According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

Friday, December 19, 2014

Lacan - If God is Dead Nothing is Permissible and All Things Become More Oppressive




If God is Dead Nothing is Permissible:
Some Thoughts on Secularism
http://peterrollins.net/2014/12/if-god-is-dead-nothing-is-permissible-some-thoughts-on-secularism/

by Peter Rollins
[with additional commentary by re slater]
December 12, 2014

Dostoyevsky’s character Ivan Karamazov once claimed, “if God does not exist, then everything is permissible.” This famous line captures the common wisdom that the death of a supreme authority enables people to live in a freer way. Without an external sovereign authority offering prohibitions people can throw off their shackles and construct their own reality.

It can initially seem surprising then that Lacan gave his own spin to this saying by teaching that the death of God can actually mean that nothing is permitted. In this claim he is not only questioning the idea that the loss of an external soverign power means freedom, but he is also playing off a line in the Bible where Paul claims, “for me all things are permissible, but not all things are helpful.”

Not only is Lacan saying that the death of God doesn’t rid society of certain prohibitions, he goes further by saying that the death of God can lead to an even more oppressive type of prohibition.

To understand what this might mean we should begin by briefly describing an evolutionary myth Freud created to make sense of some of his findings in the clinic. The story involved going back to the very beginnings of civilization and imagining how human society took shape. In Moses and Monotheism he wrote of how humans lived together in a primordial pack held together via the leadership of a father/master figure. This powerful master created and enforced various laws that everyone needed to obey, laws that worked for the master’s own benefit and ensured his power.

This master controlled all the sexual relations of the primordial horde, ensuring the satisfaction of his own lusts at the expense of others.

Freud went on to write of how the community conspired together to kill the father. They planed this act of rebellion so as to break free from the tyranny of the father and enjoy open sexual relations.

They succeed in killing the master, but the surprising result is not more freedom. Instead the community experiences guilt over the murder and sets about memorializing the dead master. In doing this, the community internalize the prohibitions that were once externally imposed. Instead of entering into a freer, more sexually liberated community; they end up becoming their own oppressors, setting up rules to regulate their actions.

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[Addendum: I can't help thinking of Jesus' death and its meaning to the world; or to us; or in Jesus' absence the coming of age of more rules from the church, the very community which worships Jesus. - re slater]

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The point of the story was to make sense of a common scene in the psychoanalytic clinic, namely the neurotic who is not freed from the strict prohibitions of their parents when those parents die, but who continue to experience those prohibitions when the parents are nowhere to be seen. What one finds is that the individual has internalized the demands, making them a part of their subjective life. It is no longer the actual parent who is judging them, they are judging themselves from the perspective of the dead parent. The prohibition thus persists as a shadow on the inner wall of the individual.

To illustrate the difference between these, Žižek has contrasted two types of parent. The first tells their protesting child that they have to go and see their granny. The unwilling child experiences this as an external demand being imposed in order to limit her freedom.

But then there is the “enlightened” liberal parent who, instead of making an oppressive demand on the child to visit granny, attempts to guilt the child into going,

“Granny loves you, you really should go. You wouldn’t want to be selfish, would you?”

In this second case the child doesn’t just have to go to see their granny, but actually has to internalize the demand and make it their own. In the first the child can maintain a sense of inner protest by fighting against the authority figure, but in the latter they become their own oppressors. They have to go, and they have to like it.

Interestingly, the latter can be more oppressive than the former, because there is nowhere you can escape the gaze of the parent. In the former, one can transgress when the parent isn’t looking, while in the latter the gaze is always present like Bentham’s famous Panopticon. Indeed Žižek has even drawn out an interesting theological reading of the command, “you shall have no other gods before me.” Here he shows how this can be read as God saying, “You can have gods, but just be discreet, don’t do it where I can see.” This is analogous to the relationship where a couple say, “we can have affairs, just don’t talk about it.” In other words, the external authority always allows for a minimal space of transgressive maneuver.

This is why Žižek makes the point of saying that the first act of the revolutionary today is to cut against themselves, for we have become willing participants in our own oppressive systems. Systems that are even more pervasive now that secular society prides itself on being free of some divine sovereignty. We are not being forced to find meaning in consumerism, for example, we have internalized this message for ourselves. We can’t look at some external authority that must be overcome. That authority dwells within us even when we experience it bearing down on us (e.g. when we experience the oppression of our own desire to purchase products).

