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Thursday, February 03, 2011

not a review: My Search for Absolutes by Paul Tillich

My sister came over for dinner tonight. We talked about the past. When you get to a certain age, the past is all you've got to talk about. I asked her if she could remember all the theologians that were standard fare when she attended Whitworth College in mid 1960's. The big names that were in the news, Harvey Cox, John A. T. Robinsion, Thomas J. .J Altizer, and Paul Tillich. I told her I had just finished reading My Search for Absolutes by Paul Tillich. She remembered all of them. Cox, Altizer and Robinson were at center of a storm of controversy and back then Whithworh College was just the kind of school where these authors would be taken very seriously. 

I though about titling this post: what do C. S. Lewis, Paul Tillich and Elton Trueblood all have in common, but that is too long a title. They all wrote books that focused on the theme of absolutes: A Place to Stand, Elton Trueblood, The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis,  My Search for Absolutes by Paul Tillich.

I found Paul Tillich's concern in regard to the pervasive relativism in western culture somewhat surprising. His conclusion that one thing that cannot be relativised is existence, or being. What a soothing thought. Toward the end of the book he suggests that the Absolute Being itself is beyond being relativised. I not sure if this a code word for some kind of deity, he seems to hint at that but one must be very cautious not read anything that hints at orthodox theism back into Tillich. We don't want to do to Tillich what has been done to Bonhoeffer, where every theology student sees in Bonhoeffer a reflection of the students need for a hero theologian supporting the students worldview.

So we see Tillich concerned about relativism but the solutions he offers — not sure he really offers any — don't seem to have stood the test of time.  But that probably wasn't his purpose in speaking or writing on this issue. I can't picture Tillich as a sort of radio talk host "the theology answer man" handing out shrink-wrapped, canned, one size fits all, answers to solve the existential crisis that confronts post-modern[1] man.  

[1]Ruth Nanda Anshen who wrote the introduction to this book uses the term post-modern in book published in 1967.



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