For the past year and a half or so, few books have held me as captive as Jean-Luc Marion’s God Without Being. The volume of posts on this blog working with this text is probably an indication of this. Some of my captivation lies in the fact that I am interested in the ways the church can and should claim, name, and confess its central loyalty to Jesus. This is a tricky task. It is not easy to avoid claiming instead the various idols that close us off from Jesus speaking in unexpected places and hold our attention on the voices of false gods. Into such thinking, Marion’s rigorous and evocative efforts to allow for the worship of a God that comes to us as the gift of cruciform love, outside of the logics of Being, speaks with a great deal of potentiality. In this series of posts I want to consider the ways that Marion may be helpful for thinking about the church’s confession of faith and the political formations that might happen with confession of faith. My next post will consider themes of receptivity, dependence, enjoyment, and use vs possession, after which I will consider some of the paternalistic and conservative undertones and implications in these themes. First I will conclude this post with some remarks about Marion’s critique of idolatry and the stakes that I believe are present in his presentation.
Marion situates his discussion in terms of names: “With respect to God, is it self-evident that the first question comes down to asking, before anything else, whether he is? Does Being define the first and the highest of the divine names?” No, Marion answers. Rather, he suggests that the New Testament more profoundly gives God the name “love.” With this name, he seeks to locate God’s self-revealing in the horizon of gift rather than the horizon of Being. In this way, he claims he can make a particular truth claim – namely, that God comes as pure gift, which is love, as most abundantly manifested in Christ – while at once avoiding the incoherencies and limits of a structured metaphysics. He seeks to name meaningfully without dealing out violence, to show that love restores us to impossible speech.
Already here we can see that naming well will mean receiving our speech. Truthful speech cannot come from our own knowledge or ability. Much of God Without Being exposes both the ways human insights become idols through a pretension to self-sufficiency and the idolatry of a faith that finds security in presuming to own or possess God’s truth. The answer, therefore, must involve God’s revelation, a revelation free from any human or institution. And so, receiving the Word must begin with the Word, which does not speak of itself, but simply speaks itself in the midst of the world. As such, we can only receive this Word from an interested standpoint, through an encounter in which the Word enables us to see rightly. We must be converted to the Word.
As I explore Marion’s arguments in future posts we will see the promise this line of thinking holds. At the same time many potential problems arise, holding off too easy an answer. What does it mean to claim that we have encountered revelation (the Word) that is free from corrupting human influence? For one thing, it makes it difficult to see how there can be much accountability to others. It also seems to suggest a preference for conservative institutions (the stewards of the wonderful gift of an uncorrupted revelation, with all the tools to ensure that we do not influence its purity) over a prophetic voice. In short, a confession of faith based off of such revelation risks a politics of arbitrary exclusion, and an arbitrary exclusion that aligns with the conservative establishment at that.
Let’s return to names. Naming is a profound way that we can identify, distinguish, and evaluate; some would even say that the ability to name is the condition of such things. At the same time spoken and unspoken language is something that we receive from others and something that only functions as an establishment within society. Marion wants to teach us how to name without closing ourselves off from the fullness of truth, which he would call the fullness of love. If he can show us how to do this and can show us that love sets the conditions for truth rather than the other way around then perhaps he opens the door to both a radical accountability to others and the enslaved freedom of the prophetic voice. We shall see.