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.
Too Good to be True: Radical Christian Preaching, Year A
by Christopher D. Rodkey
Christian Alternative, 217 pp., $22.95
* * *
Overall Rating: 8/10
Christopher Rodkey’s Too Good to be True finds itself precariously situated at the border between the all-to-academic discourse of philosophical theology — particularly the radical theologies of Thomas J.J. Altizer, Mary Daly, and Gabriel Vahanian — and the world of the conventional homily: a position whose precarious nature appears to be fully recognized by Rodkey. Nonetheless, the work holds together well, perhaps even to thrive under this dual strain.
Having appeared as actual sermons in his various congregations, the main texts of this anthology tend to avoid the nuanced debates internal to radical theology, as well as its often obtuse jargon. Rather, this more technical work, as well as more thorough philosophical/theological citations, are reserved for the preface, the only site where Rodkey seems to flex his academic chops. Nevertheless, the sermons themselves are far from banal, rather they tend to draw out a few key themes of radical theology, most importantly: apocalypse. This choice is profound, as radical theology is primarily known, above all else, for its theology of God. This theology of God is famously recognized by Hegel, proclaimed by Nietzsche, and reaffirmed by Altizer as “God is Dead.” Yet, one would search in vain for a theology of death in this work. Rather, while a kenotic theology of the cross remains just around the corner, Too Good to be True is primarily a theology of affirmation; affirmation of life, and more importantly, affirmation of something more. This turn to the apocalyptic possibility of the in-breaking of something radically new or radically other may smack of theological conservativism (as some reviews have suggested) — and in their defense, it was of course the conservative Neo-orthodoxy of Karl Barth which proclaimed the incommensurability of revelation with the existing world more strongly than (nearly) any other 20th century theology — but Rodkey’s work is anything but conservative. The absolute new that Rodkey gestures toward is not the eternal paradise of evangelicalism or fundamentalism, but an immanent apocalypse. For Rodkey, and this is no clearer than in his reflections on the season of Advent, the Christian message, the message that is “too good to be true,” is that a new social-political-economic-religious order is possible. Nevertheless, in defense of the aforementioned reviewers, it is worth noting that Rodkey’s ambiguous terminology may often be read as either “traditional” or “radical” depending upon what underlying theological structure is suspected. Radical Christians, well versed in the uncompromising rhetoric of a Nietzsche or an Altizer may find claims — such as “the resurrection is too good to be true, and it’s too good to be false” (119) — to be mere repetition of a conservative agnostic-cum-fideistic logic. But it is important to situate Rodkey’s work within its appropriate context: where such theological motifs as the resurrection are employed theo-poetically, rather than naively or “literally.”
The forward by Peter Rollins and afterward by Thomas Altizer leave something to be desired. Both texts are disappointingly short and tend to rely heavily upon their respective author’s strengths (as interestign as those strengths may be), missing out on the opportunity to more fully or directly engage with Rodkey’s project (though Rollins does a better job in this regard than Altizer).
Overall, this text offers hope and inspiration to the radical theologian who finds herself within an often alien church, but who hasn’t given up hope on a new kind of Christianity. In particular, because of its avoidance of terminology specific to radical theology, this text may, most of all, benefit radical Christians working within traditional — even conservative — churches and denominations, who are seeking the types of speech that might permit them to speak a radical Christian message in a language that is comprehensible to their congregation or peers.
Text: John 20:1-18
“The reality is that we don’t know exactly what historically happened on that first Easter Sunday morning, and if we do take a historical position we just create an argument. The Good News of this Easter is that we have a third option away from the argument about whether the resurrection happened or not as a fact: namely, this third option is the position of the women who encounter Christ in the garden, where the resurrection is too good to be true, and it’s too good to be false. The return of Jesus enacts in us a call to step away from the downward spiral of our typical lives, and of our sufferings, and of our angers, and our mournings, and our injustices, and in this suffering, find new life and New Creation. When it’s too good to be true, the absurdity of the resurrection calls us to joy. When it’s too good to be true, we are led from our ordinary lives to something extra-ordinary.”
— Christopher Rodkey, Too Good to be True: Radical Christian Preaching
Text: John 18:1-19:42
The true “nature” of man [sic] appears in Hegel, at the twilight of history, when man consents to his salvation and recognizes all the consequences this entails. It is most certainly Hegel’s doctrine of salvation–of a reconciliation, whose entire reality can be manifested in the world on this side of death–that accounts for the discreteness of his eschatology. Man’s final self-identity is not the product of forces immanent in history, but is finite spirit objectively reconciled with absolute Spirit on the Cross of Christ.
-Jean-Yves Lacoste, “Hegel and the Eschaton This Side of Death” in Experience and the Absolute: Disputed Questions on the Humanity of Man, 121
Text: Matthew 26.14-27.66
By following the way of the radical Christian, we can rejoice in the death of God, and be assured that the historical realization of the death of God is a full unfolding of the forward movement of the Incarnation. Just as the Crucifixion embodies and makes finally real a divine movement from transcendence to immanence, a movement of an originally transcendent God into the actuality of life and experience, so too the dawning of the death of God throughout the totality of experience progressively annuls every human or actual possibility of returning to transcendence.
Thomas J.J. Altizer, “A Wager” in Toward a New Christianity: Readings in the Death of God Theology, 305-306
TEXT: John 11.1-45
“It is love, human and divine, which overcomes death in nations and generations and in all the horror of our time. Help has become almost impossible in the face of the monstrous powers which we are experiencing. Death is given power over everything finite, especially in our period of history. But death is given no power over love. Love is stronger. It creates something new out of the destruction caused by death; it bears everything and overcomes everything. It is at work where the power of death is strongest, in war and persecution and homelessness and hunger and physical death itself. It is omnipresent and here and there, in the smallest and most hidden ways as in the greatest and most visible ones, it rescues life from death. It rescues each of us, for love is stronger than death.”
-Paul Tillich, “Love is Stronger than Death” in The Essential Tillich, 161
TEXT: Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
“One can even develop into a Hegelian triad the lines from Psalm 23:4: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” It’s first negation would have been a radical reversal of the subjective position, as in the ghetto-rapper-version: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for I am the meanest motherfucker in the whole valley!” Then comes the negation of negation that changes the entire field by way of “deconstructing” the opposition of Good and Evil: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for I know that Good and Evil are just metaphysical binary opposites!”
-Slavoj Žižek, Žižek’s Jokes: (Did You Hear the One about Hegel and Negation?), 18
I’m currently reading Slavoj Žižek and Boris Gunjevic’s God in Pain and I came across this passage in one of Žižek’s chapters:
The radical break introduced by Christianity consists in the fact that it is the first religion without the sacred, a religion whose unique achievement is precisely to demystify the Sacred.
New interestign interview with Caputo on the Times’ The Stone.
But it does beg the question, why does Gutting seem so intensely focused on neatly packing Derrida into the “atheist” box? What is to be gained by such a neat definition?
In The Fragile Absolute (Chapter 9 The Structure and Its Event), Žižek writes:
Is not the status of this Event itself (the mythical narrative of the primordial violent founding gesture) ultimately fantasmatic; is it not a fantasy-construction destined to account for the unaccountable (the origins of the Order) by concealing, rendering invisible, the Real of the structural antagonism (deadlock, impossibility) that prevents the structural synchronous Order from achieving its balance? In short, is not the Event of the primordial crime secondary, a retroactive ‘projection’ destined to translate/transpose the synchronous antagonism/deadlock into the diachronous narrative succession? (92-93)
I wonder if this analysis of the projection of structural dissonance into a primordial diachronic narrative might be transposed onto radical theology of the Altizer-ian vein. For, is this not precisely how the transition from “Revealed Religion” to “Absolute Knowing” in Hegel’s phenomenology plays out? What appears, under the guise of revealed religion, as a mere mythical temporal sequence (the incarnation and death of God), becomes recognized, within Absolute knowing, as mere “picture-thinking” (Verstellung). This picture-think or diachronous narrative is revealed, at the end of the day, to be a transposition of the deep, one might even say “structural,” truth of Absolute Knowing; revealed religion becomes recognized as a narrative construction built upon the more essential truth of philosophical science–certainly valuable in its own right, but nonetheless derivative or secondary.
Should the more literal-minded interpretations of radical theology, therefore, be situated within the broader context of a structural death of God? Rather than constituting a historical/narrative account, should the movement of the death of God be understood as the diachronous presentation of a primordially synchronous reality, viz. the paradox of the transcendence/immanence of God, the paradox of the presence/absence of God? Perhaps, this account could be taken even further, for John Caputo’s critique of Altizer amounts, substantially, to an accusation that Altizer is too “modern” (insufficiently postmodern), that Altizer has merely substituted one metanarrative with yet another metanarrative, rather than challenging metanarrativity as such. It is possible that such an accusation might be framed in this Žižekian language. Perhaps, even, although Žižek firmly places himself in the Altizer-ian camp and against the postmodernism of Caputo (in The Monstrosity of Christ), that the two thinkers are more closely aligned on this question than either might wish to admit.