Creatio ex profundis

Creatio ex nihilo, the account of creation that says creation came from nothing, has reigned in Christian orthodoxy ever since the third century ACE, but it remains a flimsy doctrine and the book of Genesis does not support it according to Catherine Keller in her Face of the Deep . The alternative account of creation that she describes, equally based—if not more so—on exegetical scholarship, is creatio ex profundis. As the name implies, creation arises from out of the boundless and expanding depths of the chaosmos rather than being zapped into being from nothing. “The Beginning” does not mark a single absolute origin but a “beginning-in-process” that is both “unoriginated and endless.” Beginnings are always taking place and do not mark a definitive newness. Infinite creations open out from the formlessness, undifferentiated and bottomless abyss of primordial chaos. There is great depth and darkness to life, in other words, but we intentionally try to avoid recognizing this nonlinear, endless opening because we are trained to fear lack of closure. This fear has its beginnings in the doctrine of creation which western theology has taught us to “shun the depths of the creation” in favor of understanding it ex nihilo. The darksome deep is an ambivalent origin in contrast to a creation under the mechanism of control and mastery that ex nihilo offers. In the beginning, according to this alternative account of creatio ex profundis, is not no-thing or even no-thing-as-something but difference and multidimensionality. In the beginning is formless, primal chaos.

This account of creation, despite how it may at first appear to be iconoclastic, is fully supported by Christian scripture. The oceanic chaos of the Bible located in Genesis 1.2 is depicted in monstrous sea terms—Leviathan. These immense waters are generally considered evil, particularly in the lineage of Babylonian, Ugaritic and Caananite sources, but we find throughout the Bible that the watery depths are affirmed as part of creation, not in spite of it. Furthermore, in contrast to the background of Babylonian matricide of the oceanic female Genesis depicts creation by procreation. If anything, God merely shapes the preexistent dark, unformed murky depths into the order we know today.

This much can be asserted: Genesis 1 betrays no fear of the dark, no demonization of the deep, of the sea, its she and its dragons. No trace of divine warrior or cultural misogyny appears on the face of the text of the first chapter. Does the contrast to the Babylonian epic, which we read as mythological intertext of Genesis 1.2, not begin to appear dramatic, deliberate, almost parodic? (pp. 30-1)

In fact, the marine chaos of the second verse of Genesis echoes throughout the whole Biblical narrative, especially in certain psalms that praise Leviathan (see here for how it appears again in Job).This particularly stands in contrast to the myths of the ancient world that intoned ceremonious triumph in mastering chaos rather than bearing with it. “Scripture…knows only a formation of something new from something—else, something yet unthinged, unformed, some sort of marine chaos not identical with the literal sea but not separable from it” (p. 25). Even Augustine in his Confessions admits that the flux and flood in the opening of Genesis does not grant a singular interpretation. What Keller discovers is that “Augustine exegetes tehom as God’s first creation, the creation of that matter from which both the heaven and earth would be then secondarily created” (p. 36). However, Augustine oscillates on what this might fully mean. From early on the church had a difficult time tolerating the sort of constraint that an unformed primal chaos would have on the imagery of a masterful and dominating lordship. The result is that Augustine began to understand chaos and complexity as an outcome of sin and a lack of order. So while Augustine may have been a potential advocate of tehomic theology at one point he ends up retreating “into a tidy neo-classicism.” Instead of affirming a theologically indeterminate origin that would understand order as coming from something unformed Augustine comes to think of an “unchanging order” as the only way to “save us from a chaotic nihil of meaning” (p. 38). In his early years he considered the multidimensional deep as a gift but later focused on single meanings to combat heresy. His influence on Radical Orthodoxy is undeniable.

To offer clarity between the distinctive theologies of creatio ex nihilo and creatio ex profundis allow me to post a couple quotes that summarize this dramatic shift from the first to the latter.

Theologies have tried to draw the line at “God,” to say that, whenever the creation starts, it is preceded by absolutely nothing—nothing but the pure and simple presence of God the Creator. Certainly this “nothing but” of a nonnegotiable starting-line lends a useful sense of foundation… Admittedly that tehomic alterity which has been relegated to the outer darkness threatens to flow back monstrously: the flux, repressed, returns as the flood. I am arguing that the genuine threat that chaos poses is no better reason to patch up the failing foundations, than to tear them down with nihilistic abandon. (p. 10)

Until the late second century, Jewish and Christian interpreters seem to have assumed that the Creator formed the creation from some depersonalized version of this primordial stuff… What Christianity first presumed was the idea not of the ex nihilo but of a Creator effecting “in the beginning” irreducibly new and contingent reality. The idea of a creation from nothing rather than a formation from formlessness [preexistent material] only gradually ensconced itself in Christian common sense. Along with it settled the dogmas of omnipotence: not just of the biblical lord of great if somewhat unpredictable power, but an immutable, unilateral All-Power clothed in the attributes of a single male Person (or two; or…) (pp. 15-6)

Chaos erodes meaning; therefore, it is ubiquitously sublimated and suppressed in Christian theology. Radical Orthodoxy for one has gone to great lengths in distinguishing the nihil from the ex nihilo. The fear is that without this stable foundation chaos, flux, “nothing” and atheism will erode the solidity of order and meaning. Rabbinic midrash has always affirmed the “multiplicity of meanings” but theologies in the tradition of the ex nihilo doctrine rarely learn to bear with chaos.

