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Applying an ever more radical hermeneutics (including Husserlian and Heideggerian phenomenology, Derridian deconstruction, and feminism), John D. Caputo breaks down the name of God in this irrepressible book. Instead of looking at God as merely a name, Caputo views it as an event, or what the name conjures or promises in the future. For Caputo, the event exposes God as weak, unstable, and barely functional. While this view of God flies in the face of most religions and philosophies, it also puts up a serious challenge to fundamental tenets of theology and ontology. Along the way, Caputo’s readings of the New Testament, especially of Paul’s view of the Kingdom of God, help to support the "weak force" theory. This penetrating work cuts to the core of issues and questions—What is the nature of God? What is the nature of being? What is the relationship between God and being? What is the meaning of forgiveness, faith, piety, or transcendence?—that define the terrain of contemporary philosophy of religion.

Indiana University Press

Winner, 2007 American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion,Constructive-Reflective Studies

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Editorial Reviews


"... The Weakness of God is a bold attempt to reconfigure the terms of debate around the topic of divine omnipotence. Caputo has a gift for explaining Continental philosophy's jargon succinctly and accurately, and despite technical and foreign terms, this book will engage upper-level undergraduates. Includes scriptural and general indexes.... Highly recommended." —Choice

Catherine Keller

"Caputo comes out of the closet as a theologian in this work...." —Catherine Keller, Drew University

From the Publisher

"Caputo comes out of the closet as a theologian in this work...." —Catherine Keller, Drew University


"... The Weakness of God is a bold attempt to reconfigure the terms of debate around the topic of divine omnipotence. Caputo has a gift for explaining Continental philosophy's jargon succinctly and accurately, and despite technical and foreign terms, this book will engage upper-level undergraduates. Includes scriptural and general indexes.... Highly recommended." —Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253218285
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2006
  • Series: Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 376
  • Sales rank: 373,588
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

John D. Caputo is the Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at Syracuse University. He is author of More Radical Hermeneutics (IUP, 2000) and The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida (IUP, 1997).

Indiana University Press

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Read an Excerpt

The Weakness of God

A Theology of the Event

By John D. Caputo

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2006 John D. Caputo
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-21828-5


God without Sovereignty

* * *

Nothing is less sure, of course, than a god without sovereignty, nothing is less sure than his coming, of course. (Jacques Derrida)

For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength ... But God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised [ta agene] in the world, things that are not [ta me onta], to reduce to nothing things that are [ta onta]. (1 Cor. 1:25, 27–28)

All this talk about the stirring of the event within the name of God should not stir up expectations of power. On the contrary, precisely insofar as it is the locus of an event, and not the nominator of an entity, the name of God indicates a certain weak force, at most a power of powerlessness, even though it is addressed to us in unconditional terms. Let us venture further down this risky road.

Suppose we dare to think about God otherwise than metaphysics and metaphysical theology allow? Suppose we say there is at least this much to the death of God: that the God of metaphysical theology is a God well lost and that the task of thinking about God radically otherwise has been inescapably imposed upon us? Suppose we say that metaphysical theology has been given enough time to prove its case and that the time has come to think about God in some other way? What then?

Might it be that God, contrary to the hopes and expectations of theology (not to mention of His Reverence, who depends upon God to earn a living), that there is indeed something "unconditional" about God, but that God is not a sovereign power? Accordingly, might any possible "kingdom" of God turn out to be an unlikely kingdom without a sovereign or a royal army, where those who are strong are weak, and those who are weak are strong—in short, a land where reversals more wondrous than anything Alice ever imagined transpire?

That at least is the present hypothesis and the modest premise of the following little experiment.


I will speak, then, of God, theology's most famous protagonist. But to do so, I will first call upon the help of différance, philosophy's most famous misspelling. Here I commence my little experiment in short-circuiting, of reading a strong and major voice—and what could outrank the name of God, the Logos itself?—by wiring it up to a minor one—and what is more measly, weak, and minor than a mere misspelling?

Différance is a word Derrida uses to describe the general condition that besets us all, believers and nonbelievers alike—"nonbelievers" simply being people who believe something different than the "believers"—in virtue of which we must all make our way by way of the differential spacing of signifiers. Boy/toy/joy, king/ring/sing, and so forth, produce the significant effect they do by reason of the differential spacing, either phonic or graphic, of these signifiers. Whether you say king or roi does not matter so much as whether, inside the language game you are playing, the rest of us can discern the difference (or the "space between") king/sing or roi/loi. In general, this sort of thing holds, mutatis mutandis, not only for linguistic signifiers but also for the concepts they signify, and more generally still for the whole range of our beliefs and practices, cultural and institutional, all of which come under and are structured by this differential spacing.

