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The idea of a dialectical ‘negation of negation’ sounds complex. For whatever reason, dialectical thinkers i.e. Hegel and so on, have perpetuated this stigma through very obscure authorship. However, at its most elementary form, the dialectical ‘negation of negation’ is quite simple to grasp.

Look at it from this perspective, our laws of nature are held together through a dialectical ‘negation of negation’. For example, the earth is continually trying to move itself away from the sun, and yet gravity holds it in orbit. Electrons try to fly away from the nucleus of an atom, but electromagnetism holds the atom together. So in a very real way, for the universe to function properly it requires the opposite. At a smaller scale, look at how our conversations function, one person speaks to another person, at some point the other interjects with a rebutle. Without the rebutle the conversation cannot continue. It’s the ‘negation of negation’ that keeps the conversation going. What’s important to notice is that this back and forth creates a dialectical spiral. Meaning the ideas of the conversation are moving either upwards or downwards throughout.

To be clear, the spiral that occurs during the ‘negation of negation’ can most assuredly lead to bad things. Capitalism is a fantastic example of a downward spiral created by our push back. I am bombarded daily with news stories of the so-called “left” fighting the poverty, oppression, and genicide created by the Empire. Yet, what we are failing to realize is that in our participation, we are only serving to keep the Empire functioning as it should. Slavoj Žižek has brilliantly stated that the most powerful thing we can do is to bow out. By choosing to disengage, we are now ending the conversation. We can see that capitalism has had major catastrophes during its reign, and yet it seems to only thrive and become more intertwined in our lives through these situations. It’s in our engagement that capitalism receives it’s ability to continue.

As Christians we see this disengagement from Christ himself. The idea of “turning the other cheek,” or “carry his bag an extra mile” is the most powerful thing we can do. What we see here is peaceful violence, which ultimately is our distruction of the ‘negation of negation’. We are allowing the earth to move away from the sun.

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One of the questions I face on an almost daily basis is, “how can we bring about change?” I will always answer this question by simply stating, “we must begin to think in terms of the Whole.” What this means is, we must begin to look deeper than surface level problems. For example—when violence strikes close enough to home that we must recognize it, what if we didn’t focus on the agent [perpetrator] or ‘subjective’ violence, but instead, began to look at ‘objective’ violence.

Objective violence has two separate forms, symbolic and systematic. Neither is “visible” in the sense that we can see it, yet, like subjective violence it’s very real. Symbolic violence takes place in the language we use to describe broad terms like oppression and terrorism. So what this means ultimately is that, an American from Florida will have a very different understanding of these terms, than say, someone from Syria. Systematic violence is what lies beneath it all, it’s the ideology that guides us.

For example—if you speak with people living in the States about Capitalism, and how our need for consumption creates immense subjective violence, oppression etc. most will dismiss this as non-sense. Of course there is denial, but seeing our role requires thinking in terms of the Whole. Another example we see is in the mass slaughter of the Jews during the Holocaust, which to this very day responsibility is largely denied. All this seems just to have just happened as the result of an objective process which nobody planned or executed.

What if we looked at poverty in the same way? So instead of creating more ways to “donate” to those ravished by poverty, wouldn’t it seem more logical to look at why the need for donations exists? Just as in violence, we must begin to see the non-visible underlying issue. The problem here is that we would be forced to look at ourselves, and this is something we’re reluctant to do.

Thinking in terms of the Whole should create in us, an existential crisis. It will force us to realize that even though we may not be an agent of violence, we certainly live inside and mold that which creates violence.

Contrary to popular opinion, one is actually enabled to consume incessantly, without changing any of their habits, if, from time to time, they happen to stumble across a virtual image of poverty. The false guilt produced by an image with no reference point in the West only serves to satisfy the psychological need to feel something [i.e. What is called compassion]. This is how reality is a shelter from the Real. Reality numbs us in such a way that a virtual image helps us feel without having to face the Real of our lives: the truth that poverty exists because the West consumes incessantly—poverty is simply the byproduct of this feedback loop.

Certainly there are many who donate after viewing an advertisement asking for support in humanitarian projects—yet all this does is proffer the giver the feeling of having done something, without having to ask why the need exists, without having to confront the problem.

It is in this way that charity is nothing more than the exploitation of the improvised to feed our psychological needs—the West gives to receive; and this is why charity is perverse. It is incapable of eliminating poverty, and thus it only sustains it.

Nietzsche & Theology

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a German philologist, philosopher, cultural critic, poet and composer. He wrote several critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy and science. Nietzsche’s writing is full of wonderful metaphors and haunting poetry that I find erotic and apocalyptic. Of all who are labeled in the Continental Philosophy camp, Nietzsche is my favorite to read. This is not to say he is an easy read, because he’s not. In all I’ve read of Nietzsche nothing can really be thought through in one go around. This is the wonder of his writing, each time you pick up ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ for example, you will leave with new ideas. It’s truly wonderful.

A few weeks ago I posted on Patheos to briefly discuss Slavoj Zizek and what he brings to theological discussions. I wanted to continue this line of thought with another atheist who has greatly influenced my theological/Christian journey. Nietzsche is for me, the grandfather of the death of God theology. It was in his book ‘The Gay Science’ where he proclaims:

“The Madman. Have you ever heard of the madman who on a bright morning lighted a lantern and ran to the market-place calling out unceasingly: “I seek God! I seek God!” As there were many people standing about who did not believe in God, he caused a great deal of amusement. Why? is he lost? said one. Has he strayed away like a child? said another. Or does he keep himself hidden? Is he afraid of us? Has he taken a sea voyage? Has he emigrated? – the people cried out laughingly, all in a hubbub. The insane man jumped into their midst and transfixed them with his glances. “Where is God gone?” he called out. “I mean to tell you! We have killed him, you and I! We are all his murderers! But how have we done it? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Whither does it now move? Whither do we move? Away from all suns? Do we not dash on unceasingly? Backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an above and below? Do we not stray, as through infinite nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder? Does not night come on continually, darker and darker? Shall we not have to light lanterns in the morning? Do we not hear the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God? Do we not smell the divine putrefaction? – for even Gods putrefy! God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers? The holiest and the mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed, has bled to death under our knife – who will wipe the blood from us? With what water could we cleanse ourselves? What lustrums, what sacred games shall we have to devise? Is not the magnitude of this deed too great for us? Shall we not ourselves have to become Gods, merely to seem worthy of it? There never was a greater event – and on account of it, all who are born after us belong to a higher history than any history hitherto!” Here the madman was silent and looked again at his hearers; they also were silent and looked at him in surprise. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, so that it broke in pieces and was extinguished. “I come too early,” e then said. “I am not yet at the right time. This prodigious event is still on its way, and is traveling – it has not yet reached men’s ears. Lightning and thunder need time, the light of the stars needs time, deeds need time, even after they are done, to be seen and heard. This deed is as yet further from them than the furthest star – and yet they have done it themselves!” It is further stated that the madman made his way into different churches on the same day, and there intoned his Requiem aeternam deo. When led out and called to account, he always gave the reply: ‘What are these churches now, if they are not the tombs and monuments of God?’”

It’s easy to fall into a trap here and miss what Nietzsche is saying. This is not a joyous proclamation at all, however it may have joyous consequences for humanity. Nietzsche is taking an atheistic stance here, but to minimize this proclamation to a mere Dawkins—esque stance is to miss the metaphors littered in this paragraph. For me, Nietzsche is showing how the big Other by which we organize our desires does not exist. That is, our identity collapses when we come to realize the non-existence of a big Other. We are shown how God is not simply the guarantor of the truth, but of our very Being or existence.

In a Nietzchean sense the death of God signifies a world that has lost its way. For Nietzsche, “God” is a generic term for any transcendental term that fixes meaning and identity. God does not simply refer to the God of religion, but rather anything on the order of wholeness, totality and so on. In my reading of Nietzsche, I have come away with the idea that the death of God signifies the end of the primacy of the One in whatever form it might take. To death of God is to declare that the One is only a product, a result, a term-become rather than a foundation. As such, metaphysics in the wake of God is a metaphysics that seeks to think difference first and to see identity as a result or product. So we must become vigilant in tracking down and eradicating all remainders of theology within such a thought.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

As a Christian atheist this is moment where God denies the existence of God. It’s the moment where the Big Other, or Signifier who signifies everything else is no more. This is the birth of Christian atheism.

Slavoj Zizek spoke so eloquently when he stated, “Christian atheism isn’t the bullshit atheism of say, Dawkins or Hitchens.” For me, Christian atheism is not the denial of God, but rather, embracing and even willing the death of God. I can only speak for me, but this happens through the complete self-emptying of Gods transcendence into immanence through a pure dialectic. God dies, absolutely pouring himself out kenotically and resurrecting in and as the material universe.

