Discussing
Hope Against Hope

Bethany Keeley-Jonker

Rick
May 6, 2009

I haven’t read Caputo’s book yet but I am familiar with his work. Please correct me if I am wrong here Bethany. <br><br>He is a Catholic philosopher who has abandoned traditional notions of God, abandoned the relaibility of scripture, abandoned notions of Truth or the possibility of reliably knowing God and is antithetical to all things evangelical. Instead he enshrines something he calls weak theology which is the power of the example of the weak to affect social justice. He appears to be attractive to some Christians because he uses God language to describe his political philosophy. The paradigm of God as an overwhelming physical or metaphysical force is regarded as mistaken. The old God-of-power is displaced with the idea of God as an unconditional claim without force. As a claim without force, the God of weak theology does not physically or metaphysically intervene in nature. <br><br>He relies a lot on Deridda who believes :<br><br> “We should stop thinking about God as someone, over there, way up there, transcendent, and, what is more. . . capable, more than any satellite orbiting in space, of seeing into the most secret of the most interior of places.” On the other hand, “we might say: God is the name of the possibility I have of keeping a secret that is visible from the interior but not from the exterior. Once such a structure of conscience exists, . . .I call myself God—a phrase that is difficult to distinguish from ‘God calls me,’ for it is on that condition that I can call myself or that I am called in secret.”<br><br><br>My understanding is that the last chapter of this book is a polemic against what some have called “right wing Christianity”. Interestingly enough, in an article on Heresies in Wikipedia, Deconstructionism is listed prominently.<br><br>Here is an interesting quote from Caputo:<br><br>On the classical account of strong theology, Jesus was just holding back his divine power in order to let his human nature suffer. He freely chose to check his power because the Father had a plan to redeem the world with his blood. ... That is not the weakness of God that I am here defending. God, the event harbored by the name of God, is present at the crucifixion, as the power of the powerlessness of Jesus, in and as the protest against the injustice that rises up from the cross, in and as the words of forgiveness, not a deferred power that will be visited upon one’s enemies at a later time. God is in attendance as the weak force of the call that cries out from Calvary and calls across the epochs, that cries out from every corpse created by every cruel and unjust power. The logos of the cross is a call to renounce violence, not to conceal and defer it and then, in a stunning act that takes the enemy by surprise, to lay them low with real power, which shows the enemy who really has the power. That is just what Nietzsche was criticizing under the name of ressentiment.<br>– John D. Caputo, The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event<br><br>I don’t want to misjudge him and please take my comments with a grain of salt but this is what I know about him as a philosopher. Is this your understanding of Caputo?

Bethanykj
May 6, 2009

It's true that Caputo is a Derridian Philosopher and that his book includes a chapter (second to last, actually) that offers a fairly radical theology of politics. A theology, notably, that I agree with, but one that eschews violence and judgmental attitudes, and draws attention to the poor and needy.<br><br>I disagree with the suggestion that Caputo has "abandoned" the reliability of scripture or notions of truth, but I do believe that if you take the insights of postsructural philosophy seriously, you need to reconsider what you think truth or reliability means.<br><br>Caputo's The Weakness of God is next on my list, but it sounds pretty consistent with other christian theology that focuses on the radical act of the incarnation and crucifixion, for example, The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder. You may not agree with his perspective, but I think you should read the way Yoder defends his non-violent position biblically before you dismiss it. I believe this is considered well within the bounds of orthodoxy.<br><br>Finally, while Derrida argues that deconstruction undermines onto-theology, which is relying on an idea of God to ground any concept of reality (loosely), Caputo disagrees with Derrida that this necessarily means that God as the Bible describes him cannot exist.<br><br>In fact, Caputo's earlier book, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida offers a lovely argument that Derrida is seeking an understanding of God with his theory, and never quite gets there.<br><br>Keep in mind that I am an academic who finds Derridian Deconstruction a useful way to think differently about things, and I was looking for a way to save what I love from Derrida and keep the God that I know is real, and Caputo did this for me. I think he is far from heretical, and his politics are at least as biblically defensible as those of the Christian Right.<br><br>With regard to your suggestion that Caputo abandons "the possibility of reliably knowing God", again, it depends on your definition of "reliably". I think Caputo believes that you can know God, but you can never know everything about God of fully comprehend him. As God himself says in the Bible "my thoughts are not your thoughts." In fact, if you are not persuaded, I could find quite a few examples in the Bible that demonstrate human inability to fully or reliably know God's will. The Pharisees seem to have gotten it wrong fairly consistently.<br><br>Post-structural thought does challenge a lot of our traditional notions, and that bothers a lot of people, but that is one reason I think it's valuable. If you can't defend against its critiques without just labelling it heresy, it might mean your idea of God is pretty weak. I agree with Caputo that a Biblical concept of God can exist within a post-structural understanding of knowledge just as easily, if not more easily, than within an enlightenment understanding. But it is going to challenge your politics, and your ways of thinking about God.

