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The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology [Hardcover]

Simon Critchley
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

19 Feb 2012
The return to religion has perhaps become the dominant cliché of contemporary theory, which rarely offers anything more than an exaggerated eco of a political reality dominated by religious war. Somehow, the secular age seems to have been replaced by a new era, where political action flows directly from metaphysical conflict. The Faith of the Faithless asks how we might respond. Following Critchley's Infinitely Demanding, this new book builds on its philosophical and political framework, also venturing into the questions of faith, love, religion and violence. Should we defend a version of secularism and quietly accept the slide into a form of theism - or is there another way? From Rousseau's political and religion to the return of St. Paul in Taubes, Agamben and Badiou, via explorations of politics and original sin in the work of Schmitt and John Gray, Critchley examines whether there can be a faith of the faithless, a belief for unbelievers. Expanding on his debate with Slavoj Zizek, Critchley concludes with a meditation on the question of violence, and the limits of non-violence.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Verso; 1 edition (19 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844677370
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844677375
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 14.7 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 422,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"[A] movingly optimistic work ... 'Everything to be true must become a religion, ' Wilde says, and Critchley, poetically and persuasively, suggests ways in which this might be accomplished."--Stuart Kelly, "The Guardian""A a sustained and fascinating reflection on the place of religion in political discourse."--Giles Fraser, "New Statesman""A thoughtful, illuminating exploration ... erudite and measured."--"Publisher's Weekly""This version of a faithless faith that Simon is fleshing out in this book is a radical break in his own thinking ... in this new book Simon's insights arrive in their most brilliant splendor: Unlike Derrida's version of truth (and its political important) that keeps deferring and is always different, here the breakthrough happens precisely when we are able to confront our own toxic void and in the suffering of this confrontation we are able to connect with the immanent other in an act of love in the horizon of a broken embracement. Like Christ's brokenness on the cross he opens up a way through suffering that does not cancel out the void and lack that grounds us, but unites us in the very brokenness itself."--Creston Davis, "Political Theology""[T]he book amply demonstrates Critchley's many strengths as a thinker and teacher. Where the book is exegetical, it is strikingly clear ... Even better, the book displays Critchley's skill as one of the very best close readers of philosophical texts we have ... this fascinating and important book traces, as it were, a trajectory of his thought and is not an end in itself."--Robert Eaglestone, "Times Higher Education"""The Faith of the Faithless" provides a powerful vision of what our politics ought to look like."--David Winters, "Los Angeles Review of Books"

About the Author

SIMON CRITCHLEY is a professor of philosophy at the New School for Social Research, and at the University of Essex, Colchester. His many books include Infinitely Demanding, Ethics-Politics-Subjectivity and, most recently, The Book of Dead Philosophers.

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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Losing faith 7 Mar 2012
Simon Critchley has secured his standing as an eminent philosopher working in the Continental tradition, and I was expecting great things from his most recent book, The Faith of the Faithless.

However one feels as though his reputation has got the better of him: the book is in dreadful need of editing. The prose is clumsy, but not in the kind of meandering dialectical thinking we expect from the likes of Slavoj Zizek. Critchley seems not quite in control of his material, and as such resorts to bullet points, and tedious "flagging" of his argument ("I have said this, now I will say this"). These, rather than providing clarity, prove irritating and, I think, betray haste of production.

Beside the issues I have with stylistics, however, the work is extremely interesting. When Critchley remains firmly within his native topics (ethics, Derrida, Heidegger) he is convincing. Straying into theology, politics or "political theology", Critchley begins to reveal fundamental cracks in his reading.

It's an ambitious book, featuring a [somewhat too] lengthy chapter on Rousseau, which makes some compelling and learned points about the ontological foundations of polity. Yet overall the book seems to lack a point, which is to say that one is never sure what Critchley makes of his own arguments. It feels in part more like a collection of essays, yet their collation here - suggesting implicating concerns - is not convincing.

Over the last few decades Critchley has proven himself an adept scholar of Continental philosophy, yet his move towards the "religious turn" sees Critchley perilously out of his comfort zone. I hope the next turn is back towards Derrida and Levinas.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Political theology for the new century 8 Sep 2012
By Rex Styzens - Published on
One scholar calls it "Post-Atheism." Others call it "Return to the Religious." Critchley just calls it his search for a political theology with a coherent understanding of the meaning of faith.

This book is a scholarly study that opens with a detailed examination of Rousseau's political philosophy and closes with Critchley's tussle with Zizek over the place of violence in politics. What can be found in between is what I find most intriguing. Among other things, Critchley examines the resurgence of interest in Paul's epistles and adds his own analysis. He uses a close reading of Heidegger's THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF RELIGIOUS LIFE The Phenomenology of Religious Life (Studies in Continental Thought) that then suggests an additional interpretation of BEING AND TIME's Being and Time concept of "thrown projection." It clarifies many of MH's comments for me.