The difference between Derrida and the structuralists who proceeded him is that the structuralists took these signifying chains to be rigorously systematic and rule-governed, while Derrida—this is what the name "Derrida" first meant in the 1960s and 1970s—argued that these chains formed, not closed formalizable systems, but open-ended, uncompletable networks, like the contemporary Internet, in which any element could link on anywhere with some other element and in that fashion spread endlessly and "rhizomatically" (like crabgrass) across the surface. One could no more get to the end of these chains than one could point and click on every link in the virtual space of the World Wide Web. Sustaining such claims entails a lengthy argument that is not my current business. Suffice it to say that by defending the idea of différance, Derrida meant to say that we make senseunder conditions that threaten to undo the sense we make, and that our beliefs and practices enjoy only a provisional unity and tentative stability that is in principle liable to unravel at the most inconvenient times. I think Derrida is right about this. From a religious point of view, I think this does not undermine faith but explains precisely why we need faith, we believers and nonbelievers (or believers-otherwise) alike, and why in every believer there is a bit of an unbeliever (and conversely). In the reflections that follow I will not pursue Derrida's earlier articulation of différance but its ethico-politico-religious implications in his later writings. Différance, we might say to Alice, is not so much the "foundation" as the agent provocateur for everything that follows in this wonderful upside-down land.

Différance is a seemingly secular word—actually, it is the quasi-transcendental condition of possibility for distinguishing "secular/sacred," or "theism/atheism," constituting the slash between them—coined for a secular philosophical world by a philosopher who says of himself "I quite rightly pass for an atheist." Still, for reasons that I hope to spell out here, God and this misspelling différance keep up what must seem to many of the Saved and Righteous an unholy communication with each other, which Derrida seems not to have intended but with which he has constantly had to deal. Many years ago, in the famous essay "Différance," Derrida said thatdifférance "everywhere comes to solicit, in the sense that sollicitare, in old Latin, means to shake as a whole, to make tremble in entirety." For that reason, he went on to say, différance should not be construed as some sort ofprimum ens sent into the world to set things straight, some principle of order and governance:

It governs nothing, reigns over nothing, and nowhere exercises any authority. It is not announced by any capital letter. Not only is there no kingdom ofdifférance, but différance instigates the subversion of every kingdom. Which makes it obviously threatening and infallibly dreaded by everything within us that desires a kingdom, the past or future presence of a kingdom. And it is always in the name of a kingdom that one may reproach différance with wishing to reign, believing that one sees it aggrandize itself with a capital letter.

In other words, although many of its admirers have come to expect quite a lot of it, différance is not our Redeemer, and it does not set up court in something like a kingdom of God, constituting as it does, not a strong steely framework of hard structures, but a looser assembling of weaker, more watery ensembles. So, far from having the status of God or a king, of any sort of arche, divine or otherwise, far from being a prince, a principle, or a principium, empirical or transcendental, that orders and stabilizes, différance is, if not downright disorderly, slightly subversive of such orderliness inasmuch as it exposes the contingency of any constituted order. Its "natural" tendency, if it had a nature, is to destabilize stable natures, not by an active assault, but by seeing to it that the warp and woof of every woven fabric (text) is marked by unravelability. Not only is there no royaume de différance, the very idea of différance, if it is an idea, is the idea of no more reigning, no more sovereigns, no more kingdoms, not now, not ever. Différance is the very idea of instigating the subversion of kingdoms wherever they appear.

Unless, of course, in the best spirit of deconstruction—and the very idea of deconstruction is that there is always, structurally, a "but" or an "unless" or a "perhaps"—one might speak, in all perversity, of the possibility of a kingdom of the kingdom-less, a kingdom where there is no sovereignty and no one reigns—or if they do, they have no power—an un-kingly, anarchic kingdom, a kingdom where the only power that is permitted is the power of powerlessness, where the very condition of power is that it be without power.

