1. That I am rejecting the idea of a personal being “out there”
2. That I claiming the act of undergoing the death of god leads to a life of love
3. That I am demanding the undergoing of an exististentially traumatic event when it is not necessary to get to where I want to go
I shall take each in turn
The idea that I reject the idea of a transcendent-transcendence arises from a basic misunderstanding of my project. This misunderstanding is perhaps exacerbated by the fact that I have not published very much to date and have not systematically and explicitly addressed the theological/philosophical frame I deploy (something that I start to address in my forthcoming book). Having said this I would also say that it is still clearly discernable in my writing (as well as being seen through the influences I draw from) and I have spoken of the underlying frame in various talks, some of which are available on-line.
The point is that my critique of the religious God is no more a rejection of the idea that there is a being “out there” than it is an affirmation of that idea. My critique is not against the content of ones belief, it is fundamentally a critique of the function that belief plays. My primary critique is clearly working with Bonhoeffer’s rejection of the Deus ex Machina or, in more philosophical terms, Pascal’s assault on the god of the philosophers, Lacan’s exposure of the Big Other or Heidegger’s attack upon the onto-theo-logical first cause. In short it is a critique of the Cartesian god we see in so much of the church today (I would argue in the vast majority of the church today in either consciously affirmed or disavowed ways). This means I am not so interested in what you or I believe as in what role that belief is playing in our lives.
Lets take an example. Recently a well-known religionist gave a sermon in which he told people that God hated them. This caused quite a stir as witnessed by how many people jumped onto the internet to correct what they took to be incorrect teaching: “God doesn’t hate you, God loves you.”
The issue here is that, for someone who resonates with the idea that God hates them, the opposite message is unlikely to find a landing place. That message resonates with some people for a reason. The more interesting, astute and pastoral approach is to avoid trying to “correct” the belief and simply ask a person who relates to that message of divine hatred “why?”: in short, to work out why such an idea would hit home, and then work though the reasons with them.
The trick, obviously, is that this cuts both ways. If someone says, “I believe God loves me” we might be more likely not to ask them why they believe this simply because we think it is a more healthy view. But people can consciously believe things we think are healthy for the most unhealthy of reasons (for instance, the conscious belief “God loves me” might act as a means of you avoiding the fact that you are in a abusive marriage and doing something about it).
This means that if someone believes everything I believe I still have to ask “why?” I need to work out how the beliefs function for that person. Do they act as a security blanket preventing them from encountering the world, or do they function as a means of more fully entering into the world they inhabit (for any system, including my own, can act in that way as Katharine Moody insightfully pointed out).
Someone might believe very different things to me (in terms of mental assertions) yet not use them as a crutch (here we are at the level of mere disagreement), and another might totally agree with me on an intellectual level, yet the beliefs operate as a Big Other (something that can be seen if a person cannot engage in genuine critical dialogue, like the preacher I reference above).
As such Beck’s fundamentally non-dialectic claim that we should have “both/and” (God as an object that we love and God found in the act of love) rather than “my” either/or misses the point. I am not arguing for one view of God over another that both operate in the same register, I am arguing for the death of God as the garniture of certainty and satisfaction. My move is properly dialectic in that it starts from the affirmation (God as some-thing) enters the negation (God as no-thing) and unfolds a negation of negation (God as a some-no-thing or, in a Kierkegaardian sense, as radical subject found beyond the realm of thing-hood – in the affirmation of life).
As to Beck’s other claim that I am saying the idea of undergoing the “death of god” (a term signaling the death of God as garniture of certainty and satisfaction) leads to a life of love, I want to say unequivocally that this is incorrect. I am saying that it is the embrace of love that enables us to bear the weight of the death of God. In other words, if we agree with Camus that we must imagine Sisyphus happy the only way we can do that is to imagine Sisyphus in love. My point is that we need Christian community both in order to help us undergo this event and to help us bear the weight of it. This brings us to the role of contemplative practices that Beck thinks I might disregard (even though I spent the first nine years of my project developing a series of them via ikon). Let me say that I am fundamentally for contemplative practices, although he is right to say that I see them a little differently to Bonhoeffer. For me they are primarily 1. a way for us to enter into and undergo the death of god and 2. A means of sensitizing us the work of love. In my last post I offer one small example of what this might look like (in my new book I devote an entire section to this question).
Finally he thinks that I am “just asking” for people to be more loving and so why do we need to go through the event I describe. To be honest I can understand his concern here as I do not feel that I adequately outlined why the death of god is so central in that text (this is the subject of my forthcoming book The Idolatry of God). My point, which will become clear in my new book, is that self-consciousness necessarily leads us into a place where we grasp onto certainty and the desire for wholeness (can’t get into why here but check out this video for a brief overview of the reasons). I argue that the only way to exit this “old creation” and enter into a “new creation” is via a truly apocalyptic event (as opposed to the reactive ideas of apocalypse that we see in Hollywood cinema and fundamentalist books) in which our most basic way of relating to the world is reconfigured (embracing uncertainty and dissatisfaction). Jesus is not then the solution to our universal problem but the problem that problematises the entire problem/solution matrix. By employing the work of people like Lacan I am saying that we can do this only when we tear apart the curtain and expose the Big Other as a fiction (which I argue is described in the Crucifixion).
As to this last objection I am not saying that Beck misread Insurrection, as the points I am making here are in the next book rather than the last one. I hope that the new book clarifies exactly why I see this death of god as so central to Christianity.
In closing let me try to summarize what I take to be the most basic problem here, many people think that I am arguing about the type of belief we hold when I am actually concerned with exploring the power that various beliefs hold for us. A fetish object is an object that we know is not magic but treat as if it is. An object that protects us from encountering our own impotence in a direct way even though we may acknowledge it intellectually (for example a picture of someone we love who has died acts as a fetish object if it prevents us from experiencing the horror of their death, something that only happens if the picture is destroyed). So then my project can be summed up in the old saying, “It’s not the size of the wand that matters, it’s the magic that’s in it,” with one caveat: I am saying that the more magic the wand has the more dangerous and destructive it is.