IV: THE DANGERS OF EASTERN
SPIRITUALITY IN THE WEST AND
THE REVOLUTION OF ST. PAUL’S
CHRISTIANITY, ALL THROUGH
THE EYES OF AN ATHEIST.
BLVR: Do you believe in God?
SŽ: No, I am a complete atheist.
BLVR: Your book The Puppet and the Dwarf deals with St. Paul. In fact, it celebrates St. Paul’s Christianity in contrast to other forms of spirituality, i.e. gnosticism, new-age spiritualities, etc. So why would an atheist defend Christianity?
SŽ: Today, spirituality is fashionable. Either some pagan spirituality of tolerance, feminine principle, holistic approach against phallocentric Western imperialist logic or, within the Western tradition, we have a certain kind of rehabilitation of Judaism, respect for otherness, and so on. Or you are allowed to do Christianity, but you must do a couple of things which are permitted. One is to be for these repressed traditions, the early Gnostic gospels or some mystical sects where a different nonhegemonic/patriarchal line was discernible. Or you return to the original Christ, which is against St. Paul. The idea is that St. Paul was really bad, he changed Christianity into this patriarchal state, but Jesus, himself, was something different.
What I like is to see the emancipatory potential in institutionalized Christianity. Of course, I don’t mean state religion, but I mean the moment of St. Paul. I find a couple of things in it. The idea of the Gospel, or good news, was a totally different logic of emancipation, of justice, of freedom. For example, within a pagan attitude, injustice means a disturbance of the natural order. In ancient Hinduism, or even with Plato, justice was defined in what today we would call almost fascistic terms, each in his or her place in a just order. Man is the benevolent father of the family, women do their job taking care of the family, worker does his work and so on. Each at his post; then injustice means this hubris when one of the elements wants to be born, i.e. instead of in a paternal way, taking care of his population, the king just thinks about his power and how to exploit it. And then in a violent way, balance should be reestablished, or to put it in more abstract cosmological terms, you have cosmic principles like yin and yang. Again, it is the imbalance that needs to establish organic unities. Connected with this is the idea of justice as paying the price as the preexisting established order is balanced.
But the message that the Gospel sends is precisely the radical abandonment of this idea of some kind of natural balance; the idea of Gospels and the part of sins is that freedom is zero. We begin from the zero point, which is at least originally the point of radical equality. Look at what St. Paul is writing and the metaphors he used. It is messianic, the end of time, differences are suspended. It’s a totally different world whose formal structure is that of radical revolution. Even in ancient Greece, you don’t find that—this idea that the world can be turned on its head, that we are not irreducibly bound by the chains of our past. The past can be erased; we can start from the zero point and establish radical justice, so this logic is basically the logic of emancipation. Which is again why I find any flirting with so-called new-age spiritualities extremely dangerous. It is good to know the other side of the story, at least, when you speak about Buddhism and all of these spiritualities. I am sorry, but Nazis did it all. For Hitler, the Bhagavad Gita was a sacred book; he carried it in his pocket all the time. In Nazi Germany there were three institutes for Tibetan studies and five for the study of different sects of Buddhism.
BLVR: That is a really interesting point. I’m not religious at all, but when it comes to religions, I’ve always really distrusted new-age spiritualities.
SŽ: I agree. So let’s at least be clear of where in the West this fascination with Eastern spirituality originated. Of course when I advocate Christian legacy, I make it very clear that this legacy today is not alive in the Catholic or any Christian Church. Here I am kind of a vulgar Stalinist; churches should either be destroyed or turned into cultural homes or museums for religious horrors [laughs]. No no no, it’s not that, but nonetheless, a certain logic of radical emancipation exploded there. And all original emancipatory movements stopped there. This should be admitted. So the point is not to return to the Church, to rehabilitate Christianity, but to keep this certain revolutionary logic alive. I mean this is the good news that the Gospel means: you can do it, take the risk.
Slavoj Zizek, The Believer Interview