The ‘Monstrosity’ of God
Kearney continues his discussion of the critical role of negative theology and conceptual atheism in thinking about the God Who May Be by looking at another form of what he calls, mystical postmodernism. This form of postmodern thought “challenges attempts to reduce divine alterity (Otherness) to the level of human hermeneutics.”
Apophatic theology tries to achieve this critique by speaking about God by negations. This ‘monstrosity’ critique, from the likes of Schelling, Heidegger, and Zizek, is what Kearney calls a teratology of the sublime. Or, in more simple terms, the study of the monster which is God. Some forms of New Age thought call this the ‘dark God’ an “ambivalent deity which transcends our conventional moral notions of good and evil…”, a God “whose very horrendousness explodes all categories of judgement and shatters our accredited ‘standards for harmony, order, and ethical conduct.'” (Kearney quoting Joseph Campbell, 33).
The horrendous God, in this type of theology, is a God who we are unable to know and thus who we are unable to call good or evil. There is nothing to say that this God might be a God who exacts vengeance on Creation, who orchestrates things like the Holocaust for the pure fun of it. God’s transcendence becomes a dark ‘void’ that we are faced with. This critique pushes God to the brink of what we consider to be good. God is beyond good and evil and as such can be the origin of both. God is not just different from us; God is also “radically estranging,” bent on exercising his will at the cost of anything and everything.
Kearney does not believe this critique of God is without some merit: “While acknowledging therefore how salutary it is to shock theological orthodoxies and unsettle the self-righteous, I do believe that certain postmodern teratologist revel in excess [God’s transcendence] for its own sake.” (34) That is, Kearney sees the extremes of the ‘horrific God’ and the God-we-can-totally-grasp as both problematic. A mi-lieu is needed, a middle way. This ‘horrific God’ is a masochistic deity; the God-we-can-totally-grasp is simply a reflection of our weaknesses and greatest desires, an idol that looks more like us every day.
The negative theology of Jean Luc-Marion and others and the ‘horrific God’ of mystical postmodernism are two poles that try to protect God’s transcendence and Otherness. But in doing so, Kearney believes they both prevent God from being historically active in the world, and from being a God who is not a horrendous stranger who might maim humanity in the dark abyss.
Where is the middle way?