These doctrines of creation also have some practical implications. The order of creation that is upheld in Eurocentric theologies is not similarly received in a positive tone in Latin America because it tends to mask hierarchy, domination and oppression. From the colonizing perspective, evil is synonymous with disorder rather than injustice. Chaos is treated as darkness and the voices of hermeneutical complexity are muted by the dominant discourse of order. After all, the colonizer relies on powerful interventions and what better model to follow than God’s singular act of an instantaneous and permanent creation. In addition to a tehomic theology benefiting the struggle of postcolonial resistance to the colonizing episteme a doctrine of creatio ex profundis also aids in the deconstructionist’s task of destabilizing and protesting “founding certainties” by way of illuminating the deep flux beneath all of reality. In other words, complexity and chaos always arise from within rather than from without. Therefore, the transcendent-in-the-immanent will always shatter our finite and fixed meanings. Perhaps in this case we would be wise to borrow the tehomic ethic: “to love is to bear with chaos.”

From here I think I can address Matt Martin’s comments more thoroughly. Doubtless, turning a “no-thing” into a “something as nothing” is a shifty move. Perhaps Badiou, Deleuze and Žižek pull this stunt–I cannot say–but in my estimation they come closer to this creatio ex profundis ideal type than they do to a bogus nihilism. A chief motive of Keller’s, after all, is to provide ample evidence in support of a third position beyond the dualism between nihilism and ex nihilo–she specifically references Radical Orthodoxy. In an email correspondence with Peter Hallward back in November I posed this question to him in relation to this topic. His response follows.

…instead of creatio ex nihilo would it be possible to substitute instead creatio ex profundis if we are to remain faithful to Badiou? It appears as though inconsistent multiplicity parallels a plural foundation of becoming–as you identify in the closing chapters–rather than an empty void qua nihil.

Up to a point I’d go along with this, with a caveat. True, ‘void’ isn’t just ‘nothing’, no more than zero is.  (There’s a difference between e.g. ‘scoring’ zero goals in a soccer match, and there not being a match at all; void is always what counts for nothing according to a situation, e.g. here a situation that counts goals). But Badiou’s whole effort is to avoid any neo-Romantic reference to depth, and to insist instead on the fully rational analysis of presentation, which in its most generic sense, equates ‘that which is presented’ with presenting in the zero degree, so to speak.  This is an important question, I hope you pursue it more.  I tried to deal with it a little more here, but there’s still a lot more to done with it.

To add a little more to this discussion let me put another quote from Keller past the reader to illuminate a position that is concurrent with at least Deleuze in my opinion.

All theological interpretation (at least that which recognizes itself as interpretation rather than revelation) today exposes itself to an incalculable multiplicity of influences–movements, powers, protests, doubts, cultures, desperations, expectations. One pursues hermeneutical complexity. But one always risks chaos (p. 5)

The reason I added this to the mix is to find an affinity with actor-network theory. (I haven’t read any texts on it myself so a wik article must suffice). The point is to show that truth–call it a new objectivism–is an “incalculable multiplicity.” I hardly take this as a no-thing-as-some-thing.

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5 responses to “Creatio ex profundis”

  1. Matthew Martin says :

    In the above post, Matt presents a brief but clear defense against my charge that he is constructing a nihilism with creatio ex profundis. In particular, he strikes back at Radical Orthodoxy, from whom I am basing my own criticisms. In this post, I will present a counter argument that attempts to better represent the actual Radical Orthodox argument, which is far more nuanced than Matt or I perhaps have implied. In so doing, I hope to further illuminate the foundational problems with creatio ex profundis, or perhaps I should say the needlessness of it in light of Trinitarianism.

    Simply put, Matt, as he is basing his arguments off Keller, is caricaturing creatio ex nihilo. In her The Face of the Deep, Keller, as Derek Michaud writes, “uses postmodern methods to attack positions developed largely before (post)modernity and as
    such the book falls into a kind of anachronism.” Keller (and Matt) fail to deal with more sophisticated creatio ex nihilo theorists, such as Conor Cunningham and Robert Nevile, both of whom are interested not simply in the cosmological creativity Keller addresses but, more fundamentally, the ontological creativity that is found in Christian orthodoxy and (at least for Cunningham) the confluence of Trinitarianism, analogy, and creatio ex nihilo.

    Matt is clear in his rejection of my criticisms, writing: “creatio ex profundis, is not no-thing or even no-thing-as-something but difference and multidimensionality. In the beginning is formless, primal chaos.” However, he is failing to address Cunningham’s more elaborate criticism—that “difference and multidimensionality” conceived as external to the Divine are incoherent. Matt, working as he is in the shadow of such thinkers as Deleuze and Badiou, wants to speak of a “transcendent-in-the-immanent” which will “always shatter our finite and fixed meanings”. However, Cunningham argues (1) that “transcendent-in-the-immanent” (as conceived by Deleuze and Badiou, for example) collapses into pure immanence and (2) that immanence cannot speak difference. Only theology can speak difference. Therefore, if Cunningham’s position, which I will attempt to lay out below, holds, Matt’s attempt to achieve “difference and multidimensionality” ironically will collapse into a univocal, immanent plain of the same.