To summarize my best grasp of what MH means would be to accept Critchley's characterization of thrown projection as a double nullity. That is, to be thrown is a nullity (Dasein is "there" if only we knew where that is) and to rely on projection is an additional nullity (Dasein acts as if we know what is coming even though we don't). Dasein finds itself always already somewhere in between those nullities. Heidegger characterizes that position as one of "guilt," which would seem to harmonize with St. Paul's reliance on sin. But the devil is always in the details, and Critchley examines MH's position, instead, as an assertion of the openness of human freedom.

From that I draw the provisional conclusion that there is a slight but profound discrepancy between Paul and MH's Luther-influenced interpretation. We must allow the necessary systemization required for philosophy of religion, in which case, for Paul, we live in a closed system; for MH we live in an open system. So that hair's breadth makes a whole lot of difference.

The current debate over Post Atheism is whether openness can prove more philosophically and theologically useful (although Critchley denies expertise in the latter) than a closed context. Critchley does not cite Jean-Luc Marion or Jean-Luc Nancy in this study, and I am only familiar with the latter, but they both represent (along with Foucault, Klossowski, and Derrida) the open interpretation. Agamben and Badiou somewhere in between.

This debate has gotten increasingly hot and heavy since the latter part of the last century. It may well remain unsettled for the balance of the new term. Yet we can expect the interest to continue and grow with the globalization of the debate, despite all the New Atheism nay-sayers. Critchley writes wonderfully, so he offers an opportunity to jump in if you are still on the shores. Happy splashes!

Note: I have since this review read Critchley's magnum opus: Ethics-Politics-Subjectivity: Essays on Derrida, Levinas & Contemporary French Thought (Radical Thinkers) published in 1999. It supplies his justification for a determination of ethics as a matter of faith. While his commendations of Levinas shift direction and his distance from J-L. Nancy increases, the place that opens vibrates intensely.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enlightenment Be Damned 5 April 2013
By R. A. Weil - Published on
I am writing this review because I am in trucking and without anyone who could sort out my confusion. I would suppose that those readers who are well grounded in contemporary philosophy would consider my confusion sophomoric. I was drawn to this title through reading Critchley's small but incisive consideration of Wallace Stevens in "Things Merely Are" and his further application of Stevens idea of a Supreme Fiction to the realm of Politics. I was also intrigued by the idea of nothing as a basis for the powerlessness of conscience as related to the last line of Stevens' "The Snowman" (And nothing himself, beholds/Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.) But the ground quakes and avalanches await all the effort that Critchley makes to buttress his theory that for the body Politic, faith must remain a component more than reason. Professionally, I guess I understand why a philosopher would so carefully construct an argument, but even if his thesis is right on, the course of his argument detracts from its persuasiveness.

For example, in the first section of "The Faith of the Failthless" he proceeds with an analysis of Rousseau that depends on ferreting out the differences between the published manuscript and "The Geneva Manuscript." I understand how this guides his interpretation of Rousseau's "The Social Contract," but for me fails to make "The General Will" and the role of the lawgiver a substantive base to build on. Of course, he notes in the text that the reader should refer to his previous work on "infinite demand" and this would add clarity. Nonetheless, he builds on Rousseau's desire for the catechism of the citizen and then adopts Stevens supreme fiction to place the mystical anarchism of Marcion as further support for the need for a religious faith for a commonly held politcal view point. Then it really gets messy, because all the problems of Rousseau are not resolved but instead overlayed with Heideggerean terminology and philosphy even though the basic premises in his argument about Rousseau remain as weak ground. I sense that his work on Rousseau is probably ground breaking interpretation, but like Rousseau Critchley sees applicablity only in small or local groups not even as big as Corsica.

So I don't know if his overarching argument that faith must once again become a component of the progessive wing of western democracies succeeds. From a common sense stand point I would give it an approving nod. But I think the most incisive insight is his interpretation of Paul through the vantage point of Marcionism. Here he explains 1Corinthians in terms of a "double meontology" to explicate the powerless power of the call of conscience and why it is from nothing that all something comes to be. The congruence here between "The Snowman" and "the annihilation of ego" has deepened my reading of the poem and for that I am greatful. Perhaps reading Rousseau, Marx, and the other intrepreters whom Critchley relies on or takes to task would provide refuge from the avalances and the quakes.
1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Heavy slogging. 14 Mar 2014
By Hugh I. Rodgers - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a book for theologians and political philosophers only. General readers interested in questions of faith and politics should look elsewhere..
5 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Critchley being Critchley 25 Feb 2013
By Joseph T. O. Connor - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a rant by Critchley, who writes well even while ranting. I did not find his arguments persuasive of any position except he thinks that Critchley is the best.
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