According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, 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
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Monday, November 9, 2015

John Caputo - "You're Looking for Nothing"

Obviously I have a choice when choosing to read about contemporary radical theology and radical hermeneutics. For many philosophers in this space it seems the choice is that of agnosticism or atheism. But what about the Christian theologian who chooses to approach these subjects as a Christian theist? Who chooses to believe that there is a God and that this God has spoken through both His Word (special revelation) and through His Son Jesus Christ (as incarnate revelation)? A God who has spoken in the language of the people then, and through the language of His church now, of Himself, His ways, His purposes, His salvation?

As such, what then could be the attraction of this radical study if it seems more driven by a/theism than by theism? For myself, it is the potentiality which it holds in opening up the reading of God's Word more dynamically to today's church and societies-at-large so that its core messages may be heard in a relevant way again. That it is this very thing of "language" itself which holds back God's revelation to those seekers today living in contemporary, post-modern, post-secular, post-Christian times seeking to rectify the newer findings of academics to the older classical expressions of Christianity. That for myself, and others, we are finding promise in this task through studies in Continental philosophical thought and explorations of nascent Radical Theology.

But for the scholastic, modernist theologian seeking to know God through biblical study there is any number of hurtles to leap over as presented to him or her through contemporary academia. But knowing that this is a valuable space to struggle over, the earnest theologian works all the harder to bridge this gulf or chasm of message, knowing, and being. Moreover, we're not pretending that the Bible isn't locked within a linguistic time and space (sic, ancient cultures, dialectics, ancient local and regional understandings, philosophies, a plethora of narratives, speakers, and genres, etc) nor that it's temporal language is as universal for all forthcoming eras as it is commonly made out to be by today's classically trained preachers and disciples of the Lord. But what we're asking is how, and in what way, is God now speaking to today's civilizations as differently from past ancient societies 2000 to 4000 years ago?

The struggle then is to rightly identify God's movement of His Spirit across men's hearts and the eras to come - and especially this present era - as ethics and moralities seem to have changed with time and event itself even as God's Spirit seems to move across the spaces of the heart of this world speaking calm and assurance against its many evils and willful oppressions. And so, where one philosophical era appeared sacrosanct for all future eras to come we now know that each generation has its own philosophical struggles it must contend with. And that for this last  era - a secular, modernistic, and industrial one at that - it was its materialism, consumerism, and many gross depravities which seem to have separated the church from its message of God's grace and peace. And that for this present postmodern era which we are now here processing and questioning our past of all things we have been taught and believed, there seems to be yet another gulf or chasm as deep and wide as the one between humanity and person and work of God Himself. That in order to describe ourselves, our beliefs, our connections with this world, we must re-describe everything with a "post+" descriptive phrase attached to everything marking us as distinctly different from our worthy predecessors.

And if we are proposing a new theology of the Bible in the sense of enlarging its core messages which have been as of now hidden by our modernistic theologies, doctrines, and dogmas, than perhaps its time to unlock them with the help of today's more contemporary thought as found in Continental Philosophy and perhaps, Radical Theology. What this means is that today's postmodern biblical study is no longer founded on a Westernized analytic-scientific structure of "biblical systematics and dogmas" but on a post-modern, post-secular, post-Christian Continental approach of biblical poetics, genre, narrative, existentialism, and phenomenological exploration of biblical themes both past and present in making sense of God and His Word for these present times. So that if this postmodern gospel feels and sounds radically different from the previous modernistic one, it really is, based upon the generations it must now minister and connect to.

As such, we must demand of ourselves, as well as our Christian theological communities, to remain open to new discoveries and narratives of how the Spirit of God is now speaking into this world through His postmodern church of today and not of yesterday. In the older language of some, perhaps we are in a new "spiritual dispensation" much different from the one we once knew built on the great tragedies and distortions of sin and evil, failure and lapse, unto a postmodern generation seeking new studies, witness, and connections with the Divine and with the antiquated world of classic Christian teachings. This is the great difficulty the postmodern theologian now must embrace in order to re-speak God's Word to humanity. It is not an easy task made all the harder sin's adamant blindness and refusal to relent of the securities it once knew in Christianity past. But for the a/Christian wishing to find God in the rhetoric of today's dogmatic churches it seems an impossible task even as it can be for the postmodern theologian looking for new words, categories, and connections to present the God of all grace and mercy in the bible even as it had come through Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour.

So that for the Christian theist, ultimately we struggle with the meaning and message of Jesus. Certainly, to today's Millennial generation we now see the Christian gospel revisiting its missions to the lost, the poor, the lame, and the sick. As a result the church itself is also moving into a heightened sense of this mission in representing the oppressed, addressing the injustices of this world, and seeking to uplift those who have the least societal or political power as mediators between the harsh cold world of capitalism to that of social justice and democracy. That ultimately the outcomes of Jesus message, if measured in earthy terms of the here-and-now, is that of a gracious, merciful humanitarianism. Of a gospel that seeks to bring in the kingdom of God now and not latter. That lives its Christian lives in the present tense of work-witness as versus seeking to escape this life through a journey of mysticism and escapism. That the works of faith must rival the belief of faith if faith is to be meaningful at all. And that without works faith is dead and religion rules by its empty creeds and confessions.

And so, we must ask ourselves, can we find value through continental philosophy and radical theology in helping the church re-discover the God of the bible through employing a new form of radical hermeneutics? Of questioning what we thought we knew by what we really don't know without defacing the past work of the church in its many past doctrines and historic struggle to be faithful to the God of the bible? If yes, than we do approach these subjects as Christian theists wishing to uplift not only the Name but the Person and Work of Jesus Christ who is more than a myth to our faith. To be able to read a/theists like Jack Caputo in the accompanying article below and to understand his struggle with the bible has been removed by his own philosophical logic and words. To understand why he has such a great dissonance with uncharitable Christian dogma even as he stretches out for words to find the inherent power of the Creator not only outside His creation but resident within it through Christ's death and resurrection.

No, it is not hard to see the questions rolling out of Jack's questioning spirit even as the world's many atrocities and civil wars have thrust the innocent to ask "Why, O God, have you forsaken us in our hour of need?" Seeking to find the transformative power and spiritual engine of God's faithfulness only to find Him seemingly absent to our deep personal needs. And so, the postmodern theologian says, "Perhaps, God has forsaken us." Or, "Perhaps we have forsaken Him to find the judgment of sin upon our heads." Or, "Perhaps, God has come as the Both/And. As both an external power-and-presence as well as a renewed internal power-and-presence heretofore unknown except by Jesus' resurrection (what Jack will dutifully call "the insistence of God"). As the Creator-Redeemer God we creatures would expect no less than to be amazed at the "both/and" contingency of God who through His Spirit speaks to our troubled hearts in tones of silence and plenty, want or need, austerity and judgment, mercy and forgiveness. For the willing seeker lost in the darkness of this world it can be overwhelming even as much as it is for the questioning observing asking "Why?"

