In his book, Hoping Against Hope (Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim), John D. Caputo reflects on a dialogue of those who seek a faith “without protection from doubt.” His words spoke to my heart. He names the place at which I find myself these days.
“Derrida once said of himself that he ‘rightly passed for an atheist.’ When asked, why he did not say I am an atheist, he said it was because he did not know if he were. That is what people say of him and, by the standards of the local rabbi, that is correct. But the deeper truth (beyond correctness) and the deeper faith (beyond belief) is that there are many voices inside him, and they give each other no rest, so that he cannot say who or what he is, as if that were something final or finished. Atheist and theist have to do with beliefs, positions that condense into propositions meant to represent entities, which are contingent and even birth-switchable. The truth has to do with a deeper and more ambiguous faith and hope. His ‘rightly passing for’ provides a splendid formula for theology, for any deeper faith in the unconditional. What better way to describe the nature of the hold we have on any belief we think we hold, for any contingent opinion we have formed based on the shifting times and tides of circumstances and accidents of birth. Do we not all ‘rightly pass’ for something or other, for Christian or Muslim, theist or atheist, right-wingers or left-wingers, ‘or whatever,’ as we say in our postmodern age – while more deeply considered we are all a great question to ourselves? Derrida’s remark parallels a famous saying by Johannes Climacus, one of Kierkegaard’s most important pseudonyms, who declined to claim he was a Christian and said instead that he was ‘trying to become’ one.
“In sum, and this is what I cannot find in my catechism, the more unconditional model of hospitality is the rule without rule that reigns in the kingdom of God. The kingdom is made up of beings of a deeper darker faith communicating in a midnight rendezvoux, whatever they may ‘rightly pass for’ during the daylight hours. The darker dialogue takes place among communities of faith, communities of those without communities practicing an unconditional faith, a faith without protection from doubt. Such people dare to let their beliefs weaken in order to allow a more underlying but unstable faith break through and to permit the appearance of a more elementary hope in a more indelible but indiscernible promise. The rose blossoms among communities of non-knowers, gathered in the night of non-knowing, among those who cannot see what is coming. There a smile breaks out on the surface of matter, a rose blossoms unseen in a remote corner of infinity, and then all too soon is gone. The cosmos – that vaunting arch that Jackie had been contemplating these many years – movies on, en route to the absolutely unthought. About this religion, the priests and nuns kept their counsel.”
John D. Caputo, Hoping Against Hope (Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim), Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2015, pages 101-102. The quotation from Jacques Derrida is from the essay, “Circumfession: Fifty-Nine Periods and Paraphrases,” in Geoffrey Bennington and Jacques Derrida, Jacques Derrida (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 155.