The twentieth-century German existentialist philosopher, Martin Heidegger, in his work The Onto-Theo-Logical Constitution of Metaphysics discusses his ideas on God as the highest being and what philosophy has reduced Him to. His claim is that a God who has been reduced to a mere concept is no God to worship or celebrate and that someone with a notion of “god-lessness” may be closer to the Divine than a religiously-minded person might accept.
Heidegger writes, “Because Being appears as ground, beings are what is grounded; the highest being however, is what accounts in the sense of giving the first cause.” What Heidegger is claiming here is that this “first cause” acts as a god-figure, the highest being. In the Aristotelian sense, the first cause is the Unmoved-Mover, the force in the universe that did not have a cause itself but started the whole event-causal relationship as in the Newtonian billiard-ball idea of the universe. Heidegger is borrowing Aristotle’s idea of God as the Unmoved-Mover and elaborates on it saying, “This ground itself needs to be properly accounted for by that for which it accounts, that is, by the causation through the supremely original matter – and that is the cause as causa sui. This is the right name for the god of philosophy. Man can neither pray nor sacrifice to this god. Before the causa sui, man can neither fall to his knees in awe nor can he play music and dance before this god.” Literally, the Latin causa sui is translated as “cause of itself,” so one can see that Heidegger truly borrowed this notion from Aristotle. Heidegger, however, claims that this causa sui is a god that that cannot be worshipped or celebrated. It is the “god of philosophy,” as he calls it.
But why can this god not be celebrated? To understand this, we must turn to the parsing Heidegger conducts between the terms onto- and theo-logical. He claims that when beings are related to that which is common to all beings, then this idea is considered onto-logic. But when beings are considered relative to the highest being, then the thinking becomes theo-logical. To Heidegger this causa sui, the onto-logical god of philosophy, is too far removed from the emotional and spiritual realm to truly be felt by human spirituality. Metaphysics has reduced God to nothing more than merely the first cause in the universe. He no longer interacts with humanity; He is no longer perceived as revealing Himself to humanity, no longer shining wisdom and love upon humanity. The god of metaphysics is a personal god no more. If we cannot hear His words or perceive His love, why should we celebrate and worship such a being? What inspiration has He thrust upon us? Why should we care about something that we cannot even feel?
It is in this light that Heidegger claims, “god-less thinking which must abandon the god of philosophy, god as causa sui, is thus perhaps closer to the divine God. Here this means only: god-less thinking is more open to Him than onto-theo-logic would like to admit.” Purely rational philosophical deduction had defined God very finitely: God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent. This is the definition of the metaphysical theistic god. Heidegger is claiming that one who thinks without a strict, traditional, theistic perception of God, or without a perception of God at all, may have a more divine relationship with Him than those who perceive him as merely the causa sui because by reducing Him to merely the first cause, the onto-logical thinker places this transcendent being into a theistic box. By defining God, humans have limited God.
One may ask: How is the theistic God limited if He is omnipotent and omniscient, since, by definition, omnipotence and omniscience allows Him to do whatever He wishes whenever He wishes? The answer lies in the limits of reason and logic. The metaphysical god is bound to the confines of logic, meaning this god is unable to contradict itself. The theistic god cannot be both omniscient and non-omniscient. To the god-less thinker, however, God can be anything and nothing at the same time because he has not been defined by limited human language. The Buddhist and the Taoist are examples of this god-less thinking. For the Buddhist, the Ultimate is Enlightenment, the escape of suffering and attachment to the material world. For the Taoist, the Ultimate is the Tao, the Way. Neither of these ideas have a defined god-figure, but both are in pursuit of their perception of the Ultimate, the non-defined God.
The human mind is a limited thing in itself. It is only once a being is a able to detach, escape, and transcend the confines of language and rationality can one truly tap into the divine, spiritual Being. By not defining God, we are not limiting God; and this idea makes Him even more amazing and awesome.