You are on page 1of 12

Michael Jimenez Conference on Faith and History 2008 Barth and Derrida on the Neighbor Recently the town

of Santa Paula in California, known mostly for its agriculture, has made the news. About four hundred people from the white minority (three-quarters of the 35,000 residents of the town are Latino) have signed a petition to seek to place a moratorium on low-income housing. What is fascinating about this story is that the proponents of the moratorium have openly acknowledged that it targets the Latino, immigrant farm workers in particular. One resident in favor of the moratorium contends that what the city needs is balance stating, “Let the free market run.”1 Perhaps the two sides of the immigration debate would read this story in a typical fashion. The pro-immigrant side would bewail the intolerance that manifests itself in the legislation proposed by the white citizens of Santa Paula while the anti-immigrant side would praise their bold move. However, what I would like to point out today is not a mediating third side to this debate, but instead look at the lack of hospitality that is being expressed in Santa Paula and in similar situations across the world. Hopefully, we will be compelled to ask where exactly is the Christian idea of loving your neighbor found here. This paper will accomplish this task by looking at the French philosopher Jacques Derrida and the Swiss theologian Karl Barth. Why Derrida and Barth? Because both thinkers wrote much on how human beings relate to one another and to the outside world at a time the world was still struggling to find meaning in the post-Holocaust world and in the midst of the Cold War. Moreover, their names are often associated with the postmodern movement. We will first look at Derrida and his beliefs about hospitality toward one another especially found in his work “On Cosmopolitanism” which was focused on hospitality toward asylum seekers. Second,
1

Scott Gold, “In Santa Paula, a White Minority Blames the Poor for the Town’s Problems,” Los Angeles Times, 22 August 2008.

p. trans. 2004). 2000). Mark Dooley and Michael Hughes (New York: Routledge. . In one sense he wanted to see what this word really says regardless of how some considered its meaning today. Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle invites Jacques Derrida to Respond.Jimenez 2 we will examine Barth’s ideas about the Near and Distant Neighbor found in his Church Dogmatics 3:4 published in German in 1951 and English in 1961. 25. This paper will use the ideas of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek to further probe the reasons behind the inhospitable actions of communities. even the uninvited other. to all who might come. 18. immigrant workers or any other group of people that might fit the label of the other.2 2 Jacques Derrida. both singular and universal. real hospitality is given without any consideration of gain and with an element of risk involved. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. Derrida writes: The Great Law of Hospitality – an unconditional Law. Finally. to every other. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford: Stanford University Press. For a similar definition see Derrida. Derrida spent much of his time deconstructing the history of the word. which ordered that the borders be open to each and every one. This so-called ethical-turn was greatly influenced by the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. p. Derrida and Hospitality Toward All One of Derrida’s most famous ideas that surfaced during his so-called ethical-turn was the idea of hospitality. we will conclude by asking how their ideas may help us in our current situation where a lack of hospitality is evident by new walls being built to separate people. and his ideas about the other. trans. It is allowing oneself to be open and vulnerable before the other. without question or without their even having to identify who they are or whence they came. Derrida suggests that showing hospitality to friends and family is easy and somewhat safe. He pondered over the conditionality of hospitality that occurs toward asylum seekers.

so he never felt fully French. pp. there can never be complete satisfaction in that we have finally arrived at perfect harmony. However. A.”5 Therefore. “the nature of intersubjective relationships. Derrida declares 3 4 Jason Powell.Jimenez 3 Why did Derrida address such an impossible idea of hospitality at the end of his life? Derrida’s biographer Jason Powell suggests that Derrida took up the cause of the outsiders. Jacques Derrida: Live Theory. Derrida. He believed that the French government had made it a point to target the sans papiers (French for those without papers) especially because they are mostly made up of low income. 16-7. . Derrida’s work on hospitality is basically his statement on ethics. “Insofar as it has to do with the ethos. ethics is hospitality. the immigrants. the manner in which we relate to ourselves and to others. there is a restless questioning posed in all walks of life and in all human relations. he hoped his ideas would at the very least help serve as a buttress to forms of life that promoted hostile or selfish ideas. Derrida declares. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness.”6 Derrida knew that the openness delineated in his ideas on hospitality would be conditioned by human laws. 13. Jacques Derrida: A Biography (New York: Continuum. Thus. 5 James K. the residence.”4 What is at stake are those institutions that should be welcoming to the other and indeed. that is.3 He was born in Algeria. p. to others as our own or as foreigners. p. the familiar place of dwelling. on a smaller scale. from the very beginning deconstruction is “a response to the other. For example. (New York: Continuum. one’s home. the minorities because of a heightened awareness of cruelty that developed under the anti-Semitism that he faced as a young man. Jacques Derrida: Live Theory. in other words. Muslim immigrants. 2005). inasmuch as it is a manner of being there. Derrida noticed a growing anti-immigrant trend in modern politics found in such things like the Debret Laws. Smith asserts that from the very beginning Derrida has been concerned with the other. A. 69. Calvin College professor James K. He was disturbed at the lack of hospitality being shown by France and other European nations toward the immigrant community. 6 Smith. Smith. 16-7. 2006) pp.

