In the theological realm there has been much discussion over Slovenian philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek. What makes this a bit of an anomaly is that Zizek is a self described atheist. So the next logical question is, what can an atheist teach us about theology and the Christian walk? Well, first we must understand there are many varying forms of atheism. Just as there are many varying forms of Christianity, Judaism and so on. So before we dive in, understand that to lump Zizek in with the likes of Dawkins, Hitchens and so on, is to lump Tony in with Mark Driscoll. It’s irresponsible and we will ultimately miss what Zizek is saying.

Slavoj Zizek is a senior researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities and a professor of philosophy and psychoanalysis at the European Graduate School. Now Zizek is a character, to say the least. His style is manic, ugly, and all over the map. Have you ever had so many thoughts going on in your brain that your mouth can’t keep up? I assume Zizek spends all of his waking moments in this state. He just talks and talks and talks and talks and talks [you get the point] and within that time he jumps from topic to topic to topic to topic. So needless to say, more times than not it’s difficult to keep up with his thoughts and antics. However, when he gets dialed in, there is no one person more brilliant, exciting, and passionate than Zizek.

I asked Tony if I could guest post here to discuss how this atheist madman can and should be implemented into modern theology and Christianity. My goal is to be as coherent as possible, but when discussing Zizek this sometimes becomes a bit difficult. So I am currently thinking maybe I bit of more than I can chew. Anyway, here is my best effort to explain Christian [atheism] as Zizek sees it.

Zizek states that religious belief is an objectively functional illusion. For an example, he sites Christmas and Santa Claus. We all realize that Santa doesn’t exist, it’s a mere illusion, and yet we haven’t discarded the belief. Why? Because it functions objectively as an illusion that signifies our worldview of the holiday. Another example is the ancient Greeks and mythology. Zizek claims the ancient Greeks were not idiots. They knew on top of Mt. Olympus they wouldn’t find Gods, yet it remained an illusion which functioned objectively in their worldview. Let’s look at it from this perspective, we can say that money doesn’t bring happiness, but we clearly function as though it does. In the same way the Christian idea of God as transcendent/omnipresent is an illusion. God is dead. He died on the cross, which has led to our freedom to live out the New Testament. Now Zizek says, and I agree, that only by willing the death of God [Christian atheism] can we live fully as Christians. So to break it down, Z is saying, when we believe in the illusion of the transcendent/omnipresent God who pulls the strings ‘deus ex machina’ we cannot function as true Christians because we’re too busy keeping the illusion of Santa real.

So here’s where things get a little complicated because if you’re not familiar with Hegelian dialectics it’s easy to get lost. So I will try and break down dialectics in its most elementary form. For every idea there is a contradiction that pushes back, which ultimately leads to another outcome. So let’s imagine there is a violent storm, afterwords we see the sun emerge from behind the clouds, which will then lead to a rainbow. It is a triadic dialectic and it plays a crucial role in the death of God. Most today use the terminology of thesis—antithesis—synthesis to describe dialectics. I prefer abstract—negative—concrete because it shows that the first initial ‘thing’ is inadequate and requires the push back. Call it what you like it’s all the same notion.

The idea is that God [abstract] engages the world in all it’s profanity through the Incarnation of Christ. We are the profane [negative] and stand in complete contradiction to the Spirit/Divine. At the cross we find the death of Christ which is also the death of God. Now through the death of God we find the end of transcendence. The God who was once [out there] is now [right here]. This is ultimately the [concrete] in the dialectic. So what we find is not a bodily resurrection back into transcendence, but instead the complete self emptying of this transcendence into immanence. There is nothing pulling the strings in our life, so now we as humans must face the responsibility of our actions/in actions. The immanence creates a forward movement into our modern world. Now theology is no longer a static discussion based on rituals and dogmas, but instead we find a religionless Christianity that engages our modern world.

This is crucial, because now Christianity isn’t about life after death, but about life before you die. For Zizek the message of Christ was apocalyptic at its core. For us to find meaning and live as fully human we must rupture the structures that shape and skew our ideologies. With that comes true freedom from not only the state, but from religion itself.

I hope this was clear and concise, but like I said its a difficult topic to explain in a short post. If you take anything away from this I hope it’s that there is a new and vibrant movement forming with ideas that shatter the old. If you are serious about dissecting your beliefs I highly recommend reading Zizek’s work with Christ. Below are some noteworthy reads.

