Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Revealing God

Christianity has a problem. Amongst the myriad of parody and critique levelled at the Church, a serious problem lurks, and it is an ongoing and genuine problem that must be addressed. It reared its ugly head in a living room one night as a friend asked, "What does Jesus look like at work?" No answer. It was seen in a lengthy op-ed, "Our research is necessary because religion does not do what apologists for religion usually say it does. It does not reveal a god to us or enable us to achieve something referred to vaguely as enlightenment." Again, no answer.

The problem is this: How does Christianity embody God in such a way that God can be recognised?

There is no shortage of opposition to the idea that the Christian embodies God, or reveals God. Disunity in the Church, pedophilia among the clergy, greed in the televangelist, violence in the middle ages. Every stereotype can be imagined and is based on some truth. Where is God in all that? How does Christianity reveal God?

The answer lies in Žižek's appropriation of Hegel to explain the Church. He takes the ingredients previously used to create the concept of the Trinity and develops a different answer. Whereas in the Nicean model of Trinity, the three modes of being for God are taken as having always existed, in Žižek's approach the three modes of being form the three components of the dialectic. God, the wholly transcendent ontological being, is the thesis. Jesus, the wholly material existential being, is the antithesis. When these two are brought into direct opposition in the violence of the Cross, neither of them remain and we are left with a synthesis: the Church, a wholly material being which has its being in the wholly transcendent spirit. The concept of God as a transcendent, ethereal being died on the cross, along with the notion that God's spirit could only reside in a single material being. Instead, God continues to exist as the Church, the group of believers whose existence is only assured (to throw a little Bonhoeffer into Žižek's mix) as the Church, not as individuals.

From Žižek, with a little help from Bonhoeffer, the answer to the question of how Christianity embodies God is that it does so in the Church community, not in the individual. Ever since the Crucifixion, no individual has ever been able to reveal God because God now inhabits the community. It's not a single action that reveals God, whether that action is by an individual or a community, but it is in the community itself that God is revealed because it is only in the community that God exists.

The answer to the question of "What does Jesus look like at work?" is to look away from the individual and look toward the community. There are, therefore, no ethical rules for the individual, only for the community. Whatever the individual does can only have meaning and relevance if it is grounded in community. For the Christian who is in the workplace, the same applies. God is revealed as the individual is grounded in community, not in individuality. The New Testament teaching has heavy emphasis on the community, from the Matthean sermon on the mount to the Pauline metaphor of the body of Christ, from the Johannine exhortations to love to the Jamesian insistence on the responsibility to others. The Christian individual exists, without question, but genuine emancipatory (read: salvific) existence is in the Christian community.
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