p.”8 However.”7 Moreover. on my sovereignty as host. on my power of hospitality. . trans. Of Hospitality. being in the midst of a crisis seemed to be his natural place. and workers are needed. the feelings of security and economic stability. one tends not to be overly particular when trying to sort out political and economic motivations. during his first pastorate in Safenwil he represented the 7 8 Derrida. Therefore. was especially reserved. the host.. show hospitality their expectation for something in return spoils it.Jimenez 4 what is often the reaction of those that have a heightened desire for security and safety: “Anyone who encroaches on my ‘at home.”10 For example. Derrida notes how the issues of economics dictate how a nation will practice hospitality to the outsider: “When the economy is doing well. even those that are unexpected. 2002). and virtually as an enemy. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. and I risk becoming their hostage. Michigan: Eerdmans. He holds the idea of an unconditional hospitality as a way to reflect on the ways individuals. . 53 and 55. reveal the position of those not wanting to relinquish their power over the other. I start to regard as an undesirable foreigner. Derrida. . 1906-1968. 12. One would simply have to read some of his published speeches to agree with Barth scholar Frank Jehle that “Barth was not the type of person who. 9 Ibid. Richard and Martha Burnett (Grand Rapids. This other becomes a hostile subject. In fact. the basic premise to Derrida’s hospitality is the risk involved behind all relations.’ . pp. in a critical situation. 10. 10 Frank Jehle. Ever Against the Stream: The Politics of Karl Barth. Barth and the Near and Distant Neighbor Karl Barth is an important figure to look at because he was in the middle of one of the biggest political crisis of all time. upon the limits of ideas like immigration control people are welcomed under the condition that they will not “expect the slightest economic benefit upon immigration.”9 Both these conditions. 29. p. communities and nations fall short in their openness to the other. p. even when they.

”12 Thus. he continued to speak out against the Nazis even when he was exiled from Germany. 173. Even at the time of his death. . Barth insists that “the Church must concentrate first on the lower and lowest levels of human society. Mangina. Torrance (Edinburgh.”13 An excellent area to examine Barth’s concern for social-political concerns in the light of the gospel of Christ is to see how he applies his understanding to the relationships between people of different cultures. p. in 1946. Jehle suggests what this type of preaching may look like: “For Barth it was important that one not orient oneself one-sidedly in preaching in the name of Jesus Christ to the politically (and economically) powerful. Church Dogmatics. 1960). Often. the gospel in and of itself has enough political force to evoke real. Barth was a gadfly toward both the West and the East during the Cold War. Barth calls those that are of the same nationality and race “near neighbors” and those that are considered foreigners “distant neighbors. 1961). Mangina opens Chapter 1 with an excellent yet brief biography of Barth’s life. . and Church (New York: Anchor Books. substantial change. G. The Church must stand for social justice in the political sphere. 286.” The complacency of German intellectuals during World War I provoked him to violently respond to liberal theology in his famous Romans commentary.11 Barth is in some sense infamous for his overtly Christ-centered theology. UK: T & T Clark. Community. the Church’s only commitment is to be a faithful witness for Jesus Christ and the gospel. it was about swimming against the stream. Bromiley and Thomas F. Karl Barth: Theologian of Christian Witness (Louisville. Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. trans. According to Barth. 13 Karl Barth. earning the title “the Red Pastor. but not always. 2004). pp. Ever Against the Stream. . 11 Joseph L. he calls each person as they are in relation to both the near and distant neighbor. III/4. p. 98-9. State. 14 Barth.Jimenez 5 factory workers in their dispute against the owners. W. He was openly critical of the Nazis and was the principal author of the Barmen Declaration of 1934. 1-6. pp. 12 Jehle. .”14 Barth notes that God calls each person to be obedient in a specific time and place.

