Religion as a philosophical battleground (Komel, Kaluža, Hergouth, Aumiller)

Chair: Jan Kostanjevec

The underlying premise of this panel is that philosophers have long understood that, as Marx once put it, »Religion is the general theory of this world […], its logic in popular form« and so that »religious suffering is […] the expression of real suffering and a protest against it.« Their interventions into religious discourse were thus always imbued with political aims. This panel will attempt to extract certain lessons from a history of such interventions spanning from the rationalists through German idealism and to Marx. The speakers will not only attempt an endeavour in intellectual history, but try to connect these issues to the ones pressing on today.

Mirt Komel: The invisible hand(job) of the market: from Nicolas Malebranche’s touch of god to Adam Smith’s invisible hand

The paper proposes an analysis of the dialectical development of the metaphor of the “invisible hand” from Nicolas Malebranche’s theological “touch of god” from the end of the 17th century, via Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” from his 18th century moral philosophy, up until the current modern usage as the allegedly secular “invisible hand of the market”. The metaphor of touch as the “touch of god” is deployed by Malebranche in order to develop the theory of a tactile precondition of tactility that, curiously enough, later on influenced also Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy – while Adam Smith’s redeployment of Malebranche’s metaphor transposed the sacral touch of god into the secular realm of the wealth of nations as part of his moral philosophy, that, even more curiously, later on influenced the development of the “invisible hand of the market” as it is still in use nowadays, and where we can discern a palpable residuum of the old theological metaphor in the very core of the allegedly secularized and rationalized world of market-based economy.

Mirt Komel, philosopher and writer, teacher assistant at the Department of Cultural Studies of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Ljubljana, and researcher at the Center for the Research of Religion and Culture.
Co-founder of the International Hegelian Association, and of the Seminar for Political Theory at the Peace Institute of Ljubljana. Research interests include theoretical psychoanalyses, political theory, Hegelianism and Marxism, cultural studies of games, comics, films and tv-series, and haptic studies.

Jernej Kaluža: Excessive affirmation of God as a way towards atheism?

What does today’s capitalism have in common with 17th century religion? Because of the absolute power of the adversary in both cases, it seems as there is no alternative, no possibility of rebellion in the form of direct confrontation. In both cases it is as if we are thrown in the middle of a field of an omnipresent immanence. The aim is thus not in finding an external (anti-capitalist or anti-religious) position, but in trying to follow the opposite approach of the humorous “excessive affirmation” that transforms the adversary into a friend. In recent local art history this tactic is also known as the subversive affirmation or overidentification. But this is already Spinoza’s approach in relation to religion. He affirms the power of (immanent) God to such a degree that any religious power seems inappropriate in comparison to God’s perfection. It would namely be inadequate, he argues, to presuppose that God reveals himself only to a certain group of people or that there exists a special group that has the right to decide over the correct interpretation of the scripture. His God is perfect and therefore he must be equally accessible to everyone. Any hierarchy and any segregation based on religion must be suppressed. In the “free-market” of ideas relating to God, there should therefore be no external authorities: any idea, even the idea of God as a creature in the sky, is good enough. But of course, some kind of (immanent) selection is needed: an idea of God is adequate as long as it functions as a condition of a pious act that is in accordance with God’s nature.

Is it possible to think of a similar “excessive affirmation” of neoliberalism? Is it possible to affirm neoliberal dogmas and turn them into the opposite direction? Is it furthermore consistent to argue that no one should be in the position of “the invisible hand” (as no one should think that they can adequately fit into the position of God in Spinoza’s case)? We will try to show that in this perspective the main problem is the universal (or generally recognized) value. This forced value itself is a way of suppression. It functions in the same way as the forced interpretation of God’s will by the religious authorities in Spinoza’s case. On this basis we will try to connect Spinoza to Nietzsche and his negation of the universal (moral) values and thus affirm his appeal of the revaluation of values.

Jernej Kaluža is a postguraduate student at the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana, where he is writing his doctoral thesis on the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. He is a researcher at the Nova Revija institute, a journalist for Radio Student and an organizer of theoretic events and lectures at autonomous centre Rog Factory.

Martin Hergouth: From religious critique to social critique – a sketch of pre-marxian theoretical developments

It is a curious intellectual development: Marx, famously, already quite early and more so as time passed, moved away from the critique of religion and more or less considered it a waning social force – but in the decades just prior to that, theological and religion-related questions have been ubiquitous in fervent, politically and socially charged debates: the conflict over atheism vs. religion of Supreme being during French revolution, German Spinozismusstreit, and, afterwards, the general critical (i.e. Young Hegelian) activity in 1830s and 1840s. In all these cases, the questions of whether there is God and how it should be conceived seemed to be of great socio-political importance.