    Cunningham notes that there is an aporia in finitude: how do we know that thought is significant, or that thought thinks? In history, we have created a series of dualisms to answer the question:

    “For example: Lacan and Deleuze ground sense in non-sense; Derrida grounds the Text in the Nothing, which is said to reside outside it; Heidegger grounds Being in das Nicht; Hegel, finitude in the infinite; Fichte, I in Non-I; Schopenhauer, representation in will; Kant, phenomenal in the noumenal; Spinoza, Nature in God, and God in Nature….What I suggest is that each of these philosophical dualisms rests within a monism that governs there generation.” (2002, xii-xiii)

    These dualisms are represented in two broad traditions. The first, characterized as ontotheology, is to ground thought in prior thought, but this is to implement an infinite regress to “something”. The second is characterized by meontotheology, which is to ground thought in something otherwise than or outside of thought. As this applies to being, it leads to a grounding of being in otherwise than or “beyond” being—in the non-being (meon). Cunningham argues that both essentially become the same: “The first leads to nihilism, while the latter is the realized logic of nihilism.” (2002, xiii) Thus, these dualisms, ironically, rest upon an always-prior monism, which Cunningham proceeds to demonstrate is a monism of non-being.

    Matt is doing much of the same. He is constructing an inherent dualism between Being (God) and Non-Being (Chaos) and, more to the point, he is grounding creation in the latter. Of course, Matt denies chaos is “no-thing”, or non-being. Matt is attempting to construct chaos as a “something” rather than a “no-thing”. However, he fails to demonstrate how this is so, as he fails (so far) to address what he means by “God” or “Chaos”. He does however give two attributes of chaos: it is formless and primal. This I imagine is opposed to God, who has form and is primal. Additionally, though chaos has no form, it does have substance: it is “preexisting matter”. Thus, regarding primality, it is clear that such chaos, as “preexisting matter”, is co-eternal with God. Additionally, as “matter”, I suspect that Matt would say chaos, in its substance, differs from God’s divine substance. Thus, we have a formless, co-eternal substance alongside a divine substance and form—an eternal duality of substance.

    How is Matt understanding the concept of Form? That too remains unclear. Obviously for Aristotle “form” was that which arranges a thing’s matter (the former being a thing’s formal cause, and the latter being its material cause). It sounds as if Matt, in a bid to ensure an “open future”, eliminates final causality in creation, and his efficient causality is undeveloped (is God a co-creator, or “is” chaos an entity?) Presumably, if chaos has no final cause at operation in creation, it also lacks intelligence (and intelligibility) as an attribute. After all, an “intelligent” chaos headed no-where specificlly would be a contradiction of terms, classically speaking. If Chaos is a “something”, but a non-intelligent, primal materiality without Form, numerous serious problems follow (at least if one is trying to work within Christian Orthodoxy, which, due to his frequent appeals to Scripture, I assume Matt is so doing). However, I will leave most of these aside for now, and settle for contesting Matt’s attempt to make Chaos something rather than nothing.

    To use Keller’s own words as quoted by Matt, this chaos is a “something yet unthinged, unformed, some sort of marine chaos not identical with the literal sea but not separable from it.” It has no form, nor does it even have “thing-ness”. Yet, it is a “preexisting matter” (i.e. eternal substance), and it sounds suspiciously like water. Thales would be proud, or perhaps angry that he gets no credit. Yet, Keller cautions us against literalism, and I doubt Matt wants to argue that water is the foundational substance of all matter. Maybe it is a pre-existing scattering of all matter (Anaxagoras, Democritus), or even a “boundless” that is “opposed to nothing, because everything is IT.” (Anaximander). In fact, such a “flux” increasingly sounds like, well, “no-thing” but lifeless matter. In other words, in being “everything” and yet being no-thing in particular, it is unable to tell the difference.

    In fact, Matt’s proposal fits perfectly into Cunningham’s argument, as it is exactly what Cunningham is presenting as the logic of nihilism. Matt is presenting a something that yet lacks “thing-ness”, form, and presumably intelligence/intelligibility. This is simply a Plotinian “being” otherwise than being—a “thing” otherwise than thing. It is a Plotinaian “flight from being”, and Matt is literally saying no-thing. If Matt argues that substance equates being, we arrive at Cunningham’s core criticism against modern thought.

    To use an example from Cunningham, what is a leaf? In modern discourse, we conceptualize it, circumscribe it, dissect it into ever smaller components until the leaf itself, as a phenomenon presenting its self to us, vanishes, suffering from a “systemic erasure [that] is the basis of modern knowledge—in all its postmodern guises.” (2002, 173) Cunningham writes:

    “René Guénon argues that infinitude is indefinite, a consequence of which is that it remains susceptible to perpetual multiplicity. For the indefinite is analytically inexhaustible, and according to Guénon Hell is the passage of this division. Indeed Hell can be thought of as a bad infinite, one which is ‘otherworldly’, offering a false asceticism, because the object of every desire disappears into the infinite night of this multiplicity. In this way desire is forbidden ‘intercourse’. And Hell is the black night of this dissolution; the very loss of the immanent under the reign of quantity.” (2002, 173)

    He proceeds to suggest the alternative:

    “What would the opposite look like? It would look like the immanent—a leaf; an appearance that could not be subordinated to knowledge systems, for its visibility would be anchored in the Divine essence as an imitable example of that transcendent plentitude. It would be an imitability located in the Son, as Logos. We could then speak of cells, molecules, and so on. In nihlisitic discourse even the cells of a leaf are further reduced, methodologically, ad infinitum (ad nauseum). This [the alternative] is the place of Heaven—a place which is one of this world, of the immanent. For only through the mediation of immanence by transcendence can the immanent be.” (2002, 173)

    More succinctly to the point:

    “[I]t takes an eternal and infinite charity for there to be a grain of sand.” (2002, 204)

    This is the irony of Matt’s position. The flight to multiplicity ends up as a flight to non-being. We penetrate further into the leaf until we stop and find ourselves in a Sartrean hole. In this way, multiplicity ends up being univocity—the univocity of a non-being whose finality is closed in death. And yet, death itself even vanishes, because in non-being there is no life:

    “In order to give an example of nihilism’s ontological myopia, let us think of nihilistic eyes gazing across a piece of land; this land upon which nihilism gazes is full of shapes, pointed configurations, odours, ratios, proportions, smells, noises and so on. Modern discourse, I suggest, cannot see or say death. For it cannot see pits full of bodies and twisted limbs [of the holocaust], as there can be no loss, there being only an immanent ‘plentitude’ [a preexisting material flux]”. (2002, 176)

    Immanence is unable to see or speak difference, because it is grounded in, from, and returns to a “something” without “thing-ness”. For Cunningham, the reason is that visibility is no longer “anchored in the Divine essence as an imitable example of that transcendent plentitude.” What does this mean?

    This question leads us to the second irony of Matt’s position. His attempt to secure an open finality for creation is wholly unnecessary, as such an open finality is already grounded in the Trinity. If I may forgiven a rather long quote made in order to clarify Cunnignham’s position:

    “The manner in which excess is conceived is not of a more which is spatial, because such excess thinks quantitatively. As a consequence there arises the aforementioned war of all against all, for entities give way to the one event of the indeterminate other (Geist, Substance, the Totality, das Nicht, différance and so on [including Matt’s flux/chaos]). The theologian conceives of creation as gift, but this gift is not conceived purely in terms of efficient causality, because the gift points to the giver, and so to the Good. This means that the radical nature of the gift, its utter participation, articulates itself more in the qualitiative terms of final causality. It is in this way that specificity remains, yet ecstatically and excessively. The intelligent, that is artistic, donation of being resists the quantitative excesses of radical efficiency. Consequently, that which is cannot simply give way to an other, for it is there in the first place as a result of eternal intention. Yet that which does remain does not do so in a self-contained manner, since the gift is a result of the difference of divine unity. In this way, a being that is, which resists reduction, does so as another’s, in that my self qua self is already an other, because it is donated by an other; this is its given-ness….The creature does not simply wait for another ‘bigger’ other, that is, a greater Levinasian alterity. Instead the creature remains as donated gift, and therefore as already another, for it subsists in an ecstatic manner….This means that specificity cannot be eliminated, yet at the same time, and for the same reason, this specificity has an indeterminable potentiality. For the given-ness of the creature, which resists destruction yet is itself an ecstatic opening, possesses a qualitative infinity as an imitable example of the divine essence. Furthermore, it proceeds within the circle of divine procession….[such a being would] best be considered as transfinite in distinction from the absolute infinite which incomprehensibly enfolds all sub-sets of bounded infinitude. This is the actus purissimum which is also in a sense beyond the infinite and the mathematisable finite/infinite contrast. So the creature as transfinite gift remains within the hyper-infinite act of the Trinity. Such an infinity opens up all finitude; yet it is not opened out onto more, nor is it opened up after its arrival, nor at the moment of its birth. Instead its openness is its arrival—the artistic intention of its arrival. The open finality of the Word—as gifted by the Spirit—is the breadth of being, for it is the beauty of trust, hope and love. In becoming one through redemption with the Word the creation enters the Trinity. Yet this is not absorption. Rather this is the space of difference. Life is lived, and this existentiality is the monument of love….” (2002, 263-264)

    “The gift is the result of the difference of divine unity” such that “the creature as transfinite gift remains within the hyper-infinite act of the Trinity.” Here Cunningham is providing us with a completely orthodox answer to Matt and Keller’s concerns, giving a doctrine of creatio ex nihilo that gives an open finality within a relational setting that metaphysically grounds being in love. There are several points to note in this position:

