Why Does Slavoj Žižek Identify Himself as a Christian Atheist?
Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, known as the most dangerous philosopher in the 21st century, has a lot to say about Christianity. Slavoj Žižek believes that there’s always an inner conflict in every ideology or even it would be better to say in every notion or concept because he ponders that every way of thinking is somehow an ideology, referred to his Hegelian reading of Christianity. The importance of it illustrates that you can strongly question a discourse by its essence and then there’s his great controversial instance; Christianity, Žižek’s favorite religion. It goes even so far that Žižek identifies himself as a Christian Atheist.
Slavoj Žižek was born on 21 March 1949 in Yugoslavia. He is a philosopher, cultural theorist, and public intellectual. He is the international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at the University of London, visiting professor at New York University, and a senior researcher at the University of Ljubljana’s Department of Philosophy. He primarily works on continental philosophy, particularly Hegelianism, psychoanalysis, Marxism, as well as film criticism and theology. The particular style of his public appearances, and academic works, characterized by the use of obscene jokes and pop cultural examples, as well as politically incorrect provocations, have gained him fame, controversy, and criticism both in and outside academia. Whether we like him or not, We have to accept that Slavoj Žižek is argumentative and important, and his discourse is absolutely controversial. (1,2)
Back to our topic, Slavoj Žižek writes: “The transcendent god guaranteeing the making of the universe, god as the hidden Master pulling the strings…we get a god who abandons this transcendent position and throws himself into his own creation, fully engaging himself in it up to dying, so that we, humans, are left with no higher Power watching over us, just with the terrible burden of freedom and responsibility for the fate of divine creation, and thus of god himself” (۳)
In one interview with Third Way, Slavoj Žižek says “I take seriously those words Christ says at the end: Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? It’s something really tremendous that happens. Gilbert Keith Chesterton, whom I admire, puts it in a wonderful way: Only in Christianity does God himself, for a moment, become atheist and I think this is my reading that this moment of the death of God when you are totally abandoned and you have only your collectivity, called the Holy Spirit, is the authentic moment of freedom.”
Gilbert Keith Chesterton in The Romance of Orthodoxy writes: “When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of god…. Nay, (the matter grows too difficult for human speech,) but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which god seemed for an instant to be an atheist.” (۴)
In other words, Christianity is not a theist religion from Slavoj Žižek’s perspective. He says that secretly there is a layer of atheism under Christianity, and he emphasizes that Hegel knew this, too. The one who died on the cross was not Christ. Actually, God has been forsaken on the cross. The one who died on the cross was the very god of the beyond but how did that happen? How is it possible? There’s a moment when Christ stated that famous phrase “God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s precisely that moment when God has lost his belief in god, himself. Because Christ asked somehow for help but there was no one to do something. god tried to reach out to God for the first time in all eternity but surprisingly find nothing. In this way, Christ, in his human form, tastes the atheist’s deepest experiences of nothingness. Somehow at that moment, it was that god understands how it is to be a human and initiates to empathize with his creations.
Slavoj Žižek goes further and even states in his documentary that “The only way to be an atheist is through Christianity” (۵). Slavoj Žižek claims “Christianity is much more atheist than the usual atheism, which can claim there is no god and so on, but nonetheless it retains a certain trust into the Big Other. This big other can be called natural necessity, evolution, or whatever. We, humans, are nonetheless reduced to a position within the harmonious whole of evolution, whatever, but the difficult thing to accept is again that there is no big other, no point of reference which guarantees meaning”. The big other, according to Lacan, is understandable to be assumed as the god but in fact, you can find out that these two concepts are different from each other. But anyhow, we can see that Slavoj Žižek took them as the same.
In conclusion, we should state that Christianity, in essence, is atheistic and at least, one of the possible paths to reach it, is through Christianity. That’s why Slavoj Žižek identifies himself as a Christian Atheist.
۱. Sharpe, Matthew. “Slavoj Žižek”. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
۲. “Slavoj Žižek”. Brittanica.
۳. Žižek, S. and J. Milbank (2009) The Monstrosity of Christ, ed. C. Davis: The MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.
۴. Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton
۵. The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology 2012, Documentary by Slavoj Žižek