Subverting the Cynics
(or, why I didn't hear about faithfulness, salvation,
and the Spirit)
I heard most of what John Caputo and Peter Rollins had to say last Friday evening during an event called "Subverting the Norm," held on the campus of Drury University. Caputo is a philosopher from Syracuse University who wrote (among other things) "What Would Jesus Deconstruct?," and Rollins is an "emergent" leader from Northern Ireland who wrote (among other things) "The Orthodox Heretic." Several speakers were featured during the weekend gabfest, where those disenchanted with traditional forms of Christianity gathered to find encouragement.
Caputo used Hegel's dialectical determinism to make sense of the inexplicable essence of our faith (what Caputo called "the event"), where true hope is found in hopelessness, true forgiveness is only offered when the offense is unforgivable, and faith is grounded in doubt. The binary context of Caputo's symbolic world almost compelled me to offer my profound appreciation for his talk by saying, "I truly understand what you're saying because I misunderstand this event"). But, that would be disingenuous because I think I understand "the event" called "Subverting the Norm."
It dawned on me as I began to take in Rollins' remarks (who spoke after Caputo). There, in large letters projected on the flat screen monitor, was the theme for the gathering, "Subverting the Norm." I thought, "That would be an apt description of the cynics of the first-century, their raison d'etre, the banner for their movement. In fact, if they were to have had a meeting [but they wouldn't--they're cynics after all!] they probably would have given it the same title." Then, Rollins began to sermonize about the failure of traditional Christianity, and the reason his community of faith (called "Eikon") in N. Ireland explored ways of reclaiming Christian faith for the wounded, the doubters, the rebels, the disenfranchised, the hopeless. (By the way, several times--in the midst of Caputo's and Rollins' talk--I almost shouted, "Amen.")
Their's is an impossible task (something both Caputo and Rollins recognize). They're fighting a war on two fronts, taking on two ideological worlds that are worlds apart: the strident atheists and the dogmatic theists. To the power-hungry atheists, ready to disabuse all of us poor souls of our silly notions of God and Spirit, these post-post modern prophets declare hope. And, to the obscurantist Christians, convinced that complexities have no place in genuine faith, these neo-dogmaticians prescribe angst. In other words, sometimes Caputo and Rollins sounded like champions of the disenchanted. And, at other times, they sounded like priests of a new institution.
It's easier to be against something than for something. Reacting against what's wrong (the cynic critic) almost comes naturally to those of us who think we have something to say. And yet, trying to be for something without becoming the very thing you despise (agenda!) is the natural consequence of the human condition. I saw that when Rollins showed pictures of his community back home--the trademarked "Eikon," worship as theatre, the outsiders becoming insiders (and vice versa--"down with those pesky fundamentalists!"). And, I heard it in Caputo's voice, when he spelled out what "the event" must look like: "if it doesn't address issues of justice and inclusion, it's not genuine." Hope and judgment--these ideas are hard to hold onto when you're not trying to sound like something you are.
In other words, they were talking about "faithfulness" and the need for "salvation" and the work of the "Spirit." But, seemed afraid to say so.