Grammatology (A Review)

First, what Derrida is not saying.  He is not saying “Everything is relative.”  He is not saying, “There are no absolutes.” That’s what the American university professor believes, but that’s not Derrida.  So in one swoop 99% of Conservative Culture Warrior criticisms of “postmodernity” are false.

French Postmodernism is not as difficult as it may appear.   Derrida does a good job in defining his terms, and as long as we keep those definitions present, much of what he says is not only coherent, but quite insightful:

The Holy Grail (or Pandora’s Box) of philosophy is “being-as-pure-presence.”  What does that mean?  It’s hard to say.  One helpful definition,

[It is a] transcendental signified” … which transcends all signifiers, and is a meaning which transcends all signs.

In other words, a Gods-eye-point of view.  As finite creatures, we can never have that.  But presumably that is what we want.  Or so Derrida says.  Outside a few gnostic hyper-Calvinists at Puritanboard, I don’t know anyone who wants that “being-as-presence.”

So for all the danger of Derrida, we are on relatively solid ground.  Indeed, much of it sounds like a robust Christian hermeneutics.  Mediation goes all the way down. “il n’y a pas de hors-texte.”  There is no aspect of our experience that escapes the play of signifiers. Instead of a metaphysics of presence we have an ontology of quasi-trace. Reference never gets to a “pure” outside that isn’t already touched by mediation and signifiers.

Indeed, throw in some Trinitarianism where each Person infinitely defers to the Others, and we have done a complete end-run around Western metaphysics.

But that’s not what Derrida means and that’s where he runs into problems.  He knows we can’t have pure presence, so any pure presence is always already supplemented with (x).  And this fact of supplementation is an act of violence, for it posits nature as lacking.

Again, if we are looking at it from post-fall Christian theology, that’s true.  There is no pure, good nature (in the sense of Harambe and children playing with each other).  But I don’t think that is what he means.

The real villain is writing.  Writing dislocates the subject that it constructs.  Writing displaces speech and introduces “an economy of signs” (142). Writing means that the “representing” is the actual thing itself.


*Derrida says thought is “the blank part of a text…[meaning] nothing” (92).  Presumably it functions as an empty set.   But this is just not how thought and language work.  Language, albeit not-yet-verbal, is what makes thought possible.  Now if what he means by this is thought can never be a “transcendental signified,” fine.  But I don’t think he means that.

**Let’s pretend Derrida’s analysis is correct for a moment.  So what?  I’ve never met a single human being who has ever thought that supplement = violence, or can even conceptualize that. Postmodernism will fail, not because it is wrong, but because no one cares whether it is right or wrong.



Dugin outline, chapter 1

I am doing an analytical outline of Dugin’s Fourth Political Theory.

Birth of a Concept

  1. Three Ideologies
    1. Liberalism: the individual is the normative subject (this includes both free market capitalism and the Democratic Party.  I am using “liberal” in a non-perjorative sense).
    2. Fascism: race or nation is normative subject
    3. Communism: Class
      The second and third options failed, leaving liberalism in charge.  Without any alternatives, liberalism is the norm.
    4. 4th political theory: Dasein is the acting subject.  We will explain more on this later.
  2. Postmodernism
    1. Global Market Society
      1. Globalism
      2. Technology
    2. Kingdom of Antichrist
  3. Heidegger and the Event
    1. The ancient greeks confused the nuances between pure being (Seyn) and a being (Seinende).
    2. Nihilism and the event
      1. The “Nothing” is the flip side of being and paradoxically reminds one of Being’s existence.
      2. Event: the sudden return of being.


A Tale of Two Metaphysics

To wax hippie and postmodern for a moment, this is a “journey” of a post, more than a philosophical one.  Every year I go back and forth between analytic philosophy and continental philosophy.  This seems to correlate with my reading of Barth.

Ultimately, I don’t care which school is right.  They are tools, not goals.  Which one advances the kingdom better?  Which one gives a better picture of God (oops, Wittgensteinian slip)?

And I don’t have a good answer. But maybe I can point out strengths and weaknesses and show where the church can be spiritually bettered.

Continental Philosophy

To navigate modern discussions, you have to deal with Hegel.  Plain and simple.  This doesn’t mean you are a “liberal” or a “pantheist.”  It just means you are doing responsible scholarship. And it means you have to engage a certain vocabulary (the “Other,” “positing,” etc).  Nothing wrong with that but not necessarily easy.

One of the advantages is that Continental Philosophy seems to merge easily with other disciplines, like literature.  This gives it an immediate relevance that analytic philosophy seems to lack.  On the other hand, I am not always sure I know what they are saying.30665548

Analytic Philosophy

Analytic philosophy is clear, precise, and similar to doing mental exercise. I just feel sharper when I am done reading guys like Plantinga.  And I didn’t always know that analytic philosophy of today is not the same thing as of earlier generations.  Earlier analytic models thought reality (or clarity or meaning) was obtainable simply by asking the question, “Well what do you mean by that?”  Ask it enough and you arrive at meaning (or get punched in the face).

The more dangerous implication is that things are truly knowable only in the abstract and not in systems of relations.  This is deleterious for Christian theism.

