Reconciling pure forgiveness and reconciliation: bringing John Caputo into the Kingdom of God.
Those who practice the "axiomatics of indignation" against any expression of post-modernism, deconstruction, or radical hermeneutics may well scoff at the claim that Caputo's theology of the event should be considered an authentic exercise in both doxology and doctrine. (3) After all, are the above approaches not merely aliases for conventional relativism-no objective knowledge, no discernible linguistic meaning, no critical criteria for truth? Is Derrida not a self-avowed atheist who insists that language has seceded from any union with reality, leaving meaning at the manipulative mercy of a plurality of coequal interpretations? (4) If all of this is so, then any attempt to talk about God or to interpret the Hebrew and Christian scriptures under such influences must be either droll academic futility at best or malignant profanation of the sacred at worst. Undoubtedly, the grand inquisitors of orthodoxy find it incredulous that Caputo should be taken seriously when he writes about God, or Christ, or the Spirit, or the Church; however, anyone who would exercise a willful suspension of disbelief and actually read The Weakness of God must affirm that Caputo is not skipping playfully around vandalizing the Bible, ripping its texts to shreds; on the contrary, he writes on his knees, praying for wisdom, listening for the comforting and convicting call of what he loves most, that Other who may well be named God, or Christ, or Love, while simultaneously remaining unnamable. Or he rises and dances before a God--for want of a better name--whose complicity with the impossible and the extravagant evokes Caputo to quake with anticipation for what is "to come," for the messianic and redemptive rule of divine love and mercy.
The honest reader will not find it so difficult to accept that Caputo desires to speak throughout the text in an "evangelical" voice, that he even goes so far as to wear the tallith of a post-secular prophet, one who genuinely believes that he has heard some good news and who will not leave it to the stones to cry out but will prayerfully, sometimes tearfully, and often playfully, proclaim a kerygma of hope and faith, a saving word about love and transformation, forgiveness and acceptance, and about the constant immanence of the Kingdom of God. Naming God as the loving event of call and promise could not possibly refrain from comprehending the love of God as the desire to transform suffering and oppression through acts of healing and justice. In other words, for the vocabulary of a passionate God to have any applicable meaning to human existence, it must reference salvific acts that seek to instantiate love in the processes of existence and to impassion others to participate in that instantiation.
Yes, The Weakness of God clearly confirms what one may find elsewhere in the Caputo corpus, that his post-secular biblical theology of the event as a theology of the love of God is unequivocally soteriological; it is an amazing reconsideration of amazing grace, of grace as the amazing possibility of the impossible, of a divine reality always to come that cannot be programmed, expected, or regulated by human ingenuity or morality. In so many ways, mirabile dictu (!) Caputo's theology of salvation reprises--admittedly with some questionable inconsistencies--a classical Protestant perspective, predicated upon the Apostle Paul, that--salvation comes by grace through faith, not by works or according to some celestial economy, but ultimately from the incomprehensible extravagance of a Godly gift. Consequently, this post-secular John the Baptist (or Catholic!) cannot remain silent but must announce the Kingdom of God as a vocative (invocative, provocative) kingdom, a kingdom of the "call," of a kerygma that brings good news of salvific truth. Yet, this kingdom truth is not an adequatio intellects et rei but a facere veritatem, a doing of the truth, a translating of the event astir in the name of God "into the flesh of existence," which then "means to be transformed by a call, to have been turned around, to have been given a new heart." (5) The Kingdom of God articulated by Caputo, therefore, is the disordering but restorative divine dynamics of resurrection, rebirth, transformation, forgiveness, repentance, and new creation--in other words, a kingdom of divine salvation.
Caputo makes it clear in his chapter on resurrection that salvation is messianic work and "can be effected only from without, from a movement that is initiated elsewhere ... by the coming of the Messiah who has come to save us." (6) To be saved, then, does not mean to pull oneself up by the proverbial bootstraps; it does not mean to allow what lies dormant within oneself to germinate and produce organic fruit; it does not mean that one can assiduously obey certain moral principles and earn divine rewards of merit. Admittedly, in another text, Caputo does prescribe that religion means to make oneself worthy of the graceful events in one's life; however, even in that context, he emphasizes the inevitability of the call, not in the Heideggerian sense of the conscience's inner call to authenticity, (7) but of the solicitation directed toward the self from outside, from the other who solicits us in the vocative case, "addressing us unconditionally." (8) He is too good a Kierkegaardian to embrace a redemption more contingent on the maieutics ("midwifery") of Socrates than on the metanoetics ("repentance") of Jesus. (9) No, he strives to limit any notion of an economy of salvation, of salvation as salary or as entitlement, and announce instead the biblical "good news" of the impossibility of divine grace and the undeserved gifts of faith, hope, and love.
Caputo insists that the grace of salvation reveals itself in two forms: (1) with reference to sin, salvation is forgiveness and (2) with reference to suffering, salvation is healing. (10) These two forms of salvation come to unique expression for Caputo in the preaching of the Synoptic Jesus, a preaching, or kerygma, that discloses the Kingdom of God evangelistically in the etymological sense of "evangel"--eu-angelion, the "good news." Jesus' good news kerygmatics communicates that God's kingdom offers an alternative phenomenological ontology, a different way of being-in-the-world that clashes with the world's way of being. He thinks that the Apostle Paul has most concisely expressed Jesus' alternative kingdom "ontology" in his first epistle to the Corinthians, where he sets God's preferred manner of being and thinking in opposition to the world's manner of being and thinking. To human wisdom, God's actions appear foolish; to society's criteria, kingdom dwellers appear to lack influence and attractiveness; to philosophy's rational metaphysics, kingdom inhabitants appear to be "nobodies," lacking in the values of Being even to the point of "being" nothing. (11) God's kingdom so differs from worldly expectations and presuppositions that it appears to be a kingdom of madness, of mad investments that offer no return, of illogical responses to others, such as, loving enemies and forgiving insults seventy times seven, of leaving everything behind in order to search for one lost sheep or one lost coin, or accepting back without scolding or explanation one lost son. (12) This mad kingdom demands impossible transformations in logic, in temporality, in how individuals relate to themselves, to others, and to God; consequently, God's kingdom is a kingdom of the impossible, of God as the impossible and of the impossibility of the amazing grace that empowers the kingdom's transformation of salvation. (13)
Notwithstanding the innovative and authentic character of Caputo's poetics of the kingdom, some conspicuous problems remain in both forms of his soteriology of subversion. In this essay, I want to focus critical attention exclusively on the first form, the precedence that he gives to the necessity of pure forgiveness as a fundamental manifestation of God's redemptive grace. His attention to the Kingdom of God as a divine deconstruction of secular categories and criteria leads him to isolate divine grace from any semblance of an economy of exchange. He interprets Jesus' kerygma of the kingdom as announcing that salvation is purely gift without any expectation of reciprocity and purely forgiveness without any expectation of response. Whereas the world traffics in the quid pro quo of market sensibilities, the Kingdom of God does not.(14) For Caputo, the divine refusal to reduce forgiveness to the sane penitential system of repentance and confession entails that God has no intent for pure forgiveness outside itself. Unfortunately, in reducing pure forgiveness to such an extreme negation of divine intentionality, his theology of event as a poetics of the kingdom distorts a more biblical hermeneusis of salvific love as unconditional forgiveness for the purpose of reconciliation. God does, indeed, desire that individuals respond to God's redemptive gifts of compassion and mercy. God yearns for a restoration of peace and love, the new creation of an intimacy between God and individuals and among individuals themselves--a divine passion that Caputo's soteriology somewhat reluctantly neglects. Consequently, after describing Caputo's provocative post-secular poetics of the kingdom, I will attempt to advocate a reading of his poetics that could, perhaps, convert him into a more faithful disciple of the gospel, one more reconciled to Jesus' and Paul's proclamations of salvation.
