The Slovenian marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek has made a reputation for himself as the “Elvis of Philosophy”, having published countless articles, more than 70 books, and appeared in many TV slots and interviews (including two feature length films about himself). Zizek has proven a very adept observer of how ideology is present in the minutiae of everyday existence, as his discourse on toilet design seeks to demonstrate
Christians are also paying attention to his appropriation of Scripture as a way to revitalise left-wing thought, an enterprise which he encapsulated in a book co-authored with John Milbank entitled The Monstrosity of Christ. Like a good Marxist, Zizek relies on Hegel’s theology to inform his own reading of Scripture. What is interesting, however, is that he couples this reading with the work of a socialist of a more confessionally Christian bent, namely G.K. Chesterton.
Using these resources, as well as the psychanalysis of Jacques Lacan, Zizek looks at Christ as a purely immanent revolutionary force, one that is not compatible with the comfortable bourgeois lifestyle which capitalism seeks to maintain. For Zizek, God’s emptying of himself into his son is total, leading to a death of the Father, and the death of the Son on the cross unleashes the power of the Spirit’s revolutionary capacities. Heaven no longer becomes a vague utopian ideal, but instantiated fully within history.
Furthermore, the Spirit is revolutionary because it consummates God’s process of partitioning the world into its most basic individual components. The Incarnation is for Zizek proof that the ends of God’s love is not some abstract universal, but a division into the concrete and the singular. Drawing on Chesterton’s claim that “love desires division” (a claim found in his Orthodoxy), Zizek argues against the simplistic unification by God of all components into himself (which Zizek associates with political Liberalism). The Spirit’s revolution is one where, to paraphrase the Gospels, sons turn against fathers and daughters against mothers. In such a revolutionary partitioning by the Spirit, a new order emerges, is founded and institutionalised.
There is much to commend Zizek for, particularly in his drawing our attention on the immanent and indeed revolutionary aspects of the Economy of Salvation, contra very vague liberal or conservative appropriations of Christianity that seek to blunt its more temporal aspects. Nonetheless, Zizek’s almost exclusive reliance on a Hegelian reading of Christianity – with its built in risk of endless partition and dialectic – blinds Zizek to the possibility that such a revolution is a step towards a reunification of these elements. Hegel’s ideosyncratic reading of Scripture excludes that a final bringing back together of the elements of the dialectic can be just as immanent a possibility as the partition itself.
This major blindspot, however, should not obscure the fact that Christians still have much to thank Zizek for.