Reading St. Paul with Alian Badiou and Slavoj Zizek

It has been surprising to see two contemporary philosophers exhibiting great interest in the theology of St. Paul. Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek have come to St. Paul with an aim of dismantling the subject of capitalism. They both seek to find ways of resisting global capitalism and its inverse communitarianism in Christianity. While Zizek constantly finds the voice of this master Jacques Lacan in the teachings of Paul, Badiou chooses to go beyond it sometimes severing his affiliation with the thought of his master. To come to the appropriation of St. Paul by these intellectual giants, we have to come to the ontology of Badiou. Badiou famously said ontology is mathematics. He seems to be rearticulating the Phythagorian belief that all beings are ultimately reducible to numbers. There is a resonance of this thinking in Physics and Cosmology today. He is using set theory to present Being as an event. An event is something new that is occurring in a situation. It is the coming forth of a new Being within a situation that creates a truth procedure that transforms the original situation and its corresponding knowledge. An event, therefore, radiates truth(s) that disrupt the existing knowledge. Truth event is not something that is added to the existing knowledge. Thus, the event gives rise to truth but not the truth added to the general knowledge of the situation of which knowledge does not know. The truth event is revealed to the one who is subjected to the event.

Badiou says that the event of the resurrection is subtracted from the cosmic order of the Greeks and Jewish law of divine exception. The event of the resurrection is subtracted from Greek Knowledge and wisdom and the exceptionalism of Jewish signs and wonders. This means Paul is teaching that Christ-Event cannot be inscribed in Greek wisdom and the divine law of the Jews. The Christ-Event becomes an instance par excellence of Being and Event. This is why Badiou does not see resurrection as a sublimation of death or negation of negation as Hegel or Nietzsche will want us to think. Of course, Hegel is all praise while Nietzsche scorns the negation of the negation (the death of death). Badiou distances himself from these dialectical views and separates the cross and death as mere sites of the event of the resurrection. The event of resurrection makes us subjects who have nailed their old self with Christ and have entered the new life in Baptism. Thus, for Badiou, the event is disruptive and brings new beings to resurrected life. This is why Badiou understands that Paul views Jewish law as a harbinger of death and let us say that the Spirit is the harbinger of life. The event of the resurrection, therefore, stands above the Jewish law of divine letters and the cosmic order of the Greeks. Badiou’s entire labour with the work of Paul is not directed to explain the writings of Paul but is aimed at showing how a subject subtracted from every figure of law and suspended by the truth of the event can mobilize against the statist legality, capitalist mobility, and the reaction of communitarian and particularist protests.

Zizek on the other hand sees not a subject of Badiou suspended by truth but a militant subject that suspends the symbolic order initiating an existence ‘ between two deaths’. This double death cannot be achieved by a transgressive subject. Zizek thinks that transgressive resistance mirrors the machination of the market and becomes a perversion and as such stays within the status quo. He proposes that a subject that resists by not aligning with the coordinates of the symbolic order is best suited for resisting the powers that be. Thus, he proposes not transgressing but transversing the political order. He thinks of the hysteric as best suited for such resistance. He elsewhere calls this traversing subjective destitution. The subject accepts the void of his/her non-existence which amounts to symbolic death. Zizek looks at it as psychic suicide where one is physically alive and yet dead to the symbolic coordinates of social, economic and political life and is placed in the suicidal outside of the symbolic order. This death to the symbolic order becomes resistance that enables one to act freely. In fact, we may think of it as choosing the idiocy of Byung-Chul Han. It is a resistance that is transversal and is aimed at producing alternate emancipative order.

Zizek views Paul as the coming of a hysteric subject, the subject that does not align with the coordinates of the symbolic order. Zizek agrees with Paul about the need to die to law in order to break away from the dialectics of law and transgression. This is the symbolic death that Zizek proposes. Zizek looks at the resurrection as the insurrection of the new master that will come to dominate us. The second death is participation in the resurrection. Zizek sees death as not just a mere passing away from this earthly life. It is the night of the world and the absolute contraction of subjectivity, severing the relationship with reality. It is as Lacan would say the wiping of the slate clear. This is why resurrection transforms us into a new creation. It seems that to Zizek this is a space between two deaths. One is symbolic and the other is the death and resurrection of Christ. Christianity to him is a mode of escaping the superego cycle of law and its transgression via love. The break that loves effects leads one to become uncoupled from the coordinates of the symbolic order that may even have a ‘Christian’ name. It means love impels one to die to one’s social substance. This is why resurrection becomes an insurrection setting up possibilities of new ways of being in the world ( being a new creation of St. Paul). He seems to indicate that we have to become hysterical (die to the symbolic order) because God in Jesus himself is a hysteric love in the first place. One can see how both Badiou and Zizek read St. Paul. Badiou emphasizes resurrection while Zizek emphasizes death. But both see life beyond death where love, harmony and peace live.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao