Existentialism and the Return to Religion

A T Nuyen. Philosophy Today. Volume 44, Issue 2. Summer 2000.

There are some good reasons to think that future historians will characterize the twentieth century as the century of secularism. As the century began, Nietzsche’s declaration that God is dead, made some years earlier, was still reverberating. Three years into the century, Bertrand Russell’s famous essay, “A Free Man’s Worship,” was published. The essay is widely interpreted as a powerful renunciation of religion in favor of an ethical humanism. Then came existentialism. Despite its religious beginnings in Kierkegaard and Buber, existentialism established itself in the twentieth century as a thoroughly secular philosophy. As David Cooper puts it, existentialism “as defined by Sartre, made the notion of a religious existentialist a virtual self contradiction.” While existentialism is no longer an influential philosophy, its secular messages have been well absorbed. However, it remains to be seen whether the secular trend will continue into the new millennium. According to some observers, it is too hasty to assume that it will. Indeed, Gianni Vattimo claims that the end of the twentieth century has witnessed a “return to religion.” Given the standard view of existentialism, it may be taken for granted that if there is a return to religion then it cannot be via existentialism. The trouble is that philosophy has the habit of demonstrating that what is taken for granted turns out to be otherwise. At least, I wish to demonstrate that this is so in the case of existentialism. Specifically, the aim of this essay is to show that the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas is essentially an existentialist philosophy and if so, then, far from being a dead end, existentialism could well be the main route for a return to religion. Levinas’ account of subjectivity is discussed in Section I. In Section II, I defend the claim that Levinas’ philosophy of subjectivity is essentially existentialist. In Section III, the religiousness of that philosophy is explored.


In his various writings, Levinas employs the term l’Autrui, often translated as “the Other,” to refer to one’s fellow human beings, the indefinite neighbors, strangers, widows and orphans, and the term 1 ‘Autre, often translated as “the other,” to refer to what lies beyond the totality that is one’s own being, beyond what constitutes one’s essence, a realm to which the Other belongs. The world that one knows is called “the said,” le dit, because all the things in that world are known through what is said about them, through our own thematization or conceptualization of them. The realm of the other is called “the saying,” le dire, because we are aware of it only through what it says to us rather than through our thematization. As a totality, I belong to the world of the said, having an essence that can be thematized, a being that can be conceptualized; for instance, thematized and conceptualized in science or in traditional philosophy. However, this I is utterly devoid of any subjectivity. In response to this, in Totality and Infinity, Levinas embarks on a phenomenological journey, tracing the subjectivity of the I.

As is the case with any classical phenomenology, Levinas begins with the mundane experiences of the I, showing that the I acquires its unique identity, or its “unicity,” by separating or isolating itself from what is not itself in the activity of enjoyment. It is in enjoyment that one is aware of one’s own happiness and unhappiness, thus aware of one’s own ipseity. For Levinas, “enjoyment … is isolation” (TI, 117) and isolation is the structure of the unicity of the I. The phenomenology of enjoyment allows Levinas to conclude that the “self sufficiency of enjoying measures the egoism or the ipseity of the Ego and the same. Enjoyment is a withdrawal into oneself, an involution” (TI, 118). In enjoyment, I see all things in terms of my own being because in it “I am absolutely for myself” (TI, 134). Yet, in the very process of enjoying, I come to be aware that I am much more than my own enjoyment. The enjoyment in which I am absolutely for myself”assuredly does not render the concrete man” (TI, 139). As the I separates itself in enjoyment, it becomes aware of objects: “The separation accomplished as enjoyment … becomes a consciousness of objects” (ibid.). This consciousness of objects leads in turn to the process whereby one “communicates them and thematizes them” (ibid.), that is, to the use of language. Also, in the process of enjoying, the I becomes aware of other people who can interfere with one’s own enjoyment. This awareness too leads to language in which the I not just communicates with the Other but also thematizes them. At first, the I claims to know the Other, and this claim to know “is cast in the relation of language” (TI, 69). To know, to thematize, is to bring the object into the totality of one’s own being, to erase that which constitutes its own being, its alterity, to inflict an injustice.

