Postmodern Theology: An Outdated Survey

Postmodern Theology

Žižek, Badiou, Caputo and Eagleton


In recent decades there has been a surge in both deconstruction-and-religion and secular Christologies. The premise of the following piece is that both of these areas of study have significant insight to offer, but are incomplete without the other. Where deconstruction-and-religion offers a Derridean understanding of a postmodern Christ, the secular interest in Paul (Badiou, Agamben, Žižek) offers an understanding of truth in an age of fragmentation. In order to move beyond the deconstructive Christology as proposed by John Caputo, and the secular interest in Paul, to a more holistic, we must attempt the difficult task of constructing a more cohesive postmodern theology. The following will attempt to provide a ground from which to work on this task, while not presuming to offer any new or original insight. While making this move, the fundamentalism and the foundationalism of previous modern theologies must be stripped away in order to see a more robust postmodern theology that can hold up under the demands of contemporary thought. The following will attempt to (a) move beyond the traditional interpretations of salvation, (b) re-explore Christ’s human and divine natures, and (c) to propose a manner in which to transcend the name of God. This Christology is built upon two major premises which are as follows: (1) God possesses and is beyond both the properties of being (persona) and event (occurrence) and, (2) Christ is the universalize-able finite transport of both the being and the event of God.

The following theology (and Christology) is a generous reading of four philosophers which many would consider to be ‘postmodern’: Slavoj Žižek, Terry Eagleton, Alain Badiou and John Caputo. These four thinkers will form the backbone of the following constructive exercise and an effort will be made to distinguish between what the thinkers themselves write about Christ and what is being constructed. Section 1 will outline the similarities existing between Žižek and Eagleton so far as they inform a demythologized theology of the Being of God. Section 2 will deal with the relationship between Caputo and Zizek and their respective creation narratives. Section 3 will examine Badiou and Caputo’s philosophical theology of the event, and lastly, section 4 will deal with Caputo and Zizek and the non-dichotomized nature of the Being of God.

1. A Materialist Theology: Slavoj Žižek vis a vis Terry Eagleton

The question of God’s being is probably the most difficult to reconcile with postmodern thought and culture, if recent debates between atheism and theism are any indication. Both Slavoj Žižek and Terry Eagleton stand apart from this antagonism as thinkers who transcend the binary nature of these debates being. Both Žižek and Eagleton self identify with the atheistic side of the aforementioned division while managing to avoid the fundamentalistic and foundationalistic views which quite often dominate the contemporary debate. This, as many have argued, is what makes the two of them invaluable resources for contemporary theology. There are many problems which postmodern thought finds with the traditional conception of the being of God. The majority of these issues pertain to the idea of salvation, and the process by which salvation is accomplished (soteriology).

Traditionally the concept of a strong and powerful God is included in the idea of salvation. This is a perception which Žižek does not share, preferring instead the deistic idea of a ‘Fragile Absolute’. Eagleton, in turn, has much to say about Christ, at least in his introduction to the Gospels in Verso’s Revolutions series. The importance lies in the fact that both thinkers make a move towards a demythologized view of the Being of God. Although they would not say so, I would argue that this demythologization must be followed by a second naïveté (Ricoeur) or a disciplined naïveté (Husserl). Instead of demythologizing the being of God and accepting an atheistic view of Christianity (as Žižek and Eagleton would have us do), it is imperative that we demythologize Christian belief in order to remythologize it into a more sober, but no less salvific view.

Although both Eagleton and Žižek are proponents of Christ and the Christian experience of God (respectively), they remain so only until a certain point. To shed light on this demarcation we will begin with Žižek’s description what he calls the ‘Fragile Absolute’:

That is to say: what is the Absolute? Something that appears to us in fleeting experiences – say, through the gentle smile of a beautiful woman, or even through the warm, caring smile of a person who may otherwise seem ugly or rude: in such miraculous but extremely fragile moments, another dimension transpires through our reality. As such, the Absolute is easily corroded; it slips all too easily through our fingers, and must be handled as carefully as a butterfly….As every true Christian knows, love is the work of love – the hard and arduous work of repeated ‘uncoupling’ in which, again and again, we have to disengage ourselves from the inertia that constrains us to identify with the particular order we were born into. Through the Christian work of compassionate love, we discern in what was hitherto a disturbing foreign body…[1]

