Slavoj Zizek – Calvinism is Christianity at its Purest

April 14, 2015

“Only with Protestantism did Christianity become what it always truly was.” Slavoj Žižek discusses Protestantism:

Slavoj Žižek praises Protestantism (and Pascal’s Jansenism) for its commitment to predestination, in contrast to the “obscenity” of a salvation that “depends on our good acts.” He is particularly impressed by the counter-intuitive fact of Calvinism’s incessant fervor instead of a general lethargy, since the latter would be the common sense fallout of predestination (just “sit down, read pornography, and drink lemonade”).

Žižek conceives of predestination as “an extremely refined dialectical notion,” wherein human acts are “written backwards.” The paradox of freedom, according to Žižek, is that we “constitute our very predestination.” And freedom is most purely manifest in acts of love. Love is the “ultimate free act” and “the freest act of all,” and yet it is experienced as “I cannot do otherwise.” This is true of “all great acts of freedom,” including sacrificial acts for justice.

He ends with some criticisms of Feuerbachian humanist religion.

17 Responses to “Slavoj Zizek – Calvinism is Christianity at its Purest”

  1. Kim Fabricius said

    I have long awaited Slavoj’s conversion, but, with his love for Chesterton, I suspected his pilgrimage would lead to Rome. How wonderful to hear that he might be on his way to Geneva. And then, who knows? Instead of an obstreperous priest, a turbulent minister and riotous preacher — perhaps, indeed, a colleague in my own United Reformed Church?

    • Kevin Davis said

      Yeah, he said that perhaps the Catholicism of Pascal and Port-Royal is closest to him…but, of course, I don’t know of any Jansenists running around anymore.

    • Joel said

      My impression (from very limited observation, admittedly) is that Zizek basically sees Christianity as a fun idea to play with from his unorthodox-leftist perspective. I guess the Spirit can work through that kind of thing, but I doubt he’s in much danger of becoming a Christian, at least in any orthodox sense!

  2. elliot said

    Zizek is also on record as claiming “Hitler wasn’t radical or violent enough.”* Surely there are better appreciations of Calvinist docrtine that can be marshaled than from crypto-fascists.

    * http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/slavoj-zizek-greatest-threat-to-europe-is-it-s-inertia-a-1023506.html

    • Cal said

      I’d hardly say crypto-fascist since he sees fascism as backwards and a reactionary attempt to modernize (according to the interview). His point, as he says right after, is that fascism was responding to a real problem: innert, self-complacent bourgeois culture. But it wasn’t willing to destroy all things that got in the way of an autonomous people and burn down all cultural artifacts that retarded European enlightenment.

      You may not agree with this, but a quick drive by with a contrived quote is hardly fair.

      • Cal said

        And destroy and burn down refer to institutional systems and cultural mores. Not (necessarily) actual violence against people. But then again, all governing is predicated on violence upon persons who refuse the legal framework.

      • elliot said

        Yes, and this “innert, self-complacent bourgeois culture” was manifested for Nazi Germany precisely as the Jews, with whom, again, “Hitler wasn’t radical or violent enough”. The quote is not contrived, it’s quite literally reproduced verbatim. Quotes can be misconstrued, decontextualized, and so on but not contrived, it’s right there in the interview. And when Zizek goes on to argue for the need for “a higher leading culture that regulates the way in which subcultures interact” and cites Anders Breivik of all people to make a point about Christianity and universalism, I don’t see any need or indeed, possibility for the charity you want to handle him with. His whole work is riddled with this garbage, the Der Spiegel interview just happened to crystallize it in the most convenient form, because elsewhere it’s always dressed up with this disclaimer of provocativeness, as if reiterating racist stereotypes were innovative scholarship and not racist stereotypes. It’s either a quick drive-by or walls of text like the one I’m producing here, and I already regret commenting because of it.

      • Kevin Davis said

        Thanks for the discussion Elliot and Cal. I know nothing of this, and indeed I know little of Zizek. I just thought these comments about Protestantism were interesting.

      • Cal said

        Sorry, contrived was the wrong word, I didn’t mean to say that you made up the quotation willy-nilly. And yes, while the Jews (by and large) did have a significant role in Weimar Germany, this is not de-facto anti-semitism. But if you’re looking for moles to whack, you can find them.

        Well, Breivik is a horrible example for what Zizek cites. Christianity for him was apart of the leitkultur. Of course, Zizek refers to him as a mass murderer, not as a liberator of Europe (which he self-styled himself as). It’s an outrageous example (like the atheist catholic).

