Postliberal Epistemology
Postliberal Epistemology

Postliberal Epistemology

We all want to know and be known, but nobody today knows how.

June 16 th 2020

What a piece of work, or so Hamlet tells us, is a man. He is noble in reason. He is infinite in faculty. In apprehension, he is like a god. His faculties of reason, of disengaged and disembodied rationality, render him, at least in part, divine.

It’s an appealing image. And it’s one that, for the past few centuries, at least, has come to dominate—in the post-Enlightenment European and American world at least—what we might call the modern, liberal understanding of who we are, and how and what we can know. But it’s also a deeply flawed one: one which, at its worst, transforms humanity’s distinct imago Dei into a trick mirror. To venerate disembodied reason—and with it individual will—is to buy into a false vision of humans as both totally unrooted and ultimately interchangeable. It is not just an epistemological but also a moral, a spiritual, and a political stance: one that the past half decade has revealed is both unsatisfying and unsustainable.

Our post-Enlightenment, liberal anthropology has come under fire from both populist reactionaries and progressive activists alike. “Liberal modernity” has been a dirty word in the mouths of everyone from Naomi Klein to Marianne Williamson to Adrian Vermeule to Steve Bannon. If there is indeed any truth to the idea of a horseshoe theory, the convergence of the left and the right can be found in a shared consciousness of the insufficiency—spiritual, moral, political—of our liberal assumptions.

This cultural moment is hardly the first in which modernity’s discontents have challenged Enlightenment anthropology. The fervid Romantics of the early nineteenth century, the alienated Decadents of its close, the writers and the critical theorists of the twentieth century, have all in their own ways cast doubt upon the Kantian vision of human autonomous rationality. But in 2020, these debates have made their way not just into the public sphere but into so many of what we might call the “new religions” of post-secular America—the flowering, digitally driven subcultures that, following the collapse of our faith in both religious and civic institutions, have come to define millennial communitarian life. Many of the most notable and influential of these modern tribes—social-justice culture; contemporary Reddit-rooted reactionaries—define themselves in consciously transgressive opposition to the contemporary liberal order: one that manages to be, to the left, a capitalist and scourge too willing to accommodate injustice in the service of civility; to the right, sclerotic, broken bastions of “political correctness.”

But to understand both of these political projects, we must understand their resistance not just to neoliberalism, as a contemporary economic phenomenon, but to its philosophical antecedent. These young, postliberal cultures—from social-justice activism to the brutal atavism of the masculinist right—share a disillusionment not just with liberalism as a principle of governance but with the epistemological, anthropological, and ultimately metaphysical commitments necessitated by our post-Enlightenment cultural strain.

These young, postliberal cultures—from social-justice activism to the brutal atavism of the masculinist right—share a disillusionment not just with liberalism as a principle of governance but with the epistemological, anthropological, and ultimately metaphysical commitments necessitated by our post-Enlightenment cultural strain.

A caveat: the term “Enlightenment” is, necessarily, a reductive one, conflating a variety of disparate thinkers and philosophical strands. The “Enlightenment mentality,” likewise, as a subsequent cultural phenomenon, is far more complex than that elucidated by any one thinker. That said, we can nevertheless speak usefully of a liberal, Enlightenment-rooted, and highly influential cultural strain (you could even call it a meme) of anthropology, and epistemology, rooted at once in optimism in man’s powers of knowing and a willingness to divorce that knowing from subjectivity. The world is fundamentally intelligible; human beings are intelligible; they have, too, the capacity to make sense of their experience through the mediation of universal categories.

Nature—that formless and chthonic void—is subject both to natural law and to the scalpel of rational scrutiny. Thus, for example, Baruch Spinoza, who in his 1677 Ethics informs us that “Nature is always the same, and its virtue and power of acting are everywhere one and the same,” before assuring us that “I shall treat the nature and power of the Affects, and the power of the Mind over them, by the same Method by which, in the preceding parts, I treated God and the Mind, and I shall consider human actions and appetites just as if it were a Question of lines, planes, and bodies.” So too Immanuel Kant, who in his preface to his 1787 Critique of Pure Reason likens the reasonable man’s relation to the nature he discovers as “like an appointed judge who compels witnesses to answer the questions he puts to them.” Reason, Kant writes, “must take the lead with principles for its judgments according to constant laws and compel nature to answer its questions, rather than letting nature guide its movements.”

