Religion


Seriously, how does something like this happen and why is it remotely acceptable? Moreover, what sort of warped, screwed up mind even thinks of such a thing:

Coded references to New Testament Bible passages about Jesus Christ are inscribed on high-powered rifle sights provided to the United States military by a Michigan company, an ABC News investigation has found.

Read the rest here.

The Washington Post has an interesting interview with Susan Jacoby over the Brit Hume flap up and whether or not Christians are victimized by atheists in the United States. From the first part of the interview:

Q: Is there widespread media bias against Christianity? Against evangelicals such as Brit Hume and Sarah Palin? Against public figures who speak openly and directly about their faith? Against people who believe as you do?

Of course proselytizing is a form of religious liberty permitted by our secular Constitution. That doesn’t mean Americans have to like it–whether proselytizing arrives at the dinner hour when a Jehovah’s Witness rings the doorbell or courtesy of a television network that, among its other charming attributes, is a staunch supporter of right-wing religion. And there is no merit to Brit Hume’s claim that he is being criticized by his colleagues in the media, as well as many religious and secular leaders, because he urged Tiger Woods to convert from Buddhism to Christianity. This is yet another example of the Christian right claiming that it is victimized when, in fact, it exerts great and disproportionate power in American society. When was the last time you heard a Jewish network commentator exhorting an adulterous Christian politician to convert to Judaism–and claiming that Judaism is the morally superior religion? Hume said what he said because Christianity, despite America’s growing religious pluralism (including an increase in the number of Americans who reject all religion), still occupies a privileged position in the United States. He said what he said because he could get away with it. At least on FOX.

Read the rest here.

Sometimes I get the sense that the fundamentalists and more rightwing variants of Christianity view any dissension or calls for equality as forms of oppression with respect to their belief. Any disagreement seems to get labeled with the charge of “bigotry”. This is something that I’ve even encountered among a number of left-wing believers. It’s difficult to see how disagreement with a belief and what it claims, however, can be characterized as bigotry. If that were the case, all public debate over beliefs or propositional attitudes would be off limits. Moreover, the suggestion that somehow Christians are the victims of bigotry from atheists, secularists, and members of other religions smacks of the white heterosexual male being the victim of reverse racism, reverse sexism, or heterophobia. It’s difficult to see how one can be the object of oppression when they enjoy hegemonic power in the United States.

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This is hilarious. Apparently Conservapedia has proposed that the Bible be edited to eradicate all leftist content. I won’t link directly to Conservapedia so you can find a story on this practice here.

Adam Miller, author of Badiou, Marion, and Saint Paul: Immanent Grace, has been developing an account of grace within the framework of Badiou and Jean-Luc Marion. More recently he has been situating his account in terms of some of my own work and the work of Latour. One of the things I find particularly interesting about his project is that he argues that this account of grace holds regardless of whether one holds a theistic conception of God and even if one is an atheist. Read more over at The Church and Postmodern Culture here, here, here, and here.

Pierre-Simon_LaplaceIn my last post I localized a paradox at the heart of Lacan’s teaching. On the one hand, Lacan puts forward a “true formula of atheism” that states that God is unconscious. There the line of reasoning seems to run that the unconscious is the discourse of the Other and that the Other does not exist. This would be a clever, indirect way of saying “God does not exist”. On the other hand, Lacan says that the gods belong to the order of the Real. How is it possible to reconcile these two claims. With respect to God and religion, I think Lacan can be seen as proposing what I call an “A-Theology”. A-Theology is not atheism, though it is related to some standard claims of atheism. Most generally, atheism is the denial of any sort of supernatural causation in the world and the existence of anything supernatural. In debates with religious belief, it generally points to the lack of evidence for miracles, the supernatural, souls, etc., and therefore the absence of reasons to believe in such things.

Of course, in relation to the findings of contemporary ethnology, it has become possible to charge the atheist with missing the point with respect to myth. Here the argument would run that myth is a particular way of understanding the world that was never intended to be taken literally. As I heard Caputo once put it at a conference when defending religion, “Of course the figures and miraculous events we see depicted in sacred texts and myths did not take place. Rather, the myths and stories of religion are closer to comic book stories, representing struggles between good and evil, the nature of the world, the meaning of life, etc.” Caputo’s thesis, of course, begs the question of why, if this is all myths are, we don’t choose better literature such as Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, etc. But whether we go with a somewhat unsophisticated thesis like Caputo’s or a more well developed thesis like Levi-Strauss’ approach to myth, the point remains the same: When we criticize these stories on the grounds that they violate the natural order and that there is no evidence in support of their truth, we have made a category mistake. We have failed to understand that myth is relating to truth and meaning in a different way. While there is certainly a great deal of truth to this thesis, it’s obvious shortcoming is that many followers of particular religious beliefs do take these stories literally rather than figuratively. Nonetheless, were this way of relating to myth to become the dominant paradigm in actual religious practices, it would be a substantial advance allowing for a much different dialogue between atheists and believers.

