Servanthood

‘We Own the World’: a Chomsky lecture

We Own the World is the name of a new DVD out by Noam Chomsky in which he looks (surprise, surprise) at the US government and corporate elite policies over the years. These policies, he argues, ‘violate international and domestic laws, and involve imperialist designs that depend on targeted assassinations and the killing of innocent civilians on a mass scale. Yet, US elites still lay claim to being just, democratic, and humane. How can they do this? As Chomsky refrains over and over … they can do it only if we accept the basic assumption that “We own the world” – and therefore have the right to do whatever we want.’ More information here.

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And [he who really owns the world] said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. (Luke 22:24–27)

It seems to me that those who find any encouragement from being associated with the One who really owns the world, any comfort from his love, any participation in his Spirit, any affection and sympathy, ought to be at one with him in mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Surely they are those who do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than themselves. Surely they are those who look not to their own interests, but to the interests of others.

 

Žižek on transcendent meaning, authority and freedom

Commenting on Job’s three theological friends, Slavoj Žižek contends that ‘God is the only true materialist … [God] comes and says there is no transcendent meaning, everything is a miracle … there is no transcendent master, which is why I think we have to read Christ as a repetition of Job. What dies on the cross with Christ? What dies is not an earthly representative of a transcendent. What dies is precisely God as this transcendent master of the universe. What dies on the cross for me is the idea of God as the ultimate guarantee of meaning … The lesson of Christianity … of Christ … [is that] we cannot afford this withdrawal. When we are confronted with horrible things … holocaust, concentration camps or other similar catastrophes it is a little bit vulgar to say, “This only appears to us as a catastrophe because of your limited perspective, withdrawal back and you will see how it contributes to harmony, or whatever”. There is no big other! This is why I think this would be a kind of more materialist reading why Christ truly sacrificed himself. The message is “All we can do is here”; there is no father up there who takes care of it … It is not “Trust God”. No. God trusts us. All that can be done, we should do it. In this sense, with this incomplete notion of reality, … it opens up the space for freedom. There is freedom only in an ontologically unfinished reality’.

While I generally do find Žižek to be a really stimulating thinker, what I find most disturbing here in this particular presentation is his notion of authority and freedom. To be sure, he never seems to challenge the relative need of authority in the area of sociality. However, if I have heard him correctly (and it’s a genuine ‘if’ on my part) when he comes to the purlieus of belief, of faith, the assumption is that we must abandon authority. It is at this point (though not at this point alone) that he so clearly betrays a failure to understand what constitutes a Christian notion of authority. For Žižek, authority is not a power but a force, a coercive burden to be shaken off rather than a love and true freedom to live in. Employing Forsyth here, I want to suggest that Žižek’s notion of authority is not ‘the source of liberty, but its load. It is something which sooner or later must produce impatience and not bring peace. It is something to be renounced as men pass to spiritual maturity. The more spiritual they consider themselves, the less they like to feel, think, or speak of authority’. There is no sense in Žižek’s notion of authority of one who employs his authority to set people – indeed his enemies – free.

Truly, ‘God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God’ (1 Cor 1:28). This one who though he was in the form of God became the ‘low and despised’ one taught us that ‘whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:43-45).

In this alone is true creaturely freedom. To assert, a Žižek does, that freedom exists ‘only in an ontologically unfinished reality’ is to deny the incarnation of God into our world, and the (cruci)-form that such authority takes. There is no greater freedom than to live under true authority. This is our gifted freedom. If God is creator, not merely in the sense of being the one who began all things but also in the decisive sense of being one who sustains all things from moment to moment by his gracious will then we must confess that no freedom exists apart from him. As C. Stephen Evans notes in his delightful book, Kierkegaard’s Fragments and Postscript: The Religious Philosophy of Johannes Climacus, ‘Because of God man is something; he is in fact a nobel something, created for eternal life with God. But his nobility lies precisely in his ability freely to recognize or fail to recognize his dependence on God. This freedom means that man is to an extent independent of God. But even his independence is itself dependent upon God’s creative power, most properly used when man recognizes – freely – his dependence’. (p. 170)

(If I have read Žižek incorrectly here, I apologise. Please take this as an invitation to help me try and understand this important thinker rightly on this point.)