ROME – Soccer fans around the world have been gripping the side of their seats as they watch their favorite teams face off at the World Cup in Russia. It’s always stressful watching your team struggle, fall, and bounce back, eagerly awaiting the release of that fatal cry:
Yet, counterintuitively, that anticipation is among the most thrilling feelings life has to offer. It’s somehow appropriate that during this time, the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome is examining a philosopher whose works accurately describe the trepidation we all feel when watching our teams on the field.
At the conference, speakers presented a booklet called Martin Heidegger: Journey and Writings, with contributions from 19 researchers and professors, elaborating on the brilliant, and at times controversial, 20th century German philosopher.
The series of essays aims to present “guidelines for the correct interpretation” of Heidegger’s thought, said Bishop Enrico Dal Covolo, dean of the Lateran University, during the June 18 event.
Heidegger, considered to be among the most influential philosophical minds of the last century, was convinced that most of the time human beings are not really conscious of the wonder, mystery and excitement of being alive, content with performing daily and mundane tasks.
But in few and sparse moments, as described in his book Being and Time, Heidegger believed we could experience life at its fullest, completely aware of what he called Das Sein, or, in English, “Being.” It’s in these instances, Heidegger believed, that people get to feel truly alive and achieve a sense of transcendence.
In his recent book What We Think When We Think about Football, English philosopher and soccer fan Simon Critchley makes a connection between Heidegger’s understanding of being present and the “rapture of the moment” one feels while watching a soccer game.
Anxiety, such as the one felt while watching an exciting game, is a fundamental component, according to Heidegger, of grasping the enormity of the universe and our role within it. That could explain, in a way, why avid sports fans will spend hours deciphering the universal meaning, or religious experience, of watching Messi get that final score.
For those attuned to Catholic theology, including greats such as St. Augustine, anxiety is also an important component when approaching the divine, and even a significant trigger for conversion. Heidegger certainly knew that tradition; he grew up as one of six sons of a sexton in a Catholic Church, and even entered a Jesuit seminary for a time to pursue his studies.
Though the philosopher from Meßkirch had a strong Catholic upbringing, his beliefs don’t always fall in line with a Catholic understanding of the world.
“The young Heidegger is profoundly embedded with theological reflections,” said Antonio Gnoli, a journalist for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, at the conference. “What he could not accept was the institutionalization of the Church.”
This did not stop the philosopher from speculating on the divine.
“I’ve been thinking about the problem of God for 40 years, and I believe I still haven’t reflected on it sufficiently,” Heidegger supposedly said during a conversation in 1951.
Catholic thinkers have been in philosophical dialogue with Heidegger for years, and Pope John Paul II’s great theological enterprise for “a new theology of being” involved marrying the phenomenological thought of 20th century philosophers with Thomas Aquinas’s metaphysical dimension.
Even in Pope Francis’s pastoral theology, can one find links with Heidegger’s ideas. For instance, both have a strong distaste for chatter, or gossip, which Francis often rails against during his weekly general audiences. For the German philosopher, chatter feeds human beings’ concern with how they are perceived by others, thereby distracting them from the wonder of existence.
Also, Francis and Heidegger share a distrust of aggressive industrialization, war and technology, especially when disconnected from the interests of the human family.
“Agriculture is now a motorized food industry, the same thing in its essence as the production of corpses in the gas chambers and the extermination camps, the same thing as blockades and the reduction of countries to famine, the same thing as the manufacture of hydrogen bombs,” Heidegger wrote in his The Question Concerning Technology in 1954.
Despite the philosopher’s beguiling words, he has been strongly criticized, and at times even dismissed, in light of his support for the Nazi regime in Germany, especially during his tenure as rector of the University of Freiburg.
The publication in 2014 of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks, written between 1931 and 1941, revealed the thinker’s anti-Semitic views and led to a negative reinterpretation.
His racial views, however, did not stop Heidegger from having extramarital affairs with his female students of Jewish descent, including the renowned German-American philosopher and intellectual Hannah Arendt.
But according to speakers at the conference, Heidegger deserves a second look today, and should be evaluated “for his philosophical power and not his political ideology.”
The Pontifical Lateran University in Rome is one of the few that still offer “a rigorous study” of the German thinker, Dal Covolo said, following a mandate given to him first by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI and then Francis to guide the institution toward “theological reflection oriented toward truth and dialogue.”
“If we stop at an interpretation not supported by a rigorous study of the sources, we fall into ideological interpretations,” Dal Covolo said.
At the conference, Gnoli expressed the hope that Heidegger will have the same evaluation reserved for the Greek philosopher Plato, who enjoyed the favor of Syracuse’s infamous tyrant Dionysius I.
“Today we no longer care about the tyrant, and we’re willing to read Plato in a different key,” the journalist said.
Heidegger has been called a Nazi, a deeply-rooted Catholic, an anti-Semite and one of the greatest philosophical minds of the 20th century, yet according to the professors speaking at the Lateran University in Rome, we haven’t heard the last of him, and his influence will continue to reverberate in the future.
For now, soccer fans can be content with knowing that the mixture of joy and anxiety tearing up their eyes, bringing them together and thundering their hearts in unison with the players racing on the field has a name: Das Sein.
Thanks to Heidegger and thinkers who build on his work, sports fans around the globe can remember that as time stretches to the last second of the last minute of what might be their final game, they are truly, and inexorably, alive.