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If I was a book in a library, then I'd finally be free

The Form of this Formlessness Itself

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In a comment to “The Monstrosity of Christ,” Nathan brings up religion’s therapeutic value, which reminds me of a point Zizek makes in the Introduction to The Puppet and the Dwarf (available HERE) about religion being therapeutic or critical.

One possible definition of modernity is:the social order in which religion is no longer fully integrated into and identified with a particular cultural life-form,but acquires autonomy,so that it can survive as the same religion in different cultures.This extraction enables religion to globalize itself (there are Christians, Muslims,and Buddhists everywhere today);on the other hand,the price to be paid is that religion is reduced to a secondary epiphenomenon with regard to the secular functioning of the social totality. In this new global order, religion has two possible roles: therapeutic or critical. It either helps individuals to function better in the existing order,or it tries to assert itself as a critical agency articulating what is wrong with this order as such,a space for the voices of discontent—in this second case, religion as suchtends toward assuming the role of a heresy.

Zizek focuses a main part of his book of arguing against Buddhism as the therapeutic religion par excellence and for Christianity as the critical one. However, this discussion of the Eagleton’s book reminds me that the therapeutic and critical distinction is internal to a given universal religion (too). Eagleton swoons over critical Christianity, but overlooks its (paradoxically destructive [i.e. nihilistic) therapeutic dimension, especially as dominant in the United States. Zizek has a similar blind-spot in the P&D, where he gives little attention to therapeutic Christianity OR critical Buddhism.

I think the future of a Lacanian critique of therapeutic Christianity resides in some alliance with these critical Buddhist elements, which means working through Zizek’s analysis, his focus on critical Christianity and therapeutic Buddhism, and instead invert the whole thing. In this sense, Zizek’s analysis is still stuck in the Imaginary and the relation narcissism and aggressivity, between ideal-ego (formless Buddhism) and ego-ideal (form of this formlessness itself Christianity). We might say Eagleton’s analysis is in a similar position, but apropos the relationship between critical Christianity and therapeutic Atheism.

Take Zizek’s comments on the new Star Wars movie in In These Times:

Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace gave us a crucial hint as to where to orient ourselves in this melee, specifically, the ‘Christological’ features of the young Anakin (his immaculate conception, his victorious ‘pod-car’ race, with its echoes of the famous chariot race in Ben-Hur, this ‘tale of Christ’). Since Star Wars’ ideological framework is the New Age pagan universe, it is quite appropriate that its central figure of Evil should echo Christ.”

I’m not actually opposed to this reading, but it’s easy to also look at Vader, especially coming from “an overwhelming desire to intervene, to do Good, to go to the end for those he loves ” to “seeing Evil everywhere and fighting it,” and see the quasi-paranoia of therapeutic Christianity. Makes me wonder what how a bodhisattva would appear in the world of therapeutic Christianity.

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Written by Joe

May 6, 2009 at 2:21 pm

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