The Deconstruction of Messiah: Never Arriving Always Departing

17 Jan

The great mistake of Jesus for Renan was to forget that the ideal is fundamentally a utopia (Philip Schaff).

Jacques Derrida Reading

I was in conversation with someone who said this about Derrida’s view of truth and a Messiah:

“The question of the messiah seems eternally interesting.  Derrida opined that the point about having a messiah is the promise, the hope, the aspiration, NOT that (he) comes. So what’s the deal with having a messiah who’s arrived?  There’s a question for you. Where is the mystery once he’s exposed and had his say?”

Derrida writes that there is no centre, no arriving, no presence, no God. A student of postmodernism describes the absence of presence this way:

“…if we were to bring Derrida into the discussion, then it becomes pretty clear that religion is the carrier of a metaphysics of presence par excellence. Religion banks on nothing less than the presence of ‘God,’ or the divine, or whatever. And then when you think about the importance of the ‘Word’ in religion–you know, the whole ‘revelation’ thing—Derrida’s deconstruction of logocentrism (logos “meaning”) is pretty devastating.”

But what is so postmodern about rejecting the “whole ‘revelation’ thing?” Wasn’t that the “Enlightenment’s” claim to fame two centuries or so ago? Derrida is the epitome of man-centredness, which, in essence, is no different from Frank Sinatra’s “I did it my way.” The Christian view is that the Bible has a centre, an “arriving” (salvation). Brian Walsh says:

The problem is that ‘the end of religion’ and ‘the death of God’ are modernist, Enlightenment dogmas. They are the ultimate conclusion of the modernist blind faith in human autonomy. In the hubris of a modernist world-view, the voice of God and the experience of spirituality gets drowned out by the self-assured, arrogant voice of ‘rational men.”

The modernist– a product of the European Enlightenment – replaces revelation as a source of truth with induction. By induction, I mean observation of the material data (phenomena) from which we derive a principle, or “law.” For a materialist (the majority of scientists), this rational approach, which is not necessarily a reasonable approach, is not only the best method, but also the only method that can yield universal truth. Here is Diderot, one of the great luminaries of the Englightement,  on “la raison” (reason):

First, I notice something that both the good and the wicked agree upon; it is that one should reason about everything, because man is not merely an animal, but a rational animal; which means that there are ways of discovering the truth; and the one who refuses to look for it forfeits to be called human, and should, therefore be treated by the rest of his species as a wild animal. Once the truth is found, whosoever refuses to conform to it is deranged or morally wicked.” (Diderot, “Natural law,” Encyclopédie, Volume V pp. 115—116, paragraph iv. My translation. The original appears in brackets below).

(vi. J’aperçois d’abord une chose qui me semble avoué par le bon et par le méchant; c’est qu’il faut raisonner en tout, parce que l’homme n’est pas seulement un animal, mais un animal qui raisonne; qu’il y a par conséquent, dans la question dont il s’agit, des moyens de découvrir la vérité; que celui qui refuse de la chercher renonce à la qualité d’homme, et doit être traité par le reste de son espèce comme une bête farouche; et que, la vérité une fois découverte, quiconque refuse de s’y conformer est insensé ou méchant d’une méchanceté morale.” Droit Naturel, Encyclopédie, Tome V, pp. 115—116.

Contrary to the modernist, the postmodernist rejects both the Christian and modernist approaches to truth and reason. According to the postmodernist, truth is not universal, is not objective, is not absolute. Instead, truth is socially constructed, manifold, and relative. “Your truth, my truth” means that truth is not found; it’s manufactured. Facts, on this view, are not givens but purely and solely “takens;” that is, the mind decides what is real. Reality for a postmodernist is a mental (de)construction (See my Schizologia: Internal Testimony versus Inspiration of Scripture)

Deconstruction is a literary movement invented by the Jew, Jacques Derrida. What is deconstruction? No one really knows, but everybody thinks they know – “to take apart,” “to unpack” (an idea). It doesn’t mean that at all. Deconstruction – as I understand it – is a journey; never arriving, always departing; a sitting on suitcases, all packed and ready to leave for the next departure lounge. How does my description of deconstruction compare with Brian Walsh’s?

