Prodigal Theology

I’ve been working on an argument about the necessity of theological reasoning for political philosophy. Read the following in The Beauty of the Infinite. It strikes a chord. I’m keen to try to articulate this section of my thesis as an appeal to a particular political philosophy for self-knowledge and home-coming. Wouldn’t it be beautiful to see within an intellection tradition the story of a lost son finding a prodigal father?

Modern Continental philosophy is very much the misbegotten child of theology, indeed a kind of secularized theology, even at present its governing themes everywhere declare its filiation—ontology is concerned with the being of beings, phenomenology with truth as manifestation and the unity of knowledge and being, hermeneutics with interpretation and the transmission of texts, the questions of transcendence and immanence, the moral law, the transcendentals, the meaning of being, substance and event, time and eternity, freedom and fate, and the logic of history remain the essential matter of Continental thought… [T]heology is always already involved in the Continental tradition—its longings and nostalgias, its rebellions and haunting memories, its interminable flight from the Christian rationality that gave it life—and so is responsible for and before it, modern philosophy was born of some failure and some anguish within the language of faith, and so even its most strident rejections of faith are determined by Christian tradition, and by the Christian West’s internal struggle against itself. This is the burden of consanguinity: theology cannot disown its history—or its children.

—David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: the Aesthetics of Christian Truth, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003), 30.

4 thoughts on “Prodigal Theology

  1. Dan! It would indeed be lovely to see the story of the lost son played out with contemporary philosophy — and perhaps the ‘theological turn’ is hopeful here?

    Although, I guess there’s danger of this ‘turn’ being merely another play for control — as, you could argue, we see in the biblical lost son’s Take Me Back speech (conceived and rehearsed as a stratagem to escape from exile).

    I also wonder where we might catch sight of the figure of the elder brother in our contemporary replay? In the ‘faithful’ theologians condescendingly awaiting the lost son’s return perhaps? I think this could be my temptation…


    1. Hey Chris, I think you’re caution about the condescending theologian is wise. I wonder if there is a ‘fallacy of filiation’—the idea that if we can show that philosophical (or scientific) discourse has origins or analogies in theological discourse we can stand off and ‘own’ the results.


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