Thursday, October 23, 2008

Oh God

There's a café in my neighborhood that I like a lot. It's volunteer run, organic, etc... seemingly a haven for exactly the sort of latté-sipping, west coast, vegetarian elitist that am I. What's strange about it is that almost every conversation I overhear is about Bible study or church or some sort of thing. Nearly every woman I've seen in here, regardless of age, is married (many of the men are too).

As you surely know, my relationship to religion has been mercurial. The first moment that found me strongly distancing myself from Christianity was in reading Woolf's The Voyage Out. Her dismissive attitude toward Christians, coupled with her progressive politics and dismal view on European society propelled me toward secularism in ways that Nietzsche could not have. Subsequently, through a developing relationship with what is broadly referred to as French Post-structuralism--specifically Deleuze, Derrida and Irigaray--as well as some of their American interpreters--Spivak and Buttler--my mistrust of religion has become more sophisticated (which is only to say, more complicated and better articulated).

Most briefly, I'm suspicious of the "flying phallus in the sky" theory. It seems to me dangerous to presuppose a transcendent (sublime) authority that rearticulates, on a higher level, just the sort of control and domination that perpetuates models of colonial and domestic violence. I do not mean that God is necessarily an overtly abusive authority: clearly this is more the case in some Christianities than it is in others, and, following my unhealthy urge toward abstraction, I would like to momentarily erase these differences in the interest of thinking about Christianity more generally. I do mean, however, that the relationship established between God and Man [sic] mirrors problematically the relationship between Man and his family. God loves you unconditionally, but has laid out a detailed list of rules designed to restrict your behavior. When you break these rules, you will be punished, unless you atone--that is, unless you re-prostrate yourself before the law. God is discipline. He is the machine in the Penal Colony. He is the Father. I paint with too broad a brush when I say that Freud's theory of the family, with all the Oedipal problematics, works just as well to describe religion as it does to explain family dynamics, but the clumsy tracing is illustrative, nonetheless.

Underlying this is both my feminism and my anarchism--where my Marxism lies will need to be worked out still: are politico-economic equality and resource distribution contradictory? Indeed it may be that my affection for Irigaray-style feminism requires a sort of Deleuzian anarchism. Following Foucault, but with a greater attention to impossibility and nuance, Deleuze traces the genealogy of God in the West to the same problems of control (his word is fascism) that inform and are reinscribed by Plato and his descendants. "God is a lobster." God is the double-articulation of form and content. I would go further and say that God requires as an epistemological foundation the segregation of matter and form/content, and that the way to (a post-humanist) ethics is through the deconstruction of the metaphysical dualism that undergirds far more than just our religions. It expresses itself most crudely in discourses on authenticity (where is the real America?). We might lament the divisive politics of the Right, but continuing to perform the dualisms of religion makes us in some significant way complicit.

I'm getting out of hand a bit, and think maybe I should wrap it up. (Aside: if you can't drink your tea without slurping, don't order tea in a shared space.)

What I'm looking to do here is explore a little why I'm disturbed by being around groups of religious people. I think it worth clarifying, because of the pre-supposedly antagonistic relationship between theists and nontheists, that while I may lament and even occasionally lampoon the individual decision to adopt a theistic position, I don't see anything necessarily unethical about such a decision (anymore). Indeed, so long as the theism is of the unevangelical sort, it seems to me a personal choice, and surely only one of many that any given individual may make which necessitates complicity in the phallocracy. But, as Derrida has demonstrated, we cannot help but be complicit. We ought to do what we can to strive for the ethical, but for each of us there will be certain complicities which are strategic. Thus membership in a church can also facilitate charity work and community development--though this last is itself problematic when the politics of religion help to define what a community is.

Strategy is what makes me uneasy in dismissing religion. Examples both positive and negative of how membership in a religious community can facilitate activism and change can be found quite easily, and it seems to me that these resultant activities--which need not necessarily be traditionally classified as activisms--are what is of greatest importance.

Myself, I remain skeptical of the need for a religious base for any such activities, but having not participated in them myself, it would be too theoretical to dismiss them out of hand.

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