To understand deconstruction, we need to know what deconstruction is not. Derrida is no nihilist. Deconstruction is not a theoretical cover for a simplistic nihilism out to destroy and tear down just for the hell of it! Derrida says that what gives deconstruction its movement is “constantly to suspect, to criticize the given determinations of culture, of institutions, of legal systems, not in order to destroy them or simply to cancel them, but to be just with justice, to respect this relation to the other as justice.” Justice has always been the ethical drive behind deconstruction. It is what deconstruction affirms.”

Derrida’s favourite is apouring over flaws (aporias “without passage,” “no thoroughfare”). The flaw in the search for justice, Derrida argues, is that as soon as you think you understand justice, you’ve lost it. What comes to mind is the logocentric (meaning-centred) Plato, for whom justice was also of primary concern. But for Plato, whose most famous dialogue, “The Republic,” is all about justice – justice ultimately boiled down to: “do your job and cork up.”

Did Derrida really want to find justice or the Messiah? And if he didn’t want to, was it because, once found, justice and the Messiah would no longer be of any value. Is it true – as my friend (above) says – that Derrida believed that “the point about having justice or a messiah is the promise, the hope, the aspiration, NOT that justice or the Messiah comes;” because “what’s the deal with having a messiah who’s arrived?  There’s a question for you. Where is the mystery once he’s exposed and had his say?” As the “Discovery Channel” puts it: “If we had all the answers, there’d be nothing left to discover. Ignorance is bliss.” Now go and renew your TV licence. But seriously, modern man (I’m generalising) thinks, “if God exists, all man can do is think God’s thoughts after Him. Perish the thought!”

Most people believe that objective truth exists but, they say, no one can be sure what it is. André Gide  advised:  “Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it?”Gide’s words suggest that he doesn’t believe in “truth.”What Gide meant by “doubt,”I suggest, is scepticism about objective truth.

The question is, how does one do science without a coherent, stable reality? Indeed, how can one have an intelligent conversation if words and thoughts keep toppling into one another?  Scientists seek to know what’s going on, not only in their heads, but also outside their heads; mostly outside their heads – theologians too. Everybody – including Derrida – hopes, if not believes that Truth exists. And a messiah? Is Derrida waiting for a messiah? If so, what kind of messiah? A Theodor Herzl. Jacqueline Rose relates the following story:

“In 1896, at a mass meeting in Sofia, when Weizmann saw him for the first time, the chief rabbi proclaimed him (Herzl) the Messiah. “Perhaps,’ suggested Moritz Güdemann , chief rabbi of Vienna, who would later turn against Zionism, “you are the called of God.”…By the end of his life, Herzl, himself, was more cautious: “Our people believe that I am the Messiah. I myself do not know this, for I am no theologian.” (J. Rose. 2005. The Question of Zion. Princeton University Press, p. 31).

Herzl needs to be a theologian to know for sure. The Messiah needs to be a theologian to know for sure. He needs to be told by those waiting for him to come who he is. Voltaire, or any good restaurant, fits the Messianic bill much more than Herzl. At least (we know that) Voltaire was a deist. One would think that the Messiah would at least believe in a deity of sorts, if not in the God of the Torah. Derrida’s Messiah is not only far removed from the God of Genesis but also from a deistic power that created the universe that set it in motion, turned its back on it and went on to greener pastures. Derrida’s Messiah is an “opening of experience” and a cry for justice. Here is Brian Walsh again:

We are waiting for someone to come, for the opening of experience, says Derrida. Indeed, the constant word, the sentiment that pervades deconstruction, says Caputo (Derrida’s disciple), is “come, viens.” This fearful invitation, this call, this impassioned cry to the Messiah to come is at the spiritual heart of postmodernity. Even though such a coming scares Derrida, the Messiah must come, because the terror cannot go on. There must be a justice rooted in hospitality–a real, embodied justice, a healing river of justice. Biblical faith has a response for such an honest longing, even when that longing is made tentative by fear. For Scripture responds to the human heart crying out for justice to come, for healing to come, indeed for the Messiah to come, with its own invitation (Rev. 22:17, 20):

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”

And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”

And let everyone who is thirsty come.

Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

The one who testifies to these things says,

“Surely I am coming soon.”

Amen, come soon, Lord Jesus.

Derrida is dead, and eternally cut off from the Messiah, but not from presence, from His Presence. When I gaze on his strong Jewish face, I feel very sad; sad for all my Jewish brethren who, having passed into eternity, fell over the stumbling stone of Yeshua haMashiach.

We return to the question that occasioned me to write this piece: “What’s the deal with having a messiah who’s arrived?  Where is the mystery once he’s exposed and had his say?”

It is unremarkable, unsurprising that sinful man would ask such a question? Undergirding this question is not the fear that a Messiah, a Judge, exists, neither is it the conviction that Truth can never be found. What such a question implies is rather the chutzpa (hubris) that nothing higher than man has the right to exist, for man is the measure of all things. Satan asks Adam “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3:1). And therein lies the genesis of the question “What’s the deal with having a messiah who has arrived -unless he’s arrived at another departure lounge?”

In conclusion, I’d like to bring together what I said about André Gide’s doubt of ever finding the truth  with my earlier definition of Deconstruction. Gide  advised:  “Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it?”Gide’s words suggest that he doesn’t believe in “truth.” I said (earlier) that what Gide meant by “doubt,” was scepticism of ever finding objective truth. I think there was something deeper than his doubt ; it was his perhaps his desire that he himself be Ultimate Truth. In what does this ultimacy consist? In, as I said earlier,  the Deconstructive journey of never arriving, always departing, a sitting on suitcases, all packed and ready to leave for the next departure lounge. This restlessness is not only the grist of Deconstruction but the gristle of the postmodern mind, ever thinking its own thinking after itself, ever running, ever asking: “What’s the deal with having a Messiah who has arrived.” Let’s, at all costs, not have a boring messiah; boring exactly because he arrives. Let’s rather have one who is ever arriving, ever departing, “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7 ESV). Never able to arrive because they will not to.

Güdemann

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10 Responses to “The Deconstruction of Messiah: Never Arriving Always Departing”

  1. Bill Blunt January 17, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

    Raphael,
    For me, the point of having the Messiah appear in the flesh is that he discloses the next level of mystery. Derrida did not seem to consider that, possibly because he was preoccupied with the notion that a Messiah changes the physical world instead of taking Jesus at his word that his mission was entirely spiritual.
    The prophecy that the messiah will renew all things suggests to me (as a believer) that it is accomplished. So now I am challenged to turn from the promise to the realization; from waiting to fulfillment.
    I cannot find the realization outside my experience, so I ask myself questions like: Is the God whom Jesus knew the same as the God whom (I think) I experience? Are the love and peace that Jesus spoke about the same as the love and peace (I think) I experience? If not, how can I find them? Are they achieved or bestowed (perhaps by Grace)? Is there something I can do to earn them? Will I know when I experience them, or am I sentenced eternally to spiritual solipsism (egoistic self-absorbtion)?
    Above all, I do not want to be deceived that I can know God out of my own strength (mind/ imagination/ feelings). To think otherwise would be too narcissistic to be true. The truth must be somewhere between us. My imagination conjures all sorts of images and feelings that I might think spiritual, but are they? Are they not merely physiological responses, like the delusions generated by anoxia?
    Hamba gashle, Bill

    • bography January 18, 2011 at 2:56 am #

      Thanks Bill for this interesting comment.
      If I can summarise your position in the words of J.C. Ryle:
      “A true believer’s religion does not consist in mere intellectual assent to a certain set of propositions and doctrines. It is not a mere cold belief of a certain set of truths and facts concerning Christ. It consists in union, communion, and fellowship with an actual living Person, Jesus the Son of God. It is a life of faith in Jesus, confidence in Jesus, leaning on Jesus, drawing out of the fullness of Jesus, speaking to Jesus, working for Jesus, loving Jesus, and waiting for Jesus to come again.”

