......• Only a Suffering God Can Save Us •

.............Section 1: Hegel

.............Slavoj Zizek

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section 2: Kierkegaard

The key question about religion today is: can all religious experiences and practices effectively be contained within this dimension of the conjunction of truth and meaning? The best starting point for such a line of inquiry is the point at which religion itself faces a trauma, a shock which dissolves the link between truth and meaning, a truth so traumatic that it resists being integrated into the universe of meaning. Every theologian sooner or later faces the problem of how to reconcile the existence of God with the fact of shoah or similar excessive evil: how are we to reconcile the existence of an omnipotent and good God with the terrifying suffering of millions of innocents, like children killed in the gas chambers? Surprisingly (or not), the theological answers build a strange succession of Hegelian triads. First, those who want to leave divine sovereignty unimpaired and thus have to attribute to God full responsibility for shoah, first offer (1) the "legalistic" sin-and-punishment theory (shoah has to be a punishment for the past sins of humanity – or Jews themselves); then, they pass to(2) the "moralistic" character-education theory (shoah is to be understood along the lines of the story of Job, as the most radical test of our faith in God – if we survive this ordeal, our character will stand firm…); and, finally, they take refuge in a kind of "infinite judgement" which should save the day after all common measure between shoah and its meaning breaks down, (3) the divine mystery theory (facts like shoah bear witness to the unfathomable abyss of divine will). In accordance with the Hegelian motto of a redoubled mystery (the mystery God is for us has to be also a mystery for God Himself), the truth of this "infinite judgement" can only be to deny God’s full sovereignty and omnipotence. The next triad is thus composed of those who, unable to combine shoah with God’s omnipotence (how could He have allowed it to happen?), opt for some form of divine limitation: (1) first, God is directly posited as finite or, at least, contained, not omnipotent, not all-encompassing: he finds himself overwhelmed by the dense inertia of his own creation; (2) then, this limitation is reflected back into God himself as his free act: God is self-limited, He voluntarily constrained his power in order to leave the space open for human freedom, so it is us, humans, who are fully responsible for the evil in the world – in short, phenomena like shoah are the ultimate price we have to pay for the divine gift of freedom; (3) finally, self-limitation is externalized, the two moments are posited as autonomous - God is embattled, there is a counter-force or principle of demoniac Evil active in the world (the dualistic solution).

This brings us to the third position above and beyond the first two (the sovereign God, the finite God), that of a suffering God: not a triumphalist God who always wins at the end, although "his ways are mysterious," since he secretly pulls all the strings; not a God who exerts cold justice, since he is by definition always right; but a God who – like the suffering Christ on the Cross - is agonized, assumes the burden of suffering, in solidarity with the human misery. [1] It was already Schelling who wrote: "God is a life, not merely a being. But all life has a fate and is subject to suffering and becoming. /.../ Without the concept of a humanly suffering God /.../ all of history remains incomprehensible." [2] Why? Because God’s suffering implies that He is involved in history, affected by it, not just a transcendent Master pulling the strings from above: God’s suffering means that human history is not just a theater of shadows, but the place of the real struggle, the struggle in which the Absolute itself is involved and its fate is decided. This is the philosophical background of Dietrich Bonhoffer’s deep insight that, after shoah, "only a suffering God can help us now" [3] – a proper supplement to Heidegger’s "Only a God can still save us!" from his last interview. [4] One should therefore take the statement that "the unspeakable suffering of the six millions is also the voice of the suffering of God" [5] quite literally: the very excess of this suffering over any "normal" human measure makes it divine. Recently, this paradox was succinctly formulated by Juergen Habermas:

Secular languages which only eliminate the substance once intended leave irritations. When sin was converted to culpability, and the breaking of divine commands to an offense against human laws, something was lost. [6]

Which is why the secular-humanist reactions to phenomena like shoah or gulag (AND others) is experienced as insufficient: in order to be at the level of such phenomena, something much stronger is needed, something akin to the old religious topic of a cosmic perversion or catastrophy in which the world itself is "out of joint" - when one confronts a phenomenon like shoah, the only appropriate reaction is the perplexed question "Why did the heavens not darken?" (the title of Arno Mayor's book). Therein resides the paradox of the theological significance of shoah: although it is usually conceived as the ultimate challenge to theology (if there is a God and if he is good, how could he have allowed such a horror to take place?), it is at the same time only theology which can provide the frame enabling us to somehow approach the scope of this catastrophy – the fiasco of god is still the fiasco of GOD.

