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.
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