Who then is this Creator God come to this infinitely amazing world we live in? Who has given to us the gift of life to live in-and-for Him with all the promises of His presence, grace, and mercy in our lives against all the heartaches, defeats, and harms that this wicked world can provide in His place? Who speaks through the lives of modern day Pauls like the German Theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, having died for his faithful confession by Nazi oppression. Or who speaks through the countless lives of Christian martyrs at the hands of brutal oppression in these wicked days of our seemingly pointless world we live in? Can doctrines mean anything when we see such evil?

For many, the answer is no. At which point an a/theism arises to be measured in the sifting words and stratagems of men and women seeking a God who is silent - if He is there at all. But for the Christian theist this direction does little good, and so we cling to the bible all the more, and to the incarnate life of the Christ we have come to know as personal Saviour. If we must substitute men's words for the bible than let it be on the basis of questioning past misdirections of Christian dogma rather than the very God Himself who has communicated to us by word and by deed. Not in the pre-postmodern forms of past classical doctrines but in an expanded postmodern thought and communication of examining God's Word to our own words, and thoughts, and beliefs. And it is in this exercise perhaps we may come to hear the Spirit of God afresh questioning the church's harsher doctrines of judgment when the very God Himself had spoken in the language of love to all who would come to Him through His life of ministry and the cross.

And so, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we might come to learn to speak of a "religion-less religion." Or, with Frank Schaeffer, having rejected a hard nosed conservative Christianity, discover a kind of a/gnosticism or a/theism towards the irreligious institutions of the Christian church. Or, with Peter Rollins, born into the times of the Irish Troubles of warring Belfast between Catholic and Protestant faiths, to see past his existential search for non-dogmatic forms of Christianity to a risen church preaching a humanitarian Jesus marked by personal death and resurrection. If so, than perhaps we have a post-modern Christian message to yet determine, deliver, and preach of God's Words, doctrines, and teachings as servants of Christ. To be post-modern day apostles committed to deconstructing God's Word in order to re-construct His beauty, majesty, and glory to come.

R.E. Slater
November 9, 2015
revised November 12, 2015


John Caputo and Peter Rollins in live debate






You’re Looking For Nothing:
John Caputo Responds to My Work

by Peter Rollins
(Updated) July 07, 2015

*[additional comments mine added for better clarity - r.e. slater]

John Caputo has long been a monumental influence in my life and work. From the first time I randomly picked up one of his books (On Religion) in a little bookshop in Belfast back in 2000, to the present day where I’m working through his stunning philosophical memoir Hoping Against Hope (I’m honored to be writing the forward), he has been a constant guide, mentor and conversation partner. Not only this, but over recent years I have been able to get to know him personally and come to know him as a friend.

Recently, while at a conference in Turkey, John was asked about my work and he expressed some concern about the Lacanian turn I had made, particularly with my interest in Žižek. This comment was posted up on the “What is Pyrotheology” Facebook page and generated some interesting dialogue.

I must admit that when I read the comment I was very pleased. The idea that John was commenting on my work, let alone engaging seriously with it, meant the world to me. He had already publicly endorsed me in 2011 when he, controversially, put together a panel dealing with my work at a philosophy conference he facilitated called, “The Future of Continental Philosophy of Religion” (his last conference in Syracuse before retiring). But the fact that he was still taking my work seriously was very affirming.

Yet he was concerned that the comment might be taken out of context. So today he clarified what he meant on the “What is Pyrotheology” page.

His comments might be of interest to those of you who are keeping an eye on the direction of my work. In addition to John’s comment I have also included my small and inadequate response, as well as a link to a short post I wrote in the aftermath of John playfully claiming I was a crypto-Calvinist at my Belfast festival in April 2015.

Update: John recently sent me an email response to my comments that I have added below

John Caputo’s comment:

As my comment about regretting the influence of Žižek on Pete’s work has drawn some comment, I think it’s a good idea for to clarify what I am saying, lest anyone think I was criticizing Pete, whom I love dearly and have always supported as best I can and was decidedly not criticizing. In fact, it was the opposite. I was in the middle of saying that my hope is that Pete’s work will catch a wave, a big book, say, that will move him on to the next level and widen his circle of influence. I then added that my main fear is that, under the influence of Žižek, his audience will be narrowed to the radical death-of-God set and that will confine him to a narrower nicheI think his own native genius has a broader appeal than that. [One] that I have understood to lie in exploring the dynamics of undecidability, the undecidable tensions between faith and doubt, theism and atheism, fidelity and betrayal, how to speak and not-speak of God, orthodoxy and heterodoxy, and the underlying sense of life that subtends these oppositions. I think that has a wider reach and it would nourish a growing number of people today, like the “nones,” some of whom still go to church but are wondering why, some of whom no longer go to church but still believe something, they just do not know what, people who are “inside/outside” religion. In my view that undecidable flux is crushed by Žižek, where the dialectic is reduced to a dogmatic double negative, no, no. So I was talking about audiences.

But over and beyond this question of strategy, of reaching an audience, lies an interesting philosophical question, condensed in the “crypto-Calvinism” comment someone made in the Belfast Tricksters meetings. This Pete has glossed in terms of [Lacan's] radical “lack,” which is a lot better than [the extra-biblical systematic term of] “total depravity.” This raises a really good question which, as I see it, concerns how to address our “finitude”—we are conditioned and limited beings who come to be and pass away, fluctuating between being and non-being, as Augustine liked to say. One way is through the myth of Original Sin, a fall from a state of pristine peace and innocence into sin so that we pass our lives in the aftermath of the fall. Freud and Lacan, I think, give us the secularized counterpart to this Jewish myth by way of the Greek myth of fate, of Oedipus, of the impossibility of maternal plenitude, where we pass our lives in the aftermath of this loss. I greet the first myth, which is mostly due to Augustine and grows even larger teeth with Calvin, with incredulity. There never was—either structurally or historically–any such original purity to lose. I greet the second myth with no less incredulity; there never was any such Oedipus triangle to contend with, a point which is developed with some vigor in Deleuze’s Anti-Oedipus. I greet any myth of a originary fall or loss with incredulity, as a mythologizing of our finitude. I am a heretic about both these orthodoxies.

How then should we think finitude? In terms of our primordial temporality by which we are structurally turned toward the future, and therefore in terms of the “perhaps,” of an originary possibility. To be born therefore does not mean to “fall” into time from eternity, or to “lack” eternity and to be stuck with time. We are originally, and originarily, temporal beings, and that while decidedly finite is nothing to wring our hands over. Time is our first and last chance. To be born is  [to] find oneself in a nascent state, neither sinful nor sick, but in a state of beginnings, of natality (Hannah Arendt), in an originary open-endedness to what is to-come, for better or for worse. To be sure, this is a risky situation. From the outset, we stand before the promise/threat, and nothing guarantees a good outcome. We have not fallen from somewhere; we do not “lack” anything, which means we are missing something we are supposed to have at this point; we have not “lost” something we were originally given. These myths of fall and loss don’t ring true to me. They’re just too downbeat but more importantly they reflect a misunderstanding of temporality. Rather, our finitude is our dependence. The child is a new beginning and so just beginning and not an articulate autonomous agent. But the world is not just beginning. As soon as we come to be we find the world is already running. That is the first case, our first encounter, with the injustice of an unjust world, and our first, harsh lesson in the logic of the “perhaps,” of the promise/threat. The first injustice is an accident of birth—the terribly deprived and desperate condition in which some children are born, while others have every advantage, immersed in love and in an environment by which they are supported on every side. There is the true lack and loss, the first case of missing something that is supposed to be there, viz., the misfortune of being born abandoned, neglected or in desperate poverty. There is nothing mythic about that, no grand récit about some primordial Ur-event of loss, no metaphysics of the void, thank you very much.

