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A soft-spoken God

By Trisha Elliott

God is no superhero on steroids. God isn’t an all-powerful global dabbler either. God is a weak force. God’s only power is the power of the call — a kind of provocation.

It is upon these core thoughts that John Caputo developed “weak theology.” A self-described “postmodern anarchist” and one of the most well-known philosophers of religion today, Caputo summarizes the emerging theological trend in his book The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event.

“Weak theology” is one of many intriguing theologies being bandied about in academic halls these days, and the first of about a dozen that will be explored in this column over the coming year.

Often associated with the postmodern Christian movement, weak theology dispenses with the all-powerful guy-in-the-sky in favour of an image of God as a gentle call toward epiphany. Picture a beckoning star that we can choose to follow or not, rather than an aggressive being who asserts (or withholds) force in the universe. “God does not exist; God insists,” Caputo writes. He describes the insistence as “weak” because it doesn’t threaten, hold power over or intervene in human affairs. Every human feels an unconditional call from a weak force that we use many names, including “God,” to describe.

Caputo occupies the same mystical shade as process theologians, who emphasize that God is not an aggressive power but a diffuse one, luring the universe toward greater beauty. There is no personhood of God. According to Caputo, God is not a be-ing but an event. Less a noun and more a verb. The word “God,” he says, is a label we use to point to the event; religion is an attempt to enact the event, which at its core is the promise of justice.

“We are swept up in the winds of solicitation and invitation, of promise and a prayer for the event, our ears pressed close to the name of God, cupped tightly to the force of the event that gathers like a storm in that name and that keeps the world from closing over,” he writes poetically.

Thinking about God as a weak event has consequences. If Caputo had his druthers, he would cut out creeds and dogmas, read scripture like poetry and leave a lot of room for mystery. “The idea of one true religion . . . or body of religious narratives makes no more sense than the idea of one true poem or one true language or one true culture,” he writes.

Because Caputo’s God doesn’t lord over our lives, the task of theology changes: “Is not a radical theology less a matter of asking how do I apply and translate this authoritative figure of the God of Christianity to the contemporary world and more a matter of asking what do I love when I love my God?”

Or as Charles E. Winquist writes in The Surface of the Deep, “[Theology] may be an experiment with truth, but it is more importantly an experiment of desire.”

Rev. Trisha Elliott is a minister at City View United in Ottawa.

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