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The Void of God, or The Paradox of the Pious Atheism: From Scholem to Derrida

Agata Bielik-Robson


My essay will take as its point of departure the paragraph from Gershom Scholem’s “Reflections on Jewish Theology,” in which he depicts the modern religious experience as the one of the "void of God" or as "pious atheism". I will first argue that the "void of God" cannot be reduced to atheistic non-belief in the presence of God. Then, I will demonstrate the further development of the Scholemian notion of the ‘pious atheism’ in Derrida, especially in his Lurianic treatment of Angelus Silesius, whose modern mysticism emerges in Derrida’s reading as the ‘almost-atheism’ (presque-atheisme). The interesting feature of this development is that, while for Scholem, the ‘void of God’ is a predominantly negative experience, for Derrida, it becomes an affirmative model of modern – not just Jewish, but more generally, Abrahamic – religiosity which, on the one hand, touches upon atheistic non-belief in the divine presence here and now, yet, on the other, still insists on commemorating the ‘withdrawn God’ through his ‘traces.’ What, therefore, for Scholem, constitutes the ultimate cry of despair, best embodied in Kafka’s work – for Derrida, reveals the more positive face of the modern predicament in which God has absented himself in order to make room for the creaturely reality. And while Scholem envisages redemption as the full restoration of the divine presence – Derrida redefines redemption as the ‘pious’ work of deconstruction to be undertaken in the ‘almost-atheistic’ condition of irreversible separation between God and the world.

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