Christianity and the challenge of brother Z
Today, the turn towards theology by atheist intellectuals is in vogue. They quarry from theology (and scriptures) for radical politics in the contemporary world. The philosopher Slavoj Zizek is no exception.
Brother Zizek calls himself a materialist Christian and have produced a few books on this subject. His brand of Christianity would sound unfamiliar if not downright heretical to orthodox Christians (a tricky term but the bare minimum would be the acceptance of the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian Creed together with whatever church confessions which they subscribe to).
So what exactly does Zizek believe in? Basically, Zizek is an atheist who, in his reading, found a radical theological impulse in Christianity which was ignored by the community as a whole. So what is this radical impulse? Essentially, there is no God that guarantees a better world (be it this or the one to come). However, this does not negate the community’s responsibility towards the betterment of the social-political condition of the world. Turning to the great apostle, Paul, he pointed out to Eph. 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” as a point of departure for emancipatory (read radical) politics.
In his terms, we must struggle against the tyrannical global world order (rulers, authorities and principalities of darkness) that crushes the human spirit and the ideology (theology) that sustains it. We cannot, according to brother Zizek, sit on our haunches either in despair or deluding ourselves for a better world to come because Christianity turns the world upside down.
Again quoting Paul: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate” (I Cor. 1:19). Christianity always seek redemption in the material world even if it looks impossible. For has not Paul prophesied that only three things remain: faith, hope and love (I Cor. 13:13). Thus, the Christian faith strives towards creating an egalitarian social order with love (agape) as the foundation.To quote brother Zizek “Love is the force of this universal link that, in an emancipatory collective, connects people directly, in their singularity, bypassing their particular positions in the social hierarchy”.
This briefly is my (mis)reading of Zizek’s (per)version of Christianity. How should an orthodox (in my definition) takes in Zizek’s unorthodox position? We need to recognize that brother Zizek is no Christian in any sense. Rather, he is an intellectual who is quarrying the faith for radical politics. As much as I disagree with his reading of the faith (I’m a closeted reformed and a post-evangelical, which should make me kosher to those who want to know), I find him challenging my complacency of what I understand as being a Christian.
Is faith a sort of private enjoyment where I know I’m going to paradise and the rest be damned? Does not the demand that I love for my neighbour (Lk. 10:25-37) negates this private enjoyment? It is this point which I think Zizek is useful for those of us who wishes to remain within the community of faith. He remains a constant irritation and a reminder of the injunction to love our neighbour even if we do not (and cannot accept his theology).
What then is the task of a Christian? We wait (and long) for the coming of God’s kingdom. Even as we wait, we must read the signs of the times. And as we read the signs, we must act to prepare the way for the kingdom to come. For by so doing, God’s kingdom will arrive in ways we do not understand nor expected.