that of a radical transfiguration, and a radical transfiguration of everything whatsoever.
Must theology now say an adieu to God, and not simply to that God whom we have actually known, but to any God whatsoever, or to any God who can be spoken or named? This is perhaps our most challenging theological question, and it is one that we invariably ask, or invariably ask in confronting the crisis of theology, and theology is only real today insofar as it is in crisis. Many take comfort in a mystical dissolution of every idea and image of God, a dissolution taking place in the dark night of the soul, but a dissolution which is an essential purgation making possible a full union with the Godhead. No doubt a genuine mysticism will always be a possibility for us, and perhaps most so in the darkest of times, but the truth is that few of us have received a mystical gift, so that this is a way only for the very few. Must the rest of us now say goodbye to God, and not only say it but enact it, and enact it in the fullness of our lives. This is just what Nietzscheís Madman apprehended in his proclamation of the death of God, and if that is as deep a prophecy as we have ever been given, it is finally inseparable from Nietzscheís prophetic enactment of Eternal Recurrence, an eternal recurrence which is an absolute immanence, but only insofar as an absolute transcendence is apocalyptically transfigured into absolute immanence. Yes, God is dead in that immanence, but that immanence is an absolute transfiguration of God, hence this death is an Hegelian negation, for it preserves what it negates, but preserves it only in a wholly transfigured form or expression.
Is that what our adieu to God must now be? Can we truly say our adieu to God only by hallowing that Name, is it by dissolving that Name that we truly hallow it, so that now we can enact the Lordís prayer only by dissolving the divine Name? There is an enormous body of modern prophecy and vision enacting such a dissolution, but the remarkable fact is that this dissolution does preserve the name of God, and preserves it even in our dessert, so that it is a Nietzsche or a Blake who most forcefully speak the name of God in our world, and this is an ultimate language and speech which has been given to us all. Yes, true prophecy is always a prophecy of God, and is so even when it is a prophecy of the death of God, and when this prophecy is an apocalyptic prophecy, as it is in both Blake and Nietzsche, it is a prophecy of an absolute and total transfiguration, one not only in which everything flows into everything else, but everything is everything else, and is everything else through that death of God which is the transfiguration of God, and not only the transfiguration of God, but the transfiguration of everything whatsoever. This is that New Jerusalem which we have been promised, but it can occur only when we have made our adieu to God, or, rather, only when we accept that adieu to God which Godhead itself has given us, and given us in this apocalypse.