What are the fundamental confusions about religion? What if the region is not about belief? What if religion is not about truth? What if religion is not about God? What if the religion not about other life, heaven, faraway place? What if religion is about renewing, recovering, and reforming? What if religion is about intimate loving relationships? These are the questions Bruno Latour tries to deal in his extremely provocative book, Rejoicing: or the Torments of Religious Speech. It is both a satisfying and scandalous book, intriguing and scandalizing book in a way only a masterful work can do. The greatest influence on Bruno Latour is Michel Serres. Both Bruno Latour Michel Serres think that religion must be understood from its complex etymologies derived from relegare (to read over again), religare (to attach, bind, tie together) or religiens (care, carefulness). In this sense, religion is not about belief but about concern. This can make religion secular, mundane and worldly. For Bruno Latour, religion is historically and materially embedded phenomenon. It means that “religion does not speak of things but from things.” Bruno Latour is a practicing Catholic, still, his notion of God has nothing to do with the mode of existence we call as scientific. He is God is purely imminent one, “a God that does not exist outside the procession and rituals that make God present.” Says Graham Harman. Bruno Latour specifies this God as G. It is to neutralize some of the dogmatic categories that have been accumulated upon it by centuries of theistic tradition.
Latour laments the fact that the religion doesn’t mean anything real today. Religion has lost its tonality, regime of speech and utterance. He is ashamed of both what he hears from the pulpit and of the incredulous hatred or indifference of those who laugh at anyone who goes to the church. He wonders, “what monsters metamorphosis makes what one had so much meaning became absolutely meaningless like blast of words freezing on the lips of convicts in the Siberian cold.” As a result, neither belief nor non-belief distinguishes those who talk about religion from those so do not. In this discussion Latour doesn’t care about what is in the beginning and what counts for him is what comes just after that. Latour strikes hard at the fact that words have lost their meaning. How? We could have kept the meaning only by changing words. Clerics piously prefer the words at the risk of losing the meaning. “They have left us, the rest of us, we late comers, ignoramuses, starters, equipped with the words that have become untruthful for the purpose of recording the real things we hold dear to our hearts.” An example is word, God. Latour thinks that it could have been translated as “indisputable framework of ordinary existence”. If not, we will be pitting God against non-God and translating the same everyday reality as God, substituting one word for another thus making it a scandal. In the beginning, the word God did not make anyone to stumble when it was shared as the starting point of all discourses. But today it does stumble. Faithful did not recognize the fact by keeping the world intact, they were abandoning the meaning: thus making the word God synonymy of non-God. In an attempt to save the word, we lost have the treasure, the meaning: “whoever will save his life shall lose it” (Matthew 16:21) If this word, God has become synonym of God, then atheism is the preferable point of departure from God, since it provides an indisputable framework for common action and thereby more closely resembling the expression ‘helpful God’, from the days when people raised their hands towards the heaven in the presence of misfortune than any current invocation to God whose life form has passed.”
If everything is upside down in such a fashion, what should we do? Latour has this yearning “what I really need is something new, I need the psalter no one has set to verse, the collection of songs no one has compiled, of holy pictures no one has coloured in.” Who doesn’t have such a thirst? Who doesn’t earn for a renewal? We all know the great fact that the church is collapsing in many countries, centuries ago we stopped rebuilding to prevent this collapse. Our mountainous deficit is increasing day by day. Latour knows the answer, all that is left is two gaping ruins the one for sheltering the people on the inside, the other only good for expelling the people on the other side.” The church was failed terribly to hold people together, to keep the meaning of the words. Look at the horrible situation of the sermons, they multiply words which don’t have any meaning. We, overburdened listeners wish to run as fast our legs can carry. We cannot give genuine interpretation without renewal. For that word must not be taken seriously because it doesn’t circulate, only meaning circulates. The faithful have betrayed the meaning. The transformation is possible only through the translation that keeps the meaning intact, not the words.
