John D. CAPUTO and Gianni VATTIMO, After the Death of God. Ed. Jeffrey W. Robbins. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. Pp. 204. ISBN - 13:978-0-231-14124-6
Reviewed by John V. Apczynski, St. Bonaventure University, NY 14778-0012

This book addresses the controversial “turn to theology” that has manifested itself recently in contemporary philosophy. A scant 40 years after the “death of God” we see a remarkable revival among philosophers in rethinking the meaning of “God” in exciting and creative ways. In this volume, Jeffrey Robbins has invited Gianni Vattimo and John Caputo, two leading “post-modern” exponents of this probing exploration, to express succinctly how they now understand the importance of the recovery of “God” for contemporary culture.

In his introductory essay, “Toward a Nonreligious Christianity,” Vattimo portrays how his understanding of “weak” thinking is a consequence of his Christian faith. The biblical text, when it is freed from its literal readings, initiates a tradition of interpretation that stands unconditionally for freedom and against authoritarianism. Standing in the heritage of Nietzsche and Gadamer, Vattimo interprets the history of Christianity as the “destiny” of the West (in opposition to Heidegger), which overcomes metaphysics and leads to nihilism (the end of objective being) and secularity (emancipation). All objectivizing conceptualizations of “God” are thus destined to be overcome, including, he dares to suggest, Trinitarian ones. Eventually, he believes, the practical direction of Christianity is toward “charity” which will displace the effort to “grasp” the truth.

Caputo’s essay, “Spectral Hermeneutics,” attempts to express how he understands “God” to be the place of opening to “excessive mystery” that always eludes us. Drawing his inspiration from the deconstructive probings of Derrida, Caputo interprets the parables of the kingdom to be revealing a thesis about the weakness of God, where the kingdom “happens” when it calls us to respond to it by going out of ourselves. Prayer, in this construal, consists in harkening to the provocation that draws us out of ourselves. Insofar as it still has currency, the “death of God” points to the never-ending project of deconstructing the God of onto-theology. Today Caputo would say that this includes not only the ousia of classical metaphysics, but also the hyperousia of Christian Neoplatonic mysticism.

In the second half of his work, Robbins deftly elicits from Vattimo and Caputo pointed reflections and responses to their essays. Thus Caputo asks whether Vattimo’s characterization of the “destiny” of the West as tied in with Christianity does not push him into establishing a new master “meta-narrative” that undermines his project of “weak” thinking. Vattimo, for his part, insists that the Christian tradition marks the place where he finds himself and that one of the purposes of weak thinking is to expose the ideological distortions of religion. Indeed, this critique of the (ab)use of religious language to buttress ecclesiastical power is one point on which both Vattimo and Caputo strongly agree, particularly in its contemporary exercise by the Vatican.

The degree of sophistication of these presentations makes them unsuitable for beginning students. But for advanced undergraduates and any theologian seeking an introduction to one strand of post-modern philosophical recovery of discourse on God, these essays by exemplary practitioners are well worth studying.

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