Monday, 7 September 2009

OOO, Speculative Realism and Religion: some initial comments

It seems par for the course that most new schools of philosophy or philosophical movements eventually come under the scrutiny of theologians or philosophers of religion, typically either with the aim of hermeneutically mining them for resources, or else pursuing some form of critique or deconstruction because of their perceived danger or – perhaps more charitably – incoherence. So, my question is this, what is the market value of Speculative Realism and Object Oriented Ontology qua theological resources? I don’t expect to provide any quick answers to this question, although I will immediately express a hope and gut feeling that their theological currency will be low. Anticipating what I will develop in later posts, I will simply state that any metaphysical framework that jettisons ontological hierarchies is unlikely to be palatable to most theologies and/or monotheistic philosophies of religion. The flattening of the ontological terrain that is integral to OOO would seem to have no clear place for the ontologically super-charged deity of classical theism or indeed any similar beings. Even construed as some ϋber-object, God would be no more ontologically special than a coffee cup or a neutrino. The most provocative statement that Graham Harman makes in this regard is in Prince of Networks (2009: 214), wherein he notes that:

If someone took the gamble of an object-oriented theology, the omniscient God of monotheism might be abandoned in favor of something resembling Cthulhu, the
sleeping monstrosity of H.P. Lovecraft.
Now, while I am rather drawn to Graham’s challenge, I must simply state that he is probably correct. OOO cannot be reconciled with monotheistic deities as they stand; and, more than this, it probably cannot be reconciled with the theologies and philosophies of any of the major religious denominations or traditions of the world. Any wedding of OOO and theology would, I contend, have to take place within a rather special sacred space and would likely (1) be "weird" - prompting me to play with the term 'weird theology' alongside Graham’s term ‘weird realism’ - and/or (2) require a shotgun loaded with some exotic conceptual buckshot.

If one wishes to find any easy alliances between OOO and religion, one probably needs to consult the more ontologically democratic worldviews of animists (many of which can be interpreted in a broadly panpsychist terms), or else some forms of pantheism. However, I suspect that even with pantheists, including those of the process theological varieties, the subsequent alliance (or translation) would be rather odd and unpalatable. The pantheist deity would likely be, in Latourian parlance, a black box (and one could quite reasonably ask whether there are more of them, i.e. Gods/boxes all the way up); and, while this could lend itself to an interesting re-thinking of natural theology, the degree of fit would be questionable. Graham addresses some of his concerns with panpsychism in Prince of Networks (212-214) and I think that he hits the mark when he says that he doesn’t have too much too worry about anymore (apparently he had concerns in Guerrilla Metaphysics). OOO can I suspect be a useful complement to a panpsychism. He does, though, have worries about the pan- aspect of panpsychism because not all entities can have psychic life, only real objects. I am still thinking through some of these points viz. Graham’s metaphysic, but I did immediately think that animism might be suitably different to permit an interesting dialogue. Their may be an article here examining the crossover and possible alliances between Graham Harman’s OOO and Graham Harvey’s new animism, which usefully unpacks the worldviews of a numbers of indigenous peoples and their relations with other-than-human-persons. But nothing on this before I get a better grasp of OOO. Interestingly, though, Graham Harvey reads Latour too.

More of this later, at the moment I think the religious value of OOO is fairly limited and clear (either a distinctly weird theology or metaphysical underpinning for animism), while Speculative Realism is too diverse to offer useful comments on. Meillasoux clearly has some views about God that warrant unpacking.

No comments: