According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Radical Theology & The New Materialism

Book (P)review – Religion, Politics and the Earth
by Clayton Crockett and Jeffrey W. Robbins
 
Posted 28 May 2013 by
 
[Clayton Crockett, University of Central Arkansas, and Jeffrey W. Robbins, Lebanon Valley College, on their co-authored book, Religion, Politics and the Earth: The New Materialism, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012]
 
When we were first invited to contribute to the Political Theology blog with reference to Religion, Politics and the Earth, the idea was for us to introduce the book.  But because of our extreme tardiness, it seems that opportunity has now come and gone.
 
While the book’s publication is still fairly recent by academic standards, there has already been a considerable amount of critical discussion and feedback about it.  This has happened in three primary settings.
 
The first was a public event held at Union Theological Seminary in New York on February 11, 2013 with Mark Lewis Taylor and Cornel West.  The purpose of this event was to subject our proposed new materialism to the challenge of a liberationist critique.  The entirety of this event – ‘Becoming a Brain: The New Materialism and the Challenge of Liberation’ – is accessible online here (Part One) and here (Part Two).
 
The second was a series of reviews and responses posted on the blog An und für sich.  The full length reviews posted here were by Anthony Paul Smith (in the main post) and Joshua Ramey (in this comment).  While the public event at Union raised the question of the connection between the new materialism and liberation theology, Smith and Ramey, each in their own way, raised questions about the vestigial supercessionist Christian overtones to our work.
 
The third was a coordinated blog tour organized by Tripp Fuller at Homebrewed Christianity.  The scope of the reviews and responses from the blog tour is too broad for us to respond to in full here, but the two lines of thought we found most felicitous as we continue to think through the ramifications of the new materialism are its connections with transformance art and with process theology.
 
So rather than re-introduce the book, we’d like to take this occasion to comment on the excitement we have felt by these various critical engagements.  After all, this collaborative, manifesto-styled book was written to generate new thoughts, inquiries and connections, to open up conversations.  Taking the evidence above, it has already achieved that goal beyond our wildest imaginations:
 
The New Materialism and the Challenge of Liberation
 
This event at Union Theological, planned by Bo Eberle and George Schmidt, was the result of an overzealous footnote and a well-timed question. The footnote – first penned by Robbins and then later cited by Crockett, and reflective of both of our respective political theologies – makes the case for the urgent need for a truly radical political theology, and along the way criticizes too quickly and superficially the traditions of both liberationist and process thought.  The question, posed by Schmidt to Crockett and Robbins at a session at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, was why we found it necessary to distance ourselves from liberation theology when to his mind there was more resonance and overlap than not.  We agreed then that our dismissive attitude was premature and unwarranted, and that the points of connection and convergence needed to be explored further – hence the invitation to Mark Lewis Taylor and Cornel West to interrogate and challenge our work from a liberationist perspective.
 
While Taylor rightly pointed out the need for us to give fuller attention to, and schematize, social antagonisms as an integral part of our radical political theology, West took the occasion to identify our new materialism as a new species of liberation theology, one that emerges from our starting point of the earth as subject.  This new species of liberation theology would be an alternative to those operating within a politics of identity.  Because we intend to continue this collaboration, we are eager to address the concerns raised by Taylor and follow through in explicating the ways in which the new materialism might contribute to a contemporary liberation theology.
 
Supercessionist Christianity
 
Smith identifies our book as a ‘synthetic manifesto,’ and admits to a certain excitement in our attempt to think things such as social media, art, religion and politics together with energy and ontology.  His hesitancy, however, comes from the book’s Hegelian – and thus, death-of-God Christian – overtones.  He points out that our discussion of religion only ever refers to Christianity, and that this privileging is symptomatic of an unspoken Christian triumphalism at work. This vein of inquiry is opened up even more by Ramey when his extended riff on our book includes the evocation of Norman O. Brown’s query on ‘The Challenge of Islam,’ the hermaphroditic Christ of Bruno, the gendered and engendering earth of Catherine Keller and Cleo Kearns, the divine eroticism of Karmen MacKendrick, etc.
 
We wish to affirm without qualification these deeply heterodoxical readings of religion, politics and the earth.  This is precisely the radical theology we are hoping to engender, even as the book itself is necessarily limited.
 
