A Deconstructionist Epistomology of Religion

By Tim Butler | Posted at 11:18 PM

Ok, so how's that for a fancy schmancy title? I need to develop my ideas a little more (and see what's actually going on with this concept already), but I think it is high time to explore a deconstructionist philosophy within Christianity, and I'm not seeing it happening anywhere I normally look. Now, I'm sure if you know Deconstructionism, you are probably thinking I am crazy, so hold on just a moment.

I find reading Jacque Derrida painful, to say the least, but I find deconstructionism extremely interesting once I pull the concept out of Derrida's text (which is truly deconstructed). The basic premise is simple enough: “meaning is endlessly deferred.” Whenever we seek meaning about something, which is called “the center,” we move away from the center, placing the focus on the means of understanding. It is essentially impossible to zero in on the thing itself, according to deconstructionism.

Deconstructionism differs from the atheistic, twentieth century existentialism in that it does not argue that meaning is arbitrary or non-existent, but rather that it is impossible to get to. I think this is actually a more faithful outgrowth from Kierkegaard's original flavor of existentialism, and it also fits in neatly with my interest in redeveloping a Barthian neo-orthodox theology. Essentially, deconstructionism undermines any system of rational thought, admitting that none of them can get to meaning. This, of course, would include natural theology, to which we must follow Karl Barth in saying, “Nein!”

But, this does not lead to despair when applied within Reformed theology, because our knowledge comes not from our own reason but God's. To me, it seems that what seems true coming out of deconstructionism is essentially an observation about the fall: a fallen creation cannot rationally or otherwise actualize meaning. The meaning is clearly there, but that meaning can only be drawn close to, not found. We can accept a Thomistic framework of natural theology, but we must accept that the center will be missed and must be interpolated via revelation. This is an important point, because it does not rule out reason, but rather puts reason within the bounds of revelation, our only hope of actually escaping a never ending series of collapsing systems.

I think this is not only interesting, but it also serves as an excellent response to modernist over-rationalism. From experience we can say that modernism does not work, precisely because everyone must accept a crisis point of faith and make a leap of faith to enter whichever scheme of knowing they feel is most proper. Deconstructionism does not say anything new, yet it gives its message so boldly and directly, I think it does bring significant value to the table.


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