Radical Orthodoxy’s Cure for Misogyny

Call me nostalgic, but sometimes it is good to remind ourselves of Radical Orthodoxy.

I’ve recently been writing on the controversy between John Milbank and Slavoj Žižek in The Monstrosity of Christ (my specific interest is how they disagree about the importance of Kierkegaard and the nature of paradox). In the process of reading the book again, I was stopped short by Milbank’s accusation that that Žižek ‘favors essentially gnostic thinkers (Boehme, Hegel and Schelling) for whom birth implies alienation and the involvement of evil, thinkers for whom birth must be painful, through ontological necessity and not mere ontological lapse. But it is just such metaphysical misogyny which Catholic orthodoxy alone has always challenged’ (194; my emphasis).

The implication is clear: Milbank accepts the literal sense of Genesis 3, in which childbirth is only painful because of the Fall. Originally, ‘in the (unreachable and untraceable) prelapsarian golden age . . . in which human beings took full part’ (171) there was no such pain. For Milbank, to argue otherwise is to give in to ‘metaphysical misogyny’, to present an ontology in which pain during childbirth is fixed in the nature of things.

This is a fascinating exercise in contemporary Catholic apologetics. It outbids feminism by claiming a higher form of feminism. In this ‘higher form’, all trauma and pain can only be seen as alien, and ultimately empty, intrusions of irrational evil. Ontologically, the only reality is a peaceful and harmonious one, in which women have babies without murmur. To suggest otherwise is to inscribe ‘hatred’ of women into the nature of things.

This is bizarre on a number of levels. First, it depends upon the pure fantasy of an Arcadian golden age, which stands in wilful denial of human evolution. Secondly, it attributes pain in childbirth to an ‘ontological lapse’ – to sin, basically. Rescuing us from the supposed spectre of a woman-hating pagan nature, it delivers us into the comforting thought that ‘if it hurts, it’s your own fault really’.

Finally, it ties in with a general orientation of this kind of thinking: secular feminism, it asserts, is predicated on the war of the sexes, upon the need to fight a positive evil. The radically orthodox feminist, by contrast, sees salvation in recalling the world back to a proper, harmonious ordering of things. In other words, this ‘higher’ feminism denounces fighting feminism as a symptom of the problem it seeks to cure, one which further fragments and traumatises the world. This is the line of Sarah Palin: secular feminism turns women into whining victims.The only alternative, then, is to remain within the hierarchical structures of family and church and to reorient them to their proper calling. A woman’s salvation can only lie in and through a restored patriarchal order. And, if we look beyond childbirth to issues of domestic violence and rape, we might wonder how this differs from the recommendation that an abused woman sticks with the abusive partner in the hope of redemption. The logical extension of this perspective is that the solution to women being made to feel like victims is to deny the process of victimisation exists. If you say rape is a reality, you are ontologising rape, and you are therefore a misogynist!

I am not attributing this kind of absurdity to Milbank. However, the logical structure of it is not far from what he actually says about childbirth. And I am tempted to see in this not merely an unfortunate symptom of contemporary conservative apologetics, but its constitutive core. Peace is proclaimed, but only via the myth of the pure, Edenic virginal mother who never was; the finite material world is celebrated, but only by dematerialising the female body; creation is liberated and healed, but only in and through women who keep their place – in silence.

Altizer: “America and the Death of God”

Thomas Altizer asked that I pass this along on here.

“America and the Death of God”

by Thomas J. J. Altizer

Our most revolutionary prophet, William Blake, in his first prophetic poem, America (1793), enacted the American Revolution as the initial realization of the death of God, the deity here named as Urizon, the preincarnate and alien God, whose death initiates apocalypse. This is the God whom Hegel named as Abstract Spirit and the “Bad Infinite,” a God not realized until the advent of the modern world, and who is the consequence of an absolute self-negation or self-emptying of the Godhead. Both Blake and Hegel enact the death of God, indeed Hegel and Blake are the first enactors of the death of God, a death that for each is an absolute self-negation or self-emptying, a self-negation that is the absolute source of all and everything. Hence the death of God is both genesis and apocalypse, or absolute beginning and absolute ending, the absolute beginning of all and everything, and the absolute consummation of everything. That consummation itself proceeds out of an original self-negation or self-emptying, one negating or emptying an original absolutely undifferentiated Godhead, and only this self-negation makes possible either apocalypse or the world itself.  Hegel is our most profoundly apocalyptic thinker, while Blake is our most totally apocalyptic visionary, each recover and renew a long lost apocalyptic ground, a ground that is the original ground of Christianity, one that is wholly transformed in the great body of Christianity, and only recovered in revolutionary movements, which are the most revolutionary movements in our history.

Both Blake and Hegel are profoundly Christian, but they are radical Christians, even atheistic Christians, who absolutely negate the given God, or who deeply and comprehensively realize that this God has absolutely negated itself, a self-negation that inaugurates the modern world. Each could know the French Revolution as the historical realization of the death of God, but Blake, at least in America, could know the American Revolution not only as the initial realization of the death of God, but as the inaugurator of absolute revolution. This is the deepest calling of America, one known to every deeply American seer, and actualized in that America which is the first secular nation, the first not only to separate Church and State, but to create a public realm that is a truly secular realm. This inspired an assault upon America by many European Christians, but Europeans have never been able to understand America, and the question can be genuinely asked if America has ever understood itself. Continue reading “Altizer: “America and the Death of God””

Altizer on Leahy: “Apocalypticism and Modern Thinking”

Thomas Altizer asked me to pass along a few things in honor of D. G. Leahy.  The first is an article, “Apocalypticism and Modern Thinking,” originally published in the Journal for Christian Theological Research 2.2 (1992), par. 1-27.

“Apocalypticism and Modern Thinking”

Thomas J. J. Altizer

1. While the power of apocalypticism in our history is now acknowledged, we have little sense of its power or even meaning in thinking itself, and this despite the fact that so many of our primal modern thinkers, such as Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche, have manifestly been apocalyptic thinkers. Indeed, the very advent of modernity can be understood to be an apocalyptic event, an advent ushering in a wholly new world as the consequence of the ending of an old world. Nowhere was such a new world more fully present than in thinking itself, a truly new thinking not only embodied in a new science and a new philosophy, but in a new reflexivity or introspection in the interiority of self-consciousness. This is the new interiority which is so fully embodied in the uniquely Shakespearean soliloquy, but it is likewise embodied in that uniquely Cartesian internal and radical doubt which inaugurates modern philosophy. Cartesian philosophy could establish itself only by ending scholastic philosophy, and with that ending a new philosophy was truly born, and one implicitly if not explicitly claiming for itself a radically new world. That world can be understood as a new apocalyptic world, one which becomes manifestly apocalyptic in the French Revolution and German Idealism, and then one realizing truly universal expressions in Marxism and in that uniquely modern or postmodern nihilism which was so decisively inaugurated by Nietzsche’s proclamation of the death of God.

2. Yet a truly modern subject or “I” is a doubled or self-alienated center of consciousness, and is so in a uniquely Cartesian internal and radical doubt, one never decisively present in previous cognitive or philosophical thinking, although its ground had been established by Augustine’s philosophical discovery of the subject of consciousness. Even as Augustinian thinking had been deeply reborn in the late Middle Ages, thence becoming a deep ground not only of the Reformation but also of Cartesian thinking, this new modern subject which is now established and real is an interiorly divided subject, and so much so that its internal ground is a truly dichotomous ground. Nothing else is so deeply Augustinian in modern thinking and in the modern consciousness itself, and if Augustine discovered the subject of consciousness by way of his renewal of Paul, it was Paul who discovered the profoundly internal divisions and dichotomies of consciousness and self-consciousness. This is the Paul who is so deeply renewed in the dawning of modernity, but also the Paul who was the creator of Christian theology, a theology which if only in Paul is a purely and consistently apocalyptic theology, and Paul’s realization of the ultimate polarity or dichotomy of consciousness is an apocalyptic realization, one reflecting an apocalyptic dichotomy between old aeon and new aeon, or flesh (sarx) and Spirit (pneuma). Continue reading “Altizer on Leahy: “Apocalypticism and Modern Thinking””

RIP, D. G. Leahy (1937-2014)

Word is circulating that radical theologian D. G. Leahy passed away yesterday.  He is probably best known to AUFS readers as someone whose thought has been enormously influential on Thomas Altizer, just as Altizer’s writings deeply influenced Leahy.

His dense books include Novitas Mundi, Foundation, and Faith & Philosophy.  He continued to write after these works, including two recent books Beyond Sovereignty and The Cube Unlike All Others.  His website was updated with new material as recently as March, 2014.  (His website used to have a great essay on gender, which seems to have been taken down, and may be part of one of the new books.)  He founded the New York Philosophy Corporation, where he taught courses. Continue reading “RIP, D. G. Leahy (1937-2014)”

Call for manuscripts and new book series announcement: INTERSECTIONS: Theology and the Church in a World Come of Age

Series Announcement:

Intersections: Theology and the Church in a World Come of Age

Published by  Noesis Press (Davies Group, Publishers)

Description:

Theological discourse typically teeters between obscure, abstract thinking suitable only for academics and direct “how-to” writing: how to preach, how to evangelize, how to educate children and adults into the faith, how to lead for financial stability, how to teach happy relationships.  Obviously, neither the abstract nor the practical are unnecessary or unfruitful; however, creative, constructive theological voices fruitfully inhabiting the in-between spaces of the abstract and instructional, who engage and converse with the practical aspects of church life have become rare.  Furthermore, theological writing which inhabits this liminal space is sorely needed in our secularized and secularizing world, vital to those seeking a “metapoietic” condition in a post-Christendom world—one that takes seriously the Gospel, the church, and the world “come of age” in science, technology, literature, and the arts.