So on my accounting the being of finitude is may-being. That means, on the one hand, that there is no Divine Providence to ensure a good outcome, nothing to guarantee life may not be a disaster, just as, on the other hand, nothing says we are born sick or in sin, living in the aftermath of some mythical lost plenitude or innocence. The temporality of our lives was well described by Kierkegaard as a “repetition forward,” producing what we repeat by the repetition, like a songwriter picking at a guitar trying to find something that does not yet exist, a gradual up-building or on-going construction of the set of fragile, contestable and deconstructible meanings we call our lives. The temporality of this process is not structured around a primal fall, loss or lack, nor around a total or even partial depravity. On the contrary, it structured around an archi-faith in the coming of what we cannot see coming; an originary hope against hope that the future will be better; an originary love of the possibility of the impossible. These three, faith, hope and love, to which I add a fourth, a specter that spooks the whole thing, and sees to it that it may turn out to be a disaster. So these three, plus a little luck, bon chance, which the theologians call grace, and I qualify as the “nihilism of grace,” the grace of life, which is a finite, risky, bracing business.

Whether our difference here is a difference of emphasis I will leave to others to judge, because in the end Pete and I are on the same page, affirming the “difficulty of life” as I called it in Radical Hermeneutics, in the face of which we must learn to laugh through our tears.


My response (John goes by “Jack”):

I’m keen to respond to Jack Caputo’s beautifully written reflections and might do so in more depth on my website. But I’ll say a couple of things now. Before I do though, let me just say that I realize the ridiculousness of me responding to Jack when his work is so much more thought through and penetrating than my own. I am here to learn from Jack, and am so profoundly grateful that he would engage in this way.

Firstly, on the comments related to strategy/reach, Jack is right that my influences at the moment do limit me somewhat. I’ve missed out on at least one very big platform as a result, and it is something I need to reflect on more as I attempt to vulgarize (hopefully in the positive sense of the term) Radical Theology.

Secondly, I just want to make one quick point about the ‘lack.’ I fully agree with Jack that there is nothing we have lost. The point that I steal from Lacan is that the loss comes first (Original Sin), and the sense of loss generates the idea of something that was lost. Loss is constitutive of subjectivity. But nothing lies behind the loss (i.e. no Original Blessing).

I am drawn to Jack’s incredulity toward grand narratives, including the grand narrative of absolute negation. However I tend to see the Lacan/Žižek lack as something primarily related to a logical necessity in the birth of the subject. Anyway, just wanted to clarify that I agree with Jack that there is nothing lost. Indeed the sacrifice is pure gain… the birth of the subject. Just as some pre-societal idilic state of nature is not what was lost by the development of society, but is actually a fantasy created by it. In other words, our castration (as individuals and subjects in society) is not a loss but a pure gain that is experienced as a loss.


John Caputo’s second response:

My view is that the loss does not come first, and to think so is to adopt a corrupt view of finitude and temporality. That’s the truth behind the crypto-Calvinism quip. As Nietzsche said, the “Christian” schema is to think that in producing human beings, nature produced sick animals, and if they are not born sick Christianity will make them sick and pass itself off as the physician. I think psychoanalysis is a lot like that. The paradigm is beings born with a loss (sick, sin) which can be healed by the physician (priest/psychoanalyst).

To say the loss is first is to embrace this very paradigm. The very idea of “loss” is a missing wholeness. It is by definition the absence of something that is supposed to be there but is missing. That is not corrected but brought to its logical conclusion by then adding that the whole is a fantasy, and that we should just learn to live with the sickness/loss and treat it as a gain. That is good advice to someone born with a life-long illness or handicap, a way to try to turn their disadvantage into an advantage, but it is not a paradigm for being human. If it is, it adopts a paradigm of sickness.

L/Z are saying: as there never was a wholeness, treat the loss as a gain. I say: As there never was a loss, there never was an implied completeness. The whole schema—of loss and completeness—is a fantasy. It proceeds from a corrupt or distorted view of finitude and temporality. Or, if that is too strong, it at best describes an aberration or pathology, since some people really are born sick, in body or in mind. In that case it makes up what Heidegger would call a “regional ontology,” a local and contingent condition, not a fundamental ontology. Not a description of being human as such.

The fundamental—I would rather say radical—ontology is the ontology of finitude and temporality. There is nothing about finitude and temporality as such that implies that it is a loss or should be described as a loss (lack, fall, etc). To come to be in time is, as far as I know, the only way to come to be all. It is, in principle, good news, not a loss. It is not a loss that, since it cannot be remedied, should be regarded as a gain; it never was a loss at all. In temporality, what comes first is the beginning, and the beginning is not a loss, but a beginning, a nascence, an openness to the future, and what is made of that nascence all depends… For one thing, it depends on whether this beginning is made under the most desperate and deprived conditions, or under the conditions that would allow it to flourish. Whether the beginning is all but shut down from the start by oppressive circumstances or kept open-ended and futural. We are not born sick, but we are too often born oppressed.

So the question of the poverty, neglect and abandonment into which children are born is vastly more important problem than what for me seems to be a narrow preoccupation with the psychological fantasy of completeness. If perchance, and I say this only half in jest, this pathology really is such a big problem, and if Lacan is the answer, then we are in bigger trouble than I thought, since only a relatively few specialists have the time, talent and opportunity to figure out what he is saying, and still fewer people have the financial means to afford the treatment!

I am not saying that there are no sick people, no people who need help, and I am not denying that there people who can help them. I think there are genuine counselors, people with discernment and empathy, who in one-on-one sessions and without a big overarching theory of “the” unconscious,” as if there [is] just one, can help us out in a time of need. I actually think Jesus was one of those people and that was part of his success as a healer. Lacanian psychoanalysis is at best a local therapy, not a fundamental ontology.

I am all for denying the big Other, but I think the more radical, the more philosophical way to deny the big Other, which means to break the tyranny of certitude—a project we all share—is what Heidegger calls “overcoming metaphysics,” that is, twisting free from big overarching stories or deep accounts of how things are. A big Story, a big Other, is one of several ways to “arrest the play,” as Derrida said, all of which are variously metaphysical. I think that psychoanalysis for Freud was meant to be science, the final story, the end of the illusion of religion. I take it that in Lacan’s post-modern Freudianism, in particular, the “non-all,” breaks with Freud’s scientism. Right on. Nonetheless, psychoanalysis is a regional critique of foundationalism, focused on the unconscious, indeed on a particular highly sexualized account of the unconscious, not a fundamental analysis of being-human at large. Denying the big Other is only part of the critique of centered, certain, founded, grounded, overarching, ahistorical accounts.