Rick
May 6, 2009

Bethany:<br><br>Thanks to the reference to Yoder. I will read him.<br><br>Actually I’m not calling Caputo a heretic. Caputo calls himself a heretic (in several places), and not orthodox. (As does the Wikipedia article on heresy.)<br><br>“I wax a little heretical in this book by extending this anarchy to God’s own being, which I want to maintain is marked by weakness not strength, which is emblematized in the Crucifixion. There is something like this in Moltmann, but there I think it is still consistent with the orthodox teaching of omnipotence, whereas I am not so sure that I am orthodox.” –The Weakness of God<br><br>In Caputos world Jesus is an anarchist. More than that, His life is the stuff of invention invented by his followers. A legend that grows. <br><br>“Jesus does not merely tell parables; he is a parable, forged by the followers of “the way” who linked onto the event of which he has become the locus. That is how and why he can walk on watrer or pass through solid walls, call Lazurus out of his grave, cleanse lepers and straighten the lame and how he eventually came to have a virgin birth, having come down from a heavanly dwelling to be born in an earthly womb.” “But none of this is to be confused with a strong force, with the power of a super being or super-hero to bend natural forces to his almighty will with a display of awe inspiring power.” –The Weakness of God<br><br>In Caputos world God is not soverign, God is not omnipotent, God is not omniscient. In fact, God creates nothing ex-nihlo. <br><br>“I try to establish a beachhead for a theology of the event by finding an alternate reading of the doctrine of creation which, in the scriptures, is nothing ex-nihilatory at all but very much a matter of Elohim giving life and fruitfulness to pre-existing but barren elements. I hold that the Genesis account does not presume latter ideas of Omniscience or Omnipotence” – Caputo Weakness of God<br><br>In The Weakness of God, you won't find references to God as an almighty being with the power to intervene upon natural processes--what the author labels "strong theology", or the metaphysics of omnipotence, of miracles and divine interventions. Nor will you find any revelations about an afterlife that people would enter after they die (as Caputo notes, "we suffer from a scarcity of reliable reports from the other side"). Even on the issue of whether God exists as an identifiable entity, the author offers no final opinion, leaving the reader to find out by himself. As Caputo states, "I have not been authorized from on high to settle that venerable debate".<br><br>In Caputos world there is no truth. There simply is no transcendent, absolute reality beyond our limited cultural perspectives. "The truth," declares John Caputo, "is that there is no truth."<br><br>I’ve been reading Caputo’s Weakness of God online.<br><br>So, I don’t think I am far off in thinking he is heretical. This is something he himself embraces.<br><br>

Bethanykj
May 7, 2009

I hesitate to comment on The Weakness of God, like I said, I have a copy on my desk, but it's finals here and I won't get to it for a while. I will say that he backs off on some of these more radical theological statements for What Would Jesus Deconstruct. I have only taken one theology course, and many more that include poststructural theory, but it is my understanding that What Would Jesus Deconstruct is relatively Orthodox.<br><br>Regardless, I still believe that Caputo is a beautiful writer who allows us to see the bible, faith, and discipleship in a different way, and I really appreciate that about him. You maybe don't have to go as far as he does with it to still get something from him.<br><br>I am hesitant to believe that Caputo thinks there is no truth in the sense that nothing is true or false, in spite of that statement, because Derridian philosophy tends to be playful and mean truth in very specific ways, but I will believe that there is no transcendence for Caputo, beyond the Event. But I have had some tolerance for this perspective ever since I read The Openness of God (another borderline heresy) which argues that our ideas of God as Transcendent come more from Plato than they do from the Bible. And if the early Christians interpret the Bible through Plato's idea of God, I don't know what's wrong with re-reading it with a little Derrida.

Nbierma
May 7, 2009

Jamie Smith's 'Who's Afraid of Postmodernism' (<a href="http://bit.ly/jkaspostmod)" rel="nofollow">http://bit.ly/jkaspostmod)</a> convinced me that aspects of Deconstructionism can -- and must -- be redeemed for Christian discipleship. At the most basic level, being countercultural means upending the conventional notions of truth and value that are embedded in a culture. Biblically, you could call Paul's idea that the wisdom of the world is folly to Christians, and vice versa, a form of deconstructionist-- small "d" -- thinking. Ditto the parables of Christ. The OT prophets. Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes. Etc. <br><br>Many Christians panic when philosophers challenge the modernist notion of "absolute truth," but I don't think we need to. Followers of John Locke have much more to lose from challenge to Enlightenment notions of truth than followers of Jesus do. <br><br>Relatedly, I hope to post soon on an interesting new book called 'The Logic of the Heart: Augustine, Pascal, and the Rationality of Faith' (<a href="http://bit.ly/logicheart)" rel="nofollow">http://bit.ly/logicheart)</a>

John
May 11, 2009

I don't know what happened before, but this never got through. So here I go again. 1 Peter 3: 15, please read this and know that the hope you have in Christ Jesus is what you have to tell others. I used that and just finished a book about that hope. In God's Grace John

Marc
May 14, 2009

The word "faith"is used ambiguously by Christians. One is faith in Jesus which is a decision to trust God's King. The other is faith which is a gift from God. The latter is the sign of having been justified. The former is from us, the latter fromGod.<br><br>The idea that we need to produce the latter in response to doubt is ill-conceived. On the other hand, the decision to trust in Jesus in times of trouble is <b>a reasonable faith based on His credentials and our experience of Him</b>.<br><br>I don't think we are called to blindly trust in a God who never shows up or does anything in our lives. I don't think God finds credulity or "blind faith" somehow virtuous.

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