A quote from Zizek about the death of God:

“the transcendent God guaranteeing the making of the universe, God as the hidden Master pulling the strings…we get a God who abandons this transcendent position and throws himself into his own creation, fully engaging himself in it up to dying, so that we, humans, are left with no higher Power watching over us, just with the terrible burden of freedom and responsibility for the fate of divine creation, and thus of God himself.”

This freedom that Zizek speaks of is powerful and haunting. That which gave us meaning is dead, and now we are faced with the responsibility of caring for ourselves and others. Most cling to the idea of a Signifier because the responsibility is so great. So as long as we are guaranteed a Guarantor who signifies our existence, we seem content to deny the kingdom of God.

The entire New Testament has a theme, and this theme is the kingdom of God. Some see this as dying into another realm, where God will either accept or reject us. Yet I believe the New Testament authors spoke of the kingdom of God as something to have here and now. It’s the desire to live within God and not the Empire.

So the divine kenosis of the Sacred meeting the profane through the life of Jesus of Nazareth is the creation of this kingdom. The Godhead is realized in the completion of the dialectic, or death of God. We see this when Christ was asked, when will you return? He answered, when you’re in community, I will be there.

So by putting Christ back in the sky as sidekick to deus ex machina we inevitably allow Rome to continue its reign. By labeling Christ the son of God, Jesus’ followers were pushing back against the Empire. To say, Jesus is Lord, is to say Caesar is not. The Incarnation brings transcendence to immanence, and the cross brings death, which leads to Spirit in the material world. This movement from Nothing to Something, from No-saying to Yes-saying is the kingdom of God.

A quote from Thomas Altizer about Christian atheism:

“Our deepest atheism is an anti-Christian atheism, as most clearly manifest in Nietzsche, and therefore our uniquely modern nihilism is an anti-Christian nihilism, and one, indeed, that would be impossible apart from Christianity.” Altizer continues, “But if Nietzsche and Joyce alike could celebrate that nihilism as a liberating nihilism, and liberating above all in that absolute affirmation or Yes-saying which it alone makes possible, that Yes is the Yes which the Christian knows as the Yes of the gospel, a Yes which faith knows as a total Yes, and a total Yes which is an all comprehending totality.”

For me, you must past through atheism to be Wholly Christian. By facing the terror on the cross that puts the ultimate burden on our shoulders, we accept Gods fate and subsequently our own. Not by turning Christ into a cosmic Being, but rather by calling Christ Lord, and not the Empire. To herald in the kingdom of God, the Christian must realize the immanence of Spirit which creates a forward movement into modernity.

A quote by Nietzsche about the death of God:

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

The death of God is not a mere theological assertion about Christ and the meaning of his presence in the secular world. The death of God is a divine sacrifice for the redemption of the profane. In this way, the death of God is ontologized and universalized. The death of God becomes the self-annihilation of the Spirits primordial nature and deficient actuality [the transcendent being] pours into the world and becomes flesh. For me, the death of God is now seen in ontological and existential terms.

In closing, Nietzsche’s proclamation of the death of God shattered the transcendent being of Christendom. The death of God as the negation of the pure transcendent God of the Christian tradition is Christian atheism. The God who stands beyond the world is a non-redemptive God who by virtue of his transcendence stands apart from the historical presence of the Incarnation. The transcendent God cannot redeem the world, therefor, it must be declared dead. To say that God is dead, is an attempt to say that the transcendent ground of the world has died. But ultimately, God died for the redemption of the world.

The questions we must ask ourselves are, are we ready to face it? Are we ready to carry our cross and face the unknown? To accept and will the self-annihilation of God we must face the dark night of our soul and say:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? “

In some Christian circles we tend to complicate the meaning of what it is to be a Christian, and yet in other circles the opposite occurs, we will simplify what it means so as to make it more palatable, either for ourselves or for those around us. I see something a bit different, and it falls right in the middle of these two extremes. Christianity, or the message of Jesus was at its core simple, and yet, it is very complicated and not at all palatable.

For me, to be Christian in its purest form is to carry your cross daily. Simple enough, but we must understand what this means. Some of my liberal friends may see this as serving the homeless, or loving your neighbor. While my fundamentalist friends may see this as attending church regularly, and/or reading scripture daily. As you could probably guess I disagree with these notions completely. As I see it, to carry your cross is to understand that we are the “brood of vipers” that Christ spoke of.