What about Christianity? This I think is really interesting. I think I am the truer Christian in this debate. Unlike psychoanalysis, Calvinism, and the Christian Right—you see the association?—the Gospels seems to me to be singularly unconcerned with sexuality. What concerns them? They are mostly preoccupied with poverty, marginalization, imprisonment, and economic redistribution, which are the very terms in which Jesus announces his ministry (Luke 4:16-21). I’m with Jesus and the kingdom of God on this one.

Lastly, what about Hegel? I also think I am the truer Hegelian in all this. Žižek’s Hegel is very clever, I’ll grant that, but it is at bottom a philosophical corruption of Hegel. Hegel did not try to knock things down or slam them with a “no, no, there never was such a thing.” Hegel thought that whatever is, is true, and that whatever is true is to that precise extent real, but everything has to take its “time” in becoming trueThat is an Aristotelianism (which I got from my Catholic Thomism, which explains my aversion to Calvinism) that I share with Hegel, along with Hegel’s deep distrust of Platonic (and Kantian) dualism, which treats time as—you guessed it—a “fall.” So for Hegel, religion is the truth, a form of truth, but it is only the truth in a certain form or figure, and the idea is not to slam it, to declare it an illusion and double negate it, but to figure out this figure, to “interpret” it (hermeneutics), to get at its truth in a way it itself cannot, to “repeat” it in a more radical wayMalabou calls this “speculative hermeneutics,” which is brilliant, because it brings out both the hermeneutics and the lingering metaphysics. I call it “radical hermeneutics,” meaning easy on the metaphysics, please.


Some addition sources:

Here is a short post I wrote that clarifies what I mean by Original Sin

You can follow John Caputo on Facebook here

You can request to join What is Pyrotheology here



Select Comments

I am not very competent at the issues being raised and this area of thought in general. I have some concerns that probably betray a lack of understanding of the work of these great thinkers. I only have skimmed the work of Caputo and Rollins, and an limited to only a few Zizek lectures. Please guide me, by commenting on the following concerns, thanks.

First, isn’t the idea that this fiction of a “fall” or “loss” enables us to access and express an aspect of our existential phenomenological realities? This saudade evoking narrative is particularly helpful to us and already finds itself in a lot of our aesthetic expressions (literature/art). For us to pretend to lose all illusions is to engage the role of the courageous fool, one who just doesn’t get how things are, who follows the naive logic that losing illusion is gaining clearer reality. However, to lose the fiction is to lose reality itself.

Second, the double negation is not so different from the double affirmation, in that they are both actions describing the nature of a certain reality in light of the absolute. The double negative subscribes to an indifferent Absolute “neither this nor this”; on the other hand, the double affirmation subscribes to a constitutive Absolute “this and this”. The former says that the Absolute is beyond (indifferent to) all relative categories, the latter that the Absolute is a composite of all these categories; while the former would contend that reality itself is beyond the categories of theist and atheist, the latter asserts that reality includes both categories.

Third, a “Caputo event” seems much like a miracle, a transgressing of laws of human nature like the relativity of experience or capacity for dissatisfaction. It also seems to have drunk deep of the modernist ideal of progress. Like Badiou’s “catastrophe is better than non-being”, it seems like an urging to act, and urging to create, a guilt inducing obligation and responsibility of making the future exist. As to miracles, if an event isn’t a moving beyond the rules that are in place, if it is merely a repetition, a new stanza of a song using the same language and grammatical laws (or stretch thereof) of the other stanzas, then what is so great about it, why do we limit Hegel to make place for it? Why do we seek to move beyond the temporal triad of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, to represent the world in an temporal future? The point is that while we may say that Caputo doesn’t really seek to transcend the frame, to limit nature, there is a vibe that he really does want to. This is maybe why we have to introduce a grace, an unknown factor, a chaos or randomness, the possibility of hacking/limiting the laws of nature. This grace is as unnatural and as false as the “fall” or “lack”. It is a fiction that doesn’t work quite as efficiently to access our existential phenomenological realities. In all, the Event thrives in the frame of a cosmopoetics- not of humility but of ambition.

Fourth, there is no future. This is a point of theoretical physics we have yet to contend with. We are limiting the natural realities to make space for our subjective experience. We like to claim that we are not limiting nature and that it is not primarily an anthropoetics but a cosmopoetics. However, where we don’t like it, where “as if I were dead” nature is not convenient, we claim a primacy of the subjective reality, and the importance of factoring it in as well. Why don’t we just say that (just like everyone else) we too are limiting cosmopoetics to make space for theopoetics? Instead of this hair splitting argumentation. Too, is theopoetics a part of cosmopoetics or is cosmopoetics indifferent to theopoetics?

Maybe the true dilemma is one introduced in the second point, about the nature of the absolute. Is it indifferent or constitutive. The Absolute according to what we know of theoretical physics and especially theory of relativity, is open to interpretation: either it is beyond all relatives, or it is constitutive of all relatives. Maybe it is neither of these. Or maybe it is both.

In sum, as you can see, this is from a crude reading, and formulation of what I see the dilemma is, as well as my personal reaponse to these evokative dilemmas. I appreciate your comments. Thanks.

- Anon



Introducing Peter Rollins. Post-Structuralist. Radical Theologian.



About

Peter Rollins is a provocative writer, philosopher, storyteller and public speaker who has gained an international reputation for overturning traditional notions of religion and forming “churches” that preach the Good News that we can’t be satisfied, that life is difficult, and that we don’t know the secret.

Challenging the idea that faith concerns questions relating to belief Peter’s incendiary and irreligious reading of Christianity attacks the distinction between sacred and secular, blurs the lines between theism and atheism and sets aside questions regarding life after death to explore the possibility of a life before death.

Peter gained his higher education from Queens University, Belfast and has earned degrees (with distinction) in Scholastic Philosophy (BA Hons), Political Theory (MA) and Post-Structural thought (PhD). He is the author of numerous books, including Insurrection, The Idolatry of God, and The Divine Magician. He was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, currently lives in Los Angeles and will die somewhere as yet not known.

Born 31 March 1973

Era
21st-century philosophy/theology

School

Main interests

Notable ideas
Pyrotheology     Transformance Art     Suspended Space

Influences

Influenced


Wikipedia

Peter Rollins (born 31 March 1973) is a Northern Irish writer, public speaker, philosopher and theologian who is a prominent figure in Radical Theology.[1]

Drawing largely from various strands of Continental Philosophy, Rollins' early work operated broadly from within the tradition of Apophatic Theology, while his more recent books have signaled a move toward the theory and practice of Radical Theology. In these books Rollins develops a "religionless" interpretation of Christianity called Pyrotheology,[2] an interpretation that views faith as a particular way of engaging with the world rather than a set of beliefs about the world.[3]

In contrast to the dominant reading of Christianity, this more existential approach argues that faith has nothing to do with upholding a religious identity, affirming a particular set of beliefs or gaining wholeness through conversion. Instead he has developed an approach that sees Christianity as a critique of these very things. This anti-religious reading stands against the actual existing church and lays the groundwork for an understanding of faith as a type of life in which one is able to celebrate doubt, ambiguity and complexity while deepening care and concern for the world.[4] He argues that the event which gave rise to the Christian tradition cannot itself be reduced to a tradition, but is rather a way of challenging traditions.

