And why there is a serious problem in this analogy.
The analogy is as follows (I heard it in an Emerging Church conference. I couldn’t find the link. It was a panel discussion with John Caputo and an English theologian who made this analogy…). Emerging is a self-described postmodern Christian movement.
The Perichoresis is a vision of the Trinity from Eastern Orthodox Theology. It is a way of explaining the Trinity which holds the tension of both the personhood of each person of the Trinity (Father, Son, Spirit) while also arguing that each interpenetrates the other, all of one nature (Godhead).
A typical iconic depiction of Perichoresis is an empty center with the persons circling around it. According to this theologian (again, can’t remember the name) that is like the notion of hospitality in Derrida and Levinas. Rather than assert one’s own position one always cedes the place to the Other. The metaphor emphasizes the horizontal (as opposed to vertical) imagery of postmodernity.
It is a beautiful and deeply moral vision. It correctly shows that deconstruction is (as Caputo notes) not primarily an anti-movement. Deconstruction is a positive virtue to be practiced. The worldspace is real. It identifies itself in opposition to modernity no doubt, but it is not nihilistic. It also helps I think answer the charge that such pomo ideas are inherently elitist. Arcane post-structuralism is no doubt, and poorly done application (esp. in so-called liberal literary academia) certainly is. But this idea is not. It’s children, God-like, dancing circularly.
As even N.T. Wright said, not actually a lefty-liberal, the gift of postmodernity, from the outlook of Christianity, is that it critiques the arrogance of modernity. The hubris, self-inflation, and human/self-centered view of modernity. Not to mention that it reminds us that evil is not to be written off the face of the planet by technological or scientific schemes.
That said, there is a serious problem/flaw in the whole outlook, the humanizing of this praxis notwithstanding.
What happens, when humans, imitating the Godhead in this way, always ceding our place, find that another (not practicing in this way) steals the central place or worse commits violence, using our ceding as a means to inflict punishment or oppression on others?
This is a key question that gets to the heart of the limitation of the postmodern sphere. For those, like myself, who think that integral means postmodernity plus (transcend and include), if I (others like me) can not answer this question, then that empty space will be snatched up by either A)terror-inducing mythicizing figures and/or B)(some) American hardline conservatives who will argue that any and all measures must be taken to prevent our empty center (now seen as vulnerability) to being destroyed. This connects with the last post about the National Surveillance State. And that latter opinion could easily slip into irrational fear and power grabs, seeing everyone as a potential threat, uncaring as to who is destroyed (innocents) in the process.
A better way of proceeding, I believe, is to ask when must we cede and when must we take the center stage? The two then as dialectical and not mutually exclusive. Discernment is judgment. Not necessarily harsh anti-human, de-moralizing and de-humanizing judgment (bad discernment/judgment), but it is judgment nonetheless. An application of power and how best to use it is often necessary, not simply the “belief” that an individual or group can somehow become non-judgmental or completely powerless.
To cede by intention and choice is fine, even beautiful, but there are those who are not free to cede. Who are forced to cede. When the idea of such ceding becomes an Absolute, the only means to the end of compassionate justice, then what message would that send to those living under regimes of oppression? Or to silenced women’s voices? Or fill-in-the-blank.
Then it might look like an elitist white male telling a bunch of other people, well-meaning no doubt, to accept their oppression.