Disclaimer: The following are the notes of a workshop I ran as part of a series on the relationship/interplay between Deconstruction and Christianity for my work with the Chaplaincy at Mac Uni. This was the opening session, introducing a number of the concepts and exploring faith, hope, and love as "unconditional" (undeconstructable) compared to their "conditioned" (constructed) counterparts belief, expectation, reciprocity. Because the notes were originally for me, and I was intending to expand from them they lack some illustrations, a certain polish, and direct references - safe to say Caputo's Hoping Against Hope, The Folly of God, and this interview hover just out of sight, influencing the whole. So please excuse the roughness and the liberties.
You might ask, why share them then... well, for one, some people couldn't make it so this is for them, two, those present seemed to enjoy the session and take a lot from it, so I thought they might be helpful and interesting for others, three, I always need content.
Faith, Hope, & Love - Characteristic Postmodern virtues
Activity: How would you define – Faith? Hope? Love?
What are some synonyms you would use to further flesh out these terms?
Activity: Tell us a love story (or a story of faith or hope) – fictional, personal, historical, something else.
Postmodernism could be most succinctly put as incredulity toward meta-narratives. That is, a suspicion of systems/narratives that encapsulate and define the past, present, future of the world and all its peoples. Often people think of postmodernism as a belief that there is no absolute truth (and thus people want to dismiss it for its hypocritical nature) however what it is trying to get at is that no knowledge simply drops from the sky – everything is interpretation (we are shaped by our location, limited by language, influenced by hopes/fears, etc). Because of the baggage, a more helpful (and more accurate) term would be poststructuralism (postmodernism being, as Jack Caputo remarked, the term you use when you want to draw a crowd). Postructuralism (and its compatriot deconstruction) follows the initial work of postmodernism on knowledge and extends it to structures. No structure falls from the sky, all structures (like physical structures) are built; they are constructed (and therefore can be deconstructed). Structures come into being in order to give teeth to ideas, to unconditional, undeconstructable ideas – for instance, to take a Derridean example: the law is a structure (with its statutes, courts, police) which seeks to bring into being, into actuality, into action, the idea of justice – no law is in and of itself justice (because of interpretation) instead they do their level best, but must always be haunted by the idea of justice, and be open to deconstruction (even destruction) if they lose their way. An example that is closer to home for most of us is the church. God is unconditional, undeconstructable – which is why love (for God is love) is also undeconstructable – we can say the same for the other characteristics we’ve discussed, hope, faith, (other characteristics of Christianity, such as forgiveness and hospitality, can be, but we’ll return to that). Those are the undeconstructable elements of what we’re doing – God, faith, hope, love. On the other end, the conditional, constructible end is the church, the beliefs of the church, the practices of the church – which is not to say that they are bad (we need the conditional), but it is to say that they are questionable, deconstructable (the church in its present form – any form – did not drop from heaven). These conditional, constructed elements are important – the church keeps alive the stories and traditions that contain but do not control (that is to say control fully) God. Beliefs give words to faith, hope, and love – as practices give these concepts hands and feet in the world (they give us ways to love our neighbour so that the neighbour actually gets loved). The unconditional needs the conditioned. The undeconstructable needs the construct. But we must not confuse the two, the Bible contains something of the living God (that most tremendous mystery) but it is not God – ergo it is like all other constructed things, inescapably tied to interpretation, to locality, a prisoner of language – God is glimpsed, not held by the Bible. This extends out through all we have been speaking about.
Activity: Look at the unconditional elements and their conditional counterparts – how do they differ? How does the latter help the former? How does the former haunt the latter? In what ways might we get them confused? Does any of this change anything? How?
