This the second half of a paper I’ll be giving in Dundee later this week. It is largely cannibalized from other papers I’ve written, so if anyone has anything to say about how the thing coheres I would appreciate it. Of course comments are welcome.
From what has been said above it would seem that any semblance of a philosophy of religion in Deleuze’s thought will be not unlike the criticisms of religion found in the history of philosophy, specifically materialist philosophy. That is to say, he shares in the hostility towards religion expressed by Spinoza, Hume, and Nietzsche. Some go so far as to say that Deleuze’s philosophy, insofar as it speaks to the question of religion at all, is united in its antipathy towards religion with Anglo-American naturalism. This, some commentators try to convince us, is the consequence of his thesis of pure immanence. But this all assumes too much in that it ignores the place both Spinoza and Nietzsche hold for the possibility of a true religious practice (obviously in very different registers). It also ignores that Deleuze himself wrote on other figures, like Leibniz and Bergson, who wrote more obviously constructive and positive philosophies of religion. It passes over in silence Deleuze’s own intimations towards the end of his life on the question of belief and faith.
But if Deleuze’s thesis of immanence holds within it a positive as well as a negative philosophy of religion how then do we deal with his own stark opposition of religion to immanence in What is Philosophy? First, note the irony of Deleuze and Guattari’s presentation of the plane of immanence, as it can only be described as aggressively evangelical – they have preached the good news of the plane of immanence. Like all evangelists this preaching proceeds via the hostility of polemic when they equate religion with transcendence and as the other of philosophy: “Whenever there is transcendence, vertical Being, imperial State in the sky or on earth, there is religion; and there is Philosophy whenever there is immanence, even if it functions as arena for the agon and rivalry.” Yet such an ethic of exclusion contradicts immanence itself, as Deleuze and Guattari contradict themselves not 30 pages later when they write about Pascal and Kierkegaard saying that if the plane of immanence has learnt anything from “Christian philosophy” it is that there are infinite immanent possibilities. Deleuze and Guattari say these infinite immanent possibilities come about by ‘belief in God’ separated from the obsessive concern with the transcendent existence of God. More fundamentally they make the point that when this ‘atheism’ of faith connects up with the earth, rather than projecting itself onto it, then the plane of immanence itself is recharged. While attempting to distance themselves from religion they find themselves embracing faith, for there is no obvious and sufficient reason why one should go on living. They give voice to this suffering when they write, “It may be that believing in this world, in this life, becomes our most difficult task, or the task of a mode of existence still to be discovered on our plane of immanence today.”
Giving attention to the thematic of belief and the difficult task of discovering a new mode of existence helps to overcome the most damaging mistake in rejecting religion from Deleuze’s philosophy – the equation of immanence with Anglo-American naturalism. Such a thesis holds that what is merely is and that it is given once and for all. In some ways this accords with the classic definition of immanence, where it is opposed to the transcendent as that which mundanely is, refusing all notions of divinity or supernature. But Deleuze’s philosophy is powerful in so far as it transforms the very way we understand immanence. Peter Hallward’s book served as a challenge to these readings of Deleuze’s philosophy, boldly suggesting that Deleuze’s philosophy is not materialist in the way that Darwin’s or Marx’s thought is materialist but rather an extra-worldly philosophy of theophantic mysticism. The short-comings of this book have already been discussed, but what I find helpful in discussing how Deleuze affects philosophy of religion is in making an issue of the relationship between the actual and the virtual. Naturalism exists purely within the realm of the actual. For Hallward Deleuze’s philosophy of creation is essentially a mysticism of the virtual. The virtual in Deleuze’s philosophy is the main problem those who want to align him with naturalism run into, for the virtual names the unpresentability of the whole, a kind of supernatural that is nonetheless not separated from the natural, an immanent outside. The virtual, which is the unpresentability of the whole, becomes in varying forms the focus of Hallward’s critique. For, in the ontology Hallward reads into Deleuze, actual refers to creatures and virtual refers to creatings: “Creare is one, we might say, but it involves both active creans and the passive creaturum.” This imports a moral or ethical failing into Deleuze’s work, such that he is calling us to abstract ourselves out from the actual world and, as the title tells us, get out of the world into the pure virtual of creative thought as redemptive act. While Hallward’s whole project aims to show that Deleuze is not a relational thinker of complexity, this reading appears forced when one reads Deleuze’s own words, which bear striking ‘ecological’ elements. In “The Actual and the Virtual” Deleuze expresses what we could call the ecological relationship between the actual and the virtual in the statement, “The plane of immanence includes both the virtual and its actualization simultaneously, without there being any assignable limit between the two.”
