Having now read all of Adam’s write-ups on Il Regno e la Gloria like the rest of you, I cannot escape a certain dreadful anticipation of intellectual Christians grossly misreading Agamben’s foray into theology as a kind of validation. As I understand it, the theological upshot of Agamben’s project is that Christian theology (and thus western politics as a whole) is based on a betrayal of its messianic roots. Fine, says the intellectual Christian, all one needs to do is “return” to these roots, or some semblance thereof, and the betrayal is thereby betrayed. Aufhebung!!
We’ve seen this a little when Zizek used the subtitle that sent many a Christian heart aflutter, “Why the Christian legacy is worth fighting for.” Of course, Zizek’s point was that this fight is directed against Christians themselves, and that the “legacy” in question, in fact, results in something quite at odds with the Christianity they would seek to defend. Much the same seems at work in Agamben’s turn to the religious. This is a banal point, and yet you’ll still find generally intelligent Christians theorizing an excited harmony between their spiritual activity, much of it good and noble I’m sure, with Agamben’s anarchic vision of messianism. I have no reason to suspect the reaction to Il Regno will be much different. (Though to be fair, I really must confess a complete ignorance as to the reception of his book on Romans.)
This wouldn’t be so bad, I suppose, if many of these same Christian theorists had not long ago dismissed somebody like, say, friend of AUFS, Thomas Altizer. Over thirty years ago, he preached a similar vision of a Christian theology that had been betrayed (for him, it was betrayed away from its apocalyptic roots — but, really, his “here comes everybody” apocalypticism would seem to function along the same lines as Agamben’s messianism). And yet, no room was made for such a theology by most Christians. He was quickly ruled unfashionable and irrelevant, too academic and removed from church.
Why is it different when philosophers speak of a radical vision of Christian theology? Is it because one can more easily “read against the grain” of one who thinks as an outsider? What makes it easier to reconfigure a philosopher’s ultimatetly hostile vision of theology (hostile to the defender of orthodoxy, that is), than those that come from within the Christian tradition itself?