Saturday, May 4, 2013
I posted yesterday about the first part of my talk, ‘Positioning Pyrotheology’, which focused on some of the radical theology, atheology and a/theology that has influenced Pete Rollins’ wider theological project.
Photo of Ikon’s 2009 Greenbelt performance, ‘Pyrotheology’, from pyrotheology website.
Talking later with someone at the retreat, they asked me why they needed to know this background, and it made me think about why I had chosen to present it. Obviously, I did so partly because that was what Pete had asked me to do. But I also realised that my desire to present some of this history reveals my own preoccupation with reading Pete’s work for information.
As a researcher exploring the impact of continental philosophy and radical theology on everyday religious discourse and practice, I spend most of my time reading for information, tracking the influence of philosophical and theological ideas on the work of people like Pete. But, as I talked about in this other post here, this often means that I miss the ways in which his writing aims at transformation and not information.
So when I reflected on how I’d structured my talk, I realised that I’d focused in the first half on information - on the theological and philosophical heritage of pyrotheology – but had spoken in the second half about the transformative potential that I see in Pete’s work.
Positioning pyrotheology philosophically, I charted a trajectory from Nietzsche’s declaration of the event of God’s death to various theologies, atheologies and a/theologies of the event of God – which you can hear echo in Pete’s pyrotheological project. Positioning pyrotheology politically, however, I then traced the ways in which it has been influenced by what I call philosophies of identity suspension that can be found in the work of figures like Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek, who see in Paul’s Letters a new form of universalism.
In Galatians 3.28, Paul writes, ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female’.
In one of his chapters for Church in the Present Tense, Pete writes that this verse is at its core a form of identity that ‘cuts across political, cultural, and biological divisions, one that involves the laying down of such identities’ (p. 23):
There is neither high church nor low church, Fox nor CNN, citizen nor alien, capitalist nor communist, gay nor straight, beautiful nor ugly, East nor West, theist nor atheist, Israeli nor Palestinian, hawk nor dove, American nor Iraqi, married nor divorced, uptown nor downtown, terrorist nor freedom fighter, priest nor prophet, fame nor obscurity, Christian nor non-Christian, for all are made on in Christ Jesus (p. 24).
Pete speaks of churches as suspended spaces, in which participants’ identities, including their religious identities, are left ‘at the door’ to create a space of ‘neither/nor’, in which they can explore a different mode of social relation and through which they hope to transform social and political practices outside these liturgical spaces. It is imagined that this suspension of identity can offer a different vision of social, political and economic life in the West – what Pete calls ‘a theatrical performance of that Messianic time when all will be equal’ (The Fidelity of Betrayal, p. 178).
The practice of suspended space is charged with political potential by a philosophy of identity suspension that can be found in the work of contemporary thinkers like, Badiou and Žižek.