Graham Harman on Latour’s God

In a recent post, Graham Harman writes as follows about Latour’s conception of God:

Another point to consider… Latour is a practicing Roman Catholic. This entails belief in God, and such belief normally entails belief in a real omnipotent entity that exists outside the mind. Yet this is not Latour’s concept of God. His concept has nothing to do with the mode of existence he calls [REF], a scientific mode that enables us to link actors in such a way as to approach the strange and the distant. Instead, Latour’s concept of God is a purely immanent one (as far as I can tell), a God that does not exist outside the processions and rituals that make God present. Now, this is a pretty huge sacrifice to make in comparison with mainstream religious belief: denying the very existence of a God-in-itself outside all networks. What could possibly lead Latour to adopt such a position? A mere methodological devotion to empiricism? Hardly. The reason is that he simply does not think that anything could exist in a non-relational sense.

To be honest I’ve only got two minutes before I need to leave the house, but I thought I might briefly write something while I can. I hope you will excuse the brevity.

What stood out to me was how in the middle of Harman’s analysis we find a quite unwarranted elision:

  • On the one hand, Harman correctly notes that for Latour God cannot exist ‘outside the processions and rituals that make God present’.
  • But then, in the very next sentence Harman goes on to infer that Latour therefore denies ‘the very existence of a God-in-itself outside all networks’.

I don’t think this is right. In fact, it has the status of logical fallacy. Let me just quote Latour himself, as if in direct response to Harman:

But no, not at all, it’s not that! You’ve got it all wrong, without a path of mediation you can’t access any foundations, especially the True, but also the Good, the Just, the Useful, the Well Made, God too, perhaps’ (An Inquiry into Modes of Existence, p.155).

So ‘a path of mediation’ is required, yes, that’s right, of course. But what Latour actually says is that ‘without a path of mediation you can’t access any foundations’, amongst which might be found (alongside others) an entity known as ‘God’. My question is, then: is Harman warranted in leaping from a condition of ‘access’ to a condition of ‘existence’, in as blithe a way as he apparently has done?

Having engaged with the relevant primary material in substantial ways, I have not yet found any place where Latour has made a claim about the existence-in-itself of God. All he has done is to argue that a God-entity could only be known by us rationally (to use his nomenclature, could only be ‘veridicted’) by dint of entering into the situation of epistemological pluralism (NET:PRE) through which alone meaning can arise in the world. If the knowledge of God is claimed on any other basis, then yes this will be irrational, since it would be short-circuiting this logistics, this ‘trajectory of instauration’ (Inquiry, p.166). This is precisely what the Moderns do (as I have written about many times on this blog). And it is the opposite of the knowledge of God given in [REL]. Just as Latour puts it in Face à Gaïa: ‘les divinités, comme les concepts, comme les héros de l’histoire, comme les objets du ‘monde naturel’—fleuves, rochers, rivières, hormones, levures—, n’ont de compétence—et donc de substance—que par les performances—les attributs—qui leur donnent forme in fineBut to preclude the existence of God as ontologically prior to this access is to practise a form of hegemonic pre-orientation that is worthy of the very Modernity that Latour has sought to critique and move beyond.

In theological speak, we would say that Latour has operated in the category of analogia entis. To say any more than that, especially if it is to question his orthodoxy as a practising Roman Catholic, is to say more than Latour himself has He is owed better than that. 

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