The previous description is a remarkably Christian statement which conforms in some ways to what John Caputo and Gianni Vattimo call ‘weak theology’ or ‘weak thought,’ a theme which we will return to later.[2] If we move past this connection we find a concept of the Being of God which conforms paradoxically to both the postmodern ‘return of religion’ and ‘the death of God’ (both of which are present in postmodern philosophy and culture). Within this paradox there is room for God to be thought of as a fragile being in lieu of the fact that the view of God as a strong being has been largely diminished by the western civil religion of rationality and reason. In his work Žižek offers no good alternative to the idea of a weak and fragile God, a conclusion which Caputo shares and which we will be accepting in this constructive exploration.[3] Žižek and Caputo both reject the idea of a God of strength, opting instead for a theology which demythologizes not only traditional Christian belief but also to the modern metanarrative of logic and reason. Žižek writes further of what he considers to be the opportunity of Christianity saying that:

Only a lacking, vulnerable being is capable of love: the ultimate mystery of love is therefore that incompleteness is in a way higher than completion. On the one hand, only an imperfect, lacking being loves: we love because we do not know all. On the other hand, if we were to know everything, love would inexplicably still be higher than completed knowledge. Perhaps the true achievement of Christianity is to elevate a loving (imperfect) Being to the place of God. [4]

Zizek’s idea is that beyond perfection the idea (or property) of incompletion is higher than the idea of completion. This version of God’s perfection sounds far more Hebraic than the Greek notion of ‘perfection’ proper. Terry Eagleton, in his introduction to the Gospels in Verso’s Revolutions series, also demythologizes much of the traditional Christian view of Christ, doing so in a remarkably inspiring manner. Foregoing any talk of God, Eagleton writes of the person of Christ and manages to cast his divinity and humanity in a sobering light. Where Jesus’ miracles are concerned Eagleton writes “that those reading about them when the Gospels were first written would not have taken all of them literally.”[5] In removing the literal hermeneutic element it is important to understand that Eagleton is not removing the miraculous element. Interpreting miracles in a metaphorical or poetic manner should in no way detract from their miraculous nature, especially where postmodern ‘theopoetics’ are concerned. Eagleton speaks to this saying that “The Kingdom of heaven turns out to be a surprisingly materialist affair. It is otherworldly in the sense of signifying some future transfiguration of human existence, not in the sense of pie in the sky.”[6] This sounds quite close to ‘the kingdom is not far from any one of us’.[7] Eagleton takes this hope in the ‘material’ further saying that despite Christ’s poetic or metaphorical nature he “enjoins men and women to unburden themselves of anxiety and live in the present.”[8] This should not be taken to say that Christ’s metaphorical, or theopoetical nature is in any way detracting from his Being. Rather than deny any attributes of Being that Christ possesses or possessed Eagleton is claiming that Christ’s important act is that he “reveals the Father as friend, comrade, lover and counsel for the defense, rather than as patriarch, judge, superego or accuser.”[9]

This demythologizing action is similar to Žižek’s self proclaimed ‘materialist’ theology. The necessity of this materialist theology is explained by Adam Kotsko who states in Žižek and Theology that “Žižek argues that there is an inner necessity to this turn to theology, going so far as to claim in The Puppet and the Dwarf that ‘to become a true dialectical materialist, one should go through the Christian experience’.”[10] One of the possibilities in a remythologized material theology (of which Žižek may not agree) would be the possibility of redefining Christ’s humanity and divinity. Eagleton proceeds to offer us an alternative view of Christ’s claim to be the son of God. This problematic claim stands in the way of Christ’s universality in that it restricts any intercontextual or inter-religious salvation. The claim to be the son of God would not be so problematic to the postmodern ethos if it were not coupled with the statement that ‘no one comes to the father except through me’. If Christ came to ‘save’ people of all races and nationalities the violently exclusive interpretation of this claim must be abandoned. Eagleton offers us a solution to our paradigmatic problem of universality, he writes:

Indeed, why he was crucified is something of a mystery. It was certainly not because he claimed to be the Son of God. Jesus makes no such claims in the Gospel, except once, implausibly, in the Markian trial scene; and Mark has his own political axe to grind. Even if Jesus had called himself the Son of God more often than that, it would not have been evident what he meant by it. In one sense of the term, it would have been no more than stating the obvious. All Jews were sons and daughters of God. It did not imply that one was superhuman. Israel was collectively the son of God.[11]

