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On Religion (Thinking in Action)
On Religion (Thinking in Action)
John D Caputo
Routledge, 2001
147 pp., 28.95

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Stephen N. Williams

On Religion and Revelation

Reading John Caputo.


In the letter which produced the famous phrase "religionless Christianity," Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: "The time when people could be told everything by means of words, whether theological or pious, is over."1 We hear the word-weary sigh. Bonhoeffer's sentiments have been the subject of radically contrasting interpretations, but it looks as though, one way or another, prayer and righteous action constitute the inner heart and outward form of his religionless Christianity in a new world come of age.

To its detractors, deconstruction might seem to be the opposite of word-weariness; rather, it is a case of indulgent wordplay. But John Caputo's work has highlighted the messianic longing for that which is to come, for justice, in the work of deconstruction's éminence grise, Jacques Derrida.2 Derrida is the proponent of religion without religion. So Bonhoeffer's religionless Christianity and Derrida's religion without religion are both matters of prayer and righteous action, if I may loosely apply the latter description to Derrida. Looked at from one perspective, what we have here is the alliance of two divorced parties. In the first case, a religion without religion is a religion divorced from determinate beliefs couched in propositions. In getting rid of beliefs and propositions in their familiar associated form, you might think that you are getting rid of religion, but not so, as Schleiermacher, Tillich, and others have long taught us. In the end, and by the time we come to Derrida, religion can stand without a cognitive or propositional apparatus. In the second case—the case of justice—the "virtue" of justice was once grounded in positive religion. But it need not be, and a justice embedded in an indeterminate messianic impulse is a justice separated from its grounds. Nietzsche famously complained about a state of affairs whereby moderns attempted to retain morality, e.g., justice, without belief in God.3 If the marriage should never have happened, ...

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