The Telos of Deconstruction
One of the main issues to consider whenever we are examining a movement such as deconstruction is to answer the question what is the telos or purpose it is trying to achieve? In order to obtain that comprehension, we need to look at the origins of a movement and analyze it in terms of what it definitionally says it seeks to do in the world. We need to pick up our magnifying glass and examine everything a little bit more deeply to figure out what deconstruction is after as its end purpose. Oxford Reference says deconstruction is:
“An approach to the reading of literary and philosophical texts that casts doubt upon the possibility of finding in them a definitive meaning, and traces instead the multiplication (or ‘dissemination’) of possible meanings.”1
So, whenever deconstruction, which originated in the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, approaches a text it does not seek to find objective meaning. In other words, deconstruction would not propose that you should read this article in order to find objective truth or believe that I am giving you definitive meaning in what I am saying. Why would this approach hold that particular view? Oxford Reference makes another valuable point:
“Derrida’s alarmingly simplified account of the history of Western philosophy since Plato proposes that the dominant metaphysical tradition, in its deep suspicion of writing, has repeatedly tried to erect a fixed point of reference (a ‘transcendental signified’ such as God, Reason, absolute truth, etc.) outside the promiscuous circulation of signifiers, one that could hold in place a determinate system of truths and meanings. The project of deconstruction, then, is not to destroy but to unpick or dismantle such illusory systems, often by showing how their major categories are unstable or contaminated by their supposed opposites. In philosophical terms, deconstruction is a form of relativist scepticism in the tradition of Nietzsche.”2
Breaking that hefty quote down, Derrida took issue with the idea that there is absolute truth anchored in the transcendent God. Therefore, deconstruction, following after him, seeks not to find objective truth, but to simply dismantle what it believes to be the illusion of such a system existing. In other words, if you hold a worldview that believes objective truth exists, then deconstruction wants to come against that belief seeking to demonstrate it as a fanciful illusion of your imagination. Maybe you think I am overstating the case? Catherine Turner, writing for Critical Legal Thinking, makes this comment:
“Deconstruction does not aim to provide answers. It does not seek to prove an objective truth or to support any one particular claim to justice over another. For this reason deconstruction itself is indeterminate. In Force of Law Derrida concedes that deconstruction is ‘impossible’. The ‘happening’ of deconstruction is not going to lead to a determinate outcome. It will not reveal the one true meaning of justice that can be embodied in law. Rather, deconstruction requires first and foremost the relentless pursuit of the impossible.”3
Keep in mind this is coming from a site which held an event commemorating Derrida’s deconstructionist approach to law as being beneficial for critical legal studies.4 Point being, I am not citing the critics of deconstruction, but a site friendly to the approach. And, the point is explicitly made that deconstruction does not seek to provide answers. What is the purpose of deconstruction? It is not truth, it is not finding absolute meaning, rather, it is the “indeterminate” search for the “impossible.” Basically, deconstruction is the endless quest to demolish the idea of absolute truth and find the greatest number of possibility of meanings. It is not about a quest for truth, but the very eradication of the idea.
Popular Level Ideas
Despite everything I have just said and robustly outlined definitionally about the purpose of deconstruction, I cannot tell you how many individuals I see promoting the idea deconstruction is the search for truth. In all honesty, if that is your position I have to respectfully state that you do not understand the origins or purpose of deconstruction as asserted by those promoting the movement. The idea that deconstructionists want the truth is the carrot being placed before the eyes of many today so that they will be so focused on that singular delicacy that they will walk straight over the cliff into the deep end of postmodern relativism and leftism. However, what I want to do is to challenge us all to be more robust than to fall for that kind of naivete.
A vital idea to remember is the concept of the social imaginary. This concept was developed by Charles Taylor and relates to the beliefs, practices, and assumptions that typically mark a society. Carl Trueman discusses it in his book The Rise and Triumph of The Modern Self and states:
“It is not so much a conscious philosophy of life as a set of intuitions and practices. In sum, the social imaginary is the way people think about the world, how they imagine it to be, how they act intuitively in relation to it-though that is emphatically not to make the social imaginary simply into a set of identifiable ideas.”5
Applying the concept of the social imaginary, we all know many individuals in our society are much more likely to be influenced by a viral 10-minute YouTube video on deconstruction as opposed to deep research on the subject by reading many articles and books. It is more about intuition and feeling being set by institutions and leaders as opposed to the deep study of ideas. My challenge is for us to be more alert and on guard than merely flowing along with the feelings of our culture. We need to bring everything back to Scripture. Our task is to analyze what we are being told through the lens of the Word. Do not simply believe or reject something only because of how it intuitively feels. No, we have an objective standard, a written revelation of 66-books that we are to judge everything according to and it is the divinely inspired Word of God!
The Response of The Christian Worldview
We see the purpose of deconstruction is to seek to jettison the idea of absolute or objective truth even though many at a general level would have us believe it is about the discovery of truth. However, as Christians, we place a high premium on truth for it is anchored in God. Our Lord has even identified Himself as “the Truth” and in Him are “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (John 14:6 and Colossians 2:3).” As believers, we do not take philosophical issues like deconstruction lightly where we would buy into an idea because it is popular or feels like it might be good according to our emotions. Instead, we seek to be entrenched in biblical theology. As we encounter ideas like deconstruction, we then evaluate those concepts by Scripture.
Ultimately, we cannot buy into any movement that sees the concept of absolute truth as an illusion. To be clear, the concept of absolute truth is a concretely fixed reality, it is those who believe in relativism who are trying to live according to an illusion. We as Christians need to come to those individuals with a heart of seeing that they would come to a knowledge of the truth and that God would grant them repentance to eternal life in Christ Jesus. Our heart is not to point out the errors in movements like deconstruction merely so we can gain some sort of intellectual points in a debate. Instead, our desire is to preach the truth of the Gospel and the Scripture so that sinners might be set free from their sin, taken out of bondage from lies, and enabled to serve Christ by the grace of God having been given salvation by the riches of His mercy. Therefore, let us not be taken captive by vain ideologies by which our enemy would love to ensnare us, rather, may we hold firm to the truth and proclaim that truth for the glory of our Lord with a heart of love for Him and others!
5 Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of The Modern Self, p. 37.