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For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them . . . So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:18-21)
Martin Heidegger, 20th century German philosopher, is not the most likely candidate for a lengthy analysis on this blog. But here goes!
Heidegger described the shift into “modernity” in his book, The Question Concerning Technology. Heidegger, himself a lapsed Roman Catholic, notes (in the chapter called “The Age of the World as Picture”) that one of the phenomenon of the modern age was “the loss of the gods,” which is “the situation of indecision regarding God and the gods.” In other words, Heidegger is describing the modern shift away from a firm and sure understanding of who God is; he is describing modern skepticism.
Man has abandoned the Christian understanding of God
Further on he says that Man has become the “subject”. To put it crudely, Heidegger says that man has become the centre of his own universe – everything revolves around him. How has this occured? “In the emancipation of men . . . from obligation to Christian revelational truth and Church doctrine.” Man has abandoned the Christian understanding of God, and he himself fills the void. He is his own “unshakable foundation of truth.” Heidegger is, of course, simply describing what the passage from Romans 1 describes: rebellion against God. And God darkens our foolish hearts as a consequence.
Heidegger has another pertinent observation to make, though. This is what jumped out at me when I read Technology. Heidegger sees that this disconnection from the firm foundation of Christianity and biblical revelation, does not constitute an “excluding [of] religiosity.” Religion, he says, is not dead. It is transformed into “religious experience.” What Heidegger lays out here is a process of separation from what Christians would describe as the firm foundation of biblical truth, and this rebellion against God results, not in a lack of religion, but a religion that is transformed from an objective truth claim into a “religious experience”.
Paul goes on in Romans 1:21-23 to say that:
For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Some Christians worship a god they know nothing about!
Paul says that Man rebels against God and does not honour him, and they become foolish. Heidegger describes how, in removing God from the picture, Mankind has reduced religion to “religious experience.” A quick browse around the world of modern religion, and even the modern church (take a quick look through the ‘Holy Spirit’ shelves at Koorong!) illustrates this. Some Christians worship a god they know nothing about! They do not read their Bibles, and Bible is not taught at their churches, so their faith is reduced to religious experience!
This is not meant to be a finger-pointing exercise. I have a plank in my own eye, so I shouldn’t worry much about the speck in the local Pentacostal’s eye. I would implore every Christian to not forget about who the God that you worship is. My religion can, at times, be reduced to an experience of being a moral person. Someone else’s could be reduced to an experience of speaking in tongues, or swooning to the latest “contemporary Christian-Pop song”. Another might find themselves simply intellectualising about God. The point is that we must know God.
Paul in Romans 1:21 says that people did know God, but they did not honour him, and he darkened their hearts. Whether or not you think Heidegger is right on this, it remains true that our focus must be the knowledge of God, knowing God personally. Otherwise, we may be left with darkened hearts and a meaningless experience.