In a chapter on Edward Said and secularism, Gil Anidjar ends with the startling claim that one should not understand Said as a proponent of secularism but instead as an anti-Christian thinker.
To summarize a constellation of arguments I frequently discuss: “religion” and “the secular” are ideas which were birthed out a certain Christian vision of itself and the world it was dominating. As Anidjar puts it:
Christianity it is, then, that actively disenchanted its own world by dividing itself into private and public, politics and economics, indeed, religious and secular…Christianity (that is, to clarify this one last time, Western Christendom) judged and named itself, reincarnated itself, as “secular”…Christianity invented the distinction between religious and secular, and thus it made religion. It made religion the problem–rather than itself. And it made it into an object of criticism that needed to be no less than transcended. (Semites, 45-47)
The secular, in short, is the project of Christendom carried on by other means. Or, more precisely, it is a moment within the project of Christendom whereby the Christian West can divert criticism from itself and towards an object it has created and can claim to transcend and dominate: religion. Edward Said’s work should not be seen as “secular,” so that, perhaps unintentionally, Said ends up carrying on the work of Christendom. For Anidjar, Said’s criticism cuts through the religious/secular divide and goes for the heart of the matter: Christianity.
Christianity, in these discussions, is “much more than an idea.” It is
a massive institution, the sum total of philosophical and scientific, economic and political achievements, discursive, administrative, and institutional accomplishments, the singularity and specificity of which are not to be doubted (“culture and imperialism,” “societies for, rather than against, the state,” and so forth). (p. 44)
The “oppositional criticism” of Said launches itself against this complex social network, culture and imperialism, or, as Anidjar clarifies, Christendom. Said’s emphasis falls more consistently on the “cultural” aspects but his work and Anidjar’s summary makes clear it is a whole social, economic, cultural, intellectual, and political project that must be opposed.
There is a danger lurking in my theological appropriations of Fanon, and, for that matter, Said, Anidjar, and a host of other theorists. If this theological work is not grounded in a more thorough materialist critique of the social forms and practices of Christianity-gone-secular imperialism, the intellectual choices I make will not alter, escape, or modify the problematic but will more than likely only end up reproducing and reinforcing it. To read Fanon theologically means to move with him beyond the limiting options–for/against religion; for/against the secular–provided by this Christian world: “We shall see that another solution is possible. It implies restructuring the world” (BSWM, 63).
The problem for Christian theology is that the whole project of Christian imperialism rests on the its claim to uniquely transcend the problematic (of the world, of religion, of the secular) and to guarantee the proper restructuring of the world.