Friday, October 31, 2014

Spectral Christianity

Although the possibility remains that some of John D. Caputo's critics might dismiss his work as so much post-modern theosophy, I have found his work refreshing and authentic. I certainly have some difficulty with some of his strategies in The Weakness of God and The Insistence of God, but the movement from an apophatically derived humongous onto-theological entity to 'the event' is fascinating and compelling. Does Caputo pass for an atheist? of course; yet the creative gesture of dissolving the Tillichian 'ground of being' into vocative, middle-voiced insistence treats the problem of omnipotence in a very satisfying way.

Truth be told, omnipotence has never enjoyed an unassailable place in dogmatic theology. There are some things that God simply cannot do. Despite all the literary violence in the Old Testament, the God of theology cannot be the agent or source of murder or human sacrifice. He just can't do it, and that's the conclusion of the strong theology which Caputo critiques in his work. Though Caputo does not begin in dogma, he would rejoice in the theological discomfort with omnipotence as evidence of the haunting of orthodox theology by a radical, weak theology.

Caputo's 'hauntology,' as he calls it, does not originate with him. I would think that every theological punctuation finds its engine in a haunting. The council of Nicaea was no doubt haunted by what was tearing Constantine's Empire apart---the very nature of Jesus Christ (ah, those were the days when christology could disrupt an empire). The holy spirit spooked the council fathers into consubstantiality, and the rest is, as it were, history. The Second Vatican Council found itself spooked not only by Catholic dogma, but also by the palpable ghosts of the very flower of modernism: the Shoah . And, most recently, the extraordinary Synod of Bishops is haunted by St. Francis himself as it sets its agenda to address just what family and love really are in the post-modern world.

The Weakness of God is the more sanguine of the two works, as The Insistence of God is written with a healing black eye, and I have a greater affection for the former than the latter, perhaps because any  weak theology that I would adopt would not approach anything with a chip on its shoulder. Still, both works share a broad, sound intellectual underpinning that gives a voice, a language, to what may be coming in new theological gestures. The hopeful enthusiasm of Weakness emerges as the sobriety of a critique of speculative realism in Insistence. The relentless logic of development in Weakness, yields to some jagged insertions (e.g., Caputo's response to Zizek) in Insistence. Interestingly, I agree that Caputo sympathizes with much of Zizek's work, and even with Meillassoux (doesn't Caputo meet Meillassoux in the latter's perverse but brilliant piece, Spectral Dilemmas ?).

The problem of God and religion remains in Zizek, Caputo, Meillassoux and in the work of all the other thinkers Weakness and Insistence engage. Caputo's grand step away from God-as-ground-of-being, or even as Robert Barron has recently called God, "ground of contigency," provides fertile soil for dialogue, even with the so-called new atheists. I wonder how distant Sam Harris's 'spirituality without religion' is from Caputo's "religion without religion"; or perhaps the former's 'self-transcendence' is from the latter's 'insistence'? If Barron is right that serious theists call the unconditional, unconditioned ground of contingency "God," then, despite how metaphysical the sound of ground appears, the event of religion as response to God's insistence remains possible. Serious theists who acknowledge that the grounding of contigency is what religion calls the Creator of the Universe would seem to be open to scripture and religion as events harboring other events.

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