UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds


Is there God after God?

By Trisha Elliott

Since the term “theism” was first coined by 17th-century theologian and philosopher Ralph Cudworth, the idea has baked into a cookie jar of possibilities: classic theism, open theism, ditheism, polytheism, pantheism and panentheism, to name a few. The newest label to enter the mix: “anatheism.”

In his 2010 book Anatheism: Returning to God After God, Richard Kearney, philosophy professor at Boston College explains that the “ana” in anatheism is the Greek word for “again.” In short, anatheism is seeking God after the death of God. In the absence of God, in the dark night of the soul, in angst and abandon, between theistic certainty and atheism, a new desire is provoked that makes possible “the return of the Other God — the divine guest who brings life.”

Kearney describes this existential uncertainty as a moment of wager. In uncertainty, we have a choice between hospitality and hostility to the Stranger — the sense of something more. “For me, to have lost the illusion of God (as sovereign superintendent of the universe) is to enjoy the possibility of opening oneself, once again, to the original and enduring promise of a sacred Stranger, an absolute Other who comes as gift, call, summons, as invitation to hospitality and justice,” explains Kearney in a chapter in his latest book Reimagining the Sacred.

The beauty of Kearney’s approach is in his embrace of narrative. He illustrates the anatheist movement in the biblical story, poetically describing Abraham’s encounter with the three strangers and Mary’s waffling between belief and disbelief as she confronts the stranger Gabriel. But he doesn’t stop at the doors of the Christian narrative: he elegantly waltzes through anatheist moments in other religious traditions and philosophies, as well as through the literary imaginations of James Joyce, Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf, and the activism of Dorothy Day, Jean Vanier and Mahatma Gandhi. 

Among the implications of Kearney’s philosophy is the ethic of embracing difference as the medium through which we return to the “moreness” of God. He provides fertile ground for an interfaith dialogue that doesn’t seek to reduce religiosity to sameness but advocates delving into difference, which, in turn, helps us attend to our own religiosity. Premised on the assumption that the sacred and secular are mutually enlightening, Kearney carves a vital role for the sacred in the midst of skepticism.

In today’s atheist-versus-theist battlefield, anatheism offers a cogent critique of both. Kearney easily disposes of the anti-God squad’s militant atheism as well as the type of closed-minded theistic dogma predicated on fearing the other. Kearney isn’t attractive to those occupying the farthest ends of the theist/atheist divide. His lack of popularity on the extreme fronts is precisely what makes him a necessary read.

Rev. Trisha Elliott is a minister at Southminster United in Ottawa.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image