Monday, 30 June 2008

What next?

I've been contemplating the next direction to take in my masters. Through some curious administration constraints I am once again in a position to direct my own study towards the final goal. But ah-hah! we must ask what the goal is.

I've long said that I'm working towards a materialist theology. This much is true, but I need to define what I mean by that. First of all, this materialism is informed as much by physicalism as it is by Marx, perhaps a little more so. I am mostly convinced that everything supervenes on the physical. There are no phenomena that contradict the physical laws of the universe. That is not to say that the articulation of physical laws we use now is perfect or complete, but rather that these laws are fundamental to the universe. The influence of Marx builds on this, and suggests to me that the most powerful forces in human history are social, economic and political.

So what to do with theology? I think there are two possible paths for future research. One is to develop a metaphysical model of how God relates to a physical universe. This model must not contradict the laws of physics, and to really top it off, should try to supervene on them. That's a hard ask, and almost equivalent to proving how it is that we know the earth to be banana-shaped. The other possible path is to pursue an epistemological investigation into truth. It is one thing to propose the form of truth (Badiou) but it is quite another to argue how it is that something is true. Assertion is a problem, as is revelation. The problem is that God, by all traditional definitions, is intangible and vulnerable to speculation. Perhaps it is as Badiou suggests, that the correct answer is anti-philosophy: pure, militant assertion outside the realm of proof.

At this stage there are no answers, just a question about which way to direct my next research.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Newsflash: Capitalism is evil

Something that I don't often write about in this blog is what I do for a living. For the sake of keeping my worlds separate, I don't intend to make this a habit. It is also for the sake of keeping my side of my employment contract. However, there are some things about which I can write without saying too much.

My employer is a multinational firm that has had a lot of damaging press. Most of this poor press is related to corruption on the part of various executives, managers, sales people and intermediaries who have engaged in all manner of terrible business practices, including bribery, price fixing and market sharing. For all of these things the company is either being investigated or has already been prosecuted and fined - it's all a matter of public record.

One of the consequences of this is that all employees within a certain demographic are required to attend a session each year on compliance and ethical behaviour. In this session the truth of capitalism is exposed, quite unashamedly. There are just two points that I want to share. The first is the reason that ethical behaviour is expected: because it costs a lot of money to be unethical. Case after case is brought forward to show that the direct result of unethical behaviour is a hit to the bottom line. Just the first Powerpoint slide alone adds up to about 40MUSD in fines or litigation. The evil of capitalism is exposed here because it converts ethical behaviour into money. Money, the general equivalent that is useful in trading cotton for corn, etc., is so entirely general that it can even be exchanged for an ethical value. Once that equivalence has been established, it also means that money can be used to procure ethical values. It is entirely consistent with capitalism that money be used to procure certain kinds of behaviour (i.e., through bribes) and also that money be used to measure behaviour (i.e., the consequence of the bribe being prosecuted). The justification for “good” behaviour is money, rather than any other moral or ethical reason.

The second was a comment by the presenter that the reason for the corporation to exist is to make money - and that safety, the environment and social responsibility are secondary to that. If pressed on the issue, I'm sure that he would have argued that without profit, the company cannot do anything, let alone something “good.” His argument would have been flawed. If profit is more important than safety, the environment or social responsibility then it is permissible to ignore safety, the environment and social responsibility for the sake of profit. Using that logic, I could put someone's life at risk in order to make money so that I could avoid putting someone's life at risk.

Capitalism is, in two small examples, exposed for what it truly is: pure predation. It is the accumulation of money for the sake of money. The accumulation creates its own standards which exist only to justify itself. This relentless pursuit is the oppression of our time. It is the root of many kinds of evil, without question, and it has already conquered the world. Sell what you have, and give it to the poor. Give, and expect nothing in return.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Badiou - A Conclusion

This is a straight copy and paste from the conclusion of my recent paper on Badiou.

Badiou’s philosophy is complex in its presentation, but ultimately simple in its primary thesis. His assertion that ontology is mathematics is clear, but has wide ranging implications. It is also not a thesis that has gained widespread acceptance among philosophers or mathematicians. Nevertheless it represents his commitment to a pure philosophy, free from the sutures to immediate actuality in politics, art, love or science. From a theological viewpoint, there is more work to be done to apply this thesis to theology. Such a project would surely assist Christianity to shed itself of many of the elements that have crept in and become part of an all encompassing populist Christianity, leaving exposed once again the radical break that the Christian gospel makes with the world.