Latour gives the example of how to preserve the meaning by changing the world. He says that, even if we have to turn it, skew it, or project a cube down inside the space of a descriptive geometry, none of its relationships will be lost; even if appearances are drastically altered every time. Same is the case with the computer assisted design, movie special effects, GPRS. Their form goes different but content remains the same. But a map is quite different. Religion is quite different from a map. They don’t give access to a familiar turf. They don’t hold. “No treasure hunts, no reversible paths, either.” Unlike the science which is possible without imitation and faithfulness, religion can’t convey anything without transforming it from top to bottom. What science gives us is a transformation and information while religion tries to give transformation and translation.
What is this religious speech? There is no other example of its other than that of a love-talk between lovers. But as soon as we talk of lovers the letter and the spirit part the company. In love talk, we don’t map out any reference instead we seek to produce something else entirely: the near and far, closeness or distance. Just like the amorous talk the aim of the religious talk is not to distill information through the chain of graduated documents, each of which serve material for making the next one, “the thing is that, with these sentences, which are mysterious as they are banal, we hope to get closer and not move further away. They don’t provide any access, they don’t teach anything about anything, they don’t drive, they don’t form holds we can get any kind of grape on. You don’t go anywhere with them.” We will be able to dispose of the superfluous burden of belief once we decline to look for access to the distant. But if we want to get closer to the person you are addressing, and then what you gather will never be information. Belief in belief can only make the revival of religious life impossible because it engenders the illusion of another world to which religious discourses by some miraculous somersault, would provide exclusive access. There is no spiritual world but only a material world. If there is a spiritual world it will be of science. The big bang theory, oceanography, number theory, all have the spiritual characteristics.
The religious speech must bring profound disappointment in this regard to the faithful. Because we can never use them to proceed to secrets superior to the secrets of science. religion doesn’t help us to unravel the mysteries of the universe. Instead, religion changes us. Latour following Michael Sarah’s understanding of angels says that “angels do not convey messages; they change those they address. what they transfer is not an information content, but a new container.” Angels transforming the interlocutor establish a communication, ‘you are wanted on the phone.’
So we have to go through the fundamental disappointment, religion leads nowhere because there is no other. We can fill up our frustrations with the spectacle of higher truths, we can quell the anguish of death with the invocation of another world. But they are of no use. Science may hear our prayers but not the religion. In religion, no questions will be resolved and no mystery revealed. Then what? Only this fact will be given,” He has risen, he’s not here. behold the place where they laid him.” (Mark 16:6) Resurrection does not give any sign, no answer to the great questions of existence. The world is high enough, transcendent enough, full enough, aired enough. By depriving ourselves of another world, we stop deceiving ourselves. We need to accept the fact that we are in the world known to science, and inhabited by common sense, “to have a chance of talking precisely about religion, you have first of all to love the science with all your might, with all your heart, with all your soul and the respect the worlds they leave in their wakes.” The world of the science is enough for us to be religious, it provides us with several ways of living. We don’t need any up words to live such a life but a down world moves to the linguistic acts that transform interlocutors without in any way diminishing out thirst for knowledge. Religious speech transforms us right down, right now, the very moment they address you. Just like love talk, religious speech transforms someone distant into someone close. Which is a conversion.
