In His Latest Film, Slavoj Žižek Claims “The Only Way to Be an Atheist is Through Christianity”

For some time now, Slavoj Žižek has been showing up as an author and editor of theology texts alongside orthodox thinkers whose ideas he thoroughly naturalizes and reads through his Marxist lens. Take, for example, an essay titled, after the Catholic G.K. Chesterton, “The ‘Thrilling Romance of Orthodoxy'” in the 2005 volume, partly edited by Žižek, Theology and the Political: The New Debate. In Chesterton’s defense of Christian orthodoxy, Žižek sees “the elementary matrix of the Hegelian dialectical process.” While “the pseudo-revolutionary critics of religion” eventually sacrifice their very freedom for “the atheist radical universe, deprived of religious reference… the gray universe of egalitarian terror and tyranny,” the same paradox holds for the fundamentalists. Those “fanatical defenders of religion started with ferociously attacking the contemporary secular culture and ended up forsaking religion itself (losing any meaningful religious experience).”

For Žižek, a middle way between these two extremes emerges, but it is not Chesterton’s way. Through his method of teasing paradox and allegory from the cultural artifacts produced by Western religious and secular ideologies—supplementing dry Marxist analysis with the juicy voyeurism of psychoanalysis—Žižek finds that Christianity subverts the very theology its interpreters espouse. He draws a conclusion that is very Chestertonian in its ironical reversal: “The only way to be an atheist is through Christianity.” This is the argument Žižek makes in his latest film, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology. In the clip above, over footage from Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, Žižek claims:

Christianity is much more atheist than the usual atheism, which can claim there is no God and so on, but nonetheless it retains a certain trust into the Big Other. This Big Other can be called natural necessity, evolution, or whatever. We humans are nonetheless reduced to a position within the harmonious whole of evolution, whatever, but the difficult thing to accept is again that there is no Big Other, no point of reference which guarantees meaning.

The charge that Christianity is a kind of atheism is not new, of course. It was levied against the early members of the sect by Romans, who also used the word as a term of abuse for Jews and others who did not believe their pagan pantheon. But Žižek means something entirely different. Rather than using atheism as a term of abuse or making a deliberate attempt to shock or inflame, Žižek attempts to show how Christianity differs from Judaism in its rejection of “the big other God” who hides his true desires and intentions, causing immense anxiety among his followers (illustrated, says Žižek, by the book of Job). This is then resolved by Christianity in an act of love, a “resolution of radical anxiety.”

And yet, says Žižek, this act—the crucifixion—does not reinstate the metaphysical certainties of ethical monotheism or populist paganism. “The death of Christ,” says Žižek, “is not any kind of redemption… it’s simply the disintegration of the God which guarantees the meaning of our lives.” It’s a provocative, if not particularly original, argument that many post-Nietzschean theologians have arrived at by other means. Žižek’s reading of Christianity in The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology—alongside his copious writing and lecturing on the subject—constitutes a challenge not only to traditional theistic orthodoxies but also to secular humanism, with its quasi-religious faith in progress and empirical science. Of course, his critique of the vulgar certainties of orthodoxy should also apply to orthodox Marxism, something Žižek’s critics are always quick to point out. Whether or not he’s sufficiently critical of his communist vision of reality, or has anything coherent to say at all, is a point I leave you to debate.

via Biblioklept

Related Content:

Slavoj Žižek’s Pervert’s Guide to Ideology Decodes The Dark Knight and They Live

Noam Chomsky Slams Žižek and Lacan: Empty ‘Posturing’

A Shirtless Slavoj Žižek Explains the Purpose of Philosophy from the Comfort of His Bed

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Comments (15)
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  • Jay says:

    My stars, Zizek is a dope. Another in a long parade of postmodernist screwballs. No wonder the humanities are in crisis, as this guy is held up as a serious thinker. (I am a progressive left winger who has studies philosophy for 30 years, by the way, just so you know where I’m coming from).