Damnable deconstructive trickery, sheer relativistic and nihilistic wordplay, thunders His (Right) Reverence from the pulpit! Yes, of course, no doubt. But unfortunately for the defenders of the True and the Good, I am practically quoting an apostle, verbatim, in a revelatory document that is one of deconstruction's first epiphanies on earth. The apostle dares to speak of the "weakness of God" (asthenes tou theou), where God chose the weak to confound the strong and the things that are not to reduce to nothing the powers that be (1 Cor. 1:27-29). When the Roman soldiers mocked the so-called "king of the Jews," telling him to come down from the cross, the irony was instead visited on them. To speak of a "kingdom" in a case like that would indeed be an irony, but one in which a mighty kingdom like the Roman Empire was being mocked by declaring a bedraggled bunch of lowborn and powerless people a "kingdom." If this is a kingdom, it is not the sort the world is used to seeing. That is the possibility that interests me in these pages, to identify such a reign of powerlessness, drawing upon several spirits—of St. Paul and Derrida, of the Gospels and of what Derrida has recently been calling the structure of something, God, for example, that is "unconditional" but "without sovereignty," all in the name of God's kingdom come and of the "democracy to come," which suggests, as political principles go, a slightly anarchical arche, an arche without arche. This link between Paul and Derrida, between deconstruction and First Corinthians, a scandal to the faithful and a stumbling block to the deconstructors, is a central point in this study, to which I will return shortly.

So the first ingredient in my heretical experiment is this anarchico-deconstructive idea (which humbly seeks the protection of an apostle!), whichseems to be internally tensed and torn apart from within, a kingdom without kingdom, a kingdom without sovereignty, where there is no capital city and where the only rule is the rule of the unruly, of the weak and foolish. Here I am applying the theorem of the sans in Derrida, that you get the best results with our favorite words, not by unleashing their full semantic force, which will eventually send them crashing into a wall, but by maintaining them in their weak mode, their weak force, by striking them through but not quite altogether effacing them—as in religion without religion, community without community, and so forth, a formula that, like every formula, requires a bit of art and would be degraded were we to repeat it by rote or formulaically.

To be sure, by advocating différance Derrida does not advocate outright chaos. He does not favor a simple-minded street-corner anarchy (nothing is ever simple) that would let lawlessness sweep over the land, although that is just what his most simplistic and anxious critics take him to say. For that would amount to nothing more than a simple counter-kingdom, a reign of lawlessness, where lawlessness and unchecked violence rule. Just like a simple totalitarianism, which is simply violent in the opposite way, a simple anarchy would break the tension between the arche and the an-arche, erasing the slash between power and powerlessness; pure life would spell death. The power of powerlessness is neither pure power nor pure powerlessness. That is why, twenty years later, in "Force of Law," Derrida made it plain that deconstruction is not a matter of leveling laws in order to produce a lawless society, but of deconstructing laws in order to produce a just society. To deconstruct the law means to "negotiate the difference" between the law and justice, where the law is thought to be something finite, and "justice" calls up an uncontainable event, an infinite or unconditional or undeconstructible demand. Deconstruction is—this is the spin I am giving it in these pages—a negotiation undertaken between a conditioned name and an unconditional event. To deconstruct the law is to hold the constructedness of the law plainly and constantly in view so as to subject the law to relentless analysis, revision, and repeal, to rewriting and judicial review, in the light of the unconditional demand of justice. To feel the sharp tip of what deconstructing the law means, imagine if some relativistic deconstructor somewhere were reckless enough to say that the law concerns the ninety-nine, while justice goes off in search of the missing one! Of course, in virtue of différance, even justice is a coded, conditioned word, in whose name much innocent blood has been spilled. No name is safe.

When something is said to be "deconstructible," then, contrary to the received view, that is not bad news—in fact, if Derrida were of a more evangelical frame of mind, he might even call it (the) "good news"—for that means it has flexibility and a future, and it will not be allowed to harden over. To deconstruct something, in the terms I am using in this study, is to release the event that is harbored by a name, to see to it that the event is not trapped by the name. The deconstruction of the law is made possible by the structural and necessary gap between the name of the law, which is constructed, and the event of justice, which is undeconstructible, between the law, which is conditioned, and the event of justice, which is an unconditional demand. Deconstruction resists the closure of the law in the name of the event that laws close off and exclude, namely, the singularity of what Kierkegaard called the "poor existing individual."