A-Theology, by contrast, differs from atheism in that its aim is not to refute or debunk claims about the supernatural. Where atheism focuses obsessively on religion as an explanatory hypothesis about the nature of the world, A-Theology, by contrast, is directed at a particular structure of thought and a particular form of social organization that it refers to, for lack of a better word, as “theological”. In this connection, it is crucial to emphasize that from the standpoint of A-Theology the conditions under which a particular structure of thought or social organization contains elements of the supernatural matters not a whit. In other words, a structure of thought or a form of social organization could be entirely secular in character, it could be an ultra-materialism, and nonetheless remain theological from the standpoint of A-Theology. Likewise, a form of social organization or thought could be pervaded by appeals to all sorts of supernatural phenomena and nonetheless be characterized as “a-theological” from the standpoint of A-Theology. The arch-materialist and determinist Pierre-Simon Laplace is an excellent example of a materialistic account of the universe that is nonetheless thoroughly theological. This is not because Laplace attributed the workings of matter to God– when Napoleon asked him about the place of God in his system, he famously replied “Je n’ai pas eu besoin de cette hypothèse. –but rather because of the curious role that Laplace’s Demon plays in his understanding of nature. Similarly, perhaps Greece, prior to Platonic thought can be understood as A-Theological, despite being pervaded by all sorts of deities and supernatural phenomena. Given these two examples, it is clear that the distinguishing mark between the A-Theological and the Theological has nothing to do with the supernatural or the sorts of causality that function in the world.

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co-op-20th-eyes-february-112eyes1The epigraph to the second section of Lacan’s “Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis” reads “Advice to a young psychoanalyst: Do crossword puzzles” (Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English, 220). If this is good advice for the psychoanalyst, then it is because formations of the unconscious– dreams, slips of the tongue, jokes, bungled actions, symptoms, etc. –are often themselves encrypted like the hints of a crossword puzzle. The hints of a crossword puzzle– roughly equivalent to formations of the unconscious in this analogy –are organized around a lacuna or the missing signifier that is to be found. These hints are traces of that signifier. However, in successfully completing a crossword puzzle it is often necessary to practice a horizontal or lateral relationship to language, an associative relationship, where one draws on equivocations, homonyms, and other figures of rhetoric to discover the missing signifier. Freud gives a nice example of how the symptom is organized around a lacuna or a missing signifier when discussing the case of a young woman during the initial stages of schizophrenia in his article “The Unconscious”:

A patient of Tausk’s, a girl who was brought to the clinic after a quarrel with her lover, complained that her eyes were not right, they were twisted. This she herself explained by bringing forward a series of reproaches against her lover in coherent language. ‘She could not understand him at all, he looked different every time; he was a hypocrite, an eye-twister, he had twisted her eyes; now she had twisted eyes; they were not her eyes any more; now she saw the world with different eyes. (SE XIV, 197 – 198)

Part of the significance of the schizophrenic from a metapsychological perspective is that processes that are ordinarily unconscious are all there on the surface. Where the neurotic might have a deep phobia of having his eyes “twisted”, this woman experiences her eyes as being literally twisted, as being unable to see the world as she would normally be able to see it. Granting that there is nothing physiologically wrong with her, the mystery then becomes why she has come to experience the world in this way. Taken literally, her words are unintelligible and have the feel of nonsense. The symptom makes no sense. But when we adopt a floating, horizontal, or lateral relationship to her speech, the lacuna or hidden signifier organizing the symptom begins to come into view. The key signifier in her speech is “eye-twister”. In German, the young woman’s language, the word for “eye-twister” is ‘Augenverdreher‘, which figuratively means “deceiver”. Through the work of the unconscious, the woman had “literalized” her relationship to her lover in a series of symptoms effecting her eyesight. Her symptom was a trace of the “desire of the Other”, a materialization of the desire of the Other– in this case the desire of her boyfriend –insofar as it was a set of symptoms embodying her lover’s desire to deceive her.

