After atheism can religion be rebuilt?
For philosopher Paul Ricoeur, religion after atheism must be built on the hermeneutics of suspicion, that is to say, it is concerned with the suspicion that enables ‘doing away with idols’ but also the hope that comes from ‘paying attention to symbols’.
Of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, whom he regarded as the ‘masters of suspicion’, Ricoeur said:
“All three clear the horizon for a more authentic word, for a new reign of Truth, not only by means of a ‘destructive’ critique, but by the invention of an art of interpreting.” (Ricoeur 1970:33)
Suspicion is not cynicism. Neither is it scepticism, because it operates in he hope that there is some truth to be found beyond demystification. Suspicion is not an end in itself. It is a method of approaching truth in ‘critical openness’.
Of Freud, Ricoeur says:
‘One should not be in a hurry to correct this reductive hermeneutics bur rather should stay with it, for it will not be suppressed but retained in a more comprehensive hermeneutics’ (1970: 447)
In this new art of interpreting, this ‘more comprehensive hermeneutics’, Ricoeur is looking for a ‘metaphor-faith beyond demythologization’, ‘a second naivete beyond iconoclasm’ (Ricoeur 1977, quoted in White 1995: 91)
He says ‘An idol must die so a symbol of being may begin to speak’ (Ricoeur 1974: 467).
Applying the hermeneutics of suspicion to Ricoeur
The question begged by Ricoeur’s approach is: if we stop interpreting literally (the idols) and start interpreting symbolically (the symbols), what is the symbolism symbolic of? What are the metaphors of his ‘metaphor-faith’ metaphors of? Symbolic and metaphorical interpretation imply that meaning is perpetually deferred. And yet Ricoeur writes of a symbol of being, as though the meaning of the symbolism can in fact be pinned down. So which is it to be? Here it can be seen how it is possible, perhaps necessary, to go beyond Ricoeur, as did Derrida, his sometime assistant, and see the metaphorical as going all the way down.
Hans-Georg Gadamer, 1984 “The Hermeneutics of Suspicion,” in Hermeneutics: Questions and Prospects eds. G. Shapiro and A. Sica. Amhurst: University of Massachusetts Press.
Roy J. Howard, 1982 Three Faces of Hermeneutics Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Kearney, Richard, 2004. On Paul Ricœur: The Owl of Minerva. London: Ashgate.
Grant R. Osborne, 1991The Hermeneutical Spiral Downers Grove: IVP.
Paul Ricoeur, 1973 “The Hermeneutical Function of Distanciation” Philosophy Today 17.
Paul Ricoeur, 1967 The Symbol of Evil, trans. E. Buchanan, New York: Harper & Row.
Paul Ricoeur, 1977 The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-Disciplinary Studies in the Creation of Meaning trans. R. Czerny. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Paul Ricoeur, 1975 “Biblical Hermeneutics” Semeia 4 (1975): 33.
Paul Ricoeur, 1978 “Explanation and Understanding: On Some Remarkable Connections Among the Theory of the Text, Theory of Action, and Theory of History” in The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur: An Anthology of His Work, eds. C. Reagen and D. Stewart. Boston: Beacon Press, 149-166.
Paul Ricoeur, 1970 Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Paul Ricoeur, 1973 “Ethics and Culture: Habermas and Gadamer in Dialogue,” Philosophy Today 17 : 153-165.
Paul Ricoeur, 1974  The Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics ed. D. Ihde Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Paul Ricoeur, 1995 “Philosophy and Religious Language,” in Figuring the Sacred, Mark I. Wallace ed. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
David Stewart, 1989 “The Hermeneutics of Suspicion,” Journal of Literature and Theology 3: 296-307.
Anthony Thisleton, 1992 New Horizons in Hermeneutics Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Erin White, 1991 “Between Suspicion and Hope: Paul Ricoeur’s Vital Hermeneutic,” Journal of Literature and Theology 5: 311-321.
White, Erin, 1995 Religion and the Hermeneutics of Gender: An Examination of the Work of Paul Ricoeur. Chapter 3 of Ursula King, ed, Religion and Gender, Oxford: Blackwell, 77-99.
Rowan Williams, 1988 “The Suspicion of Suspicion: Wittgenstein and Bonhoeffer” in The Grammar of the Heart: New Essays in Moral Philosophy and Theology, ed. R. H. Bell, San Francisco: Harper & Row.