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The God of freedom: Abraham, McCabe, and Deleuze/Guattari

January 10th, 2007 by isaac · No Comments

I’m writing ‘sermon starters’ for the Lent 2008 issue of Leader Magazine. And as I read Genesis 12:1-4 (the OT text for the second Sunday of Lent), I remembered a wonderful passage from Herbert McCabe’s book, Love, Law, and Language. First, here’s the text from the beginning of Genesis 12:

Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

And now the quote from McCabe, Love, Law, and Language (118-119):
Yahweh is the God of freedom and there are to be no other gods… The important thing is not just to be relgious, to worship something somehow. The important thing is to find, or be found by, the right God and to reject and struggle against the others. The worship of any other god is a form of slavery; to pay homage to the forces of nature, to the spirit of a particular place, to a nation or race or to anything that is too powerful for you to understand or control is to submit to slavery and degradation. The Old Testament religion begins by saying to such gods ‘I do not believe and I will not serve.’ The only true God is the God of freedom. The other gods make you feel at home in a place, they have to do with teh quiet cycle of the seasons, with the familiar mountains and the county you grew up in and love; with them you know where you are. But the harsh God of freedom calls you out of all this into a desert where all the old familiar landmarks are gone, where you cannot rely on the safe workings of nature, on spring-time and harvest, where you must wander over the wilderness waiting for what God will bring. This God of freedom will allow you none of the comforts of religion. Not only does he tear you away from the old traditional shrines and temples of your native place, but he will not even allow you to worship him in the old way. You are forbidden to make an image of him by which you might wield numinous power, you are forbidden to invoke his name in magical rites. You must deny the other gods and you must not treat Yahweh as a god, as a power you could use agaisnt your enemies or to help you to succeed in life. Yahweh is not a god, there are no gods, they are all delusions and slavery. You are not to try to comprehend God within the conventions and symbols of your time and place; you are to have no image of God because the only image of God is man.

I wonder what this vision of our faith does with Deleuze and Guattari’s withering criticisms of religion in general:
The absolute of religion is essentially a horizon that encompasses, and, if the absolute itself appears at a particular place, it does so in order to establish a solid and stable center for the global. The encompassing role of smooth spaces (desert, steppe, or ocean) in monotheism has been frequently noted. In short, religion converts the absolute. Religion is in this sense a piece in the State apparatus (in both of its forms, the ‘bond’ and the ‘pact or alliance’), even if it has within itself the power to elevate this model to the level of the universal or to constitute an absolute Imperium. But for the nomad the terms of the question are totally different: locality is not delimited; the absolute, then, does not appear at a particular place but becomes a nonlimited locality; the coupling of the place and the absolute is achieved not in a centered, oriented globalization or universalization but in an infinite succession of local operations. Limiting ourselves to this opposition between points of view, it may be observed that nomads do not provide a favorable terrain for religion; the man of war is always committing an offense against the priest or the god…. These religions are not, in effect, separable from a firm and constant orientation, from an imperial de jure State, even, and especially, in the absence of a de facto State; they have promoted an ideal of sedentarization and addressed themselves more to the migrant components than the nomadic ones

From Gilles Deleuze and Feliz Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), pp. 382-383.

The difficulty is the promised land. If the decendents of Abram reached the promised land when they made it to Palestine, then this sort of religion might be what Deleuze and Guattari categorize as migrant: “the migrant goes principally from one point to another, even if the second point is uncertain, unforeseen, or not well localizable” (380). But if we follow the Epistle to the Hebrews, then “there still remains a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4:9) that cannot be provincialized; it cannot be established forever in the promised land. But this leads toward a supersessionism—and I do not yet know how to navagate those troubled waters.

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