Christ Carrying the Cross

Christ Carrying the Cross

Monday, 9 January 2012

Super Heroes in 20th Century German Protestantism

Because I have far too much free time on my hands and access to MS Paint:

- Rudolf "Superman" Bultmann
- Wolfhart "Hawkgirl" Pannenberg
- Dietrich "The Flash" Bonhoeffer
- Jürgen “Batman” Moltmann
- Paul "Green Lantern" Tillich
- Karl "Wonder Woman" Barth

Omnipotence and the Light at the End of the Tunnel

There has recently been a conversation going on over at Rachel Held Evans's blog, where a guest post by Homebrewed Christianity's Tripp Fuller and Bo Sanders on process theology has provoked some interesting discussion about the relative power of God and whether or not God's victory in the end is a done deal (there is a follow-up post on Homebrewed Christianity here).  Where I would come in on this debate is as a person with a lot of sympathy for process theology, and in agreement with Tripp and Bo about omnipotence.

For God to be omnipotent--that is, to have unlimited power--is not only conceptually problematic but also, in my opinion, morally compromised.  Any God that could literally do anything, as an omnipotent one could, would be indirectly guilty of every act of violence ever to take place in this or any other universe.  Because that God could have stopped or diverted these actions but chose not to, that God would no longer have any real claim to being "good" or "loving."  Even the voluntarily self-limiting God of some Open Theistic, Social Trinitarian, and other progressive theologies would not be blameless in this framework.

None of that was actually the reason I wanted to write this post, however.  I'm more interested in the issue of God's foreknowledge and the certainty of eschatological victory.  In orthodox process thought, because the future is radically open and unknown, there is no guarantee that God will "win" and that evil will be completely defeated.  This bumps up against the eschatological certainty of most traditional theologies (even in Open Theism victory is guaranteed, God just doesn't know all the details leading up to it).

What I want to know is--and I might be alone on this, I don't know--why is the certainty of God's cosmic victory so absolutely necessary for most Christians?  I get that they don't want evil to have the last word, but it seems as if people are afraid to get on board with the program unless they know the end result in advance.  In my view, that allows for no real mystery, no real sacrifice, no real love, no real hope, and no real faith.  As John Caputo is fond of pointing out, the Pauline "hope against hope" can be a radically deconstructive move to act with hope in the most hopeless situation.  In fact, in Caputo's reading, it is only really hope when the situation is hopeless.  It just seems disingenuous for us as Christians to only join the team when the final score has already been dictated.

Forgive my grumpiness (and my binaries), brothers and sisters, but in eschatological certainty I only see a paradoxically idealistic strain of cynicism.  Also forgive my disorganization; I may revisit this with more fully formulated thoughts (and humility) in the near future.

Monday, 2 January 2012

The "little other" and the Sublimity of the Event

God is patient, God is kind.  God does not envy, God is not proud.  God does not dishonour others, God is not self-seeking, God is not easily angered, God keeps no record of wrongs.  God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth,  God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 
- a variation on First Epistle to the Corinthians 13: 4-7 
Over these Christmas holidays I have had the honour of reading John D. Caputo's What Would Jesus Deconstruct? and Peter Rollins's Insurrection, both of which place God far beyond the metaphysics of traditional Western theism.  Both books are wonderful, engaging reads, and both are incredibly troubling for the average layperson.  One need look no further for evidence of this than Creston Davis's 'glowing' description of the latter author: "Peter Rollins is the Anti-Christ for all fake Christians."

For the postmodern Christianity that Caputo and Rollins espouse is no intellectual affirmation of a set of historical or metaphysical principles, but a call to the radical life of love beyond the death of the self.  Rollins in particular is interested in doing away with what Žižek would call God as the "Big Other."  If we can no longer affirm the wholly Other Being who lives in the sky and justifies and gives inherent meaning to our existence, the natural first reaction is one of anxiety and despair; and believe me I have felt both recently.  Some have worried that Rollins gives us nothing more than God as a psychological process or reality, one that no longer has any sense of the Other that made the apophaticism of his early work so fascinating.

If for Rollins Lacan has seemingly overtaken Eckhart, I believe we still need to situate his project in terms of the larger postmodern Christianity.  This inevitably means bringing Caputo into the mix.  Nobody has been more influential in terms of putting religion and deconstruction into conversation; he was making this connection before Derrida himself took an explicitly theological turn towards the end of his career.  As Caputo states in What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, deconstruction is always pointing towards a future justice, that which is "to come"--the Event that is on the horizon but never fully in the present, lest we become complacent.  In both the thought of Caputo and Rollins, God is always an Event, a material actualization of the unconditional claim.  In this way God can indeed be seen, experienced, and indeed loved, but because the Event is always necessarily just beyond our grasp, calling us towards itself, it maintains its mystery and otherness.

Perhaps the Big Other is dead, and we cannot go back to Him without disassociating ourselves from modern philosophy and culture in a most egregious and painful manner.  That's fine, I think; God is too important to leave to questions of existence or being.  If we are to take the notion that "God is love" as important to theology, then I believe we still have the possibility to affirm that God on the horizon, the love that calls us ever further into the world.  We can still affirm the "little other," not the God who manipulates, but the one who seems distant but is manifest when we love our neighbours and enemies anyway.  The self-emptying God identifies Godself with the widow and the orphan, so it only makes sense that they should now be glorified and loved and seated in the abdicated throne of the Other.  As love has "no pride," nor should there be any in God, who always steps back to shine a light on the beauty in the broken other. 

Of late I have become ambivalent, borderline agnostic about the existence of the supreme being God.  However, let me always remain faithful to Christ and God the little other.