That points to the other hybrid that I am all along cultivating, what we might dare to dub "Danish Deconstruction," by which I mean to suggest that Kierkegaard and Derrida are collaborators (co-conspirators!), an intrepid team of supplementary clerks, hilarious bookbinders, and pseudonymous agents. Kierkegaard is a kind of double agent for me, doubling back between deconstruction and St. Paul, carrying messages back and forth between Holy Scripture and devilish écriture, infiltrating both lines at once. (For years now I have been working on an essay to be entitled "On the Difference between a Deconstructor and an Apostle.") Deconstruction, which settles itself into the gap between the singularity of the poor existing individual and the universality of the law, breeds justice, even as deconstruction is born and bred of justice; indeed, to invoke one of Derrida's most startling formulations, "deconstruction is justice." That is not an act of public narcissism, of embarrassing public self-congratulation, of idolizing one's own handiwork, but the name of an infinite task and of a confession that we live our lives on call, under the call of an unconditional claim that will not let up, day or night. Deconstructing the law means to hold the law in question, to solicit the law, to hire a radical solicitor who will make the law tremble, while always letting oneself be solicited and troubled by the event of justice that is trapped inside, by the need to let the event of justice come, to let justice flow like water over the land, to let justice rule, as they say in Prophetic Deconstruction (Amos), still another experimental hybrid on which I am at work here.

But if the event of justice "rules," then, by the most rigorous semantic laws, is there not a "kingdom" of this event, a "kingdom of justice?" I mean this, not in the sense of some central sovereign ministry of justice that keeps the peace with the aid of a royal army and police force, nor in the sense of some identifiable locale where justice is factually found to obtain. I mean the rule of some sort of unconditional summons that justice issues, the rule of a call to let justice reign, of the demand that holds sway to stay steadily open to the call of justice, to stay tuned or on call to justice's address, to the claim or appeal that the event of justice makes on all of us. That is what I mean by an event—a summons, call, demand, claim or appeal, as well as a promise and a lure—whose structure is on display in what Derrida calls a "sovereignty without force." By this Derrida means the unconditional authority exerted by the undeconstructible event—which goes under an endlessly translatable string of names like justice, the gift, forgiveness, hospitality—which of itself lacks force or worldly power, lacks an army or an armature, the material means to enforce its will, that is, to forcibly bring about what it is calling for. Such an unroyal, unkingly power, like the power of "justice," the power of what is sounding in that word from time out of mind, lies in the majesty of its claim, which settles particularly upon the brow of the weakest and most vulnerable and most powerless. When and where that claim is heard, justice reigns. The power of powerlessness, the power of a weak force, is the force without power exerted by an unconditional claim. So then, there are kingdoms and there are kingdoms, and "kingdom" is not, in itself, altogether a "bad name," and deconstruction has not been authorized to ban this word from our vocabulary. Indeed "kingdom" is nothing in itself, apart from the differential space in which it is deployed (which is a Parisian way of saying "context," so that it depends on what's reigning). Just so long as what reigns in this kingdom is justice and not terror, and no one enjoys special royal privileges or privileged access in the corridors of power, and there is not a purple or royal robe anywhere to be found, then I will be the first to step forward and declare myself a royalist who is dreaming of a kingdom to come. May this kingdom come, oui, oui.


Excerpted from The Weakness of God by John D. Caputo. Copyright © 2006 John D. Caputo. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: A Theology of the Event

Part One. The Weakness of God
1. God without Sovereignty
2. St. Paul on the Logos of the Cross
3. The Beautiful Risk of Creation: On Genesis ad literam (Almost)
4. Omnipotence, Unconditionality, and the Weak Force of God

Hermeneutical Interlude: Two Keys to the Kingdom
5. The Poetics of the Impossible
6. Hyper-Realism and the Hermeneutics of the Call

Part Two. The Kingdom of God: Sketches of a Sacred Anarchy
7. Metanoetics: The Seventh Day, or Making All Things New
8. Quotidianism: Everyday, or Keeping Time Holy
9. Back to the Future: Peter Damian on the Remission of Sin and Changing the Past
10. Forgiven Time: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
11. "Lazarus, Come Out": Rebirth and Resurrection
12. The Event of Hospitality: On Being Inside/Outside the Kingdom of God

Appendix to Part Two: Newly Discovered Fragments on the Kingdom of God from "The Gospel of Miriam"
A Concluding Prayer

Indiana University Press

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