For Lacan, the death of a sovereign authority doesn’t lead to freedom, for the law that is externally imposed is internalized so that it becomes even more oppressive (at a more basic level this can be described as something which marks the very creation of our ego, but we won’t go into that here).

This can help us understand why Radical Theologians are skeptical of modern secular humanism. For the freedom often claimed by humanists can be seen as anything but freedom.

One may no longer believe in an all seeing eye watching everything, for example, but we might find no problem embracing the proliferation of surveillance technology. Our society may tacitly embrace a militarized police force, clandestine Government agencies, black hole prisons etc. even though they provide the same limits that religion once played. The external divine authority has been replaced with a sovereignty that is structurally the same, but has been internalized into the society’s unconscious. We not only are forced to live in it, we are encouraged to enjoy, defend it and constantly feel it. We are asked to embrace our oppression.

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In (psycho)analytic terms, an individual neurotic does not need to simply embrace the death of the parents in order to free themselves from a potentially oppressive regime, they need to find freedom from the parents law as it has been integrated into their subjectivity.

The complex move that has to be made here is for the internalized dead parents to realize that they are dead. What this means is that our own subjective system of prohibitions has to confront its own non-existence.

A person can easily say something like, “My dad disapproved of me doing X, but now he’s dead he can’t judge me” while still finding themselves feeling deeply guilty when doing X. The internal structure needs to experience it’s own death. Something Lacan referred to as the moment in which we confront the non-existence of the Big Other.

This is why people like Zizek remain interested in Christianity, for in their radical reading they see something much more shocking than the secular proclamation of God’s non-existence. Instead they see the fundamental Christian move as involving both the internalization of the death of God (the Crucifixion as subjective experience), alongside the experience of this internal God discovering its own impotence (“Why have you forsaken me”).

This theological shock therapy corresponds to what we might call the psychoanalytic cure. In the cure the individual not only intellectually comes to terms with the death of the external authority, but is freed from the internalized form of that authority (the super-ego) through experiencing that authority confrontating its impotence. This opens up a different way of living that can be described as a love that fulfills/abolishes the law (Resurrection life in theological terms).

The individual who has broken free of sovereignty (in both its substantial sacred and shadowy secular form), is able to live a life of love in which their acts arise from an experience of joy rather than internal coercion.

From this perspective one can say that traditional forms of religion function as a type of external prohibitive authority structure while modern society tends to exhibit an internal prohibitive authority structure. In contrast to both of these, radical communities (like ikon and ikonNYC) are attempts to deconstruct sovereignty in its external and internalized ways so that a different type of life can emerge. Something that is captured beautifully in the saying, “There was once an Englishman so brave, not only did he not believe in ghosts, he wasn’t even afraid of them.”

One can still talk of a type of sovereignty in this third space, but it functions in a significantly different way. To understand this we need only think of parents with a newborn child. The parents might say, “our child is the most beautiful person in the world.” However they don’t mean this in some objective way. It is a truth they affirm while knowing that it is a truth told from their subjective standpoint, a truth without objective foundation. This is why they don’t say, “our child is average looking.” For, again, this would be an attempt at objectivity. The parents are caught up in love for the infant and would sacrifice so much for the child. But the sacrifice is not felt as an oppressive demand. It is joyously affirmed and arises from their love. It is this type of joyous commitment to the world arising from love that is opened up in the death of sovereignty in its sacred and secular forms.

- Peter

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Addendum

Hence, by removing the guilts and the laws within us - or our ego or Superego (though I do not personally identify our Superego as God; for myself, God is a very real entity unassociated with my speculation of Him) - through Jesus and by His Holy Spirit the Christian may begin a new way of living life. A life moved by redemption's freedom to express God-centered love to self and towards others not as an obligation but as "re-imaged re-creators" through Him who recreated us in Jesus and by Jesus' atonement.

Thus, we may respond to life even as our Father God would respond to life Himself - not as rule-givers and law-makers but as well-centered people willing to respect and honor each other in mutual affirmations of love. And by this act, or belief, a response in love may be shared with all that this can mean in a recreation from guilt-based and law-filled lives seeking a way out from self's oppressive regimes (something Paul would call the "old man". But this is not to deny sin, nor identify sin as a guilty conscience, etc.) but to put our sin - including the sins of our oppression - to death by releasing God's redeeming love from within us to the world beyond. Thus is the power of Jesus' resurrection and His Holy Spirit. Hence and so forth, this then is what is meant to be "life-bearers" and "life-givers" in Jesus.

re slater


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