The Fragile Absolute
The Monstrosity of Christ
The Puppet and the Dwarf
God in Pain
Parallax View [chapter 2]
Less Than Nothing [first 400 pages]

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In modern theology I feel the use of dialectical materialism is now a necessity. To understand dialectical materialism we must first understand dialectics, which most attribute to Hegel, but in actuality it originated in Ancient Greece, and made popular by Plato in the Socratic dialogues. The dialectical method is discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject, who wish to establish the truth of the matter guided by reasoned arguments.

When discussing dialectics today we’re most assuredly speaking of either Hegel or Marx. A brief background is that Marx studied under Hegel and at some point the two split. From my reading of Marx after the split you can tell that he has an immense amount of respect for his former teacher. With that said, Marx began to speak out against Hegel’s triadic dialectic form —[“The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.”]

Marx created what is known today as dialectical materialism. It differs from Hegel in that Hegel’s dialectics took place in the mind, or the non-material, whereas Marx’s takes place in the material world. Another quote—[“My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life-process of the human brain, i.e. the process of thinking, which, under the name of ‘the Idea’, he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of ‘the Idea’. With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought.”]

So the question is, how can dialectical materialism benefit theology? Simply put, it creates change. As we move forward into an ever increasing secular world, theology cannot with any good conscious stay in the past. As our realities become more liquid, theology has become a mere relic of yesteryear. I mean, for fucks sake we are still discussing the issue of homosexuality! Women are still looked at as second class citizens, and the church is as segregated today as it’s ever been.

Theology must begin to implement dialectical materialism so as to herald in change. Theology can no longer be a static discussion based on rights, rituals, and dogmas of the past if it is to stay relevant in our modern world. The secular world is already using a form of dialectical materialism. Even if they’re not aware, it is interwoven in ideas and contradictions to those ideas. The problem the theological/religious realm faces is it’s fervent need for a ‘big Other’. This creates a problem as “some thing” is handing down rules that we put ultimate value on. This idolatry will always stifle change and progress. This is where the transcendent primordial father becomes a major issue. Now this issue not only faces fundamentalism, but in a real way it effects liberalism as well.

In closing here are two examples of dialectics. The first being a Hegelian and the second being dialectical materialism—

1: Thesis: potential + freedom
Antithesis: actual + bondage
Synthesis: actual + freedom

2: Primitive communism (common ownership of property), or Gens (hunter-gatherer-fisher societies)
Slavery (Greece and Rome primarily)
Feudalism
Capitalism
Final communism (a return to common ownership), which will arrive in the future

Each and everyday 16,000 children will die of both starvation and basic medical needs. The number grows exponentially when you factor in adults. This is the reality of our world at this point. Most of these atrocities occur far from our pampered lives of coffee shops, and fantastic lunches [I’m looking at you Instagram users] so it’s quite easy to block out what is clearly hell on earth. I talk with people who “serve” the homeless in their respective communities and it got me wondering what [if anything] this does to help the situation.

First let me state that we have a very difficult time talking about Real oppression. We can poke fun at Paula Dean and so on, but Real oppression is something quite different. I see the reasoning behind this difficulty as our realization that WE are the structures that cause this oppression. So in my opinion, we feed the homeless to feel better about our lunches, laptops, vacations etc… In reality our need to help the Other is mostly very self-serving, insofar as it doesn’t solve the problem at hand, it only allows us to continue to live inside of our structures and help us sleep.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying to starve the homeless, or to distance yourself from these issues. I am saying the exact opposite actually. We must face ourselves as the “cause” and then and only then can we begin to exam the role we as a society play in this problem.

Peter Rollins had a great analogy about Batman in regards to the issue at hand. Bruce Wayne owns Wayne Industries, a clear capitalistic corp that we can safely assume creates much of the crime/oppression that Batman fights. So no matter how many villains he defeats there will always be another to take its place. So in reality, we are we feeding the Other and then starving them later.

Let me say this again, I see nothing wrong with serving your fellow man. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking this will solve the problem. It’s a mere bandaid that is simpler and cheaper then the Real fix. As a Christian I see the apocalyptic message of Jesus being turned into fluff and this truly angers me. The fluff allows us to be patient while waiting for some nirvana in the sky. The message Jesus spoke of was extreme rupturing of the structures that shape and skew our ideologies. For Jesus that was the Imperialistic Roman Empire, for us it’s much of the same.

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