Mystery, faith, conversion, these things are obscure when placed in a transcendental realm. But in imminence they are clear. So, “mysterious does not refer to what is hidden, obscure or coded, but to what is risky, clever and well done.” Religion is not about unfathomable mysteries. Latour’s idea becomes more clear when he speaks about Pentecost. The Scripture says that at the Pentecost everyone understood the glad tidings. To hear this good tiding, the people didn’t shed their ethnicity. All those diverse people found themselves gripped from the word. It placed on them only one difficult demand: conversion. Once they converted, they all understood the same message in their own tongue at Pentecost through the intercession of the Holy Spirit. But this Pentecost is far away from us now. It is not near anymore, and there is no transformation either, so, the message is equally foreign to all tongue, to all people, to all times. Latour asks, “how can we not cry bitter tears before this reversal of the figure of the universal, all the forms of catholicity?” For a transformation, we need a reversal of looking for what is stable across space and time. We need to change the way we put space and time together. Pentecost was not GPRS, the GPRS allows to know where we are in pointing of latitude and longitude. But we have a kind of exactitude and truth when we understand what is having the same glad tidings in our own tongue, “information and networks have their grandeur, their importance, their efficacy, their spirituality, if you like, but in the end, they don’t amount to a Pentecost. The Apostles did not adapt their message to all different tongue. What people had owned that pleasant day was a different form of progressive universalization. The word placed on them one demand to convert them to be part of the same people, to be faithful of one tradition, to be trustees of the same message whose meaning would be spoken to their tongue.”
Latour asks “can we produce this kind of emotional shock ever again? How can we save religion?Latour says we need to go back to the utterly banal example of the Lover’s dialogue. We know that lovers repeat their ‘I love you’ thousands of time. Still, they will ask each other ‘do you love me’, to get back the same love everlasting over time. We preserve these ‘same’ not by maintaining a substance over time and space. Neither it comes down from the past to present. Rather it takes off from the present and goes back to past, changing and deepening the past’s foundation. Pentecost did the same, to produce the same unity, unification and the universal which converted the people gathered for the feast, when they heard the same message in their own tongue, it made them a lot closer, for the first time, deepening that the same feeling of belonging. “The strangers with their strange customs, actually turned out to be our brothers, in spite of the diversity.”
If it doesn’t happen today, it is because we began to assume that behind every story, regardless of its twists and turns, there is a unique substance, impervious to changes, which remains always what it was on the first day, would explain the diversity of the acts of conversion. Latour shows courage to say that the constant universal God, the substantial God, that standard God is mere artefact, mere pseudoscientific proposition. He is “scholarly hope, castrated- libido sciendi interupta.” Latour says that God is not substance but love, the ever-changing love which turns enemies into lovers. Perhaps he is as fragile as love because one wrong word can put love into crisis. Then love becomes a folly, because this crisis puts love to flow from past to present. But as soon as lovers come close the again, all the moments of being apart seem like a moment of incomprehensible madness to them. Then love through a retrospective movement begin to flow from present to past.
So it is present that is at issue, not the past. The religious utterances shall not fall heavily from past to present. It springs from the present to revive the past and open up the future. It is then the unity and identity and union of people find itself reformed. In our time religious utterances are evaporating because the words which are supposed to give life are set in a different history, space and culture to address the people in remote. Thus they are not addressed to us, here and now but to those in very ancient times. We feel them as ranting, ridiculous pomposity, crazy make-believe. We have been inventing all sorts of unconvincing compromises between access words and words of salvation, without managing to benefit from the advantages of either offer. Again those words, “don’t have the slightest effect; mediocre, they slide off our lives like rain on a windscreen.” By hearing these torrent of insanity, we cannot form a holy nation but only a group of strangers, sometimes enemies as if nothing can bring us together.” Latour calls his quarrel with the religion as lover’s quarrel. He still sticks to his pew because he believes that behind all this in infelicity conditions lie the facility conditions intact. But in all these quarrels, he feels divided, at war with himself, “when it comes to the kiss of peace, I become a monument of flash dedicated hypocrisy and blasphemy polluted by mental reservations like unto a whited sepulcher.” Latour clearly diagnosis the situation of clergy who perform all sorts of advertisements and dodgy compromises. Why we can’t resist this waywardness and go for a purification? Why do we forget the fact that, “the most solid looking fortifications no longer offered any more resistant than a simple line drawn in the sand with a finger.”
