What is Materialist Theology?

‘Materialist Theology’ – meaning that there is more than just analogical value in theology to describe human society, though it seeks no grounding in a presupposed divine figure. In other words the legacy of specifically Judeo-Christianity has meant that the world has been shaped by a philosophically materialist enhancement of Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”. But can a materialistic theology take this passage literally?

It seems it can by Žižek who elaborates on a materialistic rearticulating of the Holy Spirit, which features in his latest offering The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic? co-written in debate form with the Radical Orthodox theologian John Milbank. The book is the brainchild of Creston Davis, who studied under both Žižek and Milbank, and is premised on the notion that “modern Christianity has finally met its doom”. Žižek, arguing his corner with Hegelian dialectics (thesis + antithesis = synthesis), cites Jesus as the ‘monstrous exception’, that is to say the figure who cannot be grounded in rational terms due to his part in the Trinity, but who all the same grounds the rational itself. This takes some thinking, but what Žižek is suggesting here is that the conception of the other world which Jesus is said to occupy given his Godly status, is the foundation with which reality (on Earth) has been based, in contradistinction to the beyond.

In an anti-Fregeian twist (Frege, who noted that a concept must presuppose its material referent) for a grounding of this material reality in an other world, such an other world need not actually exist, for even the concept of it, without a material referent, is enough to guide what is the real rational world and what is not. This is further backed up by Lacan’s notion of ‘non-all’, which suggests that given our ontological position,our perception of the world is partial, therefore it is not difficult for us to suppose that there is more to which we can possibly know. Zizek therefore doesn’t take the line of atheists such as Dawkins, Hitchens or Grayling, who have a kind of faith in the stance that science can reach a given criteria of truth. For Zizek, as for Lacan, such truth is untenable given our ontological constitution, but he is an atheist nonetheless because to posit a God in the absence of scientific proof, would be to take the knowledge problematic to its alterior extreme (theistic certainty).