The very idea that each and every one of us is called a son or daughter of God is far more messianic (beyond the Judaic definition) and loving, than the action of casting Christ in an exclusively super-human light (which would negate his being fully human).[12] Zizek sees Christ as “indiscernible from other humans” which could well be the most postmodern manner in which to think of Christ.[13]

We now turn to the relationship between theologian John Caputo and Slavoj Žižek. The first of their two major connections is found in the aforementioned concept of weak theology. Žižek writes in his contribution to The Monstrosity of Christ that:

…in spite of a fundamental difference that separates me from Caputo and Vattimo, I fully share the idea, common to both of them, of Christ as a weak God, a God reduced to a compassionate observer of human misery, unable to intervene and help…[14]

Our synthesis or construction will go quite a few steps further than merely their different concepts of weak theology. I would argue that not only is Caputo’s concept of the ‘Weakness of God’[15] a mirror image of Žižek’s ‘Fragile Absolute,’[16] but this mirror image can be seen in both of their descriptions of the creation narrative of Genesis.

2. Weak Accounts of Creation: John Caputo vis a vis Slavoj Žižek

Both Caputo and Žižek have developed creation accounts with which to follow their conceptions of the ‘Weakness of God’ and ‘Fragile Absolute’ respectively. Adam Kotsko describes Žižek and his reinterpretation of the first cause in Zizek and Theology:

Schelling argues that God was becoming God. In Žižek’s reading, the steps are as follows. First, before the beginning, there is an abyss of pure Freedom, pure undifferentiated potentiality. In a sense this abyss is God, but it is more precise to say that it is not yet God. At this stage, (pre-)God is a pure will, willing nothing in particular. This stasis is interrupted when God switches from willing nothing in particular to willing nothingness itself, producing a radical contraction that then explodes into a will for expansion, that is, an attempt at willing something in particular. Before becoming the creator, then, God contracts Being, in the dual sense (mirrored in Schelling’s German) of a contraction as an abbreviation or condensation and of contracting a disease.[17]

Understood via Schelling, Žižek adopts a concept of an originary void which becomes ‘positively charged’ (a concept he borrows from quantum physics).[18] Žižek’s account revolves around a concept of God’s self-actualization arising from a void-like expanse of ‘freedom’. The idea that in the beginning God ‘contracts’ being is characteristic of Žižek’s curious form of deism which casts God outside the realm of the very Greek conception of ‘perfection’ and describes Christ as ‘monstrous’ and ‘vulgar’. Caputo, although similar to Žižek in his weak creation account, rejects any hint of creatio ex nihilo in Žižek’s account as well as some of Žižek’s irreverent theologies. John Caputo writes of his concept of ‘weak creation’ in The Weakness of God:

The opening verses of Genesis make no use whatever of a metaphysical distinction between an eternal, infinite, and supersensible being creating finite, temporal being, which is an un-Hebraic conception that is not conceivable outside of the two-worlds schema that Christianity inherited from Hellenistic metaphysics. The binarity at work in the story is not between sensible and supersensible, or finite and infinite, or eternal and temporal, or being and non-being. It turns instead on a series of senuous transformations in and of the elements: empty/filled, mixed/separated, barren/living, dark/light.[19]

Caputo calls this strong God ‘un-hebraic’ of which it may follow that the traditional view of God’s perfection is also ‘un-hebraic’. Žižek follows his creation account, with the theological claim that “God is ‘beyond the order of Being,’ he is nothing but the mode of how we relate to him; that is to say, we do not relate to him, he is this relating.”[20] The occurrence (event) of this relating, as Žižek points to, is where we come upon the relationship between John Caputo and French philosopher Alain Badiou. These two (significantly opposed) philosophers seem to meet at the point of the philosophical category of the event of the impossible. Where Caputo affirms the God of the impossible, Badiou implores that we treat the truth-event right to the limit of the possible. John Caputo writes in The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida that “with God everything is possible even the impossible”.[21] Badiou echoes this in his book on St. Paul that:

…the Resurrection – which is the point at which our comparison obviously collapses – is not, in Paul’s own eyes, of the order of fact, falsifiable or demonstrable. It is pure event, opening of an epoch, transformation of the relations between the possible and the impossible.[22]

With this similarity regarding the nature of the possible impossible there is also the philosophical category of the event which is where Caputo and Badiou truly meet.

