To say that much of the world has lost the sacramental mode of viewing and engaging the world may not come as a huge surprise for many Christians. What may surprise, however, is the extent to which the subsequent loss of sacramental presence has become the norm for a Christian engagement with the world around them. With this loss of presence, words and linguistic symbols has now become the default in perceiving things in the world and events that happen within it.
Think of the way in which headlines, polls and social media feeds now shape the responses, attitudes and actions of Christian and non-Christian alike. All of us are now caught up in a process whereby we let the words depicting things or persons become the exhaustive means by which we communicate, and the presence of the thing or person itself – the thing the symbol points to – becomes erased under a tsunami of text.
A few pages of Marcus Pound’s highly insightful book, Zizek: A (Very) Critical Introduction
, provides a succinct evaluation of the damage that is done when entire cultures simultaneously lose the sacramental connection between the sign and signified, and also become so enthralled at the dominance of linguistic signs as a means of understanding the world that nothing else can gain any traction in prompting us to see or think differently or with any nuance about something or someone.
Drawing on the psychoanalytical work of Jacques Lacan, Pound draws the reader’s attention to the way that symbols (including language) have a tendency towards reductionism, obscuring the full presence of the reality that lies beyond the symbol. This reductionism becomes particularly dangerous when it comes to people. No doubt, it is necessary for people to communicate through symbol, but what Lacan alerts us to is that, when all you have is symbol, the subject becomes “lost… as an object”. The subject becomes objectified and reduced to a mere placeholder for a headline. A migrant is now reduced to a news story about terrorism, academia reduced to mere shrill protests, leaders reduced to corrupt oprichniks, and so on.
The counter to this is not another headline, according to Pound. Pound suggests the alternative is a restoration of sheer presence. Pound does this with reference to Conor Cunningham’s Genealogy of Nihilism, in which he exhorts a return to the presence of the object or thing. This presence is what Cunningham associates with “being”, but it is a presence that breaks through all symbols or markers, and indeed goes beyond any ability of a symbol to capture it. The presence of this object, Cunningham writes, calls us “by a name that we too exceed”, because the presence of the object represents the presence of “being beyond thought”, that is, beyond any linguistically mediated thought or articulation.
When Jesus saves, thus, he not only saves our souls. He also saves with a robust protection of sacramental presence, a presence that is repeated through our own presence and the presence of every creature and person on this planet.