Fabulous Gnosis, or How to Not Think Ecology as Economy (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

[This post had to be re-posted for formatting reasons. Readers interested in more of Joshua's work on economics and philosophy should check out his blog Absolute Economics, where this post is also posted. -eds]

How much sense does it make to think of nature as a gigantic system of exchanges?   Why does it seem so intuitive, so obvious, that what goes on in ecosystems can be mapped through economic language, through the language of opportunities, optimization, equilibrium, management, interests, investments?   Is it just because Darwin was reading Malthus when he penned The Origin of the Species?  Or is it because, as Philip Mirowski has been detailing for years, there is a long and complicated history of “transferred metaphors” between economics and other sciences (especially physics, biology, and cybernetics)?

One of the implications I take from Anthony’s advocacy of “unified theory” is that if ecology mutates philosophy, non-philosophy must also mutate ecology.  Read the rest of this entry »

Upcoming Book Event: A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature

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Later this month, we’ll be hosting a new book event here at AUFS on Anthony Paul Smith’s A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature: Ecologies of Thought (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). I’m guessing that most readers of the blog already have some cursory familiarity with Anthony’s work. For those who don’t, I’d remind them that there’s a handy link to his c.v. above. If you’d like to snag a copy of the book before the event begins, it’s available at Amazon. For those who will still be saving up funds even after the event begins, there is a short preview available via Google Books. You may also want to read through the book preview that Anthony published last summer, at the Political Theology blog. We have an exciting list of contributors who’ll be commenting on the book: some who’ve already posted here at AUFS, some who have not, some who’ll likely be focusing more on Anthony’s ecological criticism, some who’ll be more interested in his use of Laurelle. We’re looking forward to a rich conversation. I’m posting the calendar below. We’ll basically be publishing a new piece every couple of days from late March until mid-April. Anthony, himself, will respond as much as time permits:

March 25th: I will do an introductory post

March 27th: Liam Heneghan

March 29th: Katerina Kolozova

March 31st: Marika Rose

April 2nd: James Stanescu

April 5th: Dan Barber

April 8th: Basit Iqbal

April 10th: Alex Dubilet

April 12th: Adam Kotsko

April 14th: Joshua Ramey

In the meantime, perhaps readers will want to leave comments and let us know about questions you might have for Anthony before the event begins, elements you’re hoping we’ll address, etc…

Photos from the Holy Land

Some of you may know that I recently took a pilgrimage to the Holy Land through the generosity of the charitable work of the Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of the United StatesHermit Commandery of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, of which I am a member, nominated me to go on an all-expenses-paid trip with 36 other clergy from across the country in February.  One of the charitable aims of the masonic order of Knights Templar, which is part of the York Rite family of orders of Freemasonry, sends clergy who have never been to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage as part of its mission and investment in Christian ministry in the United States.  I am going through the hundreds of photos I have taken, and I am getting ready to give my first public presentation of my photographs, and will be doing several more over the course of the year; and I’d lake to share a few with you.

Read the rest of this entry »

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We’re famous!

Anthony noted on Twitter this morning that our humble blog and Women in Theology both feature in an article by occasional commenter Robert Saler on discussions of philosophy and theology online. The last time our name appeared in print (in a column in Christian Century), we were listed along with Faith and Theology and Inhabitatio Dei as exemplary theology blogs. Given who we’re now associated with, I’d say we’ve really moved up in the world!

Too Good To Be True released 2/28

New Book Cover 1My first book of sermons, Too Good to Be True, is now published by Christian Alternative and is available through Amazon and good bookstores like Hearts & Minds Books.  The book features a foreword by Peter Rollins and an afterword by Thomas Altizer, and the opening essay, “Pentecosting: Preaching the Death of God,” is an edited and expanded form of my presentations at last year’s Subverting the Norm 2 and AAR/North American Paul Tillich Society conferences.

The sermons loosely follow the lectionary; a few sermons that have been previewed here at AUFS; and two were published separately in Knights Templar Magazine last year.

If you’re interested, the ebook sells for less than $5, so I hope you will find it to be a good value.

All in all, this is a book that wouldn’t have been possible without my association with this blog, without a larger platform for preaching, so thank you to Adam and Brad for supporting me here.  I am grateful to Pete and Tom for their support of the project, and to Bruce Epperly, Clayton Crockett, and Phil Snider for writing endorsements for the book.  And thanks to Christian Alternative, especially Trevor Greenfield, for supporting the project. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Against Heterosexuality’: An Object Lesson in Conservative Christian ‘Radicalism’

I recently had the misfortune to come across this article in the journal First Things. Written by Michael Hannon, it is entitled ‘Against Heterosexuality’ and subtitled ‘The Idea of Sexual Orientation is Artificial and Inhibits Christian Witness’. It is a symptomatic piece of ‘radical’ Christian writing for our time, in that it attempts to out-deconstruct the deconstructors in order to return us firmly to a teleological, hierarchical Christian order.

