Radical Theology-Lite

I recently posted this comment in response to this blog post. Thought it might of interest to some readers. Note, this an edited version of my comment:

I really wish you guys would stop using the term ‘radical theology’. You have invented an entirely new genealogy of radical theology (Hegel, Tillich, Derrida and Caputo). Arguably, only Hegel belongs upon that mountain. Neither Derrida nor Caputo are proper theologians. Moreover, you’ve also enshrined Tillich, the liberal theologian, par excellence. Why is Altizer curiously omitted? In reality, what is being offered here is radical theology-lite. In this genealogy of this new tradition of radical theology-lite we are really getting a liberal theology that is in denial about its roots. Not that there’s anything wrong with liberal theology. There’s a lot of good ideas in the history of liberal theology. It is my contention that the reason why many emergent do not simply accept that they are liberal theologians is that they have bought into evangelical propaganda regarding liberal theology. Due to the fact that many people who are part of the emergent-radical camp are disaffected evangelicals, they simply cannot accept liberal theology and the mainline church. As a result, new words were made up that attempt to outdo liberal theology (see progressive, radical, incarnational, or emergent). Notice that “liberal” is always a dirty word in these circles. Liberal theology is always the convenient strawman that is created to make the new “third way” appear categorically distinct from its conservative and liberal brethren. I find the caricature of liberal theology that is operative in the discourse at Homebrewed Christianity unacceptable. In many ways, liberal theology is consonant with the radical theology-lite values laid out here: pluralism, humility, belief with doubt, an appreciation of symbolic language and political.

In response to the Subverting the Norm II Conference, Tony Jones wrote, “There are two types of radical theologians: those who want there to be a God, and those who don’t.” He is mistaken. I would argue that there is only one radical theologian and that is the one who rejects God. I was first introduced to radical theology by reading Altizer. What made Altizer, Hamilton and others radical is that they were Christian atheists. That was actually radical and Altizer grounded his atheism through a strange reading of Hegel, Blake and Milton. He didn’t equivocate with all of this postmodern posturing about language, mystery and the unknown. Radical theology was ontological.

I am curious about what is driving this rapid need to appropriate the term “radical”. It is overused in modern theology (see radical orthodoxy, radical theology, “ordinary radicals”). I am almost tempted to say that radical is an empty signifier that simply designates something as “cool”. Is this just another effort in the endless re-branding on the theological market? Is radical theology-lite simply the left-wing of emergent movement trying to buck its more conservative followers? What made the time right for someone like Caputo (upon whom this movement is clearly dependent) to capture the attention of theologians? I almost think that the desire to brand this theology as “radical” is a way to push actual radical theologians out of the market. Isn’t it bizarre that Tony Jones would act as if there are some bad radical theologians out there who don’t want to believe in God? For God’s sake, the whole point of radical theology was to proclaim the death of God! Translating that into radical theology-lite terms, we have this warped notion of Lacan’s Big Other that now is basically another way for the believer to disabuse himself of a false idol. The Big Other is bad. The God who is beyond the Big Other (who is insisting in the event) is good. It is only through ridding one’s self of the Big Other (which is possible?) that one can arrive at a purer, more “real” conception of God. The irony being that the very need to find a God beyond the Big Other in and of itself is a sign that the Big Other is still operative in the ideology grounding this theology.

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45 Responses to “Radical Theology-Lite”

  1. Jeremy Says:

    I have one more observation. As we’ve discussed before, the emergent church’s single most important principle is the importance of community and conversation and the anxiety about excluding anyone (e.g. including both anti-gay and pro-gay Christians). This has led to this creation of radical theology-lite wherein both atheists and theists are united. I understand that theology cannot simply be reduced to the question of God, but one would think that a decision about God’s existence would compel certain people to leave the church. However, this radical theology-lite has the added benefit of carving out a space wherein atheists can be incorporated into these communities for reasons that are unclear to me. If we set aside the God question, what likely brings these individuals together is past disappointing experiences with the (evangelical?) church coupled with shared political commitments. If politics is the name of the game, why are we still obsessing over God? I posed this question to Clayton Crockett regarding his most recent book on materialism on this thread here.