At the same time, we’d also want to push back a bit on the suggestion that merely by situating our work within a primarily (but not exclusively) Christian discourse, our work necessarily is guilty of a religious triumphalism.  Just as we sought to differentiate between two different concepts of the political – the politics of the state-form vs. the politics of the people – so too do we think it is possible to differentiate between kinds of Christianity, and that a meaningful and potent form of resistance might just as likely come from within as an immanent critique than from without. This is also the project and promise of John D. Caputo’s theology, culminating in his forthcoming The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps. And our follow-up collaborative project to this work on the new materialism will be even more explicitly an insurrectionary theology.
 
On Transformance Art and Process Theology
 
For us, the Homebrewed Christianity blog tour on our book was an absolute revelation.  To have our book be the subject of such diverse and creative reflections was both gratifying and challenging.  Bo Eberle (here, here and here) and Tad DeLay (here and here) did incredible work summarizing and interrogating the radical energy proposal developed by Kevin Mequet, which was incorporated as a centerpiece of our re-conception of materialism as an ontology of energy transformation.
 
Nearly all of the bloggers picked up on our central argument with regard to digital culture and social media as a material form of biopolitics by which corporate capitalism becomes further entrenched and more real.  When we realize that the virtual is material we see how the sovereign rule of global capital is nearly infinite in its scope, from its dominion over the earth to the commodification of our most innermost, private selves.
 
From Rick Quinn, we learn how Elton John might be seen as a radical theologian (here and here).
 
And to Todd Littleton, we owe a profound debt for how successfully he demonstrates the practicality of our new materialism (specifically for an evangelical audience).  He is correct that the main theological import of what we are claiming as the new materialism is the doubling back and doubling down on the old materialist charge to change the world.  And one way to accomplish this would be for churches and pastors and believers to get beyond or over their soteriological obsessions.  Religion is about so much more than salvation.  One does not have to be a materialist to accept this point, but materialism – old and new alike – makes this its bedrock theological claim. Adam Moore certainly gets this point as well when he shows how our work on Art might contribute to new understandings and practices of liturgy and worship as ‘transformance art’.
 
And finally, from Austin Roberts, just as Cornel West claimed our work as a new species of liberation theology, so too does Roberts demonstrate the important connections between this new materialism and process theology.  The connections to John Cobb are real, and help us to further walk back our earlier dismissals of both liberation theology and process theology.
 
Thanks to these generous and insightful interlocutors, we are now in a position to remake the case for a radical political theology.  The issue is not, as we previously claimed, that there is no radical political theology.  But instead, there are many.  Our book, in spite of its blind spots and limitations, seems to have provided an unlikely – or at least heretofore overlooked – convergence between radical, liberationist, and process theologies.
 
Speaking for ourselves, we are certainly energized by the prospects.
 
 
 
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Book Description
October 30, 2012 Radical Theologies
This book takes its leave with the realization that Western-driven culture is quickly reaching the limits of global capitalism, and that this reality manifests itself not only economically and politically, but that it is at once a cultural, aesthetic, political, religious, ecological, and philosophical problem.  While Western capitalism is based upon the assumption of indefinite growth, we have run up against real, physical constraints to growth, and humanity must face the real, physical ramifications of the short-sighted and ultimately counter-productive choices made on behalf of the capitalist machine.  While there is widespread angst and numerous scenarios of apocalyptic crisis and collapse, there is little or no comprehension of the problem and a coherent picture of reality is left wanting.  
Drawing primarily from the discourses of contemporary continental philosophy, cultural theory, and radical theology, the new materialism is being offered up as a redress to this problem by its effort to make sense of the world as an integrated whole.The book emphasizes three aspects of the current crisis: the ecological crisis, which is often viewed primarily in terms of global warming; the energy crisis, which involves peak oil and the limits of the ability to extract and exploit the cheap energy of fossil fuels; and finally the financial crisis, which involves the de-leveraging and destruction of massive amounts of money and credit. Each of these problems is inter-related, because money is dependent upon energy, and energy is a product of natural physical resources that are finite and diminishing. 
Rather than despair or the cynicism that passes for realpolitik, the authors will suggest that this crisis provides an opening for a new kind of orientation to thinking and acting, a new way of being in and of the earth. This opening is an opening onto a new materialism that is neither a crude consumerist materialism nor a reductive atomic materialism, but a materialism that takes seriously the material and physical world in which we live. This materialism counters idealism in its practical and philosophical forms, which constructs an ideal world that we wish to inhabit and then mistakes that world for the real one. Furthermore, in contrast to classical materialism which rejects religion as a form of false consciousness, this new materialism recognizes religion as an effective means of political mobilization and as a genuine source of piety, and thus does not oppose religion per se; instead, it opposes fanaticism and fundamentalism, including the fairy-tale expectations that a God or gods will rescue us from our predicament and punish the evil-doers while rewarding the righteous.

