This post is kind of a “note-to-self” but I’m making it a public note-to-self in the event that it might be of use to others.
I was just looking at a review of Laurence Hemming’s book Heidegger’s Atheism: The Refusal of a Theological Voice. I read Hemming’s book when it first came out in 2002. That was while I was working on my dissertation, a good third of which deals with Heidegger’s formulation of the problem of ontotheology. I have been returning to Hemming’s book ever since because I have continued to be interested in the Gottesfrage in Heidegger’s thought.
Anyway, as I was saying, I was just looking at a review of Heidegger’s Atheism. The reviewer is Stuart Elden, who teaches at the University of Warwick in the UK. Here is a passage from the review that got me thinking:
in the discussion of Heidegger’s reading of St Anselm in The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, Hemming claims that we ‘have a clear statement of the meaning of Heidegger’s atheism’ (pp. 12–13). This supposedly clear statement is, I think, anything but. Heidegger suggests that ‘it is not the question of the proofs of God’s existence here that interests us, but the problem of the interpretation of being’. For Hemming, ‘it is impossible to unfold the interpretation of being at work here without reference to God, but it is not God that is at issue here’ (p. 13). What I am concerned about is the elision of the ‘here’ – in Heidegger and Hemming. Heidegger regularly uses this tactic: a topic is examined for what it can say about the question of being; but this does not mean that that topic is either necessary or sufficient for an examination of being. It is not clear that ‘Heidegger’s atheism is an attempt to show the genealogy of thinking itself, unfolding as it does through successive encounters with God’ (p. 12). Rather, it seems to me, Heidegger’s work is such an attempt to examine the genealogy of thinking itself, as an examination of the history of being, which is sometimes – but not exclusively – revealed through an examination of the question of God in the tradition.
Elden’s answer to the question about why Heidegger talks about God seems simple and obvious. And I think he is right to challenge Hemming’s claim.
There are some people who argue (from good textual evidence) that Heidegger’s “atheism” is methodological (e.g., István Fehér and Merold Westphal). I have argued that too. But, as Hemming rightly points out in his book (and as we all know), Heidegger has a lot to say about God. So, people like me who have argued that Heidegger’s atheism is methodological have these three options: (1) admit we’re wrong; (2) say that Heidegger is inconsistent; (3) say that Heidegger’s methodological atheism is occasional. I have usually gone with option (2).
Elden’s answer to why Heidegger talks about God suggests that he (Heidegger) doesn’t have an independent interest in God. I take Elden to be claiming that God comes into the picture for Heidegger only because the authors he’s dealing with have talked about God in connection with being. But that seems to me to be false. One counterexample: the letzte Gott in the Beiträge.