Beyond Monotheism — 12. …In a World of Difference.

In many ways this chapter culminates Schneider’s theology of multiplicity, building on the previous three chapters, and then opening onto her final section on ethics. She argues here that the distinct characteristics of divine multiplicity, fluidity, porosity and interconnection, enter into the world in particular places and times as a body. This embodiment or enfleshment is what she means by incarnation. What bodies and divinity both possess are heterogeneity—positive concrete differences. Anything that exists is intrinsically singular, distinct, unique, and it is unique as body. Divinity incarnates itself in and as heterogeneous body: “incarnation is a revelation of divinity-in-flux” (166).

Every body is absolutely different and irreplaceable, in ontological as well as in ethical terms. “Bodies become difference and so create the world” (167), and these bodies cannot be exchanged for each other according to any common standard of evaluation. Jesus represents an incarnation of divinity in a singular body, and his silence before Pilate is understood by Schneider as a refusal to submit his body to the standards of legal categorization, interrogation and justification. Ontology and ethics are encapsulated in stories, and stories are stories of bodies and their relationalities, which is an a-centered relationality (building upon but slightly distinct from Barbara Holmes’s notion of omnicentrality). Schneider draws from Deleuze a good deal in this chapter, including her petition of a logic of rhizomality for thinking about modes of relationality.

Stories, like the incredible stories told at the Pentecost about Jesus that occur in strange tongues but are understood by disparate listeners, make and unmake worlds, as she concludes (181), and these worlds are worlds of bodies that become differently, uniquely, by means of being incarnated divinity. There is an interesting relationship here between story and body, language and beings, which are not opposed, but intertwine in complex and significant ways. Schneider suggests that if we tell and hear the stories of Jesus better, “he becomes too particular to be Everyman but more and more a body of murky, intemperate flesh, refusing to disappear into the flattening regime of names, ranks, classifications, and answers to charges” (175-76). We could say that story (when understood along the lines Schneider lays out) re-members body.

Jesus’s body incarnates divinity, but no more or no less than any body.

Thoughts for Reflection: (Why) would Schneider still claim to be Christian? Is Christianity committed to the singular uniqueness of Jesus’s body to such an extent that it excludes the divinity of other bodies? Of course, some liberal Christians have relativized Jesus and made him more of an example or a model rather than the divine itself, but what does Schneider get out of maintaining a Christian identity, if she does? Obviously Christianity is multiple and exceeds the logic of the One in many respects, but so is every religious tradition, right? Is there anything distinctive about the logic of Christianity that needs to be retained once you relativize and singularize body and multiply story in the way she has done?

There is a contemporary metaphysics of the body that Schneider is drawing upon, and it risks idealization of body as body, when bodies are read as intrinsically possessing modes of resisting their capture in ideas and concepts. It’s so easy to slide from body to signification, and Schneider cannot be charged with doing this in any simple manner, but I still worry about the tendency/temptation to inscribe bodies with our ethical values. We could say that bodies express themselves but then they are already in the mode of language. So then body and language are not opposites, but both are characterized by multiplicity over against the logic of the One. It’s a very subtle implication. I understand this largely in terms of Deleuze’s Logic of Sense, where you have a series of language and a series of bodies, and the event is a kind of spreading of language to incorporate body in a way. But then Deleuze decides this is too structuralist, and he writes Anti-Oedipus with Guattari and now the event is produced by desiring-machines, from below as it were. Is there a reason that for Schneider incarnation is more properly described in terms of body rather than Word? If body as body can be characterized as divine incarnation, then is divinity different from body before it takes on body, and if so, what is divinity prior to its embodiment?

6 thoughts on “Beyond Monotheism — 12. …In a World of Difference.

  1. Well, it looks like Tarantino is trumping Schneider today in terms of comment energy. I think the question about Christian identity is an important one, and though I have a suspicion about how she’d answer, I think it’s more appropriate to leave that for her if she does respond to the event.

  2. Bracketing what Schneider may say, is it not just that one has to make claim to one religious tradition or else risk being “that guy” talking to himself in the park about how he’s spiritual? If you buy that there is something like revelation in the world, that there is something like the divine, that there is incarnation, then why not throw your “take a stand” (in the Sartrean sense) for a particular religion without thereby becoming a party hack in that religion?

  3. Anthony,

    Given what you say, which seems reasonable, there is still the question of why Christianity, or more broadly, are there criteria for evaluating a given historical religious tradition as more or less well-suited to thinking multiplicity (and hence realizing the ethical dimesion thereof) or are we better off remaining in our pre-existing affiliations and attempting to steer them in the right direction. Put otherwise, it would make sense for there to be multiple paths towards a multiplicitous divine, but need they all be equal, and if not, what are we to do?

  4. Hill, It seems that you’re jumping too quickly from a non-exclusive claim to “everything is equal” — it seems clear that Schneider’s book doesn’t exclude judgment, but neither does it treat individual religions as monoliths. I suppose the approach might be to start where you are and be grateful for the help you find wherever you find it.

  5. Hill writes: “it would make sense for there to be multiple paths towards a multiplicitous divine…” Let me put a plug in here for Rosenzweig as offering help on this point. But if you want to get some control on the number of “multiple paths”, as Rosenzweig does (he wants Christianity and Judaism only to count, and this is a weakness of his account), I think you would want to link them to a notion of monotheistic revelation (in contradistinction to a monotheistic logic of the One), but not of course as given in any single historical form, but conceived as the counter-agent in history against idolatry (so that monotheistic revelation would mean: the absolute uniqueness of the divine One that cannot be fixed in any single finite form, but is only revealed in multiplicity, so that a claim to be the one or the true revealed religion is precisely the sign of idolatry).

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