3. A Theology of the Event: Alain Badiou vis a vis John Caputo

The idea of the ‘event of God’, although not a recent phenomenon, has arisen in the French and Continental philosophy of religion in recent decades. The philosophical idea of the ‘event’ proper arises, for the most part, from the work of Jacques Derrida and the textual strategy of deconstruction, but is certainly not limited to his work. Both Alain Badiou and John Caputo are philosophers who have claimed the ‘event’ as their own and have integrated it into their theological philosophies. Badiou, where religious adherence is concerned, is an atheist, whereas Caputo remains the only card carrying theist in our postmodern array of thinkers (and even this is disputable, given that he may rightly pass for something else…). This section will show connections between Badiou and Caputo’s ideas pertaining to the Event of God, a concept which lies well beyond both Badiou’s atheism and Caputo’s theism. We will begin with Badiou’s description of the ‘event’ of God which is as follows:

There is in this prose, under the imperative of the event, something solid and timeless, something that, precisely because it is a question of orienting a thought toward the universal in its suddenly emerging singularity, but independently of all anecdote, is intelligible to us without having to resort to cumbersome historical mediations….it is the world of the divine (of saintliness) which, eventally descended among humans [becoming] concrete, operative.[23]

The ‘event’ as Badiou conceives of it has much to do with revolutionary politics as well as what he calls the event of Christ. Where Žižek is concerned with the relationship between Marxism and what he terms to be ‘the Christian experience’, Badiou, the ‘militant of truth,’ is out to construct a more universal revolutionary schema based upon the ‘resurgence of the subject’. Badiou describes the event as occurring when a singularity (such as Christ) is oriented towards the universal (the human race’s salvation). This is precisely the action which we are attempting to speak to in our earlier exploration of Christ’s supposed role as the ‘only way’ to God. With Badiou’s schema in mind we must view Christ as the universalizable singularity – an idea which is not compatible with the violently singular interpretation of Christ as the ‘only way’. The evental Christ is equally a being as an event occurring for all of humanity. In order for Christ to fulfill Badiou’s schema he must exist for all people for all of time in the universal transport of the Resurrection event.

To take this a step beyond Badiou I would say that the event of Christ as a whole is greater in importance than the (now) traditional idea of a ‘personal relationship with Christ’ (in the soteriologically strong sense). Badiou continues on this theme by taking on the topic of Christ’s supposed mediation between humanity and the divine Being of God by suggesting that “Christ is not a mediation; he is not that through which we know God. Jesus Christ is the pure event, and as such is not a function, even were it to be a function of knowledge, or revelation.”[24] This brings us finally to Caputo and his conception of ‘weak theology’ and ‘the event of God’ into which he reads deconstruction and Derrida. Caputo writes that:

…deconstruction exposes faith to indefinite recontextualization, substitution, and translation. It does not so much surround faith with a horizon, or protect it with a shield and crossed arrows, as it leaves it vulnerable and exposed to multiple interpretation, to a multiplicity with which it is the business of faith to cope. That means the believer must keep faith, fight the good fight, and that faith must be its own shield, fend for itself, and a save the name of God.[25]

Caputo suggests here that we ‘save the name’ (or sauf le nom as Derrida has written) of God which would seem to indicate that the name of God should take a backseat to the event of God (a theme we will take up later in this section). In treating Jesus Christ as a ‘pure event’ in the weak sense we remove all empirical requirements of historical verification and fully embrace a demythologized but remythologized interpretation of the holy scriptures which in turn, returns them to their divine nature. The equivocation of the event according to both Badiou and Caputo is not a difficult one to make as their language is so similar. Where Badiou’s categories are ‘event, fidelity and truth,’ Caputo’s are ‘event, deconstruction, impossible’. In a selection remarkably similar to Caputo’s work Badiou writes of the:

The possibility of the impossible, which is exposed by every loving encounter, every scientific re-foundation, every artistic invention and every sequence of emancipatory politics, is the sole principle – against the ethics of living-well whose real content is the deciding of death – of an ethic of truths.[26]

In strikingly Christian terms Badiou echoes Caputo in saying that the ‘possibility of the impossible’ is found in ‘every loving encounter’. This Christ event is the loving encounter of which Badiou and Caputo speak of. Badiou states that “The Christian subject does not pre-exist the event he declares (Christ’s resurrection)”[27], a statement Caputo may agree with. The event, according to Badiou results in a situation that “compels the subject to invent a new way of being and acting in the situation.”[28] This reworking after the event, I would claim, is the metanoia of the gospels and the soteriological action in itself. John Caputo shares Badiou’s conception of the ‘impossible’ event in his book On Religion:

