“Birth of God” Theology Needs to Die

I’m going to throw out a wild confession:  I do not understand “birth of God” theologians. I do not understand what they are trying to pull. How is it that these people can be so well-versed in critical theory and the like, and arrive at the conclusion that they should maintain the concept of God?

How does one go about reading Deleuze, or Derrida, or Marx, or Freud, or Nietzsche, or whoever and think, “You know what, it seems sensible to completely miss the point of all of this”? It is mesmerizingly facetious. Of course, having a discipline utilise this sort of thought is admirable and interesting—but if one is serious it seems only reasonable that one would let these thinkers truly affect the discipline. “Birth of God” theologians are afraid to do this.

LeRon Shults, in his book, Theology After the Birth of God, notes what “birth of God” theologians only half recognise: that gods are born and borne. The “birth of God” theologian wants a resurrection of the concept of God after the death of God—raising the ghost of the discourse, to attempt to let it connote the contingency and possibility that underwrites and is to come in all moments. God (an event) may be born, as a call (a possibility), in any moment. Fair enough—but inane and redundant.

Theology After the Birth of God wants to bring that contingency and write it all over the concept of God: gods are born and borne. Which is to say: gods are human inventions (born) that are passed on (borne) in and through evolutionary and social paradigms. Embracing this reality fractures the tenability of seriously talking about gods. It forces the question: Why—in the name of God—are we still talking about gods? We know that finite and infinite supernatural and supranatural agents are neither relevant or logically possible, so why do we maintain the façade that talking about them is anything but pernicious; that maintaining this discourse is flatly disingenuous, and immensely problematic?

It is problematic because the discourse surrounding gods—that is, super- or supranatural agents—is embedded in evolutionary processes that activate exclusionary and protective biological strategies. This cannot be understood in a totalising sense, because the process itself is fluid in content, and contingent at its core; but it exists all the same. This is not a critique that raises religion or theology as an edifice that is malevolent at its core—there have been and are iconoclastic trajectories present the world over, the “birth of God” theologians are in some sense this—but it is one that is acutely aware of the fabricated nature of theology. This is vital, because if one will not see this through, iconoclastic trajectories are all too easily co-opted by dominant confessional strategies—something prevalent among “birth of God” theologians—as this only serves to elevate and underscore exclusionary, racist, sexist, fascist structures based on what is known to be a fiction. This is a problem Shults is clear about:

As long as attempts to alter religious conceptions are bound up within religious “families of origin,” they will continue to activate theogonic mechanisms and intensify folk’s detection of supernatural agents who can grant everlasting affective and collective security to their kith and kin. (Theology After the Birth of God, 42)

“Birth of God” theologians raise and refer to the discourse surrounding God as one that is interested in using “God” as a “nickname” for something else, attempting to follow more thoroughly an iconoclastic, apophatic line—but when you do not name that for which you nickname “God”, you are calling it God. Which means, as surely as gods are born, as you resurrect them, you are not simply resurrecting and bearing God (or whatever God names)—that is, seeing God borne—but bearing, raising, and extending the histories and linguistics of exclusion, oppression, imperialism, and more linked to that name—each of which are rooted in and sustained by hardcoded evolutionary processes, fostered in and motivated by reactionary, violent, exclusionary behaviours. Additionally, were this not bad enough, it all indeed serves to legitimate and further the life of the dominant ecclesiastical and theological confessional language, which does not have such an ironic relationship to the history we have spoken of.

As such there is a rank naiveté active among “birth of God” theologians. It is assumed that the vocabulary and discourse surrounding God can be reactivated without re-inscribing and maintaining the behaviours the discourse is founded upon—which it seeks to do by actively extending that discourse! And even more: it seeks to do this ironically, as it has de-essentialised the language it uses; never making this patently clear to the confessional masses who will pay attention.

In sum, “birth of God” theologians are riddled with antagonisms, antagonisms founded in an ahistorical, ironical relationship to study and language, all of which fail to understand the social and biological codes it gives birth to and carries when it resurrects its god. While to some extent understanding and witnessing the reconstructions/renaming or aporias set in metaphysics; and the deep analyses of political economy, psychology, and historical genealogy that show just how fully imbricated theology is among systems of oppression, imperialism, and colonialism; “birth of God” theologians pass this over based on the misbegotten notion that the very name which is the greatest problem is the solution, that our need for genuine novelty conceptually and socially is somehow achieved by extending an essentially, but by no means socially or historically, vacuous name—God.

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