Saturday, January 12, 2008

after the death of god--caputo, spectral hermenuetics

Having read and commented on Vattimo's essay, I move on to Caputo's. And to do so, I want to begin with a quote from Chesterton, from Orthodoxy.

Most of the machinery of modern language is labour-saving machinery; and it saves mental labour very much more than it ought. Scientific phrases are used like scientific wheels and piston-rods to make swifter and smoother yet the path of the comfortable. Long words go rattling by us like long railway trains. We know they are carrying thousands who are too tired or too indolent to walk and think for themselves. It is a good exercise to try for once in a way to express any opinion one holds in words of one syllable. If you say "The social utility of the indeterminate sentence is recognized by all criminologists as a part of our sociological evolution towards a more humane and scientific view of punishment," you can go on talking like that for hours with hardly a movement of the gray matter inside your skull. But if you begin "I wish Jones to go to gaol and Brown to say when Jones shall come out," you will discover, with a thrill of horror, that you are obliged to think. The long words are not the hard words, it is the short words that are hard. There is much more metaphysical subtlety in the word "damn" than in the word "degeneration."

For all that I disagree, and rather vehemently, with Vattimo, in my comments about what he wrote, I still have to credit him for writing rather plainly. I must, because with Caputo's essay, we enter a realm of words used in an almost meaningless way.

Caputo begins be trying to describe what he calls "events". Of course, how most people use that word is not what Caputo means by the word. Here is his definition, on p. 47.

An event is not precisely what happens, which is what the word suggests in English, but something going on in what is happening, something that is being expressed or realized or given shape in what happens; it is not something present, but something seeking to make itself felt in what is present.

Caputo says a lot about events, both from what I guess are his own thoughts and from the writings of a few other people, but the above is good summation. I don't think it would be inaccurate to say that an event as Caputo uses the word is really a non-event as most of the English-speaking world uses the word.

Is that a fair summation on my part? I think it is, yes. Caputo cannot even say for certain if these 'events' actually are, and even seems to say they are not and will never be. From p. 55.

The event is always already ahead of us, always provoking and soliciting us, eternally luring us on with its promise. The truth of the event is its promise to come true. Events make promises that are never kept by any actual occasion.

So, while 'events' are not only nonevents, their truths are lies, and they never keep a promise.

(And at the moment, I have the few lines I remember from Chagall Guevara's song "I'm living in Escher's World" running through my head)

Ok, what does this have to do with religion and God? From p. 50.

We might even say, to put all this a bold and simple stroke, that in postmodern theology what happens to us is God, which is why we call it postmodern theology. Or, to couch it in slightly more cautious terms, in postmodern theology what happens to us is the event that is harbored in the name of God...

And from p. 53.

In the Scriptures the covenant is a promise or a covenant cut by God--that is why I speak unabashedly of theology--where the name of God is the name of an event, of something that stirs within the name, something I know not what, some sacred spark or fire.

Ok, let's see. 'Events' are nonevents which may not even be real and lie and don't keep promises, and now the name of God is the name of an 'event', so that must mean that God is an 'event'.

(In case you haven't noticed, I'm doing what Chesterton suggested, and trying to put Caputo's ideas into words of one syllable, or to modify it a bit, to use words that are common and easily understandable. So, whiles "promises" is a three-syllable word, I figure it's a common enough word so that it will not take away from the baldness and boldness of the statements)

Ok, what does this do to God, or at least Caputo's idea of God? Here is something from p. 57, about prayer but it also states some things about his 'god'.

Prayer is not a transaction or interaction with some hyperbeing in the sky, a communication with some ultrareality behind the scenes, the invocation or appeasement of a magical power of supernatural intervention from on high.

And on p. 58.

I would put the same idea by saying that our desire is for the Messiah who never shows up, which is what keeps desire going.

And on p. 65, in a statement of unusual bluntness for him.

God is not a cosmic force, a worldly power, a physical or metaphysical energy or power source that supplies energy to the world, who designs it, starts it up and keeps it going, and who occasionally intervenes here and there with strategic course corrections, a tsunami averted here, a cancerous tumor there, a bloody war quieted over there.

So, to do a Chestertonian "in other words", his god is not all of the things the Bible says God is. When we pray to his god, we pray to a nothing. We long for a Messiah who will not come, even though the Bible promised He would come and He has come and will come again. His god does nothing in the world, does not work miracles, did not create and does not keep, and does not love us or care for us

And what about Jesus? From p. 66.

I ask, what is happening on the Cross? What is happening to us? What events pulsate through that unforgettable scene? It is a mystification to think that there is some celstial transaction going on here, some settling of accounts between the divinity and humanity, as if this death is the amortization of a debt of long standing and staggering dimensions. If anything, no debt is lifted from us in this scene but a responsibility imposed on us... The crucified body of Jesus is a site--one among many-- of divine eventiveness...and we are to make ourselves worthy of this event.

From p. 63

Jesus was crucified, not freely, but against his will, against the will of everything that is good and just, human or divine...The radical uprooting of the heresy of Docetism dmeands that we locate the divinity of this scene of misery and defeat, the sacredness of its memory, not in some hidden power play or long-term investment in a divine economy of salvation.

So, Jesus did not lay down His life, it was taken from Him, making His words about laying down His life only more lies. Jesus' death was not a sacrifice for sins, is not the way in which we may be made right with God. We are still in our sins, and if anything we now have more of a burden put on us, because we must work to make ourselves worthy of an 'event'.

This is getting long, and some things I've already written about a few weeks ago, concerning his ideas of the God being weak and without power. I'll not comment on his cheap and stupid shots on the US, except to say that they are there.

His ideas remind me of a Bible verse, which gives a list of things indicative of how things will be "in the last days". Among them will be people who will "have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof".

And the next words are an injunction to believers in regards to such people, "From such turn away".

No comments: