Derrida writes about religion, thinking of faith, and talks about the possibility of knowledge. Knowledge relies on a sort of faith, a credit that cannot be determined within the boundaries of knowledge, thinks Derrida, and this is one of the things that might inform a discourse on the subject of ‘religion.’ It is a faith with no dogma, he continues, a foundation of a ‘law’ that cannot be justified “within the logic of what it will have opened.” There is no theology in this movement: it is a credit before theology, a foundation of theology; it is atheological, though.
A Biola guy apparently read Derrida’s paper and critiqued it (it was a decent critique), and a lot of my Biola friends reference the following argument: just as there is a faith in knowledge, in the world, in the credibility of our discourses in general, so too can there be a faith in the divine. If you can trust the world, you are just as able to trust the divine. Theology, then, is just a discourse like all other discourses; we should believe in it just as we believe in knowledge in general.
Let’s follow this argument. First: the movement of faith does not imply, nor can it imply, the content of that faith. We’re stuck in a sort of unknowing.
But, for a second, if we consider the necessity of the movement of trust in knowledge as a support for faith in the fullness of the divine, then we must wonder what type of divinity this movement supports. God becomes an epistemological glue to the world, a promise of coherence between our mind and our bodies, between thinking and the world we think about. God, for now, resigns everything else. So that when we learn of a new birth, a fresh coming-into-the-world opening to possibility and life, there is a knowledge moving us towards celebration. This knowledge (lift our hearts!) is a product of God’s glue. Or, when a medical diagnosis opens us to the risk of either healing or suffering, to an open heart either fixed or slowed, ceasing: this knowledge, a horizon opened toward uncertainty in life or death—a contingency on technology, on the surgeon—is also the product of God’s glue. God knows both celebration and grief and does not flinch. Do we lift our hearts?
This stuff is merely a way of faith in the world—a faith in knowledge from events that we encounter. God’s glue, above, is ‘this-worldly,’ in the thick of the immanent. But theologians (I think) are supposed to point beyond the world, into the fullness of a divine life beyond each particular event. God’s theological glue binds itself to the invisible, leaping from the atheological unknowing into a theology knowing—a knowing as real as the mind’s knowledge of the body. Hold your breath, for this theology requires, first and almost paradoxically, a dive into unknowing; a mystical alliance (Derrida tells us) of the blind movement of faith and the sight of faith’s knowledge. We might find out what type of divinity this movement of faith supports in the mystical (often used as an unwavering untouchable authority—be careful!), conditioned by the tentative: “here’s what I think, but I cannot know.”
Hieracas, a Christian monk, saved by only eating when hungry, only drinking when thirsty, and speaking evil of no one, supposedly, “never uttered a worldly remark.” Let him be, for us, a theologian. God, he says, is like oil in a lamp. Jesus is the flame emanating from that lamp. Here ends our theology: Amen! What does this mean? What does this mean?
Arius, another monk, says no. This is not how God, nor Jesus, is (he must know what Hieracas means). Instead, God is monad. And here, all of a sudden, through a denial that appeals to the rules of this theological discourse, we are sucked into the discourse: there is no use critiquing the fact of the discourse, standing at a remove, now. We’re playing the game. We cannot return to unknowing as long as we appeal to the exclusivity of this “no,” as long as we must decide between Hieracas or Arius.
Some solve the limitations of the discourse by saying that God exceeds the “yes” or the “no,” or that God ultimately exceeds both Hieracas and Arius. In excess, theology continues to tumble: God is beyond the limits of this guy’s claim, God is bigger than the next guy’s, God is more and more and more, God grows until it is naïve to even think that this universal God could be contained in such a stupid simile of a lamp (Hieracas must be new here). So in this move, we’ve dominated our unknowing by that temptation of theology, of a theology spiraling around the ineffable. For when we spiral around that ineffable—whether there is actually anything in that unspeakable center or not (we may have been atheists all along!)—the only thing to grasp onto is the limitation of our language, our stumbling self-referential utterances, “snares over the world,” says Abba Anthony. And, somehow, we speak these utterances to continue to signify an unspoken intention: “no, but also yes!, there is more!” By now, I assume, we have forgotten our atheological movement of faith, the baseless trust by which we even establish that knowledge. God, here, is that glue binding the unknown to that which cannot be known, to a certain pride in knowing the unknowable, to Anthony’s snares.
“What can get me through such snares?” Abba Anthony asks. A voice answers, apparently knowing: “humility.” Play the theology game, I guess, without renouncing it (without another ‘no’), and return to unknowing, to the movement of faith, relinquishing knowledge—do not deny it, but let it go: this discourse is not ultimate, however much it claims that status for itself. Or, as Annie Dillard says, recognize that "Divinity is not playful. The universe was not made in jest, but in solemn incomprehensible earnest." Maybe one day, we wake up and let go, to stop playing these theological games.
In any case, this faith movement, this theological knowledge is a knowledge that must, leveled to the status of all other discourses, speak of the possibility of life, still uncertain; testifying to the fact that your heart will either be fixed or slowed, ceasing: still, among other things, a transcendent speech blindly risking the tides of shallow, self-referential contingency. It opens us up, or closes us down. No flinching.