. 291. Barth notes that this is not a simple task. this pride should never develop into sanctifying one’s culture or race over another. Our own language must not be allowed to become a prison for ourselves and a stronghold against others. p. Where it is a matter of the command of God. Barth notes that there are aspects of all cultures of the world that could benefit from the influence of foreign cultures.Jimenez 6 Barth deals with the relationship between the near and distant neighbor as a topic for Christian ethics. to learn to understand the foreigner’s language: We shall then try to understand and speak this foreign language to the best of our ability. and even those who seem to be very distant will become relatively near. In other words. the history and culture of one’s people is where God has placed that particular person. to fellowship and to praise him together.. The covenant the God made with all of humanity is through the Brother and Friend of all humanity. 292 and 295. However. p. the challenges and difficulties that arise from the movements of peoples is not an excuse for a nation or community to be 15 16 Ibid. God has created human beings to communicate. God is concerned with all of humanity. Ibid.. tensions will arise when people of different cultures and languages come into real contact with one another. language is a central aspect for Barth. This means that each community and nation should be a welcoming people. pp. only God is holy. 17 Ibid. 294. who gets the burden of learning the language to be able to communicate? According to Barth. Nonetheless. it is the duty of the host people. However.15 Barth explains that one should be proud of his or her own language and heritage.17 The command of God calls each person out of their familiar cultural world to relate to the larger world. who value the fellowship commanded by God. Furthermore..16 Moreover. this is necessary. and as we do so in this respect at least a section of the barrier which seems at first invincibly to separate one nation from another will be removed. Therefore. Jesus Christ.

practicing inhospitable informal laws. unwritten laws acted out by society.19 Žižek. this can be accomplished under the banner of altruistic motives. toward them. 2008). Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek.. (New York: Picador. at the same time. 18 19 Ibid. 294. it must never be barred. to other peoples. 20 Slavoj Žižek. The story about this town serves as a good example on the micro level of society’s problem with its lack of hospitality. 41.. Barth poignantly describes what a nation’s borders should be like: One’s own people in its location cannot and must not be a wall but a door. Barth declares that even the so-called “iron curtain” was only for a season. Thus. p. . is always on the way to those more distant.’”20 In one sense. and even perhaps shut again. just as actual written legislation is oftentimes ignored by the public toward immigrants about their actual legality. while. The one who is really in his own people.18 In other words. p. let alone blocked up. Ibid. p. Whether it be widely opened or not. among those near to him. Violence and Why the Problem is not at the Border for Santa Paula After looking at both Derrida and Barth. we can now ask how to deal with the growing tension in Santa Paula and in other places across the globe. in his new book Violence. 301. he writes that “the main [political] parties now found it acceptable to stress that immigrants are guests who must accommodate themselves to the cultural values that define the host society – ‘It is our country. love it or leave it. Its openness about the Latino people group being the source for the town’s economic woes highlights what is oftentimes behind much of the discourses about the immigration debate. Barth contends that there may be situations that force a particular nation to try to secure itself at the expense of hospitality. Violence: Six Sideway Reflections.Jimenez 7 inhospitable toward the distant neighbor. suggests that now the politics of anti-immigration have gone mainstream. However.

you shall not oppress the alien.” Washington Post.” However. Of course. For example. concrete hospitality look like? How does one begin to implement it? However. Derrida frames his discussion along the lines of the “cities of refuge” passages in Numbers to illustrate the religious dimension behind the obligation of 21 Alan Cooperman. What does real.Jimenez 8 The topic of immigrant’s rights is one that is beginning to divide American evangelicals especially over the issues of justice and upholding existing laws. the Rev. criminal background checks and the successful attempt at learning English. 5 April 2006. declares his disappointment of the lack of white evangelical voices for compassionate immigration reform. in a Washington Post article in 2006. 22 Ibid. The reforms mentioned in the article are such things as procedures for reuniting families. back taxes. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you. it also mentions that the path to citizenship includes fines. Some Christian believers often point to biblical passages like “the welcoming of the stranger” in Matthew 25: 35 as a context for hospitality toward immigrants. and ways for undocumented workers to become legal. . A04. “Letter on Immigration Deepens Split Among Evangelicals. a Hispanic pastor. the ideals explored in both thinkers are reference points to use to critique certain forms of life that breed inhospitality. president of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference. sec. legal or illegal. How can the ideas of Barth and Derrida help with the problem of inhospitality? The main problem in both Derrida’s and Barth’s ideas are that they are not concrete enough.21 It is noted in the article “that two-thirds of white evangelicals consider new immigrants a burden on society. you shall love the alien as yourself. Samuel Rodriguez.”22 Rodriguez insists that if white evangelical leaders do not become more vocal for the humane treatment of immigrants then he suggests that the growing Hispanic evangelical community may not take part in social-political concerns with the white evangelical community. compared with about half of all Americans who hold that view. for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. One of their favorite passages is Leviticus 19:3334: “When an alien resides with you in your land.

