Immortality or Eternal Life? The Religious Significance of Atheist Living

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Joseph M Spencer


Martin Hagglund, in his aptly titled Radical Atheism, has offered--in the name, significantly, of Jacques Derrida--a crucial critique of "traditional" atheism for its failure to recognize that the atheist's existential refusal of immortality must be doubled with a philosophical denial of the very possibility to desire immortality. Hagglund thus offers a vision of life as "survivance," an incessantly renewed desire for the corruptible, for the mortal.

Alain Badiou has also presented his philosophical project as a call to radical atheism. Badiou, however, has suggested that radical atheism is to be achieved not through a more consistent embrace of, but rather a profound rejection of, mortality. Outlining a philosophical definition of life that outstrips that of survival--of what he calls "living without ideas"--Badiou proposes a revived Platonism that would put the task of living "like an immortal" again at the center of philosophy.

What is the specifically religious significance of the emergence of these two opposed, radically atheist conceptualizations of "life"? Can a Derrida stripped of his interest in transcendence be of theological use to the believer? Can a Badiouian "Platonism of the multiple" serve to clarify the life or the afterlife of the believer?

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