The keys to a kingdom poetics
Jesus speaks of the impossible Kingdom of God as fundamentally kinetic, a kingdom of movement, one that actively comes into human reality, breaking in as something unforeseen and surprising. Caputo takes seriously this characteristic of the kingdom as "coming," as always being the "to come," that is, as always "near." It exemplifies for him Derrida's "l"invention de l'autre," the in-coming of the other, specifically the in-coming of God's rule, the breaking in (and through) of what cannot be programmed according to human strategies but must be accepted as gift, as the amazing grace of a God who promises daily bread and the intimacy of a relationship in which he counts the hairs on every head. This impossible non/economy of gift affirms the illogical and paralogical nature of God's kingdom and indicates that the logic of the kingdom is a logic of pathos, "a logic touched by a bit of madness, a pathologic, let us say, that is, however, healing and salvific." (15) Jesus' pathology of the kingdom reveals that God ultimately desires an alteration of the heart, a new cardiology through which the heart is softened and opened to both God's appeal and the appeal of oppressed and wounded others. (16) This metamorphosis of the heart--itself another species of the kingdom kinetics of amazing grace--can only be realized through the saving dynamics of the hermeneusis of faith, of the madness of deciding to live according to Jesus' kerygmatics. One might say, therefore, that the kinetics, kerygmatics, paralogies, ethics, and metamorphics of the Kingdom of God center on a particular "salvifics," which, in turn, depends on forgiveness and healing.
Using various metaphors, images, and parables, Jesus communicates the kingdom pathology through the logic of a poetics, a creative telling of beautiful stories about God's grace and justice and about human obligation toward the other. (17) Caputo defines "poetics" as "a non-literalizing description of the event that tries to depict its dynamics, to trace its style, and to cope with its fortuitous forces by means of felicitous tropes." (18) He warns that one should not confuse the kingdom poetics with a revelatory propositionalism that objectifies biblical narratives into stories about literal, supernatural acts. (19) Such an interpretation diminishes the imaginative and existentially transformative dynamic of scripture. To understand properly the kingdom as a poetics of the impossible, as an event of divine summons, and as the advent of the weak force of divine disruption of the status quo, one must not resort to a "mythology of magical occurrences," since such occurrences manifest a rouged theology of power and control. (20)
In many ways, Caputo's kingdom poetics of the impossible complements Rudolf Bultmann's hermeneutical strategy of demythologization, so much so that, given the definite parallels between their theologies, one might label Caputo's poetics something of a post-secular Neo-Bultmannianism. Bultmann joins Caputo in considering the Kingdom of God to be at the "heart of the preaching of Jesus Christ" and also in prescribing that the biblical language of the kingdom should be understood as mythological, that is, as neither objectively scientific nor critically historiographical. Likewise, Bultmann does not want to confine God within ontological categories nor make the theologically insulting claim that God is just one more component in the world. That is to say, he refuses to reduce God to an objective entity. Instead, he submits that the Bible uses the language of myth as a prophylactic in order to shield the mystery of God and God's actions in the world, as an imaginative proclamation of humanity's inherent weakness in not being the master of its own fate but in need of a redemptive Other, and as a provocation of repentance, confession, and faith, specifically the faith that one may experience the rule of a gracious God within the structures of existence. (21) He claims that Jesus' kerygma of the kingdom communicates to human beings a divine appeal to a new existence and, in doing so, calls the present worldly existence into question. Jesus attempts to pry open human minds and hearts in order for them to accept God's future, a future that cannot be programmed or manipulated by human ingenuity but may only be anticipated through faith. Moreover, faith is always an answering faith, a response to the call that ensues from the prevenient grace of God, the grace that comes (venire) before (pre) any human action and that, thereby, establishes the possibility for the event of the revelation of divine salvation as gift. (22)
Bultmann's demythologized hermeneutic of the kingdom also tracks Caputo's poetics with reference to the gospel as a theology of love. Faith trusts in the working of God within the structures of reality, although that divine work remains invisible. Faith in the unseen action of God is, however, a trust in the divine grace that "confronts us as love, opening up our future and signifying not death but life." (23) For Bultmann, this loving confrontation takes place primarily through the mediation of the Word, the kerygmatic event of Jesus' preaching that functions pro nobis as an "event" of proclamation. (24) Jesus' kerygma of the kingdom, therefore, manifests a Word-event that, when addressed to the existing individual as a verbum externum, contextualizes the possibility of an encounter with divine mercy. (25) Consequently, Bultmann's demythologiz-ing strategy of interpretation leads incontrovertibly to a theology of the event as a soteriology of the Word, where "salvation is nowhere present except in the proclaiming, accosting, demanding, and promising word of preaching," which is not a bad translation of Caputo's assertion that "as an event, the name of God overtakes us and overturns us, uprooting and unhinging us, and leaves us hanging on by a prayer." (26) In other words, Bultmann's demythologizing strategy has explicit soteriological implications, just as does Caputo's poetics of the kingdom.
For both Caputo and Bultmann, the kerygma of the kingdom demands a disruption of the usual modes of thinking in the world, a willingness on the part of individuals to engage in what Paul Ricoeur would term "imaginative variations of the ego." (27) Jesus references this very need for a deconstructive attitude toward authorized interpretations of God, self, and the world in his precis of the gospel: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). The word translated "repent" here is "metanoia," a term that Caputo dearly loves, because it denotes the need for converting one's attitudes and one's heart. (28) He chafes against any translation of metanoia that emphasizes the colloquial understanding of repentance as solely a feeling of pain or regret over one's actions. (29) Although the word does, undeniably, include that sense, it does so only within the broader categories of conversion and transformation. In preaching repentance as a metanoia, Jesus commands not merely a psychological response of penitence over one's culpability but a total existential alteration through which one comes to think, feel, and act differently than before--what Caputo terms "the eventive dynamics of a metanoetics." (30) Caputo declares that Jesus' imperative to repent effects "the existential transform-ability of our lives, having to do with the most powerful and transfiguring figures of self-transformation, in which we and all things are made new. It has to do with the call that the kingdom issues, the call to be of a new mind, a new heart, metanoia." (31) To live metanoetically in God's kingdom, therefore, means to adopt its altered ontology, to embrace its madness, to rethink time and economy, and to live soteriologically out of a sense of grace.
The existential alterity of metanoetics comes to its purest expression in forgiveness, because forgiveness as preached by Jesus cannot be understood within the mundane categories that legislate over existence in the world beyond the kingdom. The world lives out of a quid pro quo mentality in which investments demand returns and contracts remain in effect only as long as conditions are met legalistically. This sane economy requires that books always be balanced, especially the book of justice; whenever injustice occurs, the scales must be leveled through the penal processes of retribution. In the world's economy, then, the chief commodity is the "pound of flesh," which functions as the primary weight needed to level the scales of justice. The Kingdom of God, however, rejects this economic worldview and replaces it with an emphasis on grace and gift. Forgiveness, for Jesus, requires a metanoetic break with the sane, retributional economy of the world. He requires that when someone who has injured you confesses to a change of heart, you, too, are to have a change of heart and forgive her, thereby releasing her from any threat of retribution by saying, "forget it; it was nothing." (32) Instead of receiving restitution or the satisfaction of revenge, one should absorb the loss and annul the reciprocity of economy by replacing it with the metanoetic kinesis of giving. Forgiving is just that--forgiving--the gratuitous expenditure without return, the unconditional granting of freedom. (33) But freedom from what? Ultimately, forgiveness is freedom from the angina of the past, from the oppressive grip that the past has on the heart--both the heart of the offender and the heart of the offended. Past deeds may squeeze the life out of the offender through the threat of retribution and out of the offended through the threat of resentment.
In The Weakness of God, Caputo addresses this issue of forgiveness and the burden of the past in a fascinating treatment of the medieval theologian Peter Damian. Damian adheres to a "nominalistic" interpretation of God as absolutely omnipotent, that is, as restricted in power only by God's own being. Bound neither empirically by reality nor rationally by logic, God may do whatever God chooses to do consistent with God's own sense of goodness. Damian wonders what this absolute omnipotence of God might mean with reference to the past, specifically whether God could literally change the past in such a way that what has actually occurred heretofore did not actually occur. (34) Such a question of divine omnipotence goes to the heart of God's salvific efficacy. Could God manipulate the past to the extent that sin could be expunged not simply through the divine amnesia of "forgiving and forgetting" but literally through God's re-creating time so that the sin had never de facto been committed? For Damian, that possibility raises the question of whether God could restore a person even to the point that the loss of virginity might be reversed. Could God so disengage the dominion of the past that purity could be reconstituted not only psychologically but also physiologically?