In Hallward’s reading Deleuze downplays creatures in the name of more and more creatings. In this way Hallward borders on accusing Deleuze of kind of Gnostic religious violence against creatures in the name of the creative God. Deleuze’s own words present a different picture when he states, “there is coalescence and division, or rather oscillation, a perpetual exchange between the actual object and its virtual image: the virtual image never stops becoming actual.” That is because the plane of immanence, where this oscillation and perpetual exchange between the virtual and the actual take place, must take account of the whole of experience – even experience beyond the human. This is why Deleuze is not a materialist in the same way that Darwin or Marx were – why would he want to when matter itself is infinitely affective and intensive? It is true that Deleuze is not so concerned with “this” world and that there are spiritual and eschatological elements to his thought that have gone largely unexplored in the secondary literature, but the negative value that Hallward extends to Deleuze’s thought does not necessarily follow from these facts. Against Hallward others have read Deleuze as a materialist in an age of ethereal capitalism; when politics is not located at the state level but at the ontological level in capital itself which we could call ‘spiritual’. Deleuze’s ontology is a political response to this ethereal capital and one could read the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia as a critique of the forms of resistance to the State that are blind to this more deeply lodged ontological condition. That is, Deleuze can be read as telling us that the truly revolutionary action is to engage at the level of the capitalist ontological axiomatic. Deleuze’s work is an attempt to change the way we live life through thought. It is an attempt to bring his particular powers to bear on a part of the world he can affect well, and we would be shortsighted philosophically and politically to think that thought is not a materially viable part of the world.
This is where Deleuze’s philosophy posits a kind of repetition, with a difference, of Spinoza’s own theologico-political critique of religion. This is a very different way forward than contemporary philosophy of religion. On the one hand it allows for an analysis of the actuality of religion, which includes both the violence of religion and the grace of belief, and it also allows for a tracing of religious virtualities present in Capitalism and its political and social resistance. One such virtuality that Deleuze begins to consider is a positing of the future, that is to say an outside, that remains immanent. This virtuality is expressed in religious mystics and seers (who, there should be no doubt, are probably a little schizophrenic), as Bergson argued in his Two Sources of Morality and Religion. What is interesting about Deleuze’s consideration of this immanent outside is that he does not look at the mystical, which is where Bergson locates the more noble dynamic religion; rather Deleuze considers fabulation which, for Bergson, defined the more base form of static religion.
John Mullarkey brings our attention to the fundamental connection between trauma and fabulation: ‘Leafing through the pages of The Two Sources on fabulation, one cannot miss its connection with trauma, especially the trauma of excess novelty, that is, novelty or difference beyond our foresight.’ This seems to be what lies underneath Deleuze’s turn to fabulation, though it goes unstated. But it is hard not to see the connection between Deleuze’s use of fabulation and the already existent trauma of losing the world, largely to the forces of novelty:
‘[…] it is possible that the problem now concerns the one who believes in the world, and not even in the existence of the world but in its possibilities of movements and intensities, so as once again to give birth to new modes of existence, closer to animals and rocks. It may be that believing in this world, in this life, becomes our most difficult task, or the task of a mode of existence still to be discovered on our plane of immanence today. This is the empiricist conversion (we have so many reasons not to believe in the human world; we have lost the word, worse than a fiancée or a god). The problem has indeed changed.’
The powers of the false are located in the affectivity of false images and false continuity. If truth has brought humanity to a point where they can no longer live, which at its most noble is the attempt to live beyond the human condition under judgment, then truth must be resisted by the false. But this false cannot be just any false; this is not to say that everything is equivalent to everything else. A false image or a false time can either be noble or base, good or bad. A falsity can foster destruction, entropy, and death (the lies of so many governments, with their new priestly caste of economists) and such a falsity is base, slavish to transcendent gods. But a falsity can also be noble, it can create: ‘According to physicists, noble energy is the kind which is capable of transforming itself’. So, though Deleuze aims to be done with judgment, the powers of the false call for immanent evaluation.
Immanent evaluation is the task put before the philosophy of religion after Deleuze. Religious thought and practice evaluated as a mode of life, rather than an objective manifestation or a set of beliefs that are either falsifiable or defensible within the bounds of religion. This immanent evaluation can investigate the interplay of religion’s actuality and virtuality as a mode of life on the plane of immanence, but it is must also do so as a mode of living such that the evaluation must first think religion in its fullness by unfolding religion itself, deterritorializing it, and then completing a truly immanent evaluation by folding religion into philosophy and politics, deterritorializing philosophy, and injecting a little affirmation and joyful, if not mad, passions into its academic, sad passions. In their text Deleuze and Guattari’s thought confuses religion as a whole with the theological determination that projects itself as religion, of a creative faith with transcendence, and in so doing give immanence over to unethical illusion in the name of truth, for what they fail to see, though it is implicit in their own writing, is that the faith of religion constitutes a relationship with the plane of immanence itself – an intensive intertwining of belief and reason that may be called a fabulation.