Fortunately, injustice is not the fate of subjectivity because my commerce with the Other reveals to me soon enough that my interlocutor possesses a radical alterity that cannot be thematized, and so cannot be absorbed into the totality of my being, or become part of my essence. I realize soon enough that my interlocutor comes to me from the hither side of my being, from the realm of the saying, and steadfastly maintains his “strangeness … his very freedom” (ibid.). The more I thematize and totalize the Other, thus murdering him by erasing his strangeness, his alterity, the more I realize that the Other is “absolutely foreign to me-refractory to every typology, to every genus, to every characterology, to every classification” (ibid). Thus, in coming face to face with the Other in language, I come face to face with the other, with transcendence itself. In language, I call upon the other that refuses to be thematized, that totally escapes the said uttered by me; I maintain and confirm the other “in his heterogeneity. , be it only to say to him that one cannot speak to him, to classify him as sick, to announce to him his death sentence” (TI, 69); I invoke the other that I cannot comprehend because “he is not under a category,” having “only a reference to himself,” having “no quiddity” (ibid., his emphasis). Thus, my commerce with the Other reveals the saying of the other to me.

We have seen that it is through my commerce with the Other, with my fellow human beings, that the other is revealed to me. Why is “the revelation of the other” (TI, 73) important to me? It is so because as a subjectivity, as an “I” complete in the metaphysical sense, I am conditioned by what is otherwise than being, by what is beyond my essence, by the infinity lying on the hither side of my totality. As Levinas puts it in Otherwise than Being, the subjectivity of the I is not exhausted by the I’s being, or essence, but is rather constituted as “a node and a denouement” of being and the otherwise than being, “of essence and essence’s other” (OB, 10). This is why, as we have seen, the description of my being, as an enjoyment purely for itself in the world of the said, “assuredly does not render the concrete man” (TI, 139). To be a “concrete man,” a complete I, or to “accomplish metaphysics” as Levinas says (TI, 261), I have to listen to the saying of the other, to situate myself in the “node” linking the totality of my essence with the infinity beyond it, to conduct myself as a “denouement” of my being and its otherwise. The proof of this lies in the fact that the “identification of the same in the I is not produced as a monotonous tautology: `I am I’,” but rather as a “concrete relationship between I and a world” (TI, 37), between an I and a foreign other, a relationship maintained in my dialogues with all others.

For Levinas, then, I can only maintain and identify myself by, in the first place, maintaining the world as a radical, absolute other, not absorbing it into the totality of my being. However, to form a “denouement” with the otherwise, I must also go over to the world in the fulfillment of the metaphysical desire for transcendence, for the absolutely other. “The absolute other,” in turn, “is the Other” (TI, 39). In other words, to be an I in its full subjectivity, I have, in the first place, to confirm and maintain the Other, my neighbor, “in his strangeness … his very freedom” (TI, 73), “in his heterogeneity” (TI, 69). I also have to go over to the Other, reaching out for, but not thematizing, his radical alterity, to break out of my “egoist and solitary enjoyment” (TI, 76) and welcome him in my home, offering “things which are mine” to him ( ibid.) To exist as an I in its full subjectivity is to “exist otherwise,” and to exist otherwise is to exist “for another” (TI, 261). This means to take responsibility for the Other, for my neighbor, for the stranger, the widow, the orphan. In doing so, I call into question my very own existence, my very own spontaneity. This means, in turn, to exist ethically. For “this calling into question … by the presence of the Other [is] ethics” (TI, 43). Since to exist with full subjectivity is to exist ethically, an enquiry into subjectivity must begin with ethics. Thus, ethics is first philosophy. For Levinas, it is the ethics of responsibility.

We have seen that to confirm my subjectivity, to be an I, I have to be ethical. This means, in turn, that I must see myself as being responsible for the Other. “To utter `I,’ to affirm the irreducible singularity … means to possess a privileged place with regard to responsibilities for which no one can replace me and from which no one can release me” (TI, 245). Seeing myself as responsible for the Other is a matter of being sensible to what I already possess, a “privileged place with regard to responsibilities;” it is not a matter of choice. Responsibility for the Other is not something that the I in its full subjectivity chooses to assume. Rather, it is a responsibility that arises prior to the emergence of the I and “confirms the subjectivity” of the I (ibid.) Thus, it is prior to any choice I make, prior to freedom. Prior to my freedom and yet I can recognize it in the gaze of the Other. The Other has a face and its “gaze is precisely the epiphany of the face as a face” (TI, 75). Indeed, I cannot avoid the gaze of the Other. “I cannot evade by silence the discourse which the epiphany that occurs as a face opens” (TI, 201). I do not choose to assume the responsibility for the Other; I am chosen. Being chosen, I cannot shirk this responsibility: “To be unable to shirk: this is the I” (TI, 245).

