Should God's incarnation be understood as a celestial endorsement of the exceptional status of humanity over against all other creatures or as the deconstruction of humanity from within, a salvifically subversive maneuver undertaken for the sake of all God's beloved creatures? Meyer goes with option B. He starts by deftly sketching in the traditional readings of St John's Logos, from Athanasius and Gregory of Nazianus up (bit of a leap, but OK) to Agamben and Derrida. The thesis is intricate, but very roughly: there are two logoi, the divine and the human. 'Human life (ζωή) radiates as light from the Logos of God ... but John writes of a darkness that refuses the light. The world of humanity, the kosmos, is the site of this darkness; humanity fails to recognise the Logos as its very life' . Some thinkers see these two logoi as congruent, either actually or potentially. Meyer wants to argue, via Agamben, that not only are they not so, but that the divine logos works (if we understand it properly) precisely to undermine the complacencies
For Agamben, it is not the case that one finds ζωή out in the world in order to organize it and found a city. Agamben inverts the commonsense political myth of origins, arguing that the production of the category ζωή is the fundamental business of political life. So βίος is not so much an improvement on a ζωή that was already there, but an operation that is suspended over ζωή as a rhetorically necessary category. ... Political life (βίος) produces bare life (ζωή), then, in two ways: First, bare life functions as a mythical Ur-concept that marks political life as better than the brute life that preceded it, even if no concrete memory of such a life exists. Second, political life produces bare life by exclusion, by occasionally denuding somebody of the protection of the law and exposing him or her to whatever death or misfortune might befall him or her. Hence homo sacer. Meyer agrees with Derrida that Agamben can't really claim to have discovered this 'Foucauldian biopolitics' already fully formed in Aristotle (as he does). But what he wants to do, broadly, in this essay is constellate 'animal' and 'human' in ways analogous to this ζωή/βίος distinction. 'The Logos of God is no longer the Master Signifier', he insists. A slightly longer quotation:
It will be helpful to locate the divine Logos within each of the three aligned distinctions from Agamben's text. First, with regard to the distinction between bare life and political life, it is commonplace to recognize Jesus as the figure of the outcast, the scapegoat, the refugee, whose life cannot be assimilated to the order of his society. ... In this regard Jesus the Logos clearly stands on the side of ζωή rather than citizenship Second, with regard to the human-animal distinction, the Logos obviously bears human flesh, but his alignment with humanity rather than animality is less secure than it might first appear ... One might ask whether the Logos of God appears in the place of the animal [Meyer has been arguing eg as the lamb-to-the-slaughter] to endorse eating, slaughter and experimentation, or to loose the knots holding these cultural structures together? Third, where is the Logos situated with regard to the interior distinction between humanity proper and human animality? Does the incarnation of the Logos as a human being underwrite or undermine the workings of the anthropological machine? ... I suggest that the Logos—as the very ζωή of human beings—is aligned with human animality against humanity's proprietary logos as it disavows animality through the anthropological machine. [158-9]This is cogently thought-through, but I don't think I agree with it. Taking 'one' first: isn't it one-sided to read Christ as (in effect) the scapegoated solitary homo sacer? He was sacrificed, its true, and scapegoated; but considering his ministry as a whole, isn't it closer to the truth to see him at the centre of a community (the disciples and the larger group that formed around them) instead of outcast from community? Isn't one of the main thrusts of Christ in the gospels congregrationalist (I mean, in the neutral, not the sectarian, sense of that word)? His preaching gathers many people together, and its that gathering-together that is the real point. Two I think is on even shakier ground, as it happens. Thinking contextually, one of the most distinctive breaks Christianity makes with the religious practice that preceded it was not only to anthropomorphise the incarnation, but to exclude the divine animals that form so prominent a part of the pantheons of the Ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, Greeks and so on. Around this time everybody was worshipping divine animals. Rather than being some special sign of divine respect for the animal kingdom, one of the newnesses of Christianity was to mark out a radical new divine-conceptual territory: humans only. (The counter point here is that, in doing this, it was only following in the footsteps of Judaism: which is a fair point. But Jews were still sacrificing animals to their non-animal God; Christianity substituted a human being even for that sacred role.)
I'm being polemical, of course; but I do detect a subtle gravitational pull at work (in this essay, and the others from this volume that I've read) tugging the gospels in order to draw them closer towards 21st-century Green (and further away from 1st-century tribal) mores. Maybe that's fine. Maybe that's the best thing to do with the gospels. But it leaves me pulling my 'not sure I agree' face when I read things like this:
God is present as the incarnate ζωή-Logos of creation, but the human form of the Logos does not validate humanity's ideological projects, but presents God's most personal judgment upon them. In Barthian terms the Logos of God sounds out a thundering "Nein!" to humanity precisely by taking on human flesh. I dig the Barth line, of course; but I don't see why God is present as the incarnate ζωή-Logos of creation. Wouldn't it make more sense (as per Agamben) to think of God as the βίος-Logos of creation, suspended over the human ζωή as an ontologically necessary category? The pre-existent βίος needful such that the ζωή can come into its fullest being?