      Would I be correct in saying that your problem is how to know whether Jesus is really living in you in the way Ryle describes above?

  2. Abhi Solomon (@solomonabhi) October 17, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    Hi, really enjoyed your work here. I am interested in Derrida’s work but don’t know where to start. Can you please suggest couple of books which could help in getting grip with his main ideas. Thanks

    • bography October 18, 2012 at 2:31 am #

      So glad you enjoyed it. About Derrida, before I suggest some sources, it would be good to know your background in philosophy or literary theory.

      • Abhi Solomon (@solomonabhi) October 18, 2012 at 4:52 am #

        I am theological student. Just graduated from Seminary, now serving in a local Methodist Parish.

        Currently, I am working through Slavoj Zizek’s work. I have read most of his foundationall work: Sublime object of ideology, Violence, Fragile absolute, Parallex View and more. Have read Hegel and Lacan through Zizek too. Familiar with some of Foucault’s work. In nutshell German Metaphysics is where i am at right now. Really want to explore some Derrida’s writing but not sure where to begin. Thanks.

        • bography October 19, 2012 at 2:49 am #

          Abhi, a very good place to start is with Christopher Norris’ “Derrida.”

          http://www.abebooks.co.uk/book-search/title/derrida/author/norris/sortby/3/

          The price is cheap £3-5, postage outside the uk might be about £5-6. still very with it.

          Every time we read a book we are “thinking through someone else’s head.” (Title of a podcast). In Derrida’s case, we need more than ever to think through someone else”s head (Norris) thinking through and about someone else’s head (Derrida).

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Word made flesh and the word made fish: Stanley Fish’s “life, life, eternal life.” « OneDaringJew - March 17, 2011

    [...] no presence, no God; always departing never arriving. All these men remind me of my Jacques Derrida and my friend, Bill, who asks: “So what’s the deal with having a messiah who’s arrived?  There’s a question [...]

  2. Babel: Can Derrida’s Tour (Surprisingly) Translate Us Anywhere? « Grammargraph - April 4, 2011

    [...] See related post The Deconstruction of Messiah: Always Arriving Always Departing. [...]

  3. The Forgiveness and “Forgotteness” of God: Your sins never were « OneDaringJew - April 10, 2012

    [...] there,” but rather a constant departing and arriving at the next departure lounge. (The Deconstruction of Messiah: Always Arriving Always Departing). Here I would like speak to those who believe that Truth can indeed be found. When we think of [...]

  4. Hegel, Love and Truth « OneDaringJew - July 19, 2012

    [...] I focus on ”Such an actual perfection of consciousness, were it attained, would also mark the end of the development within the reach of our species.” The upshot: once we think we’ve found THE truth, which in its most radiant manifestation is LOVE, we would have reached our ultimate destiny. Christians agree. The difference between the Christian and the philosopher is that the latter does not believe that we can ever know THE truth (which Jesus says we can, and which is the only thing that can make us free). But there is more to the philosopher’s scepticism-cynicism; more perverse. “If the Messiah, as the embodiment of truth, were to be found, says the philosopher, Jacques Derrida, for example, there would be no point to life, because WE wouldn’t no longer have any more intellectual clout; we would lose our role as the measure of all things. There would be no more secrets to uncover.” See The Deconstruction of Messiah: Always Arriving Always Departing). [...]

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