Philosophical Myths of the Fall (Princeton Monographs in Philosophy)
Princeton University Press, 2007
136 pp., $25.95
James K. A. Smith
Lost in Translation
There was a time in the 1990s when Christian theorists commonly referred to Derrida, Foucault, and their ilk as perceptive observers of the fallenness of the world. Granted, Paris was no Lourdes: one wouldn't look to them for healing. But one could find in these "postmodern" theories—focused on power and violence—a solid diagnosis of the human condition as experienced in a broken, postlapsarian world. Indeed, Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault and others were read as if they were good Calvinists with a highly calibrated sensitivity to all the ways humanity is prone to perversion, domination, and sin. In the same vein, Merold Westphal pointed out the way in which the masters of suspicion—Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud—could be read almost as Puritans of a sort, discerning humanity's ubiquitous predilection for idolatries of all kinds.1 So phenomenology and post-structuralism were considered new renditions of a story as old as Augustine (or Moses, depending on one's account of doctrinal development): a tale of original sin.
Such readings are not fantastic feats of eisegesis or merely the inventions of Christian scholars looking to underwrite their interest in Continental theory. In other words, these often aren't just matters of convergence, but influence—sometimes direct, in other cases more oblique. In some instances, there are paper trails that point us to the specifically Christian origins of what emerged as "secular" theory. Take, for example, Heidegger's landmark work Being and Time (1927). Upon its publication, Rudolf Bultmann thought he had discovered gold in Marburg. Undertaking what can only be described as a monumental work of apologetics, Bultmann tried to show that the existential core of the New Testament's teaching could be affirmed as true because it was corroborated by the neutral, philosophical work of Heidegger's Being and Time. O happy coincidence!, thought Bultmann. The New Testament understanding of the human condition could be ...