Like Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?, John D. Caputo's What Would Jesus Deconstruct? is going to be appear in a Chinese translation. Here is the new Preface which Jack wrote for that new edition:
Why the Church Deserves Deconstruction: A Preface to the Chinese Translation
By John D. Caputo
It is my honor and pleasure to offer a few prefatory remarks to Chinese readers of What Would Jesus Deconstruct? My motive in writing this book is to clear up two misunderstandings, or to combat two distortions, one of Christianity, the other of deconstruction.
In the first place, the book was written in the context of the emergence of the Christian Right as a powerful political force in the United States that began with the Ronald Reagan years and reached its peak with the election of George W. Bush. In this situation, “religion,” and in particular Christianity, has been largely held captive by the American political right. The leaders of the left have been more or less complicit in this by cheerfully ceding the ground of religion to the right and by treating religion more or less as a private matter, or even with disdain as a purely reactionary force. But it turned out that handing over religion to one’s political rivals did not make for a good political strategy, not if one actually wanted to win any elections, and certainly not in a country like the United State where poll after poll confirmed that the voters are highly religious. If God is dead in western Europe, and that is not clear, God is doing just fine in the United States.
But questions of electoral strategy aside, I considered the situation to be a completely perverted one, since everything about the Jewish prophetic tradition and of the preaching of Jesus was turned toward bringing good news to the poor and the oppressed, to the widow the orphan and the stranger. How perverse then for the Christian gospel to be held captive by economic policies that were relentlessly widening the gap between rich and poor and by social policies that were hostile to immigrants. This reached a tipping point for me when George W. Bush, asked who his favorite political philosopher was, replied “Jesus.” This was a clever way to pander to the electorate while concealing that he had never read any political philosopher. But beyond that, it was a galling thing to hear from a man who started an unprovoked preemptive war in violation of sixteen centuries of church teaching on just war theory, not to mention the profound pacifism of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said never strike back; just war theory said only strike back as a last resort; George Bush said strike first!–and the Christian Right nodded piously. Bush’s response was brilliant political opportunism but an appalling distortion of the gospel.
But there is enough fault to go around on both sides. For if the Christian Right had distorted the social meaning of the gospel, the “Secular Left” had cut out the religious heart of the search for justice. It was thus no less perverse for the left to have abandoned the deeply prophetic message of the Scriptures, to have ignored the deeply religious character of its own history, the icon of which is the American Civil Rights movement under the leadership of the Reverend Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The fault falls on the left and the right, on both secularism and Christian triumphalism. Christians needed to recognize that Christianity is deeply implicated in the common good, a message that, as a Catholic, I recognized as a constant teaching of the social encyclicals. The left needed to recognize that it could not hope to inspire a people with a vision of peace and social justice if it itself lacked spirit, if it argued in a spiritual void, if it never mentioned religion except to applaud the wall between church and state, if it was devoid of any sense of a deeper or higher spiritual vocation. That is why a series of progressive religious writers began to warn Christians that their politics were at odds with the “good news” while also warning political leaders on the left that their indifference to religion was at odds with good politics. I could not agree more with Jim Wallis, one of the central figures in this movement, who said towards the end of his influential book God’s Politics, “The secular Left will give up its hostility to religion and spirituality, or it will die.”
That I am writing these pages on the eve of the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama, an African-American with a suspicious sounding name, as the forty-fourth president of the United States is the result of a number of convergent forces. It is due to the collapse of right wing economic greed in the United States–the effects of which are felt most severely on the poor, the least able to endure it, of course–about which the Christian Right has been scandalously silent. It is a tribute to the disillusionment with the older and reactionary leaders of the Christian Right by young Christians who desire to return to the authentic spirit of peace and justice of the gospels. But it is also a tribute to progressive political figures like Mr. Obama who gave their political vision a religious heart, who spoke in terms of faith and hope. I am not pleading that religion be allowed to play an important role in democratic politics just so long as it is a progressive religion. But I am saying that progressive leaders should recognize the prophetic import of biblical religion. The very idea of a democracy, the risk and the hope that is embedded in this idea, is that the chords of peace and justice will be struck by giving a hearing to a polyphony of voices, of men and women, black and white, of whatever lineage, western or non-western, including both religious and secular voices. The faith of a responsible Christian in the postmodern world is that wherever there is peace and justice, there the sweet, strange and compelling words of the Sermon on the Mount are resounding.
