RELIGION IS NOT A MODE BUT A COMPLEX OF CROSSINGS

At the beginning of Chapter 11 of AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE, Bruno Latour declares

“Thus, in this inquiry, “the social” is the concatenation of all the modes. But the inventory of these modes still remains to be completed. It is hard to imagine an ethnography that would not speak of religion or politics or law or the economy”. AIME, 284.

This is the argument from lack of imagination. It proves nothing, but it suggests that a metaphysical ethnography must speak of religion, i.e. it is an argument of conceptual conservatism. Further, it gives us no reason to think that religion is a mode, this is just tacitly assumeded by Latour: he passes from the need to inventory the modes to the necessity of speaking about religion, presupposing that religion is a mode. Society is not a mode, nor is the economy, nor even philosophy, but religion is self-evidently a mode for Latour. However, this is not obvious to everyone, and I think the vast majority of those who read the book will find this chapter very unsatisfying.

This is perhaps an example of the shared blindness of a highly motivated team working together on a close reading. Alternative interpretations tend to be exluded, or not even seen as comparable. For example, for Badiou religion is self-evidently not a truth-procedure. This is a conceptual decision that Badiou argues for, but that Latour does not motivate, and is incapable of motivating. If we take Badiou’s truth-procedures to be equivalent to Latour’s modes of veridiction, then Badiou’s argument is that religion is like philosophy in that it is not a mode, but provides a general conception of truth as instantiated in the different modes. cf: An Interview with Alain Badiou.

My feeling is that religion is not a mode, but a complex of crossings. Latour just posits that it is a mode, with no argument. I think not enough work has been done on comparing Latour’s veridictive modes with Badiou’s truth procedures. Latour combines “love” and religion in one mode, but this is incoherent (unless you are blindly channeling “God is Love” or some such creedal slogan). Badiou separates them and argues that love is a truth procedure but that religion is not on the same plane as the truth procedures. For Badiou, religion is not a truth procedure (in Latourese, religion is not a mode), rather it is a general conception of truth in rivality with philosophy. This is interesting as Latour is also very vague and contradictory about the status of philosophy in the book.

To spell out Latour’s refined discussion of religion in clear: “God” does not exist in any referential sense. Jesus Christ probably never existed and we don’t even care whether he exists or not – all that is REF. Catholicism prior to the Protestant Reformation was not about belief at all. The Inquisition had nothing to do with religion, which had nothing to do with belief. The Catholic religion only became perverted with the wars of religion and the Scientific Revolution. God as “being of the word” was forgotten, and a double-click God of belief took His place. This is not anthropology but autobiography disguising its prejudices as “empirical” metaphysics.

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