John Caputo came at spoke at my school the week before last week. I was only able to attend one his lectures, on his signature Weak Theology or The Theology of the Event as he calls it. (In distinction to the famous Theology of the Word school).
Here is a solid Review of The Weakness of God Caputo’s book by Peter Heltzel. Although one criticism of Heltzel is his invocation of Jurgen Moltmann’s “divine restraint” is exactly what Caputo still thinks of as a sovereign theology (“strong God”). Caputo hit this point repeatedly in his talk the other day. He cited Carl Schmitt that sovereignty is the ability to break the rules (and get away with it–see Bush and Torture, for example). By that definition, even Moltmann’s “self-restraining” God is still a sovereign/strong God.
To really get a grasp on Caputo you need to have some background in Derrida and Deleuze.
Deleuze, unique among post-structuralists, was interested in a cosmology/metaphysics. [Most post-structuralists, Derrida being the classic example, were interested in linguistics]. For Deleuze, Western philosophy is too buit traditionally around substance (from Plato through Aristotle on down) and should rather be interested in Event or events. This is somethign akin to Heidegger’s distinction between the Being of beings (Event) and Dasein (being-in-the-world) except that Delueze has a background in physics and mathematics (interestingly) so his view of the Event is much more spatio-temporal than Heidegger’s more cultural-praxis oriented understanding.
The Event Captuo says is that which happens within what is happening but is never captured by what is happening. God for Captuo is a name we use to point to the Event related to the name of God. God then is an Event not a be-ing. It’s a non-essential understanding of God. Event however for me is a little too static. I would prefer Rabbi Cooper’s notion that God is a Verb. God-ing if you will. Event-ing.
The Event is virtual, it is potential/openness. This is why God is weak. God is the name for the possibility fo the Event–in Derrida’s terminology the undeconstructible. Or rather the pre-deconstructible (before deconstruction).
Here is where the structuralist side comes through. The Event is a field, an anonymous one at that. Recall that structuralism proclaimed The End of the Author and The End of Humanism–The End that is of the Subject. According to post/structuralism subjects are constituted not constitutive. The transcendental conditions exist not in the mind (a la Kant and modern philosophy) but in linguistic (Derrida) or eventual (Deleuze) networks. Which are apersonal–hence when applied to theology, so is God.
Religion, then, according to Caputo, is performance (attempted performance/attempted enactment) of the Event. Theology is poetics (theo-poetics). For Caputo, here combining Derrida with Deleuze, the Event is the Promise of Justice. What Derrida in his later writings talked about as the Coming of the Messiah. The Messiah in this case being a messianic consciousness/field/network sprouting up through the universe. Not a separate being (a la classical theology) who represents a Strong God and wins a victory or so. [e.g. Book of Revelation]
Also from Derrida, Caputo has picked up on Derrida’s argument for the centrality and primacy of grammar (over spoken word). What Derrida calls the illness of Western philosophy as logocentricism (as opposed to grammo-centricism). For Captuo this means that God (The Event) is archae-textuality, God is Archae-Grammer. God is always Incaranted as in Fleshly or Embodied like a Text. (Derrida: “There is nothing outside the text”).
Religion is the performance of the Event. Ethics is an enacted parable of the Event. One that (via Levinas) calls for true plurality and peace at the heart of being. The invitation to the neighbor. As Jesus said: Give to those who you know can not give back to you. Pray for those who persecute you. Love your enemies.
The Event is always potential and always possibly to be (slightly never perfectly) revealed. For those outside the kingdom (i.e. The Event) everything must be in parables, the Gospel of Mark tells us.
Reflections on all of this: It’s definitely a different take and opens up all kinds of new avenues for thought, philosophical and theological in nature. It reveals that Derrida is not a relativist but a pluralist with a focus on the underside. It’s a deep “positive” postmodernism if you will and sees deconstruction rightly in certain regards in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets. Derrida’s understanding of apophatic theology however is seriously problematic.
But again ultimately with a structuralist background, there is no subject. So how do we talk about enacting or performing an Event when there is no subject? What choice is there in such a view? How do the structures ever change if we are constituted by them (as opposed to constituted by and also constituting)?
If deconstruction is as Caputo says (correctly imo) a transcendental, that is a condition that makes anything possible, then how did Derrida come to knowledge of deconstruction without itself being deconstructed? How it is a whole thought? Isn’t there a subject there? Isn’t there presence, at least for a second, as opposed to absence, which Derrida sees as primary?
It’s the same question for Kant frankly: if one comes to the knowledge of the Subjective Transcendental Conditions, one knows there is noumena and phenomena, then isn’t that one that knows not limited by the Conditions?
I would say yes, and I would look there for a God.