The problems that come with language and cultures are constant. which is set up to keep people out. Nevertheless. The real issue is the socio-economic divisions in Santa Paula. The further irony is these new walls are being set up by those nations that preach the ideology of tolerance. . but the socio-economic one: to change society so that people will no longer desperately try to escape their own world. If one were to open the borders. 17. an acknowledgment of the other is at the center of many speeches. pp. as Barth noted. Do they really mean it? Do they really envision a world without borders? Are we really prepared for a world without borders? Many thinkers and politicians speak of tolerance and acceptance in our day and age.23 Furthermore. Derrida perspicaciously dissected the very hypocritical talk of politicians who often speak of such things like an ideal world without borders. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. 23 24 Derrida. the first to rebel would be the local working classes.” the easy attempt demand of soft-hearted liberal “radicals. which was set up to keep people in. Violence. France and in the immigrant’s countries of origin. This is a clear sign of the limit of the multiculturalist “tolerant” approach. not the Immigration Department one.24 Žižek’s point is that the real problem is not language or certain cultural aspects and the level of tolerance we have for one another. which preaches open borders and acceptance of others. 103-4. It is thus becoming clear that the solution is not “tear down the walls and let them all in. has talk about the other really solved the issue? Do not the white minority of Santa Paula identify the other in the Latin immigrant community? Is not this the actual problem? Žižek notes the irony of the differences between the Berlin wall. Žižek.” The only true solution is to tear down the true wall. with the many proposed walls like the one between the Mexican-American border. Žižek declares. or a nation founded by and made up of a citizenry of immigrants. p.Jimenez 9 nations to be open to the foreigner especially if he or she is seeking refuge.

bodily harm to another person. noting Žižek’s argument. Tennessee: Nelson. It is at all levels of society and oftentimes goes unnoticed. The subjective form is what we typically understand as violence. it is the type of systemic violence detailed in Ron Sider’s book Rich Christians in the Age of Hunger. First. as the real culprit. For the sake of brevity it is not discussed in this paper. in the workings of socio-economic injustice. Again. Second. In other words. Symbolic violence is the way language serves as a violent tool to control people. why did they leave in the first place? What exactly is systemic violence? Žižek points out that there is both a subjective and objective form of violence.’ systemic. 2005). there is a way to lay responsibility at a non-partial entity: the market.” Here we find two ideas that are keys to understanding the problem. Žižek also mentions a third mode of violence: the symbolic. this happens subtly and without much fanfare. 13..Jimenez 10 Think about the phrase from the white citizen of Santa Paula: “Let the free market run. the white minority is not culpable for the proposed expulsion of the Latin immigrants. p. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Nashville. Žižek asserts that “this violence is no longer attributable to concrete individuals and their ‘evil’ intentions.”25 We might ask what if it is the workings of the market that is at fault? What if the problem is that the market is running unabated too long? Thus. Ibid. . especially for Christian 25 26 Ibid. 11. it is indifference or ignorance to systemic violence. For example. Objective.26 Systemic violence aims precisely at the other through the machinations that support the socio-economic system. anonymous. one must ask. that the problem is that something is holding back the freedom of the market. Sider. 27 Ronald J. it is when one person does physical.. it is simply the workings of the market that will move them out. but is purely ‘objective. When a group of people have left their homeland that they love for better opportunities for themselves and their families. this happens subtly and often unnoticed. Again. p.27 The premise behind Sider’s book is to raise awareness. systemic violence is what underlies subjective violence.

The problem is that people are often quick to respond to examples of subjective violence. As we have seen. However. and to move out of their homeland and look for ways to embrace their fellow humanity. This mood is evident in that fact that two-thirds of white evangelicals simply see the immigration problem as a burden to their own society. if the argument was phrased around the issues of systemic violence. Perhaps. Awareness of this fact should produce self-examination of both our private and public lives and a better response of hospitality than what is often expressed. then more white evangelicals would be open to comprehensive immigration reform. He suggests a few tempered ways to stop some of the habits that contribute to this systemic violence. According to Barth. on how they and the rest of society help contribute to much of the poverty in the Third World.Jimenez 11 believers from affluent nations. as seen in Barth’s own stance against Hitler. the distant neighbor often arrives because of issues of systemic violence. as both Barth and Derrida suggest. This is an ethical command from God. Conclusion How should evangelicals respond to the issues of inhospitality addressed in this paper? Barth’s teaching is helpful here. it is the role of the Christian to be concerned and active on behalf of the distant neighbor even when he or she may be at one’s doorstep or in a far away land. to some extent. comes before anything else. Moreover. Barth suggests that fidelity to Christ. we must not simply worry about how hospitable we . whom he assumes is natural for them. which we might. that is happening here and over there. who have a common brother in Christ. Barth’s plea is for Christians to be less concerned about their own nationalistic interests. even be culpable. yet oftentimes need convincing that there is even such a thing as systemic violence. and under the topic of ethics.

Instead of arguing about putting a wall up or down. Perhaps. evangelicals could deal with the concrete situation in Santa Paula and serve as channels of reconciliation there. we can get involved in particular situations involving near and distant neighbors that need reconciling and a little hospitality. .Jimenez 12 come across. but actually try to accomplish concrete reform for both the near and distant neighbor.