Recognising No Other World: Radical Theology as Truth Procedure

One of the things that keeps Christianity, as well as the wider field of religion more generally, interesting to me is the potential both have to be mobilised within Alain Badiou’s category of a “truth procedure”. A truth procedure isn’t interested in specific details of what some claims as a “truth”—in terms, for example, of say a relation to objective, scientifically verifiable events or whatever—but is best thought of as a process that people attempt to realise, that which people attempt to make true. It is a great failure of thought that we are unable to see the truth of a construction, that truth is always a construction. As Roland Boer asked rightly, recently, “Since when is a construct unreal?”

Badiou writes, on this,

A truth is something that exists in its active process, which manifests itself, as truth, in different circumstances marked by this process. (The Rebirth of History, 87)

In this way we ask, “Within the struggle against global capitalism, for the rights of workers, against systemic racism and its expression in police brutality and injustice, in advancing the fight of women and LGBTQ people to live as they would have themselves live in society, what and how might Christianity place itself in relation to and take up these struggles within itself as a truth procedure? How might they become true within Christianity? How might Christianity become true within them?”

Where in Badiou people are seized by an Idea, the truth of which is realised in the struggle for it; we might see this applying to Christianity in terms of its associating itself with the “Idea” that motivates the struggles of others and how this Idea is used to rupture Christianity itself.

Within this I feel Radical Theology—based on some thoughts I’ve had upon finishing Altizer and Hamilton’s Radical Theology and the Death of God—places itself quite strongly. Radical Theology is a strong demonstration of Christianity being seized by a truth procedure, “Radical theology is… an attempt to set an atheist point of view within the spectrum of Christian possibilities” (ix). How might one think atheism within Christianity? By reading Christianity vis-à-vis the notion of the death of God, and the consequences that truth has for the contemporary life.

Thomas J. J. Altizer, in the book I just quoted, apropos William Blake, would highlight for us the inescapability of experience (183), putting forward that life is too over-determined by the immanence of our contemporary situation to find appeals to transcendence compelling or sufficient. In this way Christianity would be mute, dead, were it not possible to think the consequences of this immanence within it. While for Altizer the contemporary situation has a seemingly overbearing individualist, subjectivist, existential streak, I find it more compelling is to situate this reconsideration of Christianity within the context of the aforementioned struggles.

Forward movement, repetition forwards, is key to Altizer’s thinking of Christianity through the death of God. Insofar as this is the key direction of a truth procedure, we might be wise to think them together.

For Altizer, all notable movements in theology and religion, in a robustly pejorative sense, have been movements calling for a return to something past—the profane should return to the sacred, the secular must again become religious, the fallen should be redeemed to a past form. Yet, there is, for Altizer, no return backwards, no return that does not wholly dissolve the reality and actuality of the profane, the secular, the fallen. Christianity is better served not in seeing God protected from these states vis. transcendence (classical theological categories and mysticism), or in some way internalising them so as to make them commensurable with divine life (as so much progressive Christianity), but in fully realising the consequences of God’s dissolution into said states—and letting both, God and the world be ruptured by the other.

The movement forward is thus the means by which this transformation, or sublimation, occurs. Following the Incarnation, Altizer sees God fully united with the world and life in it. One cannot name any group, any struggle, any state “fallen” or “profane” in a pejorative, moralised sense; for God having negated Godself, having becoming immanent, has become conjoined with that struggle.

When the Incarnation is understood as a descent into the concrete, or as a movement from a primordial and unfallen sacred to an actually fallen profane, then it cannot be conceived as not affecting a supposedly eternal Godhead, or as being a static or unchanging extension of the God who is the transcendence of Being. Nor for that matter can and understanding of the Incarnation as a process of repetition allow the Incarnation to be confined to a once and for all event of the past. (152)

The Blake who declares that God is Jesus (laocoon engraving) is the Blake who envisioned an experience that is totally fallen and totally human at once. Jesus is the name of the God who has become totally incarnate in experience—even unto death—and has been consummated in the advent of “The Great Humanity Divine”. (183)

A group, a struggle cannot anything but itself, because God may be imagined to be one with it as it is. Past realities cannot be reconstituted, because what is past is irrevocably so. It is in the forward movement that Christianity becomes and discovers itself, and this becoming is tied inherently to the historical situation it finds itself in, Radical Theology identifies God only as present immanently.

As opposed to the backward movement of the religious expressions of mysticism, a Christian repetition forward beyond the death of a primordial or original sacred to an eschatological coincidentia oppositorum that reconciles and unites the sacred and profane. (151)

All talk of “God” here should, of course, be taken with a grain of salt. The existence or inexistence of such a being is functionally irrelevant. The historical estimations granted to the name and how they have been deployed and the power they have among people is what is paramount. As such, this name must be related and informed by a culture that has experienced the death of God. The historical and dogmatic trappings cannot remain untouched, the name must be reinvented, what it previously stood for can become something else — the centre cannot hold — it can be transformed in the forward movement.

A theology which remains bound to the language and imagery of the New Testament must refuse the very thesis that the Incarnation is a forward movement or process. (152)

It is in this contingency that Christianity is opened to the potential of being thought with any and all struggles so often deemed incommensurable. Struggles that insist “God is Black”, or “God is queer”, or mobilise Christ in the name of radical opposition to capitalism, can be fully affirmed because this thinking of the Incarnation would locate Christianity within an ongoing and dynamic encounter with contemporary life.

It is in the cumulative power of thinking the Word and the person of Jesus Christ, thought together, that one sees the provocative nature of rigorously applying the energy of a forward repetition to what Christianity could be—especially as it thinks itself in relation to, and is thought by, contemporary life. What is the model we might fashion for ourselves out of the life of Christ for engaging life today? Under the auspices of Altizer’s rendering of the Incarnation—and the dissolution of categories such as ‘sacred and profane’ etc., as demonstrated in Christ’s teachings—what might become thought under the name of Christianity?

This immanentisation of eschatology within a forward moving repetition writes contingency within Christianity. It is itself a truth procedure, yet is itself lacking if it does not fully take up the struggle of the world it can no longer deny—for Radical Theology recognises no other world.

I must confess a rather pragmatic, almost cynical, outlook here. All this is done in the name of a truth procedure. Should that truth procedure not feel a need for a rethinking of Christianity, then it is entitled to realise itself on its own—God is dead after all.