Philosophical Fundamentalism and Christianity

In the Humanities Center Annual Lecture, Dr. Gregg Lambert addressed the idea of philosophical fundamentalism and what it means today.

Snip20161003_2PROVO, Utah (Sept. 23, 2016)—“Theology,” said Gregg Lambert, the Dean’s Professor of Humanities of Syracuse University in Central New York, “is a positive science, and as such, is absolutely different from philosophy.”

Lambert has been well recognized in the contemporary philosophical community, having published thirteen books and critical editions as well as over eighty articles. He was invited to come to BYU as a guest speaker for the Humanities Center Annual Lecture to speak on philosophical fundamentalism.

In his lecture, Lambert defined philosophical fundamentalism in two ways, the first being “The formation of philosophical identity through a strong difference, an opposition or even hostility to faith or religion,” and the second being “a philosophy based on first principles.” In his lecture he addressed the writings of Martin Heidegger on the strained relationship between Christianity and philosophy.

Lambert explained that according to Heidegger, Christianity is based on the principle that there is, first and foremost, a Christ. “The Christian first believes and then uses procedures of reason to justify or communicate this prior conviction, thus theology is founded primarily on a form of faith.”

According to Heidegger, philosophy is the exact opposite of Christianity. “The philosopher first employs reason and then gradually comes to a point of conviction,” quoted Lambert. “Thus philosophy is primarily founded upon a form of reason.”  Lambert went on to say that this basic difference between philosophy and faith is what makes them ‘mortal enemies’ in Heidegger’s view and why that difference is absolute; it cannot be diluted or weakened.

This view of an absolute difference that cannot be resolved is why Lambert finds it even more curious that many philosophers in the 20th century would use the Bible to address philosophical ideas. “Many philosophers and theologians today are speaking in a manner that is practically indistinguishable because they are relying on the same authorities to make their arguments,” Lambert said.

One of the philosophers who wrote about the relationship between faith and philosophy was Jean-Luc Nancy. Lambert noted that Nancy believed that the only thing that was worthwhile for philosophers to think about was their relationship to Christianity. In the secularization of philosophical thought, Lambert said, atheism must acknowledge its Christian origins to be of value. Likewise “The only Christianity that means anything is a Christianity that must contemplate the possibility of its ending.”

The thoughts of Giorgio Agamben were used by Lambert to illustrate the idea of a philosopher who recognized philosophy’s Christian origins. Agamben wrote about the recapitulation of all things in Christ using the first chapter of Ephesians. “The work of Agamben is our modern Paul. He is bringing the good news basically to restore everything again under that one head of Christ.”

Lambert, however questions Agamben’s declaration of fullness as philosophically valid. “Agamben proclaims a truth that can no longer be proven by reason, restores the image that philosophy is no longer secular.” Lambert continued, “Agamben’s commentary is neither philosophy nor theology. Nor is it allegory nor analogy…. It proclaims only to speak from the hearing of faith that Christ is resurrected, Christ is the Lord, eternity is now.”

Hannah Sandorf (BA Art History and Curatorial Studies ‘17)

Hannah covers events for the Philosophy Department for the College of Humanities. She is a junior pursuing a degree in art history with a minor in art.