  2. joeldharrison Says:

    I completely agree with this. And I think Bo’s response to you was total evasive bullshit. As I’ve listened to that podcast off and on over the last couple years, it seems their strong desire to make certain thinkers that they’ve found exciting accessible to non-academic pastoral and lay audiences is the primary force shaping the way they articulate these ideas. That’s the whole ethos of the podcast–theology for the man-on-the-street (or pastor who stopped reading academic texts before/during/or after seminary.) I too have been confused by the disdain for liberal theology. Their choice to rehash the appropriation of poststructuralism in theology has felt almost arbitrary at times. There are groups of evangelicals who are trying to find some way to break away from “tradition” or “fundamentalism” as they understand those terms and groups of emergents, as you point out, who want to be more “progressive, and HBC has certainly ridden that wave–but why this watered down version of radical theology as opposed to ANY of the myriad theologies that would essentially do the same thing? That is a fantastic question, and I thank you for posing it.

  3. Spencer Moffatt Says:

    Good points, Jeremy. I don’t claim to be a “radical theologian” or “emergent Christian”; rather, my background is born-and-raised Pentecostal who is doing a phd at Luther Seminary in systematic theology while working w/ an online postcolonial journal (…just trying to give some context to my comment). That said, my summer course is on Hegel and Zizek and from what I’ve read thus far (Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion alongside Peter Hodgson and Zizek’s Monstrosity and now Less Than Nothing). I completely agree w/ you that for radical theology to be true to its Hegelian commitment there must be a two-fold death of g/God: in itself and for itself (Less Than Nothing, 104). What I am struggling to conceptualize are the moments when, as said in the linked comment feed by APS (i think), Zizek as philosopher plays a theologian. For example, post-death, what is Absolute Spirit? It seems that both Hegel and Zizek advocate a Spirit that rises out of the collective…not just a mere collective consciousness as spirit but a self-conscious divine Spirit. In all seriousness, is it crazy to read the following paragraph from Zizek as a suggestion that what emerges from collective spirit actually transgresses into divine spirit, a real god after god? Take the following citation from LTN where Z begins w/ Hegel’s Religion lectures
    “‘it is in the finite consciousness that the process of knowing spirit’s essence takes place and that the divine self-consciousness thus arises. Out of the foaming ferment of finitude, spirit rises up fragrantly.’ However, although our awareness–the (self-)consciousness of finite humans–is the only actual site of spirit, this does not entail any kind of nominalist reduction. There is another dimension at work in ‘self-consciousness,’ the one designated by Lacan as the ‘big Other’ and by Karl Popper as the Third World (Less Than Nothing, 406).”
    In short, is it possible for radical theology, as you have described it, to be atheist in regards to traditional Christianity while theist in regards to, well, radical theology? If so, then maybe this is why we are obsessing over the God question? Granted, as APS notes in the comment feed for the New Materialism, he thinks it’s possible to get to ‘the other side’ w/o going through Christianity.

  4. Jesse Pals (@JessePals) Says:

    Fantastic post Jeremy. I’ve been trying to distill RT myself for the last while, for clarity’s sake really. While my knowledge of Altizer is superficial, my first response is that something radical in terms of interpretation is going on in his work, ie. kenosis of Christ, however what is popularly known as RT seems more akin to a conglomerate of fragmentary and decentralized postmodernisms, ie. Lacan’s Big O (which, if I might add, is reminiscient of a throwback gnostic hangup that has immanentists everywhere trying to open up God repeatedly like a matryoshka doll in order to bring her back down to size).

    I think your observations on the liberal theological orientation are spot on (Tillich need not be appropriated as RT, he convincingly belongs in a broad liberal theology designate!). Not to pile it on RT but in my observations of the movement, if we can call it that, I suggest a bite sized marxist critique.

    While this old boy’s club may not be drinking scotch (kraft I guess) and getting together on central theological questions anymore, I would argue that the old dichotomy of ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ is consistently implied in the musings of Radical Theology (lite). It seems however secular RT is it could not exorcise this demonic dichotomy. Hence, those fortunate enough to reside in the sacred hallows of post-liberal thought are seen to inhabit the community of the free. While those outside of this domain of RT are relegated to the ‘profane space’ of unfreedom.

    I’m interested in learning more about RT and its origins and appreciate the post, thanks.

