There must be a great sort of dissonance when you are convinced of some inner reality when others believe the exact opposite of you. Imagine being Jesus: maybe he was born with the knowledge of or experience of his own divinity (as coupled with his humanity), maybe he grew to discover it. But I suppose that neither of those axioms would really matter to you, oh Jesus.
You grow up, proclaiming things like “The Father and I are One” and insinuating that you–yes you!–are the divine one. You are the transcendent one. You–who was born of a woman, healed on the Sabbath, forgave sins, touched the unclean, cast out demons, and was crucified–are the one that the prophets spoke of???? And yet the tradition contradicts all these things! How dare you forgive someone’s sins! Touching the unclean? Go perform a cleansing ritual!! Atone for your sin of violating the Sabbath! Even the Muslims know that the Messiah of Israel cannot be crucified!! You blasphemer! Repent of your sin immediately! How dare you claim to transcend our clearly demarcated boundaries!!!!
Now imagine you are a trans woman. Maybe you were born having known or experienced your gender differently than people treated you; maybe you grew to discover it–5 years into life…14 years….21 years….50 years….80 years…. But, again, I suppose that these axioms might not matter all too much to you, oh Queer One.
You grow up and begin proclaiming things like “I am not a boy!!!” or insinuating that you–yes you!–are among those who cannot concede the gender everyone else imposes on them. You are the transcendent one. You–who was born with a specific set of genitalia, played sports, dressed in typical boyish garb, responding to your male name and male pronouns–are the one the tradition warns about. “God created them male and female!” they press. “A woman must not wear men’s clothing,” they insist, “nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this.” So you figure, “hey, maybe I’ll start wearing women’s clothes then!” Your wit does not woo the nay-sayers of life. Do not repent. You need not cleanse yourself. Christ has not atoned for you, for you have not sinned in gender. What nonsense!
Suppose that we were once wrong about Christ–we denied him. Suppose we were wrong about trans people–we denied them as well. And look what happened.
Thank you for transcending boundaries with me.
For most people who have read any of Nietzsche’s work, it seems that they interpret him as a quintessential cynic or misanthrope. And this is a completely understandable interpretation, especially if one reads anything regarding the “Will to Power” or his thoughts on politics. Nietzsche seems to think that people are only concerned with themselves and the weak are meant to be trampled on. Or we can just look at the chapter titles of Ecce Homo for quite a profound example of his own engagement with cynicism.
In all honesty, I’m not confident in my understanding of parts of Nietzsche’s (non-)philosophy, so I won’t speak at length on them, but I think there is something to be said about the intersection between his and bell hooks’ thoughts. The notable connection is in the following two quotes:
To talk much about oneself may also be a means of concealing oneself. 
Ultimately, cynicism is the great mask of the disappointed and betrayed heart. 
In both quotes there is the element of hiding something. I’m not sure if Nietzsche would identify with the label “cynic” but even if not, the specter of cynicism maybe still be there for a reason. If we are following bell hooks, Nietzsche’s cynical attitude is really an attempt to distract the reader (and probably himself) from his own pain and disappointment in life.
Might there be a part of Nietzsche which he tries to suppress? Which is a simmering hope and faith in humanity that is crushed by utter indifference? Indeed, he writes:
You desire to live ‘according to Nature?’ Oh , you noble Stoics, what fraud of words! Imagine to yourselves a being like Nature, boundlessly extravagant, boundlessly indifferent, without purpose or consideration, without pity or justice, at once fruitful and barren and uncertain: imagine to yourselves indifference as a power– how could you live in accordance with such indifference? To live–is not that just endeavoring to be otherwise than this Nature? Is not living valuing, preferring, being unjust, being limited, endeavoring to be different? 
At this, one might say we don’t and can’t know the real Nietzsche (probably because there is none). Regardless, I think it is reasonable to contend, whether loosely or confidently, that Nietzsche’s cynicism serves to mask his own insecurities and pains.
 Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, aphorism 169.
 bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions, xviii
 Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, aphorism 9.
“I am following the traces of a well-known rogue, a famous outlaw who was turned into the Law itself by palace theologians, even though my guess is that he would have made them blush with shame, thrown them into rage, had they met him in the flesh, in his flesh. They say his flesh was assumed by an Über-Being come down to earth for a bit of heavenly business on earth, but I can imagine what they would have called him had they met him in the flesh—a ‘homosexual,’ out to destroy ‘family values,’ a flag-burner, a libertine, a ‘socialist,’ out to raise our taxes—in short, a ‘curse and an affliction upon the church.’ So I gladly take my stand with the outlaw and ask what theology would look like were it written by the outlaws, the outliers, the out of power, the troublemakers, the poor, the rogues.”
