An Excerpt from “Godsends” by William Desmond

For many years, William Desmond has been patiently constructing a philosophical project—replete with its own terminology, idiom, grammar, dialectic, and its metaxological transformation—in an attempt to reopen certain boundaries: between metaphysics and phenomenology, between philosophy of religion and philosophical theology, between the apocalyptic and the speculative, and between religious passion and systematic reasoning. In Godsends: From Default Atheism to the Surprise of Revelation, Desmond’s newest addition to his ambitious masterwork, he presents an original reflection on what he calls the “companioning” of philosophy and religion.

From By Way of Introduction: Superiority beyond Interiority

Our perplexing times are replete with a living equivocity with regard to our being religious. All over the globe diverse forms of being religious thrive, often exorbitantly. Nothing seems so difficult to count out, or erase, as our being religious. Yet among the advanced intellectuals, nothing is so noticeable as what I call a “default atheism.” Among such intellectuals it seems almost as if an epoch of default atheism is taking shape. This need not be advocated in terms of any militant atheism, such as we know from communism in the last century. There are many varieties of atheism. Often default atheism enacts the death warrant issued to God by the superior indifference of intellectuals. Exasperation with the exuberant thriving of religion can still come to form in campaigns of vilification, if not cultural extermination. More often, however, we detect a secret euthanasia that would prefer not to raise the matter at all. Exorbitant proliferation twinned with a desire for death: how comprehend this equivocal, if not contradictory twinning?

There is a word that has repeatedly struck me as resurrecting the matter from the threat of dead silence: “Godsend.” My wonder: Is there something in this word that brings us back to the space of the sacred, and in a still living sense? “Godsend” is a word still often used in ordinary conversation but rarely is it singled out for attention. It is a striking word, perhaps even more so, since the world one might associate with such a word is said to have faded, if not vanished. In the epoch after the so-called “death of God” there are no godsends, there are to be no more godsends. Perhaps this is to speak too charitably: among the advanced intellectuals, what the word portends is to be erased. Ecrasez l’infame! Yet, mirabile dictu, the word continues to fascinate, and perhaps to be revealing about something to which we do well to attend. “Godsend” may indeed tell us something surprising: something surprising about the communication of the sacred, sometimes incarnated in seemingly ordinary ways of talking. For a godsend need not mean being hit with the thunderbolt of Zeus. The godsend can come quietly and incognito. It can come in whispers not shouts, in caresses not blows. The world wherein the word godsend is said to be evacuated of meaning can be captured by the words “default atheism,” I venture. The explorations of this book move between the world of default atheism and the godsend, between, in a broad sense, closure to any manifestation of the divine and the surprise of unexpected revelation.

The relation of philosophy and theology is at issue here. I want first to offer some thoughts about these two as thresholding each other. On such a threshold they can turn away from each other, they can touch each other. There is a myriad of ways of turning towards and turning away. Default atheism embodies a kind of turning away which we must explore. What then of the touching and being touched on the threshold? One need only note that, while given their difference by this threshold, they can also be held together by it.

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