Here's a fabulous piece by the highly creative Catholic theologian James Alison [pictured] - God and Desire, presented to the 2007 Quest Conference, Sheffield (England), on 21 July 2007. No wonder he's one of Rowan Williams' favourites. I'm honoured that one of James' pieces appears in the book that I edited with Jonathan Bartley in 2005, Consuming Passion: Why the killing of Jesus really matters (DLT). James' main website is here. This piece draws on an interesting dramaturgical/operatic metaphor to make its point - inter alia illustrating the central reason for "the poverty of modern discourse about God, whether it be to deny God, à la Dawkins or Hitchens, or to affirm God, in the way that so many of our religious representatives do."
What I’m trying to do here is to bring out something odd about the difference between “a god” and “God”, since it is too easy, in discussions of “the advent of Hebrew monotheism” to find ourselves talking about different sorts of “it” – on the one hand gods, which are “its”, objects, projections of ours, or of our social groupings, slalom poles within our negotiation of the piste which is our universe; and on the other hand, “God” which is a much bigger and more definitive sort of “it”. One which sets everything up, gives rules to go by, and cannot be negotiated round. Well, the trouble here is that both the little “its” and the big “it” share in the same essential quality of “itness” – that is to say, they are objects which are, to some degree or other, within our ken.
However, the whole point of the advent of Hebrew monotheism is that it doesn’t fit into this picture at all: in fact it completely reverses it. What the advent of Hebrew monotheism looked like could, and can, only be detected in the radical reversal of desire which it produces. It is not that a new “It” begins to open up before our gaze, a gaze which has been brought into being by the relationships which have taught us who we are and shown us what we can see and desire. Instead, “I Am bringing everything to be” (Ex 3,14) starts to emerge as it were from behind our capacity for gaze, behind everything that is, by producing profound alterations of the patterns of desire which enable us to be “selves” at all, such that we find ourselves ceasing to be self-grasping “I”s who share in the creation of “its” by rivalry, defence, paranoia and projection.
So what it feels like to us to undergo “I Am bringing everything to be” is much more like a loss of all those sacred projections and “its” on whom we could depend and over which we could fight. And in their place, there is nothing at all in our gaze, no god at all. This is because the new pattern of desire which is calling us into being is without ambivalence, conflict, scarcity or danger and so the new “I”s, the new “selves” which will be the embodied symptoms of this new pattern of desire, rest peacefully upon their own given-ness by another. It is not what we see, but our capacity for gaze itself that is undergoing transformation as we find ourselves being given an equality of heart so that we see as we are seen, we know as we are known (1 Cor 13,12; Gal 4,9), without distortion, because “I AM” is enlivening us into being.