Recall the second of Benjamin’s "Theses on the Philosophy of History": "The past carries with it a temporal index by which it is referred to redemption. There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one." [7] Can this "weak messianic power" still be asserted in the face of shoah? How does shoah point towards redemption-to-come? Is not the suffering of the victims of shoah a kind of absolute expenditure which cannot ever be retroactively accounted for, redeemed, rendered meaningful? It is as this very point that God’s suffering enters: what it signals is the failure of any Aufhebung of the raw fact of suffering. What echoes here is, more than the Jewish tradition, the basic Protestant lesson: there is no direct access to freedom/autonomy; between the master/slave exchange-relationship of man and god and the full assertion of human freedom, an intermediary stage of absolute humiliation has to intervene in which man is reduced to a pure object of the unfathomable divine caprice. Do the three main versions of Christianity not form a kind of Hegelian triad? In the succession of Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism, each new term is a subdivision, split off of a previous unity. This triad of Universal-Particular-Singular can be designated by three representative founding figures (John, Peter, Paul) as well as by three races (Slavic, Latin, German). In the Eastern Orthodoxy, we have the substantial unity of the text and the corpus of believers, which is why the believers are allowed to interpret the sacred Text, the Text goes on and lives in them, it is not outside the living history as its exempted standard and model - the substance of religious life is the Christian community itself. Catholicism stands for radical alienation: the entity which mediates between the founding sacred Text and the corpus of believers, the Church, the religious Institution, regains its full autonomy. The highest authority resides in the Church, which is why the Church has the right to interpret the Text; the Text is read during the Mass in Latin, a language which is not understood by ordinary believers, and it is even considered a sin for an ordinary believer to read the Text directly, by-passing the priest’s guidance. For Protestantism, finally, the only authority is the Text itself, and the wager is on every believer’s direct contact with Word of God as it was delivered in the Text; the mediator (the Particular) thus disappears, withdraws into insignificance, enabling the believer to adopt the position of a "universal Singular," the individual in a direct contact with the divine Universality, by-passing the mediating role of the particular Institution. These three Christian attitudes also involve three different modes of God’s presence in the world. We start with the created universe directly reflecting the glory of its Creator: all the wealth and beauty of our world bears witness to the divine creative power, and creatures, when they are not corrupted, naturally turn their eyes towards Him… Catholicism shifts to a more delicate logic of the "figure in the carpet": the Creator is not which directly present in the world, His traces are rather to be discerned in details which escape the first superficial glance, i.e., God is like a painter who withdraws from his finished product, signaling his authorship merely by a barely discerning signature at the picture’s edge. Finally, Protestantism asserts God’s radical absence from the created universe, from this gray world which runs as a blind mechanism and where God’s presence only becomes discernible in direct interventions of his Grace which disturbs the normal course of things.