  5. J-Fulk Says:

    I’m a dilettante when it comes this intense academic stuff. If I don’t belong just ignore me. You’re critique about the Big Other stuff is spot on (of course, I assume you’re not pretending to be free of him/her/it either). However, I’m disappointed how quick you are to write off all this recent popularity of radical theology as “lite”, shutting it out as merely disavowed liberal.

    You’re completely right that this “genealogy” poster of radical theology from Subverting the Norm II isn’t all encompassing. That’s pretty obvious to most everyone, it was brought up by conference attendees themselves even before the conference. Of course the reason Caputo, not Altizer is up there is because it’s primarily a marketing device. Caputo, not Altizer, presented. No one is excluding Altizer, Hamilton, or anyone else, it’s just a clever advertising idea. In terms of liberal vs radical, don’t both fall under “postmodern” theology? The conference of course included both. I know and met several people from mainline there!

    I understand (having an evangelical background) that some emergents don’t like to associate themselves with “liberal”. My impression/experience is that STNII and Homebrewed Xianity are both very “open and affirming” of liberal theology. You’re certainly right that some are averse and in denial. I haven’t liked to identify myself with anything liberal, in large part because of my conservative background. At this point however, my interest in radical theology is far beyond simply being a “liberal in denial”. Your critique certainly has merit. If radical theology is softened into a edgy evangelical liberalism, don’t identify with it. But I ask, how else are conservative evangelicals (such as myself) supposed to get out? The transition isn’t instantaneous! I tend to see this issue as a positive sign. Serious, passionate fundamentalists are questioning and exploring. Perhaps experiencing the death of God! This is where the work of Peter Rollins and the like is so key. Rather than trying to exclude people becoming interested in radical theology from the “radical club” because they may not be “radical” enough yet, I say, with Hamilton, we ask, “What is the special quality of your experience of the death of God?” (Playboy, Aug 1966 p.137, amazon that shit). But at the same time, keep the pressure of your critique on!

    Ok, only because YOU brought it up. Everyone knows Tony Jones is something of a liberal evangelical emerging church fella. It’s seriously boring me to death how in so many supposed critiques of STNII, Caputo, Peter Rollins, ikon, Homebrewed, and what have you, the go-to example has become Tony Jones. Dammit, we’re all always already nodding our heads in agreement with these critiques! TJ is just out there on the edge of “radical” theology, interested but obviously directing his energies elsewhere. If you really want to critique (and honest to God, I’d love to hear it) don’t set yourself up to look ignorant by culminating your argument with TJ. He’s too much of the odd ball out for this kind of critique to be taken seriously. Instead of TJ’s latest blog post, I want to hear about ikon, STN, etc. (honest).

    I readily admit, when “radical theology” first peaked my interest (actually, at that point it was just Rob Bell, Don Miller, Rollins, emerging xianity (which I hated to identify with since I was fundamentalist) etc.) I was certainly trying to “disabuse myself of the false idol”, as you say. As I read further into Rollins especially, I entered into what is certainly my death of God experience. This even well before I began dabbling in his sources (Zizek, Bonhoeffer, Altizer, Lacan to name a mere few). Joining up with ikonNYC has certainly been my entry point into radical theology. Trust me, I have my own critiques of ikonNYC (an obvious one being that it pretentiously compares itself to ikon Belfast). Even still, if ikonNYC falls within the emerging church movement, it is only to press hard up against the bounds. I share this bit of my experience/introduction to radical theology in hopes that it will encourage you to continue in dialogue with those who, while not at your academic level, perhaps still even in the throes of fundamentalism, take interest in radical theology, and in AUFS. I enjoy following this blog, even though y’all can be asses at times ;) Keep up the good work, thanks for the stimulation.

    p.s. I hear in California they use the word “rad” (short for radical) to describe something they think is cool.
    p.s.s. Aforementioned rad Playboy article: http://forthearticles.omeka.net/items/show/48

  6. Jeremy Says:

    In response to Joel, I wish I could answer your last question. I’m not surprised by Bo’s response. He’s a nice guy but he doesn’t want to have this conversation. Fact of the matter is, there needs to be some pushback because we all know evangelicals have been programmed to worship leaders. He dismisses my response as emotional and. not serious. I’m trying to raise troubling questions to unmask the ideology operative in these groups. The inability to have a conversation and actual argument is unfortunate. It’s times like these that I am grateful I never majored in theology or pursued it as a career.