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narcissusMuch to my surprise and delight, I have been exceedingly pleased by the discussion my post “The Monstrosity of Christ” has generated. For me, Jesus is an incredibly important political thinker who proposes a new vision of communal relations. What has been so great about this discussion, apart from a few bumps here and there, is the manner in which the religious and the atheist have been able to discuss these issues, without the question being one of debunking the other. Towards the end of the comments, Guavatree asks a couple of questions which, I believe, get right to the heart of the issue. First, Guavatree remarks that,

By explaining the difference between interpretations: traditional (Jesus and God above all things) and “radical and revolutionary” — I think you clarify what I think the blog dispute is about. Is Jesus “Resolving” the Imaginary or “Challenging” it?

More than whether Jesus is really asking you to hate your family or not, I’m interested in how you think the Imaginary can be challenged. Is this even possible? To what extent does challenging the bonds of the tribe/family/Imaginary involve the Real and the Symbolic?

Guavatree is responding to a comment I made earlier clarifying my position on Luke 14:26 where Jesus claims that in order to follow Jesus one must hate their mother, father, brother, sister, etc. I have read this, following the findings of ethnographers, as a devaluation of the role of familial or kinship relations as a foundation of social and political structure.

Thanks for the additional passages (here Guavatree provides numerous Gospel references to Jesus making injunctions similar to that found in Luke 14:26), Guavatree. Based on your remarks, I wonder if I haven’t missed the point of some of Kevin’s criticisms. You write:

So in terms of this argument on the blog, hating your family and loving Jesus and God hardly strikes me as a textual oddity.

The real question is whether Jesus’ “dissolution of “the law” into two vast identifications (God/neighbor)” as kvond puts it is a resolution of the imaginary OR a “challenging of this dimension of the imaginary” as larval subjects puts it.

If I’m following your gloss correctly Guavatree, then the dispute revolves around Jesus’ declaration to love one’s neighbor as ourselves and his charge to hate our parents, where it is being claimed that there is a contradiction between these two positions. With respect to the second command, it had never occurred to me to read the demand to hate our family literally. That would be a bizarre reading of the Gospels no matter how you cut it, so I’m surprised to discover that others might have read me as claiming such a thing. Rather, I am interpreting Jesus’ charge as the injunction to cease privileging familial relations or tribal identifications. As such, this separation from the primacy of kinship structures would be a precondition for love of the stranger or the neighbor. This is also why I’ve drawn attention to the story of the Good Samaritan because here we have an instance of a love extended to the other that falls outside the tribal community.

I reject, of course, the remainder of the traditional interpretation of Jesus’ injunction to “hate” one’s family, where it is argued that we are to place Jesus and God above all other things. First, I reject this reading because I think it covers over the whole socio-political issue that he’s getting at with respect to the role that kinship relations play in his historical setting. Second, however, I don’t think this reading is very well supported given how cagey he always is about identifying himself as the son of God (doesn’t he only directly say this in the book of John?). I think this traditional reading places too much emphasis on the person or figure of Jesus, turning him into a screen as described in the post above, thereby allowing us to ignore the truly radical and revolutionary form of social organization that he seems to be proposing.

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goya-saturn-sonNathan Schneider has an excellent review of Eagleton’s Reason, Faith, and Religion, and David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies over at The American Prospect. For the record, I certainly wouldn’t deny that the Christian tradition has a lot of emancipatory potential within it. I don’t think Zizek and Badiou have been misguided in their appropriations of Paul, though I do think they are wrong in their dismissals of Jesus. One question here might be how we are to account for the curious dialectical inversion whereby something that does have so much potential somehow so often gets converted into its opposite, becoming a force of hate and an apology for some of the most repressive forces in our society. As I’ve often joked, Christianity is the greatest of conspiracies against Christ.

In this connection, many religious formations often strike me as being similar to psychodynamic processes Freud describes in his analysis of screen-memories. Freud theorized that screen-memories were a defense formation against some sort of trauma. For example, upon seeing a vagina for the first time the child might be filled with dread at the prospect of castration. Rather than remember what he saw, the child instead potently remembers, say, the flower print of his mother’s dress or develops a fetish for shoes. A recent book by Zizek and John Milbank is entitled The Monstrosity of Christ, and there does indeed seem to be something “monstrous” or sublime about Christ in the positive sense of the term. When I look at the tradition of Christianity, much of it often looks to me like a screen-memory designed to defend against this sublime monstrosity. For example, you get the fetishization of Christ’s death– so well illustrated in Gibson’s Passion of the Christ –such that his life and teaching is effectively erased or rendered invisible. Here we might also reference Joyce’s boyhood experience of the Catholic church as chronicled in Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. What is it that is so sublime and monstrous about the figure of Christ? Certainly, like Socrates, part of this sublimity lies in his death. However, I think that Christ’s teaching is even more traumatic or Real in the proper Lacanian sense.