 
 

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 206 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (October 30, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1137268921
  • ISBN-13: 978-1137268921
 
 
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A Synthetic Manifesto: A Review
 
December 20, 2012
 
An academic acquaintance wrote this and it represents my view of this book:
 
 
A Synthetic Manifesto: A Review of Religion, Politics, and the Earth: The New Materialism
Thursday, December 20, 2012 -- Anthony Paul Smith
Clayton Crockett and Jeffrey W. Robbins are no strangers to readers of this blog. Both are well established figures within the fields of theology, philosophy and the liminal space between them that sometimes goes by the name secular theology and sometimes Continental philosophy of religion. Both are graduates of the Department of Religion at Syracuse University and Crockett now teaches as an associate professor of Religion at the University of Central Arkansas while Robbins is a professor of Religion and Philosophy at Lebanon Valley College. While their friendship has long been know, expressed in the academic realm through their co-editorship of the Insurrections series with ColumbiaUP, Religion, Politics, and the Earth: The New Materialism is their first co-written book. The book, published in the new Radical Theologies series published by Palgrave Macmillan, is quite consciously written as a kind of manifesto for the practice and future of radical theology. Now, what this means is dependent of course on the figures who develop it, but by radical theology it is clear that people thinking with religious material outside of a confessional duty as well as those who are more explicitly confessional but still attempting to radicalize their confessional thought beyond any capture by that tradition's authorities. That is, radical theology cuts a wide-swath and it may be the only form of theology that is truly "big tent" in terms of its actions and not just as a propaganda move. However much such a movement might benefit from a manifesto, the disparate directions and materials with which various radical theologians engage with makes creating such a manifesto difficult and risks sedimenting their works and cutting off these radical theologians from the true, creative source of their power. At times it feels that Crockett and Robbins risk such sedimentation. However, what ultimately saves them from this temptation is their very synthetic approach. This is a book constructed not in the name of Crockett and Robbins, but through a multiplicity of names that are brought together in varying ways and with various levels of success under the standard "The New Materialism".
 
Crockett and Robbins write the book under the sign of a disaster. The disaster of our contemporary age whose name is in some sense Legion, but whose true name is Capitalism. This fundamental insight, drawn from Philip Goodchild amongst others, is put this way by the authors:
 
The problem is fundamental: Western capitalism is based upon assumptions of indefinite if not infinite growth, but the natural resources of the planet are finite. We are running up against real, physical constraints to growth, and the capitalist machine is desperately searching for more resources to fuel ever-shorter periods of apparent productivity or profitability, like a junkie shooting up more often with higher concentrations to get that same hight that is diminishing with each hit. [...] We will briefly lay out three aspects of our current crisis: the ecological crisis, which is often view primarily in terms of global warming; the energy crisis, which involves peak oil and the limits of our ability to extract and exploit the cheap energy of fossil fuels; and finally the financial crisis, which involves the deleveraging and destruction of massive amounts of money and credit. Each of these problems is interrelated, because money is dependent upon energy, and energy is a product of natural physical resources that are finite and diminishing. Rather than give in to despair, or idealistic wishful thinking, we suggest that this crisis could provide an oepning for a new kind of orientation to thinking and acting, a new way of being in and of the earth (my emphasis).
 
As this long quote shows, it is the disaster that conditions in some way the thought but, hopefully, does not determine it. The crisis is a call to think and to be in ways that are more creative and more interesting than the failed forms of thought and practice that are determined and reign under the capitalist crisis.
 
