Is God Dead, Unconscious, Evil, Impotent, Stupid … Or Just Counterfactual? — Slavoj Žižek

IJŽS Vol 10, No 1 (2016)

On Divine Inexistence

The first paradox of the materialist critique of religion is that, sometimes, it is much more subversive to undermine religion from within, accepting its basic premise and then bringing out its unexpected consequences, than to deny outright the existence of god. There is a popular New Age short story about a diehard atheist who, after dying in an unexpected traffic accident, reawakens after death and discovers that, basically, the spiritualist worldview was right: there is god or some higher power (which is indifferent to the plight of the souls), our souls survive our earthly death and dwell in a weird limbo-state where they can communicate with other souls as well as observe life on earth, and so forth. The atheist is extremely displeased by this outcome, his narcissism is deeply wounded—his atheist view was so perfect and convincing, how could he have been so wrong? Gradually, however, after getting over the first shock, he starts to carefully observe . . . .

The Hegelian repetition which sublates a contingency into universal necessity thereby changes the past (not factually, of course, but in its symbolic status). The French Revolution became a world-historical event with a universal significance only through its repetition in Haiti where the black slaves led a successful rebellion with the goal to establish a free republic like the French one; without this repetition, the French Revolution would have reamined a local, idiosyncratic event. The same holds today for the Syriza government in Greece: it will become a universal event only if it triggers a process of its “repetitions,” of similar movements taking over in other countries; otherwise, it will just remain a local Greek idiosyncrasy. What this means is that, in both cases, a repetition did (or will) retroactively change the event from a particular idiosyncrasy into a universal truth-event.


So what if we apply Benjamin’s notion of translation to the very relationship between god and man, to the notion that man was made in the likeness of god? Instead of making himself similar to god, man must rather, lovingly and in detail, in his own way, form himself according to the way of god, to make both recognizable as the broken parts of a greater vessel. The gap that, in the traditional view, separates the perfect god from his (always imperfect) human image is thus transposed back into god itself: god himself is imperfect, already the fragment of a broken vessel, so that he needs man to supplement his imperfection, and the goal of humanity is not to achieve fidelity or likeness to god but to supplement god, to treat god as a fragment of the “broken vessel” and to make itself into another fragment which will not imitate god’s perfection but will fit it as one fragment of a broken Whole may fit another. The topic of the divine Trinity, of Christ’s doubt on the Cross, and other similar motifs, clearly indicate that in Christianity, the “broken vessel” is not only the created reality which fell from god and lost its perfection—the ultimate broken vessel is god himself. Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit should thus be conceived as three fragments of the vessel whose unity is forever lost.

. . . . This is why it is not enough for a materialist to deny god’s existence, he must also qualify his counterfactual ex-sistence: if there were a God (which there is not), he would not have been a being of supreme Good, a beautiful illusion, but an evil, cruel, ignorant God—this is the point made by The Rapture.


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