God and the Between. By William Desmond


Pp. xiii, 347 , Malden, MA , Blackwell Publishing , 2008 , $45.00.

God and the Between is Desmond's final contribution to his own three part meditation on his distinctive notion of the ‘between.’ Following Being and the Between and Ethics and the Between, this volume is devoted to explaining how the notion of a ‘metaxological conception of being’ provides possibilities for a philosophy of God that avoids the hubris of saying too much and at the same time avoids the false humility of saying nothing at all.

The book opens with Desmond's perplexity about a current trend in philosophy. He observes that, while for much of the history of philosophy the question of God has been a central concern, in many circles today, there exists a continual reluctance to take up this question. Desmond envisions his book to be an attempt at breaking this silence about God and to find a way, as a philosopher, to speak meaningfully about God.

In his effort to speak meaningfully about God, he first tries to uncover the sources of the modern silence about God. Desmond's position is that there are two looming factors that deserve the lion's share of the blame: a devalued sense of being and a renewed emphasis placed on autonomy to overcome a world perceived as valueless. The disenchantment of being makes it difficult to see any necessity for a God, and the emphasis on autonomy as the sole source of value makes God a threat to this source of meaning.

Desmond would have us once again be attentive to inherent value in the given world and the God that it points to. He is insistent that we must recognize a more originary sense of being that has been lost in our technocratic age. In the ‘between’, we are called to remember a ‘gifted’ world that has not yet been devalued. In this remembering Desmond thinks we will be able to hear the calling of a truly transcendent voice that goes beyond the human self.

Central to an accurate perception of the ‘between’ is what Desmond calls sensitivity to the ‘plurivocal’ senses of being present there. Desmond is constantly calling into question our attempts at total determination and therefore at mastery and control. He insists that such a sense of mastery is always an illusion, and for such insistence alone his book should be praised. His argument to the contrary is that, the pure givenness of being is over-determinate. As a ‘gift’, it exists in such excess that no single determination, no single sense of being can account for it. To privilege one sense of being is to lose sight of the over-determinacy found in the ‘between’. Accordingly, Desmond's call for philosophy to look for God in the ‘between’ manifests itself in a constant call to ‘mindfulness.’ This is at once a call to courage and humility; it is to insist that we be courageous to say something, to believe that we can know something true, even as we are humble enough to know that what we know is never quite complete.

In light of this call to mindfulness, Desmond surveys different historical approaches to God, each according to the different senses of being, and each less than mindful of the other legitimate senses of being. He introduces a univocal, equivocal, dialectical way, pointing out there merits, as well as their deficiencies. Finally, the latter half of the book focuses on what he calls the metaxological way, which is distinctive precisely because of its mindfulness of different intimations of God announced in the ‘between’.

By being attentive to the ‘plurivocal’ senses of being in the ‘between’, philosophy must open itself up to what other determinate discourses such as religion and art are able to communicate about God from their own access to the ‘between’. With such an open stance, Desmond thinks it possible to truly know and say something about God without feigning any exhaustion about the nature of God. The final section of his book, in fact, is a meditation on ten classical attributes of God recognized through a mindfulness in the ‘between’.

It is not clear how effective Desmond's argument will be in convincing those thinkers, who have already closed the door to the question of God, to reopen it again. In many ways he is challenging the very heart of the conventional picture of what philosophy is. It is this picture that he thinks has ceased to make a philosophical approach to God possible or believable. Cyril O'Regan's essay in Between System and Poetics address precisely this alternative vision of philosophy that Desmond offers, and it is a helpful aid in understanding the present difficulty. Moreover, Desmond's poetic and rhetorical style will immediately turn off some who have trouble finding their way in. It is at times a difficult book and its length only increases its difficulty. Nevertheless, it is no less difficult than the task Desmond has set for himself: namely, to reintroduce the divine to a discourse that has little patience for the subject. For such daring, the work should be praised, and for a topic of such importance, any difficulty ought to be endured.