Category Archives: Meillassoux

Meillassoux ‘on religion’

Putting together my paper on Meillassoux and Latour for the upcoming Varieties of Continental Thought and Religion conference in Toronto, I’ve been thinking a lot about the way Meillassoux characterizes religion – that is, I’ve spent a lot of time frustrated by the way Meillassoux mischaracterizes religion. It has occurred to me, though (and maybe this is just obvious? at any rate, it seems important to note), that Meillassoux would have a very hard time making his philosophical case concerning the divine inexistence if he didn’t (mis)characterize religion the way he does.

First of all, there seem to be a number of interrelated assumptions that he makes (some of them aren’t even stated explicitly, while others are stated but not well argued for). There’s the overall assumption at the core of his project that in all cases immanence is preferable to transcendence – i.e., reference to any transcendent being or concept is philosophically unacceptable. OK, this more or less follows from the argument in After Finitude, and it has become generally accepted for a number of reasons anyway. But then the more particular assumptions regarding religion come, including:

  • religion necessarily involves reference to transcendence
  • religion involves, specifically, the conception of a necessary Supreme Being
  • religion involves belief in an account of the creation of the world by such a Supreme Being
  • religion conceives of its Supreme Being as by nature unthinkable by humans
  • religion is essentially irrational
  • religion is to be avoided at all costs

Yet, since Meillassoux’s concept of God, the hope for a coming world of justice, and the figure of a divine mediator bear so much in common with common (Abrahamic) religious themes – as has been pointed out elsewhere – he actually has to do some work to distinguish his position from that of what he calls religion. In order to bring his own position is sharper relief, he needs this caricature of religion. It seems that his idea of hope for the world of justice is a purely immanent, philosophical hope only because religious hope is necessarily hope for that which we cannot think, faith in a God who is necessarily an inscrutable, authoritative Supreme Being; the immortality that religion desires is the immortality of an other life, not this life. If it turns out, though, that religion isn’t what Meillassoux thinks it is, his position collapses into a fairly traditional theological one (or, if not traditional, at least not novel and not irreligious). In other words, here’s something that’s ripe for deconstruction.

(Who knows, though; the revised and completed version of The Divine Inexistence might fix all of this…)