In order to explore and promote these themes Rollins has founded a number of experimental communities such as ikon[5] and ikonNYC.[6] These groups describe themselves as iconic, apocalyptic, heretical, emerging and failing[7] and engage in the performance of what they call 'transformance art' [8] and the creation of "suspended space."[9] Because of their rejection of "worldview Christianity" and embrace of suspended space these groups purposelessly attempt to attract people with different political perspectives and opposing views concerning the existence of God and the nature of the world.[10]

Although Rollins does not directly identify with the emerging church movement,[11] he has been a significant influence on the movement's development.[12][13]

Early life and education

Rollins grew up in East Belfast during The Troubles,[14] a period of intense and violent sectarian conflict that erupted in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s and resulted in the deaths of more than 3,600 people[15] before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998,[16] which is generally regarded as the end of the conflict, though pockets of violence persist today. He attended Orangefield Boys High School and left at the age of sixteen without the qualifications required for further study. He was unemployed for several years before taking a job as a youth worker in Carrickfergus and working in a homeless shelter run by the Simon Community on the Falls Road, Belfast. He then went on to study an access course on the Castlereagh Campus of the Belfast Metropolitan College (an intensive one-year course designed for disadvantaged students who wish to attend university but lack the entry requirements).[17] Rollins has a B.A. Honors in Scholastic Philosophy, an M.A. in Political Theory and Social Criticism, and a Ph.D dealing with Post-Structural Theory from Queen's University, Belfast.[18]

Academics such as Cathy Higgins have explored how an understanding of Rollins activism requires an appreciation of The Troubles. The development of groups like the Belfast-based ikon collective was at least partially a response to the pervasive atmosphere of violence, economic hardship, rigid identity markers and deep rooted sectarianism in operation in the province. The sectarian violence combined with the use of religion to legitimate injustice, the fundamentalism of many Protestant churches and the sexual abuse scandals of the Catholic Church, played a major role in creating the frame of reference from which Rollins works.[19] The result being an emphasis on creating practices designed so that “participants [could] set aside the various identities that define them" and gather as a gathering of equals to "share stories, struggles, and rituals that help them respond to one another in a Christ-like way.” [20] In contrast to a dogmatic form of religion and she notes that ikon provided a space in which “doubt is viewed as healthy and necessary for owning our material reality, vulnerability and limitedness”.[21]

Career

While operating broadly outside the academy Rollins does work with various academic institutions across the UK and US. He has been a research associate with the Irish School of Ecumenics (Trinity College, Dublin)[22] and is currently on faculty at the Global Center for Advanced Study.[23]

Early writing

Rollins' unpublished PhD (His Colour is Our Blood: A Phenomenology of the Prodigal Father) offers a survey of religious thinking in the aftermath of Marx, Freud and Nietzsche. It engages directly with Martin Heidegger's critique of onto-theology and explores the religious significance of Jacques Derrida's post-structural theory and Jean-Luc Marion's saturated phenomenology (drawing out the points of connection and conflict between them). This manuscript represents Rollins' initial attempt to articulate an approach to faith that would short-circuit the categories of theism and atheism and problematize the various debates that arise from them. In so doing this marks an approach to Christianity that is not related to a system of belief but rather to a particular mode of life.

His first book, How (Not) to Speak of God (2006) popularized the main themes of his PhD by blending the apophatic work of Meister Eckhart[24] and pseudo-Dionysius[25] with the Post-structural work of Derrida[26] and Marion.[27] How (Not) to Speak of God also outlined how the theory was developed and worked out in a concrete way through the ikon collective (the second half of the book outlined a series of 'transformance art' liturgical experiments).[28]

While his early work is marked by themes that continue to play a central role in his later development (such as doubt, complexity and ambiguity), they remain largely within a specifically theistic and mystical register.[29]

Shift to radical theology

The Fidelity of Betrayal (2008) signalled a movement from apophatic and post-structural discussions witnessed in his PhD and How (Not) to Speak of God into Radical Theology.[30] With this work we begin to see a critique of purely theistic forms of faith and witness the growing influence of political philosopher Slavoj Žižek and psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan in his overall project.[31] The Fidelity of Betrayal is thus a work that bridges the more mystical influence of his first writings toward a theological materialism, a trajectory that was subsequently fleshed out and deepened in Insurrection (2011) and The Idolatry of God (2013). In these later books the influence of Hegel, Žižek, Lacan, later Bonhoeffer and Tillich comes to the fore, though John Caputo remains as an ongoing point of reference.[32]

Story-telling

Rollins incorporates narrative forms into his talks to create a more informal style of communication. In 2009 Rollins published The Orthodox Heretic, a book of 33 short, parable-like stories. He has also written fairytales[33] and a play on the theme of desire.[34]

Current thinking

Rollins' overall project is marked by the themes of doubt, complexity, unknowing and embracing brokenness.[35] More than this, he has been interested in showing that these themes are central to the founding event of Christianity.[36] He is interested in showing how the central scandal of Christianity offers us a critique of religion[37] (including the need to believe) and tribal identity,[38] both of which have been lost in the actually existing church; an institution that he argues represents a fundamental betrayal of the insurrectionary power of faith.[39] His work is an attempt to show that Christianity does not rest on theistic belief, some commitment to supernaturalism or the affirmation of some set of dogmas.[40] Rollins has named his theological program pyrotheology.[41] The name was inspired by the Spanish anarchist Buenaventura Durruti's statement that "the only church that illuminates is a burning church."[42] The phrase has also inspired some of Slavoj Žižek's work related to radical theology.[43]

Rollins’ work operates at the intersection of where Post-Structuralism, Psychoanalysis, Phenomenology, and Existentialism meet and inform each other.[44] What follow are some of the major themes evidenced in his project:


  • Humans have a natural and destructive disposition toward the pursuit of satisfaction: By employing insights developed by psychoanalysis, Rollins argues that humans tend to seek some object that would seem to promise satisfaction.[45] This very pursuit is, however, itself destructive, for we either don't get what we seek above all else and thus always long for it, or we do get it and discover that it is actually unable to offer us what we sought.[46]
  • Humans have a natural and destructive disposition to seek out certainty: Employing the insights of childhood development in the area of metapsychology Rollins argues that, as children, we identify with false images that help us to cover over our weakness and dependence on others.[47] Rollins claims that adults often remain caught within these false images.[48] Our various beliefs offer us a certain level or security and sense of belonging. But he argues that they ultimately damage us by distancing us from others, causing us to repress doubt and preventing us from being positively impacted by people who think and practice in ways that are different from our own.[49]
  • Religion falsely promises to offer the certainty and satisfaction that we seek: While certainty and satisfaction are being offered to us from multiple sources, Rollins argues that the church offers the paradigmatic version of this pursuit. God is offered as that which will give us satisfaction and a certainty not available elsewhere.[50] He argues that anything that we believe offers this type of happiness and confidence is actually nothing but an idol that offers, ironically, the opposite: dissatisfaction and uncertainty.[51]
  • The Liberal and Progressive forms of Church are structurally similar to Conservative and Fundamentalist Church: While Conservative and Fundamentalist churches can be seen to fall into the problems Rollins outlines, his main concern lies with Liberal and Progressive communities. He argues that Liberal and Progressive churches verbally advocate doubt, complexity, ambiguity and brokenness, yet generally enact an idolatrous view of faith in their liturgical structures.[52][53]
  • Faith is not a system that offers certainty and satisfaction but is a mode of living free from these drives.