So, the least we can say, the famous ‘opium of the people’ must have been rather strong. Here we should follow Marx’s own injunction that it is not enough to “analyse the earthly core of the misty relations of religion” but that true materialism means, conversely, to develop “from the actual relations of life the corresponding celestialised forms of those relations”. That is, to develop, how did early capitalist society – german in particular – so crucially rely on a certain theological self-understanding, that the topic became so contested? Far from being a mere hazy illusion and promise of eternal bliss that prevented the people from rebelling against their true social misery, we should consider religion as providing a far more definite conceptual structure for the self-perception of the individual in society, which directed his actions in a system-reproducing manner.

I will attempt to trace the underlying social issues that were at stake in theological debates of the pre-marxian era in order to gain an insight into the question, what makes a religion traditionally socially conservative force, and why and when can it, on the other hand (as it sometimes seem to be the case today) appear as a suspicious, socially disruptive phenomenom.

Martin Hergouth graduated in philosophy and sociology of culture. Currently, he is a doctoral student of philosophy at the University of Ljubljana, and a member of the programme committee of the Institute for Labour Studies. His research interest is mostly in the field of German classical philosophy and Marxism, focusing on the problems related to the conception of subjectivity and its role in political thought.

Rachel Aumiller: Capitalism and Religious Affect

The early writings of Karl Marx and the Young Hegelians identify the affects of wonder, seriousness, humility, and reverence as the spirit of capitalism. As they saw it, these emotions are characteristic of the worshiper in Christianity. Although the worshiper seeks to know the will of God, she must do so with absolute humility and reverence. The ways of the Lord, she must admit, are beyond her comprehension. And yet it is the duty of the believer to continually chase after the unattainable mysteries of the divine. The attitude of reverence automatically places one at a distance from that which one seeks to understand by mystifying the object of knowledge.

Many philosophers — including Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hobbes and Adam Smith — identify wonder (Thaumazein) as the primary epistemic emotion that fuels our drive for knowledge. The young Hegelians, in contrast, argue that the spirit of awe makes us worshipers rather than knowers. Extending their critique of religion to politics they insist that Capitalism, like Christianity, turns us into worshipers. Although we seek to know the source of our pleasures and pain, the political and economic structures that shape our lives seem to be beyond human comprehension. Max Stirner argues that this is because secular social structures, such as education, new sources, and popular media, instill in us the religious affects of seriousness and reverence, which make us good capitalist citizens who do not dream of questioning that which we cannot comprehend. For the exploitative structures of capitalism to be questioned, Stirner argues, we must break the seal of seriousness, laughing in the face of that which we once treated with respect and humility. If the spirit of capitalism is awe and seriousness then the spirit of critique must be born out of the irreverent laughter.

Marx and Stirner insist that by laughing down the gods of theology, we may begin the real work of laughing down the gods of capitalism. Their contemporary, Arnold Ruge, however, identified the church as the site where such critical laughter could be born. If the temple of the worshiper was no longer the house of god but the secular world of capital, then the church could be transformed into the temple of the iconoclast. For him, the goal of making a comedy out of religion wasn’t to destroy the Church by destroying the seriousness of the believer, but to rather to make religion the site of critique. The Church gave birth to the spirit of the worshiper, which became the spirit of Capital. So too could the Church give birth to the blasphemous spirit of comedy, which would also outgrow the church, becoming the spirit of revolution. According to Hegel, this had already occurred once within pagan religion: the tragic stage on which the individual was sacrificed for an abstract and impersonal universal became the site for comic demystification and destruction.

While Hegel saw the subversive potential of the critical laughter born out of pagan religion, he also treated the comic stage with more skepticism than the Young Hegelians. In Hegel’s reading, the iconoclast’s irreverent laughter on the ancient comic stage only mirrored the religious affect of seriousness on the tragic stage. Marx also becomes more skeptical of the revolutionary power of laughter in his later works, noting the way capitalism appropriates critical laughter just as it had appropriated religious seriousness. My paper will explore the relationship between the affects of seriousness and laughter within the spirit of Capitalism. Does critical laughter disrupt the process of mystification or does laughter becomes a new expression of awe and worship on the secular stage?

Rachel Aumiller is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at Villanova University where she holds an interdisciplinary fellowship in the intersection of philosophy and theology. She was a 2014-15 U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Ljubljana where she worked with Lev Kreft, Mladen Dolar, Slavoj Zizek, and Alenka Zupancic. Rachel publishes on historical and temporal transitions in the work of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. Her dissertation, On Comic Anguish, explores the role of comedy in Hegel and Marx’s social and political philosophy.

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