The Bible Narrative Explained in the Context of Secular Ideas
by David and Ping Henningham
210mm x 158mm
ISBN 978 0 9563166 3 9
BIC codes: HP (Philosophy)
DNF (Literary Essays)
HRCG3 (Biblical Exegesis)
The Bible is two inches thick, but what on earth is in it? How do its books connect with each other? Do fundamentalists distort what it says? Can we understand our culture and history without it?
A foundational document for many nations and imaginations. The Bible was written by thousands of people over thousands of years; kings, queens, slaves, refugees, farmers, politicians, poets, historians, intellectuals and idiots… Many are curious to understand it. But with the Bible’s complexity, where do we begin?
Monday School explains the narrative of the Bible. It explores its unfolding themes in the context of secular ideas that continue to be nourished by the Bible today – Philosophy, Art, Literature, Politics, Science… Monday School aims to equip anyone to navigate the Bible.
Seven essays on Evolution, Human purpose, Morality, Utopia, Genocide, Revolution and Regeneration describe the Bible in dialogue with R. Buckminster Fuller, Steinbeck, Kafka, Nietzsche, Žižek, Agamben, Benjamin, and Orwell.
Table of Contents
Part I: Monday School Chart 4
Part II: Essays
Bring a Pen and a Spade 7
The Creation Story
The Fall of Humanity and
Their Purpose 21
Kafka, Steinbeck, Fuller and the Fall
What ‘Chosen Peoples’ Choose to Ignore 33
A correspondence on political violence in the Bible
Does a Ladder to No-where Permit Downward Traffic? 45
Morality, and the covenants with Israel’s Priest-Kingdom
A Perfect Law Risks Becoming Pointless 59
Desire-to-sin and the transfiguration of the covenants with Israel
The Revolution With a Single Death 77
Messianic time, the oppressed, and their inheritance – the Earth
Dig For Victory 85
The Resurrection way of life
Part III: Monday School Syllabus 101
About the Authors
David and Ping Henningham bring their experience of various church traditions and their training in Fine Art, History of Art, and Modernist Literature together in this book. They are alumni of Central St. Martins, Chelsea College of Art, the Slade, UCL, and Queen Mary University of London.
A Perfect Law Risks Becoming Pointless
I was browsing in the poetry section of a bookshop on Gower Street when I became aware of a commotion downstairs. Some sort of fight had broken out and I could tell, peering down the staircase, that it was getting increasingly out of hand. It seemed that maybe a hundred people had come to blows. There was no other choice but to barricade myself in upstairs and wait to be rescued. Suddenly, I was joined by a dishevelled stranger who helped me pull a couple more bookcases onto their sides and put a couple of step stools on top for good measure. But it wasn’t our barricade that I drew confidence from. I knew we would be safe as I always carry a small dogwood crossbow concealed about my person. I am aware that it is eccentric to carry such a thing about; the rainbow patterned strap and its decorative carving of Jesus breathing his last are themselves quite incongruous, but I think the events I outlined previously vindicate my policy. As we put the finishing touches to our defensive structure I suddenly recognised my companion; he was Slavoj Žižek.
Žižek informed me that the brawl was now mainly in the New Age and Spirituality section. He had been in Philosophy, buying a couple of his own books when a bunch of neo-pagans and self-help authors wandered into the wrong section and encountered some Marxists and theologians; violence erupted. “What are we going to do?” I asked.
“Against today’s onslaught of New Age neo-paganism?” said Žižek, peering through the barricade,
“I think we’d better stick to Judeo-Christian logic.”
After some time had passed, keeping half an eye on the fray, I started flicking through the books Žižek was purchasing, they were both The Fragile Absolute.
I came across the sentence:
“In our Western tradition, the exemplary case of such a traumatic Real is the Jewish Law. Let us not forget that…the Divine Mosaic Law is experienced as externally imposed, contingent, and traumatic…”
What a coincidence! I had been thinking that very morning about the problem of the covenant with Moses, expressed as it was in the Ten Commandments and how all the covenants seemed to have collapsed under themselves with the schism and exile of Israel and Judah. Had the Law made matters worse between yhwh and humanity? And why, even as they were predicting exile, did the prophets also promise a restoration and thorough fulfilment of the covenant promises? As Ezekiel had said, from the midst of a refugee camp:
‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.’ Ezekiel 36:24-28
A return to Judah then happened, around 430bc, but the culture seemed impoverished to those old enough to remember the former glory. The new temple caused them to weep. For some of the younger ones Hebrew was their second language and the Law was unfamiliar. And later, the Hebrews were once again subject to occupation in their own land by the Romans. Despite this it was obvious from his book that Žižek thinks that this Covenant Law is of foundational importance for our own society, so I asked him to expand on this, by way of making conversation.