  7. david cl driedger Says:

    I have appreciated your push on this Jeremy. This and other conversations have helped me situate my own theology much more clearly and transparently, I hope.
    There does seem to be a need to ‘compete’ in the expressions you are critiquing. For me, I have been heavily influenced by aspects of death-of-god theology but I cannot locate myself there and so in many ways I have to translate and discern what aspects I incorporate but I don’t feel the need to set up a ‘better’ model of what I think those thinkers were trying to express.

  8. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Spencer is taking that Zizek quotation amazingly out of context.

  9. Adam Kotsko Says:

    The reading of Hegel where you get God back at the end in a new and better form is a plausible one that a lot of people have put forward. Indeed, it’s probably the dominant and most straightforward reading. It’s not Zizek’s reading, though, and it’s not the reading that makes him a suitable candidate for “radical theology.”

    Zizek and Hegel are hard enough to read already, without Christians putting on self-imposed blinders that make them jump to conclusions when they haven’t even begun digesting their work.

  10. seanchristophercapener Says:

    @Adam: Isn’t exactly that brand of misreading what makes emergent-y Christians interested in Zizek in the first place? I see it over and over and over; Zizek’s atheism isn’t read as actual, you know, *atheism* but as a sort of rhetorical device or whatever.

    @Jeremy: This post is really great as an expression of everything frustrating about the “radical theology” trend in emergent circles; thanks for it.

  11. DanWhistler Says:

    This is brilliant, Jeremy: the cod-Caputoism of emergent-types is of course utter dross. But I wonder about this sharp distinction between Altizer and liberal theology. There is surely a Tillich who sits very close to Altizer??? (Russell Manning has a collection, Retrieving the Radical Tillich, coming out with Palgrave in the next year or so which makes this case.)

  12. amaryahshaye Says:

    Appreciate this. Some very helpful thoughts and insightful questions.

  13. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Sean, I think some Christians see Zizek’s “Christian atheism” as a swipe at “mere” atheists — as though he’s making the typical Radical Orthodox move, so that the only authentic or mature atheism takes place within a Christian horizon that radicalizes and then recuperates it. Even atheism becomes a way back to Christianity….

  14. Jeremy Says:

    Re Altizer and liberal theology: Altizer has expressed a greater appreciation for Barth than Tillich. In one interview he called Tillich’s systematics conservative. I do think there’s a moment in Tillich’s thought that is radical (see Crockett’s chapters on Tillich in Interstices), however.

  15. Jeremy Says:

    For the record, the emergent church would have done itself a huge favor if it had made liberation theology rather than radical theology lite its grounding theory. I would not have to offer to these sorts of critiques if it had hitched its wagon to liberation theology.

  16. seanchristophercapener Says:

    Yeah but then they’d have to take actual sides and address material relations in the pews. Although I guess that’s already a problem here.

  17. Lane Severson Says:

    “For the record, the emergent church would have done itself a huge favor if it had made liberation theology rather than radical theology lite its grounding theory. I would not have to offer to these sorts of critiques if it had hitched its wagon to liberation theology.”

    Hugely in agreement here. Also this article is spot on. Great thoughts, Jeremy.

  18. Geoff Holsclaw (@geoffholsclaw) Says:

    Jeremy, Great post. While I’m on the otherside of these conversations, I have thought these same things about emergent/progressive appropriations of radical theology. People like Pete Rollins don’t really understand what Zizek is up (or they do but ignore it so as not to offend the evangelicals too much b/c they still hope to sell books to them…”radicalize your evangelicalism, but not too much…”). But I think strategically you have nailed them that they don’t want to sound too liberal because 1) they are conditioned to think liberal is bad, and 2) their constituency is similarly conditioned so they would lose (i.e. potential book contracts, and other perks) their audience if they outright adopted liberal theology.

  19. Christopher Says:

    Since I’ve been in the process with a few non-academic laity in creating an ‘emergent group’ down in New Orleans, I’ve been trying to situate these strands. I was once enthralled with the emergent/’radical’ crowd (McLaren, Miller, etc), but I quickly grew tired of the non-commitment to positions (as Sean’s 9:11am comment points out). Instead, I found liberal theology to be much more rewarding in that the old Chicago school of theology dovetailed nicely with the liberation theology movements that emerged in the 60s and 70s. Tillich may be himself quite conservative, but his contextual approach to theology has been taken by others who have been anything but conservative. I’ve never held Derrida or Caputo in a high regard to think of them as useful to any kind of modern theology except for the obfuscationist variation Jeremy aptly calls ‘Radical Theology-lite’. Likewise, I haven’t really felt anything of theological importance come from Jones, Rollins, et al. Bonhoeffer was more radical than the RT-lite crowd.