    (1) It demonstrates that any ascription of power discourse and patriarchy to creatio ex nihilo is non-essential. In other words, they do not inhere from it. Matt and Keller recognize a legitimate misuse of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. However, unless they can make the case that such positions are inherent within it, their response is more akin to utilizing a flamethrower to remove a weed from the garden than it is to legitimately addressing the concern.
    (2) This position takes seriously the whole of the canon. Matt and Keller adopt a bizarre literalism regarding Genesis 1 and (arguably) Revelation. Genesis 1 must literally be referring to a Tiamat-esque “something” without “thing-ness”, while Revelation is literally referring to the end of everything, such that the vision we have is one of a wholly-closed future. Rather, in the position of Radical Orthodoxy, we have a position that takes seriously the poetry of Genesis 1—that a primal relationality and indeterminacy co-existed with God prior to Creation—and the apocalypticism of Revelation—that specific events will come to pass. However, Radical Orthodoxy recognizes (as so to did St. Augustine, I suspect) that the poetic implications of Genesis 1 adhere within the Trinity, such that God’s freedom (and ours as well) is preserved. Additionally, they recognize Revelation and Christian eschatology in general refer to specific events of judgment and redemption that will not be the sum total of eternity, but will, as it were, be the new beginning of an eternally-open future for God and Creation.
    (3) “Difference and multidimensionality” can more fruitfully be grounded in the Trinity—the difference of divine unity—than they can in an eternal flux of something otherwise than “thing-ness”. The latter ultimately grounds being in non-being, while the former grounds being in the eternal relationality of Being in Communion.
    (4) Cunningham’s position does so while remaining within orthodoxy. Matt and Keller’s position however seems to require either a co-eternal substance outside of God or a co-eternal being along side God. Regardless of which position Matt or Keller take, the very notion of God in Judeo-Christian thought is violated as God’s freedom is infringed. This would be where Matt needs to meet Saint Anselm’s objection from my previous post.
    (5) Matt and Keller’s position is unable to maintain difference because it essentially dispenses with the transcendent. It is a “transcendent-in-the-immanent” that ends up flattening out into a pure plain of immanence. As Cunningham notes regarding Matt and Keller’s Deleuzian position: “[T]hese two philosophers [Deleuze and Guottari] argue that: ‘Immanence is immanent only to itself, and consequently captures everything, absorbs All-One, and leaves nothing remaining to which it could be immanent.’” (2002, 244) It is immanent only to itself because the chaos or flux underlies all of creation as a “matter” that is purely material, or which at least seems to be as Matt has articulated it thus far.
    (6) Matt and Keller’s position is based upon a Deleuzian error regarding form and creatio ex nihilo. Cunningham writes:

    “Here again we see that Deleuze is employing a flimsy conception of form. For it is formal causality, which beauty is, that forbids the incarceration of being. It does so because beauty introduces a temporal infinity—if not eternity—into the mundane. Furthermore, beauty—in letting us know being—renders us more ‘agnostic’….To know is to know an other, and it is, in a sense, to become that other; but this does not violate alterity, because knowledge—arising from the nubility of being—is essentially related to love. This is the case because if love is not the supreme ‘metaphysical’ term [as opposed, say, to “chaos”] then difference cannot be articulated, cognized, or perceived.” (2002, 195)

    Thus, rather than creating an open finality, Matt and Keller’s position do the opposite: they close it down in “an anonymous, homogenous, ateleological desert.” (2002, 262) By grounding creation’s finality in both Beauty and Goodness, Cunningham’s position makes creation a co-creator of a future subsiding within the dynamic and eternal Trinitarian relationality. As the artist/craftsman creates openly according to the truth of Beauty and Goodness, so humanity is created according to and to contribute to Beauty and Goodness with the freedom of God’s gifted artistic ingenuity and freedom.

    The ultimate irony, however, is that Cunningham could conclude with the very same sentence Matt does:

    “The point is to show that truth–call it a new objectivism–is an “incalculable multiplicity.” I hardly take this as a no-thing-as-some-thing.”

    The difference, of course, is that Cunningham would not call his own position that of a “new objectivism”. Such a claim is far too modernistic to be credible. Yet, Truth is an “incalculable multiplicity” as it is the dynamic relationality of Trinitarian Being. This is a Being that truly is Something. Yet, unlike Matt’s “new objectivism”, it is not a something that can be comprehended. Cunningham distinguishes between “comprehension” and “knowledge”, the latter being a circumscription and the former being an in-dwelling. Thus, the more we know, the less we comprehend, and vice versa, and this is the position of the theologian before the Truth. For, unlike Matt’s truth, this Truth is relational, and thus open to the future. Thus, rather than ending as Matt does, Cunningham concludes his work as follows:

    The Church, then, is open to itself, and open to itself as other. Hence it is a lived reception, which is an embodiment of sacrifice—the sacrifice of reception as testified to by the Spirit. In other words, to feed others I must also feed myself; this is my only acceptable sacrifice.

    Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
    Guiltie of dust and sinne.
    But quick ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
    From my first entrance in,
    Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
    If I lack’d any thing. (2002, 266)

    • Matt Cullen-Meyer says :

      Matt Martin, I think this is your best response yet. In fact, it’s the kind of argument I’m willing to do business with. I have planned on reading Cunningham for a good few years now and I hope to realize that expectation in the coming months. It will be the summer of nihil.

      To clarify Keller’s position I must add that on my reading she does imply that God is a co-creator; a pro-creation between Almighty Father and the primordial womb of undifferentiated flux. However, at other times it almost sounds like (or at least suggests as one possible reading) that God originally created the “waters”. Of course we know as much as her that this would collapse back into creatio ex nihilo.

      Matt’s argument that transcendence-in-immanence will collapse back into pure immanence is right on. In fact, that’s kind of the whole point (at least for someone like Deleuze). His substitute for the transcendent is the “virtual” which hovers over the material and arranges it. (Zizek too argues transcendence is immanent to immanence).

      A point of argumentation I will make, however, against Matt (and anyone doing theology and philosophy) is that theology is not a quick-fix for getting out of the bind of grounding sense in non-sense. To most secularized individuals recourse to a three-in-one god sounds more bogus than all of philosophy’s aporias between the finite and infinite.