Such theological speculation intrigues Caputo, because he thinks that it holds significant implications for a post-secular salvifics of forgiveness. Notwithstanding the logical difficulties with Damian's theory, Caputo embraces it poetically as a beautiful way of communicating that God's forgiveness liberates individuals through a gracious cancelling of debts, through God's willingness to invest grace in an individual without requiring satisfaction be given in return. (35) The only reciprocity God expects in the divine kingdom is that God's disciples respond in kind as the Model Prayer instructs: "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Such forgiveness can never be earned as wages or purchased as a commodity; it always comes as gift, by the gift--as in the French "par-don." These emphases on metanoia and forgiveness document the conviction that Caputo's poetics of salvation opposes any type of auto-redemption or works righteousness. He would most assuredly find more justification in Luther's doctrine of redemption than he would grant any indulgence to Tetzel's! Indeed, he corroborates, with little, if any, ambiguity, a more Protestant sola gratia soteriology when he writes: "Forgiving gives us what we cannot, dare not give ourselves." (36) On the one hand, salvation results from a compassionate God who makes all things new, who grants the individual the power to be born again, and who actualizes the impossible through an unconditional love--a love without measure. (37) On the other hand, salvation comes from the forgiveness of the one wronged, who relinquishes claims to retaliation and releases the offender from the grip of past injuries. In both cases, salvation depends upon the other, even the Wholly Other, always coming from beyond oneself as an event, an evenement of the impossible according to the mad pathologic of the kingdom. One might even paraphrase the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:8 and claim in good Caputoan fashion, "For by the impossibility of amazing grace have you been saved and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God."
Caputo conspicuously confesses that forgiveness could be considered the "central event" proclaimed in Jesus' kingdom kerygmatics, "the decentering centerpiece of a poetics of the impossible [as] the heart of the kingdom." (38) This centrality may be evidenced by his addressing the topic constantly throughout The Weakness of God and devoting three full chapters to its explicit interpretation. Furthermore, one cannot appreciate how Caputo discerns this centrality without grasping the conjunction between pure forgiveness and pure gift, principally how Derrida construes that conjunction, since Caputo believes that the Derridean perspective accurately translates the biblical poetics of the kingdom. Pure forgiveness, like pure gift, should transcend every economic structure, that is, should never be constricted within the quid pro quo dynamics of a "market" approach. Forgiveness should be ohne warum, without any "why"' that finds its meaning in the oscillation of debt and necessity. Forgiving only because the offender repents, does penance, or offers some token of satisfaction with the intent of balancing the scales of justice or reconciling relational ledgers, pre-empts pure forgiveness. Instead, there is yet another contractual reciprocity of conditioned terms. In offering to pay back his incurred debt, the offender actually disenfranchises the offended from genuinely forgiving him, since his penitential compensation actually qualifies forgiveness as the proper return on his investment. In contrast, a forgiven debt is one that is never paid, one that requires a loss to be taken, a power to be relinquished, and a past to be made inoperative.
Ultimately for Caputo and Derrida, pure forgiveness undefiled by economic exchange would be expressed as the unconditional forgiveness of the unforgiveable, the releasing of the demand for retributive justice or vengeance from the one who never repents, never confesses, and certainly never indemnifies the offense. Pure forgiveness as the possibility of the impossible results in forgiveness as gift beyond debt and obligation, or, better, as an obligation sans obligation beyond any formal ethical imperative other than the "groundless" necessity to forgive. (39) Consequently, pure forgiveness abdicates any connection with an economy or with any contractual conditions as its foundation or its mandate. Precisely for this reason, Caputo considers forgiveness to be that decentering dynamic of the Kingdom of God, a dynamic beautifully exemplified by Jesus' personal response to his executioners. What better way to understand that most subversive and enigmatic of Jesus' statements at the cross than as an illustration of pure forgiveness: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34)? Jesus does not admonish his crucifiers to repent; he does not wait to hear their confession; he does not even address them with a convicting word in order to remove their offensive ignorance. Instead, in the very context of their being unforgiveable as disavowing nothing, repenting of nothing, and being so deluded as to consider their violence as nothing other than divine obedience, Jesus entreats God to give them the pure gift of an amazing grace whereby their sins are not counted against them and they are offered release from any punitive and sacrificial cycle of vengeance and wrath.
Not surprisingly, the Apostle Paul also references the cross event when he interprets his own version of "pure forgiveness." He declares that God expresses the extravagance of divine love toward us in the midst of our helplessness, even as we exist in a state of ungodliness, and that Christ died on our behalf as a revelation of grace while we remain sinners (Rom. 5:6, 8). That is to say, divine salvation does not come as a deserved reward or earned compensation to those who make themselves forgivable by fulfilling the requirements of the law, or the formal necessity of some ethical imperative, or the conditions of some moral contract. On the contrary, forgiveness comes as a gift to the unforgivable and unrepentant, to those who act as enemies of God and continue in their rebellion. Yet, is this not another manifestation of sola gratia, of salvation by grace and not by works? Is this not an illustration of the disruptive and transforming power of Jesus' metanoetic kingdom? In his perversion of the world's economy of blame, Jesus communicates that forgiveness does not result from repentance and confession, but that it is the divine benefaction that establishes the possibility for repentance and confession. From a Bultmannian perspective, one could classify this position as Caputo's doctrine of prevenient grace, the realization that salvation is not only the messianic advent of a redemption "to come" but also the trace of an originary invention of a grace that has "come (venire) into (in)" existence through Jesus' metanoetic kerygma. (40) Correspondingly, then, by glossing the kingdom kerygmatics of conversion with a Derridean reading of pure forgiveness, Caputo actually proclaims a gospel that ironically deconstructs its own deconstruction of the unforgivable. If God's redemptive love comes, in some manner, as a pure gift that, in turn, supplies the quasi-transcendental ground for the human response of confession and obedience, then there is no one who is truly unforgivable. By virtue of God's bestowing divine grace and mercy unreservedly to the unforgivable, the atoning power of divine compassion pre-empts any necessary condition of unforgivability. Indeed, Caputo considers this peculiar willingness of Jesus to proclaim and embody the pure forgiveness of God for the unforgivable to be the scandal that outraged the long-bearded defenders of the faith who considered him to be a sinner and a blasphemer. What could be more mad than to think that God would forgive sinners who continue in their sin? (41)
The poetics of the kingdom and/as the ministry of reconciliation
Caputo has assuredly grasped a significant aspect of Christian redemption with his emphasis on pure forgiveness, and he should be commended for his creative post-secular hermeneutic of that biblical category. Nevertheless, a close reading of scripture, especially of the Gospels and St. Paul, results in a critical assessment of his soteriology as being severely reductionistic in its severing of forgiveness and economy, specifically in his relatively reluctant dismissal of the idea of reconciliation. I say "relatively reluctant" because he does not, in point of fact, thoroughly repudiate reconciliation as such. Although he insists that reconciliation does express conditional forgiveness, an absolution predicated upon the quid pro quo of repentance and confession, he still admits that it "is not a bad economy and certainly not a bad thing, and it is much to be preferred to vindictiveness and endless cycles of retribution." (42) Predominately, however, he adopts a tendentious view of the topic because he considers its economic character to be primarily, if not purely, mundane, a stereotypical expression of the world and its market sensibility. Reconciliation is more secular than sacred, more homogeneous to the status quo categories of profane auditing than to the kingdom event of God's unconditional gift and grace. Caputo, following Derrida, simply wants to preserve forgiveness as pure gift, uncontaminated by the economic, and, consequently, as immunized against the calculation and reciprocal restoration of reconciliation. For him, the Kingdom of God is expressly such a sterile field where pure forgiveness remains insusceptible to the contagion of the economic.
Still, detaching reconciliation from forgiveness seems quite problematic given the kingdom kerygmatics of Jesus and the New Creation theology of St. Paul. An argument can be made that for both of them, the Kingdom of God centers on the restoration of alienated relationships, that the event of divine grace is an event of love, and love always has as its intent the establishment of intimacy and devotion. In other words, in his poetics of the kingdom, Caputo may well fail to maintain the centrality of reconciling love, because he mistakenly confounds pure forgiveness as unconditional with pure forgiveness as ateleological. He correctly construes divine forgiveness as non-contingent, independent of any conditioning response, and given extravagantly without the necessity of any contractual stipulation. But he takes that to mean that God has no desire for that forgiveness; he insists that no divine purpose or ambition accompanies that gracious event. Such a position contradicts both Hebrew and Christian scriptures, however, since a constant refrain throughout both is that God seeks to establish a personal relationship with God's creation, particularly with those created in the divine image. God does not consider forgiveness to be ohne warum (without why); on the contrary, the legislating "why" for divine forgiveness is the divine desire, the godly longing to be compassionate (Isaiah 30:18), to relate in love to human beings as a father, a friend, or a spouse. (43) One might say, in a vocabulary that should be amenable to Caputo, that God's pure forgiveness preserves a messianic quality, an expectation on God's part for a reconciliation "to come," an open-ended anticipation of the impossibility of love, the hope for human response as a reciprocation of affection. Yes, such a messianic longing might well be an economy of sorts; however, it is not an economy reduced to the mundane, nor is it an economy that conditions forgiveness. To be sure, reconciliation is not only not the condition that establishes divine forgiveness but is itself conditioned upon God's pure forgiveness. Pure forgiveness truly makes reconciliation possible, and that possibility is the biblical economy of salvation.
Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom of God unquestionably reveals pure forgiveness as an unconditional divine promise to individuals; however, pace Caputo, God's pure forgiveness is a necessary but not sufficient motif in the good news of salvation. Christ himself directly or indirectly condenses all of scripture into the nutshell of the two great commandments. In doing so, he manifests that ultimately the rule of God concentrates on the nucleus of love--love for God and love for neighbor. Indeed, the centrality of love in the kingdom leads Jesus to extend it even to enemies, which is, of course, paradigmatic of pure forgiveness! By his own admission, Caputo agrees with Christ that love is the eminence of the divine kingdom, that "pole star" where God's transforming rule of grace shines at its most white-hot intensity. Indeed, he defines religion as the love of God, in both senses of the genitive, and considers the inter-translatability of "God" and "love" to be his "Archimedian point, [his] true north." (44) He may not know with Cartesian certainty what he loves when he loves his God, or conversely what loves him when he "experiences" the love of God; however, he has the blessed assurance of a faith-filled hermeneusis that "God is love" might well be the evangelium in nuce. Yet, if Caputo agrees with Jesus' appraisal of love as the terminus ad quern of the metanoetic kerygma of the kingdom, then he cannot sustain his dissociation of forgiveness and reconciliation, since, if it means anything, love must mean a relationship, a commitment and connection between and among individuals in order to establish or re-establish an interactive community of mutual need and desire. That is to say, along with Derrida (!), that love cannot not be narcissistic, which means that it cannot not be economic, in that love always has a desire for reciprocity, even if that desire remains unrequited.
Paul Tillich correctly captures something of the reconciling essence of love when he defines it as the reunion of what has been separated. He defends the "ontological" notion of love as an overcoming of distance, a welcoming back into some semblance of union that which has been alienated, the renewing of a relational connection that has been severed in some manner. (45) For this reason, Tillich has no problem in relating love as the reintegration of the estranged with his interpretation of salvation as that "stroke of grace" whereby God accepts sinners unconditionally but with the aspiration that sinners will accept that divine acceptance. (46) Tillich's soteriology of grace conforms to Caputo's at this point in that he, too, delineates divine forgiveness as unconditional, as the unilateral "act" of God who gives salvation without requiring any prerequisite action by human beings. In point of fact, humans are impotent when it comes to preparing themselves to receive God's accepting love. They are empowered to respond and accept redemption only because God has first accepted them and summons them to what Tillich calls the "new being in Christ." (47) Still further, if Tillich's hermeneutic of divine affirmation is correct, then there is a compulsory commutative property between love and reconciliation that disallows reducing a biblical or Christian doctrine of salvation only to "pure forgiveness" without including the exigency of creating fellowship with God and with others. This property, therefore, may well explain why Jesus emphasizes the transformed reality of the kingdom as one in which blessed people are to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9), in which those who bring gifts to the altar must ensure that no impediment damages their relationships with others (Matt. 5:23-4), in which forgiveness must be given seventy times seven times in order that relationships remain intact (Matt. 18:22), and in which the atoning work of the Messiah is to ransom and restore those who have been separated from God by sin (Matt. 20:28). Subsequently, in respect to Jesus' consolidating love, metanoetics, and forgiveness together in the Kingdom of God, one must retain an incredulity toward Caputo's functional myopia regarding the separation of forgiveness and reconciliation.
An investigation of St. Paul's glossing of the Kingdom of God as the transforming power of the New Creation in Christ divulges further evidence that a biblical and/or Christian translation of the event of grace and redemption results in a consolidation of forgiveness and reconciliation, albeit one that emphatically subordinates the former to the latter. Bultmann explicitly references this subordination when he specifies that Paul seldom engages the concept of forgiveness literally, doing so primarily only on rare occasions when quoting from the Hebrew scriptures or attempting to relate salvation indirectly to the Law. (48) In lieu of accentuating the issues of conformity to law and guilt-consciousness, which accompany the topic of forgiveness, Paul prefers to centralize the metanoetically transformative power of divine grace in the idea of reconciliation, the power of God to overcome relational barriers that fragment and subvert the old creation. He writes passionately in 2 Corinthians (5:17-21) of the "ministry of reconciliation," a ministry empowered directly by the love of Christ, which does not operate according to mundane structures of power and coercion but according to the weak force of the event of divine grace, whereby God summons, entreats, and waits patiently for the sinfully alienated individual to respond and accept the offer of a newly created fellowship with God and with others.
Paul distinctly notes that God's reconciling overture comes as an unconditional gift, not contingent upon some prior human action but guaranteed solely by the event of divine grace and mercy. He celebrates the "much more" of divine extravagance (Rom. 5:15) by emphasizing that God reveals God's recreative and appeasing love in the very moment that disaffected sinners continue in their hostility toward God. Indeed, he avoids any misinterpretation of reconciliation as a change in God's perspective on humanity; that is, he never considers God the object of reconciliation but always the subject. God is the offended, not the offender. God does not need to be reconciled; humanity does. In order to make this point, Paul uses a word for reconciliation (katalassesthai) that traditionally applies to the marriage relationship when an emotional or literal separation has occurred that disrupts and threatens to destroy the union. In this case, reconciliation means the reuniting of the estranged couple, almost a renewing of the marriage vows with the accompanying repetition of promise and commitment. (49) God, as the wounded spouse, unilaterally seeks to reunite what has been severed, to regenerate a new intimacy, to express the superabundance of divine compassion by desiring to accomplish what Tillich terms the ontological definition of love: to reunite what has been estranged.
Now, in his excellent study Reading Derrida/Thinking Paul, Theodore Jennings considers the Pauline reluctance to view salvation through the monovision of forgiveness as quite telling in regard to Derrida's deconstructive segregation of pure forgiveness and reconciliation. He appreciates Derrida's desire to sanitize forgiveness as gift from any corruption of the economic or the calculated, which would pervert forgiveness into an expression of debt and indemnification; however, he, nonetheless, believes that Derrida takes the matter too far and misinterprets the genuine import of reconciliation for a broader appreciation of biblical forgiveness. He situates the issue in the context of temporality and acknowledges that forgiveness loosens the grip of the past by removing the potential for vengeance. But what of the future? What implications does forgiveness hold for what is yet to come? Jennings insists that the notion of gift should carry a futurity to it, specifically in the sense of a promise of something new and restorative. (50) Yet, this prospective eventuality of the event of forgiveness as targeting restoration is reconciliation, which, again, is never the grounds for pure forgiveness but is always the goal. He acknowledges that Derrida predicates his disinclination to correlate pure forgiveness with reconciliation upon the notions that the latter is always an economic computation of risk and reward and that the former should never be minimized merely to restoring the normalcy of a status quo ante. (51) Yet, he argues that Derrida's two fears do not apply to Paul's soteriology of reconciliation, since Paul never confuses reconciliation with contractual compulsion and never concludes that reconciliation is anything other than the miraculous--read "non-normal"--result of God's New Creation in Christ.
Jennings illustrates his perspective on Pauline reconciliation with an intriguing example that, in reality, connects reconciliation to another notable Derridean motif, one of Derrida's "undecidables," that is, one of the ideas that in their "pure" state cannot be deconstructed. Jennings references Paul's responses in his two letters to the church at Corinth concerning a genuinely egregious ethical problem affecting one of its members. A young man had chosen to conduct an illicit sexual liaison with his father's wife, his stepmother, and to do so quite brazenly. Paul initially prescribes that the church should disfellowship the young man, deny him the privilege of continuing to relate intimately to that particular Christian community. He communicates his intent for this action quite clearly: he hopes to provoke the young Christian to re-evaluate his behavior, to repent of his malfeasance, and to comprehend the necessity for a follower of Christ to live in obedience and purity (1 Cor. 5:1-5). In his second letter to the church, Paul returns to this issue and pleads with the church to "forgive" the young man and to reaffirm their love for him (2 Cor. 2: 5-11). Jennings specifies that Paul does not use the typical Greek word for "forgive" in this passage (aphein) but instead uses a form of the word charis, which means "grace," "gratitude," or "welcome." (52) In other words, Paul implores the church to express its love for the young man through welcoming him back into fellowship. He compels them to restore him to the community and to re-create a new bond of intimacy, that is to say, to reconcile with him. If one translates Paul's salvific counsel into a Derridean nomenclature, one could say that he is enjoining the church to extend "hospitality" toward the sinner, to open itself up to receiving the young man in a new spiritual alliance of friendship. And one should note that Paul's concern in the passage is that the man not experience "excessive" sorrow; in other words, the hospitality is not so much conditioned by his repentance and confession as by the church's desire to make itself vulnerable in love and mercy to the coming of the other.
Translating reconciliation into hospitality introduces a significant concept for both Derrida and Caputo. Derrida considers hospitality as another specimen of "the impossible" and of the "messianic." Hospitality joins the pure gift, pure forgiveness, faith, and justice as unconditional and unprogrammable expressions of the absolute future, of what is yet "to come" unimpeded by any horizon of expectation. (53) His passion for the impossible, therefore, leads him to a messianic longing, which, in turn, leads to the desire to remain open, that is, hospitable, to the unknown in order to welcome the event without knowing what exactly will come in the event. (54) Derrida calls such a radical openness to the future, this messianic vulnerability to hosting whatever or whoever may come, "the ethic of hospitality." (55) Given this Derridean discernment of hospitality and the messianic, one might consider Paul's theology of reconciliation to be a version of just such an ethic.
Of course, Derrida would balk at connecting hospitality and reconciliation, since, again, he considers reconciliation to be a calculation, an expectation reliant upon presuppositions that define and confine the event of the "to come." For him, pure hospitality, like pure forgiveness, should be non-reciprocal. One is legitimately hospitable only when one takes the risk of receiving what one does not know, of hosting the "other" who cannot be consciously invited in because there is no prior awareness. (56) He would certainly take issue with identifying reconciliation as the "telos" of forgiveness. For him, any form of teleology destroys the future as messianic event, because it predetermines, presupposes, and domesticates the future according to the restrictions of the past and present. (57) He would indict any commingling of forgiveness and reconciliation as another attempt to "obscurely Christianize the process," of confusing forgiveness with a "therapeutic intention." (58)
Yet, Derrida concedes that reconciliation is not a bad thing, even if it is not pure forgiveness, and that hospitality may be less than pure itself in that it does consort with the notion of forgiveness, since as one awaits the coming "other," one cannot always be as prepared to welcome the other as one might wish and, therefore, must seek forgiveness for that lack of preparation. (59) Moreover, he admits, even in the context of the possibility of the impossibility of granting pure gift, pure forgiveness, and pure hospitality without any reciprocity of exchange, that, in some manner, hospitality must be delineated as the "opposite of abandonment" (emphasis added)! (60) But then does this characterization of hospitality as the converse of abandonment not allow for the Pauline connection between hospitality and reconciliation? What is reconciliation if not the contrary of abandonment? Is Paul not directing the Corinthian church to ensure that it does not abandon the young man? Is this not what Paul teaches as the ministry of reconciliation--God's desire not to abandon individuals but to recover them, restore them, and regenerate them within a new and intimate relationship? Is salvation by grace not a "therapeutic intention"? Is it not a revelation of divine love and mercy, and, accordingly, not averse to a metanoetic reciprocity? To be sure, Derrida himself admits that love is narcissistic and must include the reciprocity of reappropriation. (61) Why can one not say then that in Jesus' kerygmatics of the Kingdom of God and in Paul's theology of the New Creation, the divine narcissism of redemptive love is the hospitable reappropriation of reconciliation?
Perhaps quite appropriately, Caputo ends his weak theology of the Kingdom of God with a final chapter on the event of hospitality, dealing specifically with the issue of how to distinguish those within the kingdom from those without. One might paraphrase his conclusion as an inquiry into the extent of divine salvation, into discovering just who is invited to enter the kingdom and find redemption through God's forgiving and welcoming grace. He discovers a parabolic answer to this question in one of Jesus' startling narratives about the kingdom. A certain man invites his usual friends to a dinner party, but none of them accepts the invitation. He then directs his servants to throw open the doors and allow the unusual to enter, the crippled, the poor, all of those who never get invited to such functions. Jesus claims that those who may come to the party are precisely the outsiders, the abandoned ones, those alienated and estranged, the unwashed and ill-bred, who do not even merit being acknowledged by the host. But Jesus claims that such is, indeed, the Kingdom of God, and Caputo loves this mad, subversive, and deconstructive poetics of kingdom hospitality. (62) He knows of no better definition of the Kingdom of God than to label it as an event of divine hospitality, the rule of a God who comes as an event of grace and mercy. The reality of the kingdom is the hyper-reality of a weak force that calls to the other and announces that God loves the stranger, the unconditional reign without sovereignty of a God who chooses the nobodies in the world as the divine conduit through which God seeks to be welcomed into existence. (63) Fundamentally, Caputo concludes that hospitality might well be the perfect synecdoche for symbolizing the Kingdom of God as the metanoetic reality of transformed hearts and as the New Creation of an alternative messianic reality always to come. (64)
Out of the closet and into the kingdom
Subsequently, one must now ask how pure forgiveness, metanoetics, kingdom poetics, new creation, and hospitality all impact Caputo's soteriology with regard to a biblical and/or Christian exposition of reconciliation. In a nutshell, I contend that he must mitigate his somewhat obstinate depreciation of the value of reconciliation in order to have his theology of the weak force of the event adequately reflect the biblical texts that he intentionally privileges. In other words, Caputo cannot tenaciously hold to his "absolute" non-economy of pure forgiveness and do justice to either Jesus' or Paul's interpretation of divine grace. As usual, however, any critique of Caputo must remain prudent and not presume that he maintains a strict consistency throughout his thought. His mind is not that "little"! Typically, he invites dissent more for the reductive propensities in his interpretations than for any unrestricted rejection. Such is the case with my negative evaluation of his undervaluing of reconciliation. To be sure, in The Weakness of God he does provide some evidence suggestive of a more flexible view of reconciliation and forgiveness. There are most assuredly components to Caputo's poetics of forgiveness that merge nicely into a doctrine of reconciliation. One could say, accordingly, that he is a closet reconciler, one who isolates reconciliation away from pure forgiveness but leaves the door open so that it is never truly out of sight! As he has come out of the closet as a theologian, perhaps he can be lured out of the closet as a minister of reconciliation.
For example, when Caputo insists that forgiveness remits a past offense and wipes the ledger clean, as it were, he recognizes that this action of amazing grace so transforms the situation that the original offense "is no longer hanging over" the two parties. (65) That is an interesting turn of phrase. What else could Caputo be referencing here with this "hanging over" image if not the idea that forgiveness suspends the indignity and the indignation suspended over the affected parties as an obstacle to their relationship? If true, then what might such a transformation of grace be if not a reconciliation, the removal of a barrier that pre-empts the intimacy of companionship? A fortiori, the reconciling dynamic of such an understanding of forgiveness seems reinforced when connected with his reference to Hannah Arendt's idea of forgiveness as "natality." This concept insinuates the "power of a new action, a new beginning or a new start." But a new start to what? What new thing does forgiveness initiate? Caputo claims that it "keeps the net of social relationships open." (66) But is this not another translation of "reconciliation?" Is Caputo himself not already modifying his position that the Kingdom of God is truly about pure forgiveness without any economic connotations?
