“The history of modern political forms is not centered on the transition from the religious to the secular. . . . Rather, the history of modern political forms—republicanism, liberal democracy, fascism, and the rest—is best understood as a series of metamorphoses of sacralization.” The great wager of secular political theology, which Critchley adopts in light of Rousseau, Schmitt, and others, is that political life in a secular age consists of transformations and rediscoveries of the sacred outside the purview of institutional religion. The task of political theology is to show how modern transformations of the political are related to premodern religious concepts. We can then be rid of the fantasy of a politics that has no relation to religion, for the irony of our secular age is that politics has become religion. The faithless are no less constituted by forces and desires that transcend the axioms of liberal individualism than are the faithful. Original sin, for example, naturalized as Darwinism or historicized as the alienation of [End Page 565] daily capitalist existence, exerts its force on the faithless to a degree that Lucifer himself would envy. But mystical love, too, grips the faithless, by exposing them to the deceptions of identity manifest in the infinite demands of solidarity and equality. The scope of Critchley’s interlocutors, from St. Paul and Marcion to Heidegger and Žižek, makes for a lively discussion, even if one is left wondering whether anything new has been argued. What is refreshing, however, is the political deployment of an anarchical mystical love in a secular key. Blessed be the faithless who reject redemption for the sake of love.
Behind the project of secular political theology, one can discern varieties of Christian atheism. Faithlessness has a confessional cast. To Žižek’s Catholic atheism, Critchley proposes an alternative, distinctly Protestant atheism that prizes sectarian groups of anarchist individuals. The atheistic apostles of secular political theology thereby stand in the line of doubting Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:28).
Michael Fagenblat is lecturer in philosophy of religion at Jerusalem’s new Shalem College, the first liberal-arts college in Israel. His books include A Covenant of Creatures: Levinas’s Philosophy of Judaism and (as coeditor) New under the Sun: Jewish Australians on Religion, Politics, and Culture.