Autonomy and heteronomy are rooted in theonomy, and each goes astray when their theonomous unity is broken. Theonomy does not mean the acceptance of a divine law imposed on reason by a highest authority; it means autonomous reason united with its own depth.Ok, today's quote is a bit cryptic if one isn't familiar with Tillich's language. Tillich is talking about reason, and how the way we think can vary. Autonomous reason is thinking that strives to be independent, not influenced by outside forces. It strives to be faithful to its own inner structure. Its opposite is heteronomous reason. That is when an outside authority conditions the way we think, be it in the form of a tradition, an institution or a person.
Systematic theology I, 85
What Tillich is trying to do is to point out the shallowness of the collectivism-individualism discussion. In a rather amusing one-paragraph history of the world, Tillich shows how heteronomy and autonomy has battled each other through-out the ages, with brief periods when a theonomy has been created.
What does Tillich mean with theonomy? Theonomy is reason that is united with the "ground of its being", that is has realized that the identity of the individual is rooted in God. This is not a state that can be reached in this life fully.
Today, of course autonomous thinking reigns supreme. Tillich's analysis of the situation is still valid:
Under the guidance of technical reason autonomy conquered all reactions but completely lost the dimension of depth. It became shallow, empty, without ultimate meaning and produce conscious or unconscious despair. In this situation powerful heternomies of quasi-political character entered the vacuum created by an autonomy that lacked the dimension of depth. The double fight against an empty autonomy and a destructive heteronomy makes the quest for a new theonomy as urgent today as it was at the end of the ancient world.The way forward from a situation where individualism has reached its full course is not to turn to a "safe" orthodoxy or to put one trust in formal authority (like all those that think democracy isn't really that important today.) What we need is a cultural climate that connects our sense of who we are with a way to be in communion. For this we need a new theonomy. We cannot recreate an old one.