Act One: The Problem of Law and Desire-to-sin
“Human rights are ultimately, at their core, simply Rights to violate the Ten Commandments.” Žižek said.
That seemed a weird thing to say. “How, exactly” I asked, and he listed some examples,
‘The right to privacy’ – the right to adultery in secret, where no one sees me or has the right to probe into my life…’private property’ – the right to steal…And, ultimately, ‘freedom of religious belief’ – the right to worship false gods.”
“But surely human rights and the Ten Commandments were both created to protect society?”
“Of course, human Rights do not directly condone the violation of the Ten Commandments – the point is simply they keep open a marginal ‘grey zone’…”
“But that is sort of the problem isn’t it,” I interrupted, “The Law doesn’t have the power to reform the core of a person, without crushing the personality. The Written Code would eradicate people by the time it had perfected them…” but Žižek pushed this further,
“One can also see, however, how human rights are not simply opposed to the Ten Commandments, but are the ‘inherent transgression’ generated by those Commandments…
“What, you’re saying the problem is that the Law doesn’t just fail to make people good, it actually generates wrongdoing. And you’re saying that’s in the Bible?” I hunched down and popped over to fetch a Bible from one of the bookshelves opposite, taking care not to be spotted by one of the rioters. Žižek called over,
“Here one should recall again Saint Paul’s famous passage on the interconnection between Law and sin – on how Law itself generates sinful desires…
I turned to Paul’s letter to the Romans and read out chapter seven, verses eight and nine
‘For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.’
And Paul continued in verse fifteen
‘for what I want to do I do not do, and what I hate I do.’
“And what does Christianity do here?” Žižek asked, “Does it simply ‘close up the space’ by prohibiting even the inherent transgression: by demanding that we follow God’s commandments not only ‘before His countenance’, but also deep in our hearts? Or does it endeavour to break the very vicious cycle of Law/sin?”
I shuffled back over to our hiding place, “Well I’d say it breaks the cycle, but I feel like I’m just saying that because of the way you put the question…”
“Our obedience to the Law itself is not ‘natural’, spontaneous, but always-already mediated by the (repression of the) desire to transgress the Law.” Žižek continued. “When we obey the Law, we do so as part of the desperate strategy to fight against our desire to transgress it, so the more rigorously we obey the Law, the more we bear witness to the fact that, deep within ourselves, we feel the pressure of the desire to indulge in sin. The superego feeling of guilt is therefore right: the more we obey the Law, the more we are guilty, because this obedience, in effect is a defence against our sinful desire; and in Christianity, the desire (intention) to sin equals the act itself…”
“Oh, is this what Paul is saying in verse thirteen?
‘But in order that sin may be recognised as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.’”
Žižek’s expression suggested I hadn’t grasped his point. He continued,
“It is this superego dialectic that is successfully avoided by the Jews; their obedience to the Law is not mediated by the repressed desire to sin, which is why they can stick to the letter of the Law and none the less find ways of realising their desire without any guilt feelings…”
This didn’t sound quite right to me. “But what about what happens in the book of Judges, and what’s said in the book of Lamentations? The Exile? It sounds like real guilt. When Paul says in verse twenty-five
‘I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.’
it sounds to me like he could be succinctly describing the bind that exiled Israel found itself in. And every individual follower of the law. The sinful nature is the same as Israel’s breaking of the covenant with Moses.”
Now the connection between Israel and the Christian Church had been made, Paul’s words seemed increasingly clear to me, so I continued,
“I think you’re missing the centrality of relationship to the covenant. The Law is identified with the character of yhwh. The Law was given to Israel after their rescue from Egypt as a way of bringing them close to yhwh. But their disobedience to the letter of the Law and the spirit of it causes the Law to become an obstacle between them. A law that condemns them is useless, as the point of it was to bring them close.”
Žižek tried to interject, but I was beginning to forget myself and continued,
“But, Paul seems to be explaining the role of the law further. You know Romans seven, verses seven to twenty-five, the ‘for I do not do what I want’ bit. That’s usually taught as a description of the struggle of being a Christian on a daily basis. It could be that not being able to do what we want to do is an ongoing experience that opens us up to allow grace to change us over time. We continue to turn to God and mourn our bad behaviour, but with the power of sin over us cancelled by Christ’s death, in real terms the law cannot hurt us. The deal can never collapse again like it did with Israel in the past, destroying this hard-won intimacy with yhwh. This is the Church as a ‘sin re-enactment society.’”
