Monday, August 10, 2015

Goats, Sheep, and The Animal That Therefore I Am

Words are as naked as goats and sheep, as are Matthew's in his naked gospel already clothed in the power of the Church.  In his recent work, John Caputo has referenced Derrida's cat, who looks upon human nakedness with the eyes of a naked animal, resulting in embarrassment. In his recent discussion at Peter Rollins' Belfast festival, Caputo has no time, precious time, for cats, but makes room for goats and sheep and the naked power of a church that subverts the unconditionality of the event harbored in the naked, hungry, the sick, the stranger and imprisoned.

Matthew, after a few words about some bright and not so bright virgins, and some variably talented servants, makes some time for goats and sheep:

  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his
glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

   “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

  “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” [25:31-46]

Caputo gives all his attention to the surprise of the 'righteous,' who are perplexed, as they do not recall when they ministered to the Lord. They have simply responded to the 'pure gift' and its unconditional beckoning in its pure givenness, and further, the response is without why. He surmises that Matthew has subverted this core of his own parable by framing in within an economy of reciprocity---of reward and punishment. This reading certainly remains within Caputo's general hermeneutic, and the reduction to the pure gift is certainly a phenomenological gesture, even if I have grafted a bit of Marion upon Caputo's approach. Yet, despite Caputo's nod to the 'critique of idols,' he seems to remain within the gaze of the idol. Perhaps the problem in this reading centers on ignoring the equal surprise of the 'cursed.' The economy of exchange that works its mischief upon the gift works equally upon the givenness that does not result in a response of generosity and hospitality. Are the 'cursed' simply bad phenomenologists, or non-phenomenologists, and are they sent to eternal punishment for a stingy hermeneutic? Is Matthew paving the way to hell with sloppy heuristic intentionality?

Caputo tells us the economy of the kingdom is about the pure gift and the response to its call as a pure call. I support that assertion, but I also want to know more about that economy  which Matthew purportedly subverts with an economy of exchange. Matthew likens the kingdom, the kingdom in which the 'righteous' live, to the use of one's own gifts. This is all risky business and investments do not always pan out. When Caputo looks at this pericope in his The Weakness of God (263ff.), he captures something of the Levinasian other in the unconditionality of the event. Here, after It Spooks, Levinas is all specter, but he still haunts Caputo reading Matthew and presenting to a non-specialist audience. Nonetheless, the logic of the Kingdom's economy splatters its commerce among the righteous and the cursed. No, no, say the wise virgins to the silly ones, "go buy your oil" (but the exchange doesn't open 'til 9 AM!). Yes, yes, says the master to the servants who have read the perspectus carefully, garnering impressive earnings from their god-given talents.  No, no, and a double no to the one who sits in judgement of the economy of the kingdom. Is this an endorsement of neoliberalism or Matthew presenting the face of the other, which in the kingdom is the face of the self in the other, the face of the divine in the other, the divine in the stranger. Caputo freely acknowledges that being turned to the other is not only without why but without desire for reciprocity (Weakness, 264). 

The economy of exchange is absent from the Kingdom, but so is it absent from the economy of Matthew's Gospel. That economy is not one of exchange, or reward, or punishment; it may be one of the revocation of what some moral theologians call the 'fundamental option' for God. The kingdom is the reign of love and the acts of the righteous and the cursed respond to a pure call, a pure gift; Caputo stipulates this much, but he seems not to accept an invitation into the iconic within these gifts of the stranger, the hungry. The cursed in the pericope are blinded by the idol, and, bedazzled by their own reflected gaze, cannot respond with hospitality, which is the response to the icon of the stranger and the hungry. Levinas lays in wait, haunting the other, waiting to be called out as the specter. If Levinas remains invisible, and Caputo says the Lord is invisible in his Belfast talk, then he gets to hoot, bellow and rattle chains forever. Ghosts are like that. Perhaps it is Marion's critique of the idol that lets Levinas freely give himself in the face of the other.

The givenness then, of the stranger and other lovers in Matthew, gives itself completely and unconditionally in relationality to the 'righteous' whose very selves individuate their subjectivity before it, subjects called in the erotic reduction which points away from the idol and toward the icon. The brutality Caputo ascribes to Matthew and his ilk visits injustice to the good news in his presentation of the kingdom. Matthew wants his entire community to be sheep, hence the moral of his fable, though he is not so foolish as to deny that there will be those who will not see the face of the other because they look the other way, or pretend it is invisible.

In Belfast, Caputo has denied the saturated phenomenon and finds Matthew's approach a rather poor phenomenon of mundane economy. He sees 'more of the same' and forecloses on the gospel's hospitality toward the other. He is blinded by power, the power he sees emanating already in Matthew's ekklesia. But to put Constantine's sword in Matthew's hand is not deconstruction but reconstruction, which needs to be deconstructed. Goats, sheep and men are all naked animals in the kingdom, as it was in the beginning. It helps us see better, and any embarrassment is short-lived. The Kingdom has a King, even if his royal warrant is unconditional yet without sovereignty.

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