      Furthermore, conflating all-the-everything with no-thing is a poor move I think. Certainly they might appear the same at the manifest register but their distinctions make all the difference. It’s the same sort of distinction we make between imitation and rivalry, icons and idols, transcendence and immanence.

      I would also argue that Keller is no less orthodox for her creatio ex profundis. In fact, she goes to great lengths pointing out how her position is actually more biblically supported than the alternative. Also to say that the trinity is a more fruitful doctrine for respecting difference than the flux depends on one’s perspective or context. Undifferentiated matter is arguably a more reliable theory in understanding the universe from a scientific stance than perhaps unity-in-difference.

      To follow up this previous point and to conclude I will agree with Matt’s basic assumption (I think) that postmodernity is fully in the tradition of the Enlightenment. In summation, postmodernity is not beyond modernity but hyper-modernity.

      • Matt Martin says :

        In his response, Matt lays out four important points of contention between the position I am representing (Cunningham and Radical Orthodoxy) and that he is representing (Catherine Keller). I will respond to each in turn. First:

        1. “[T]heology is not a quick-fix for getting out of the bind of grounding sense in non-sense. To most secularized individuals recourse to a three-in-one god sounds more bogus than all the philosophy’s aporias between the finite and infinite.”

        If it sounds more bogus, it is simply because the faith of post-Enlightenment secularism has excluded from the start recourse to a transcendent being. Philosophically speaking, discussion of Trinitarian being is a position that honest philosophers, secular or not, cannot reject without valid argument. I have yet to see such an argument from secular atheist philosophies. I’m not saying they are not out there, but an “argument” that we simply cannot discuss God in ontology and philosophy is hardly legitimate. There is no valid philosophical reason to beg the question by excluding transcendent being from philosophical discussion. Such an assumption is an Enlightenment myth that would seem exceedingly bizarre to centuries of philosophers who came before our “Enlightenment”. Thus, I am unconcerned with what “most secularized individuals” will find compelling, because this isn’t a popularity contest. It is a philosophical discussion. If I restrict my arguments to what “most secularized individuals” find compelling, I am begging so many important philosophical questions as to make a mockery of the whole enterprise of philosophical thought.

        That aside, Trinitarianism specifically (not “theology” more generally) actually is a better way of getting out of the grounding of sense in non-sense (text in no-text, being in non-being, etc.) Trinitarianism is the “difference of unity” in that it grounds Being in love: the Trinitarian perichoresis. To ensure faithful representation of CUnningham’s complex argument, I will provide a quote that exemplifies his position:

        “…Creator is the unity of three. In this way also dualism is avoided. Furthermore, Christian theology avoids the stasis of Neoplatonism, where the One, and all that which is below the One, cannot actually be separated or discerned. In Neoplatonism the element of necessity appears in the fact that creation is a consequence of nature, not of intelligence, and the linked view that from one follows only one. As a consequence it is argued here that what falls below the One falls within it. In this sense, an ontological difference is not forthcoming. It could still be said that this is somewhat similar to the Trinitarian reading offered here. This is false for the reason that God is in no way mingled with the creature. Creation arises because love can allow for difference; love gives in such a way, and so utterly, that what is given is not a change, and therefore divine simplicity is not offended….Love is the invention of difference, for love did not look to an external register from which it took its idea for difference. In this way creation can be other than God yet come within the Trinitarian procession.” (2002, 264-265)

        One immediately is struck by the similarity of important aspects of Neoplatonism with Keller and Matt’s position, in which, excluding God, all being arises within and is undifferentiated from the “all-the-everything”. An important difference is that Keller and Matt argue God creates out of the “all-the-everything”, thus adding an air of intelligence to the process and avoiding the necessitarianism. However, both fail to avoid being always within the undifferentiated flux, thus falling prey to the same problems of Neoplatonic creation. Additoinally, if I understand Matt right, creation has no final causality, thus eliminating a key aspect of intelligent creation and leaving one wondering after all if intelligence or God is involved in creation in anything but name only.

        Additionally (and ironically, given their criticism of creatio ex nihilo as patriarchal) Keller and Matt rely on the primal dualism of God/Male and Chaos/Female. The two then “pro-create” to bring about a Creation that, strangely enough, nevertheless remains within the bounds of Chaos. Thus, Keller and Matt, ironically, are enshrining a foundational patriarchal reading of pagan creation myths: God/Male is Order and Intelligible Reason associated arguably with Sky, while Chaos/Female are mysterious, unpredictable, undefined, and associated with the sea (the “Deep”). There is a primitive (one might say Babylonian) element to their mythology that opens itself up to the very same criticisms that Levinas, for example, faced when confronting feminist critics of his mysterious feminine Other. The wet, chaotic, indeterminate feminine is at best complementary to and at worst ontologically faced off against the ordered, intelligible masculine to “pro-create” creation in a bizarre ontological sexual creation that brings to mind pagan mythologies of the divine masculine “watering” the feminine earth with its sperm-rain. One is hard-pressed to understand such a paganization of Creation myth as orthodox.