The nature of the primordial responsibility for the Other is elaborated further in Otherwise than Being. Here, responsibility is expressed as a command from the Other with respect to whom I am a hostage: the Other “commands me and ordains me” as “the first on the scene, and makes me approach him, makes me his neighbor” (OB, 11). Once again, this is a responsibility that arises prior to freedom, in a “passivity more passive than all passivity” (OB, 15), one that the I cannot shirk. My very own identity “comes from the impossibility of escaping responsibility” (OB, 14). What is it that I am responsible for? For “the faults and misfortune of others” (OB, 10), for their “outrage and wounding” (OB, 55). How far am I responsible? To the point of substitution as a “hostage who substitutes himself for the others” (OB, 15), to the point of “ultimate offering (of) oneself, or suffering in the offering of oneself” (OB, 54), to the point of giving to others “even the bread out of one’s own mouth and the coat from one’s shoulders” (OB, 55), to the point of saying, as God does in Isaiah 58, “Here I am” (me void) (OB, 146). Such is the subjectivity of the I: “The word I means here I am, answering for everything and for everyone” (OB, 114). In the subjectivity of the I, “there is substitution for another, expiation for another” (OB, 125), a “there is [that] strikes with absurdity” (OB, 164).


If I am right in my reading of Levinas above, it should be clear enough that Levinas’ phenomenology of subjectivity is an existential phenomenology. It is a phenomenology in the classical sense in that the analysis begins with ordinary experiences and proceeds immanently without resorting to preconceived ideas, frameworks, or theories. Knowledge of the world has been bracketed. To be sure, there is no Husserlian reduction, but that only makes it closer the phenomenology of Heidegger and Sartre. Levinas rightly insists that “in spite of everything, what I do is phenomenology, even if there is no reduction.”6 It is also existentialist in the sense that it is concerned with the existence in the world of a conscious subject. However, it may be asked whether Levinas’ account of subjectivity is really existentialist in the sense that Heidegger and Sartre give to that term, the sense that we now take existentialism to have, in view of the fact that much of what Levinas has to say can be interpreted as an objection to both Heidegger and Sartre. In what follows, I want to show that we can answer the question in the positive. If anything, Levinas is more existentialist in this sense than either Heidegger or Sartre. The fact that there is a wide theoretical gap between the former and the latter two is not a problem for my claim. After all, there is a wide enough gap between Heidegger and Sartre. One is here reminded of the fact that Heidegger had referred to Sartre’s work as “rubbish.”

According to Diane Barsoum Raymond, “existentialist thinkers make despair the beginning point of philosophy,” as if they have in mind Dostoevsky’s saying that suffering is the origin of consciousness. Raymond’s claim is widely endorsed by commentators on existentialism. From this beginning point, “existentialist thinkers” typically go on to account for the feelings of alienation and estrangement, and end up with some notion of authenticity, a description of a life in which the conditions giving rise to alienation and estrangement are overcome. It goes without saying that the accounts of alienation and estrangement differ, as do the prescriptions of an authentic life. The question now is whether Levinas can be said to have made suffering the beginning point of his philosophy, to have given us any account of alienation and estrangement, and to have of fered us a prescription for an authentic life. If I am right in my reading of Levinas above, it is not difficult to show that he has.

In the beginning, there is the suffering of the Other, the suffering that calls into question my own enjoyment, the suffering that commands me to respond. And then, there is the “suffering in the offering of oneself” (OB, 54), in giving “the bread out of one’s own mouth and the coat from one’s shoulders” (OB, 55), in being a “hostage who substitutes himself for the others” (OB, 15). As we have seen, the “there is” of suffering is a “there is [that) strikes with absurdity” (OB, 164). Without this “there is,” this suffering, there will be no consciousness of the I being called into question, hence there will be no ethics and, ethics being first philosophy, there will be no philosophy. Like Dostoevsky, Levinas finds suffering to be the origin of the consciousness of an I in its full subjectivity, and like other “existentialist thinkers,” makes suffering the beginning point of philosophy.