Likewise, Caputo's undeclared receptivity to forgiveness and reconciliation as tandem traits of the Kingdom of God may be found in his appreciation for the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He prefers to call the anecdote the Parable of the Prodigal Father (Luke 15:11-32), since it so clearly illustrates the father's extravagant grace, "pure" forgiveness, and unconditional hospitality. (67) Caputo dearly loves the story, citing it as a significant commentary on the Kingdom of God not only several times in The Weakness of God but also in several other works. (68) He accepts the traditional interpretation that the father in the parable analogizes God, whom he believes to be characterized by the same attributes of prodigal love and forgiveness. Ironically, however, although the parable clearly addresses the issue of forgiveness, the primary substance of the narrative advances reconciliation as the sine qua non for appreciating the opulence of divine grace in the Kingdom of God. The entire plot revolves around the father's desire to (re)establish the unity of his family, to have his two sons living out a fraternal relationship of love and acceptance as an expression of his own paternal delight in his family. The conflict in the parable stems principally from his sons' refusal to live in unity, choosing instead to alienate themselves from each other through greed and narcissism. The younger son literally exiles himself from the family, takes his money and runs into a far country with no desire to live as son or as brother. Even when he returns to his home, he chooses to return as a hired hand, not as a son. He wants to be treated economically, as an employee who gets what he earns according to the usual market economy. The father, of course, will have none of this. He only accepts the young man back as a son, welcoming him unconditionally, showering him with gifts, ecstatic over being reunited with his beloved son. Yet, the older son does not mimic the father. He wants nothing to do with grace and mercy. He chafes against the economic inequality that his father's love has created. He rejects his brother, based solely on his own avarice and lust for vengeance, which lead him to reject any thought of forgiveness. The father implores his older son to allow the joy of having found the lost brother and of having reconciled the family to extinguish any vestige of disappointment, anger, or retribution. Unfortunately, the older son refuses and, consequently, pre-empts the father's desire for unity, harmony, and peace. If, as Caputo believes, this parable epitomizes how Jesus understands the function of forgiveness in the Kingdom of God, then an adequate poetics of the kingdom cannot isolate forgiveness from reconciliation. In that event, Caputo should not so unequivocally dismiss the economic quality of reconciliation and force Jesus' kerygmatics of the kingdom into an ambiguous alliance with Derridean "pure forgiveness."
One final possible Caputoan concession to the indissoluble connection between forgiveness and reconciliation may be found in The Weakness of God immediately following a direct reference to the Parable of the Prodigal Father. Caputo returns to one of his favorite Augustinian concepts and, by reinterpreting it in a fresh and creative way, unintentionally affirms the exigency of reconciliation for a kingdom theology of forgiveness. I began my arguments against Caputo's separation of pure forgiveness and reconciliation by noting the distinction Jesus gives to the two great commandments as recapitulating his poetics of the kingdom. One could propose that Augustine glosses these two commandments with his emphases upon the heart as "restless" for, or "tilted toward," God (corinquietum) and upon the necessity to "do the truth" (facere veritatem). (69) This latter phrase may well paraphrase the second commandment to love one's neighbor, since "doing the truth" has a definite ethical quality to it. It removes truth from the purely intellectual and propositional domain of the adequation of idea and reality and positions it within the practical, more phronetic, setting of living out one's obligation to the other. Caputo certainly interprets facere veritatem in such a way, thereby allowing it to be an expression of living out one's ethical responsibility of obedience within the kingdom. (70)
The former phrase, inquietum est cor nostrum, may alternatively be considered a paraphrase of the great commandment to love God with one's entire being. Augustine clearly states that God has created us for Godself in order to live out an intimate relationship, even to the point that we possess hearts that cannot cease from yearning for such an intimacy. (71) What can that be but an a priori pre-disposition to love God and be loved by God? Obviously, sin may pervert our passion for God into idolatry, that is, into our being inclined to direct the tilted heart toward something other than God. The reality remains, however, that God has created within human beings a desire to live in unity with the Creator, to find rest within the peace and grace of a genuine relationship with the divine. One might conclude, therefore, that whenever this bond of love is damaged, the corinquietum impels individuals toward reconciliation and the restoration of that alliance.
In an extraordinary move, Caputo takes the Augustinian cor inquietum and inverts its direction. He recommends assigning the "restless heart" conceit to God instead of to humans. In other words, he conjectures that one could understand the salvific grace of God to be that God has created us for Godself "and God cannot rest until God holds us in his embrace, for there is nothing we can do that God cannot forgive." (72) Continuing in an Anselmian manner, he proclaims that God's unconditional giving and forgiving are greater than anything humans can conceive, that neither of those divine acts may be "constrained by the finite conditions of an economy of exchange [or] by the principle of reason." (73) Who could argue with such a sensitive and compelling rendition of the amazing grace of pure forgiveness? Who could object that such a rendition fails to conform to Jesus' kingdom kerygmatics? But, likewise, who could deny that Caputo's astonishing application of the "tilted heart" to God can circumvent its obvious endorsement of reconciliation as an incontrovertible component in the divine desire for pure forgiveness? If God yearns to embrace us, if God aches to remove every barrier to communion with us, if God is driven by a conatus essendi that impels God to recreate and transform hearts and minds in order to reunite those alienated individuals whom he loves, then that can be nothing other than a passion for reconciliation. Furthermore, that means that in the Kingdom of God, as it is revealed in the Christian scriptures, pure forgiveness cannot be the legislating idea. It is important, and it is unconditional; however, it is also instrumental in realizing God's ultimate telos, the reconciling of all creation to Godself, the new creation of a spiritual unity in which both we and God will find peace for our restless hearts.
According to the Markan narrative (12:28-34), when Jesus identifies the two great commandments, the scribe who prompts that response affirms that Jesus correctly abridges the Torah and the Prophets. Upon hearing the scribe's agreement with him, Jesus announces some good news and informs the scribe, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." One might retell this episode by replacing the scribe with Caputo, who would, according to the revised version, also affirm Jesus' kerygmat-ics of the kingdom and embrace with a passion (for the impossible) his emphases on God as an agapic event, on metanoetics as spiritual transformation, on unconditional forgiveness as the decisive expression of grace, and on the "madness" of an existence obsessed with loving enemies and turning cheeks as a sure sign of the messianic deconstruction of the world stimulated by divine weakness. Yet, as with the original account, one would most likely hear Jesus tell Caputo the same good news that he told the scribe. Caputo is, himself, not far from coming into the Kingdom of God, which is, itself, always near as that which is always to come.
What prevents him from taking that final step through the "eye of the needle" and entering into the divine "presence"? It is his abhorrence of the economic, his infatuation with sheltering the Kingdom of God from any liaison with calculation, purpose, and instrumentality. Yet, as I have tried to argue above, the Kingdom of God depends upon an economy of reconciliation, the investment of forgiveness, grace, and love with the express purpose of restoring loving relationships between God and humanity (first great commandment) and among individuals (second great commandment). By rejecting the ministry of reconciliation, Caputo often appears to be a Puritan of unconditional forgiveness, more the disciple of Jacques (Derrida) than of Jesus. If Derrida is correct and pure forgiveness cannot genuinely be an auxiliary of reconciliation, then so much the worse for pure forgiveness, that is, if one wants to do a poetics of the Kingdom of God as disclosed by Jesus and Paul. Neither of them evades the notion of an economy of salvation, if that economy consists of the gift of unconditional forgiveness as an investment in reconciliatory futures. Consequently--and quite ironically--like the rich man who finds it hard to enter the Kingdom of God because he is unwilling to relinquish the security of his riches, Caputo does not quite enter fully into the event of the divine kingdom because he is unwilling to relinquish the scandal of his repudiation of relational exchange.
Well, almost unwilling, if one reads him closely. As I have said, Caputo is not far from the kingdom. He might still hear Jesus summon him: "Well done, good and faithful servant ... enter into the joy of your master" (Matt. 25:23 WEB)! There is, indeed, hope for him to appreciate the possibility of a loving reciprocity behind the impossibility of God's amazing grace. In glossing the petition for daily bread in the Model Prayer, Caputo concedes the following: (74)
We require economy, and there is no simple standing outside economy ... We are rejoined both to work for our bread and to trust God to give us our bread ... Both together, not one without the other. But God first. We trust God first. Seek first the kingdom of God ...