To explain what I mean by “the impossible” I first need to explain what I mean by the “possible,” and to explain the possible I need to talk about the “future,” which is the domain of the possible. We say that we want the future to be “bright,” “promising,” “open.” The force of the future is to prevent the present from closing in on us, from closing us up. The future pries open the present by promising us the possibility of something new, the chance of something different, something that will transform the present into something else.[29]

Taken a step further into our constructive exercise, both Badiou and Caputo have conceived of a similar manner in which to affirm this impossible event; a theme which is seen through many of their works including Caputo’s On Religion, The Weakness of God and The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, and Badiou’s Ethics, Metapolitics, and St. Paul: The Foundation of Universalism. In his introduction to Ethics translator and philosopher Peter Hallward writes that “The ethical prescription can be summarized by the single imperative: ‘Keep going!’ or ‘Continue!’ For a truth is clearly difficult by definition. It implies an effectively selfless devotion to a cause.”[30] Badiou, in this sentiment is following Jacques Lacan’s maxim: ‘do not give up on your desire’ which gives him ground for affirming the im/possible nature of the event. Caputo echoes this sentiment in a very similar manner in On Religion:

The structure of the “yes,” which goes to the heart of human experience, is a structure of doubling or repetition, of “yes, yes,” which is pretty much what the Hebrew “Amen” means – oui, oui, so be it, three cheers, right on! Yes, yes to what is coming, to the God of yes, to the becoming possible of the impossible.[31]

Now that we have established Badiou and Caputo as proponents of the Christian event we should examine their ground for such a claim. Caputo receives a free pass in this respect because of his the theological underpinnings of his work, but Badiou, the ‘militant of truth’ may require some more explanation as to why as an atheist he is affirming the Christian event. This brings us to Badiou’s treatment of St. Paul which provides a frame for his ‘evental ethic of truths’.

The actions of Saint Paul mirror an ‘evental’ treatment of the holy. And if it is as Zizek writes in The Fragile Absolute, that “there is no Christ outside Saint Paul”[32] then we have found a shining example of discipleship that is both iconoclastic and institutional; a new (or old) Benedict if I have ever seen one. According to Badiou, Paul was “A man who, armed with a personal event, has grounds for declaring that impersonal event that is the Resurrection.”[33]

If we take up the mantle of synthesizing (or short circuiting) the deconstruction and religion of Caputo, with the Pauline militancy of Badiou and Zizek (and a dash of Eagleton[34]), we have certainly gained some ground in regards to the law/love binary.[35] But however much conceptual-ideological ground has been gained we should remember Terry Eagleton’s warning that “The problem of much modern Christianity has been how to practice this lifestyle with two children, a car and a mortgage.”[36]

4. Beyond the Name of God: John Caputo vis a vis Slavoj Žižek

In the last section of our survey we deal with the questions of ‘what consists a relationship with God?’ The characterization of humanity’s relation to God has been interpreted by many as a relation similar to that of a ‘person’. Terry Eagleton writes that Jesus Christ is “offering a relationship rather than a body of dogma, and certainly rather than a program.”[37] Nowhere in this statement however, is any reference to the relationship having properties comparable to interpersonal interaction. I would argue, with Eagleton’s implication in mind, that the human relationship with Christ (or God) cannot be limited by the descriptor ‘personal’. This term possesses too many implications which are anthropomorphic in nature. To think of interacting with Christ’s presence is certainly not to think of a relationship in the human sense, and the same is applicable to God. The relational aspect present here must also be demythologized in order to be remythologized in perhaps a transpersonal or supra-personal manner.

The question here, as well, is a subtle one. Can the signifier (or name) of Christ be separated from the signified attributes of Christ? This question has many implications but no easy answer. A major implication, and the question that will close this exploration in construction, is: what is to keep us from searching for the content and attributes of God and Christ without acknowledging or affirming the name? Is it possible to ‘come to Christ’ or ‘find God’ in content (or the ‘kingdom’) and not in name? I would argue that the answer to this question can only be found if we move beyond the deconstructive Christ to the equally legitimate ‘constructive Christ’. Slavoj Žižek writes of the content of Christ’s being in The Parallax View:

There is proximity and gap, but not where we would expect them. Back to great Teachers like the Buddha: they did not reveal their Truth in the strict Christian sense; they merely exemplified by their model life the universal teaching they were spreading. In this precise sense, the Buddha was a Buddhist, even an exemplary one, while Christ was not a Christian – he was Christ himself in his absolute singularity. Christ does not “demonstrate with his acts his fidelity to his own teaching” – there simply is no gap between his individuality and his teaching, a gap to be filled in by the fidelity of his acts to his teaching; Christ’s ultimate “teaching” – lesson – immediately is his very existence as an individual who is, in absolute simultaneity, man and God.[38]

I would take Žižek’s idea one step further to say that we are called less to embrace the name of Christ and God, than we are called to embody Christ and God to each other. Acting messianic-ally, we embody the teaching of Christ by becoming the content of the teachings of Christ. The call I make in this exploration, however unorifinal, is that followers of Christ must embody Christ and actualize the teachings of Christ as Christ in himself, even if that means exceeding the work of Christ as presented in the gospels and moving towards the cosmic and universal work of Christ in the world.[39]

In order to fully actualize this we will develop further the non-dichotomized nature of God and Christ. This nature is most evident in the work of both Slavoj Žižek and John Caputo, which brings our discussion full circle. Both Žižek and Caputo on separate occasions have affirmed the God who exists above and beyond the anthropomorphic dichotomies we often place upon our experience (including existence and nonexistence). Where Žižek is concerned, the necessity of transcending the binary nature of human thought arises out of a need to surpass the atheist versus theist debates as mentioned earlier. Žižek writes of this in The Monstrosity of Christ asking:

What, then, is the proper atheist stance? Not a continuous desperate struggle against theism, of course – but not a simple indifference to belief either. That is to say: what if, in a kind of negation of negation, true atheism were to return to belief (faith?), asserting it without reference to God – only atheists can truly believe; the only true belief is belief without any support in the authority of some presupposed figure of the ‘big Other’. We can also conceive these three positions (theism, negative atheism, and positive atheism) along the lines of the Kantian triad of positive, negative, and infinite judgment: while the positive statement ‘I believe in God’ can be negated as ‘ I don’t believe in God,’ we can also imagine a kind of ‘infinite’ negation, not so much ‘ I believe in un-God’ (which would be closer to negative theology) but, rather, something like ‘unbelief,’ the pure form of belief deprived of its substantialization – ‘unbelief’ is still the form of belief, like the undead who, as the living dead, remain dead.[40]

Žižek writes often of this ‘negation of negation,’ and it is the operation which he cites as the move beyond situations with (seemingly) only two options. Caputo also applies this operation in relation to the name of God; an operation which will hopefully reconcile our earlier problem of the possibility of separating the divine name from the divine content – as this is another binary which must be transcended in order to move towards a more robust postmodern understanding of theology. Caputo writes in an early work, The Mystical Element in Heidegger’s Thought:

The “truly divine God’ is precisely the God who recedes behind everything which is said about Him. The one thing we can say about God which suits Him is that nothing we say about Him suits Him, that is, that He withdraws behind all names, that He has no master-name, no name which masters Him, no proper name which captures what are propria to Him. He is not even “God” – neither the “Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth” of the Creed nor the primum ens of metaphysics. God “is” (west) the self-withdrawing.[41]

Caputo calls us to operate in lieu of a name, to save the name from its inadequate nature. This call is a call to believe in a postmodern theology which can account for the deconstructions laid out above and yet retain the element which is the Christian spirit proper. This involves taking into account the event of God, the weakness of God, the being and non-being of God and so on and so forth. Jacques Derrida speaks to the reified Christology during a round table discussion excerpted from Augustine and Postmodernism:

I’m trying now in seminars and in texts, by following a political thread, to deconstruct, so to speak, the onto-theological politics of sovereignty. God is supposed to be absolutely powerful in our tradition. I don’t know if it is Christian or not. I’m trying to think of some unconditionality that would not be sovereign, that is, to deconstruct the theological heritage of the political concept of sovereignty, without abandoning the unconditionality of gifts, of hospitality and so on.[42]

What Derrida is proposing in the above section is a rediscovery of Christology itself and theology as well following Caputo who states that “[t]heology and deconstruction share a common passion.”[43] Derrida’s conception of a Christ that is ‘unconditional without sovereignty’ is constructive and that constructive operation is occurring here without the dogma provided by an over-commitment to the name of Christ. The idea is not so much to forget the name altogether but rather to move beyond the limits of the name in order to know what is being named more fully. Eagleton writes that “Yahweh can be neither imaged nor given a name, but you shall know him for who he is when you see the poor being exalted and the rich dispossessed.”[44] Caputo states further that by “giving God a name we give the gift of what we do not have.”[45] In the same way, this brief constructive survey of postmodern theology should be thought of as a provisional and dead letter, tossed into an already complex discourse which has in many ways left the issues mentioned above behind.

*This essay is a very lightly edited version of an essay I wrote in my second semester of my undergrad (Winter 2010). Any comments and criticisms should keep this in mind, and also, please don’t cite without permission (given the fact that it’s very early work).

[1] Slavoj Žižek, The Fragile Absolute (New York: Verso, 2000), 119-120.

[2] For more see: Jeffrey Robbins, ed. After the Death of God (New York: ColumbiaUniversity Press, 2007)

[3] Žižek refers to the alternative of this view as:

God as omnipotent is a perverse subject who plays obscene games with humanity and His own son: He creates suffering, sin and imperfection, so that He can intervene and resolve the mess he created, thereby securing for Himself the eternal gratitude of the human race.

Žižek, Fragile Absolute, 148.

[4] Žižek, Fragile Absolute, 138.

[5] Terry Eagleton, introduction to Jesus Christ: The Gospels (New York: Verso, 2007), ix.

[6] Ibid., xviii.

[7] Isaiah 56:1 and Luke 17: 20-25

[8] Eagleton, The Gospels, xxiii.

[9] Ibid., xxv.

[10] Adam Kotsko, Žižek and Theology (New York: T&T Clark, 2008), 73.

[11] Eagleton, The Gospels, ix.

[12] Eagleton states further that:

…Jesus does not claim to be the messiah either, except on two occasions, both of which are historically dubious. Even if he did, it might not have been clear what he meant by the title, since there were senses it other than Israel’s political redeemer. It could also be interpreted in a more spiritual sense.

Eagleton, The Gospels, xi.

[13] Slavoj Žižek, On Belief (New York: Routledge, 2001), 131.

[14] Creston Davis, ed. The Monstrosity of Christ (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2009), 55.

[15] See: John Caputo, The Weakness of God (Indiana: University Press, 2006)

[16] See: Žižek, Fragile Absolute

[17] Kotsko, Žižek and Theology, 53.

[18] See the beginning sequence of the documentary Žižek! directed by Astra Taylor.

[19] John Caputo, The Weakness of God (Indiana: University Press, 2006), 62.

[20] Slavoj Žižek, The Parallax View (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2006), 79.

[21] John Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida (Indiana: University Press, 1997), 133.

[22] Alain Badiou, Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism trans. Ray Brassier (Stanford, CA: StanfordUniversity Press, 2003), 45.

[23] Ibid, 36.

[24] Ibid, 48.

[25] Caputo, Prayers and Tears, 48.

[26] Alain Badiou, Ethics trans. Peter Hallward (New York: Verso, 2001), 39.

[27] Badiou, Saint Paul, 14.

[28] Badiou, Ethics, 42.

[29] John Caputo, On Religion (New York: Routledge, 2001), 7.

[30] Badiou, Ethics, 79.

[31] Caputo, On Religion, 16.

[32] Žižek, Fragile Absolute, xxx.

[33] Badiou, Saint Paul, 19.

[34] Eagleton writes that “Jesus also consummates the law by demonstrating that the love it commands, pressed to a limit, will inevitably issue in death.” in: Eagleton, The Gospels, xxvi.

[35] Badiou writes that “Events are irreducible singularities, the ‘beyond-the-law’ of situations. Each faithful truth-process is an entirely invented immanent break with the situation.” in: Badiou, Ethics, 44.

[36] Eagleton, The Gospels, xxii.

[37] Ibid., xxix.

[38] Žižek, Parallax View, 98.

[39] John 14:12

[40] Davis, ed. Monstrosity of Christ, 101.

[41] John Caputo, The Mystical Element in Heidegger’s Thought (New York: Fordham University Press, 1986), xix.

[42] John Caputo & Michael Scanlon, ed. Augustine and Postmodernism (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2005), 41.

[43] Caputo, Prayers and Tears, 51.

[44] Eagleton, The Gospels, xix.

[45] Caputo, Prayers and Tears, 43.


One comment on “Postmodern Theology: An Outdated Survey

  1. […] An old reflection on Postmodern Theology, posted for the first […]

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