The titles in the forthcoming Intersections series are envisioned to be short monographs or edited collections which offer fresh and bold perspectives on theology, practical theology, church practice, and religious issues beyond organized religion, by individuals with clear commitments to and entrenchments in the academy and religious assembly.  Of particular interest to the series are short monographs which introduce important figures in academic theology or philosophy to a pastoral or seminarian audience with clear application for religious life, or collaborative works between clergy and academics.  Intersections series titles will be written for scholarly clergy and seminarians, for those who take academic theology and religious life seriously, who welcome and are searching for theological thinking and writing that refuses to rehash old mistakes, blindly retreat into doctrine, or insult its audience. Continue reading “Call for manuscripts and new book series announcement: INTERSECTIONS: Theology and the Church in a World Come of Age”

Where are all the women?

 

I was recently the respondent to a presentation by Dr Mathew Guest of the findings of his recent co-authored report (with Sonya Sharma and Robert Song) on gender and career progression in Theology and Religious Studies departments in the UK (Spoiler: it’s not good); he asked me to make my response available online, and so I’m posting it here in the hope that it might spark some useful discussions.

The presentation I was responding to was at the 2014 meeting of the Society for the Study of Theology in Durham, UK. I was asked to be the respondent at the last minute, the day before the seminar, because when the programme was released, Kate Tomas pointed out that the session looked like this:

Image Continue reading “Where are all the women?”

Are You Dead Yet? Reflections on a ‘Good Friday Faith’

I looked in the mirror and said to myself, ‘Have you had enough? Are you dead yet?’ (Alexi Laiho, lead singer of Children of Bodom)

I recently came across this Good Friday sermon by Kim Fabricius, over at Faith and Theology. I felt a shudder of recognition. For this is just the kind of thing I would once have lapped up. Hell, it is just the kind of thing I once preached. So forgive a little post-Easter catharsis.

The sermon fits into a particular genre, soaked in the pathos of The Crucified God. And it deploys a certain tactic: what Anthony Paul Smith dubs ‘weaponized apophaticism’.

I paraphrase: ‘Yes, the great critics of Christianity had a prophetic point. So much of what passes for Christian faith today is wish-fulfilment, a prosperity gospel worshipping a fantasy God. But beyond that, untouched by that complicity in capitalism, is the true God, the Good Friday God. A God who promises nothing, a God who, in the worlds of Rowan Williams “becomes recognised as God only at the place of extremity, where no answers seem to be given and God cannot be seen as the God we expect or understand”. Here, in the crucified Jesus, fantasy religion is overcome and we reach the real, beyond any concept.’

It is powerful. It has enough truth in it to be persuasive on some level.

But look at the supporting cast of characters. The Jew, chased out of Spain by the inquisition, who loses everything, then prays to God ‘You may torture me to death – and I will always believe in You, I will love You always and forever – even despite You’; the resistance fighter in the Warsaw ghetto, who in the face of defeat and the Shoah declares undying faith in God.

Judaism comes to the aid of Christianity, on the very Good Friday when the traditional liturgy basks in condemnation of the Jews. Oh, yes, Christians were complicit in that too, but look at the crucified Jesus . . .

I doubt if I am alone in seeing such rhetorical moves – however well meant – as being the worst kind of appropriation. Not least because the very purpose of them is to indemnify ‘Good Friday Faith’: or, ‘Christianity as it was meant to be, as it always secretly was, despite all appearances’. Do Christians have the right to enlist inquisition or holocaust as witnesses to Christ? To feed on Judaism to keep the Cross safe?

Perhaps less obviously, though more fatally, what shines through this whole endeavour is the image of a monstrous God, one who is recognised only at the extremity where we are abandoned and even tortured by God. Faith is proved as our flesh is stretched over this impassable gulf between us and God. No accusation will ever stick against him. If he were to appear as the worst sadist, it would show his love all the more.

So, we are told, ‘we wait’. We wait, stretched over the rack. And that is the problem. This is a theology defined by its obsession with what will come. Are you dead yet? Not yet, not yet. A theology of hope, that keeps us always in suspense, always the living dead.

I’m not sure we really need this theology of the not yet, of saving death. I would rather we defied death and everything that pretends to justify it, including the hidden victim-torturer God beloved of contemporary theology

Are you dead yet? No. I have had enough.