A Short Review of Depoortere’s Badiou and Theology

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This is my third book in the Philosophy and Theology series by T&T. I first read Kotsko’s excellent book Zizek and Theology, which I appreciated most for its clear periodization of Zizek’s philosophy. Next I read Shakesepeare’s text Derrida and Theology. Both of these texts did a great job of introducing the theologian to the major themes of both thinker’s work. Both authors critiqued and evaluated religious appropriations of each philosopher. Depoortere’s book is much different. Although, he does dedicate a third of the book to mapping out Badiou’s ontology, it’s clearly more aggressively theological. One thing I appreciated was the fact that he didn’t even discuss the text on Paul and completely bypassed talking about Badiou’s conception of the event. Rather, Depoortere has his readers up to their necks in set theory, Aquinas, logic, and proofs for the existence of God. This was not what I expected, but I really appreciated the mathematical rigor of Depoortere’s presentation. I should offer a word of caution: a brief familiarity with set theory greatly facilitates comprehending this work.

Much like Deleuze’s immanent philosophy, Badiou’s ontology is rigorously atheistic. There’s simply no place for the One (God) because the one is associated with non-being in his mathematical ontology (i.e. the one is only ever counted-as-one). This is not the place where I want to summarize Badiou’s ontology as I’ve yet to read Being and Event or Logic of the Wolds and feel unqualified to adequately do so. But, I will try and lay out a brief trajectory of this book. Depoortere criticizes theologians for not attempting to prove the existence of God because this leaves us in a state where faith is a precondition for faith. That is to say an “understanding of faith as it has been presented in the previous section is not without problems for it seems to implicate the believer in a closed circle of faith presupposing faith” (Badiou and Theology, 37). There are three options as fair as Depoortere sees it: fideism, non-realism, or revisiting a proof for God’s existence. A non-realist theologian would be like Don Cupitt who completely rejects the a belief in God, but still holds onto religion for all of its good elements. This is patently inane. I feel like the choice between fideism and proofs for God’s existence is an unfair dichotomy. This, I think, is the weakest part of the book. Are these are only real options? That (and perhaps this is the spirit of Barth speaking through me) but I had a hard time stomaching a proof for God’s existence based on Cantorian set theory. I mean even if you except that the transcendent God can be restored in an analogical relationship with man, is there any reason we can assume that this God is the same Triune God whose Word was enfleshed in Jesus of Nazareth?

Because Depoortere wagers we need to prove God’s existence, it will demand we have a useful ontology. Although he appreciates Aquinas’ metaphysics, he recognizes that it relies on Aristotelian view of science that is outmoded. Badiou’s ontology is much more contemporary and hence useful to understand our modern world. “Aquinas offers us such an ontology, but his view of being is no longer tenable since the emergence of modern science and the mathematization of nature brought about by it. This brings us to Badiou precisely because of his identification of ontology and mathematics, which demands that our interest in Badiou is theologically motivated” (Badiou and Theology, 96).

The last section is a re-evaluation of Badiou’s atheistic ontology in light of Cantor’s set theory and transfinite numbers. Also, Depoortere discusses the theological influences on Cantor’s, Aquinas and Augustine, which I found fascinating. I won’t spoil the conclusions, and there’s too much mathematics I would have to set up to actually reproduce the argument.

I’d recommend this book, but only if one comes to it with a decent knowledge of Badiou, mathematical logic, and set theory. One problem I had with the fact that Depoortere completely ignored Protestantism in this book. He never considered any other theological ontologies after Aquinas, and he never engaged any Protestant theologians. However, I must commend him for rigorously presenting Badiou’s complex ontology and set theory in a very precise manner. Also, I’ve always had a love for mathematics so I enjoyed learning more about Cantor, infinity, the continuum hypothesis, and set theory. However, if you’re looking for a book that discusses Badiou’s theory of subjectivity, the event, or politics this is simply not the book for you.

One more thing, another of Depoortere’s works entitled Christ in Postmodern Philosophy is excellent. He teases apart the christological implications for Girard, Vattimo, and Zizek. Also, I’ll be back tomorrow night with part 3 of my book review of Altizer’s Genesis and Apocalypse. Brief note, the beginning of that work is much more speculative and thus potentially off-putting than the middle and later parts.

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6 Responses to “A Short Review of Depoortere’s Badiou and Theology”

  1. cmoody91 Says:

    Really enjoyed Depoortere’s Christ in Postmodern Philosophy, just finished it over Christmas. I’ve been working through Shakesepeare’s Derrida and Theology but i’ve put it off until i finish Jenning’s Transforming Theology as well as some more reading in Crossan, Borg and Wright, as they are more applicable to the thought i’m engaging here at my school.
    Keep it coming! Enjoying the Altizer review!

  2. Jeremy Says:

    What are you reading by Crossan and Borg? I would suggest supplementing these Jesus Seminar scholars with some more apocalyptic historical Jesus Scholars with works by Allison and Ehrman. Allison’s Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet was excellent along with a work that he coauthored with Crossan and Borg entitled The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate.

    I tend to favor the apocalyptic Jesus of Ehrman and Allison over Crossan’s and Borg’s Jesus, although I do find aspects of Crossan’s research really helpful.

    Let me know what you think of Shakespeare’s work, I especially liked his last chapter that profiled different deconstructive religious thinkers (Taylor, Caputo, Rayment-Packard, and Hagglund).

  3. cmoody91 Says:

    Reading Crossan’s God and Empire and Borg/Wright in The Meaning of Jesus. Also have a text book by Ehrman called The New Testemant: A Historical Introduction to the early christian writings.

  4. A.J. Smith Says:

    Way to make me nervous Jeremy. I have this book on order and only a 3rd grade knowledge of math. Oh well…

  5. Jeremy Says:

    Well, best of luck. Not sure if they covered set theory in third grade, but who knows maybe Canada’s math education is that much better than the US’s?

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