Let’s zero in on Hope for a little. John Caputo, who is the man to go to when you want to look at the relationship between deconstruction and Christianity (he wrote the book on it, What Would Jesus Deconstruct?), said that hope is the characteristic postmodern virtue. This hope he distinguishes as a hope in what we cannot see coming, a hope without a metaphysical grounding, and a hope in the face of technological destruction (it is difficult to speak of hope in the face of potential atomic annihilation, environmental annihilation, or the fact that some day the sun will explode and there will be no thing left, not even the iCloud). The reason hope sits well with deconstruction is if we accept that both, essentially spin on the same top – the affirmation of the possibility of the impossible. Deconstruction is a fools errand, holding out for the chance of the coming of the unconditional, for a moment of pure justice, or love, or hospitality – believing that perhaps there may be connection (a vend diagram overlap) between the unconditional and the conditioned structures seeking to bring it into being (knowing that it is highly unlikely, perhaps impossible) but hoping, praying, trying nonetheless. Hope, Scripture tells us, is hope in things unseen (and faith is in that hope of the unseen) – it is unseen, unknown (and we might argue unseeable and unknowable), there is a chance that it is all for naught, that it is impossible, that the possibility of the impossible will not be… hope is truly only hope when there is a chance that the situation is hopeless. I might hope (in fact I do) that the gross inequality of modern global capitalism which sees the same amount of wealth in the hands of 62 people as in a half of the world’s population will someday be put to right. I hope that we will see a fairer distribution of wealth, the end of extreme poverty, and economic justice for all. That is a hope I hold, but that hope might be dashed, it might not be realised – that is why it is hope and not expectation, I’m hoping in a possibility… and I believe that this is the kind of hope that we as Christians are called to have – this is a truer, purer hope, and one which is more faithful to the placement of our hope, namely the unconditional name of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ.
Activity: What do you hope for/in? Would this fit under the category of hope as defined here? What does it mean to hope in Jesus? How might this affect what it means to have faith in Jesus?
Deconstruction is a reaction to the forces of modernity, the style of thought has been a little too cozily adopted by much of Christianity. Modernity dared us to think, all well and good; postmodernity is daring us to hope… a tougher bargain (especially with all that we know of this world and its economic, social, and ecological crises). Modernity, whether theist or atheist clung to grand narratives (metanarratives), systems seeking to explain the whole thing – universal history all hanging on Marxism, or Evolutionary Biology, or Calvinism, or Global free-market capitalism. This is a world based on reason (the triumph of reason) and the grand march of progress – well, reason was synonymous with European values and that procession of progress was tied to colonization, patriarchy, and atomic bombs, so forgive my incredulity. But the Church is a product of its times, and so it bought into this modernist game – it tried to make the faith reasonable – a series of simple propositions which one could tick off and get your hand stamped, it tried to make the faith justifiable, and so we have been subjected to decades of theist/atheist debates. But Christianity is foolishness to those who want wisdom, and a stumbling block to those who want signs – it trades in softer forces than reason – forces of enemy love, of inviting strangers to dinner, forgiving debts and sharing possessions, of the lilies of the field and daily bread.
This is why deconstruction is a gift to the church and tool of the faithful. It says hope. Hope once again. Lay aside the way of conventional wisdom and embrace the folly of the cross. Affirm the possibility of the impossible, affirm that we can actually give a gift, that you might be able to love the unlovable, that faith doesn’t need certainty, that hospitality doesn’t need rules. Deconstruction is therefore not so different from the Jewish prophets of old. Reminding us that God is tired of our dogma and wants our hearts – the unconditional calls for us to act, it needs our embodiment for the work to be done, it needs us to enact the hope, to act in love, to cry out for justice, to open our doors. It urges us to banish such conditioned modernist precepts as belief, expectation, and reciprocity and seek again the unconditional faith, hope and love, the undeconstructable faith, hope, and love, the Christian faith, hope, and love.
A faith in the non-guaranteed impossible
A hope in the face of hopelessness
A love of the unlovable
Activity: How does Christianity set itself apart from the ‘reason’ of modernity and the ‘economics’ of modern capitalism?
Activity: Has your conception of faith, hope, and/or love changed at all? Can you think of stories or examples of this kind of commitment to embodying the unconditional?
Activity: Artistic/Creative reflection