With the mention of “postmodernism” I come to my second motivation in writing this book and to the second distortion I wish to address. The trope that I used to work out this critique was the question, “What Would Jesus Do?,” a slogan used by the Christian Right as a sword to cut down its enemies–in the name of the sermon on the mount, of course! Curious about how this question arose I was surprised to learn that it goes back to a book popular in the first half of the twentieth century, In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?, written by Charles Sheldon, who was one of the leading forces in the formation of the “social gospel” movement. This movement was dedicated to the very peace and justice issues that the Christian Right had abdicated and that were more likely to find a home among the secular left. Sheldon’s answer was that Jesus would doing service among the poorest people in the worst neighborhoods in America. How ripe a situation, how delicious a moment, for–what else!–deconstruction. Both the Right and the Left were each able to be refuted simply by making each listen more closely to what it itself was saying, refuted out of their own mouths. Deconstruction was widely and groundlessly considered a nemesis to truth and goodness, ethics and religion, to universities and great books, to public morals and everything decent and venerable. So this book took the occasion to present deconstruction as “the hermeneutics of the kingdom of God,” this in conscious contrast to Mark Taylor’s famous declaration that “deconstruction is the hermeneutics of the death of God.” Just as Derrida said that the law was deconstructible in virtue of the undeconstructibility of justice in itself, if there “is” such a thing, which is not deconstructible, I argued that the church–the book belongs to a series on the church and postmodernism–is deconstructible just in virtue of the kingdom of God, if there “is” such a thing, which is not deconstructible..
I have long been of the view that there is both an important religious dimension to deconstruction and a deconstructive element in biblical religion. I think that deconstruction is structured like a religion, and that it links in a particularly interesting way with the prophetic biblical tradition, which of course is perfectly understandable when one considers that Jacques Derrida was born and raised a Jew (as was Jesus!). This view stands in contrast to a thoughtless and media-generated image of deconstruction as a short hand for “nihilism,” an impression that was aided in part, it must be admitted, by Derrida’s own very daunting avant-garde style of writing. As Derrida himself grew older, he more and more revisited his ambiguous Jewishness in a series of writings–the most important of which, in my view, is “Circumfession” –that were more openly autobiographical and in which, as I liked to put it, one could discern the outlines of a slightly atheistic quasi-Jewish Augustinianism. So I took the occasion of this book to show how in deconstruction everything turned on an ethico-religious affirmation of the other, of the excluded and marginalized, in a way that quite strikingly repeated the biblical ethic centered on the widow the orphan and the stranger and the religion of neighbor love in the preaching of Jesus. In Derrida’s analysis of “hospitality,” or “hosti-pitality,” we are asked to make welcome the hostis, a marvelously deconstructible word whose root suggests all at once both the neighbor and the stranger, both the host and the guest, both the friend and the enemy.
The convergence of deconstruction and the biblical tradition around the ethics of the other takes the form of what I called their common “poetics,” their common love of paradox and reversal, which is much more than merely a matter of “stylistics.” The culminating and most paralyzing paradox in the teachings of Jesus is the commandment to love one’s enemies. That, we all silently think, is impossible, which it is. For it is quite precisely “the impossible,” in the exact sense in which Derrida used this expression, where it means not a logical contradiction but a horizon-shattering, life-transforming “event” to which we are exposed when we are asked to go where we cannot go. To really be on the move in deconstruction requires passing through the paralysis of the impossible. This “event”–to love our enemies, not to strike back, and God forbid not to strike first, but to love and forgive–is the maddest moment of evangelical passion, the height of foolishness in and for the kingdom of God. So my claim is that what Jesus says about love is also powerfully at work in the most characteristic feature of “deconstruction,” which I locate in the motif of the impossible, of the affirmation of the impossible, of the possibility of the impossible, whose sharpest expressions are found in Derrida’s notion of the pure gift of forgiveness and hospitality to the stranger. When is love more profoundly love than when we are asked to love those who do not love us in return, indeed who hate us? The most paradoxical teaching of Jesus embodies the logic, or alogic, of deconstruction just as it brings deconstruction to a summit of intensity. Deconstruction is the hermeneutics of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is the highest intensification of deconstruction.
But what, then of the church, for this book is a contribution to a series entitled “the Church and Postmodern Culture?” I am arguing that the church deserves deconstruction. In fact, “why the church deserves deconstruction” was the original title of this book, taken from a lecture I gave to an “Emergent Church” conference in 2004 organized by Brian McLaren, one of the leading voices of progressive Christianity in the United States, who did me the honor of writing an introduction to the book. I do not know if the Chinese word for “deserve” carries both connotations, but in English this word has both an accusatory sense and a congratulatory sense. It can mean “getting what you deserve,” as when someone is brought to ruin by pursuing a reckless course of action, but it also can mean to be “deserving,” to be worthy of praise or reward, to deserve to be treated well. Taking a page from Sheldon (and Dostoevsky), my book is staged around an imaginary scene, but one that all but defines the church, in which we ask ourselves, what if, one day, Jesus were to pay us an unexpected visit, what would Jesus deconstruct? My answer is “the church.” The church deserves deconstruction in both these senses, because it is so guilty and because it is so valuable. If the church is supposed to be the bearer of the good news, deconstruction bears good news for the church. For to “deconstruct” something does not mean to attack and abuse it but rather to open it up, to pry open its deepest energies, to make it faithful to itself, and to expose it to the risk of its future. The church is called to be the place where the kingdom of God takes place in the world and deconstruction is the hermeneutics of the kingdom of God, the hermeneutics of the call, where the church means those who are called (ecclesia) to make that happen, now, here, among us, where peace and justice, the kingdom of God, must come. Justice cannot wait. The Kingdom cannot wait. We cannot wait.
Viens, oui, oui.