Projects

Rollins's project involves attempting to encourage a constant rupturing of ideological forms of Christianity through the development of non-dogmatic collectives that embrace doubt, complexity and ambiguity, open themselves up to critique, and face up to the human experience of lack.[54][55][56] He has stated that these communities have a structural similarity to twelve step programs insofar as they involve facing up to one's issues and working them through in communities where grace and acceptance are fundamental principles.[57] Psychoanalytic ideas, particularly from the school of Lacan, play a fundamental role.[58][59] Rollins has developed a number of "contemplative practices" that are designed to help in this process.[60]

Transformance art

Transformance art is a psychoanalytically influenced approach that combines music, visual imagery, soundscapes, theatre, poetry, storytelling, ritual and reflection to form a space in which people are invited to question their cultural, political, and religious views, let go of the pursuit of wholeness, sensitise themselves to the needs of others, and learn to embrace existence.[61] Central to transformance art events is the creation of suspended space where the various divisions and distinctions that separate people are placed into question.[62] The aim of this is to create a space where people might encounter each other as fellow human beings and expose the structures that promote inequality.[63][64]


* * * * * * * * * *





What if the most diseased element of our religious, political and cultural life could be made to vanish before our very eyes, only to reappear in a fundamentally healthy and liberating form? In The Divine Magician this possibility is precisely what is presented through a subversive reading of Christianity that argues for a faith beyond dogma, doctrine and tradition, a faith that doesn’t uphold a particular religious identity or demand some sectarian allegiance. Instead he employs the structure of a magic trick to offer up an irreligious reading of faith that stands against these very things. Rollins interrogates traditional religious notions from a revolutionary and refreshingly original perspective.





With sensitivity to the Christian tradition and a rich understanding of postmodern thought, Rollins argues for a radically new form of church that offers a singular, unprecedented message of transformation with the potential to revolutionize the theological and moral architecture of Western Christianity. How (Not) to Speak of God takes its stand on the claim that Christian faith is not simply able to make room for doubt, mystery and unknowing, but rather fundamentally embraces them. In this book the reader is confronted with a type of theory and practice that ruptures the binary oppositions between theist and atheist, sacred and secular, belief and unbelief to provide a truly new vision of future church.



In this incendiary new work, the controversial author and speaker Peter Rollins proclaims that Christian faith is not an otherworldly faith interested in the possibility of life after death but rather is an invitation to discover the reality of life before death. In order to unearth this truth, Rollins prescribes a radical and wholesale critique of contemporary Christianity that he calls pyro-theology. It is only as we submit our spiritual practices, religious rituals, and dogmatic affirmations to the flames of fearless interrogation that we come into contact with the reality that Christianity is in the business of transforming our world rather than offering a way of interpreting or escaping it - Belief in the Resurrection means but one thing: Participation in an Insurrection.


What if one of the core demands of a radical Christianity lay in a call for its betrayal, while the ultimate act of affirming God required the forsaking of God? And what if fidelity to the Judeo-Christian Scriptures demanded their renunciation? In short, what would it mean if the only way of finding real faith involved betraying it with a kiss? Employing the insights of mysticism and deconstructive theory, The Fidelity of Betrayal delves into the subversive and revolutionary nature of a Christianity demands us to betray all institutions that claim to arise from it. This is not some argument against structures but rather for a type of church against church. A church that stands opposed to all religious dogmas, that calls into question its own orthodoxies and that invites all people to find meaning in the work of love.



In contrast to the usual understanding of the “Good News” as a message offering satisfaction and certainty, Rollins argues for a radical and shattering alternative. He explores how the Good News actually involves embracing the idea that we can’t be whole, that life is difficult, and that we are in the dark. Arguing that God has traditionally been approached as a product that will render us complete, remove our suffering and reveal the answers, he introduces an incendiary approach to faith that invites us to embrace our brokenness, face our unknowing and accept the difficulties of existence. Only then, he argues, can we truly rob death of its sting and enter into the fullness of life.


In this bold new book Peter Rollins presents a vision of faith that has little regard for the institutions of Christendom or the practices of the actual existing church. Yet his uncompromising critique of religion, while often unsettling, is infused with a deep and abiding love for what it means to genuinely live with a concern for the world. The Orthodox Heretic plants thirty-three explosive parables into the hearts and minds of the reader that are designed to blow apart any dogmatic, religious defences that protect us from encountering the subversive core of Christianity. In so doing this subversive text seeks to expose the reader once more to the life affirming and world-transforming violence of faith. A faith that is not concerned with beliefs about the world, but with a different way of being in the world.






Book Review: Philip Goodrich - A Theology of Money


Philip Goodchild, What is Wrong with the Global Financial System?


Published on Aug 18, 2014

Philip Goodrich discusses the power of money to subordinate all political aims and more. Since money is both a means of payment and a unit of account, the best way to achieve one's goals is to obtain money first. Thus, money posits itself as the universal, supreme value and the means of access to all other values.

"[Philip Goodchild] analyzes this myth in terms of four kinds of instabilities:physical,
conceptual, economic, and market. The physical instability is due to a conflict between
economy and ecology that will inevitably lead to catastrophe: 'We are consuming our
own collective body.'"

- David Congdon, review






Read Introduction, part of Chapter 1, and Conclusion - 


Book Review

Theology of Money, Philip Goodchild, Duke University Press, 2009(ISBN 978-0-8223-4450-6), xvi
+296 pp., pb $23.95

Philip Goodchild’s Theology of Money was prescient in its timing. It was first released in England in 2007 (SCM Press), followed by a US editionin 2009. The latter edition comes with a preface dated ‘February 2008’.What this means is that, while the book appeared in the midst of the recent financial crisis, it was written before that crisis was ever publicly known. This makes the book doubly remarkable – not only because of its many keen insights about the market and modern society, but also because of its particular relevance to the present situation.

First, however, a word of clarification regarding the title. Some will no doubt pick up this book expecting to find a ‘theological’ (as in [a] Christian systematic theology) reflection on the nature of money. One who does not know Goodchild’s work might expect the book to be an exercise in theological ethics or political theology, comparable with, say,M. Douglas Meek’s God the Economist
or Kathryn Tanner’s Economy of Grace. That person would likely be disappointed. Goodchild’s book is  not a Christian theological account of money; it is not faith’s treatment of money in light of christology or the doctrine of the trinity. One will not find any of the usual doctrinal loci in this book. Instead, Goodchild is attempting to offer the theology that accounts for the modern ‘religion of money’. If money is our god, then Goodchild seeks to articulate the theology that ‘explain[s] the distinctive nature of this spectral power in the modern world’ (p. 14). So while the book is a kind of ‘political theology of money’ (p. 25), words like ‘theology’ and ‘metaphysics’ refer to the being of money rather than the being of God in relation to money. There is no distinction here between theology and philosophy.