It is impossible to separate Enlightenment epistemology from Enlightenment anthropology. Our capacity to know universal truths—truths that, in turn, can be apprehended uniformly by any rational person—defines us. Our ability to apprehend, and in so doing control, nature is what renders us uniquely human: disembodied, propositional knowledge separates us from the animals. It’s a vision of rationality that, despite its various waves of criticism, has come to shape the liberal democracies, and the global capitalism, of our contemporary Western political landscape.

But the reverse is also true. As more and more fringe movements from across the political spectrum critique and resist the neoliberal political order, and the reductive universality of capital, so too are they challenging, in different ways, the Enlightenment vision of reason-as-autonomous-will. These movements challenge the vision of the sui generis human being who can use his reason to fully transcend both his biological and cultural situatedness, whose very humanity is determined by his ability to separate himself, and his mind, from contingency.

Among both the social-justice activists of the progressive left, whose understanding of human knowledge is mediated through layers of embodied, socially dependent lived experience, and the Jordan Peterson–reading, evolutionary-psychology-citing atavists of today’s reactionary right, we can find one vital point of commonality. For more and more millennials in particular, disillusioned by what they see as the political and spiritual failures of neoliberalism, the pure Enlightenment vision of human universality—what anthropologist Clifford Geertz once called the capital-M Man—is morally and spiritually insufficient. In rendering human rationality disembodied, it also renders human beings interchangeable, reproducible, not incarnations but instantiations of a vague generic. It is the ideology that philosopher Charles Taylor, writing on the legacy of Enlightenment thought, described as a

radical definition of freedom, which rebels against nature as what is merely given, and demands that we find freedom in a life whose normative shape is somehow generated by rational activity . . . a powerful, it is not overstated to say revolutionary, force in modern civilization. It seems to offer a prospect of pure self-activity, where my action is determined not by the merely given, the facts of nature (including inner nature), but ultimately by my own agency as a formulator of rational law.

It is precisely that suspicion of rationality-as-agency that underpins the rhetoric of both these kind of social-justice activists—the social constructivists—and the biological determinists of the atavistic right.

In differing, but not entirely dissimilar, ways, these two major challengers to modern political liberalism ground their understanding of human perception in what we might usefully call postliberal epistemology. This epistemology’s core idea is that human experience is so subjective, so rooted in a combination of our biological truth and our social, racial, and gendered reality, that claims to universality are not merely meaningless but actively harmful: reducing the complexity of human situated expression to anodyne shorthand. This postliberal epistemology, too, lends itself to a host of varied political commitments, ranging from the authoritarian to liberatory, that nevertheless share a common enemy: neoliberal capitalism. Neoliberal capitalism, after all, is inextricable from liberal epistemology: a model that sees rational self-interest as something universal and roughly translatable across peoples, and that sees will and affinity, rather than social or biological givenness, at the heart of the human person.

To understand this kind of phenomenology, in both its progressive and reactionary iterations, we must understand both its politics and its metaphysics.

The importance of lived experience is, at its core, the reification of two things that neoliberal capitalism has consistently undervalued. The first is what we might call rootedness: a connection to foundational realities (ultimately, both biological and cultural) that ground our lives and seeming free choices in collective contingencies: facts of either evolution or cultural embeddedness deemed sufficiently long-standing to take on the quality of law. Our experience of life as embodied persons, treated as embodied by those around us: as people from a particular background, from a particular culture, of a particular race, bound up in a particular set of social and biological complexities that together inform our experience of gender.

The second we might term irreducibility: the idea that we inhabit, as fully contingent selves, unique places in the world: that we—as workers, as members of families and communities, as human beings—are not interchangeable. Our experiences, our ideas, our humanity, cannot be reduced to a vague universal—advertised, bought, and sold across an increasingly deracinated digital marketplace.

The Rootedness of Lived Experience

On the progressive, constructivist left, the language of rationality is often interpreted in terms of power: what is considered reasonable, after all, is generally that which has been associated with a certain paradigm of white, male, straight experience.

In 1944, for example, the Frankfurt school philosophers Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno—enormously influential on subsequent waves of academic critical theory, and leftist thought more broadly—published their Dialectics of Enlightenment. Their writing is a critical look at the way liberal epistemology and anthropology lends itself not just to toxic power relations but also to a kind of spiritual deadness: a relationship between human beings and broadly conceived Nature defined by separation, aestheticization, and second-order experience. “Human beings purchase the increase in their power with estrangement from that over which it is exerted,” they write. “Enlightenment stands in the same relationship to things as the dictator to human beings. He knows them to the extent that he can manipulate them. The man of science knows things to the extent that he can make them. Their ‘in-itself’ becomes ‘for him.’” This spiritual deadness, for Horkheimer and Adorno, is at the heart of the crisis of modernity: the creation of a brutal separation between the seemingly rational human being and the world that becomes, in this schema, merely object.

Magic is bloody untruth, but in it domination is not yet disclaimed by transforming itself into a pure truth underlying the world which it enslaves . . . although his task was impersonation he did not claim to be made in the image of the invisible power, as does civilized man, whose modest hunting ground then shrinks to the unified cosmos, in which nothing exists but prey.

Ultimately, they conclude, claims to universal rationality, and universalism more broadly, cannot be extricated from a rough, utilitarian model of politics, in which objects of knowledge exist, like prizes, purely for the taking: “For Enlightenment whatever does not conform to the rule of calculability and utility is suspect. . . . Enlightenment is totalitarian.”

The post-Enlightenment vision of rationality has also come under fire from a distinctly postcolonial perspective. Claims to universality, after all, could be used to transfer (perceived) rational “domination” into political authority. In his 1978 book Orientalism, for example, Edward Said reflects on how claims to disengaged knowledge are all too often vectors of mastery. Of Napoleon’s conquest in Egypt, for example, he remarks on the collective intellectual effort of the French to systematize their body of knowledge of the country, “to dignify all the knowledge collected during colonial occupation with the title ‘contribution to modern learning’ when the natives had neither been consulted nor treated as anything but as pretexts for a text whose usefulness was not to the natives.” So too Balfour’s similar 1910 defense of Britain’s colonial involvement in Egypt, on the grounds that “we know the civilization of Egypt better than we know the civilization of any other country.”

The epistemic alternative? A kind of subjectivism—drawn, in part, from the phenomenology of Husserl, and in turn funnelled through generations of twentieth-century feminist scholarship—that takes as its starting point the concept of lived experience. To put it most reductively: propositional knowledge doesn’t exist out there, in a disembodied or generic form, to be discovered intact, but rather what we know is filtered through our subjective, embodied, and socially determined experience. Our race, our gender, our social class, our sexual identity, and other determinants of both our experience of the world and how others, in turn, interact with us shape our understanding. Our experiences can be communicated to one another, but they can never be exactly translated: there is an irreducibility, even a uniqueness, to our own cognition. We are not universal creatures, capital-M Men, with radically autonomous wills, but rather contingent particulars. Our freedom—to choose, to will, to think, even to perceive—ends where operations on us—on our bodies, of the bodies of others, of language, of culture—begin.

Contemporary iterations of this form of constructivism underpin much of the rhetoric and assumptions of social-justice culture. Within this realm, suspicion of disengaged rationality doubles as a suspicion of knowledge-as-mastery: rationality as a tool to be wielded by those whose circumstances offer them the veneer of objectivity. Privilege, in this schema, isn’t just an element of power but also a shaper of cognition: the way we process information is determined, in part, by how both our understanding of the world, and the way the world acts on us, is shaped by forces beyond our willed control.

An illustrative, if extreme, example of this kind of discourse funnelled into the pop-culture sphere can be found at the website Everyday Feminism, best known for its primers on terms like “rape culture” and “intersectionality.” A March 16 article titled “Why Rationalism Is Irrational” takes Adorno and Horkheimer’s objections to Enlightenment thinking into the realm of the vernacular. “Rationalism means we’re working within the framework of a system that was built to harm us in the first place,” the author, xoài phạm, a self-described “Vietnamese femme” who uses they/them pronouns, tells us. “And that, for me, is completely irrational—and it’s violent and oppressive to expect that of anyone who suffers from the exploitation and abuse of this system. But to take it a step further, rationalism is subjective. For those who are most impacted by the prison industrial complex—Black and Indigenous folks, trans and gender non-conforming folks, people with disabilities, those who are undocumented, and those who sit at the intersection of multiple identities, among others—abolitionist politics are entirely rational.” The author’s own identity, and their relationship to it, is integral to their argument: “my very existence is irrational,” they write. “For many, I simply do not exist as a queer, Vietnamese femme who is neither a man or a woman. Living in my body, wading through my truths, is not a rational act.”

Rootedness—in one’s identities, in one’s lived experience—is inextricable here from irreducibility: phạm’s experience of the world is phạm’s own: phạm’s knowledge is not just propositional but rather situated within the nexus of phạm’s experience . It can be articulated, but it can never be fully reconstructed. And, despite phạm’s politics of liberation, phạm’s epistemology is rooted in the understanding that phạm isn’t exactly free either. The oppressive matrices of society, culture, language, identity, gender roles all have their place situating phạm precisely within their own place and time.

If, as Horkheimer and Adorno argue, “Enlightenment’s programme was the disenchantment of the world,” then elements of the progressive constructivist model provide us with a road map for the irreproducibility necessary for re-enchantment. We are not merely actors in a de-sanctified space, but rather are acted on by forces great than we are: not mages but spellbound.

Blood and Soil

On the reactionary right, this vision of rootedness often tends less toward the cultural than toward the biological. At its most noxious, it lends itself to a nightmare vision of blood and soil, combatting the problem of deracination not with a recovery of rootedness but rather with literal race. Gender roles, racial hierarchies, and centuries’ worth of cultural narratives double, in this atavistic theology, as expressions of necessary earthly order: Darwinism as natural law.

Our lizard brains, our biological dominance hierarchies, our evolutionary ancestors’ mating habits, all these are reified as authoritative. This determinism is a form of rootedness to be sure—an understanding of human contingency within the framework of our evolutionary ancestors—but it is a tyrannical one, one that confuses the law of nature with natural law. Freedom is conceived narrowly as a kind of brute stoicism: a will to embrace one’s own status in the biological or social pecking order (one might say: a will to power) that assumes, too, the contingency (and weakness) of the other.

Thus, the pop-psych guru of brutal atavism, Jordan Peterson, who spends much of his 12 Rules for Life self-help book celebrating the evolutionary paradigm of the lobster: the Ur-crustacean of dominance hierarchy. Peterson largely sets nature against culture, or at least against recent culture, like Steven Pinker blaming social-justice progressives as insufficiently aware of the long-standing nature of contingency.

“Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies,” for dominance hierarchies, Peterson writes. “Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city? Let your own soul guide you.” Elsewhere, though, Peterson is clear that human freedom only goes so far: we are wedded to the evolutionary truths of our state. We are free only insofar as we embrace the fact that we are lobsters.

Rootedness, for Peterson, is a blend of biological determinism and culture deemed sufficiently atavistic (pagan gods: valid sources of mythic truth; structural racism: suspiciously modern) for his purposes. “It does not matter whether [a] feature is physical and biological, or social and cultural,” he writes.

All that matters, from a Darwinian perspective, is permanence—and the dominance hierarchy, however social or cultural it might appear, has been around for some half a million years . . . It is instead a near-eternal aspect of the environment, and much of what is blamed on these more ephemeral manifestations is a consequence of its unchanging existence. . . . There is little more natural than culture. Dominance hierarchies are older than trees.

Reading Peterson charitably, we might find something valid in his search for permanence: his understanding that we are not fully self-creating beings; that we are not autonomous, that we are not, as it were, super-natural. We are, after all, not gods.

But the rootedness that Peterson, and those even further to the right, envision at most gives us irreducibility on the level of community, or ethnicity, or race: and it is this vision of rootedness that should give Christians the greatest pause.

We are distinct from one another, in this paradigm, not because of an irreducible quality of our own humanity, because of the specific biology-cultural group to which we are destined to belong. It is our tribe, our blood, our land (this narrative goes) that sets us apart from one another, and from the globalized world of capitalist homogeneity (a world that, in the most insidious of these reactionary spheres, is often coded specifically as Jewish: a centuries’ old scapegoating of Jews for liberalism’s ills).

Thus, for example, does Alexandre Dugin, the Russian political commentator and sometime occultist best-known for his influence on Vladimir Putin, frequently invoke the Heideggerian concept of Dasein: loosely, situated being, as a kind of pretext for ethno-nationalism. As Dugin puts it in one speech, quoted by the scholar of the far right Benjamin Teitelbaum, in his vision for a new Russian Empire: “We will come to a place where there are not any more nation states, . . . but we will have civilizations. Civilizations as borders of particular Dasein. . . . Every Dasein is particular, is unequal, different from the others. And there is not any common scale where we could just say this one is better than that one. So we are arriving at the concept of multipolarity, the world organized on the basis of civilizations.”

So too Steve Bannon, who has cited as an influence the Italian fascist occultist Julius Evola, whose books—including 1934’s Revolt Against the Modern World—double as manifestos for equally atavistic visions of hierarchy: in which men are divided by distinct spiritual castes. For Evola, liberal democracy was “absurd,” doomed to fail because it deals “with the individual as an abstract, atomistic and statistical unity, not as a ‘person,’” as he writes in his Fascism, Viewed from the Right, “because the quality of a person—that is, a being that has a specific dignity, a unique quality and differentiated traits—is obviously negated and offended in a system in which one vote is the equal of any other, in which the vote of a great thinker, a prince of the Church . . . has the same weight . . . as the vote of an illiterate butcher’s boy.” (Evola is today widely available in translation from Arktos Press, which also publishes translations of Dugin. Its former editor-in-chief Jason Reza Jorjani, was also—along with avowed white nationalist Richard Spencer—among the first to try to incorporate as “AltRight Inc.”)

The reactionary vision of irreducibility, in Peterson and Bannon no less than in Evola and Dugin, begins and ends with power hierarchies: irreducibility revealed as, fundamentally, a quality that ascribes specificity and dignity only to those deemed worthy to be on the top of the proverbial heap. We are, at most, representatives of a smaller, and more vaunted, category than that of capital-M Man. If there is re-enchantment, in this reactionary model, it is of a thoroughly pagan kind: a pure equation of Nature, power, and the good. In this way, the reactionary and Enlightenment models both fall victim to the same trap: the cognitive division between the (powerful, spiritually enlightened) self and the undifferentiated other: the teeming world. There is in both a stark division between subject and object. Neither model makes any space for relationships between the self and the other, between multiple selves, each possessed of a combination of agency and contingency we can understand as dignity.

It has been my experience that many vocal postliberal Christians, suspicious of the claims of neutrality, of secular rationality, of autonomous liberty rather than the collective common good, are more susceptible to the rhetoric of the reactionary right than the arguably more morally quixotic language of their progressive counterparts: more likely to equate the real, worthy, and valid hunger for rootedness with its cravenly simplistic expression in, say, nostalgia for traditional gender norms, more likely to see in the seductions of atavism a respite from the bloodless reproducibility liberal capitalism treats as a norm. There is, too, a particular—though arguably smaller—iteration of postliberal progressive Christianity, one that resists orthodoxy itself as inherently tyrannical: casting affirmations of doctrine (say, the historicity of the resurrection) as inherently inimical to a reality construed only through contemporary experience.

It is not only possible but also necessary to forge a distinctly Christian epistemology and anthropology that preserves both the necessary truths of rootedness and irreproducibility postliberals seek and the truth of human equality that has been liberalism’s greatest legacy.

A Coherent Christian Epistemology

A coherent, Christian postliberal epistemology, therefore, demands that we preserve three things.

We must preserve, with liberalism, a robust vision of human equality that does not lead us inexorably to the implicit liberal conclusion of human interchangeability: universalism that turns people into capital, translatable in the same way you can translate dollars into euros. After all, as many scholars note, liberalism’s vision of equality was taken from Christianity. Perhaps it’s time to steal it back.

We must preserve space in our conception of the human person, not for the capital-M Rational Man, but for an irreducibility that neither culture nor nature can explain—in Christian terms, the soul.

We must preserve, too, a vision of human creative freedom that maintains a fundamental rootedness: a sense of the individual as a particular within time, within culture, within the animal kingdom, and above all things within creation: we are not self-fashioning but fearfully and wonderfully made. This rootedness need not (and must not) be reduced to biological determinism, or even cultural relativism, but must nevertheless make space for our embodied experiences, as products of a vast network of forces, natural and man-made, on us. We are, as animals, subject to our bodies. We are, as social creatures, subject to one another, and beholden to and responsible for the cultural forces—including those structural sins of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of injustice—that we perpetuate on one another. And yet—and this is a mistake too easily made by postliberals on both the left and the right—we must preserve space in our conception of the human person, not for the capital-M Rational Man, but for an irreducibility that neither culture nor nature can explain—in Christian terms, the soul.

Finally, we must preserve a faith in imperfect, but nevertheless useful, human communication: language as a site where something real, albeit never something total or complete, can be meaningfully conveyed. The danger that the social-justice model is most susceptible to is a kind of relational nihilism—our experiences are so distinct that we can never really understand one another; the irreducibility of persons becomes mass unintelligibility. Yet, in light of a theology predicated on the Word made flesh, we are called to understand, however humbly, conversation and dialogue as meaningful sites of operation. We may not be able to translate, perfectly, ideas into words into ideas, a liberal vision of neutral dialogue, or a public square, but we can nevertheless render ourselves open to the operation of another, through language, onto our own embodied selves. This is not simply a call for civility in politics—that we should listen more, or even listen better, or talk it out—but rather a call to see our attempts at transmitting our experiences to one another as a form of self-giving rather than disembodied mastery: language not as neoliberal currency but as yet another form of situatedness. It is rather an inward call to increase, by prayer, meditation, and attention, our own capacity to both give precise voice to our own selves and to allow ourselves to be shaped by the voices of others.

A good postliberal epistemology, therefore, must start with two theological commitments.

The first is the vision of the human person imago Dei, irreproducible not simply because it lies at a complex matrix of contingencies, but because it is, because its real soul as well as its earthly circumstances render it distinct. We must embrace and celebrate our rootedness, in terms of our specific and particular place in creation, and yet never confuse that rootedness for biological determinism. The great liberation of the kingdom of heaven, is, in part, that it is a chosen family—both in God’s choice to call us home, and in our acceptance of that grace. It exists not by biological or social necessity but through bonds of love. In this, we find roots not in our origin but in our end: the new Jerusalem becomes our collective home, where we are neither male nor female, Greek nor Jew.

The second is the vision of God made man: the incarnate Christ, and the fleshly Word, at a particular place, in a particular time, as the hermeneutic through which we perceive all knowledge. We must understand the particular—our own, and those of others—as full incarnations of meaning, not simply interchangeable iterations of a metaphysical or mathematical truth. That vision, too, underpins our vision of communication: that we can meaningfully, if imperfectly, convey our experiences to one another, and be shaped in our own particulars by that conveyance.

Our knowledge can only ever echo the full knowledge of an omniscient God—a God who, furthermore, became man. This is a knowledge not simply of mathematical propositions, but of us in our particulars, of us as embodied beings.

We must think of knowledge not merely as a system of information out there, for us to master from a position of disengagement, but as a relationship between facts and our own, contingent capacity to experience them as embodied truths—a capacity we can in turn cultivate. We must wed our understanding of knowledge to that of the incarnate Logos through whom we must understand all else: made flesh. We must understand that our selves, our experiences, cannot ever be fully or perfectly translated, even as we trust in the power of language—an imperfect project we nevertheless undertake in unison—to tend toward the communication we speak. Our knowledge can only ever echo the full knowledge of an omniscient God—a God who, furthermore, became man. This is a knowledge not simply of mathematical propositions, but of us in our particulars, of us as embodied beings. God’s knowledge and God’s love are not two different qualities, two different rays from the same sun, but rather the same way of seeing: we are in God’s eyes, and our rootedness is at its core a rootedness not just in creation but before God.

It is this truth that our various contemporary challengers to neoliberalism understand—through however dark the glass through which they see it—that it is not our powers of apprehension that render man godlike, nor are his faculties infinite. The knowledge of good and evil, after all, came a little ways after the creation in the imago Dei.

Our creative freedom, imago Dei, cannot be understood as that of disengaged knowledge, nor of rational mastery, with all the anthropological and political implications that implies. What it means to be made in the image and the likeness of God is not to be like gods, nor indeed to have any intelligible quality (be it sovereignty, or power, or reason), but rather something distinctly beyond qualities: the part of us that should be understood as imago Dei is the irreproducible part, that which cannot be boiled down to a list of accidents we associate with gods. It is that dignity, beyond description, that should govern not just our sense of what we know, but how we live.

Tara Isabella Burton
Tara Isabella Burton

Tara Isabella Burton is the author of the nonfiction book Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World (Public Affairs, 2020) and the novel Social Creature (Doubleday, 2018). She is a contributing editor at The American Interest and a columnist at Religion News Service. She received a DPhil in Theology from Trinity College, Oxford, in 2017.


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