Thursday 1 January 2015

Existential Pioneers. 21. Paul Tillich. Inner Circle Seminar 218 (25 October 2015)

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Paul Tillich

Existential Pioneers

21. Paul Tillich
Existential theologian of the ‘God above God’

Anthony Stadlen

conducts Inner Circle Seminar No. 218
Sunday 25 October 2015
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Paul Tillich (20 August 188622 October 1965) was a leading twentieth-century existential Christian theologian. In Systematic Theology  (1951, 1957, 1963) he wrote: ‘God does not exist. He is being-itself beyond essence and existence. Therefore to argue that God exists is to deny him.’ He insists that God is the ‘God above God’: not a god called ‘God’, not a being among beings.

Tillich found what he called ‘Godin non-Christian religions and in ‘secular’ art, in ways often lacking in ‘Christianity’. As a German, he courageously opposed the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews, and had himself to escape to the United States. In The Shaking of the Foundations (1949), he movingly invoked Isaiah and other Hebrew prophets. But he wrote, in The Courage to Be (1952), after the extermination of millions of Jews during the second world war, that ‘Stoicism is the only real alternative to Christianity in the Western world’; did he thus exemplify a standard Christian-theological blankness on Judaism? And is his existential elaboration of what he calls ‘the Christ’ an essential part of his theology, or is it a dispensable supplement to his thinking of the ‘God above God’?

Tillich’s son, who later himself became a psychotherapist, questioned his theologian father’s hypocrisy over his sexual affairs, but Tillich said he had never spoken on adultery. And Tillich’s student, the existential analyst Rollo May, said Tillich ‘did enjoy good pornography’. May called The Courage to Be ‘the most existential book written in America’. R. D. Laing ended his last book, Wisdom, Madness and Folly (1985), with an allusion to Tillich’s power to disturb.

Do Tillich’s extraordinary writings make sense even to ‘atheist’ thinkers, and to ‘atheist’ psychotherapists in particular? Is the ‘God’ he does not believe in the ‘God’ they do not believe in? However they respectively conceive of the object of their disbelief, can or does Tillich’s ‘God above God’, ‘being-itself’, have any resonance or significance for ‘atheist’ psychotherapists, or do they dismiss it as an evasive verbal formula? The answer to this must surely have implications for their work with ‘religious’ clients, and for the work of ‘religious’ therapists with ‘atheist’ clients.

You are warmly invited to help evaluate the work of this complex and controversial, radical existential thinker, and especially its implications for psychotherapy.

Venue: ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £120, others £150, some bursaries; coffee, tea, biscuits, mineral water included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
                  Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857     E-mail:
For further information on seminars, visit:

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and colleges.

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