Showing posts with label derrida. Show all posts
Showing posts with label derrida. Show all posts

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Kingdom of God: Ever Coming Never Arriving?

Tony J got me thinking. He got me thinking about God's kingdom, and the way in which Derrida and Caputo represent it as a perpetual deferral. Tony finds the D&C conception alluring and attractive. I suspect many in the emerging movement do. I myself don't find it appealing. I want to know what others think. And I want to wonder aloud about whether it might not actually be something else that Tony, et. al. find appealing in the D&C model, something that they misidentify as the doctrine of eternal deferral.

I make no pretense at all to being a Derrida scholar. So, I am open to correction in what I'm about to say, and I would invite others more knowledgeable than I to weigh in here and to offer correction where correction is needed. Let me lay out what I understand to be the gist of the D&C model of the impossibility and undeconstructibility of the kingdom, and say why, as a Christian, I think we ought to reject it.

As I understand it, the kingdom of God or Justice or The Wholly Other or Messiah is never fully present on the D&C model but always a reality yet to come, always a reality beyond, a future, a hope, an aspiration. Indeed, God is not even to be thought of as a being, an individual, but rather as an uncontainable, unconditional, undeconstructible Event that is, as some who talk about such things put it, "astir" or "harbored" in the name of "God".

Why is the kingdom eternally deferred? Because words and worldly structures are finite, contingent, particular, limited, deconstructible and thus inhospitable abodes for the Wholly Other and the un-deconstructible. At best what we are ever presented with are "traces" of the Event that is God, and these traces call us beyond and invite us into a transformed way of being in the world.

As I said, I'm certainly open to correction here as I am admittedly outside my own areas of professional expertise. But, to the extent that I've got Derrida/Caputo right, I'm inclined to think that this discarnational model of the kingdom is utterly foreign to the incarnational kingdom of Christian faith. Whereas the D&C "gospel" regards the contingent, particular and deconstructible with suspicion and as inhospitable to the Wholly Other/Messiah/Kingdom or Justice, the God of Christian faith dwells within, inhabits, incarnates himself precisely in the particular, deconstructible and contingent. And far from "traces" of God within the particular, deconstructible and contingent the gospel suggests a fullness of presence.

Moreover, while the idea of a transformative event lies at the very heart of the gospel, the Trinitarian God of Christian theism is not himself an Event, but a God-in-three-persons. Events don't have intentions, aims, loves, etc. I can't enter into a reciprocated relationship of love with an event.

What, then, might Tony and others find so appealing in the D&C idea of eternal deferral? I'd like to think that it's not so much the eternal deferral and impossibility of the kingdom that they find so attractive, as that hardly strikes me as good news. That's about as "good" as the news delivered up in Waiting for Godot. At least in the case of the latter the two main characters believe Godot is coming, though he never arrives. Not so in the D&C story where God's coming is impossible.

Perhaps what TJ and others find appealing is the perpetual deferral of understanding, the realization that no matter what we come to understand of God and of his justice it is inexhaustible; there is always more. I wonder if it's not the idea that we ought never to be satisfied or settled with a particular theology or political arrangement, for example, but always questing, always reaching and searching.

In a way, insofar as the emerging movement can be viewed as a development within evangelical protestantism, it is easier for me to see how some of Derrida's ideas are consonant with emergent sensibilities than it is for me to understand how Caputo, a Catholic, would be attracted to such discarnate, disembodied, otherworldly notions. Catholicism's emphasis on the Eucharist, a place where Christ is really present (one almost wants to say re-incarnated) would seem to more easily prevent one from flights of disembodiment than the thin "commemorative" understanding of the Eucharist in low-church protestant denominations and non-denominations.

In any case, what do you think? Have I misrepresented the D&C model? If not, do you find the notion of an eternal deferral of the kingdom appealing?