Hannon embraces the way that theory post-Foucault has unearthed the genealogy and the arbitrariness behind the creation of fixed categories of sexual orientation. He does so, not in order to advocate what he refers to as the ‘postmodern nihilistic libertinism’ of queer theory, but in order to replace socially constructed identities with a Christian anthropology grounded in nature. Measured against nature, sex is procreative. That, so we are told, is its obvious goal. In contrast, the modern categories of ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’ float free of this mooring. The first ‘binds us to sin’ (since it encourages people to remain enslaved to unnatural sex) and the second ‘blinds us to sin’ because it implies we have no choice in the matter of what we desire. Heterosexuality is seen as especially pernicious, since it creates a normative identity, but one that is detached from procreation, and which legitimates all manner of deviancy.

Why bother drawing further attention to an article which is frankly nauseating to read? As I said, I believe the kind of argument deployed here is symptomatic of contemporary intellectual reassertions of Christian orthodoxy, even if it goes further than most in the joy it extracts from use of the term ‘sodomy’. The first move is (in a banal sense) deconstructive: expose the contingent origins of ideas and categories often taken to be natural. The second is to contrast these naturalised inventions with a true nature, with a law embedded in creation, and modelled by Christ. In a notable hyperbole, the article’s invocation of the catastrophic nihilism gnawing away beneath the feet of modernity means that the Christian tradition becomes ‘the only place left to stand’.

Of course, it would be easy to return the genealogical favour: to shine a light on the constructed nature of the ideals of chastity, family and procreation lauded by the article; to undermine its hermeneutic, so blithely assured that the traditions of the church and the scriptures are beyond historical contestation.

However, I think there is something deeper at work, to which we need to pay attention. The article is scathing about constructed ‘identities’, but it clearly advocates an alternative identity and orientation: a teleological ordering to the perfect identity disclosed in Christ, the path to which is the freedom won for us by Christ’s sacrifice. Here we have orientation, norm and model, written into the very power which sustains creation.

The orientations and identities of the 19th century may be inadequate (though they remain open to diverse deployments, and they have at least been the occasion for protesting against the persecution, torture and murder of people because of their sex life). What this article misses, though, is the likelihood that the pattern for these orientations and identities was provided by the very Christian orthodoxy that now turns on them. This pattern instrumentalises desire in the most extreme way, because it is grounded on the notion of body-as-sacrifice. Your identity is to take upon you the mind, the yoke, the cross of Christ and make children for his kingdom. It is a colonisation of body, a conversion of flesh, outside of which all is Sodom.

Hannon’s article may make you laugh, it may make you feel sick. But don’t underestimate the tendency which lies behind it, and its capacity to offer intellectual justification for biotheological imperialisms yet to come.

ICYMI: Series on “Refusing Reconciliation”

Just wanted to call the attention of AUFS readers to the fact that the second post of Amaryah Shaye’s excellent series is now up over at Women in Theology. But if you haven’t already, then first check out the initial post.

“Reconciliation is antiblack and thus antichrist. It is anti-black because it requires the supersession of the black in order for its unity to be found in its white Christ. By black here, I don’t mean a particular skin color or identity, a certain vocal affectation, musical aesthetic, or capacity for rhythm (though I do mean all those things, too). Instead, I mean blackness as a radical refusal of the movement of reconciliation, and thus, of whiteness. To be black and to be made black is to take seriously the work of refusal, which is an antagonism, a thorn in the side of the sovereignty of whiteness. To be made black is not to be made other than one already is, in the sense that one must supersede the black in order to become a better whiter self or world or being. Instead, to be made black is to be undone through an encounter with an other that interrupts the logic of self-making, the logic of world-making, as supersession. To become black is to remain in instability, is to remain in solidarity together in instability. To become black is to be against the movement beyond sociality for the sake of becoming logical and reasonable. To become black is to refuse being made a something–to be and become nothing. Not because nothing is an absence or a lack of life, but precisely because nothing is the abundance and multiplicity out of which life is formed.”

 

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Divine Racism and the Theological Imaginary

I recently finished reading through William R. Jones Is God a White Racist?  and it was a good read. More than that it felt good. I say it felt good because in Jones I feel like I have found a kindred spirit. His methodology and commitments in particular dovetail nicely with my own. While much of my methodology comes out of my reading of Laruelle (a dualistic theory of religion, cloning or modelling forms of thought, an attempt to speak of the generic, a central focus on what both Laruelle and Jones refer to as a modified humanism but which I think of as creature-oriented), Jones likely wasn’t engaging with any of that when he originally wrote IGWR and yet refers to his work as “a generic clone of liberation theology’s mission and models” that he then uses to evaluate black theology’s fittingness with that mission and model. His ability to critique black theology while also affirming it (performing a kind of negative dialectic throughout his analysis) is part of his own dualistic theory of religion which sees within black theology a mainstream that he will confront with all the tools afforded him by theory and polemic, while also allowing room for a certain minoritarian tradition that he will valorize and attempt to amplify. Then, of course, there is his emphasis on theodicy and suffering as the matrix through which theology must be evaluated, rather than evaluating suffering on the basis of already-existing theologies.

I am curious why so few theologies of hope deal with the arguments Jones presents in his text. One of the targets of his criticism are theologians like Jürgen Moltmann and his eschatological theodicy, where God’s future justice somehow erases the suffering of the present. While Moltmann isn’t the explicit focus of Jones’ text, this eschatological theodicy is subjected to the criteria of ethnic suffering. How can a people, like black people in America, stake a claim on a future event without any significant economic, social, or political liberatory event? Jones here refuses the usual separation of the empirical or lived with the transcendental or ontological. Theo-poetic claims are subject to what is actually lived, regardless of their beauty as fiction.

So I was surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, to find that my excitement over Jones raising that question of divine racism (“Is God a white racist?”) upset some Christian friends on Facebook. The conception of God, it seems to many Christians, precludes racism or racist acts. This concept does so ontologically. And yet the theological imaginary seems to almost always present God as white. I asked my students the other day, while reading a work of Latino theology, what color Jesus was in their head. Not what color they thought he was if they took a few minutes, but immediately what skin color presents itself to them without thinking. 25 of the 31 students said white. Many of those students were themselves black, hispanic, and mixed-race.

It reminded me once of an icon a friend had. He was and I assume still is a very sensitive, caring Christian. Yet this icon showed a scene where Satan was bound and submitted to Christ. Christ was white, as you would expect from Eastern Orthodox iconography, and Satan? Well, Satan was black with kinky hair. George Yancy reports on the discursive theological tradition of this anti-blackness:

The normative construction of the Black body as evil had already begun as early as the fifth century. Gustav Jahoda writes about John Cassian, a monk who wrote a series of spiritual Conferences. Some of these portrayed the devil “in the shape of a hideous Negro,” or a demon “like a Negro woman, ill-smelling and ugly.” Saint Benedict [whom MacIntyre claimed we needed a new version of and from whom Pope Benedict XVI took his name], an admirer of Cassian, made sure that the Conference were read in the monasteries and thus these images would have had a wide circulation. An axiological frame of reference where blackness is identified with demons presupposed the identification of whiteness with “light,” “divinity,” and “goodness.”

Christian racism and anti-blackness isn’t a recent phenomenon, the unintended consequences of the Protestant Reformation and the rise of fundamentalism. What I admire about Jones book is the call for a new theology whose focus is not continuity with the Christian tradition, but a response to suffering.

Call for papers: Living Theology: The Eucharist in Question

LIVING THEOLOGY:

the eucharist in question

The 2014 Dallastown UCC Theological Summit

May 16, York County, PA

CALL FOR PROPOSALS

Description / Rationale:  In American Protestant churches, the practice of the sacrament of communion can vary intensively from crypto-Catholic and Anglo-Catholic repetition to a complete rejection of the sacrament and sacramentalism as a whole.  In the United Church of Christ, the Eucharist may be celebrated often, weekly, or very rarely, despite strong Eucharistic theologies in the Reformed, Congregational, heritages of the denomination. Within the UCC, however, there exists living expressions of the Reformed and Congregational theologies, as well as a myriad of feminist, liberation, African American, Mercersburg, process, personalist, liberal, queer, “ECOT,” postmodern, contemporary radical, and others.  Yet it is not really clear how this multiplicity of voices and interpretive modes engage the most public and repeated of all rituals, the Eucharist, beyond congregational banalities usually related to liturgical movement, or lack thereof:  “do we do ‘pew’ communion or ‘Catholic’ communion?” Read the rest of this entry »

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On Obsessive Slander and Non-Philosophy

Imagine being the kind of professional philosopher, priding yourself on your rigor, openness, and clarity, yet you wrote this:

Imagine for a minute how you might respond if I were to insist that Cornell West can only be understood as a black philosopher and presented my own work in terms of the necessity of overcoming black philosophy. Imagine that my work involved understanding the history of philosophy in terms of a contrast between black and Greek philosophy and moreover understood different black philosophers in terms of their place in this contrast. Moreover, imagine that Cornell West repeatedly publicly stated that he hated my reductive understanding of his work as merely being epiphenomenal aspect of some black racial essence, yet I continued to hector him with it.

Would it be hyperbole to say that I was being racist?

Is it hyperbole to say that the homologous aspects of François Laruelle’s work are anti-semitic (“black” being “Jewish” and “Cornell West” being Jacques Derrida)?

Yes, indeed, we might imagine how we would respond to such a reading of Cornell West, but what would that practice of imagination have to do with reading or understanding the work of Laruelle? Read the rest of this entry »

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