“The keys to a postmodern hermeneutic are suspicion and trust” (46).
At its base, at its best, postmodern thought might well be summarized as a profound realization of human limitation. The symbols that ought to lead us into the path of truth we take with us instead, using them to baptize our basest cruelties and most sinful and unwarranted desires. We trust that our traditional religious symbols will not betray us, but we betray the better angels of our traditions instead.
Too eagerly, we assume that, rather than being led to our eventual God by the metaphors of our theology, we are in fact already there and those symbols are clearly manifest in our persons and our practices, as opposed to anyone and everyone else’s.
But we cannot abandon religious symbols, for they are all in some sense that we have, we always already have them – if we allow that religious symbols can be manifested by those who are not manifestly religious, if even Neanderthals can care about how they bury the dead.
To escape religion then is not to escape the thinking that produces religious symbols, but simply to swap them out for some alternative. The problem is not the symbols, but our attitude. What the Greeks would call hubris is not confined to those who share the scandal of the Cross.
Everyone gets religious symbols; what we must consider is whether or not our own offer explicatory power, and what precisely our own best symbols are. To test these we assume that they are true, we take them on faith; symbols are in fact the currency of faith: “in God we trust.”
We take our symbols from our traditions and cast their net upon the world to see what they might catch, and we cannot fish alone; we actually belong to grand fishing traditions, fish are a prime denomination of our faith.
And all we know about money is that it cannot abide alone. To buy and sell is a relational transaction, to cast the net of our assumptions into the marketplace of all ideas. This does not work if I alone believe. We believe in one God, creator of heaven and earth. The economy of faith requires more than one person, just as it takes more than one person to haul a net, and a crisis of faith in money or in fish can bring the whole world down.
And already we see something of a yield, for we see in that other master an unholy trinity of seller, buyer, and sold, the content a serious challenge to faith in God but the dynamic a potential model of how the God of faith might function; no component of this transaction exists in and of itself economically, but each exists by and for each of the others, however much the seller might have originated the transaction, if not the want which resides in the spirit of all human buyers.
But still we must say that something fishy is going on, because ours is a family business, operated not on the principle of the wants of desire, not on the machinations of greed, but on the gifts and graces of the needful economy of love. Jesus sells himself, does more wonders than all the ads of the world could tell.
There is always plenty of fish for everyone – good enough news, we might say, to net just about anyone. So our net profit is not measured in goods or worldly gains but solely on the hiring of new hands, no matter what time they come. Many hands make light the yoke, and ease the burden to a fish breakfast by the sea. This is the ad par excellence, the copy by which read all our other copy.
And like all the best ads, Jesus is both expected and surprising, innocent and alluring, a provocateur with more lives than anyone might have guessed. But unlike all ads, better than any ad, there is no regret for what he’s selling. There is no buyer’s remorse for love, however costly it might be. Like fish themselves, love is both sold in fine restaurants and best cooked over a pit by the sea – its price is precisely what we decide it is.
The most fluid of consumables is that which we cannot possibly consume, a meal which, like fish again, offers almost infinite sustenance but rarely satiation. Is that worthless? Or is that worth everything we have?
The offering of Jesus is most suspicious indeed, too good, in fact, to correspond to any known reality. But the question of our trust is whether, in fact, this offering is too good to be anything but true, scandalous not because it fails to explain the world but because it cannot help but change it.