Derrida, Jacques. Acts of Religion. New York: Routledge, 2002.
"Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of 'Religion' at the Limits of Reason Alone" continued...
Between the section heading “Post-Scriptum” and the twenty-seventh section of this essay is the italicized work “Crypts…” followed by this ellipses mark. An ellipses which is repeated at the start of section twenty-seven before a bold-lettered “Religion?” The second half of the essay thus begins with a very direct statement regarding how today we must “take into account, if possible in an areligious, or even irreligious manner, what religion at present might be as well as what is said and done what is happening at this very moment, in the world, in history, in its name (Derrida, (27), 61).” This idea of religion’s “name” leads to another important term, in the Derridean vocabulary, globalatinization. It is worth quoting this section in full in order to get the best possible idea of what he means with this neologism:
(30) Religion circulates in the world, one might say, like an English word <comme un mot anglais> that has been to Rome and taken a detour to the United States. Well beyond its strictly capitalist or politico-military figures, a hyper-imperialist appropriation has been underway now for centuries. It imposes itself in a particularly palpable manner within the conceptual apparatus of international law and of global political rhetoric. Wherever this apparatus dominates, it articulates itself through a discourse on religion. From here on, the word ‘religion’ is calmly (and violently) applied to things which have always been and remain foreign to what this word names and arrests in its history. The same remark could apply to many other words, for the entire religious ‘vocabulary’ beginning with ‘cult,’ ‘faith,’ ‘belief,’ ‘sacred,’ ‘holy,’ ‘saved,’ ‘unscathed’ (heilig). But by ineluctable contagion, no semantic cell can remain alien, I dare not say ‘safe and sound,’ ‘unscathed,’ in this apparently borderless process. Globalatinization (essentially Christian, to be sure), this word names a unique event to which a meta-language seems incapable of acceding, although such a language remains, all the same, of the greatest necessity here. For at the same time that we no longer perceive its limits, we know that such globalization is finite and only projected (Derrida, (30), 67).
Globalatinization, or the spread and domination of Christianity through the history and continued dominance of a vocabulary, if that is not too fine a point to put on it.
Rather than trying to make this flow in some way, I’m going to try and give the most crucial highlights from the rest of this section.
First, the “two veins (two strata or sources) of the religious: “1. The experience of belief, on the one hand (believing or credit, the fiduciary or the trustworthy in the act of faith, fidelity, the appeal to blind confidence, the testimonial that is always beyond proof, demonstrative reason, intuition)” and “2. the experience of the unscathed, of sacredness or of holiness, on the other?) (Derrida, (32), 70).” These two veins of religious experience, belief and the sacred, Derrida says “should be distinguished from one another” since “they can doubtless be associated with each other and certain of their possible co-implications analysed, but they should never be confused or reduced to one another as is almost always done (Derrida, (32), 70).”
Here, Derrida becomes downright practical. He asks, “how can discourses, or rather, as was just suggested, ‘discursive practices,’ be articulated and made to cooperate in attempting to take the measure of the question, ‘What is religion?’ (Derrida, (32), 70).” From here, he comes to what he is willing, “perhaps,” to call a “pre-definition” of religion, saying that,
however little may be known of religion in the singular, we do know that it is always a response and responsibility that it is always a response and responsibility that is prescribed, not chosen freely in an act of pure and abstractly autonomous will. There is no doubt that it implies freedom, will and responsibility, but let us try to think this; will and freedom without autonomy. Whether it is a question of sacredness, sacrificiality or of faith, the other makes the law, the law is the other; to give ourselves back to the other. To every other and to the utterly other. Derrida, 71
A “response not chosen freely,” that is religion. The “discursive practices” Derrida assesses in his effort to “take the measure of the question” of “what is religion?” are, then, etymologies, genealogies and pragmatics [bold in the original]. But, because, “etymology never provides a law and only provides material for thinking on the condition that it allows itself to be though as well (Derrida, (33), 71),” And filiations or genealogies would determine an immense field, with which the meaning of the word is put to the test of historical transformations and of institutional structures… which in itself, [prove] nothing about the effective use of the word (Derrida, (33), 71), for the purposes of this essay, “the last type,” pragmatics, “ought to dominate. It should not exclude others – that would lead to too many absurdities – but it should privilege the signs of what in the world, today, singularizes the use of the word ‘religion’ as well as experience of ‘religion’ associated with the word, there where no memory and no history could suffice to announce or gather it, at least not at first sight (Derrida, (33), 72).”
