Posted by: Dan | June 12, 2008

Eschatology, Ontology, and Meaning: A Rough Sketch

[This is just a brief sketch — a few incomplete thoughts — regarding something I've been thinking lately.]

(1) It seems to me that the comparatively recent philosophical and theological focus upon ontological issues, is, in part, a response to the collapse of prior metaphysical endeavours. This collapse has left a vacuum in the realm of 'meaning', and so I wonder if our ontological efforts are, in actuality, efforts to restore meaning to a world wherein everything appears to be meaningless, and wherein we no longer even know how to make sense.

(2) However, it also seems to me that any exploration of the question of meaning is inextricably linked to the experience of death. That is to say, it is the profound rupture of death the creates the crisis of meaning in the first place (recall Camus' challenge at the beginning of The Myth of Sisyphus). Hence, ontology becomes a part of our pursuit of meaning, because our current being is a being-unto-death.

(3) This is not to say that all being ceases with death, but it does impose death as a limit of our ontological endeavours. As soon as we begin to speak of that which lies within or beyond death, we are, in my opinion, moving outside of the realm of ontology and into the realm of eschatology.

(4) Indeed, death itself, rather than being understood as a factor in our ontological reasoning, is better understood as an historical experience — an event within time. Hence, even life lived-unto-death is better interpreted through historical categories, rather than through ontological categories.

(5) Of course, the biblical approach to history and time, is one that is thoroughly eschatological. Now, by 'eschatology' I mean something closer to a 'philosophy (or theology) of history' than to the traditional understanding of eschatology as 'last things.' Eschatology is a way of remembering the past (especially the life, death and resurrection of Jesus) and anticipating the future (especially the parousia of Christ) in order to live meaningfully in the present.

(6) Therefore, it is eschatology, and not ontology, that provides us with the proper framework for approaching the question of meaning today. Indeed, by making this assertion, I suspect that I am simply recovering a biblical way of thinking, for I believe that the ontological paradigm is a later (Greek and Latin) imposition upon biblical modes of thought.

(7) Further, I can't help but wonder if our ontological efforts actually contribute to the problem of meaninglessness that we are experiencing. For, it seems to me, our ontological efforts appear to be a part of our flight from history — from lived experienced — into the realm of timeless abstract truths. When truth is made abstract, then our concrete experiences become dissociated from meaning.

(8) Our post-marxist friends have often recognized this, and so they attempt to live life fully within the 'plane of imminence' upon the 'body without organs'. However, this, too, strikes me as a flight from history (understood as eschatology) for imminence is highlighted to such a degree that all teleology is abandoned. Hence, they are also incapable of overcoming the contemporary crisis of meaning. Rather, they (all too frequently) embrace meaninglessness (recall Deleuze's ultimate answer to the challenge Camus raised in The Myth of Sisyphus — he threw himself from his own apartment window).

(9) Thus, I simply reassert my point that, if we are to recover a sense of meaning today, the way forward lies within an eschatological paradigm. We must rediscover a biblical theology of history if we are to hope to live meaningfully.


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