This is the opening session from Subverting the Norm 2 that was held this past Spring.Rushmore_Poster_rev0

The incomparable Jack Caputo brings the Radical Theology heat … and Tony Jones responds.


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johnboy sylvest
johnboy sylvest

cross-posting fr theoblogy, a response to Tony Jones

I am just getting around to this AAR session. While I am deeply sympathetic with Caputo's postmodern critique and the processs approaches, in general, I wholly resonate with your response, Tony, which was remarkably dispositive of and apposite to a manuscript you had not seen.

One needn't be either a professional or academic, philosopher or theologian, I hope, to contribute something important to their discourse. Being neither, I welcome your hospitality, a hallmark of the Spirit, to #8 be myself and #6 contribute original content.

To your points #1-4, yes, yes, yes and amen!

In the first place, the postmodern approach remains -not a system, but- a critique. Those who systematize it will discover that it self-subverts. Caputo gets its constructive aspect, but, while semiotic interpretation does go on and on in its recursive triads, theoretically, its radicalization, practically, pays value-realization dividends much sooner than it seems certain deconstructionists seem able or willing to recognize. (I've much more to say in defense of this but suspect many intuitively grasp this.) After all, ours is a "pragmatic" semiotic realism in this quintessentially American tradition, which might be what distinguishes it from what has gone on, as they like to say, on the Continent, not always for the better in either religion or philosophy.

As for process approaches, all metaphors eventually collapse and root metaphors are especially susceptible, as they try to prove too much. Some are saying way more than we can possibly know. Process approaches launched from within the faith as theologies of nature can be great poetic adventures of liturgical import. Onto-theologies beginning in descriptive science and normative philosophies can be legitimate theoretic enterprises, hypothetically and provisionally, but should have less practical import and performative significance than the orthopathic, orthocommunal and orthopraxic approaches of our great traditions, themselves, approaches which a pragmatic semiotic realism esteems due to its inherent axiological conservatism, epistemologically.

Your pastoral experience has likely injected these epistemic intuitions into your theological marrow, so you feel it in your philosophic bones. Good religion does that, fostering a sustained authenticity (Lonergan), which makes us better scientists, better philosophers, better artists, better servants, better parents, better lovers, precisely because it orthopathically orients our evaluative dis-positions to the horizons, where intellectual, moral, social, economic and political positions are informed by beauty, goodness and unity, on the wings of which truth often flies in.

I do believe certain process intuitions regarding God's weakness are spot-on for a variety of reasons that can already otherwise be established both from a more vague, emergentist phenomenology (of thermo-, morpho- and teleo-dynamics) and, especially, from the Gospel. Someone is telling untellable stories, however, capitulating to humean nonsense and modernist reductionistic tendencies, when too strictly limiting divine prerogatives and sovereignty, all resemblances to Caesar, notwithstanding.

Let Griffin's Anselmian formulation stand, that God's power is one greater than that which otherwise cannot be consistently thought (or something like that), consistent with an order, that is, that would not interfere with human volition, free will. It doesn't follow, then, that because some divine interaction would thus interfere that all would. And it would caricature process approaches to suggest that because their stance precisely provides for weak or soft power. But power presents on a spectrum, which makes it problematic to draw lines or venn diagrams distinguishing persuasion from coercion. A weaker claim is defensible, it seems, which is that God indulges neither, actually eschews, an apathetic indifference (deism) nor a pathetic interference (codependency), but, rather, a polite, habitual, empathetic intercommunion (soft power, persuasive indwelling) and a sovereign, occasional, sympathetic intervention (even coercive but within constraints limited logically per kenotic self-limitation as would remain consistent with preservation of human volition; who are we to a priori suggest what, precisely, would thus interfere?). We don't get this from onto-theology but from revelation, amplified by a theology of nature, phenomenologically, not metaphysically.

All which brings us to a Goldilocks epistemology, somewhere between the modernistic epistemic hubris and postmodernistic excessive epistemic humility (a perverse, incoherent hubris).

There is MUCH in popular piety that needs deconstruction, but our great traditions contain this wisdom, already, for they foster a move beyond the exoteric to the esoteric. A postmodern sensibility is supposed to get that a myth, while not literally true, nevertheless can evoke an appropriate response to ultimate reality, that sacraments, as symbols, efficaciously and semiotically, gift us with authentic human value-realizations, making real and present, precisely, the eucharistic realities they bring to mind. It's not an authentic postmodern critique that deconstructs such myths and symbols without truly, radically recovering their deepest meanings but a degenerate modernistic capitulation to scientism.

Popular piety, in my view, deserves a semiotic benefit of the doubt, whether with angels and demons, loved ones in heaven or intercessory and petitionary prayer, which can reveal healthy evaluative dispositions, while not at all inconsistent with legitimate theological positions, unless one so narrowly misconstrues them, reducing them from interpretive stances to descriptive science and normative philosophy, which, ironically, is a major philosophic category error, called scientism

Bravo, ToJo!

pax, amor et bonum



I'm very much the layperson but: Can someone pin down for me more precisely what Caputo means by 'the event'? I read somewhere that this is more a Heidiggerian event rather than a Badiouian, but I'm not sure what that entails. (For Badiou, the "truth procedure" LEADS to the event, but that was not the sense I was getting in the way Caputo was talking about it. This was a quote I came across around the time of listening to this podcast: Deconstructive theology, championed by John Caputo and Gianni Vattimo... is premised on Heidegger’s theory of truth, that truth is an event caused by the alteration of revealing and concealing"

Thank you!