Theology Has Escaped

Theology has, it appears, escaped. What was once a respectable, architectonic, but also tightly regulated discipline which exercised its office in an almost hidden manner, her charms accessible only to the most discerning, and her relationships mediated and her conversations chaperoned by her “handmaid,” Philosophy, is now galavanting around not just the academy but other institutions of civil society like Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov’s nose (Gogol 1836/2011) , impersonating State Counselors and every other manner of authority and consummating forbidden liaisons with other fields and disciplines.  

The most notorious such liaison is theology’s ménage a trois with Philosophy (now “liberated” from her role as handmaid) and Politics, under the form of what has come to be called “political theology.” Most contemporary accounts of the origins of political theology —at least in the sense the term  is used today—  trace it to Carl Schmitt’s assertion in his Politische Theologie (Schmitt 1922/2005) that “all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts.”  Together with his claim that “the Sovereign is he who decides the exception (Schmitt 1921/2014),”  (i.e. determines when to suspend the rule of law) this thesis formed the basis of Schmitt’s legitimation of the Enabling Act of 1933 and thus of the whole NAZI regime. And yet Schmitt has a large following today is on the “Left,” for which his thesis has become a way of deconstructing the entire humanistic secular project of constituting a political subject which can make humanity the master of its own destiny of which it was the historic proponent, and the metaphysical foundations of which they have now determined to be the basis of its technocratic opposite: the regime of universal, instrumentalizing techno-political control which defines both capitalism and historic socialism alike. (Agamben 1995/1998, 2000/20005, 2003/2005, 2007/2011,  2010/2012, 2011/2013, 2012/2012, 2013/2015, 2013/2017; Baidou 1998/2005, Zizek 1999).. 

But these theological “genealogies” of the humanistic secular project are not theology’s only liaisons dangereux.  On the contrary, theology has taken upon itself the task of policing the boundary between “religion” and “science” which was once also under the jurisdiction of Philosophy —and the results have been catastrophic. While scholars of religion (Barbour 2000) have been busy elaborating a standardized typology of four different forms of engagement between religion and science (conflict, non-overlapping magisteria, dialogue, and integration)  physicists (Tipler 1994) have generated “theologies” which make explicit the technocratic secular claim to realize by means of scientific, technological, and economic progress the theosis which has always been humanity’s deepest desire. And if interventions such as Tipler’s Omega Point Theory remain marginal, they nonetheless constitute a wedge which has allowed the proliferation of a whole range of more “modest” transhumanist discourses —most notably those of the Dark Enlightenment (Land 2013, 2017). Meanwhile grave questions about the theoretical coherence and political integrity of mathematical physics remain unanswered.  Quantum theory, it turns out, has roots as steeped in emerging NAZISM as the (Heideggerian) hermeneutic ontology which dominates the humanistic academy (Lerner 1991) and is, in fact, part of the same “hermeneutic turn” which, far from being a product of the past two centuries, in fact dates back to the Augustinian Reaction of the 1270sand to the Reformation. This too is political theology. 

But theology has not only escaped.  It has simultaneously gone under cover, hiding as something other than itself where one might expect to find it, even as it loudly proclaiming its presence where it was thought to have been banished. Thus religious studies … that melange of discourses about religion which has been very clear from the beginning that it is not theology. And yet the genealogy of this field shows unambiguous roots in liberal Protestantism and thus interests which are at once theological —establishing a cosmopolitanism in which pluralism becomes a mechanism of specifically Protestant hegemony— and political, as indicated by recent critiques which locate its origins in what amounts to a practice of sociocultural intelligence in service to imperialism  (Raschke 2012).

Our liberal and democratic sentiments incline us to celebrate escapes and impersonations.  But theology, we must remember, is the Queen of the Sciences, and history should warn us that unregulated royalty is dangerous. And as it turns out, without the supervision of her handmaid (Philosophy), theology has behaved badly indeed, hatching every manner of reactionary and authoritarian plot under the guise of liberatory discourse and prophetic denunciation —and, we will argue, collaborating in disarming humanity in the hour of her greatest need. More specifically, I will suggest, theology and especially political theology and something called religious theory  have become the latest vectors by which the hermeneutic-ontological (Heideggerian) virus has spread, rewriting our culture using subtly fascist code, and in the process disarming the Left and disarming humanity. Specifically, the hermeneutic ontological virus undercuts the foundations the communist project, which have always been in a metaphysics of Esse and in humanity’s ordering to the power of Being as such (Mansueto 2005, 2012, 2016) —while pinning the blame for Capital’s regime of technopolitical instrumentalization on the very “ontotheology” which grounds any possible resistance. Thus the failure of Schmitt’s disciples to criticize the univocal metaphysics which has its roots in Christianity and which grounds the technocratic and capitalist project of transcending finitude by means of scientific, technological and economic progress. 

