At the The Church and Postmodern Culture site, Carl Raschke presents an insightful review of Zizek’s and Gunjevic’s God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse. Despite the fact that the book “seems almost unreviewable,” it’s clear enough for Raschke that the text assumes the end of postmodern theology.

This is not to say that Raschke agrees with Zizek and Gunjevic. Indeed, his critique is a subtle riposte to Zizek’s theorizing and denouncement of Derridan a/theologies. Raschke rightly finds in Zizek’s corpus traces of pietism culminating in themes of “abjection and the painfulness of singular subjectivity.” In offering his critique of Zizek, I wonder if Raschke realizes that he is essentially in agreement with Milbank’s assessment: Zizek is not so much an atheist as much as he is a Protestant.

Whereas Zizek is too focused on Lacanian subjectivity, Gunjevic, according to Raschke, is too focused on forms of clericalism and institutionalism. In the face of apocalypse, Gunjevic’s stance is,

Not unlike living out some highly sophisticated fantasy of nineteenth century Gothic Romanticism.  British academics singing matins and expatiating on the relevance of Scotus to sociology, while the guys in bearskins ransack the administration building at Oxford, strikes me more, however, as the gag for a Capital One commercial than a serious proposal for persevering through the dark times.

In the place of Zizek and Gunjevic, Raschke posits his own familiar view of postmodern theology, what he calls a “cosmological exceptionalism”. In the face of apocalyptic doom, “it’s not simply about living resolutely and authentically – that is to mistake Christianity for Heideggerianity. It’s about God vindicating those who don’t fit into the global or religious norms of the day at all, those whose only virtue was not so much how they lived, but their ‘faithfulness’ to the end.”

However wonderful this statement, Raschke quickly undermines this somewhat reasonable plea by slipping back into pietism and the Hedieggerian authenticity he previously derided. Raschke claims that New Testament apocalyptic means that Christ is “looking for one thing, and one thing only, when he arrives – faith.” It seems we have again returned to Protestant notions of sola fide, albeit with a postmodern veneer. God, we are told, is looking for an individual peering across the Kantian abyss.

Still, we can appreciate Rashke’s curious definition of apokalypsis: “it is about being Christs in the most Christ-like way to each other, as Luther once said.” Curious, because this quip highlighted by Raschke is essentially Gunjevic’s position. But Raschke doesn’t quite pick this up, and appears somewhat tone deaf when it comes to reading Gunjevic so that all he perceives are “new and improved version of academic ecclesio-theology.” But for Gunjevic, the virtues or ecclesial practices – the “technologies of the self” – are the virtues of the working class or “the mystagogy of revolution.” Gunjevic’s ecclesial practices are therefore far from the halls of Oxford and much more at home in the Balkans or a local union meeting.

Cast in this light, Gunjevic’s assessment of the revolutionary project is a rather modest philosophical proposal, firmly rooted in the Christian Socialist tradition. States Gunjevic,

Every revolution is doomed to fail if it lacks virtue, if it has no ad hoc participative asceticism which would assume a transcending dimension, no built-in dimension of spiritual exercise, or what Michael Foucault calls ‘technologies of the self.’ Revolution without virtue is necessarily caught between a violent orgiastic lunacy and a bureaucratized statist autism (13).

Dorothy Day once said something similar: “if we do not keep indoctrinating, we lose the vision. And if we lose the vision, we become merely philanthropists, doling out palliatives.”

According to Gunjevic, the ecclesial community, “has as its goal beyond goal the generation of new relationships, which themselves situate and define new individuals” (92). All of this for Gunjevic is to bring “Augustine to Spinoza and Spinoza to Augustine,” and to again bind together immanence and transcendence. In practical terms, this means that “ascetic exercise in ecclesial practice is a deliberately embraced discipline in terms of a goal that surpasses us, yet is also a vehicle” (101). We could do worse than to call this a politics of the good.

Advertisements