Even though students of Christian theology might be disappointed (due to the non-standard use of the word ‘theology’), that does not mean in the least that they should be disappointed. On the contrary, there is much in Theology of Money that demands a wide audience. In order to understand the book’s significance, it is necessary to first gain clarity about its purpose. From the ‘US Edition’ preface: ‘The aim is to show what devotions, sacrifices, and convictions lie at the basis of contemporary existence, and to call for a new effort of devotion, sacrifice, and conviction that may evoke another social order’ (p. xvi). Money is part of the essential fabric of modern existence, according to Goodchild. It is impossible to isolate a purely ‘economic’ realm without touching on matters of political agency, ecology, anthropology, and moral theology. The future of money is, in an important sense, the future of society itself.

After an opening chapter on power – in which he argues that ‘money is the political body par excellence’ (p. 39) – Goodchild launches into an assault on the myths of modernity in his second chapter. ‘Modernity has always been a utopian myth’, he begins (p.43). He analyzes this myth in terms of four kinds of instabilities: physical, conceptual, economic, and market. The physical instabilityis due to a conflict between economy and ecology that will inevitably lead to catastrophe: ‘We are consuming our own collective body’(p. 47). Goodchild makes the point that any economic analysis that only focuses on human labor without accounting for the physical resources upon which such labor depends is ‘deficient’ (p. 49). Conceptually, modernity is built upon abstract concepts, such as‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’, which are intrinsically aporetic and self-contradictory, and thus open to propagandistic manipulation. In the case of democracy, the only way to resolve its internal conflicts is to‘appeal to passions and immediate interests’, which explains why modern democracy has become a corporate oligarchy, because ‘the creation of wealth alone has universal appeal to immediate interests’(p. 51). Because of these and other instabilities, the myth of modernity is sustained by a ‘utopian faith’; it depends on ‘nothing less than a secular theology’ (pp. 53–4). But this faith cannot last. Goodchild concludes this chapter with some dire statements about the coming economic collapse and modernity’s imminent end. His claim is that a new social order will not come from taking a principled stand in absolute opposition to contemporary credit capitalism, as that merely reinstates the same modern myths of individual autonomy and sovereign power. Progress will come ‘only from passing through the internal logic of the political body of money, appropriating its soul and distinctive power while subordinating it to newly created ends’ (p. 69). This is precisely what he sets out to do in the rest of the book.

Part Two of Theology of Money (‘A Treatise on Money’) is the heart of the book and is composed of three chapters on the ecology, politics, and theology of money. By ‘ecology’, Goodchild means the whole process of economic production, the network of relations involved in the ‘accu-mulation, invention, and assembly’ of capital (p. 73). This ecology refersalso to the earth’s ecological systems, in that ‘economy and ecology are mathematically incompatible’ (p. 81). Primarily, although, this chapterdetails the complex web of relations established by the global capitalisteconomy, driven as it is by promise and desire. He concludes by notingthe paradox that the freedom established by capitalism ‘offers very littleeffective freedom’ (p. 120). The following chapter on the politics of money extends this critical analysis of money to the institution of themarket. This includes problems of distribution, wealth accumulation,and class differences. Goodchild levels some of his most trenchantcriticisms against capitalism in this section. He calls the market ‘adespotic social institution founded on violence’, one that ‘proclaims atotal and universal war’ (p. 128). Money has a spiritual power, one thatappeals to those who benefit from it. For this reason, the only way totransform the injustices of the market is by ‘a stronger spiritual power’(p. 129).

The third chapter within the ‘Treatise on Money’ turns towards Goodchild’s constructive argument for how to reform the modern capitalist economy. While this chapter claims to be a ‘theology of money’, what he addresses under this title is the question of money’s value; theology refers to the evaluation of money, and thus to the complete ‘revaluation of value’ itself. Goodchild develops this argument through an assessment of the ‘morals’ of accounting. In contrast to the ‘culture of individualism, of threat, and of righteous revenge’ that is a constitutive feature of modern economic practices (p. 180), he argues for a change to the practices of accounting that would give rise to a new culture. Accounting is a means of directing one’s attention. A new ethics of accounting would direct attention to what truly matters; it would involve recognizing that value is external to the ecology of money and market forces. A ‘new kind of value’ would be able to assess the production of capital in new ways (p. 185).

The final section of the book (‘Of Theology’) develops the constructive proposal. He begins with a dense reflection on metaphysics and ontology, arguing that the current financial system is marked by a‘metaphysical failure’ and that economic reform can only arise through a new political theology with an alternative metaphysics (p. 214). His basic point is that money and God both compete for the same meta-physical territory today: both claim to be the ‘source of the value of values’ (p. 218), and thus both are ‘competing sources of credit’(p. 211). This leads to his ‘modest proposal’ for economic reform. In the present system, evaluation is subordinate to the desire for profit, because profit alone is able to command a general consensus. Goodchild proposes developing ‘a secondary tier of the economy concerned solely with the production and distribution of effective evaluations’ (p.243). In this way, investment and the production of credit would be subordinate to evaluation. Credit would flow to what is valuable, rather than value being attributed to what is profitable. He identifies several problems that have to be addressed. For example, how will these ‘banks of evaluative credit’ be funded?

Despite the obstacles, Goodchild is to be commended for writing a political theology that makes a robust, concrete, and theoretically viable proposal for how to implement actual economic reform. Unlike most political theologies, this work is neither utopian nor separatist: it is not limited to a future eschatological kingdom, nor is it limited to the community of faith. He provides a way of reforming the global capitalist economy from within capitalism. Put differently, he has sketched a way to bring the alternative evaluation of socialism into the present economic system. One can only hope that this work will gain a wide and interdisciplinary – not to mention also non-academic reading.

David W. Congdon
Princeton Theological Seminary


Book Review

CLAYTON CROCKETT
University of Central Arkansas

MONEY AND CREDIT, THEOLOGICALLY SPEAKING

Review of Philip Goodchild, Theology of Money.
SCM Press, 2007. 271 pp. ISBN 978-0-334- 04142-9

(American edition forthcoming from Duke University Press)

Philip Goodchild is the most constructive and original philosopher of religion in the UK, and his Theology of Money succeeds and builds upon the themes opened up by his important book Capitalism and Religion: The Price of Piety (2002). In this extraordinary new work, Goodchild offers a sustained analysis and critique of how money functions as the value of value, and how it determines our metaphysics, our ethics, our politics, our economics and our theology. Money is directly theological insofar as “money replaces God as the metaphysical source of truth, value and power” in the modern world (221).

What Goodchild offers is both a critique of money and a theology of money, and part of what makes this book so fascinating is the significance of calling what he is doing here a theology of money as opposed to simply a critique of money. At the beginning of the book, in the Introduction, Goodchild elaborates Jesus’s attack on money, and states that “theology can have no neutrality here” (3). This framing may suggest that Goodchild is offering us a theological critique of money by opposing a bad contemporary theology of money that functions implicitly and insidiously, with a Christian theology that offers the only true alternative to the supreme value of money. And this reading would be wrong, because Goodchild exposes and critiques a political theology of money, in order to offer an alternative theology of credit that does not look to restore traditional theology or metaphysics.

