Iconoclastic Theology: Gilles Deleuze and the Secretion of Atheism

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Edinburgh University Press, Mar 17, 2014 - Philosophy - 225 pages
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F. LeRon Shults explores Deleuze's fascination with theological themes and shows how his entire corpus can be understood as a creative atheist machine that liberates thinking, acting and feeling. Shults also demonstrates how the flow of a productive atheism can be increased by bringing Deleuzian concepts into dialogue with insights derived from the bio-cultural sciences of religion.

Gilles Deleuze consistently hammered away at icons, overturning pretentious images taken as true copies of ideal models. He was particularly critical of religious Figures. In What is Philosophy? Deleuze argued that religion and transcendence, like philosophy and immanence, always come (and go) together. What value, then, could he possibly have found in engaging theology, which is typically bound to a particular religious coalition? Chipping away at repressive religious representations was valuable in itself for Deleuze, but he also believed that religion produced something of considerable value. He insisted that every religion secretes atheism, and none more so than Christianity.

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Deleuze as Theologian
A very helpful tool which Shults gives us to help evaluate religion in the context of Deleuzian "theology" is what he calls the "bio-cultural study of religion, " which claims
that "religious phenomena can be explained by the evolution of cognitive processes [Attributions] that over-detect human-like forms and coalitional process [Social] that over-protect socially inscribed norms."
Shults gives us a 2x2 matrix of (in my terms) Open or Closed versus Attribution (cognitive) or Social (coalitional) to help evaluate religious phenomena. He calls the Open-Attribution category Anthropomorphic Promiscuity (readiness to ascribe intentionality to unknown causes) versus the Closed-Attribution category Anthropomorphic Prudery (suspicious about ascribing intentionality to unknown causes.
He calls the Open-Social category Sociographic Promiscuity (open to out-groups and flexible about alternative normativities versus Closed-Social category he terms Sociographic Prudery (closed to out-groups, strict normativity with in-group).
Shults claims that evolutionary forces have favored Anthropomorphic Promiscuity (Open-Attribution) in being able to quickly detect relevant agents in the natural environment, and also favors Sociographic Prudery (Closed-Social) to adequately protect one's own group from dissolution. This combined integration of Anthropomorthic Promiscuity plus Sociographic Prudery yields Theogonic (god-bearing) forces and Sacerdotal theology (strict) which creates in religion strong in-group coalitions and strong belief in a very transcendental God.
The basis for this assessment is to contrast what Deleuze is advocating, which is Sociographic Promiscuity (Open-Social) combined with Anthropomorphic Prudery (Closed-Attribution) yielding Theolytic (god-dissolving) forces and Iconoclastic theology (creative) which creates in religion openness to out groups, flexible normativity and suspicion of attributing intentionality to unknown causes.
Shults hammers these categories and forces throughout as a tool to compare and contrast Deleuzian "theology" with confessional and conservative theology, and I think it is one of the strongest accomplishments of his project.
He defines religion broadly to designate "shared imaginative engagement with axiologically [regarding values, ethics, morals] relevant supernatural agents" and refers to the supernatural Agent (God) as "transcendent moralistic Entity" in order to relate to Deleuze.
This book is fundamentally an exposition of Deleuzes "transcendental [not transcendent] conditions for the real experience of creating new values" (p. 15), combined with the bio-cultural understanding of religion in order to "unveil and weaken the power of the Theogonic forces of anthropomorphic promiscuity (Open-Attribution) and Sociographic Prudery (Closed-Social), [and] open up new creative possibilities for theology." (p. 14).
We finally get to the last chapter with the enigmatic title "Secreting Atheism, " the underlying core concept throughout this project, which sounds more like a leaky alien than an intriguing theological/philosophical concept. So I will insert my own analogy here, taking from a Heraclitian concept of the nature of reality being more like two heavyweight wrestlers standing, locked in each other's grip Atheism versus Theism, both necessarily giving rise to the meaning of the other. For bringing this great battle to us while examining our very philosophical, theological and religious foundations, I enthusiastically congratulate Shults.

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About the author (2014)

F. LeRon Shults is Professor of Theology and Philosophy at the University of Agder, Norway.

He is the author and editor of numerous books on Christian theology, the most recent include Saving Desire: The Seduction of Christian Theology (Eerdmans, 2011), Christology and Ethics (Eerdmans, 2010), Philosophy, Science and Divine Action (Brill, 2009), Christology and Science (Ashgate, 2008), The Holy Spirit (Eerdmans, 2008), Transforming Spirituality: Integrating Theology and Psychology (Eerdmans, 2006), Reforming the Doctrine of God (Eerdmans, 2005).

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