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 (16)
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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

      • Tudor says:

        I don’t get it.. are you guys con­ti­nen­tal tra­di­tion­al­ists or what?nnnWhat kind of pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als are you long­ing for?

        • Guest says:

          Prob­a­bly some­one who they can eas­i­ly under­stand with­out famil­iar­iz­ing them­selves with Hegelian­ism.

  • 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.

  • Anonymous says:

    This just in, mod­ern god­less philoso­pher has redis­cov­ered mar­cionism and rebrand­ed it as his own, lol

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