But even guys like Ayer realized that was a dead-end.

After the Plantinga revolution, Christian philosophers started using many of the tools of analytic philosophy, without necessarily committing themselves to earlier conclusions–and the results are often amazing.  See especially Plantinga’s Nature of Necessity and God, Freedom, and Evil.

One of the problems, though, is that analytic guys are perceived (whether this is fair or not) as having a “take-it-or-leave-it” approach to the history of doctrine.  I will come back to that point.

Biola and Calvin College:  Can They Meet?

I single out Biola and Calvin as two respective representatives of the above tradition.  Biola boasts of luminaries like JP Moreland and William L. Craig.  The “Calvin tradition” is represented by James K. A. Smith.  And both streams have done outstanding work. Even more, analytic guys like Moreland are able to tie philosophical analysis in with the “spiritual disciplines” movement, Renovare.  Here is great promise but also great danger.


This is the brainchild of Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline.  On a practical level, much of it is quite good.  The idea that bodily disciplines break bad habits is just good, practical psychology (I got accused by a powerful Gnostic Magus on Puritanboard of denying the gospel for that sentence).

But…there is almost zero discernment in these guys.  They will take handfuls of Pentecostal, Quaker, Catholic, and Reformed spirituality and just mix ’em together.

Nevertheless…My prayer life improved from following Moreland’s advice.

Calvin Cultural Liturgies

James K. A. Smith has found himself the sparring partner of what is known as the “Biola School.”  Smith’s thesis–which I think is fundamentally correct–is that we aren’t simply “brains on a stick.”  We are embodied and liturgies, to be effective, must engage the whole person.  (I also got accused of denying the gospel on Puritanboard for that statement.  )

We will come back to that statement.

Smith, however, takes his apologetic in a different realm.  While I agree with Smith that “postmodernism” doesn’t just mean “Denying absolute truth” (what does that statement even mean?), I fear that Smith’s cultural applications do not escape the worst of postmodern, low-brow culture. Further, Smith is weak on the doctrine of the soul (in some of his cultural liturgies books he uses “brain” when he should be saying “mind”).

Is that evident at Calvin College?  Rumors abound that Calvin is gutting some of its biblical language programs, and Calvin has invited homosexual speakers in the past.  Make fun of Vineyard and Biola all you want, but I don’t think that has happened.

It is not that Smith’s Cultural Liturgies project is wrong.  I think much of it is quite insightful and I eagerly await his volume on Augustine, but I am nervous where the applications are going.

To be fair to Smith, though, and to Continental Philosophy, they have been more attentive to the history of philosophy (and perhaps, history of doctrine)

Possible Overlap

I do see some areas of overlap with Smith and Moreland

  1. Both believe in Jesus’s Kingdom Power for today
  2. Both believe in the body’s importance in spiritual disciplines

What should we do?

In the end, I side with Moreland.  We need analytic philosophy’s discipline and precision.  While both Smith and Moreland believe in Kingdom Power and bodily disciplines, the latter’s “cultural” applications are far more responsible.

Reading Torrance and not being postmodern

In my recent debate with a Gnostic Magus on a Reformed facebook forum, I was accused of being “postmodern.”  First, what does postmodern even mean?  The well-informed reader knows this is a trick question.  Even if you give the correct answer, you will still be wrong.  There are at least 3 correct answers.

Presumably the magus meant something like “fresh and edgy.”  I don’t know.  I saw no argument to the effect.  My guess is that these internet theologian-warriors mean something like “relativist.”  But what do we mean by relativist?  Probably something along the lines of “not holding to classical reformed dogmatics.”

I guess.  Shucks, I don’t know.  As is usual with debating TRs, there was no argumentation whatsoever.  But let’s go with the (incorrect) definition that postmodern = relativistic = no objective truth.  How does Torrance and my reading of Torrance fare?  Torrance writes (this is my outline of his argument in The Trinitarian Faith):

    1. Radical shift in the pious’s understanding.
      1. Moved from in-turned human reason (epinoia) to a centre in god’s revealing activity in the incarnation of the Logos (19).
      2. view of faith: not subjectively grounded, (BOOM!) but objectively grounded (again, BOOM!) persuasion of mind, supported by the hypostasis of God’s being  (SNAP).   Hilary: in faith a person takes his stand on the ground of God’s own being (De Trin. 1.18).
    2. scientific knowledge: episteme–standing or establishment of the mind upon objective reality (I am just running up the score at this point).
      1. It is through faith that our minds are put in touch with a reality independent of themselves (thus, the death-knell to Kant and Hegel.   Puritanboard is shown to be false)..
      2. It is through faith our minds assent to the inherent intelligibility of things, yield to their self-evidencing (shades of Descartes!) and are adapted to know them in their own nature (kata phusin).
    3. Faith is not non-cognitive.
      1. it involves the mind’s responsible assent to the self-revelation of God in Christ.
      2. it arises under the creative impact of God’s word (21).
      3. it is listening obedience (upakoe tes pisteos).

Conclusion: we must learn from God himself what we are to think of him (Hilary, De Trin. 5.20).