    • Reasonforall says:

      You took the words right out of my mouth! I love public intellectuals and we certainly need many more of them, just not in the model of Zizek and other post-modern, post-structural, post-Marxist, post-labotomic charlatans. Collectively, they and the naive American academics who became their groupies, not only set back the humanities for decades, they probably contributed to the steady erosion of the humanities on the campuses of our great universities. It’s tragic. Intelligence does not shield us against human folly.n

  • Lori Reid says:


  • jj says:

    As often is the case with philosophers, I have no idea what he’s talking about. Is there a point in there somewhere that I’m missing?

  • jj says:

    As often is the case with philosophers, I have no idea what he’s talking about. Is there a point in there somewhere that I’m missing?

  • Pandemonium says:

    I’m an atheist and the twist doesn’t quite make it for me. Christ’s crucifixion, regardless if some one specific like that actually existed, is a symbol, is a landmark. Not the death or end of God. For an atheist, if a man existed, it was an idealistic charismatic guy, with a bit of messianic complex (messiah, LOL), one among many, crucifixion was a typical Roman execution process, and J.C. was a human. In real terms, it’s the execution of a man who rebelled against tradition and the Roman empire. In symbolic terms, he’s a tool for an evolution in religious thinking, following contemporary trends, such as Buddhism and Islam.

  • p says:

    An atheist can never be a human. However, a stone can be an atheist because it can neither believe in a god nor can it contribute any creative change in the world and so cannot contradict itself through god-like acts. Zizek fails to be an atheist by his very actions.

  • huu vlong dong says:

    Me thinks the following kinda thing
    1. Human experience in history is in itself sacred
    2. The magic god who intervenes intermittently throughout history e.g apparitions etc etc is lesser than the god of j.c
    3. God does not impose…we remain free…to believe and free not to believe
    4. Simple justice and right relationship are the language and culture of j.cs god
    5. Crucifixion is where human history ends for JC and for most of the world s inhabitants throughout history…
    6. I welcome your feedback…but check it out first with your therapist especially if your emotions are screwing with your cognition 😁

  • Happy mosizwe says:

    This man makes no sense. His argument defies the law of non contradiction. Who on earth does he think he is?

  • CC says:

    I got a lot out of this clip actually. This is not explicit but an implicit part of Zizek’s analysis: Christianity crucified the “Big Other” and switched authority (authorship) from outer to inner.

    After much psychological pain at the “imagined” death of God (outside authority, which was an easy cop-out because we psychologically externalized authority and responsibility prior to the Crucifixion of Christ), there is actually a new dawn of the consciousness of humanity (resurrection, where we integrate authority and take true authorship of our actions, and assume their consequences).

    I don’t see any Marxism in Zizek’s analysis though. It is purely psychoanalytical, and possibly not original. By the way, I am not Christian, and I find it really fascinating that the entire Western civilization based itself upon some figure that would be considered a personal and professional failure in any Eastern culture (our figures of emulation are the Lord Buddha, Confucius, Lao-Tze), and who left an enigmatic body of teaching that’s often a contradictory, mixed bag, to say the least. Surely it served a major psychological purpose, or represented a major shadow of Western civilization? Can anyone suggest any books that treat these aspects?

  • lmsbio says:

    So Zizek says Christianity is a path to atheism simply because the christian God, Jesus, dies in the cross?
    Some christian faiths don’t believe in the holy trinity, therefore, don’t think of Jesus as the God. Hence, this doesn’t proceed straightforward. At least in my thinking.
    Actually, I think the holy trinity is a bug that got in to christianity some time ago. Hence, I don’t see Zizek’s point.
    But yet again, perhaps Zizek’s point shows another flaw in the “holy trinity” idea.

  • paul says:

    I fear for the quality of your philosophy education if you think zizek is a postmodernist

  • Eli says:

    You must have lost a lot what your supposed philosophy education taught you if you think Zizek is a post-modernist. Stick to baking cookies buddy.

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