The first thing to be said about political theology is the discipline, the field, the style, still lacks consensus about what it is, what kind of thing it is, and what it’s good for—if it is good for anything. For me, political theology always represents the danger of the immanent Spirit within theology. It is as dangerous as it is powerful: unpredictable and yet very easy to manipulative precisely it was what was most human about theology. Political theology moves people because it speaks directly to our fear, joy, and longing.
A host of voices in the discipline have linked political theology to liberal democracy and its woes. Jeff Robbins, Clayton Crockett, Paul W. Kahn and others are good representatives of this trend. In Force of God, Carl Raschke joins them, but in a much more self-consciously Marxian way. He recognizes that political theology is about value, and so fundamentally about political economy. He laments “the Great Separation,” not of the political from the religious, but of the theoretical from economic thinking. And for those wondering just what Rashcke might mean by theory, he’s quite clear from the beginning: it’s about ontology, grounding—genealogy.
Long time readers of Raschke will recognize the Nietszchean elements that immediately present themselves in Force of God. And yet it is Hegel—and the nifty reworking of Hegelian dialectics in Derrida—that really offer the energy of the project. The “force of God” is not so much about “the divine” as it is the animating principle that undergirds the possibility of the demos itself: the explosive assemblage of sovereignty as it is dispersed through the multitude of political subjects.
What is the effect of the force of God on theology? What does it to the work of real politics?
The contributors to this symposium offer rich, challenging, and at times, sharp analysis of Raschke’s ideas of Force of God. Michael Grimshaw highlights the way Raschke calls for “the need for politics after political theology, not political theology as the end but rather as entrance into ‘real politics’ (xv).” This politics is without doubt a revolutionary and insurrectionist one that see the crisis of the liberal democracy as an opportunity to reinstall the demos in the place of the bureaucratic and institutional state.
Tim Snediker explores the crisis of liberal democracy as the point of departure of Force of God. Emphasizing the genealogical focus on values over meanings, Snediker is interested in the question of how religious political theology is, especially if we think of the Force theologically (as Raschke wants us to). For him, “the question is, instead: is political theology, properly speaking, a religious discourse? Or, to put the question rather bluntly: Is Christianity a religion?”
Yannik Thiem wonders about the function of genealogy in Force of God. If, as Raschke says in his response to Thiem, that “political theology must become genealogy,” Thiem prefers civil theologies that help the theorization of identities and the proliferation of representative politics that critique culture. Thiem’s disagreement with Raschke, in the end, is not about the politics of citation or inclusion, but rather that the critique of identity politics that Raschke engages in misses the critical contribution that “the force of the religious” can offer political theology in the first place. Thiem queries:
My sense is that Force of God in how it frames “force” and “value” actually has a systematic place for thinking through the various vectors of racial, gender, queer, ableness, colonial differentiation in ways that resist the often quick subsumption of these vectors into “biopolitics” or “difference in general.
You will want to see how Raschke responds to that, trust me.
Joseph Winters agrees that the current political conditions spell something of a crisis for liberal democracy. In other words, it’s bad out there right now, and this gets attention because of the ways that “horrifying expressions of power, thoughtlessness, and indifference in our current juncture” are affecting those whose economic and racial power previously isolated them from the acute experience of this expression. And yet, “border thinking” (to draw on Raschke’s treatment of Walter Mignolo’s work on coloniality and indigeneity) challenges the boundaried character of Western thinking and the way that character has kept forms of thinking — liberal democracy for example — sequestered from broader colonial and racial stories.
More to the point, racial hierarchies that legitimate anti-black violence and settler projects—from classic forms of dispossessing indigenous land to contemporary practices of gentrification—have always been intertwined with liberal democracies.
And so maybe it’s not such a bad thing that liberal democracy is in crisis. Perhaps that runs the risk of focusing on the wrong problem at the hard of our social order. After all, as Winters goes on to say, “crisis language can deflect attention from the intractable fact that any social order is always a state of emergency for the tradition of the oppressed.”