It should come as no surprise that in the midst of this there should be a revival of interest in Paul of Tarsus.  Any reasonable reading of Paul cannot help but locate in his letters the seeds of two millennia of Christian antisemitism —and by way of that antisemitism the transformation of a messianic sect within Judaism into a legitimating force for Empire (Mansueto 2002).  And there is a good case to be made that he functioned as a Roman “counterinsurgency”operative (Voskuilen and Sheldon 2008). And yet scholars as diverse as Agamben. (200/2005),Baidou (2002/2003), and  Zizek (Zizek 1999) have found in him the rotes of revolutionary universalism. 

We are not, to be sure, arguing that theology should not address itself to the broader concerns of humanity in the present period, to the “joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men (sic) of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted (Gaudium et Spes 1).”  On the contrary, we will argue for what Francis Schussler Fiorenza (Fiorenza 1977/2012) has called a consciously political theology, because theology is always political, even when it is not aware of the social basis and political valence of its interventions.  And we will argue for a theologically conscious politics —and a theologically conscious theory to guide it.  We need a  theology which sets politics in its broader civilizational and spiritual context.  But this theology needs a firm foundation in social theory (and indeed the sciences in general) and in philosophy, which can ensure that it serves the interests of humanity as a whole, and does not fall prey to complex, multigenerational ideological operations from the Right. 

What might this look like?  Part of the difficulty in answering this question derives from the ambiguous position of theology in the secular academy. 

If the study of religion sits uncomfortably in the academy it is for good reason. The academy itself, even in its secular, technocratic, and corporate manifestations, is fundamentally a religious institution. The history of the academy is nothing other than the history of humanity’s changing –some would say evolving– engagement with the sacred. What began as myth and ritual, a system of shared meanings and practices which ordered the earliest human societies towards their ends, becomes in the axial age (Jaspers 1953) the mystery cult and poetry, philosophy and theology and, with the dawn of the third saeculum the criticism of religion, which in turn finds its development in  hermeneutic and social scientific engagements with the sacred. When we study religion –almost regardless of how we proceed– we reveal, in a way which we otherwise keep carefully concealed, our hidden agenda, which has always, since the time of the first academy (Plato’s) been not merely to interpret the world, but to change it (Marx 1845/2002). And in its “final” (liberal, democratic, and communist) humanistic form, the criticism of religion seeks not merely to understand the divine, but to realize the humanity’s deepest, in fact constituent, desire: the desire to be God (Sartre 1943). 

Because it is constitutive of the academy, and thus of all disciplines, the study of religion cannot itself be a discipline. It is, rather, a field of study which, in the secular academy, operates covertly as one interdisciplinary field among many, but which remains, even as it is marginalized, substantively universal in its scope. The fragmented approach to this study is a product not of the immaturity of the field but rather an artifact of an ongoing political and ideological (in fact theological) struggle between competing ways of being human and their associated civilizational projects –a struggle in which the competing parties, at least to the extent that they are strategically and tactically self-conscious, all recognize that their battle can never be anything other than occult. This is because the dominant technocratic secular project, which aims at transcending finitude by means of scientific, technological, and economic progress, and the subaltern humanistic secular project which aims at transcending contingency by creating a political subject which makes humanity the master of its own destiny, exercise hegemony by concealing their (theological) character and mediating their principles and values through various “reinterpretations” of axial traditions which alone are admitted to be religious. Breaking this cover would require both projects to attempt a direct apologetic which, in the light of the events of the long twentieth century, which radically undercut the theotic claims of both “science” and “politics,” would no longer be credible. At the same time, the older “axial” traditions, widespread dissatisfaction with the “modern” and the “secular” notwithstanding, lack the capacity to present themselves as credible global alternatives to the secular projects –or, when they do (as in the case of Christian and at least some other fundamentalisms) retain the underlying, defining metaphysics of the saeculum: the univocity of Being.

It is in this context that we must understand theology’s most recent maneuvers. And it is in this context that we must frame our own task in this Summa: Against Capital. Specifically, we need to map out just how and why the legal theories of a NAZI jurist came to inspire and even dominate so much of the “Left” academy and turned the “humanistic” intelligentsia into its opposite. —and how this fits into the larger hermeneutic-ontological project.  And we must trace out the even more complex and involved process by which the irrationalist interpretations of a scientific theory (quantum mechanics) the relative value of which we do not deny became hegemonic for the sciences as a whole. 

It is to these tasks that we turn in our next installment. 

References

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An earlier version of this paper was presented as “Why Religious Studies is not a discipline and why it is important anyway,” at Revisioning Religious Studies, Denver, November 2018

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