To carry your cross is to violently deny the Empire. So for first century Nazarenes this was Rome, and for twenty first century westerners this is the United States. Before I go on let me clarify something important. I used the word [violently] and I don’t want to give the impression that I’m speaking of hurting others. Actually it’s the opposite, true violence is the complete lack of violence. We see this when Christ tells us to, “turn the other check.” Some see this as letting people shit on you, or letting the Empire corrupt everything around you. For many this works, because we are told to desire something else after this life. This mentality ultimately allows the Empire to continue its reign. I will address [true violence] more in depth in another post.

So even though the notion of carrying your cross is simple, it is extremely difficult and complex. It was Christ who said [the path] is narrow, and it’s narrow because it requires us to leave our identity. Our identity is intertwined in our family, friends, and yes, the Empire. We are called to [hate] our family, friends, and Empire. We usually gloss over this, but it is essential to carrying your cross. I don’t believe Jesus is telling us to actually hate our folks, but to hate the tribal identity that is bestowed upon us by these mechanisms. The irony is it would be much simpler to just hate your family.

By calling Jesus the son of God, Lord, the truth etc…is to say the Empire is not. The Empire [capitalism] is sown into the fabric of our Being. For most, we know the horror, yet remain because of this reality, and ultimately find comfort in its embrace.

You can’t serve the Empire and God

In the New Testament we find four Gospels, a narrative of the Apostles, twenty one letters, and an apocalyptic revelation. In these 27 books we find very little information about the historical life of Jesus of Nazareth. There are the Gospels of course, but we should know that both Matthew and Luke are basically copies of Mark, except with birth narratives. So that really leaves us with just two narratives [Mark & John]. Both Mark and John leave out the birth narrative, and I find the reasoning to be that Mark’s Gospel was written prior to the addition of this story, and John’s which was written after Matthew and Luke clearly didn’t find it relevant enough to include in his narrative.

In all twenty one letters in the New Testament we find that no author was all that concerned with the historical life of Jesus of Nazareth. The dominant force in the New Testament is of course Saul [Paul] who is given credit for fourteen books or Pauline epistles. In all fourteen letters Paul at no point discusses the historical life of Jesus. He does mention the birth of Christ by simply stating, “he was born of a women, under the law.” This simply means he was born, and after seven days was circumcised as is Jewish custom. It’s also important to note that the early Pauline letters are the earliest New Testament writings.

Now, on the other side of the coin, every single author in the New Testament goes into some detail about the death and resurrection of Christ. It’s also important to note that in the Gospels, the death narrative grows longer by each author as time goes by. We find in the first Gospel written [Mark] that this narrative is very short, and there is no sighting of Jesus. By the time we get to the final Gospel [John] we find that half of his narrative is of a resurrected Christ. So what does all this mean?

Well, what we find today is that modern theology has become enthralled with the historical life of this Jewish peasant. Organizations like the AAR, the Jesus Seminar, and liberal theologians in general have turned Christ into a wisdom teacher/philosopher. In my opinion, by turning our attention to whether or not Jesus was born via some virgin birth or whether he raised Lazarus from the dead we are missing what is truly the “good news.” I find liberal theology trying to create it’s very own Thomas Jefferson Bible, and I say to that—”you have been found wanting.”

For me, there is a central theme in the New Testament—The Kingdom of God. We find this [Kingdom] at the cross. The death of Christ signifies the death of God. What this means, and why this is the Real “good news” is that the Spirit is now here. The Kingdom of God is what the world would be if God was immanent. The empire [Rome] would no longer “Be” as the immanence of God would rupture the structure from within. We see this at the moment of Christ’s death, when the Temple is ruptured and it’s curtains are ripped open and we find nothingness. The good news is ultimately that God is dead.

I find that both fundamentalist and liberal Christians are missing the mark in different ways. Fundamentalist need transcendence, so the cross is victory over death which leads to a bodily resurrection back to “deus ex machina.” The problem here is that by willing transcendence we will never find the Kingdom. Liberals are trying to make the apocalyptic message of Christ palatable. So the horror of the cross is completely glossed over and we are left with fluff. By turning away from the horror of the cross and the death of God we also can never have the Kingdom of God here on earth. We must face the cross for what it is. It will never be palatable, and it shouldn’t be. The cross is ugly and horrific in the most beautiful way imaginable.

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