I’m trying to think of some divinity dissociated from power, if it is possible – Jacques Derrida
By Richard Mather
French philosopher Jacques Derrida was born in 1930 in Algiers. His Judeo-Sephardi ancestors had fled to North Africa after the Spanish Inquisition. Towards the end of his life, Derrida began a theological inquiry in which he began talking about God as a weak force – a force without force.
Speaking at the “Religion and Postmodernism 3” conference, held at Villanova in September, 2001, Derrida had this to say:
“We usually identify God with the almighty, that is, with absolute power.[…] God is supposed to be absolutely powerful in our tradition.[…] I’m trying to think of some unconditionality that would not be sovereign.”
He continued: “That means that some unconditionality might be associated not with power but with weakness, with powerlessness.[…] I’m trying to think of some divinity dissociated from power, if it is possible.”
In Derrida’s view, God does not – cannot – compel us to act. Although He is without conditions and without limits, He is not a coercive God. God may be unconditional in the sense that he is not restricted by anything external, but He has disassociated Himself from power and strength, says Derrida.
Note how Derrida’s terminology (“without limits,” “restriction”) echoes some of the terminology found in the Kabbalah, which employs terms such as ein sof (“that which is without limits”) and tzimtzum (“contraction”):
“In the beginning, a simple divine light filled the entirety of existence,” said Rabbi Isaac Luria, the seventeenth-century Jewish mystic who is considered the father of contemporary Kabbalah.
“When there arose in His simple will the desire to create the worlds, He contracted His light, withdrawing it to the sides and leaving a void and an empty space in its centre, to allow for the existence of the worlds,” added Rabbi Luria.
Derrida characterised God’s restriction as a kind of voluntary powerlessness. This is why God is unconditional, according to Derrida. Only by voluntarily restricting Himself and making Himself powerless or weak, can human language, creativity and history come into being.
The voluntary restriction of God explains why He does not use force: God can insist, but He cannot compel. That is what Derrida means when talks about the weakness of God, of God dissociated from power.