Kenosis in Althaus-Reid’s Queer God

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“It is worth thinking that the act of kenosis of God in Jesus (that self-emptiness of God’s power, amongst other divine attributes, in order to become human) needs to go beyond the God-Father in Jesus in order to become a vulnerable, unpowerful God figure. The feminist discourse on the positive theology which may surge from the vulnerability of God in Jesus needs not to be denied but transgressed…Let us consider that somehow in Jesus God loses Godself, and perhaps some elements of patriarchy go into a process of abasement giving space to a different, out-of-this (patriarchal)-order new God/man…In Liberation Theologies, it has been accepted that little can be known of God, except in what is perceived as the revelation of God in history. However, the point that has been missed is that such revelations of God in history is also a revelation made through the history of human relationships, and intimate relations” (37-8).

One of the primary moves of Queer theology is that of transgression (unsurprisingly Bataille exerts a great influence in this work). From her queering of God qua kenosis to the queer hermeneutics employed through the latter part of the book, Althaus-Reid remains resolute in her challenging the foundations of a heterosexual T-Theology (as she refers to orthodox theology throughout the book). There’s a strong focus to think an absolute transfiguration of the patriarchal Godhead into a Queer Godhead. This queer assault on the Godhead should remind my readers of Altizer’s apocalyptic theology that traces the absolute transformation of the Godhead from a No-saying Alien God to a fully incarnate, immanent Yes-saying God (recall Joyce’s Here Comes Everybody). At the end of this passage we begin to understand a major emphasis of this book, namely that knowledge of God’s revelation also arises through the queerness and messiness of human bodily interactions.

“Some gender-based theologies fall especially into that trap: they end reconciling themselves with androcentrism by getting reabsorbed into the system via heterosexual ideas of equality…It is not enough to open, for instance, a theological reflection on masturbation, using masturbation as the motive of an ecclesiastical or eschatological concern (are masturbators going to be amongst the elect?), but rather to think that Christian eschatology from an epistemology derived from masturbation. That would be part of the project of reflecting on the production of God, not just God’s edibility as in the case of a theology done only for consumption purposes” (51).

Again one can see Althaus-Reid’s emphasis on transgression in this passage. A queer theology is not simply a call for recognition ‘there is no gay or straight in Christ Jesus’ but rather an attempt to question the very method through which traditional theology is done. Another example of this method is evident in her queering of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Many liberal theologians like to point out that the sin of the Sodomites was the lack of hospitality they extended to Lot’s angelic visitors. Althaus-Reid doesn’t believe this goes far enough for a proper queering of the text. Althaus-Reid accuses the messengers of God of being inhospitable for policing sexuality of the Other and accuses Lot’s God of being inhospitable and intolerant of the Other’s sexual ethic.

“What is as the stake here is not just God devolving itself in Christ but in the Trinity, and in the Trinity understood as an orgy, that is, a festival of the encounter of the intemperate in two key elements. The first is the theological presupposition of God as an immoderate, polyamorous God, whose self is composed in relation to multiple embraces and sexual indefinitions beyond oneness, and beyond dual models of loving relationships. The second is the commitment of an omnisexual kenosis to destabilise sexual constructions of heterosexual readings of heterosexuality itself, bisexuality, gay and lesbian sexual identities and transvestite identities. The kenosis of omnisexuality in god is a truly genderfucking process worth of being explored” (57).

The kenosis and queering of God are necessary from Althaus-Reid’s perspective if theology is to escape the narrow confines of a sexist theology. God thought outside of the restrictions of a mono-loving economy can truly open up a Godhead that can open itself to a good old-fashioned genderfucking process.

“That is to say, the Trinitarian formula expresses the material reality of the intimate reunion where God is not expected to coincide with Godself. In a time when theology has become preoccupied with issues of diversity and plurality in its discourse, as opposed to the more essentialist assumptions about the so called ‘nature’ of humanity…One can briefly mention here the Feminist theological project in its original enquiry into Christ’s masculinity, the quest for the Black Christ, the Gay Christ and more recently the reflections done by theologians seeking the face of a post-colonial Christ. However, although the theological subject has been and still is queried and rightly destabilised from a prefixed Christian horizon, there have been few if any theological attempts to destabilise God, that is the other partner of the theological dialogical process” (54).

I think this quote captures the boldness of Althaus-Reid’s theological project. While other liberation theologies have contented themselves with contextualizing Christ, none have had the courage to try and rethink the queering of God the Father. Unfortunately, I believe this text suffers from some particular problems. First off, the arguments themselves are often obscure and difficult to follow. She’ll mention Deleuze or Bataille in passing without properly explaining her appropriation of their thought. Even though I’ve studied a good amount of Deleuze I still found myself lost in this dense book. Secondly, unlike her earlier book Indecent Theology which was full of life and humor, this text seemed strangely divorced from life and at times clumsy. The theological vision of this book is to be commended, but the execution was at some points poor.

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