The search for an appropriate response to suffering takes Levinas to an account of the said and the saying. The said is where everything, including the I, is thematized, conceptualized and categorized. It is where the being of every being is defined in terms of a total essence so that everything is a totality, an identity. It is where the commerce among the totalities, the identities, “is fixed in a said, is written, becomes a book, law and science” (OB,159). The said, then, is the facticity of the I. It is the world of the “they” for Heidegger and the world of “the others” for Sartre who finds it “hell:’ For Heidegger, Dasein can choose to be totally absorbed in the “they.” For Sartre, one can choose to be what others expect one to be. For Levinas too, one is “free to give or to refuse” (TI, 77), and can choose to refuse, thus to be an I totally absorbed in its own self, having to deal with others only as dictated by what is said or written in “a book, law [or] science.” As we have seen, this I is not “the concrete man” with full subjectivity. This I is alienated from its metaphysical abode which is a “node and denouement” of its being and its otherwise than being. This I is estranged from the I with full subjectivity, which is none other than itself. While it is possible to live as a totality in the world of the said, inauthentically or in bad faith, one cannot do so without angst. This is so because in the face of suffering that “strikes with absurdity,” “identity gnaws) away at itself-in a remorse” (OB, 114). To overcome the conditions giving rise to alienation and estrangement, the Heideggerian existentialist assumes the mode of care, and the Sartrean existentialist chooses to exercise freedom and to be responsible for his or her choices. Levinas rejects much of what Heidegger and Sartre prescribe but remains essentially existentialist in his own prescriptions.

For Levinas, both Heidegger and Sartre attempt to return being to the full totality of its essence. For both, the world of the “they,” the others, is all there is, and while being absorbed in it and dictated by it is not authentic, neither is running away from it. Indeed, for both, there is nothing beyond to run to. Authenticity consists only in being in the world in the right way. Levinas is also concerned with delivering being back to the world, to the strangers, the widows and the orphans that inhabit that world. He is also concerned with delivering being back to that world as an authentic being, as an I full of subjectivity. If to overcome alienation is to overcome the opposition between being and the world then it may be said that in Levinas we have a prescription for the problem of alienation. As we have seen, Levinas prescribes the ethical relationship with the world as the bridge that spans the gap between being and the world: “(I)n the good is abolished the opposition between man and the world” (OG, 39). More specifically, the I has to exist in a mode of care, but not in the Heideggerian sense, and it has to be a responsible self, but not in the Sartrean sense. The Levinasian I cares for and cares about others as Others, in their “strangeness” and “heterogeneity,” caring enough to say “Here I am” and to substitute oneself as “hostage.” The Levinasian I is responsible but does not choose responsibility as an act of freedom. What this I chooses is to accept that responsibility in a passivity “more passive than all passivity,” and to respond to that responsibility by welcoming the stranger into one’s home, by giving to the orphan and the widow “the bread out of one’s own mouth and the coat from one’s shoulders.” In this mode of care and responsibility, the I exists not as an entity full of being and enclosed within the totality of its own essence, but exists as a “node and denouement” of totality and infinity, of essence and the beyond essence. In this mode, the I does not have an essence but an “essance [which is] to be-in-question,” an essance where the “a” indicates “the verbal aspect of the word ‘being”‘ (OG, 46 and 112). Thus, being has an essance insofar as it is in the world and in verbal communication with the Other. Essance, then, is the existential core of being and it too precedes essence, preceding that which is thematized and conceptualized in the said.

Is the Levinasian mode of existence still existentialist? There is no reason to deny that it is unless one unreasonably restricts the term to something that is just another version of the Heideggerian or the Sartrean prescription. Indeed, given the familiar claim that to exist as an existentialist is to “exist,” that is, to exist toward something with respect to which one is presently not yet, or as a being always “ahead of itself” and always “on the way” as Heidegger puts it, the Levinasian mode of existence is arguably more existentialist than most. For it is the mode of existence in which the I exists as if outside of itself, outside of what it can be in the world of the said, toward the infinity that lies on the hither side of its being, beyond its essence. To exist is surely to “exist otherwise,” as Levinas says. Furthermore, complete subjectivity is always ahead of the I, always on its way. This is so because there is no point at which the I can say that it has “accomplished metaphysics,” no point at which responsibility ceases, not even death. For Heidegger at least, death is the point where being is no longer “ahead of itself,” where one is no longer “on the way.” Since death is one’s “ownmost possibility,” the point of death is where being catches up with itself, where one is “already there.” Death is where the existentialist ceases to be existentialist. If so then Levinas is more existentialist than all existentialists. For not even death is the limit of one’s responsibility for Levinas. Death merely robs the I of the chance to exist.


Given the fact, if it is a fact, that Sartre has “made the notion of a religious existentialist a virtual self contradiction” according to Cooper, can the “return to religion” adumbrated by Gianni Vattimo be via existentialism? This question can be answered in the affirmative simply by revisioning existentialism away from the Heideggerian-Sartrean conception and back toward the religious lines conceived by Kierkegaard, Buber, and perhaps the Catholic Gabriel Marcel. However, many contemporary existentialists would regard any such revisioning as a step backward, seriously undermining the humanism that grounds existentialist values. It seems that to hang on to an existentialist humanism, one has to make a renunciation of religion. However, if I am right about Levinas, this does not have to be the case, even though Levinas too rejects the idea of God as thematized and conceptualized by Buber and Marcel, and Kierkegaard’s idea that the worship of God is the only way of authenticity, which makes religion first philosophy. Indeed, given Levinas’ arguments, an existentialist humanist who grounds all values not in some external authority, divine or otherwise, but in the commerce with others, with one’s neighbors, cannot fail to be, in a particular sense, religious.

What is it, then, to be religious? In the general sense, it is to belong to a religion, to accept the discourse of that religion and worship a god described in that discourse, in the way prescribed by it. In this sense, a Levinasian existentialist cannot be religious. For, as we have seen, Levinas repeatedly claims that to thematize or conceptualize anything is to erase its alterity, to bring it into the totality of one’s own being, to render what is different the same. If God is to retain his Infinity and transcendence, neither He nor His nature can be “fixed in a said”: “The transcendence of God can neither be said nor thought in terms of being” (OG, 77). He is like the “One of the first hypothesis of Plato’s Parmenides, which should `neither be named, nor designated, nor opined, nor known’ (142-a)” (OG, 178). Thus, Levinas rejects all religious discourses in which God is thematized and conceptualized. This rejection leaves room for us to be religious in a different sense, to experience God in a different way. As Levinas puts it in the closing remark of Otherwise than Being, “after the death of a certain god inhabiting the world behind the scenes, the substitution of the hostage discovers the trace, the unpronounceable inscription, of what, always already past, always `he,’ does not enter into any present, to which are suited not the nouns designating beings, or the verbs in which their essence resounds, but that which, as a pronoun, marks with its seal all that a noun can convey” (OB, 185). If it is accepted that there is a sense of being religious in which the religious person believes in an Infinity beyond the totality of all beings, in a “he” who is no more than an unpronounceable pronoun but no less than anything a noun can convey, and seeks to be with that “he,” or somehow to experience “his” presence, then a Levinasian existentialist can be-indeed, cannot fail to be-religious. For to be existentialist in the Levinasian sense is to substitute oneself for the Other, as a hostage, and it is such substitution that “discovers the trace” of the “he.” Furthermore, it is the Levinasian existentialist who follows that trace and stays in proximity to the “he” by remaining hostage to the Other.

How does “the substitution of the hostage discovers) the trace” of the “he”? As we saw in Section I, in my commerce with the Other, I cannot fail to accept that the Other has a radical alterity, that my neighbor comes to me from the realm of the saying that lies on the hither side of the said in which the essence of my being is located. It is by coming face to face with the Other that I come face to face with transcendence, with Infinity itself. It is in the face of the Other that there is “revelation of the other” (TI, 73), that there is the trace of that which is infinite and wholly other, the trace of “irreducible alterity, the ‘un-containable,’ the Infinite or God” (OG, 50). Face to face, I am aware of a sense of being commanded by the Other, of being drawn toward an infinity beyond my comprehension, an infinity whose “infinition … comes from a past more distant than that which is within the reach of memory,” an infinity whose “glory breaks up themes and … signifies positively the extraditing of the subject … to what it has never assumed”(OB, 144). Thus, the “glory of the Infinite is glorified in [the] responsibility” that is the command to substitute oneself for the Other (ibid.) In being responsible for my neighbor, in saying “Here I am,” “I bear witness to the Infinite,” not an Infinite that is “in front of” me, but a “thought behind thoughts … too lofty to push itself up front” (OB, 149). It is in this way that “the `here I am’ signifies in me the name of God” (ibid. ) It is in this way that to welcome the stranger, to share the food from one’s mouth and the coat from one’s shoulder, is really to say ” `Here I am, in the name of God,’ without referring myself directly to his presence” (ibid.) In this way, claims Levinas, the “old biblical theme of man made in the image of God takes on a new meaning, but it is in the ‘you’ and not in the `I’ that this resemblance is announced” (OG, 148). To be sure, it is not the case that “the other man must be taken for God or that God, the Eternal Thou, be found simply in some extension of the You” (OG, 151). Rather, it is in my being hostage to a “you” that the word “God,” “this immeasurable word[,] signifies for thought” (ibid).