  20. Spencer Moffatt Says:

    @adamkotsko I’ll be the first to admit that I’m misreading Zizek, but isn’t this the fate of us all as individual readers to some degree? I am reminded of David Harvey who, at the beginning of his lectures on Capital, laughs about his incredible misreading of Marx the first, second, third time through. No doubt there are other scholars who believe Harvey is STILL misreading Marx. Point being, there’s gotta be space for all our misreadings to occur without being smacked down by those who claim to hold ‘absolute knowledge’ (Cf. LTN, 380-90). This is where I side with Edward Said in his Representations of the Intellectual where I (mis-)interpet his conclusion of the intellectual as being presented with a decision to either side with the “weaker” or “more powerful” (33). To choose the former is to craft one’s work, in general as possible, with hospitality and accessibility.

    I think the (Christian) misreading(s) of Zizek arise with his emphasis on the “paradox of ‘objective spirit’” (LTN, 286). I get it; Z shows his interpretation of Hegel when he writes that “in a subjective process, there is no ‘absolute subject,’ no permanent central agent playing with itself the game of alienation and disalienation, losing or dispersing itself and then re-appropriating its alienated content” (LTN, 235). He says stuff like this all the time. Yet, he makes other comments that sound so similar to the Spirit as being, in some way, self-conscious in a subject-object fashion. How this “virtual Real” 1) able to die “for itself” and 2) emerge as something beyond mere fiction. This is Z’s point, right, “reality of the fiction” (LTN, 4)?

    Perhaps the best lens to read Zizek–yes, i’m forcing an inevitable reductive move, a decisive moment– is one that sees his idea of this real fiction as being Love (not in the sense of the Kantian categorical imperative)? “The key question is thus: is the Holy Spirit still a figure of the big Other, or is it possible to conceive it outside of this frame? If the dead God were to morph directly into the Holy Ghost, then we would still have the symbolic big Other. But the monstrosity of Christ, this contingent singularity interceding between God and man, is proof that the Holy Ghost is not the big Other surviving as the spirit of the community after the death of the substantial God, but a collective link of love without any support in the big Other” (LTN, 232).

    Based on the comments on this post so far, radical theology is radical when it can completely drop all religious symbols and claim to be something even beyond a/theism without regressing into New Atheism, if that’s even possible. Until then, religious misreadings of radical theology will abound. This is where I think APS is onto something-with his work cut out for him-when he wrote in his review’s comment feed that he wants to get beyond Christianity.

  21. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Jeremy, with Geoff Holsclaw on your side you may need to rethink your position! Next James KA Smith will be retweeting this with calls to return to the Church for analytic language disciplining or whatever he’s selling himself as an expert in now.

    I do wonder if the claim for atheism isn’t a bit too stark though as the litmus test for radical theology, but I could just be unsure of what you mean by it and it could be that I’m not really working in the tradition of radical theology, despite the series I’m published in. Can you say more about what you mean by that? As I take Altizer he seems weirdly god-haunted.

  22. Michael Jimenez Says:

    Great article. Jeremy, I’m glad that you pointed out the roots to Barth from people like Altizer or even Nietzsche predating him. The mood it seems from emergents is to respond with a sort of snicker at Barth as he is some conservative as opposed to Tillich. Without Barth’s Romans II I think it might be safe to say we don’t even have radical or emergent. Even Heidegger recognized its impact. The worst is when Bonhoeffer is trotted out as the father of radicalism. Sorry, Bonhoeffer was probably 70% a Barthian in essence.

    I know that when I first read Zizek and he bashed “liberals” I sort of read it as a signifier identifying a number of things I experienced as liberal growing up. However,Z’s also pretty clear against any 3rd way as well and after reading him for a spell figured out Z’s point. So I think you are spot on that the rad/emergent types really like when atheists bash elements of Christian theology, only then to follow up the critique with putting the tradition back together in a way that basically resembles liberal theology. Frankly, much of this “groundbreaking” work has already been done better and with greater theological sophistication by liberation/feminist/etc that are often ignored.

  23. Gabriel Thomas Says:

    Re. the Altizer / “Radical” Tillich connection, there’s a relevant passage in Altizer’s Living the Death of God. Context for this quote is that Altizer’s giving an overview of the impact of “Bultmannian demythologizing” during the 1960s.

    “This was a time when American radicals could identify America itself as Satanic […]; yet America was nevertheless vibrantly alive, and most alive in its very radicalism, which then pervaded not only all of the arts, but theology itself, which helped to drive older radical theologians such as Reinhold Niebuhr and Paui Tillich to a new conservatism. I could rejoice when Tillich later declared to me that the real Tillich is the radical Tillich…” (10).

    Altizer goes on to say that the Tillich-Eliade seminar at Chicago (’64-’65, I believe) meant a great deal to him b/c it granted him an opportunity to “conduct a genuine theological dialogue with Tillich himself.” So there’s definitely two Tillichs in Altizer’s intellectual life. I’d say that the “Radical” Tillich was influential mainly in his precedence and his later support, because, as Jeremy points out, Altizer does admit that Barth is “the only modern theologian whom I profoundly respect.”

    Aside from that… Great post, Jeremy!

  24. Alan Says:

    Jeremy, I think this critique dovetails with your earlier critique of process theology on Homebrewed. There’s a reason process is in HBC’s orbit along with Caputo, etc. Both the radical theology-lite and process (as HBC uses it) rely on a rehabilitation of God “behind the scenes”; that perhaps, like you said, “presents a picture of God that is a by-product of wish-fulfillment.”

  25. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Spencer says: “Based on the comments on this post so far, radical theology is radical when it can completely drop all religious symbols and claim to be something even beyond a/theism without regressing into New Atheism, if that’s even possible.”

    No, no one is saying that. Literally no one.

    Your reading of Zizek seems to be simply confused and half-digested. It’s not one reading among others, it’s part of the work that leads to a reading. I’m sorry if that feels judgy or exclusionary, but I’m pretty sure I’ve earned the right to call them as I see them when it comes to Zizek. I don’t know what you mean with the reference to Kant — effectively, it seems like your real reduction is to try to seize on any evidence that can make Zizek seem “more Christian.” I worry that you’re never going to actually read Zizek. Instead you’ll just wander through his texts trying to find bits that let you claim Zizek is saying what you hope he’s saying.

  26. Bo Eberle Says:

    Great post, Jeremy. One name I’d just like to throw out there (at risk of derision) is John Cobb, someone who I think actually does qualify as a “radical” theologian, and Altizer agreed. Not to be too much of a shill for Process Theology, but long ago Cobb had a way of going about theology that provided trenchant critique of traditional theism and showed great concern for the causes of liberation (including if not especially ecological and economic concerns). With Cobb, I think you avoid the Trojan Horse God-Beyond-Big Other (God is not “beyond” or “more pure,” but more immanent and less pure, entangled in the world) and you get a radical ontology that goes beyond the postmodern language games you mention. I understand that Cobb is not the remedy for all of our ailments, but simply a passed over voice that adds a bit of nuance to the distinctions we’re making here. In Cobb (and Whitehead) what you get is not the extension of God so that you get a God beyond leading to some postmodern apophaticism or faux death of god, but the corruption God, and therefore a transvaluation of sorts of the concept itself, which I find interesting, which might disrupt the simply binary of either wanting or not wanting a god (Jones) or accepting or rejecting God (Altizer). I hope one day some of the correspondences between Cobb and Altizer will find the light of day.

  27. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Reportedly Ted Jennings had a whole manuscript bringing together process and radical theology, but Altizer told him he should do his own thing rather than write about Altizer. So now the world will never know.

  28. Adam Kotsko Says:

    (Also, if you think Altizer falls into a simple binary, you obviously don’t know his work at all.)

  29. Jeremy Says:

    Responding to Anthony’s question regarding atheism, I think that I might have played it a bit loose to declare that radical theology is necessarily atheistic. I’d like to say that radical theologians are doing work in the wake of the death of God. Perhaps the difference between rad theology rad theology-lite is the way in which the death of God is conceived. I’m not trying to police the borders here but something is a but disingenuous whenever the rad theology label is being appropriated by people to discover a new God that leads beyond the idolatry of the Big Other.

    I’d like to hear Clayton or Dan chime in here.

  30. Bo Eberle Says:

    Poor wording on my part, I was trying to reference the choice Jeremy seems to set up between “radical” theology that does not accept the death of god and theology that does (Altizer, Hamilton, et al), people that want God to return and those who accept God’ death. But hey, don’t stop short, I obviously don’t know *anything* at all!

  31. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I’m glad to see you’re working on that defensiveness issue we discussed.

  32. Spencer Moffatt Says:

    @adamkotsko sorry, I gotta go point for point on this one.

    “No, no one is saying that. Literally no one.”
    -Let me rephrase. Based on Jeremy’s post and his interaction w/ Clayton and Jeff in “A Synthetic Manifesto” thread, the issue has been raised, why are we still talking about God? Moreover, Is it possible to completely purge “radical theology” of theology itself (this point came from APS pushing back on Clayton at the end of the thread and prior for sounding too Christian). In my opinion, if as Lacan says: God never died, hes always been dead, let’s just drop the concept altogether.j Wouldn’t that clear it up?

    “Your reading of Zizek seems to be simply confused and half-digested.”
    -yes, i admitted that.

    “It’s not one reading among others”
    -I never said this. perhaps i wasn’t clear enough. I would love to be shown better ways of reading Zizek, and i think it can be done with hospitality and accessibility.

    “I’m sorry if that feels judgy or exclusionary, but I’m pretty sure I’ve earned the right to call them as I see them when it comes to Zizek.”
    -I agree. You have, which is why my questions are sincere.

    “I don’t know what you mean with the reference to Kant”
    – See LTN, 127-9. Insofar as not a dry categorical imperative of ethical responsiblity that Kant is sometimes chalked up to encouraging. Rather, seeing love as a dynamic spirit that is in some way emerging in reality.

    “it seems like your real reduction is to try to seize on any evidence that can make Zizek seem “more Christian.”
    -I never said this and is most definitely not my goal. Im all for reading Zizek as whatever he says he is. My point is that when religious symbols are shot through any work, there is going to be religious confusion. In the case of Zizek, Christian misreadings.

    “I worry that you’re never going to actually read Zizek. Instead you’ll just wander through his texts trying to find bits that let you claim Zizek is saying what you hope he’s saying.”
    -Again, I don’t care what Zizek says or doesn’t say. I’m just trying to understand and the quotes I pointed out reveal that to a new reader like me, commentary is needed. Which is probably the reason why you wrote the book ON Zizek. You saw a need of distillation and creative response, No?

    My point with Said is that, in my opinion, the purpose of education is one where the professor (you) allows questions from the students (me) to create dialogue and learning for the both of us (go figure) without the use of shaming. Anything less, in my opinion, is an injustice and merely an abuse of power. I’m sorry if this sounds “judgy” but, as a student, I think i earn the right to say so.

  33. Adam Kotsko Says:

    This isn’t a classroom, and you’re not my student. If you want free lessons in Zizek from me, you can visit my CV page where several of my essays on him are linked — or I’m sure you can find a pirated PDF of my book.

  34. amalgam Says:

    @adamkotsko i get it now. we disagree on pedagogy (something that exists both in and out of the classroom) and the role of education (as a public, relational catalyst). I now know to direct my questions elsewhere, saving both you and I our precious time.

  35. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I’m glad we could settle this so amicably.

  36. Stephen Keating Says:

    Good questions Jeremy. Thanks for the provocation.

    One note: I find it odd that after posts like this, many choose to use the comments and/or public tweets to openly speculate about the motives of AUFS authors or to police tone.

  37. Stephen Keating Says:

    Also, this is a good time to remind everyone of our comment policy: http://itself.wordpress.com/commentpolicy/

  38. gino smillie Says:

    Totally agree with original post that “radical” as used today most often just means “cool” (with the hope that using the former rather than the latter will give the impression of thoughtfulness added to the speaker/writer’s self-image projection as hip, with-it, contemporarily savvy), and is borrowed from extreme sport jargon. It has virtually nothing to do with the root (-ahem-) of the word radical, which denotes base or root meaning or seminal ideation.