The religion now spreads everywhere without shocking anyone. Rather it applies to offer some myopic consolations like a more ideal, a feeling of the infinite, a call to one’s conscience, a richer in the life, access to the great all. Then “what, a lot of poppycock that God is!” This is not a Pentecost but anti-Pentecost which does not address to me right now, but everyone, anytime, anywhere. “By trying to serve the religion from the fire of criticism, we have transformed it into a bland universal that doesn’t even have the solid networks of physical constants to back it up. By trying to preserve something of this long religious experience, in spite of everything, we have lost everything. As always, purity is indeed the vitriol of the soul. The supreme temptation that must be resisted.”
How to be faithful once more and how? Latour laments the fact of empty churches of Europe. In the name of holy freedom, Europe destroyed the institutions that brought them into existence. He is sure that one day it will have to hold accountable, the spoiled, rotten, rotting, spoiling generation of ours. It is time we worked days from heaven to look and appreciate the world. We should be worldly again because “if revelation there is, it will come from below, in the very thing our intellect seeks to explain, and not from above, shedding false light on it.” It is the past that dwells upon heaven but the present is the matter of the below. The Past drastically differs from the present, so the new talk must differ from the talk of the past. It doesn’t mean that we have to innovate. We need only to represent the same. Latour here proposes the ‘the repetition of renewal’. One of the things that remove the freshness and efficacy of the word is the solid state of tradition and its moral weight. The tradition forgets the fact of truthful machinery which produces religious expressions, produces within the tradition of the word. What looked truth may become lie to the flow of time, if we repeat the word from being a conduit to become an obstacle, the lying truth. So, “to mark the transfer from one time to another, the words have had to be made to undergo minor but violent to twisting. This twisting is not adaptation, deformtion, adjustment, modernisation, but total transformation, since, instead of referring to the distant past, it forces us to refer to the present.” Now, how such a radical transformation is possible? The answer is “by grasping it in such a way that it becomes inappropriate for all other uses.” We must efficaciously revive the tradition to bring forth the present. We should make all exegesis equal to a mundane and tedious expression of, ‘I love you.’ Thus a dazzling tension is added to the worn out words by putting them in the process of making sense again. As if in a love talk, all the unbearable lies will become dazzling truth again.Truth knows only the present, when we relegate it to in the past, it is a lie. Even history becomes truth only when it moves from present to the past.
Latour likens religious speech to the fabric Dante speaks about in Paradise, which keeps shrinking: “for it to keep its length, bits have added to it endlessly.” Lies and elaborations are constitutive components of religion, since utterances and rituals must always be brought forward or backward if they are to continue to be true in the present, and we can’t perform such sliding, such shaking movements or drifts except by twisting venerable words round, wrenching them from their past context to get them to say something topical that they have never signified.” Inspired phrases always inspire something new. All the sacred text are on the way to defeat death by their rhythm, cadence and structure. The enemies of this text are not lies or embellishments but the banality of sentimentality. Science opts for naked truths. But religion opts for truths warmly dressed in its veils of padded velvet. Deleuze has similar opinion. He says that philosophy does not consist in knowing and it’s not inspired by truth. Rather, it is categories like interesting, remarkable or importance that determines success or failure.
Latour turns his attention to the Apostles Creed, what it means to us today? Do they deserve much attention? Can we ever simplify them? The Apostle’s Creed is smitten by the demon of rationalization. “In giving the impression of talking more logically, they stripped from a mystery of cleverness to a mystery of absurdity. This paradox-no, this diabolical trap-is something we have to outsmart.” What it means when we say that “Jesus has risen”? We all know that it is a connection passage. We don’t actually understand it. So to understand it we add an equally non-understanding episode, the empty tomb episode. Its proof is the shroud is lying on the floor of the tomb. The resurrection is not so much a miraculous event but to produce a meaning of it, we indulge in handing out miracles and we rationalize it as if it is a scientific event. In everything devil triumphs. Then we will never understand what actually it is.