This reconciliation, however, only becomes possible after alienation is brought to the extreme: in contrast to the Catholic notion of a caring and loving God with whom one can communicate, negotiate even, Protestantism starts with the notion of God deprived of any "common measure" shared with man, of God as an impenetrable Beyond who distributes grace in a totally contingent way. One can discern the traces of this full acceptance of God’s unconditional and capricious authority in the last song Johnny Cash recorded just before his death, The Man Comes Around, an exemplary articulation of the anxieties contained in the Southern Baptist Christianity:

There's a man going around taking names and he decides
Who to free and who to blame every body won't be treated
Quite the same there will be a golden ladder reaching down
When the man comes around

The hairs on your arm will stand up at the terror in each
Sip and each sup will you partake of that last offered cup
Or disappear into the potter's ground
When the man comes around

Hear the trumpets hear the pipers one hundred million angels singing
Multitudes are marching to a big kettledrum
Voices calling and voices crying
Some are born and some are dying
Its alpha and omegas kingdom come
And the whirlwind is in the thorn trees
The virgins are all trimming their wicks
The whirlwind is in the thorn trees
It's hard for thee to kick against the pricks
Till Armageddon no shalam no shalom

Then the father hen will call his chicken's home
The wise man will bow down before the thorn and at his feet
They will cast the golden crowns
When the man comes around

Whoever is unjust let him be unjust still
Whoever is righteous let him be righteous still
Whoever is filthy let him be filthy still

The song is about Armageddon, the end of days when God will appear and perform the Last Judgment, and this event is presented as pure and arbitrary terror: God is presented almost as Evil personified, as a kind of political informer, a man who "comes around" and provokes consternation by "taking names," by deciding who is saved and who lost. If anything, Cash’s description evokes the well-known scene of people lined up for a brutal interrogation, and the informer pointing out those selected for torture: there is no mercy, no pardon of sins, no jubilation, we are all fixed in our roles, the just remain just and the filthy remain filthy. In this divine proclamation, we are not simply judged in a just way; we are informed from outside, as if learning about an arbitrary decision, if we were righteous or sinners, if we are saved or condemned - this decision has nothing to do with our inner qualities. And, again, this dark excess of the ruthless divine sadism – excess over the image of a severe, but nonetheless just, God – is a necessary negative, an underside, of the excess of Christian love over the Jewish Law: love which suspends the Law is necessarily accompanied by the arbitrary cruelty which also suspends the Law.

Martin Luther directly proposed an excremental identity of man: man is like a divine shit, he fell out of God’s anus. One can, of course, pursue the question into how the deep crises that pushed Luther towards his new theology, he was caught in a violent debilitating superego cycle: the more he acted, repented, punished and tortured himself, did good deeds, etc., the more he felt guilty. This made him convinced that good deeds are calculated, dirty, selfish: far from pleasing God, they provoke God’s wrath and lead to damnation. Salvation comes from faith: it is our faith alone, faith into Jesus as saviour, which allows us to break out of the superego impasse. However, his "anal" definition of man cannot be reduced to a result of this superego pressure which pushed him towards self-abasement – there is more in it: it is only within this Protestant logic of man’s excremental identity that the true meaning of Incarnation can be formulated. In Orthodoxy, Christ ultimately loses his exceptional status: his very idealization, elevation to a noble model, reduces him to an ideal image, a figure to be imitated (all men should strive to become God) - imitatio Christi is more an Orthodox than a Catholic formula. In Catholicism, the predominant logic is that of a symbolic exchange: Catholic theologists enjoy dwelling in scholastic juridical arguments about how Christ paid the price for our sins, etc. – no wonder that Luther reacted to the lowest outcome of this logic, the reduction of redemption to something that can be bought from the Church. Protestantism, finally, posits the relationship as real, conceiving Christ as a God who, in his act of Incarnation, freely identified Himself with His own shit, with the excremental real that is man – and it is only at this level that the properly Christian notion of divine love can be apprehended, as the love for the miserable excremental entity called "man."

It is in this sense that, with regard to Christ, Hegel points forward to some key Kierkegaardian motifs (the difference between genius and apostle, the singular evental character of Christ) with his emphasis on the difference between Socrates and Christ. Christ is NOT like the Greek "plastic individual" through whose particular features the universal/substantial content directly transpires (as is exemplarily the case with Alexander). What this means is that although Christ is Man-God, the direct identity of the two, this identity also implies absolute contradiction: there is NOTHING "divine" about Christ, even nothing exceptional – if we observe his features, he is indistinguishable from any other human individual:

If we consider Christ only in reference to his talents, his character and his morality, as a teacher, etc., we are putting him on the same plane as Socrates and others, even if we place him higher from the moral point of view. /…/ If Christ is only taken as an exceptionally fine individual, even as one without sin, then we are ignoring the representation of the speculative idea, its absolute truth. [8]

These lines rely on a very precise conceptual background. It is not that Christ is "more" than other model figures of religious or philosophical or ethical wisdom, real or mythical (Buddha, Socrates, Moses, Mohammad), "divine" in the sense of the absence of any human failures. With Christ, the very relationship between the substantial divine content and its representation changes: Christ does not represent this substantial divine content, God, he directly IS God, which is why he no longer has to resemble God, to strive to be perfect and "like God." Recall the classic Marx brothers joke: "You resemble Emmanuel Ravelli." "But I am Emmanuel Ravelli." "No wonder, then, that you resemble yourself!" The underlying premise of this joke is that such an overlapping of being and resembling is impossible, there is always a gap between the two. Buddha, Socrates, etc., resemble Gods, while Christ IS God. So when the Christian God "manifests himself to other men as an individual man, exclusive and single /…/ like a man excluding all others," [9] we are dealing with the singularity of a pure event, with contingency brought to extreme – only in this mode, excluding all effort to approach universal perfection, God can incarnate itself. This absence of any positive characteristics, this full identity of God and man at the level of properties, can only occur because another, more radical, difference makes any positive differential features irrelevant. This change can be nicely rendered as the shift from the upwards-movement of the becoming-essential of the accident to the downwards-movement of the becoming-accidental of the essence (119): the Greek hero, this "exemplary individual," elevates his accidental personal features into a paradigmatic case of the essential universality, while in the Christian logic of Incarnation, the universal Essence embodies itself in an accidental individual.

Another way to make this point is to say that the Greek Gods appear to humans in human form, while the Christian God appears as human TO HIMSELF. This is the crucial point: Incarnation is for Hegel not a move by means of which God makes himself accessible/visible to humans, but a move by means of which Gods looks at himself from the (distorting) human perspective: "As God manifests himself to his own gaze, the specular presentation divides the divine self from itself, offering the divine the perspectival vision of its own self-presence."(118) Or, to put in Freudian-Lacanian terms: Christ is God’s "partial object," an autonomized organ without a body, as if God picked his eye out of his head and turned it at himself from the outside. We can guess, now, why Hegel insisted on the monstrosity of Christ.

Kino-Eye /Kino-glaz/, Dziga Vertov's Soviet silent classic from 1924 (one of the highpoints of revolutionary cinema) takes as its emblem the eye (of the camera) as an "autonomous organ" which wanders around in the early 1920s, giving us snippets of the NEP ("new economic politics") reality of the Soviet Union. Recall the common expression "to cast an eye over something," with its literal implication of picking the eye out of its socket and throwing it around. Martin, the legendary idiot from French fairy tales, did exactly this when his mother, worried that he will never find a wife, told him to go to church and cast an eye over the girls there. What he does is go to the butcher first, purchase a pig eye, and then, in the church, throw this eye around over the girls at prayer – no wonder he later reports to his mother that the girls were not too impressed by his behavior. This, precisely, is what revolutionary cinema should be doing: using the camera as a partial object, as an "eye" torn from the subject and freely thrown around – or, to quote Vertov himself:

The film camera drags the eyes of the audience from the hands to the feet, from the feet to the eyes and so on in the most profitable order, and it organises the details into a regular montage exercise. [10]

We all know the uncanny moments in our everyday lives when we catch sight of our own image and this image is not looking back at us. I remember once trying to inspect a strange growth on the side of my head using a double mirror, when, all of a sudden, I caught a glimpse of my face from the profile. The image replicated all my gestures, but in a weird uncoordinated way. In such a situation, "our specular image is torn away from us and, crucially, our look is no longer looking at ourselves." [11] It is in such weird experiences that one catches what Lacan called gaze as objet petit a, the part of our image which eludes the mirror-like symmetrical relationship. When we see ourselves "from outside," from this impossible point, the traumatic feature is not that I am objectivized, reduced to an external object for the gaze, but, rather, that it is my gaze itself which is objectivized, which observes me from the outside, which, precisely, means that my gaze is no longer mine, that it is stolen from me. There is a relatively simple and painless eye-operation which, nonetheless, involves a very unpleasant experience: under local anesthesia, i.e., with the patient’s full awareness, the eye is taken out of the socket and turned a little bit around in the air (in order to correct the way the eye-ball is attached to the brain) – at this moment, the patient can for a brief moment see (parts of) himself from outside, from an "objective" viewpoint, as a strange object, the way he "really is" as an object in the world, not the way one usually experiences oneself as fully embedded "in" one’s body. There is something divine in this (very unpleasant) experience: one sees oneself as if from a divine viewpoint, somehow realizing the mystical motto according to which, the eye through which I see God is the eye through which God sees himself. Something homologous to this weird experience, applied to God himself, occurs in the Incarnation.

In the Strugatsky brothers' novel The Roadside Picnic, on which Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece Stalker is based, the "Zones" - there are six of these secluded areas - are the debris of a "roadside picnic," i.e. of a short stay on our planet by some alien visitors who quickly left it, finding us uninteresting. In the novel, Stalkers are more adventurous and down-to-earth than in the film, not individuals on a tormenting spiritual search, but deft scavengers organizing robbing expeditions, somehow like the proverbial Arabs organizing raiding expeditions into the Pyramids (another Zone) for wealthy Westerners - and, effectively, are Pyramids not, according to popular science literature, traces of an alien wisdom? The Zone is thus not a purely mental fantasmatic space in which one encounters (or onto which one projects) the truth about oneself, but (like the planet Solaris in Stanislav Lem's novel of the same name, the base of another Tarkovsky’s sci-fi masterpiece) the material presence, the Real of an absolute Otherness incompatible with the rules and laws of our universe. Because of this, at the novel's end, Stalker, when confronted with the "Golden Sphere" - as the Room in which desires are realized is called in the novel -, does undergo a kind of spiritual conversion, but this experience is much closer to what Lacan called "subjective destitution": an abrupt awareness of the utter meaningless of our social links, the dissolution of our attachment to reality itself - all of a sudden, other people are derealized, reality itself is experienced as a confused whirlpool of shapes and sounds, so that we are no longer able to formulate our desire.

It is to this incompatibility between our own and the Alien universe that the novel's title (The Roadside Picnic) refers: the strange objects found in the Zone which fascinate humans are in all probability simply the debris, the garbage, left behind after aliens have briefly stayed on our planet, comparable to the rubbish a group of humans leaves behind after a picnic in a forest near a main road. The typical Tarkovskian landscape (of decaying human debris half reclaimed by nature) is in the novel precisely what characterizes the Zone itself from the (impossible) standpoint of the visiting aliens: what is to us a Miracle, an encounter with a wondrous universe beyond our grasp, is just everyday debris to the Aliens. Is it then, perhaps, possible to draw the Brechtian conclusion that the typical Tarkovskian landscape (the human environment in decay reclaimed by nature) involves the view of our universe from an imagined Alien standpoint? And, again, the same goes for the Incarnation: in it, the divine object coincides with human debris (a common destitute preacher socializing with beggars, whores, and other social losers).

It is therefore crucial to note how the Christian modality of "God seeing Himself" has nothing whatsoever to do with the harmonious closed loop of "seeing myself seeing," of an Eye seeing itself and enjoying the sight in this perfect self-mirroring: the turn of the eye towards "its" body presupposes the separation of the eye from the body, and what I see through my externalized/autonomized eye is a perspectival, anamorphically distorted image of myself: Christ is an anamorphosis of God.

Another indication of this externality of God with regard to Himself is pointed out by G.K. Chesterton in his "The Meaning of the Crusade," where he quotes with approval the description he got from a child in Jerusalem of the Mount of Olive: "A child from one of the villages said to me, in broken English, that it was the place where God said his prayers. I for one could not ask for a finer or more defiant statement of all that separates the Christian from the Moslem or the Jew." If, in other religions, we pray to God, only in Christianity God himself prays, that is to say, addresses an external unfathomable authority.

The crucial problem is: how to think the link between the two "alienations," the one of the modern man from God (who is reduced to an unknowable In-itself, absent from the world subjected to mechanical laws), the other of God from Himself (in Christ, incarnation) – they are THE SAME, although not symmetrically, but as subject and object. In order for (human) subjectivity to emerge out of the substantial personality of the human animal, cutting links with it and positing itself as the I=I dispossessed of all substantial content, as the self-relating negativity of an empty singularity, God himself, the universal Substance, has to "humiliate" himself, to fall into its own creation, to "objectivize" himself, to appear as a singular miserable human individual in all its abjection, i.e., abandoned by God. The distance of man from God is thus the distance of God from Himself:

The suffering of God and the suffering of human subjectivity deprived of God must be analysed as the recto and verso of the same event. There is a fundamental relationship between divine kenosis and the tendency of modern reason to posit a beyond which remains inaccessible. The Encyclopaedia makes this relation visible by presenting the Death of God at once as the Passion of the Son who ‘dies in the pain of negativity’ and the human feeling that we can know nothing of God. [12]

This double kenosis is what the standard Marxist critique of religion as the self-alienation of humanity misses: "modern philosophy would not have its own subject if God’s sacrifice had not occurred." [13] For the subjectivity to emerge – not as a mere epiphenomenon of the global substantial ontological order, but as essential to Substance itself -, the split, negativity, particularization, self-alienation, must be posited as something that takes place in the very heart of the divine Substance, i.e., the move from Substance to Subject must occur within God himself. In short, man’s alienation from God (the fact that God appears to him as an inaccessible In-itself, as a pure transcendent Beyond) must coincide with the alienation of God from himself (whose most poignant expression is, of course, Christ’s "Father, father, why have you forsaken me?" on the cross): finite human "consciousness only represents God because God re-presents itself; consciousness is only at a distance from God because God distances himself from himself. [14]

This is why the standard Marxist philosophy oscillates between the ontology of "dialectical materialism" which reduces human subjectivity to a particular ontological sphere (no wonder that Georgi Plekhanov, the creator of the term "dialectical materialism," also designated Marxism as "dynamized Spinozism"), and the philosophy of praxis which, from young Georg Lukacs onwards, takes as its starting point and horizon collective subjectivity which posits/mediates every objectivity, and is thus unable to think its genesis from the substantial order, the ontological explosion, "Big Bang," which gives rise to it.

So when Catherine Malabou writes that Christ’s death is "at once the death of the God-man and the Death of the initial and immediate abstraction of the divine being which is not yet posited as a Self," [15] this means that, at Hegel pointed out, what dies on the Cross is not only the terrestrial-finite representative of God, but God himself, the very transcendent God of beyond. Both terms of the opposition, Father and Son, the substantial God as the Absolute In-itself and the God-for-us, revealed to us, die, are sublated in the Holy Spirit.

The standard reading of this sublation – Christ "dies" (is sublated) as the immediate representation of God, as God in the guise of a finite human person, in order to be reborn as the universal/atemporal Spirit – remains all too short. The point this reading misses is the ultimate lesson to be learned from the divine Incarnation: the finite existence of mortal humans is the only site of the Spirit, the site where Spirit achieves its actuality. What this means is that, in spite of all its grounding power, Spirit is a virtual entity in the sense that its status is that of a subjective presupposition: it exists only insofar as subjects act as if it exists. Its status is similar to that of an ideological cause like Communism or Nation: it is the substance of the individuals who recognize themselves in it, the ground of their entire existence, the point of reference which provides the ultimate horizon of meaning to their lives, something for which these individuals are ready to give their lives, yet the only thing that really exists are these individuals and their activity, so this substance is actual only insofar as individuals believe in it and act accordingly. The crucial mistake to be avoided is therefore to grasp the Hegelian Spirit as a kind of meta-Subject, a Mind, much larger than an individual human mind, aware of itself: once we do this, Hegel has to appear as a ridiculous spiritualist obscurantist, claiming that there is a kind of mega-Spirit controlling our history. Against this cliché about the "Hegelian Spirit," one should emphasize how Hegel is fully aware that "it is in the finite consciousness that the process of knowing spirit’s essence takes place and that the divine self-consciousness thus arises. Out of the foaming ferment of finitude, spirit rises up fragrantly." [16] This holds especially for the Holy Spirit: our awareness, the (self)consciousness of finite humans, is its only actual site, i.e., the Holy Spirit also rises up "out of the foaming ferment of finitude."

We can see apropos this case how sublation is not directly the sublation of the otherness, its return into the same, its recuperation by the One (so that, in this case, finite/mortal individuals are reunited with God, return to his embrace). With Christ’s incarnation, the externalization/self-alienation of divinity, the passage from the transcendent God to finite/mortal individuals is a fait accompli, there is no way back, all there is, all that "really exists" are from now on individuals, there are no Platonic Ideas or Substances whose existence is somehow "more real." What is "sublated" in the move from the Son to Holy Spirit is thus God himself: after Crucifixion, the dead of the incarnated God, the universal God returns as a Spirit of the community of believers, i.e., HE is the one who passes from being a transcendent substantial Reality to a virtual/ideal entity which exists only as the "presupposition" of acting individuals. The standard perception of Hegel as an organicist holist who thinks that really-existing individuals are just "predicates" of some "higher" substantial Whole, epiphenomena of the Spirit as a mega-Subject who effectively runs the show, totally misses this crucial point.

For Hegel, this co-dependence of the two aspects of kenosis – God’s self-alienation and the alienation from God of the human individual who experiences himself as alone in a godless world, abandoned by God who dwells in some inaccessible transcendent Beyond – reaches its highest tension in Protestantism. Protestantism and the Enlightenment critique of religious superstitions are the front and the obverse of the same coin. The starting point of this entire movement is the medieval Catholic thought of someone like Thomas Acquinas, for whom philosophy should be a handmaiden of faith: faith and knowledge, theology and philosophy, supplement each other as a harmonious, non-conflictual, distinction within (under the predominance of) theology. Although God in itself remains an unfathomable mystery for our limited cognitive capacities, reason can also guide us towards Him by way of enabling us to recognize the traces of God in created reality – therein resides the premise of Acquinas’s five versions of the proof of God (the rational observation of material reality as a texture of causes and effects leads us to the necessary insight into how there must be a primal Cause to it all; etc.). With Protestantism, this unity breaks apart: we have on the one side the godless universe, the proper object of our reason, and the unfathomable divine Beyond separated by a hiatus from it. When confronted with this break, we can do two things: either we deny any meaning to an otherworldly Beyond, dismissing it as a superstitious illusion, or we remain religious and exempt our faith from the domain of reason, conceiving it as an act of, precisely, pure faith (authentic inner feeling, etc.). What interests Hegel here is how this tension between philosophy (enlightened rational thought) and religion ends up in their "mutual debasement and bastardization"(109). In a first move, Reason seems to be on the offensive and religion on the defensive, desperately trying to cut out a place for itself outside the domain under the control of Reason: under the pressure of the Enlightenment critique and the advances of sciences, religion humbly retreats into the inner space of authentic feelings. However, the ultimate price is paid by the enlightened Reason itself: its defeat of religion ends up in its self-defeat, in its self-limitation, so that, at the conclusion of this entire movement, the gap between faith and knowledge reappears, but transposed into the field of knowledge (Reason) itself:


After its battle with religion the best reason could manage was to take a look at itself and come to self-awareness. Reason, having in this way become mere intellect, acknowledges its own nothingness by placing that which is better than it in a faith outside and above itself, as a Beyond to be believed in. This is what has happened in the philosophies of Kant, Jacobi and Fichte. Philosophy has made itself the handmaiden of a faith once more. [17]

Both poles are thus debased: Reason becomes a mere "intellect," a tool for manipulating empirical objects, a mere pragmatic instrument of the human animal, and religion becomes an impotent inner feeling which cannot ever be fully actualized, since the moment one tries to transpose it into external reality, one regresses to Catholic idolatry which fetishizes contingent natural objects. The epitome of this development is Kant’s philosophy: Kant started as the great destroyer, with his ruthless critique of theology, and ended up with – as he himself put it –constraining the scope of Reason to create a space for faith. What he displays in a model way is how the Enlightenment’s ruthless denigration and limitation of its external enemy (faith, which is denied any cognitive status – religion is a feeling with no cognitive truth value) inverts into Reason’s self-denigration and self-limitation (Reason can only legitimately deal with the objects of phenomenal experience, true Reality is inaccessible to it). The Protestant insistence on faith alone, on how the true temples and altars to God should be built in the heart of the individual, not in external reality is an indication of how the Enlightenment anti-religious attitude cannot resolve "its own problem, the problem of subjectivity gripped by absolute solitude." [18] The ultimate result of the Enlightenment is thus the absolute singularity of the subject dispossessed of all substantial content, reduced to the empty point of self-relating negativity, a subject totally alienated from the substantial content, including of ITS OWN content. And, for Hegel, the passage through this zero-point is necessary, since the solution is not provided by any kind of renewed synthesis or reconciliation between Faith and Reason: with the advent of modernity, the magic of the enchanted universe is forever lost, reality is here to stay grey. The only solution is, as we have already seen, the very redoubling of alienation, the insight into how my alienation FROM the Absolute overlaps with the Absolute’s self-alienation: I am "in" God in my very distance from him.


[1] Franklin Sherman, "Speaking of God after Auschwitz," in A Holocaust Reader, ed. By Michael L. Morgan, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2001.

[2] F.W.J. Schelling, "Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom," in Philosophy of German Idealism, ed. by Ernst Behler, New York: Continuum 1987, p. 274.

[3] Quoted in A Holocaust Reader, p. 237.

[4] Martin Heidegger, "Only a God Can Save Us," in The Heidegger Controversy, ed. By Richard Wolin, Cambridge: MIT Press 1993.

[5] David Tracy, "Religious Values after the Holocaust," in A Holocaust Reader, p. 237.

[6] Juergen Habermas, The Future of Human Nature, Cambridge: Polity Press 2003, p. 110.

[7] Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, New York: Schocken Books 1969, p. 254.

[8] G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History, New York: Dover Publications 1956, p. 325.

[9] G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, vol. III, Berkeley: University of California Press 1985, p. 142.

[10] Quoted from Richard Taylor and Ian Christie, eds., The Film Factory, London: Routledge 1988, p. 92.

[11] Darian Leader, Stealing the Mona Lisa: What Art Stops Us from Seeing, London: Faber and Faber 2002, p. 142.

[12] Catherine Malabou, The Future of Hegel, New York: Routledge 2005, p. 103.

[13] Malabou, op.cit., p. 111.

[14] Malabou, op.cit., p. 112.

[15] Malabou, op.cit., p. 107.

[16] G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, vol. III, p. 233.

[17] G.W.F. Hegel. Theologian of the Spirit, Peter C. Hodgson, editor, Minneapolis: Fortress Press 1997, p. 55-56.

[18] Malabou, op.cit., p. 114.

Slavoj Zizek's Bibliography

Slavoj Zizek's Chronology

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