The authors then take us on a comprehensive tour through a number of very important loci for contemporary radical theology ranging from digital culture, religion, politics, art, ethics, energy, onto-neurology, logic, and the Event. Each of these loci are privileged as a central node for any contemporary form of thought that would respond to the crisis outlined above. Each is analyzed through Crockett and Robbins's understanding of the Hegelian dialectic where, in their reading, thought returns to itself as, in this case, the earth. What they aim to do with this conception of dialectics is bring together a number of disparate thinkers, to reconcile figures that normally wouldn't be thought to be reconcilable, namely a number of new Hegelian thinkers (Zizek, Malabou, and Badiou) with the work of Spinozist thinkers like (Deleuze and Negri). The synthetic aspect of each chapter is on display as the authors move from one thinker to the next, linking them as if they were simply amino acids to construct a DNA code that organizes a larger body of thought.
 
In many ways the authors are not the authors in the normal sense, setting aside that some of the chapter are co-written with a third (Michael W. Wilson assisted with chapter on art and Kevin Mequet co-wrote the two chapters on energy). Instead of a stable author there is a proliferation of names, different lines of thought taken and extended by some antagonistic name. A line from Zizek completed by connecting it to a line of Deleuze. In many ways the claims of the book will certainly be familiar to its readers. What is new is the synthetic form it takes here and ultimately its readers will need to decide if such a synthesis is possible, or if one of these figures or terms will overdetermine the rest, for the manifesto style of the book precludes the authors doing that themselves.
 
For my part, I found the book exciting for all the reasons stated above, but I remain suspicious of a certain Hegelian, and so Christian, overdetermination of this kind of radical theology proposed. One of the fundamental claims of the book is that the current crisis requires new alliances between the sciences, humanities, political movements, and religion. I, of course, agree with them on this point. However, the challenge is to make this a truly new alliance. For example, while some attention is given to ecology, it is only in the mode of disaster ecology or a discussion of global climate change. Ecology as such is absent from the chapter detailing a proposal for a new kind of paradigm for thinking about energy. I am unable to evaluate the validity of the claims made in this chapter, relating to conceiving of energy without heat, and I suspect that the authors wrote this with a bit of fear and trembling. But what did struck me is that, even if the proposal to look into the electromagnetism of the Earth as a potential for energy production holds up scientifically within physics, there would still require an ecological element that is missing. Ecology teaches us not that everything is connected, that's quite simply obvious when one just thinks about causation, but ecology is the science of those relations, showing where some links are more intense while others are not. All of this translates into material questions about the effects of some new human technology upon the wider human and non-human biosphere. Since much of this discussion of energy is predicated upon a kind of Hegelian vision, I can't help but wonder if the issue of reconciliation, ecological theodicy, is not laying underneath this proposal.
 
There is also the issue of the way religion, and thus materialism, is conceived within the book. The authors only ever reference Christianity and seem to privilege the Hegelian version of the death of God outlined in Zizek over other forms of religion. This is in some ways a result of the genre of the book. As a synthetic manifesto it will only really be able to respond to how things truly are within the fields it builds on and announces. And much of the new materialism, whether it be secular philosophers like Badiou or a philosopher playing a theologian which we sometimes find in Zizek, is predicated upon an unspoken supremacy of Christianity as the only religion that actually ends in the secular, that ends in a kind of productive atheism (against the New Athiest style atheism). For any truly radical rethinking of politics an engagement outside of the Christian form is called for. One where the notion of Event may too be suspect.
 
Yet, these criticisms aside, Crockett and Robbins have done us a great service by bringing together a number of exciting but disparate lines of research in their synthetic manifesto. It may help younger intellectuals develop and go forward in a genuinely new way that may yet just respond, at least within thought, to the contemporary crisis.
 
 
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Religion, Politics & the Earth
all over the Theo-Blogs!
 
April 23, 2013
Tad DeLay is blogging on the politics of energy.  Here it is… BAM!

Joe Carson has some questions for the assumptions of radical theology & will blog on energy later in the week.

Matt Ritchie, lawyer and theologian, has been blogging on the book.  Is God Dead?, What is the New Materialism?, & the Logic of the New Materialism & the Courts.

Jonathon Snyder will be blogging on digital culture.

Maria Drews shall be sharing her wisdom about the book.

Rick Quinn gave an Elton John inspired taster & drops some more goodness this week.

Scott Cowan will bring the blogger excitement to the political theology blog.

Adam Moore shall be blogging on the Art chapter this thursday.

My favorite Southern Baptist, Todd Littleton, shall bring the #awesomesauce on friday.

David Adams discusses the book in less than 1k words!

Austin Roberts drops some Cobb & gives a great Process inspired reply.

Pastor Darren examines the understanding of religion in the book from one who rocks the pulpit.