Hatred and agape

I’m currently reading Slavoj Žižek’s intriguingly-subtitled book The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why Is The Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For?, in which (according to the blurb) he argues that Marxism and Christianity should “fight together against the contemporary onslaught of vapid spiritualism”.

It’s safe to say that Žižek sees Christianity as at times useful for his purposes rather than true. Which is fine: I feel much the same way about Marxism ;-). Žižek does however have some fascinating (and really quite deep) insights into Christianity. For example, his comments on “Christ’s scandalous words” in Luke 14:26:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and his mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.

Most of us find these words deeply uncomfortable, and prefer not to think about them too closely. However, Žižek argues for a surprising connection between these unpopular words and one of the most popular chapters in the entire Bible: St Paul’s (so-called) “hymn of love” in 1 Corinthians 13.

He observes of Jesus’ words:

Here, of course, we are not dealing with a simple brutal hatred demanded by a cruel and jealous God: family relations stand here metaphorically for the entire socio-symbolic network, for any particular ethnic “substance” that determines our place in the global Order of Things.

In other words, Jesus could just as easily have said “If anyone does not hate his country, his race, his religion, his economic system…”. Žižek continues:

The “hatred” enjoined by Christ is not, therefore, a kind of pseudo-dialectical opposite to love, but a direct expression of what Saint Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, with unsurpassable power, describes as agape, the key intermediary term between faith and hope: it is love itself that enjoins us to “unplug” from the organic community into which we were born – or, as Paul puts it, for a Christian, there are neither men nor women, neither Jews nor Greeks…

In other words, what Jesus is describing in Luke 14:26 is exactly the same as what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13 and Galatians 3:28 (as alluded to at the end of the last quote): the creation of a new community in which we may still retain the same formal relationships – we are not literally to sever all connections with our families or communities – but in a wholly new way, a new way of agape mediated through Christ and the Christian community.

As Žižek concludes:

No wonder that, for those fully identified with the Jewish “national substance”, as well as for the Greek philosophers and the proponents of the global Roman Empire, the appearance of Christ was a ridiculous and/or traumatic scandal.

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One Response to Hatred and agape

  1. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Human rights vs the Commandments

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