Jesus and Paul would agree with that. Both could easily adopt this language as expressive of the good news of salvation by grace alone. We are to be reconciled to God by accepting God's gracious and unconditional forgiveness. Both together, reconciliation and forgiveness, not one without the other. But unconditional forgiveness first. Reconciliation is always second, actualized only by God's unilateral mercy and love. But God intends the second; there is a method to the madness of divine grace. As a result, we should trust God first. We should seek first to receive God's pure forgiveness knowing that reconciliation will always be added to it. In doing so, we are seeking first the Kingdom of God--a kingdom to which Caputo is so near.
(1.) Caputo, John D., The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006). Hereafter cited as WG. The American Academy of Religion honored this book with its 2007 Award for Excellence in Religion: Constructive-Reflective Studies.
(2.) See Caputo, John D., "Beyond Sovereignty: Many Nations Under the Weakness of God" Soundings 89 (Spring/Summer 2006), pp. 22-3.
(3.) Caputo uses this phrase to categorize those "irresponsible critics" who condemn Derrida for espousing a "kind of anarchistic relativism in which 'anything goes.'" Deconstruction stands indicted for denying the law of gravity, for rejecting reason, and even for Mormon polygamy by individuals who apparently have never read any Derrida--or, at least, who have read very little (Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with, Jacques Derrida [New York: Fordham University Press, 1997], pp. 36-44. Hereafter cited as DN)!
(4.) See Derrida, Jacques, Circumfession: Fifty-Nine Periods and Paraphrases, in Geoffrey Benning ton and Jacques Derrida, Jacques Derrida (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), p. 156.
(5.) WG, p. 16.
(6.) WG. p. 250. Two decades ago, Caputo intentionally restrained himself and addressed the issues of religion, suffering, and the openness to mystery "with a minimum of salvific pronouncements" (Radical Hermeneutics: Repetition, Deconstruction, and the Hermeneutic Project |Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987], p. 272). Perhaps an aspect of his emigrating out of the theological closet is that he no longer operates under such strictures. He is certainly not coy in his recent works when it comes to commenting unambiguously on soteriological concerns.
(7.) Heidegger, Martin, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), pp. 317-24. See also John D. Caputo, "Shedding Tears Beyond Being: Derrida's Confession of Prayer," in Augustine and Postmodernism: Confessions and Circumfessions, eds. John D. Caputo and Michael Scanlon (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), p. 104.
(8.) Caputo, John D., and Gianni Vattimo, After the Death of God, ed. Jeffrey W. Robbins (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), pp. 64-5. Another possible inconsistency with reference to Caputo's sola gratia soteriology may be found in an additional essay ("Undecidability and the Empty Tomb") in which he argues against an extlusivistic Christology. In order to maintain what he considers to be a proper religious and theological pluralism, he declares that the uniqueness of Jesus is only in his "being an extraordinarily good example of a universal human possibility" (emphasis added). Such language may well be understood as referencing an existential potentiality toward salvation, that salvation is actually the fulfillment of a latent possibility that humans need only work out for themselves. Yet, here again, a closer examination of the context reveals that Caputo holds on to a sense of transcendence, specifically that the alterity inherent within the Christ event could well be experienced in other milieus and through other mediators. In other words, the event of salvation may not come in Christ alone, but however it comes, it comes from an outside solicitation that transcends human expectations. In a manner of speaking, it is always an issue of grace. See John D. Caputo, More Radical Hermeneutics: On Not Knowing Who We Are (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), p. 240. Hereafter cited as MRH.
(9.) See Kierkegaard, Soren. Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, ed. and trans. Howard V. and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), pp. 23-36. For an early discussion of metanoetics see John D. Caputo, "Metanoetics: Elements of a Postmodern Christian Philosophy," in The Question of Christian Philosophy Today, ed. Francis J. Ambrosio (New York: Fordham University Press, 1999): 189-223.
(10.) WG, p. 242.
(11.) Caputo makes constant reference to this scripture throughout his works. See Against Ethics: Contributions to a Poetics of Obligation with Constant Reference to Deconstruction (Blooming-ton: Indiana University Press, 1993), pp. 55, 237 (hereafter cited as AE); Demythologizing Heidegger (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), p. 7 (hereafter cited as DH); The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion Without Religion (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997), p. 334 (hereafter cited as PT); "Toward a Postmodern Theology of the Cross: Augustine, Heidegger, Derrida," in Postmodern Philosophy and Christian Thought, ed. Merold Westphal (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), p. 213; On Religion (New York: Routledge, 2001), p. 98 (hereafter cited as OR); MRH, p. 218; WG, pp. 45-7.
(12.) "According to the New Testament, the only calculation forgiving allows is that one should forgive seven times a day, and seventy times seven, that is to say, innumerably, countlessly, incalculably. That would seem to be, from Derrida's point of view, the real Geniestreich of Jesus" (John D. Caputo, "Apostles of the Impossible," in God, the Gift, and Postmodernism, eds. John D. Caputo and Michael Scanlon [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999], p. 215).
(13.) Although a critique based on performative contradiction might be considered a species of the tu quoque fallacy, one may still insist that a certain level of consistency should be maintained even by a deconstructive radical hermeneuticist like Caputo. Such consistency does not seem to obtain when he addresses the more traditional interpretations of Jesus as a unique incarnation of the suffering God. He considers any high Christology as the result of Hellenistic contamination of Hebrew thought and a precritical mythos that can no longer be seriously entertained in a post-Enlightenment context. Adopting the perspective of John Dominic Crossan and the Jesus Seminar, Caputo argues that no right-thinking individual would continue to hold to the belief that Jesus was, in some inexplicable way, a historical manifestation of the suffering, dying, and resurrected Son of God; such a theory disintegrates when exposed to the historico-critical method (MRH, p. 232).
Yet, ironically, in adopting that perspective, Caputo returns to a modernist prejudice. The historico-critical method exemplifies the Enlightenment's sycophancy to a particular empiricism and its definite bias against alterity and difference. Miraculous events are dismissed out of hand primarily because such events are not an aspect of present scientific and historical experience. In other words, one accepts as historically valid only those events that are analogous to, that is, the same as, one's own contemporary history. Such a prejudice toward similarity precludes any exceptions to the rule; consequently, one is left with a philosophy of history grounded upon a mela-physics of presence and a privileging of identity over difference. One is, indeed, left with a philosophy of history that coheres with worldly expectations and logic, not one open to the incoming of the impossible. In accepting the modernist presuppositions of the historico-critical method. Caputo risks attenuating undecidability to the extent that it almost does not apply to that particular hermeneutical methodology. He continually presses the point that one can never evade the linguistically and historicality of existence, that interpretation is inescapable and, therefore, any comprehension of reality is always tempered with a certain "coefficient of contingency" (MRH, p. 253). But, of course, that point applies equally to Caputo's "faith" that the miraculous claims of a high Christology are poetry and not history. His faith in a low Christology acts as but another construal of the flux, another hermeneusts that cannot be privileged as a pure fact or a hard truth.
Caputo must embrace his own devilish hermeneutics and leave open the (im)possibility that God has come into the world as Jesus of Nazareth, although such an event lies beyond the world's horizons of possibility. Not to do so would result in his acting in some way as "a police-man who patrols the borders of the possible," a role he himself assigns as a criticism to Immanuel Kant (OR, p. 49). If Caputo is some type of post-secular patrolman, his jurisdiction logically should be the borders of the impossible, of the unprogrammable (divine) event. His definition of religion, his understanding of Jesus' preaching, and his explanation of forgiveness and obligation--all of the bases upon which he establishes his post-secular biblical theology--depend upon the impossible, upon an acceptance of the mad paralogic and pathologic of the Kingdom. Caputo, as one impassioned by the impossible and as one who admits the undecidability of faith and the inescapability of hermeneutics, cannot consistently claim that divine incarnation might not occur. Indeed, "the Word made flesh" might well be the most impossible possibility of the impossible, the l"invention de l" autre that is the epitome of the tout autre.
(14.) See Caputo, John D., and Catherine Keller, "Theopoetic/Theopolitic" CrossCurrents 56 (Winter 2007), p. 107.
(15.) WG, p. 104.
(16.) Caputo identifies the jewgreek poetics of mercy as dependent upon biblical categories of justice derived from both the Hebrew scriptures and what he calls the "gospel of kardia," the gospel of heart, from the Christian scriptures (DH, p. 213).