This is how we can think about the use of the word “religion” and how it is “singularized” but, Derrida argues, “there has not always been, therefore, nor is there always and everywhere, nor will there always and everywhere (‘with humans’ or elsewhere) be something, a thing that is one and identifiable, identical with itself, which, whether religious or irreligious, all agree to call ‘religion.’ And yet, one tells oneself, one must still respond (Derrida, (34), 73).” One must still respond. From here, Derrida turns his attention to the “problematic of the ‘return of the religious (Derrida, (34), 76).’”
The “return of the religious” (always in quotes), “which is to say, the spread of a complex and overdetermined phenomenon” is, according to Derrida, “not a simple return, for its globality and its figures (teletechno-media-scientific, capitalistic and politico-economic) remain original and unprecedented (Derrida, (37), 78).” Nor is it “a simple return of the religious, for it comports, as one of its two tendencies, a radical destruction of the religious (stricto sensu, the Roman and that statist, like everything that incarnates the European political or juridical order against which all non-Christian ‘fundamentalisms’ or ‘integrisms’ are waging war, to be sure, but also certain forms of Protestant or even Catholic orthodoxy) (Derrida, (37), 78).” In other words, it is not just the fear of “outsider extremists who destroy our values” kind of rhetoric at work here in this “self-destructive affirmation of religion (Derrida, (37), 78).” At work also is what Derrida says that something “auto-immune, could well be at work in all the projects known as ‘pacifist’ and economic, ‘catholic’ or not, which appeal to universal fraternization, to the reconciliation of ‘men, sons of the same God,’ and above all when these brothers belong to the monotheistic tradition of the Abrahamic religions (Derrida, (37), 78).” Auto-immune in the sense of a system whose logic is the identification and elimination of infection, the result of which, Derrida means, “it will always be difficult extricating this pacifying movements from a double horizon (the one hiding or dividing the other (Derrida, (37), 78).” Thus, “the field of this war or of this pacification is henceforth without limit: all the religions, their centres of authority, the religious cultures, states, nations or ethnic groups that they represent have unequal access, to be sure, but often one that is immediate and potentially without limit, to the same world market.” Religions are thus, “at the same time producers, actors and sought-after consumers, at times exploiters, at times victims” and
Further, the same movement” that “renders indissociable religion and tele-technoscientific reason in its most critical aspect reacts inevitably to itself (Derrida, (37), 79-80).” This, again, is auto-immunity. That linking movement,
secrets its own antidote but also its own power of auto-immunity. We are here in a space where all self-protection of the unscathed, of the safe and sound, of the sacred (heilig, holy) must protect itself against its own protection, its own police, its own immunity. It is this terrifying but fatal logic of the auto-immunity of the unscathed that will always associate Science and Religion (Derrida, (37), 79-80).
He explains further how this “logic of auto-immunity” produces an “internal splitting” which is
peculiar or ‘proper’ to religion, appropriating religion for the ‘proper’ (inasmuch as it is also the unscathed: heilig, holy, sacred, saved, immune and so on), appropriating religious indemnification to all forms of property, from the linguistic idiom in its ‘letter,’ to blood and soil, to the family and to the nation. This internal and immediate reactivity, at once immunitary and auto-immune, can alone account for what will be called the religious resurgence in its double and contradictory phenomenon (Derrida, (37), 81-82).
Religion today allies itself with tele-technoscience, to which it reacts with all its forces. It is, on the one hand, globalization; it produces, weds, exploits the capital and knowledge of tele-mediatization… But, on the other hand, it reacts immediately, simultaneously, declaring war against that which gives it this new power only at the cost of dislodging it from all its proper places, in truth from place itself, from the taking-place of its truth. It conducts a terrible war against that which protects it only by threatening it, according to this double and contradictory structure: immunitary and auto-immunitary (Derrida, (37), 82).
