Theological Creep(s) and Ending the Unhappy Tyranny of the Natural King: A Response to Marika Rose (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

Marika’s wonderfully playful engagement with Ecologies of Thought made my day in the midst of meetings from 9am-7pm and the slow creep of a head cold. I’ve been struggling since then to find an adequate way to respond and worry that despite her valorization of my Pumba-like playing in the mud this response will only sully the joyful passions present in her original post. Marika is one of the few Christian (rightly passing) theologians whom I feel pays attention and really listens to the deep criticisms of Christian theology present in my work and others. Her own attempts to think a real failure, one without cunning, as something like a Christianity worth thinking is part of a long line of Protestant theologians who are willing to let Christianity die for the sake of humanity. It was for that reason that I suggested her when trying to think of a “proper” Christian theologian who may want to respond to the work. And what grace she has given me here. A real testament to what in theology may engage with work like mine without erasing the antagonism, without needing to make it safe through some nefarious Barthian poetics of Christian hospitality or through the directly violent colonialism of Radical Orthodoxy/Ressourcement theology. I don’t know what exactly what name it may go under, perhaps simply a dirty or impure theology, one that refuses to say it is anything else but theology without making excuses for its friends.

One of the worries some may have with Ecologies of Thought is the theological aspect. Simply put, I take very seriously the power of theological thought, both in terms of just the creativity of pure thinking but also in terms of political and world-building fabulation. Some of this should be affirmed, some of it is implicitly affirmed in the way theological species of thought persist under the surface of seemingly secular ones, and some of it is nefarious for being undisclosed as theological. Much of this work of disclosure has been carried out by gifted historians of ideas and I build with their work in the book. I also then show how certain theological forms of thinking may be interesting when relativized within an ecology of thought, mostly through reference to Aquinas, but also further afield in the work of Ismaili Islam (something that others may pick up, if we ever move away from the influence of Laruelle). Some may worry about these references, though, because of the “theological creep” implied there. That is, in an age when philosophy should be performing its powers of excoriation, the theological always threatens to “folkize” thought. What is needed above all, these servants of the Natural King claim, is the destruction of weaker rationalisms, of romanticisms, of any and all human-all-too-human forms of thought.

It’s perhaps strange to think of theological creep as a protection of the human or creature more generically, especially for the student of Christian theology who knows that much of the excoriation celebrated by the participants of the Black Mass of Reason is but a thought experiment, nothing but fucking around, a child playing war, when compared with the actual bodily excoriation by the (impurely Christian) mystics. But the fear over theological creep is still a fear over the bodily, a claim that the bodily is never an argument, it’s never explicit, it’s all special pleading to “lived experience” (which is so different, at bottom, from the way in which Laruelle and I try to talk about the lived of radical immanence). In a certain way, the Natural King, even if its more Lovecraft than Disney, is still a fairy tale for those who demand that big events are all that matter, that nature can only ever be an acid-fueled re-editing of Cosmos or even Tree of Life, where all that ever matters for thinking is that we got split the atom and got off planet. Life–and death–just ain’t that big. And so these strange theologians (for they are still working in the theological frame of telos and towards a kind of soteriology) of the scientific image too won’t come sit in the mud and look around and see that there is still so much death here, so much creatural resistance.

But all of this sounds nothing like a peace treaty. And so for many, from the Radically Orthodox to the Rationally Explicit Nihilist, this isn’t so much about theological creep as a theological creep. And indeed, I am under no illusions that I am known as a peacemaker! And after reading Marika’s post I wondered a bit at what I meant by the declaring peace line. It is, as I think is clear in the text, a line of Laruelle’s from one of the essays that make up En tant qu’Un, but I think my attraction to it was more than just the usual marking of my sources. I don’t quite have a sense of what it may be, and I hope to focus on this in my response to Scu next, but for now I can mark that there is something in this word that is good. It is a good word. But much of what people think the word signifies is anything but good. For most peace is a kind of absence of conflict, but the way François talks about peace in his work is never simply as the absence of conflict but the removing of harassment, the disempowering of philosophy (and, for me, theology) and other forms of sufficient, authoritarian thinking. This is very different from the peace of liberalism, the cheap peace that is only a peace for the privileged, those who move out to the suburbs so their kids can go to a decent school or that foster a way of thinking that suburbanizes interdisciplinarity. You need a car to get around from philosophy to science, from theology to science, they aren’t your neighbors, they aren’t trying to figure out how to live together, but they know their place there. This is perhaps, to borrow a phrase from Marika, not even a very peaceful peace. After all, I don’t argue for tolerance, how could we tolerate the intolerant, and how could we not tolerate them without seeing the autoimmune structure of such a peace. Such a declaration of peace to the theologians (whom Marika names), but also to the philosophers and to the scientists, is a declaration that they are not just theologians, philosophers, or scientists. But rather that they are creatures, that all the fights, all the attempts to destroy one another, are creatural struggles. From the human to the hyena to the slave to the lion to the master to the clown. They can craft peace because they are finite, because they are relative, and not the absolute struggle. It may not comfort those who have already turned away from this work, thinking there is nothing worthwhile from this theological creep, but such a declaration of peace is a litany of nonidentity, of 15 abstract holies followed by their concrete manifestations.

Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!
Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman’s an angel!
The bum’s as holy as the seraphim! the madman is holy as you my soul are holy!
The typewriter is holy the poem is holy the voice is holy the hearers are holy the ecstasy is holy!
Holy Peter holy Allen holy Solomon holy Lucien holy Kerouac holy Huncke holy Burroughs holy Cassady holy the unknown buggered and suffering beggars holy the hideous human angels!
Holy my mother in the insane asylum! Holy the cocks of the grandfathers of Kansas!
Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands marijuana hipsters peace peyote pipes & drums!
Holy the solitudes of skyscrapers and pavements! Holy the cafeterias filled with the millions! Holy the mysterious rivers of tears under the streets!
Holy the lone juggernaut! Holy the vast lamb of the middleclass! Holy the crazy shepherds of rebellion! Who digs Los Angeles IS Los Angeles!
Holy New York Holy San Francisco Holy Peoria & Seattle Holy Paris Holy Tangiers Holy Moscow Holy Istanbul!
Holy time in eternity holy eternity in time holy the clocks in space holy the fourth dimension holy the fifth International holy the Angel in Moloch!
Holy the sea holy the desert holy the railroad holy the locomotive holy the visions holy the hallucinations holy the miracles holy the eyeball holy the abyss!
Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy! Ours! bodies! suffering! magnanimity!
Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!

3 thoughts on “Theological Creep(s) and Ending the Unhappy Tyranny of the Natural King: A Response to Marika Rose (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

  1. The suggestion that I am willing ‘to let Christianity die for the sake of humanity’ is an interesting one. One of the questions I had reading the book was about the idea of the ‘generic’ or the ‘secular’ within which non-philosophy takes place. You often used metaphors of transplanting ideas or building with materials from philosophy or theology, but my question would be: where are they being transplanted *to*? What is the ecology (of) thought within which non-philosophy takes place? Where is it? Because sometimes it sounds almost as though what is actually going on is a surreptitious re-inscription of the imperialism of liberalism: outside of these particular ecologies is some more universal place within which the really universal thought happens. And I don’t think you actually want that; but I don’t quite know how that isn’t ultimately what is implied.

  2. ‘“lived experience” (which is so different, at bottom, from the way in which Laruelle and I try to talk about the lived of radical immanence).’
    Anthony, I’d really value you articulating this difference a little more, since, though I have a vague impression of it, my temptation is to conflate the two and miss the specificity of what you (and Laruelle) are saying.

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