This break with the world, this theory of the Event, is at the heart of Badiou’s work. In L’Organisation Politique, and in his subsequent books, the theory of the Event arises again and again to provide context. The introduction of the new into the world is necessary for change. Without it, the situation is not truly changed, but is merely rearranged with little effect, creating only the appearance of change. For change to occur, the Event must happen and the truth of that event must seize individuals so that they, with the courage of the conviction in that truth, become militants who effect the changes necessary to bring into being a new world that they have glimpsed in the Event itself.

Badiou’s writing about the militant speaks predominantly about the single militant, the one who is seized by the truth. With some prodding, it is apparent that Badiou has in mind something more widespread and organised: the group. Groups of militants are subject to internal plurality, hypocrisy, fraud and division. They need to be organised and managed, and their interventions need to be defined. This is the kind of “requisite severity” that one first thinks is necessary to protect the group against the weariness of prolonged fidelity. However, taking that path is enough to overwhelm the group and drive it towards Evil. It is tantamount to legislating morality, forcing obedience, applying violence in the quest to totalise the truth. It is also unnecessary. The development of the transliteral law, a guiding principle by which the individuals discern fidelity, is a necessary step to unify the group. That law creates a touchstone for the militants and also defines space for the militants to have differences of opinion. That which is central to the group is fidelity to the Event, and the rest is peripheral. No group can maintain the Good without this structure.

These ideas of evental unity find friendship in the work of Bonhoeffer. The unity of Spirit over the identicality of action is key. Bonhoeffer creates his theology of the church around the unity of the Spirit, a unity for those who are “in Christ” and therefore in the church. For Bonhoeffer, being “in Christ” is the same as being in the church, because the church is Christ. That is not to say that the church is merely the representative of Christ, or the agents of Christ – the church is Christ, the group as collective person. God is in the world as Christ the church. Bonhoeffer’s concept of unity aligns with Badiou’s, but Bonhoeffer takes the veracity of the Event seriously and draws his conclusion.

So to insist on the veracity of the Christian Event, following the formal conditions as Badiou has laid them down, results in a picture of the church that requires a radical understanding of God. It is necessary to accept Badiou’s conditions that the militant is formed out of fidelity to the Event, and that this fidelity is guided in it actualisation by the transliteral law. It is necessary to accept that the Christian militant acts out of conviction and towards the actualisation of a new world. Because of the veracity of the Event, the next step through Bonhoeffer is the acceptance that Christ is the church as collective person, the actual materiality of God as unified by the Spirit. And the last, radical turn necessitated by accepting the veracity of the Christian Event in the formal conditions of Badiou is the ultra-Pauline view that it is only in the Christian Event that God now exists.

Badiou’s philosophy is an important contribution to secular philosophy and politics. Whether he acknowledges it or not, it also makes an important contribution to theology and contemporary Christian praxis.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Badiou, Done

I've finished my work on Badiou, for now. It was quite interesting to take his philosophy and plug it back into the ecclesiological context, even though he and most Badiou scholars would not care a whit for it. In brief, however, as soon as we take Paul's claim seriously (and Badiou doesn't) then we find a lot of common ground with Bonhoeffer, and are confronted with a model of God that is entirely New (I use this word deliberately, in the context of Badiou's work) and still very Christian.

The conclusion of the last essay found its way to here as a blog post, so I may yet do the same with this one when the peer review comes back. It'll be a long post, though.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Who loves whom?

The phrase "I love you" functions in a strange way. One person says it to another to convey affection and desire. "I love you" means only that "I find you appealing" or "I feel happy when you are near" or something similar. It is an expression of opinion and emotion and has an important role to play in the amorous relationship.

However, there is another side of "I love you" that is unspoken and perhaps not widely considered. It should be considered as an observation of action, rather than an expression of feeling. The lover who sets aside a promotion at work so that they can look after the beloved has performed an act of love. The lover who cares for the sick beloved by preparing meals, buying medicine, etc., has performed acts of love. In this way, the phrase should be said as "I loved you" or even better, "I loved you today."

Love, after all, is no less than choice that has become action. Love, if limited only to a state of emotion, is fickle and representative only of response to another. There is a place for that kind of love in the world, but by itself will not overcome difficulties and evils.

Perhaps the pinnacle of "I love you" is to say the subjective opposite. That is, "You love me." This is not a selfish or narcissistic statement, but rather one of humility. Occasionally one might hear it in the form, "Thank you for loving me" but this is gratitude. To say to someone, "You love me" or even "you loved me" is not a measure of ego or self-aggrandisement. It is an observation of the selfless acts of another, directed wholly towards the beloved.