Here, this section ends and so beings the section entitled “… and pomegranates” which becomes even more physiological, or anatomical, or something, bringing in the phallic, and pregnancy to talk about the other subject Anidjar noted as important: life. He writes, “one could, without being arbitrary, read, select, connect everything in the semantic genealogy of the unscathed – ‘saintly, sacred, safe and sound, heilig, holy’ – that speaks of force, life-force, fertility, growth, augmentation, and above all swelling, in the spontaneity of erection or of pregnancy (Derrida, 84).”Now that we are speaking of “life-force, Derrida, says,
Thus, respect of life in the discourses of religion as such concerns ‘human life’ only in so far as it bears witness, in some manner, to the infinite transcendence of that which is worth more than it (divinity, the sacrosanctness of the law). The price of human life, which is to say, of anthropo-theological life, the price of what ought to remain safe (heilig, sacred, safe and sound, unscathed, immune), as the absolute price the price of what ought to inspire respect, modesty, reticence, this price is priceless. Derrida, 87
From auto-immunity and lives, he moves to auto-co-immunity, and thus, communities. Writing,
Community as comm.-mon auto-immunity: no community
that would not cultivate its own auto-immunity, a principle of sacrificial self-destruction ruining the principle of self-protection (that of maintaining its self-integrity intact), and this in view of some sort of invisible and spectral sur-vival. This self-contesting attestation keeps the auto-immune community alive, which is to say, open to something other and more than itself: the other, the future, death, freedom, the coming or the love of the other, the space and time of a spectralizing messianicity beyond all messianism. It is there that the possibility of religion persists: the religious bond (scrupulous, respectful, modest, reticent, inhibited) between the value of life, its absolute ‘dignity,’ and the theological machine, the ‘machine for making gods (Derrida, 87).’
From here, there is a detour into Heidegger who
not only excluded the very possibility of a philosophy of religion. He not only proposed a radical separation between philosophy and theology, the positive study of faith, if not between thought and theiology, the discourse on the divinity of the divine. He not only attempted a ‘destruction’ of all forms of the ontotheological, etc. he also wrote, in 1953: ‘Belief [or faith] has no place in thought (Der Glaube hat im Denken keinen Platz).’ [“The Anaximander fragment,’ in Martin Heidegger, Early Greek Thinking] (Derrida, 94).
Later stating that,
Since the major question remains, in our eyes, albeit in a form that is still quite new: ‘What does it mean to believe? ‘ we well ask (elsewhere) how and why Heidegger can at the same time affirm one of the possibilities of the ‘religious,’ of which we have just schematically recalled the signs (Faktum, Bezeugung, Zusage, Verhaltenheit, Heilige, etc.) and reject so energetically ‘belief’ or ‘faith’ (Glaube). Our hypothesis again refers back to the two sources or two strata or religion which we distinguished above: the experience of sacredness and the experience of belief (Derrida, 97).
Back to the experiences of the sacred and of belief, which, he will argue, converge in “witnessing.” Of which he asks,
What therefore does the promise of this axiomatic (quasi-transcendental) performative do that conditions and foreshadows ‘sincere’ declarations no less than lies and perjuries, and thus all address of the other/ it amounts to saying: ‘Believe what I say as one believes in a miracle.’ Even the slightest testimony concerning the most plausible, ordinary or everyday thing cannot do otherwise: it must still appeal to faith as would a miracle. It offers itself like the miracle itself in space that leaves no room for disenchantment (Derrida, 98).
This site of testimony in witnessing, is “where the socius or the relation to the other would disclose itself to be the secret of testimonial experience – and hence, of a certain faith (Derrida, 99).” Here, it is shown that,
There is no alliance of two, unless it is to signify in effect the pure madness of pure faith. The worst violence. The more than One is this n+One which introduces the order of faith or of trust in the address of the other, but also the mechanical, machine-like division (testimonial affirmation and reactivity, ‘yes, yes,’ etc., answering machine and the possibility of radical evil: perjury, lies, remote-control murder, ordered at a distance even when it rapes and kills with bare hands). Derrida, 100
Thus, “The auto-immunity of religion can only indemnify itself without assignable end” because, “at the bottom without bottom of this crypt, the One + n incalculably engenders all these supplements (Derrida, 100). And here, the essay ends, on the following statement about how religion,
makes violence of itself, does violence to itself and keeps itself from the other On the bottom without bottom of an always virgin impassibility, chora of tomorrow in languages we no longer know or do not yet speak. This place is unique, it is the One without name. it makes way, perhaps, but without the slightest generosity, neither divine nor human. The dispersion of ashes is not even promise there, nor death given (Derrida, 100).
Which is a hell of a lot to deal with. I would say, that for our purposes, the take-away from this part of the essay are globalatinization (language and pragmatics), the two strata or veins of experience, belief and the sacred, the logic of autoimmunity that links religion and science, and a sense of what that means in terms of religion as response to the other.