        Of course, this is not Christ, nor is his understanding of the Holy Spirit as ushering in a universalized man. He is Hegelian first. I’m not saying Zizek is righteous, or constructive, but he deserves more attention than a crypto-fascist mark. He’s trying to build a comprehensive social vision, but that is not defacto fascist. I like the fact he’s odious to the PC crowd.

        cal

      • elliot said

        I didn’t say he was an antisemite, but he was a crypto-fascist, crypto because he markets himself as some kind of Marxist cultural critic, fascist because his actual positions are precisely that. Your calling of his choice of Breivik (who he cites to agree with, not to distance from) an “outrageous example” decision is exactly the tactic I described earlier: “it’s always dressed up with this disclaimer of provocativeness”, so he can get away with advancing these far-right positions because they’re deemed somehow provocations and somehow not actually part of the “real” Zizek. “the fact he’s odious to the PC crowd” is an extraordinarily lazy excuse, not to mention an overdone cliche. Of course he’s odious, because he’s on the far right. I doubt you similarly praise David Duke, even though he’s just as, if not more “odious”.

        You’re welcome to the last word on this, because I don’t want to get into the long game of Zizek exegesis, with its ever-ready inbuilt excuse of “but he’s just being provocative!”

    • Cal said

      Your reference of the Jews thought you were attaching a certain anti-semitic reference. So never-mind that.

      I’m not trying to excuse Zizek. He is an Empire builder in a different sense of the word, and I don’t have the twinkle in my eye (pace Kim) that he’s a closet Christian. His Leftist criticism of vulture-like global capitalism, American imperium, East Asian totalizing, are all good. I don’t like his solution, but I don’t think he’s a fascist.

      Breivik was being provocative, yes, but not in the sense we were discussing. I saw this as an example of how a lingering leitkultur (with self described Christian murderers and atheists) still incorporates ‘religion’ as apart of any revolution or enlightenment.

      I guess it all depends on your definition of fascism.

      And if David Duke stood up and denounced some hypocritical function of society or some injustice, we can still appreciate the criticisms from a head of such a vile organization. Broken clocks are right twice a day.

      Once again, Zizek is a left-Hegelian, like any good Marxist and beyond, and he’s pretty strident in his atheism and his ‘use’ of Christ. David Duke, well, does he think the KKK is a Christian project? I suppose that’d be a difference in utilization. Neither men understand the Kingdom of God.

      cal

  3. Cal said

    Also, reminded me of a pointed remark in Peter Brown’s biography of Augustine:

    “For Augustine’s doctrine of predestination…was a doctrine for fighting men. A monk might waste his leisure worrying about his ultimate identity: to Augustine, such an anxiety was misplaced. A doctrine of predestination divorced from action was inconceivable to him. He had never written to deny freedom, merely to make it more effective in the harsh environment of a fallen world”

    • Kevin Davis said

      That’s good. In my experience, having grown-up with conservative Presbyterian friends, anxiety about salvation is rare, and indeed it was something they criticized about their fellow evangelical co-laborers (usually Southern Baptist).

      • Cal said

        I think we need a certain dose of fear (reverential, not phobic) and trembling coursing in our lives. But I guess the question is where that is placed? Anything short of Ephesians 1:4 might leave us pondering our place and fear of every movement of soul and body. But that is not the logic of faith.

        Working out our salvation is different than working ‘for’ our salvation or, the more popular, working ‘on’ our salvation. We don’t need to ‘spend more time with God’. Rather, if He has poured His Spirit on us, what does it mean to live every moment with our King right besides us. That is a completely different mood.

  4. matthewjulianmoorman said

    Love it! I don’t think we have to join Zizek in his avowed atheism to appreciate his criticisms. His main program is, actually, a politically constructive one, very much in line with Augustine and Calvin. I do want to note that this is not double predestination that he’s referring to, but, rather, a predestination in the Barthian tradition which leaves the door open for a universal reconciliation. In other writings, Zizek summarily rejects the notion that God chooses some people for everlasting life and other everlasting punishment, because this, of course, can (and has!) created and supported gross social inequities throughout history.

    Great clip. If you haven’t watched “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology,” I highly recommend it–it’s free on Netflix:

    http://www.netflix.com/WiMovie/70260306

    • Kevin Davis said

      Yes, it’s not double predestination at all — indeed, no reference to God whatsoever, given his atheism. But it’s not really Barthian either, insofar as it has nothing to do with universal reconciliation either (much less, the electing God in Jesus Christ). Zizek is offering more of a subjective evaluation of human freedom (the “reading backwards” is from the perspective of the free/loving agent, i.e., us). Regardless, it is very interesting.

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