The Puppet Called Theology

Today, when the historical materialist analysis is receding, practiced as it were under cover, rarely called by its proper name, while the theological dimension is given a new lease on life in the guise of the "postsecular" Messianic turn of deconstruction, the time has come to reverse Walter Benjamin's first thesis on the philosophy of history: "The puppet called 'theology' is to win all the time. It can easily be a match for anyone if it enlists the service of historical materialism, which today, as we know, is wizened and has to keep out of sight."

One possible definition of modernity is: the social order in which religion is no longer fully integrated into and identified with a particular cultural life-form, but acquires autonomy, so that it can survive as the same religion in different cultures. This extraction enables religion to globalize itself (there are Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists everywhere today); on the other hand, the price to be paid is that religion is reduced to a secondary epiphenomenon with regard to the secular functioning of the social totality. In this new global order, religion has two possible roles: therapeutic or critical. It either helps individuals to function better in the existing order, or it tries to assert itself as a critical agency articulating what is wrong with this order as such, a space for the voices of discontent—in this second case, religion as such tends toward assuming the role of a heresy. The contours of this deadlock were outlined by Hegel; sometimes, we find in his work something I am tempted to call a "downward synthesis": after the two opposed positions, the third one, the Aufhebung of the two, is not a higher synthesis bringing together what is worth maintaining in the other two, but a kind of negative synthesis, the lowest point. Here are three outstanding examples:

• In the "logic of judgment," the first triad of the "judgment of existence" (positive-negative-infinite judgment) culminates in the "infinite judgment": God is not red, a rose is not an elephant, understanding is not a table—these judgments are, as Hegel puts it, "accurate or true, as one calls them, but nonsensical and in bad taste."1

• Twice in Phenomenology of Spirit. First apropos of phrenology, in which the whole dialectic of the "observing Reason" culminates in the infinite judgment "the Spirit is a bone."2

Then, at the end of the chapter on Reason, in the passage to Spirit as history, where we have the triad of the "law-giving Reason," the "law-testing Reason," and the Reason that accepts its impenetrable foundation. It is only by accepting the positivity of the law as its ultimate given background that we pass to history proper. The passage to history proper occurs when we assume the failure of Reason reflectively to ground the laws that regulate the life of a people.3

And it seems that the three modes of religion with which Glauben undWissen and other early theological writings deal4 form the same triad:

• The "people's religion [Vblksreligion]"—in Ancient Greece, religion was intrinsically bound up with a particular people, its life and customs. It required no special reflexive act of faith: it was simply accepted.

• The "positive religion"—imposed dogmas, rituals, rules, to be accepted because they are prescribed by an earthly and/or divine authority (Judaism, Catholicism).

• The "religion of Reason"—what survives of religion when positive religion is submitted to the rational critique of Enlightenment.There are two modes: Reason or Heart—either the Kantian dutiful moralist, or the religion of pure interior feeling (Jacobi, etc.). Both dismiss the positive religion (rituals, dogmas) as superficial historically conditioned ballast. Crucial here is the inherent reversal of Kant into Ja-cobi, of universalist moralism into pure irrational contingence of feeling—that is to say, this immediate coincidence of opposites, this direct reversal of reason into irrational belief.

Again, the passage from one moment to the next is clear: first, (the people's) religion loses its organic Naturwuchsigkeit, it changes into a set of "alienated"—externally imposed and contingent—rules; then, logically, the authority of these rules is to be questioned by our Reason. . . . What, however, would constitute the step further that would break the deadlock of universalist moralism and abstract feeling converting directly into each other? There is no clear solution. Why do we need religion at all in our modern times? The standard answer is: rational philosophy or science is esoteric, confined to a small circle; it cannot replace religion in its function of capturing the imagination of the masses, and thus serving the purposes of moral

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