I’m making this into a new blog category. This will be for all those books that I don’t make it all the way through for whatever reason that might be. In all things, we must admit our success AND our failures, and that includes reading, even if I don’t care to admit when a book either bested me or bored me.
To be clear, I made it through the entire first part of The Weakness of God, but only with painstaking determination, and only to have that end abruptly with major disinterest. So here we go:
Reasons Why I Shelved The Weakness of God by John Caputo.
1. Lost interest. Caputo started out VERY strong in his introduction, talking about God as a weak force that operates through weak actions such as love, forgiveness, and crucifixion. I couldn’t stop talking about the awesome stuff I was reading! It was like that through the whole first chapter and well into the second! His references to Catherine Keller’s Face of the Deep spawned in me a new interest in theopoetics.
What happened next is hard to describe. It’s as if he switched from theopoetics to contentinal philosophy jargon, the kind of language reserved for those in the ivory tower of the academy, and even the stuff I did understand (we’ll get there in a minute) just rang hollow. It was like he went, “I will be revolutionary and make claims about the non-existence of the omnipotent God and how it’s a representation of a hierarchical oppressive structure because we’re all just setting up our own idols in God! God is really this weak force that operates in subtle ways! And…that’s it.” The next six chapters completely lost me in a sea of deconstruction-related vocabulary and concepts. Which leads me to my next reason…
2. I don’t know nearly enough about continental philosophy to understand where he’s coming from. I’ve never read Zizek, I don’t know who the hell Husserl is, and Derrida was over my head when I last attempted to read him. It doesn’t help that many continental philosophers are notorious for using extremely confusing language when they write, to the point where you wonder if they made an argument to begin with. Now, Caputo isn’t like this, but he writes as someone who actually understands deconstruction (he was good friends with Derrida), and for all my efforts in understanding him as he articulated this weak theology, there were too many references outside the scope of my previous studies to fully grasp what he meant. Part of reading books involves establishing the vocabulary that an author uses, but when he keeps referencing différance, a term Derrida frequently used whose meaning is up for debate, it makes that establishment impossible.
Now, I know what deconstruction is, and it’s purpose is more or less to blow up preconceived notions someone might have about a concept or structure in order to display the inherent biases and prejudices that exist within that structure. I like deconstruction to an extent, but it’s not exactly a tool you want to use all willy-nilly, in my opinion (not that that’s what Caputo does).
3. He won’t do metaphysics. For those who don’t know, metaphysics is the branch of philosophy through which we articulate characteristics of reality. We do this all the time, especially with concepts like god. We assign god a gender, we call god all-powerful, benevolent, all knowing, etc. This is metaphysis. Much of ours (classical Christianity) is rooted in the thinking of the Greeks, particularly Aristotle and Plato.
For Caputo, however, trying to articulate any of the characteristics of god only creates problems (problem of evil, for example), so he just dispenses with them entirely. My issue here is that he acts like this fixes the problem; to me, however, it seems more like he avoided it. Now, it does at least serve his goal of working to eliminate certainty about god (something I can get behind), but if pressed for deeper answers, refusing to speaking in terms of metaphysics (something literally no other academic field is doing, isn’t going to make the problem go away.
Now, will I come back to The Weakness of God? Probably, but not until well into the future, or at least until I’ve read a primer or two on postmodernism and continental philosophy. If you don’t know much about these subjects (or about some of the aforementioned authors) dialogue with Caputo is going to be very, very difficult. It’s certainly still worth checking out and working through, though!