Monday, September 23, 2013

Žižek, Tony Jones, and 'Christian Atheism'

A little over a week ago, Tony Jones hosted a piece that was meant to service as an introduction to Slavoj Žižek, particularly his 'Christian' or 'theological' thought. I took issue with the piece, primarily with the notion that it's acceptable for Christians to get their theology from atheists, or for atheists to do Christian theology in any legitimate sense. Such an idea is, of course, absurd. And this seemed to me like a fairly elementary and obvious point to make, eminently supported by scripture and orthodox Christian tradition. But I also know that one of the dogmas of this particular brand of progressive, postmodern, heretical Christianity is a kind of infinite openness to ideas and 'dialogue', regardless of the provenance of said ideas (blatantly ignoring scriptural warnings against such absolute openness i.e. Romans 12:2, 2 Cor. 6:14-18, Gal 5:1, 1 Tim. 4, 2 Tim. 2:16-17, 2 Tim 4:3-4, etc.). Wanting to disabuse anyone who might listen of such a dangerous openness in theology -- especially with regard to atheists, worldly speculators and conjecturalists -- I happily obliged when Tony offered to host a response by me.

To Tony's immense credit, and contrary to the actions of one of his brother's in arms, he published my response which he disagreed with, and in which I even take a pot-shot at him. This demonstrates a true openness to dialogue and opinions from all quarters, even the traditionalist-conservative quarter, and so consistency with his principles (although it also reveals a bit of a masochistic streak).

There was a fairly large dust-up in response to my piece (on Twitter, primarily), as many of Tony's readers -- quite understandably, given their vantage point -- took issue with the piece and with Tony's decision to run it. Tony replied here in defense of running the piece, and I agree with his defense.

However, while defending his running of the piece he also briefly noted why he disagrees with it. He writes:
The bottom line is that Nathan thinks that, while interesting, Christians should never look to Žižek for theological insight. In fact, he thinks that Christians should never take any theological insight from an atheist.
Well, I think that’s hogwash. (Nathan defends this as a teaching of the Orthodox Church, but I have not been able to substantiate that.) Theological insight comes from all sorts of places, atheists included. Indeed, if we’re reliant solely upon the church for theological truth, then two things are true: 1) God is bound exclusively to one human institution (a laughable idea), and 2) we’re pretty much screwed (because the church is so clearly fallible).
Before defending the idea that Christians ought not turn to atheists for theological insight, (it feels a bit odd typing that) let me first clarify a few things that I'm not saying. I'm not saying that God doesn't reveal himself in a general way through creation. I'm also not saying that God doesn't act in the lives of unbelievers at all. I'm also not saying that non-Christian philosophy is completely useless. None of this, however, means that atheists are capable of anything (truly) good apart from regeneration in the waters of baptism and a subsequent life in Christ, much less are they able to add or somehow contribute to the full revelation of God in Christ through their blasphemous speculations which deny Christ.

To the extent that worldly philosophy has value, it's that, in its venerable formulations, one can see what St. Justin Martyr -- writing in the 2nd century as a convert from Greek paganism -- referred to as the spermatikos logos. This is the seed of divinity in each human person which can be dimly apprehended through Greek philosophy, for example, which in turn acts as a preparation for the full revelation of God in Christ and his Church.

But this is only the case where Greek philosophy dimly apprehended the truth of divinity, not where it raged directly against it in utter folly (Psalm 14:1), or where it continued to do so even when confronted with Christ and his Church. And this is the crucial distinction. In the latter case, the Church (and the Bible) unequivocally rejects the notion that there can be any parity or fellowship between the Church which confesses Christ come in the flesh and risen from the dead, and those who deny it. Hear 1 John 4:3 :
And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist.
Žižek confesseth not. Game over.

Of course, one could multiply at will references to the New Testament's stark and undeniable dichotomy between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the 'god' of this world (2 Cor. 4:4) i.e. Satan. See: James 4:4, John 16:33, 1 John 2:17, Rev. 3:15-17, etc. And if 'the world' (in this sense) does not include the spirit of antichrist which denies Christ is God in the flesh, then there is no such thing as 'the world' in this sense, and the Bible is speaking nonsense. This seems a high price to pay in order to defend an illicit and wicked desire to marry truth with error, darkness with light. Speaking of which, we could also turn to the most clear and unequivocal scriptural rebuke of Jones and co.'s modus operandi in 2 Cor. 6:14-18.

As for whether my position is that of the Orthodox Church, I would want to tread carefully in claiming to speak for the Church. Though I would say that, in the Church's vindication of the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas in the 14th century over the heresy of Barlaam, the purity of heart obtained through the healing graces of the Church was defended as essential for genuine theology. The impotence of philosophy to lead to true illumination was also confirmed by the Church, in the course of this controversy. Which would all be relevant here, both as a rebuke of Žižek and his 'Christian' defenders.

One could go on to note that the actual content of Žižek's 'theological' speculations (if he truly held to them), and not just the method used to arrive at them, are formally rejected heresies. One of the earliest and most significant heresies in Church history, propagated in the 4th century by the bishop Arius, was that Christ was divine, yes, but a created and subsidiary divinity, and not consubstantial with the Father. At Nicaea, his view was anathematized by the Church as incompatible with the apostolic deposit of faith, at which point it became impossible for Arian speculation to count as true Christian theology. If Arius confessed Christ's divinity (albeit as a created demigod), and was and is anathema, as are any who follow him, how much more of those who deny that God even exists?

Granted, with this last move I've made an argument that appeals to a particular biblical, apostolic, orthodox ecclesiology. And therefore I might be talking past those who hold to the anti-ecclesiology of protestantism, especially in its progressive-postmodern-evangelical variant. C'est la vie. One can only hope they turn from this error as swiftly as they ought to turn and flee from the error of mixing God's truth with a lie.

1 comment:

  1. I think you need to be more precise with you argument.
    While I agree that atheists have virtually nothing to offer, no religion is more AntiChrist than Islam. Right where the Temple sat in Jerusalem is their bold proclamation that Jesus is Not the Son of God on the walls of the Dome of the Rock, yet Muslin theologians have much to offer throughout history even though Islam is the direct enemy of Christ.

    So the truth is the truth regardless of who is speaking it. Of course when most atheists speak about God their motivations are wicked,and deceitful.