(17.) Caputo connects "poetics" with the telling of beautiful stories in AE, p. 10. He insists in a later text, however, that telling stories should not be devalued as a manner of communication, for in some stories the hearer/reader may be "struck by the trauma of alterity in a story, by the shock of transcendence, by the blow which is invariably delivered by something divine, which is quite other, wholly Other" (MRH, p. 216).
(18.) WG, p. 4.
(19.) Ibid., pp. 118-9.
(20.) Ibid., pp. 238-9.
(21.) Bultmann, Rudolf, Jesus Christ and Mythology (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958), pp. 11, 14, 19.
(22.) Ibid., pp. 31-2, 41.
(23.) Bultmann, Rudolf, Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate, ed. Hans Werner Bartsch (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1961), p. 19.
(24.) Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology, p. 71.
(25.) Ibid., p. 79.
(26.) Bultmann, Rudolf, Theology of the New Testament, 2 vols, trans. Kendrick Grobel (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1951/55), I: 302; WG, p. 11.
(27.) Ricoeur, Paul, "Naming God." in Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination, trans. David Pellauer, ed. Mark I. Wallace (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), p. 232.
(28.) Caputo recognizes a Kierkegaardian character to metanoia, specifically Johannes Climacus' idea of repentance as a renovatio of life, heart, and mind (AE, p. 41).
(29.) Caputo makes a distinction between the preaching of repentance in John the Baptist, a preaching that he takes to be too funereal and focused on mourning, and the preaching of repentance in Jesus, which is more salvifically joyful and productive of celebration. See PT, p. 223; "Reason, History and a Little Madness: Towards a Hermeneutics of the Kingdom," Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 68 (1994): 27-44; "Instants, Secrets, and Singularities: Dealing Death in Kierkegaard and Derrida," in Kierkegaard in Post/Modernity, eds. Martin J. Matustik and Merold Westphal (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), pp. 232-7.
(30.) WG, p. 207.
(31.) Ibid., p. 206.
(32.) See Putt, B. Keith, "What Do I Love When I Love My God? An Interview with John D. Caputo," in Religion With/Out Religion: The Prayers and Tears of John D. Caputo, ed. James H. Olthuis (New York: Routledge, 2002), pp. 172-3.
(33.) Understanding forgiveness as contrary to any reciprocity of return expresses Derrida's differentiation between gift and economy. For Derrida, the pure gift as such displays no trait of an economic process of reception in order to ensure that the gift does not deteriorate into debt. The pure gift would be given without expectation of return, without any debt of gratitude, and in total anonymity so that neither the gifted nor the giver would be aware of the gift. Caputo considers this Derridean interpretation of the gift as, mutatis mutandis, a deconstructive analogy for kingdom forgiveness. Jesus' kerygma of forgiveness shatters the economy of retribution and the penal demands of the law. It calls for grace and forgetfulness, for patience and loss, and for restoration and love. One may find Derrida's perspectives on gift in Given Time, I. Counterfeit Money, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991); The Gift of Death, trans. David Wills (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995); Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routledge, 1994), pp. 22-8; Points ... Interviews, 1974-94, trans. Peggy Kamuf, et. al. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995), pp. 97, 209; and "The Villanova Roundtable: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida," in DN, pp. 18-9.
(34.) Cf. WG, pp. 185-90.
(35.) Ibid., p. 201.
(36.) PT, p. 227. In The Weakness of God, Caputo uses Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and Publican as an illustration of the unconditional alterity of forgiveness. See his summation on p. 235.
(37.) OR, pp. 13-4; MRH, p. 225.
(38.) WG, p. 144, 208.
(39.) Derrida, Jacques, "As If It Were Possible, 'Within Such Limits'." in Negotiations: Interventions and Interviews 1971-2001, ed. and trans. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002), pp. 351-2.
(40.) Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, 1:294.
(41.) WG, p. 219.
(42.) Ibid., p. 211.
(43.) In his first major work, Caputo addresses, in detail, the "mystical" quality of Angelus Silesius' notion of the ohne warum, specifically as Heidegger relates it to Leibniz's Principle of Sufficient Reason. In the discussion, he indicates that one should not confuse without ""why" as synonymous to without "cause." Ohne warum does not connote the lack of a "because," some grounding explanation for why something is or does what it is or does; instead, the "without why" pertains to the conscious and calculating concern for motive, the desire of an entity to decipher for itself a reason for a particular state of affairs (The Mystical Element in Heidegger's Thought [New York: Fordham University Press, 1986], pp. 62-3). For a brief discussion of how the Principle of Sufficient Reason impacts the history of theology, see Caputo's Philosophy and Theology (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006), pp. 22-34. In contending that divine forgiveness is not ohne warum, I take into consideration the crucial distinction between "why" and "because." The teleological character of God's unconditional forgiveness emerges as a decidedly self-conscious intent on God's part to effect reconciliation. God consciously calculates the potential consequences of the divine grace and compassion and "hopes" that individuals will receive the promised salvation. For that reason, I contend that pure forgiveness may be unconditional without simultaneously being without why. Of course, Caputo might deflect this move by asserting that God cannot be compelled to give reasons for divine actions (PT, 198); however, one might still believe that God voluntarily discloses the divine salvific intent, which, to be sure, is what faithful disciples in many religions trust that their scriptures do.
(44.) OR, pp. 1, 5.
(45.) Tillich, Paul, Love, Power, and Justice: Ontological Analyses and Ethical Applications (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954), p. 25.
(46.) Tillich, Paul, The Shaking of the Foundations (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948), p. 162.
(47.) Tillich, Paul, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1951-63), II: 166-7; I:144-6.
(48.) Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, I: 287.
(49.) Kittel, Gerhard, ed. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 10 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), I:255.
(50.) Jennings, Theodore W., Reading Derrida/Thinking Paul: On Justice (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006), pp. 128, 132-3.
(51.) Ibid., p. 134.
(52.) Ibid., pp. 142-3.
(53.) Derrida, Negotiations, p. 349.
(54.) Derrida, Specters of Marx, p. 168.
(55.) Derrida, Jacques, and Maurizio Ferraris, A Taste for the Secret (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2001), p. 83.
(56.) Derrida, Jacques, "Hostipitality," in Acts of Religion, ed. Gil Anidjar (New York: Routledge, 2002), pp. 360-2.
(57.) Derrida, Jacques, Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005), p. 128.
(58.) Derrida gives this interpretation during a lecture in South Africa, portions of which are included in the award-winning documentary Derrida, a film by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman, 2004. Furthermore, he claims in On Forgiveness that the recent global sensitivity to seeking forgiveness and political reconciliation for "crimes against humanity" to be an example of "a virtually Christian convulsion-conversion-confession, a process of Christianization [sic] which has no more need for the Christian church" (On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, trans. Mark Dooley and Michael Hughes (London: Routledge, 2001], p. 31).
(59.) Derrida, "Hostipitality," pp. 380-1.
(60.) Ibid., p. 386.
(61.) Derrida, Points, p. 199.
(62.) WG, p. 260.
(63.) ibid., pp. 45-7, 262-5. See also AE, pp. 55, 237; DH, pp. 7, 183; SA; and MRH, p. 124.
(64.) WG, 278.
(65.) Ibid., pp. 146-7.
(66.) Ibid., p. 169.
(67.) Ibid., p. 215.
(68.) See Caputo, John D., What Would Jesus Deconstruct? The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), p. 75 (hereafter cited as WWJD?); FT, p. 223; OR, p. 140.
(69.) I borrow the idea of the "tilted" heart from Garry Wills' translation of Augustine's Confessions. See Saint Augustine's Childhood: Confessiones Book One (New York: Viking, 2001), p. 29.
(70.) See for example Caputo, John D., "In Search of a Sacred Anarchy: An Experiment in Danish Deconstruction," in Calvin 0. Schrag and the Task of Philosophy after Postmodernity, eds. Martin Beck Matustik and William L. McBride (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2002), p. 235; WG, p. 118, 268; WWJD? p. 134; OR, pp. 115-6.
(71.) Augustine, Confessions, I:1.
(72.) WG, p. 215.
(73.) Ibid., p. 216.
(74.) Ibid., p. 173.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Putt, B. Keith|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2009|
|Previous Article:||The ethics of coexistence: Bollywood's different take on terrorism.|
|Next Article:||The Arab Peace Initiative: lost in the translation.|