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Stanley Fish has a new post up extolling the virtues of Terry Eagleton’s new book Reason, Faith, and Revolution. He writes:

In the opening sentence of the last chapter of his new book, “Reason, Faith and Revolution,” the British critic Terry Eagleton asks, “Why are the most unlikely people, including myself, suddenly talking about God?” His answer, elaborated in prose that is alternately witty, scabrous and angry, is that the other candidates for guidance — science, reason, liberalism, capitalism — just don’t deliver what is ultimately needed. “What other symbolic form,” he queries, “has managed to forge such direct links between the most universal and absolute of truths and the everyday practices of countless millions of men and women?”

Eagleton acknowledges that the links forged are not always benign — many terrible things have been done in religion’s name — but at least religion is trying for something more than local satisfactions, for its “subject is nothing less than the nature and destiny of humanity itself, in relation to what it takes to be its transcendent source of life.” And it is only that great subject, and the aspirations it generates, that can lead, Eagleton insists, to “a radical transformation of what we say and do.”

The other projects, he concedes, provide various comforts and pleasures, but they are finally superficial and tend to the perpetuation of the status quo rather than to meaningful change: “A society of packaged fulfillment, administered desire, managerialized politics and consumerist economics is unlikely to cut to the depth where theological questions can ever be properly raised.”

I find this line of argument deeply perplexing. On the one hand, it seems to me that there is something deeply cynical in this approach to religion. It seems to run something like “I don’t really believe these things but my other approach to revolutionary transformation doesn’t work, this seems capable of motivating people, therefore I’ll try this.” On the other hand, and more significantly, I think, this line of argument seems to ignore the fact that the dominant forms of Christianity in the United States have been extremely comfortable bedfellows with neo-liberal capitalism and consummerist forms of life. I am not suggesting that there aren’t, occasionally, revolutionary forms of Christianity. For example, this would be the case with MLK and the way in which Ghandi drew on the teachings of Jesus. But I think these are the exception rather than the rule. All too often Christianity seems to function as a support for reigning ideology rather than something that functions to undermine this ideology. Especially objectionable is the thesis that somehow science and reason are intrinsically linked and equivalent to liberalism and capitalism.

As I’ve often suggested on this blog, I think that one of the greatest moments in the history of philosophy was Hume’s declaration, in the introduction to An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, that the abstruse language and questions of the schoolmen is just an elaborate defense of superstition dressed up in pretty clothing to mislead the ignorant. In other words, there is very little point in taking the intricacies of these positions seriously, delving into their myriad distinctions and arguments, because they are already pigs with lipstick. Their bristling language, distinctions, terminology, arguments, etc., might appear to be saying something convincing, yet at the end of the day it’s just the same old tired superstitition.

Nowhere is this more relevant than in a recent quasi-interview with Radical Orthodoxy giant John Milbank (via An und Fur Sich). As Milbank remarks:

He urged the movement’s followers to “grasp the hands of labour unions, feminists, gay and lesbian activists”, and warned that “if they remain content, as I fear some of them do, to carp and posture before gatherings of the anointed, then the movement will become at best a beloved clique and at worst another academic vaudeville show”.

The groups mentioned may not want to shake Milbank’s hand: he opposes gay marriage (“I don’t want to get into the situation where we deny there is something special about being attracted to the opposite sex”).

He says he is concerned about working-class women being left to raise children alone, “in part – alongside economic factors – because of the collapse of the male ethos of supporting the woman”, and has written most stridently in opposition to in vitro fertilisation treatment for single women.

“By supporting the total disjuncture of sex and procreation, the Left is really supporting a new mode of fascism,” Milbank says.

I am not sure what else should have been expected from a movement that refers to itself as “Radical Orthodoxy”. Clearly, at the end of the day, this position simply becomes an apologia for a particular sort of social order at odds with freedom, gender equality, and equality of sexual orientations. That is, it becomes an apologia for the reigning positions of the church. Why listen to the arguments behind this position at all given that we already know what it is ultimately arguing for?

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