There is not so much an argument in this chapter as there is a strangely defensive assertion that ontology is gravely important. Theologians, Schneider claims, have over the centuries become increasingly wary of making ontological claims about God (and thus, by extension, about reality). This is due in no small part to their inability of their brightest stars, from Aquinas to Schleiermacher, actually to prove the existence of God; but also because of the theologian’s increased cultural sensitivity to contradictory claims about reality, as well the emergence of philosophical theological models where the ontological reality of God is preferred suspended.
Despite this aversion, ontology never quite left theology. Indeed, this is because ontology makes a claim on us, whether we be theologians, politicians, or plumbers. “Ontology is not a fusty matter for the bookish. It is a matter of import for everyone who lives–and dies.” All of us, even if it occurs on the “sub-atomic” level of our everyday consciousness, attend to ontological questions about what is real, what is false, what is of the highest value, etc. Importantly, these questions need not assume or lead us to God: “Although contrary to aphoristic wisdom, atheists do persist in foxholes, it is no mystery that times of great danger, hope, death, birth and uncertainty can pull back the covers on whatever ontological questions may have dozed through the routines of less fragile times.” Some of us, many of those who frequent this blog, find ourselves dwelling on these questions naturally. Others perhaps realize them stimulated by a piece of music or art. And still others discover the dormant questions articulated in the stories of others. We all, however, find ourselves inevitably, in the course of living and dying lives, asking fundamental ontological questions. For this reason, Schneider reasons, precisely because it is so related to our embodied nature, i.e., because they arise most starkly in moments of crises, desire, etc. that break up the mundane patterns into which most people’s lives settle, a theology of multiplicity cannot help but concerned with ontology.
Thoughts for Reflection: I don’t know too many readers of this blog who are likely to disagree with her assertion. This may make her defense of theological ontology redundant for us, but for that no less passionately inspired. I was particularly taken by her description of what a theological ontology does, and found it a nicely succinct way of describing the task of theology: “Theological ontology that is rooted in lived religion seeks to bring an understanding of reality at its most extreme limits into narrative focus and comprehension, through story, ritual, and song. it concerns the big picture of origins, orientation, and ends that come into question for real people in situations of real uncertainty.” I take “that is rooted in lived religion” to describe theology that is not merely an intellectual game, something for which Schneider has expressed disdain in previous chapters. This is nicely put. But, in defense of theology-as-intellectual game, a hypothetical party-trick or sophistical drunken bar conversation that will not be recalled the next day, is it not also plausible that the claim ontology makes on us motivates, be it subconsciously or otherwise, even the most ironic theological inquiry? I wonder, that is, whether even the most disingenous theological inquiry implicitly ultimately pursues the same end that Schneider descibes. I recognize the pitfalls in affirming this to be the case. Namely, it leads perilously close to affirming basically anything as theology–a circumstance, by the way, that is as much a loss as it is a gain for both theology and disingenuousness. But, and this is just a thought, nothing I’m willing to die for here and now, perhaps this is just the cost of ontology.