The Levinasian way to God, then, is to make oneself hostage to the Other: “The very movement that leads to another leads to God”(OG, 148). It is neither the rational process of proving the existence of God nor the witnessing of God “in front of me. As Levinas puts it, the subject as hostage “has been neither the experience nor the proof of the Infinite, but the witnessing of the Infinite, a modality of this glory, a witnessing that no disclosure has preceded” (OG, 73). Nevertheless, the God that I bear witness to in being responsible for my neighbor cannot fail to astonish me: “An astonishment like this does not depend on the ‘quiddity’ of that which astonishes, but on the how of the relation to things” (OG, p.40). Specifically, it depends on my relation to the Other. Indeed, waiting to be astonished in a determinate way is to wait in vain for the simple reason that “determinate waitings deceive, filled as they are by that which corresponds to a grasp and a comprehension” (OG, 50), whereas that which astonishes can neither be grasped nor comprehended. By contrast, the time of responsibility is a time “as an awaiting – as patience, more passive than any passivity correlative of acts[which] awaits the ungraspable” (ibid.) The Levinasian existentialist is not religious in the sense of actively seeking God and believing in having found Him, but in the sense that, in asking about the neighbor rather than asking for God, he or she is really seeking God, and that, in not determinately seeking God, he or she manages to find Him. As Levinas puts it, the “word of the prophet (Isaiah 65:1) … expresses this admirably. ‘I am sought of them that asked not for me, I am found of them that sought me not”‘ (OG, 51).

As is well known, Sartre equates his existentialism with humanism. Humanism, in turn, is typically conceived, and was conceived by Sartre, as atheistic. Levinas’ philosophy is no less humanistic. It advocates an immersion in the human world, not a departure from it. It calibrates all values according to my relationships with my fellow human beings, not according to any scale given from outside the human world. It accounts for what is most human in me, my subjectivity. Yet, it is precisely by virtue of its humanism that it signals a return to religion. By such humanism, God is sought, and in such humanism, God is found. Nothing in the finite world of human beings is negated for the sake of the Infinite: “The in- of the Infinite is not a simple negation, but rather time and humanity” (OG, 51). As long as the Levinasian subject maintains himself or herself in time and humanity, he or she remains with the Infinite, with God.

If I am right in my reading of Levinas, his existentialism leads inevitably and ineluctably, to borrow Kant’s words, to religion. Indeed, if Levinas’ account of subjectivity is correct then other kinds of existentialist humanism are false humanism and their opposition to religion is a false opposition. To be sure, the religion that Levinasian existentialism leads to is not a religion in which the believer is required to utter the words “I believe in God,” in which services, prayers and liturgies are set out. It is a religion in which the only words required of the believer are the words “Here I am.” Yet, the saying of these words and the occasion of substitution for the Other constitute “the first religious service, the first prayer, the first liturgy” (OG, 151). Furthermore, it is precisely the religion “out of which God could first have come to mind and the word `God’ have made its entry into language” (ibid.).

Recently, there has been an upsurge in interest in Levinas. In the last fifteen years or so, commentators have come “face to face with Levinas,” responded to his provocation, reread him, explored his significance and reintroduced him. According to one commentator, he is “one of the most profound, exacting and original philosophers of twentieth-century Europe,” while according to others, he is “one of the most significant ethical thinkers of the twentieth century,” if not “the greatest moral philosopher of this century.” Levinas, then, is a theoretical event of the late twentieth century and given what I have said above, it is an event that seems to confirm Gianni Vattimo’s observation cited earlier that there has been a return of religion. However, it is not a return through the old gate of Annunciation. Rather, it is a return through the gate of ethical humanism, a return to the starting point, to the site of the very first thought. As is well known, Levinas claims that his ethics of responsibility, his ethical humanism, is first philosophy. If I am right, it is also first theology.