—John D. Caputo—
Theology has a dirty, dirty history, and no, it is not simply “justified by the blood of Jesus” in such a manner that we can just brush it off. Here, I am not only talking about the Crusades or the Holocaust; in addition, I am speaking of every instance of violence that the privileged nature of orthodoxy has inspired—Emperor Constantine’s mobilization of an army against the Donatists, Nicholas of Myra’s assault on Arius (despite his subsequent deposition, an action which the orthodox later justified), the massive killings between Protestants and Catholics circa the Reformation, the parental abandonment of LGBTQIA kids and teens in America, and some Protestant tendencies to equate “the Gospel” to heresy-hunting.
In lieu of expounding ad infinitum upon these instances of violence and neglect, I think there is a more fundamental problem that has gone unnoticed except by thinkers like Friedrich Nietzsche who articulated the problem in writing “God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How can we console ourselves, the murderers of all murderers!” But, contrary to mainstream understanding, this problem is not one of theism, exclusively; rather, it is a problem of privileged metaphysical claims, which even atheists can make in their polemics. Read the rest of this entry
A Few weeks ago I was introduced to a fascinating documentary, directed by and starring Vikram Gandhi, entitled Kumaré. Adopting the persona Sri Kumaré (and appropriately thick accent), Gandhi modeled himself upon the plethora of Yogis he had discovered while filming a documentary of their lives, philosophies, and followers. Simply, Gandhi was convinced that there was something artificial to these Gurus, something that could be imitated to the same success by himself, with no formal training. Gandhi hoped that, by attaining a small group of loyal followers, leading them through a set of contrived practices, chants, and meditations, and finally revealing himself as a “false prophet,” he could reveal that the truth that they were seeking wasn’t to be found in any Guru or Yogi, but rather, that this truth was, in some sense, within themselves. [Read more]
Setting aside the (perhaps questionable) individualistic bent of the documentary, I was struck by the beauty of the film, the authenticity of the relationships, and the depth of the spirituality among Kumaré’s followers and Kumaré himself. I also could not help but wonder if there was not a more profound and unexplored theological depth underlying the film in general, but perhaps more specifically, the climactic “unveiling” scene (where Kumaré reveals himself as an American from Brooklyn, rather than an Eastern Guru). I wonder if this unveiling scene might perhaps offer a glimpse into the theological fecundity of Death of God theology.
In the early 1960’s, a theological movement, Death of God theology, emerged on the american scene with unprecedented speed and vigor, only to fall out of academic favor with nearly the same speed; “falling” so far that Adam Kotsko describes Thomas Altizer, one of the prime catalysts of this movement, as “the third rail of academic theology.” This movement, drawing upon the insights of Christian Mysticism, the dialectic of Hegel, and the atheism of Nietzsche, sought to articulate a theology built upon the primary intuition that “God is Dead.” While the precise understanding of what is meant by this “death of God” has been heavily debated–ranging from the metaphorical, through the performative, all the way to a quite literal understanding (of which Altizer appears to be a case)–there remains a consistent sense among Death of God theologians that, to a great extent, we are “on our own.” We can no longer rely upon a theological Big Other to guide our actions, declare right from wrong, and provide the Archimedean point of theological and philosophical reasoning.
Is it possible that the experience of the Death of God, the death of the Big Other, is precisely what Gandhi sought to offer his students at the momentous unveiling of his “true identity” at the conclusion of Kumaré?
For Gandhi, the essence of his teaching, both as Kumaré and at a meta-level through the unveiling, was “asking questions, breaking down icons and idols, and destroying the illusions our society is built on,” and presenting these deconstructive gestures as “highly ‘spiritual’ acts.” This reorientation of deconstruction as a spiritual act, perhaps even as the spiritual act par excellence, is precisely the motivation that underlies the reemergence of Radical (Death of God) theology in contemporary discourse. Caputo, Rollins, Zizek, Marion–these thinkers of the death of God, of the God who is not, who is “beyond being,” are not seeking to end religion, spirituality, or theology, but on the contrary, to revitalize it. Like Gandhi, they desire to break down the “idols” of thought. It is not coincidental that Marion’s God Without Being opens with a sustained treatment of the phenomenology of the idol. Anyone who wishes to follow the movement of the death of God, must first walk the path the includes a decisively critical/deconstructive gesture. The radical theologian, or any religious person who wishes to follow this path, must face the authentic trauma of the death of the idol, whether this idol be a clear conception of the “greatest possible being,” the moral big Other who guides moral reasoning, or the unveiling of the spiritual Guru as a mere brooklynite.
Of course, such a path has its risks. As Kumaré illustrates, anytime that one challenges these idols, idols that may be fundamentally orienting in ones life, there is a chance that this trauma will be unbearable. There are those who simply refused to speak to Gandhi after the unveiling, who stormed out of the room and never returned his calls. But there were also those who understood, who felt the freedom of his message, who recognized that there was no other way that his teachings could have concluded. And this is the risk of the the Death of God–it can be freeing, opening, empowering, and it can be devastating and destructive. This freedom, as Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra so beautifully illustrates, can inspire terror as easily as dancing. When one gazes into the abyss of the Death of God, or the Death of Kumaré, one does not know what one will find.