The expression ‘virgin mother’ has been incomprehensible for a long time. Then came a rationalization and their dogmas which claim that ‘Mary was born without sin existed for all eternity and did not know the original sin of Eve’s children, a divine plan hidden from the mankind and kept her in reserve so that she should become immaculate. All these rational gymnastics only to cover up the fact that, ‘God has been born of a simple woman which is incomprehensible to logic.’ He says that “it is not irrationality that makes it untruthful but excess rationalisation.” Another way death and the devil have destroyed religion is to make it belief in an all powerful, all knowing God who is outside history, absolutely stable an enduring standard and yardstick of values and assets. Sacred text is overloaded with footnotes, interpolations, exaggeration and elaboration; except the original impulse which alone is capable of producing new meanings. Once we have the original impulse, there can be deformation, information and elaboration which must work on the original impulse. But when we rationalised everything to avoid misunderstanding, the misunderstandings only mushroomed. So we have to come closer to the original source but the original source “is not in the past but in the present, always in the present, the only asset we have.”
Even if all the expression of the church is going headlong down, Latour says that he wants to belong to the Church. we are seduced by the symbolic reading which allows us to tuck the letter and spirit conveniently away. When the Scriptures are judged immutable and holy, felicity conditions of their utterances are detached from them forever. They become, then clumsy, patchy, deficient and unresolved. Then we try to make it modern, another folly, because we have never been modern, “the more you make religion modern, and acceptable, soft and digestible, the less you are faithful to its specific order of difficulty.” Christianity, forgetting its original beginning began to squander itself in a salvation through arts, the motets, the baroque Angels, the tympanums, the gold chasubles, the solemn procession, the children’s choirs ringing out under the Roman vaults in clouds of incense. Of course, there is some resemblance between religion and artistic regiments of utterance, but, “Art does not save or resurrect, except through metaphor. It can transform but not convert.” Art is too spiritual to accompany the religion for long in its meandering. “Religion must disappoint aesthete every bit as much as the scientist.”
What makes the religious tales, rituals truthful are not themselves in their literal expression, allegory, logical consequences but truth will reveal itself through their, “rough bits, their deformations, their stitches their similarities, through all that make them inappropriate for normal information consumption, unfit for any literal reading, dangerous for any form of aesthetic digestion, incomprehensive for any communicator.” He was dead, he has risen means it did not happen in the past, rather the meaning must be sought for me here. To feel it present we need to be faithful inventors. That faithful invention must know the fact that religious tales seek to convert the distant into the near. Let us not draw our gaze towards Palestine, towards the Roman Empire; let us become attentive to the text, ” listened in vertical series, it tells us how we have to understand any story of salvation, so that we can produce new ones.”
The resurrection in this sense presence us the tales of today, the life and death, presence and absence. the resurrection is not endowed with any information but with a warning, that you should repeat it, starting from now to the future. Gospel is usable for any information, communication, entertainment, aesthetics, and wonder. But it appears to the present with dazzling clarity. So that “we may finally take our turn reviving the rhythm of the whole sets of Legends, by reviving what they have always strived hard to get us to say properly and represent properly. Once revived the text to begin to purify, resurrect and redress its interlocutors again, the old and the new, the humble and elaborate become equally truth. Having become present once more, it will form the same people confirmed in its vocation of Pentecost.” These people will increase every time in time and space. Ultimately the Gospel, “transforms the absent into the present, the dead into the risen.”
Latour repeatedly is entangled in these questions, can we speak once more about these things? Is it possible, with a tiny flame of personal love, to rekindle the fires of religion? Latour says that in itself the expression ‘Jesus’ is meaningless if it is a substitute reality, and there is no sense the substantive ‘Jesus’ without the movement of translation. If Jesus is a word it must be uttered anew and must be begun again. As Jesus says, “I am which is, and which was, and which is to come (Revelation 1:8) This means in other words, “the one who rises is once more, permanently present, not unutterable through distancing, but through proximity. Too close, too intense to be looked in the face.”
