Part III: Jean-Luc Marion, Beyond Conceptual Idolatry
Marion opens chapter three with a wonderful discussion of silence. As Marion observes, the greatest difficulty with silence is understanding what silence says—e.g., there are many and varied silences such as a silence of contempt or a silence of reverence etc. “Silence, precisely because it does not explain itself, exposes itself to an infinite equivocation of meaning” (GWB, p. 54).
It should not come as a surprise to us that we have difficulty in speaking about God, yet what is surprising is our difficulty in keeping silent about God. Marion lists three ways that this failure to keep silent can be taken: (1) as a “pious chattering” – the least interesting; (2) as a discourse of refutation which is not silent in order to silence God. Here one attempts to give an exhaustive definition of “God,” thus providing a definition of an being that is at least possible. Then this definition must undo itself in order to be refuted. This process becomes comprehensible “only if one distinguishes, within the definition of God thus employed, an idol: namely, a representation of God at once inadequate (objectively) and impassable (subjectively) [p. 55]; (3) when keeping silent about God is used as a possible “return to God,” or put more concretely, using God as a figurehead for the promotion of some other purpose or concept. In the last two cases, we have what Marion calls “idolatry of substitution.” That is, a discourse of refutation “presupposes a concept as exhausting the name of God, in order to reject the one by the other.” In the “return to God, “one presupposes that a God guarantees that which another concept signifies more directly, in order to characterize the one through the other” (p. 56).
Marion then enters into a discussion of modernity and how the culmination of Western metaphysics ends in will to power (Nietzsche). Given that our gods are nothing more than the effects of a reactive state of the will to power, we will continue our chatterings. “[W]e will never keep silent, occupied with producing and expressing the thousand and one idols at which the will to power, within and outside of us, will aim as so many goals” (p. 59). Marion concludes the section by saying, “[t]o free silence from its idolatrous dishonor would require nothing less than to free the word ‘God’ from the Being of beings. But can one think outside Being?” (p. 60).