  39. clayton crockett Says:

    Since Jeremy mentioned me by name, I thought I’d respond, although I’m not invested in any sort of polemic between AUFS and the emergent church and/or Homebrewed Christianity–I have friendships, respect and loyalties on either ‘side.’ I think there’s some great suspicion and useful pushback here, and that it would be very helpful for many folks attracted to the “emergent church” to reflect on the extent to which it is a marketing phenomenon, a crutch, a way to contain and redirect these kinds of critiques, questions and doubts, etc.

    At the same time, while I embrace the phrase radical theology, and see a kind of link or genealogy with Altizer (and I also see Tillich as partly an inspiration for this tradition, even if he doesn’t go far enough for me), I also view the term radical more as a process than as a position, as in the notion that one would need to subscribe to this or that viewpoint. I think radical theology is oriented theoretically and practically towards the “death of God,” which has multiple meanings, and I’m currently exploring a more Deleuzian line for this. By process I mean both a theoretical and practical process, and I like Rollins for how he’s trying to reform and refashion church practices, as well as trying to stimulate some of these issues and questions and point interested folks towards reading and engaging with Zizek, Altizer, Derrida, etc. I guess I’m more interested in what it can do than what it is, and that applies to both emergent Christianity and radical theology.

    APS called us out on our residual and pervasive Christianity, and that’s a valid concern. I regret some of the ways it was expressed in the last chapter of The New Materialism book, AND I think it could be done differently, while at the same time I’d hold onto a certain link between capitalism and Christianity, which needs to be subjected to questioning and criticism in a variety of ways. There’s also this temptation to outbidding, to being more materialist, atheist, Marxist, hard-core, whatever, and I want to resist that. What do you say to people who would make a similar charge to anyone on this website for taking religion seriously in any way, critically or positively?

    In any case, I think liberation theology is vitally important for a number of reasons, and I’ve been pressed and impressed on this by Jeremy and Mark Lewis Taylor, among others, but I’m not sure that it necessarily frees us from Christianity as such, or necessarily gets one to the death of God. Certainly I support the radicalization of some of the easy critiques of Christianity by people associated with the emergent church, and a liberationist orientation and practice would be extremely helpful. At the same time, as an intellectual and not someone who is a political activist or a representative of a church or religious organization it’s not really my place to say what activists and church members or leaders should or shouldn’t be doing. If my theoretical work is useful in some ways, that’s great, but I don’t want to pretend I know what I’m doing beyond that.

  40. clayton crockett Says:

    On the word radical, it means root, radix, but we can also see roots as more entangled and rhizomatic, as Deleuze and Guattari suggest. I’m aware of the faddish nature of intellectual as well as cultural phenomena, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unimportant, right? I mean, the fact that Derrida’s work becomes fashionable and then Zizek’s and later Badiou’s and now possibly Laruelle’s in academic terms doesn’t mean that they’re not worth reading, even if their density and complexity often lend themselves to misreadings and facile misinterpretations. So I’m less worried about the popularity of someone like Rollins or Caputo, and I think it’s kinda cool that people are reading and talking about Altizer again. It’s a danger, but also an opportunity, if we think these discourse are important.

  41. Geoff Holsclaw (@geoffholsclaw) Says:

    Jeremy, Yes, as APS says, you should be worried that I agree with you. This might be an irruption of the Real. But I don’t now what JKAS might say or if he even knows about this thread. :-)

    But I would like to retract my suggestion that people like Rollins and other progressives intentionally downplay the more radical aspects of Zizek/Lacan/Hegel for purpose of selling books to evangelicals. That wasn’t very nice and I know I’ve been on the other end of such speculations. Peace.

  42. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Every time I check this post and there are no new comments, I’m relieved.

  43. Jeremy Says:

    Clayton, thanks for responding. i anticipated that you would likely respond with more grace that myself. Of course, I was being intentionally polemical so I’m sure I overplayed my hands at various points of the argument.

    I appreciate your response. Anyway, time to shut down comments. Thanks everyone for playing. Now, I’m back to reading psychoanalysis as God intended.

  44. Must radical theology be Christian? | An und für sich Says:

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    […] other words, should be non-identically repeated.  I don’t think we need liberal parties, or liberal identity policing (what is authentically liberal?), but we need the openness to the strangeness and newness of our […]


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