        The Trinity, however, incorporates the masculine/feminine within Its-self so that the sexes can have difference with unity, and unity without erasure. THus, God, in perichoretic love, incorporates both the divine masculine and feminine so as to head off the very criticisms that Matt levels against it: that it is patriarchal totalitarianism. The Trinity is not patriarchal, for it is not male, nor is it enshrining primal masculine/feminine dualisms. It is not totalitarian, because it is not a dictatorial One, but a loving unity of the differentiated Three. It is a differentiating unity and a unifying differentiation of the dualisms Keller and Matt’s own position enshrines beyond the very beginning of all things.

        Of course, Matt and Keller can argue Trinitarianism still incorporates simple dualisms in the form of Creator/Creation. Cunningham writes:

        “This may not though necessarily be true, because creation-difference is a result of love which, precisely, does not divide. In line with Aquinas, it has been suggested that creation is a result of divine unity, and for this reason it is not a change. And the creature, as Aquinas says, ‘brings itself into being’. To this degree, then, the creature cannot be simply set over and against God the Creator [though for Cunningham elsewhere the two clearly do not collapse into one another]: Nicholas of Cusa referred to God as non aliud (not other). Furthermore, Augustine informs us that ‘God has been made man so that man might become God.’ Likewise, Gregory of Nyssa says ‘Man leaves behind his own nature;…to sum up everything in a word: from being man, he becomes God.’ Eckhart concurs: ‘God and I are one’. Consequently, there is no simple dualism between creator and creature.” (2002, 264)

        A complex dualism still is in operation here, as it must be if we are to have differentiation at all between God and Creation. However, it is not a hard-and-fast dualism like that between Matt’s God and the “all-the-everything”. Keller and Matt enshrine a primordial dualism between God and “all-the-everything”, aside for a sexual, penetrating “pro-creation” that fails ultimately to meet the need. Where Creation is concerned, “all-the-everything” is always the erasure of created difference. Thus, even if one were to argue theology enshrines a primordial dualism between God and No-thing, God’s creation ex nihilo is a creation that rather than erasing difference creates difference within the means of the perichoresis of the Trinity. Via analogical thinking/being, everything is bonded together in a difference born out of love.

        2. “Furthermore, conflating all-the-everything” with no-thing is a poor move I think. Certainly they might appear the same at the manifest register but their distinctions make all the difference. It’s the same sort of distinction we make between imitation and rivalry, icons and idols, transcendence and immanence.”

        If the differences make all the difference, one might have hoped that Keller and Matt would say what precisely they are, rather than giving vague examples that may or may not actually be the same. Certainly, “all-the-everything” and no-thing do appear the same, and Keller and Matt still fail to register their distinctions so as to make a difference. This distinction, it seems, is not the same as that between imitation and rivalry, icons and idols, transcendence and immanence, because in each of the latter cases we actually can see what the difference is. After all, Cunningham’s point is that “all-the-everything” may as well be the same as “all-the-nothing”, because an “all-the-everything” cannot speak the difference. If it cannot speak difference, then it is essentially as much “all-the-nothing” as “all-the-everything”. As soon as we attempt to introduce a distinction within the “all-the-everything”, that distinction vanishes into the “undifferentiated flux”. This includes the difference of Being. The “all-the-everything” indeed cannot exclude the no-thing, because it cannot classify itself as some-thing. As Matt made perfectly clear, Keller cannot even talk of this “all-the-everything” without calling it a “something without thing-ness” Matt and Keller can execute all the linguistic contortions that they want, but they still fail to register even a difference of Being and, logically, are left with no way of arguing it is “something” rather than “nothing”, which is to say in their terminology, “everything”. In fact, the only distinction it seems can be made is that the “undifferentiated flux” is not God, a rather ironic distinction from the perspective of orthodox Christianity, as “not God” is “no-thing” in regard to original causality.

        Philosophically speaking, Keller and Matt are nihilistic in their logic, because they are unable to speak difference or unity without destroying one or the other. Trinitarianism, however, can, for it grounds difference in differentiated, unified Being. There is no need for recourse to undifferentiated “all-the-everything”, for we have a source of creation that holds difference within unity of Being, speaking of both simultaneously rather than oppressively erasing difference as soon as it attempts to appear from the “undifferentiated flux”. As soon as “undifferentiated flux”–the “all-the-everything”–attempts to speak of difference, that difference is immediately constituted in its own erasure by the tyranny of the “everything”. “To be”, it must vanish. In Trinitarianism, however, difference is maintained without erasure in the unity of Being.

        3. “In fact, she goes to great lengths pointing out how her position is actually more biblically-supported than the alternative.”

        It is perfectly clear that the origin accounts in Genesis can imply a creatio ex profundis account just as much as a creatio ex nihil account. In fact, taken alone, I would argue myself that the weight of the text leans toward the former than the latter. This would be significant if the Canon consisted of Genesis alone. However, as I have argued above, the text cannot be weighted alone. It must be approached in light of the whole corpus of the Canon, the historical context of each text’s authorship, and the whole weight of orthodox Tradition. It is in this light that we become able to tell the difference between the more legitimate of two possible interpretations.