Latour has been always accused of relativism. Latour accepts that accusation and says that relativism is more right in the matters of religion, “it speaks of relationship, scruples, and contemplation as accurately as the word religion itself whose various etymologies speak of the bringing into the relationship, attachment, care and contemplation.” His relativism is evident when he says that what has been called God in certain place, in certain time, can be called today in another vocable such as, “the thing that begets neighbour.”
With his thinking that so much focuses on the present, he finds it difficult to believe in eternal life. He says that it doesn’t make any kind of sense today, especially for those who weep before the open grave where the loved ones lie. But the time we experience as decisive, definite in love, no longer passes. Instead of eternal time, it is this kind of time we should held on in our short lives. Thus we will be able to direct our attention, care and cautiousness, “towards what lies prone before us now, the love we so painfully regret not acting in time.”
His next attention is on the dogma, incarnation. Latour thinks that it cannot make sense today when it descends from substance to attributes. Then it is neither right nor false. We may turn it into an object of belief, that’s all. It has no touchstone, “but as soon as we put it back on its feet, by taking it right way round again, starting from the attributes and going back to the substance, it becomes accurate again since it retrieves all truth values. Once again it is true or false, open to proof, to verification, guarantee, authentic fiction.” Then it is not remote but close, not spiritual but the carnal, not dead but alive “it alerts us to a presence which is temporarily permanent because “the time is fulfilled.” (Mark 1:15)
About salvation, Latour asks, “what was on high came down here below,? What was for absent from now one percent? Latour believes that truthfulness of it depends on the sequel, not on the beginning. Clerics based their sermon on the weakness of man, to proclaim the grandeur of their Lord but they forgot the world has been delivered from all sorts of mastery., “There is no control and all powerful creator, either-normal God than man. But there is care, scruple, cautiousness, attention, contemplation, hesitation and revival. To understand each other, all we have is what comes from our own hands, but that doesn’t mean out hands can be taken for the origin.” Then we will be able to traverse through translation, the distant into near, the absent into present, the spirit into flesh the next world to this world, the transcendental into imminence. It would also mean that the return to religion will not mean a return to the old amalgam of people, administration, records, economies and the laws, and no to a totalitarian life form. Clergy then has to recover their freedom of speech. So that they can speak about the world.
Religion need not sums up all sorts of existence. But need to add its own tonality which would make neighbour made present to each other, time would be fulfilled, history would not be passed in vain, death would not triumph. The communion of saints would mean that “the buried truths of words revived in the mouths of the living.” Church then “is the contested repository of lies, elaborations, selections and revivals.” The institutional religion will recover its stature by making it comprehensible and salutary for each of its new interlocutors, making it a relative to the language of those who were supposed to hear it. Though Latour doesn’t believe in another world, he does believe in the virtual world. He believes that the virtual catholicity of people must be resurrected. This fulfilled time disrupts usual, habitual, deadly course of action and brings as close to the particular time that is fulfilled. It is not a transcendental world because nothing up there. He is not there, “behold the place where they laid him.” (Mark 16:6)
Unlike science, religious speech deals with perfectly objective phenomenon which produce new forms of subjection. Then all the sermons, all the preachings, all the rituals will become sacramental again. They will stop to become poor advices of psychologists, “all narratives can be useful if we launch them properly and renew them often.” We don’t have any universal at the back of us but ahead of us. Then catholicity does not mean to spread the good news to the end of the universe. But it should seek in advance the virtual people “who will make up, at the moment of revival those who feel they have been brought closer together,saved,resurrected and redeemed.”
I have only paraphrased the book of Bruno Latour. I strongly feel that he’s thinking can revive the church or religion altogether.His thinking can help us to shun the supremacy of the religion and make it relative to the human life and to the world. With this thinking religion can be attentive to the world and to the flesh.We need to protect religion from God, spirituality and transcendence. Ultimately we need to protect the meaning and not the word. The gospel must be read again and heard again with its all embellishments.