Death of God Part V

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So, I decided to save reflections on Moltmann for a later time. Today, I want to consider Mark C Taylor’s books Erring. This book, although not the first, has been definitive for radical theology. Raschke, who first introduced deconstruction to theology, once quipped that, ‘Deconstruction is the death of God put in to writing’. In Erring, Taylor synthesized his work on Kierkegaard and Hegel with Derrida. I respect Taylor’s work because he’s a virtual renaissance man. He’s published books on theology, philosophy, art, architecture, complexity theory, and economics. His most recent book After God is somewhat of an summary of his entire work. Taylor’s theological contributions stems from his relationship with Altizer. He has remained faithful while simultaneously betraying aspects of the death of God theology.

He famously coined that deconstruction is the ‘hermeneutics of the death of God’. Now, what does that mean? In Of Grammatology, Derrida works through how our perceptions of language would change if we started considering language as a form of writing as opposed to speech. Derrida notes that in the history of Western philosophy we have continually though that Logos (reason/thought) has a more intimate relationship with speech while writing is a derivative form. Because speech is so closely tied to presence of our conversation partner we fail to recognize the amount of interpretation that requires our comprehension of language. For instance, when we hold a conversation we rarely remember that the words we speak are not self-evident in and of themselves, basically when language is conceived from the perspective of speech language is effaced. What if we began understanding language from the perspective of writing? Would anything change? For one, the author is dead/absent. There is no possibility of asking for clarification from an author who’s absent. The words are on the page, and we are stuck with onerous task of interpretation. Derrida encourages us to think of language as writing because when we read we are struck with the fact that language is a collection of signifiers whose meaning is not given. These signifiers are wrapped in a complex web of other signifiers. His term differance helps us think through this relationship. Differance plays off the double meanings in French which means to both defer and differ. For structuralist linguistics, signifiers are only distinguished by how they differ from other words with similar sounds and meanings. Likewise, whenever we look up a word’s meaning in the dictionary we recognize that we never arrive at the actual meaning; rather we are sent on an infinite quest for a meaning that is always deferred. Now, when we reconsider language from the perspective of writing, we are struck with the fact that language always requires an act of interpretation. The illusion that meaning is ever secured is tied to a naïve perspective of language that results when we think of language as speech. Now, we must recognize that language itself is never secured but always open and foundationless.

So, for Taylor deconstruction is the hermeneutics of the death of God because deconstruction enables us to realize that all of our foundations are themselves insecure. Hence, God or Logos or Being or Meaning have all become destabilized. I also imagine that Taylor would view the death of God as being a historical event beginning from the Reformation through Kant and prophesied by Nietzsche. Here, people tend to confuse deconstruction as nihilism, but as Derrida’s later work indicates he had certain commitments that were ‘undeconstructible’. Now, if God is dead, what happens to man? We all know in Genesis 1 that man was made in the image of God. Taylor recognizes that the first Western autobiography was coined by St Augustine whose heart was ‘restless until we rest in you’. So if the man’s identity is in a reciprocal relationship with God, certainly the self also becomes de-centered because of its contingency on God. Here, I’m reminded of Foucault’s ruminations on the ‘death of man’ or the eclipse of humanism. Foucault states, ‘It [man] was the effect of a change in the fundamental arrangements of knowledge. As the archaeology of our thought easily show, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end’.

Lyotard’s famous definition that postmodernism is an ‘incredulity of metanarratives’ motivates Taylor’s next thesis. So, if history is the recording of the self and God’s interaction then we know that history has now come to an end. The end of history complements Lyotard’s understanding of postmodernism, which tends to be skeptical of any sort of narrative that can explain the totality of history. Whether that be Freud’s psychoanalysis, Marx’s dialectical materialism, or Hegel’s absolute spirit all of them lose their credibility to explain all facets of life. The atrocities of the 20th century have rendered any sort of teleological outlook of the world unthinkable. Finally, if the book documents history, we’re struck with the closure of the book as well. This is likewise mirrored in Barthes’ ‘death of the author’. There is no book that could properly document the progress of history; we’re always already in the flux. Nothing can elevate us out of particularity to have a ‘God’s eve view’ of the world.

This is Taylor’s a/theology. One trying to err along the way.

Note: I’d especially encourage everyone to read this who has only been introduced to Derrida via Caputo. Caputo’s defense of Derrida focuses more on his ethical/political work of the 80’s and 90’s and less on his more philosophical books of the 60’s and 70’s. Also, Caputo’s strident defense against nihlism sometimes diminishes the radicalism of Derrida’s work.

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2 Responses to “Death of God Part V”

  1. Collin Says:

    Looking forward to your thoughts on Moltmann, i’ve been working through his “Crucified God” for some time now but have yet to finish. I’ve been enjoying your refresh and overview in this ‘series’ on Death of God..

  2. Jeremy Says:

    Yeah, the Crucified God is great. I’d also recommend the Trinity and the Kingdom of God for a summary of his argument in the Crucified God and a good argument for a more Trinitarian faith.

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