        Thus, Keller and Matt argue that Genesis accounts promote creatio ex profundis. Fair enough. However, when we take into account the extreme monothesitic emphases of the authorial community of the text, the extra-Judaical influences of heretical Babylonian creation mythologies, the Creeds of the Church, textual support for creatio ex nihilo, and the traditions of the Church regarding the interpretation of Scripture, we begin to suspect that is is ex nihilo that has the most weight behind it. All this is aside from teh philosophical problem of positing a co-eternal substance along side God and with which God “pro-creates”. I have laid out my basic objections on the grounds of logic above, and need not repeat them here.

        4. “Also to say that the trinity is a more fruitful doctrine for respecting difference than the flux depends on one’s perspective or context. Undifferentiated matter is arguably a more reliable theory in understanding the universe from a scientific stance than perhaps unity-in-difference.”

        I have two responses to this statement. My firs is of course. Matt’s point is granted, and my perspective is orthodox Christianity. What is our yardstick for determining ontology? Is it the natural realm and empirical observation? Is it the supernatural realm and revelation? Our starting point will impact our ending point, but seeing as Keller and Matt seem to want to make their case iwthin the realm of orthodox Christianity (if not, why the point he makes in #3?), that means they have to play by the standards of the community. This means their staring point is the supernatural and revelation, as revealed in Scripture and Tradition. Matt can’t simply jump from speculative philosophy to scientific empiricism to evade the above criticisms. And if Matt does assume ontology be debated on the grounds of scientific empiricism, he and I simply have drastically-different starting assumptions and will be debating past one another. Ultimately, to say that “fruitfulness” depends on perspective and context is simply a tautology. Moreover, however, fruitfulness depends on Truth, and not the other way around, leading me to my second response.

        If we aren’t careful we tend to begin compressing two separate debates into one. On the one hand, we can debate what is true of Being and Creation. On the other hand, we can debate what is the most fruitful in light of the socio-political-economic outcomes they engender, and this in turn will depend on what socio-political-economic systems we already believe are most fruitful. Thus, we mistake socio-political-economic debates for ontological ones, and vice versa. In this light we again want to be careful in understanding ontology merely from the perspective of what is “fruitful” rather than what is True. Of course, standards of truth-making are determined again by perspective and context. However, this is not eh same as saying Truth is, for example, “the truth of relativity”. If one wants to argue that the only Truth is the flux of truths, one has to make a philosophical case for it, rather than simply declaring it based on one’s socio-political-economic preferences. Furthermore, if one wants to make a philosophical case for it, one inevitably will have to being with ontology and metaphysics, which is precisely what we are doing now. Matt’s case seems to be based upon a desire to ensure a certain socio-political-economic order: democratic capitalism. I too desire to ensure a certain socio-political-economic order, though it certainly isn’t democratic capitalism or its secular counterparts. However, we have to be careful that we are not taken off track by socio-political-economic purposes when discussing ontology. Thus, “fruitful” will always be a matter of secondary concern, following as it is on the primary concerns of logic and investigation into the nature of things as they are apart from our socio-political-economic desires.

      • Matt Cullen-Meyer says :

        1. The Trinity is a posited axiom of theology and, as such, makes no sense to subjects outside this truth claim. For those embedded in the tradition of Christianity, it is an extremely helpful tool in clarifying and prescribing reality. But for philosophers who are less concerned with axioms external to their own discipline the Trinity is not going to sound as helpful. Granted, bifurcating a masculine/feminine order to explain the universe is sexist, but Keller’s point, as far as I understand, is to highlight these distinctions that have always-already been historically made by theologians and give partial treatment to the side that is generally repressed: the feminine. She also seems more ambivalent on the actual origin of the oceanic undifferentiated deep as I have noted before. These points aside, I think Cunningham’s Genealogy of Nihilism was worth the read and I support the argument that nihilism is no less a belief system than theism.

        2. I think we’re more allies than enemies on this one. I completely agree that the difference between undifferentiated plenitude and infinite nothingness makes all the difference. In fact, I emailed Peter Hallward this very challenge against Badiou. Following is my question and Hallward’s response:

        Cullen-Meyer: And finally, instead of creatio ex nihilo would it be possible to substitute instead creatio ex profundis if we are to remain faithful to Badiou? It appears as though inconsistent multiplicity parallels a plural foundation of becoming – as you identify in the closing chapters – rather than an empty void qua nihil.

        Hallward: Up to a point I’d go along with this, with a caveat. True, ‘void’ isn’t just ‘nothing’, no more than zero is. (There’s a difference between e.g. ‘scoring’ zero goals in a soccer match, and there not being a match at all; void is always what counts for nothing according to a situation, e.g. here a situation that counts goals). But Badiou’s whole effort is to avoid any neo-Romantic reference to depth, and to insist instead on the fully rational analysis of presentation, which in its most generic sense, equates ‘that which is presented’ with presenting in the zero degree, so to speak. This is an important question, I hope you pursue it more. I tried to deal with it a little more here, http://www.mdx.ac.uk/www/CRMEP/STAFF/Hallward,%20%27Depending%20on%20Inconsistency%27,%20Polygraph%202005.pdf, but there’s still a lot more to done with it.

        3. I think Keller would be proud of at least the recognition that there exists an ecstatic hermeneutic of the creation account. Of course a creatio ex nihilo has been historically favored by male theologians, but that’s exactly her point too!

        4. Well put, I think. Certainly we should be more logical in our arguments and stick to what we know best, but blogging is a great place to try out new positions. I read Cunningham, now I challenge you to read Meillassoux.

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