A few years ago I saw John Caputo give a keynote at the North Texas Philosophical Association where he defended religion and argued that it was no different than great literature and comic books. My thought was that if this is true, why retain the category of religion and why not just go with comic books and literature (after all, they’re often better)? Recently I’ve heard people argue that Zizek is redeeming Christian theology. I find this very strange. He’s quite clear that he sees Jesus as a rather irrelevant figure who is– if memory serves me correctly –“a dime a dozen sage performing petty magic tricks”. He expressly says that Jesus literally dies on the cross and that there is no resurrection. The importance of Jesus dying on the cross, he says, is that god is dead and we now know it’s up to us. He then proceeds to give a rather standard Hegelian interpretation of Christianity based on Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, where the Holy Spirit is nothing more than the activity of the community. He argues that Paul is where it is at, and that Paul is a psychoanalytic-political thinker. Paul is theorizing, he argues, a community without law and the work involved in forming such a community. Faith is not, in this framework, belief in the absence of evidence, but continued work even though the project looks impossible. This is his interest in Chesterton as well, I take it… Not Chesterton’s theology, but commitment even where things seem impossible. In short, Zizek’s project is thoroughly atheistic (and I mean that in a quite literal sense). He is Feuerbachian and understands himself as articulating what religion is really about (politics), when the fetish of religion is taken away.
I suspect that were we to talk to believers we would find that the vast majority of them would be deeply offended by these claims and see them as deeply wrong. So to the intellectual, religious apologists, this is what I’m wondering: Do you think Jesus walked on water, raised a man from the dead, turned water into wine, cured the blind, drove out demons, and himself rose from the dead? And I’m asking if you believe this literally. Do you believe there’s a transcendent God that can suspend the laws of nature to perform miracles? Or is it that you just believe that Jesus is just a potent myth with a powerful ethico-political philosophy? Do you believe that humanity has any special place in nature, that somehow evolution had to “culminate” in us, that evolution has “culminated” in us? And if this is what you believe, why call this religion at all (as religion necessarily involves the supernatural), why call it Christianity (which will only feed those supernaturalist pretensions and the ugliness that has stemmed from them), and why privilege Jesus when he’s not saying much that’s different from countless other ethical philosophers that made no claims to divinity or the supernatural? Why keep religion in the mix?
Now don’t get me wrong. Jesus and Paul are tremendously important figures for me. I can read them, enjoy them, and find valuable things in them. But I can read them, enjoy them, and find valuable things in them in the way I read, enjoy, and find valuable things in Hesiod, Homer, Kafka, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, etc. But I don’t organize a religion around Homer, or claim that we have to defend Homer as a social institution.
I get the strong sense that there’s a deep cynicism to some of the religious turn we’re encountering in folks like Eagleton. The idea seems to be that “the rubes find religion is important so we should present a leftist version of religion to get them on board.” If that’s what’s going on I find this idea absolutely atrocious and to indicate a deep lack of faith (yes, I realize the irony of using that word) in people and what people are capable of. The central problem with religion is that it ties us to authority— the authority of texts, figures, priests, and institutions –as the condition of political organization and what is right and good. As such, it inscribes servitude in the very structure of political action. Even in a leftist variant, such a structure is still, to use Deleuze and Guattari’s term, organized around micro-fascist desires. Why not instead envision community, collectivity, and action that arises from people themselves? I honestly don’t get it and am sure I’ll be beat up for asking whether such people literally believe the things two paragraph above. There will be weasel words, rationalizations, gymnastics, and all sorts of contortions as to how there’s something more going on here. But for the life of me, if you don’t believe there’s something supernatural here, why call it religion and why associate yourself with such a thing? The same goes for talk about “spirituality” too. Newsflash. I think things are interconnected too. I’m filled with wonder and joy at the beauty of this. I wonder at the vastness of the universe. Yet I wouldn’t describe any of this as “spiritual” or “religious”. So what’s this all about?