Eric Valosin: Meister Eckhart says true mystic connection with God requires openness and detachment and is therefore by nature imageless. Can the roles of Artist and Mystic therefore be reconciled?
John D. Caputo: Only if you stick not to what Eckhart says, which is to be naked, silent, imageless, but to what he does, which is to produce this magnificent profusion of German literature which lay at the foundation of the modern German language. No one is more eloquent about silence than Eckhart.
EV: While we’re speaking of Eckhart, you describe "religious experience" as a "coming unhinged" when one is confronted with the limit experience of the possibility of the impossible. You also refer to Eckhart's door illustration in which the hinges are the inner man which, when properly centered, allow the door - the outer man - to swing freely and appropriately around it. Do you see a link between your "unhinging" and the "hinges" of the inner man in Eckhart's swinging door illustration? How might the mystic's "doctora ignorantia" or Heidegger's "gelassenheit," or even Derrida's "différance" play into this hinging/unhinging?
JDC: That is the difference between classical mysticism, in which there is an inner peace and unity with God, no matter how much outer activity; and postmodernists like Heidegger and Derrida, in which the disturbance goes all the way down, disturbing the peace of both the inner man and the outer.
EV: Having come from Copernicus, through Hegel, to the postmodern (what you call post-secular) present, you argue that this age of "good reason" - rather than of capital r "Reason" - casts truth to look a lot more like faith, and religion to simply be the "basic structure of human experience." If art, as Heidegger proposes, gathers and discloses truth, is it possible for art to be anything other than religious? If so, what differentiates mundane art from sacred art?
JDC: All religion is necessarily artistic because religion is a poetics of the divine, a theopoetics, which sings a song to life in the Kingdom of God. The distinction between mundane and sacred art belongs in art history books and library catalogues, because all art touches upon matters of ultimate concern, which is Tillich’s definition of religion. Someone can make literature or painting their religion and not be a bit idolatrous.
EV: As you note, Heidegger writes that techne once referred not only to "technology" but also to the "bringing forth of truth into the beautiful." Mauss and Foucault go on to describe technology as ritualized bodily techniques which, as Mauss concedes, lie "at the base of all our mystical states" and "are necessary means of entering into communion with God." What do you think is the role of technology in the (post)modern spiritual experience?
JDC: I made an initial approach to this in What Would Jesus Deconstruct? when I showed the religious background of Star Wars in Joseph Campbell’s mythological studies. I think religion is simply recontextualized by technology, not wiped away. It simply assumes a new form. Notice how theological is the battle in Battlestar Galactica—the humans are polytheists and the Cylons are quite devout monotheists, monotheistic robots!
EV: As part of this technological recontextualization, you speak of the dematerialized, virtually limitless realm of cyberspace as becoming an ideal grounds for religion. You also write that you see God as an "Event," rather than as the "being" of more traditional conception. What does the Event of God look like in the setting of cyberspace?
JDC: That is a great question and if I had a good answer it would be my next book. My position is like Tillich’s non-theism, that God is not a being, but it is post-Tillichian because I do not think God is the Being of beings. As an event, God calls, God insists, but God does not exist. This is all coming in my The Insistence of God, coming out next year from Indiana UP. What is beginning to sink into our psyche is that the old distinction between “earth and heaven” really is pre-Copernican. If we board a space ship and sail into outer space or to a galaxy far far away, we will not stumble upon a being called God. God is not up; God is ahead. God is a solicitation that calls us beyond ourselves, lures us on, and we are in the midst of a major transition right now, beyond the merely post-modern, to what some people call post-human, meaning the all out effort to detach our bodily lives from their biological foundation, to open up something post-biological. So the question for me is, what are we being called upon to do by the call that is named in the name of God in a world that has shaken the distinction between the human and the machine, the material and the immaterial? That is a question for me, not an answer.
John D. Caputo is an influential philosopher and theologian. He is both the Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion Emeritus at Syracuse University and the David R. Cook Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Villanova University, and is considered a major figure associated with Postmodern Christianity. He's the founder of the theological movement known as weak theology and is largely responsible for the resurgence in scholarly attention to the work of Derrida. My interview with him investigates the artistic implications of his influential “post-secular” theology.