The Post-modern God

God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse - Slavoj Žižek, Boris Gunjević, Ellen Elias-Bursać

One day while I was on Goodreads I noticed that one of my Goodread's friends had finished reading this book and the title instantly caught me. Being a Christian a book with the title 'God in Pain' was going to attract my attention, and not only that, but it also introduced me to a new author, Slavoj Zizek, that I had never heard of before. Having had a diet of Chomsky and other authors, and finding that they tend to repeat themselves after a while, I became interested in seeing what Zizek had to say, especially since he was a left wing philosopher who writes about Christianity.



I must say that I am glad that I turned to Zizek because while he can be difficult to follow at times, namely when he refers to the writings of [author:Lacan] and other authors, I found that I actually have become influenced by his thinking. Further, the fact that he says that he is an Atheist, yet seems to be one of the most Christian writers that I have read to date, further added to my appeal to him. The reason that I say that is because he writes about God from a Christological stand point, and does nothing to attempt to undermine the reality of the incarnation. In fact it appears that the whole concept of the incarnation, and of the crucifixion, fascinates him.



My pastor said recently that the writers of the New Atheism are actually dwelling in the past, and writers such as Zizek go to prove this. I feel frustrated that the city ministry here in Melbourne (and in Adelaide) are still trying to fight against the New Atheism of [author:Richard Dawkins] and [author:Christopher Hitchins], when the intellectuals of our society have moved beyond it, and moved beyond it in a way that actually works to the advantages of Christianity. The reason I say that is because the new norm among intellectuals is a broad idea we know as post-modernism. Okay, I like the term Post-modernism, but unfortunately it is a term that seems to be a catch all phrase to try to bring a new style of thinking together. From my standpoint, Post-modernism is trying to bring together Relativism (there is no objective truth), Desconstructionalism (the book is not defined by the world but the book defines the world), and Post-structualism (go figure). Simply put, these three ideas (and others) really have little in common, though can and do merge and influence each other.



God in Pain is actually written by two authors, though I found the writings of Zizek to be much better than the writings of Gunjevic. Gunjevic is actually a post-modern Lutheran theologian, and his final chapter where is examines the gospel of Mark is probably one of the most Christian readings of the Gospel I have ever encountered. In fact I would almost suspect to find similar commentaries on the gospel sitting on the shelf of your average pastor. Yet despite Gujevic opening up Mark to help us understand the structure, he in turn is deconstructing it for us, though he still falls back to the context of the world in which it was written. This is not surprising, because the parable of the sower, the parable that he claims the entire gospel revolves around, would make no sense unless we understood the nature of the poor peasant farmer in 1st century Palestine.



The concept of God in Pain really comes down to the concept of the crucifixion. In a sense Zizek sees it as a cosmic joke that God pretty much empties himself of his glory so that he can die. In fact he says that for that period (three days) in which Christ was dead means that Christianity is a religion whose focal point is a period when God did not exist. As such he turns the whole concept of Atheism on its head by saying that Christianity is in fact a Atheistic religion because at that time, when God was dead, there was no God. Thus the cry of the New Atheists that there is no God makes no sense because they are simply blind to the fact of what it really means that there is no God.



The whole idea of the incarnation is the idea that God is in pain and that he willingly takes upon that pain to redeem the world. He describes this inversion like a a king coming to his coronation and everybody anticipating this glorious person to walking in through the doors, and instead in crawls a cripple. This, Zizek says, is the picture of Christ (and in a way Gunjevich agrees). It is an inversion of what one would expect from a worldly king and a worldly messiah (and this is nothing new where theology is concerned). Christ did not appear in the centre of power (being Jerusalem, or even Rome) but on the fringes, in the outskirts of Palestine. Christ did not draw the wealthy, the influential, and the powerful around him, but rather the poor and the marginalised. The picture is the same picture that is created in my mind when I watch 'The Last Temptation of Christ' where Christ's followers, nay Christ's army, is composed of beggars, lepers, and cripples.



My final thoughts on this book (and I could go on) is how Zizek talks about the three branches of the church: the Orthodox, Catholicism, and Protestantism. We see three branches with three different concepts. The Orthodox church is built around the community, and focuses on the community. The Catholic church is built around the fact that the priests hold all of the power in a hierarchical and structural way. It is still the case that the lay people are not allowed to read the Bible and cannot understand the Bible when it is read out in mass. Thus the focal point of Catholicism is the hierarchy.


Protestantism focuses on the self because what Luther said was that we are all responsible for our own faith and for our own salvation. Thus Luther wrestled Christianity from the hands of the hierarchy, gave it to the individual, and told the individual 'believe what you will because salvation does not come through the community nor does it come through the hierarchy'. Thus the foundations of capitalism, the enlightment, modernism, and finally post-modernism, have been laid. These days we see the church riling against that individualism, however without that individualism they would not exist. They also rile against post-modernism without realising that they are probably the most post-modern of the religions simply because they let their world be defined by their interpretation of the Bible.