In a very interesting article, “Is God Dead, Unconscious, Evil, Impotent, Stupid … Or Just Counterfactual?“, Slavoj Zizek compares the “god hypothesis” as described by Lacan and Badiou’s “communist hypothesis”:

So does god exist or not? It does not exist as a fact, but it inexists counterfactually, which does not meant that it is simply an illusion: it is the paradox of an illusion which is immanent to reality itself, a counterfactual immanent to factuals, to our symbolic universe:

It is really fabulous that the function of the other, of the other as locus of the truth, and in a word of the only place, even though an irreducible one, that we can give to the term of Divine Being, of God to call him by his name. God is properly the locus where, if you will allow me the term, there is produced the dieu, the dieur, the dire, for a trifle, dire gives us Dieu.

As long as something is said, the God hypothesis will be there. And it is precisely as trying to say something that there is defined the fact that, in short, there can be no true atheists other than theologians. Namely, those who speak about God (Lacan, Seminar, Book XX: Encore, seminar 5, January 16, 1973).

It is in this sense that Lacan speaks of the “God hypothesis” (ironically referring, of course, to Lamarck’s famous reply to Napoleon, that in his theory of nature he had no need for such a hypothesis)—in the same sense in which Badiou talks about the “Communist hypothesis.” This is why it is not enough for a materialist to deny god’s existence, he must also qualify his counterfactual ex-sistence: if there were a God (which there is not), he would not have been a being of supreme Good, a beautiful illusion, but an evil, cruel, ignorant God—this is the point made by The Rapture.

Following Lacan, Zizek distinguishes between a “factual” or scientific God and a “counterfactual” or enunciative God, close to Bruno Latour’s conception of “God” as belonging to a different enunciative modality than factual, referential discourse.

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  1. “close to Bruno Latour’s conception of “God” as belonging to a different enunciative modality than factual, referential discourse.”

    Latour, as I understand MOE, has a special way of approaching facts. These are not the facts of a bifurcated world view. When Zizek, of whom I know nothing except his name, speaks about a “fact” is the meaning similar to Latour’s?

    The whole comment also brought to my mind Mathew 24, 24-25. People who have suffered much more in their lives than Zizek or Lacan, find refuge in God (Whom I guess do not consider evil, cruel and ignorant). I wander how the political cycle can close in such conditions.


    • terenceblake says:

      My concern here is to find passages between Latour’s take on the pluralism of modes of existence as also a pluralism of modes of enunciation. Zizek’s (and Lacan’s) notion of “fact” corresponds to Latour’s REF, and their idea that “God” belongs to a different ontological and enunciative register altogether parallels Latour’s own idea.

      God as factual existence would correspond to the illegitimate crossing of REL and REF that we find for example in fundamentalism. God’s attitudes and commands, for example in the Bible, are taken literally, with sometimes disastrous consequences.

      “Finding refuge in”, in the religious sense, is not the same ontological disposition as “believing in”, in the physical sense.

      My whole effort with Latour has been to make explicit the consequences of his system of ontological incommensurabilities. There is no place in Latour’s system for a creator God (that would be REF) nor for miracles (REF again). The Incarnation and the Resurrection can only be spiritual (REL) events. He glosses rather quickly over the consequences of his view, but I wish to spell them out so that we can see how “purified” his accounts are, to the point of no longer being very representative (bad diplomacy) nor very descriptive (bad empiricism) of actual religious practice.

      My conclusion is that espousing Latour’s system may require paying a price that few Believers are prepared to accept.



  3. “My conclusion is that espousing Latour’s system may require paying a price that few Believers are prepared to accept.” If I take your description of Latour’s proposal as exact then I think you have a point.
    I am not convinced though that this is the only interpretation.


    • terenceblake says:

      Latour does not foreground this conclusion. His own text operates in terms of a “double think”, sliding between a customary or “folk” understanding of religion and a more refined “ontological” understanding. He is trying to have it both ways. However, the incommensurability between REF and REL implies that REL is absolutely disconnected from any idea of a God creator of the physical universe, or of a historical Jesus. Insofar as these two figures belong to REL they are not referential figures at all. Physicality and historicity are not pertinent predicates for REL beings.

      The only way out of this and other potentially undesirable consequences is to weaken the incommensurability between modes. This is something that I have consistently argued from the beginning: the modes are abstractions, their incommensurability is only partial and relative, in actual practice people navigate between the modes without difficulty. The price to be paid for this non-Latourian interpretation is that reality is much messier, and it is very much harder to rule out ideas and practices as being based on “illegitimate” crossings.


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