This does not become entirely clear until the end of the book, but the crux of Goodchild’s argument is to distinguish and separate credit from money, in order to construct a more effective theology. He claims that “theology consists in the ordering of time, attention and devotion” in a broad sense rather than the determinate faith in Jesus Christ or any other particular religious tradition (261- 62). Goodchild argues that in order to oppose the pervasive injustice of money, “the divorce between the secular and the religious, between attending to treasure on earth and attending to treasure in heaven, must be overcome” (243). Theology concerns treasure and wealth, and this is an uncommonly rich book, because Goodchild strains to provide alternative measures of accounting and accreditation from the ones that overwhelm our deeds and our thought.

Goodchild opposes credit and capital to profit and exchange, and argues that we need strategies and institutions to help us evaluate credit and resist the compulsion to value time and attention solely in terms of money. In the Introduction, Goodchild claims that “money exercises a spectral power that exceeds all merely human power” because it creates and shapes desire (12).

In Part 1, “Of Politics,” he suggests that money is a kind of dispersed sovereignty which wields supreme political power in the modern world.

Part 2 is “A Treatise on Money,” which successively lays out an ecology of money, a politics of money, and finally a theology of money. In many respects, the ecology of money is the most illuminating and insightful, because Goodchild delineates the material basis of life and value in terms of energy and nutrition, time and capital.

Finally, Part 3, “Of Theology,” deals directly with credit, and proposes an alternative metaphysics and theology of credit to our current theology and metaphysics of money, and includes a striking reading of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.

The last chapter sketches out a proposal for institutional reform, a bank of evaluative credit that would regulate “the production and distribution of effective evaluations” (246). This evaluative economy would constitute a secondary tier to the existing economy, and it would function distinctly in a separate but related realm to the broader monetary economy. I do not have the evaluative expertise to say whether or not such a proposal would work or would work well, but I do think that we urgently need to experiment with alternative ways to distribute and evaluate capital and credit.

Ultimately evaluative credits provide a different way to measure and evaluate capital. Capital, according to Goodchild, “is the means of production that has itself been produced” (77). Capital is negentropic, and it is the source of all wealth. The problem is that money has exchange value only measures rates of profit. Capitalism is “the social system in which capital is measured as an accumulative quantity in terms of exchange value,” and it is more profitable in the short term to consume the means of production of capital itself than to preserve them for the production of future capital (84). The primary value of capitalism is money, because everything can be expressed in terms of exchange value, as a commodity. Money as credit is created as a debt, but debt must be calculated and repaid at usurious rates of interest that ultimately comes at the cost of human life and liberty, flesh and blood (228-29). Capital and credit must be liberated from their capture in systems of exchange and debt, which is what redemption is all about, if it is possible. Redemption, as Goodchild claims at the conclusion of his book, depends upon the creation of new value.

Goodchild’s emphasis upon the overwhelming significance of money to create and sustain value seems both correct and over-stated. That is, given the prevalence and predominance of our theology of money and its sovereignty, it seems impossible to offer any alternative vision or value unless this value is limited in some respect. So Goodchild’s case appears to totalize the ubiquity of money and its effects. I would tentatively suggest a competing value, something like glory, which is not an oppositional value but one that often works in coordination with money. Glory appeals to the surplus of value above and beyond exchange value, the desire for fame and power that is not immediately or directly connected to money’s intermediary capacity. This is a difficult issue, because of course glory and money reinforce each other, but I would argue that there is a distinction, and that glory provides the most significant alternative value for contemporary human beings, although I agree with Goodchild that money is the over-arching force and value.

In some ways Goodchild’s reading of Merchant of Venice and his argument that money veils flesh and blood provides evidence for my counter-claim. The value that we ascribe to the flesh is economic as well as aneconomic. Flesh offers a sensuality, a romantic and political form of life that Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben call bio-political, and I think that bio-politics is not divorced from a monetary economy and its sovereignty, but works in conjunction with it. I just think that flesh or life possesses an aspect of glory that cannot be reduced to or conflated with money’s role in establishing a universal value. One way to phrase this understanding, using Deleuze’s terms, would be to suggest that glory (as flesh or as life or as power) deterritorializes the world, opening it up to a reterritorialization of and by money. Or, we could say that glory is the halo of money, its shining which allows it to appear as other than money, which is closer to Goodchild’s own analysis. At the same time, glory offers a competing value and allows for an evaluation of money otherwise than simply on its own terms.

In terms of contemporary capitalism, money works because it is a form of capital as well as a means of exchange. Money as credit is lent to create money in the form of debt, and these loans allow for capital are tied to the ability of money to replace and represent things that then become commodities. What is easily missed is the fact, as Goodchild notes, that money and capital are grounded in physical, material and organic processes, including the excavation and exploitation of cheap energy via fossil fuels.

These two processes, the financial and energetic, allow for the incredible production of goods and material enrichment of human existence, at least in rich countries, over the last two centuries. Unfortunately, we are now experiencing the collapse of the largest financial bubble ever created, and the ongoing credit crunch is destroying money faster than it can be created in a process of global deflation of value. At the same time, world oil production is peaking (51), making energy more expensive and scarce, which increases commodity prices and prevents the creation of a new investment bubble, such as the investment in the development of alternative energies that is urgently needed. These two trends occur against the background of global warming, or the accelerating of global climate change and the straining of the earth’s resources caused by human over-population and over-production.

Goodchild offers an understanding of this situation that articulates what is most important about it, including its theological significance. He appreciates that it is not simply the critique and re-circulation of ideas but the production of value that is theological, because it allows for the re-ordering of time, attention and devotion. Furthermore, Goodchild understands that there is no real change possible without institutional reform, that evaluative credit can only work if there are institutions to support and foster the generation of evaluative credit.

Theology appears to offer only two alternatives to our current situation, in contrast to the accommodation to predominance of money which is liberal or neo-liberal. On the one hand, fundamentalism provides an apocalyptic resignation by affirming the catastrophic state of affairs but then offers itself up to an incredible fairy-tale god who will punish the wicked and save the righteous. On the other hand, genuine conservative and neo-orthodox theologies offer counter-values based upon Abrahamic, biblical and/or medieval (nonmodern) values to oppose modernity and its political theology of money. Goodchild’s Theology of Money, however, sketches a radical theological vision of credit that promises the potential for a future theology as well as a future humanity. He admits that he does not fully develop a metaphysics of credit in this book, but he provides vital resources of thought and capital for theological and practical human beings to put to work.


CLAYTON CROCKETT is Associate Professor and Director of Religious Studies at the University of Central Arkansas, as well as an Editor of JCRT. He is a co-editor, along with Slavoj Zizek, Creston Davis and Jeffrey W. Robbins, of the book series "Insurrections: Critical Studies in Religion, Politics and Culture," published by Columbia University Press. He is currently working on a book on radical political theology.

© Clayton Crockett. All rights reserved. Crockett, Clayton. “Money and Credit, Theologically Speaking,” in Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory vol. 9 no. 3 (Fall 2008): 7-10.