Bleak Theology

Bleak Theologies of Nature and Culture

Let’s blow the dust off this thing.

Over the past week, my blog stats have spiked and I can’t figure out why. So I googled “bleak theology” to see if anyone had linked to me. Not that what I found caused the spike, but I found the blog of one Leon Niemoczynski (a great last name, though shorter than my own), who has recently offered a bleak theology of his own, revolving around the idea of speculative naturalism. His abstract is as such:

“Speculative Naturalism: A Bleak Theology in Light of the Tragic”

Theological perspective upon the relationship between deity and creature may not be as radically open to a full range of possible value as has once been thought. If one is seeking a capacious view of deity, creatures, and nature, I contend that not only should one account for continuity, wholeness, healing, salvation, warmth, benevolence, and joy in one’s religious metaphysics, but also for discontinuity, difference, diremption, rupture, trauma, tragedy, melancholy, coldness, and the more “somber” tones of the divine life. These features seem to be just as important as any strictly positive evaluation of deity in establishing its full range of possible value, even its “fading embers” of value that seem to continually ignite ablaze both wrath and love. My exploration of this “darker” side of religious naturalism, a “bleak theology” as I am calling it, begins by articulating its opposite in the axiologically positive evaluation of nature found within the “mainstream” of American religious naturalism, especially within the 19th and 20th centuries (including process theology). I then offer some speculative theses about the relationship between deity and the natural world in more somber dimensions, developing my reasoning as to why a darker side of deity ought to be accounted for, and can be accounted for, within a perspective which I call “speculative naturalism,” a “bleak” theology.

“Darkness and occlusion make out the character of primal time. All life is at first night; it gives itself shape in the night…Thus too wrath must be earlier than love.” – F.W.J. Schelling

And he reflects further on this on the always spectacular theology blog, Homebrewed Christianity.

Indeed. Our foci are located in very different places: Niemoczynski, in American religious naturalism, and I, in phenomenologically theological engagement with cultural collapse. It goes to show that there are variety of bleak theologies, and this is a good thing. He has a “speculative naturalism.” I have “post-punk theology.” It would be interesting to be in active dialogue with Niemoczynski on how he’s setting up his framework. I would say posit that when we turn to aesthetics, that we are dealing with the sublime and his Schelling quote tips his Romanticist hand and its appeal to Nature. Niemoczynski likes long hikes and that is telling, too. Theology is never done in a vacuum and Nature abhors one, anyway.

And I would agree with Niemoczynski, but where he likes the wilderness, I’m at home in ruined urban decay, where Nature and Culture work with and against each other, where Culture seeks by using culturally-crafted materials fashioned from Nature against Nature. Ultimately, Nature dooms Culture, but not before Culture creates a culture. For me, aesthetically, this is demonstrated in Reykjavik, Iceland, a geographical midpoint of the Cold War in the northern mid-Atlantic. It is this bleak landscape where Niemoczynski’s speculative naturalism can be considered, but I would posit that along with it (though, not necessarily contraposed), the stark circumstances of the individual and society against itself and the Other, which presents itself in lamentation.

Niemoczynski and I both offer bleak theologies that howl. But his seems to be the wind and mine is the voice.


Still from Djöflaeyjan (Devil’s Island, 1996)

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