As I said these things it occurred to me that even though this could be the correct reading of the passage, and surely much of it was true, I was beginning to wonder if it was an incomplete reading. I began to speculate further,
“But that bit we began with, ‘once I was alive apart from Law’ and later, ‘but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin’ is really confusing, now I think of it. It is incorrect compared to Paul’s biography. Doesn’t he think he was sinful from his very womb-knitting? And chronologically he is now a slave to the Messiah, but perhaps he is describing a kind of re-enactment of the Fall within himself? He is also, therefore, re-enacting the crisis of Israel’s covenants in himself as a ‘conversion experience’. This could mean that the breakthrough of chapter eight, verses one to two
‘Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death’
creates a decisive break with the life described in chapter seven. All the ‘I do this I don’t do this’ stuff could belong to the pre-Christian struggle!”
Tracing Paul’s argument with my finger on the page, I continued,
“This re-enactment of the failure of Israel’s Law in his person takes this form. Sin seizing the opportunity afforded by the Law’s prohibition creates in him the desire to sin. The commandment that was intended to bring life, a mode of living that allowed intimacy with God, brought death by making him want to sin, and therefore making intimacy with yhwh impossible and his death unavoidable before the Law because it is good. But did the Law become death to him? No! Instead it made sin utterly sinful. The rôle of the Law becomes transfigured in that sin is amplified and identified by the Law. ‘Therefore’, chapter three verse twenty,
‘no-one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.’
Law made him utterly divided in himself and unable to follow his desire to execute the written code until the only way out was through saving grace. Paul experiences the crisis within the law in his own being; sin is amplified by the law until he emerges crushed and at the foot of grace.”
Žižek was unhappy with my direction and we talked at length about the Absolute, but I didn’t understand anything he said enough to repeat, until we got onto the subject of Giorgio Agamben’s commentary on Romans, The Time That Remains. Thankful for a pause in the pedagogy, I had another forage on the shelves, and with the riot still confined to the floors below, I located the book in the Theology section. In summary Agamben says Paul’s strategy is to set faith against Law; pistis against nomos.
All the elements of Paul’s letter (oath, covenant, faith, Law, grace, belief) stem from prelaw, the period when Law, magic, and religion were indiscernible from each other. All were elements that relied on and produced each other within prelaw, like unrefined oil. So Paul does not set a new idea against an old one, faith [pistis] against Law [nomos]. He plays one part of prelaw against another in claiming the Covenant promise to Abraham (faith) precedes Mosaic Law.
This means that Messianism is a struggle within Law; a historical process where the oath reaches a crisis and the element of faith within the covenant moves to emancipate itself from works fulfilled in carrying out the covenant (obligations) in a space called grace.
‘What you have on the one side is a law that is “holy just and good” – but which has become unobservable and incapable of producing salvation, namely the sphere of the law in the strict sense – and on the other side, a faith, although originally deriving from the pact, that can make salvation operative “without law”. Having once been united in prelaw in a magical indifference, faith and law now fracture and give way to the space of gratuitousness.’
Looking up from the book I said “How can faith make Law inoperative? How does the Messiah come into it? And you know what also confuses me is that John fourteen, nine says anyone who has seen Jesus has seen the Father. The Messiah is a similar thing to the Law because looking at the Messiah you see what yhwh is like. This means that one image of yhwh, the Law, is fulfilled and rendered inoperative by another image of yhwh, the Messiah, all to save yet another image of yhwh; humanity…”
Act Two: Rupturing the Cycle
Žižek now put his hand on my shoulder and confronted me with a look of benevolence that reassured me a moment of clarity was imminent,
“the proper Christian uncoupling suspends not so much the explicit laws but, rather, their implicit spectral obscene supplement.”
He nodded slowly as if to say, ‘you see?’ There was a pause,
“What is an implied spectral obscene settlement?” I asked.
“You know, like praising Hitler’s construction of highways is a displaced way of praising his anti-Semitic measures.”
“So if someone says ‘I know he committed genocide, but I admire his autobahns’ they actually secretly admire his power in its most brutal form…so what you’re saying is the bit of Judaism that Christianity eradicates is not the Law, but the repressed desire to sin. But what do you mean uncoupling?”
“On the one hand there is the pagan Cosmos…With regard to the social body, an individual is good when he acts in accordance with his special place in the social edifice… and Evil occurs when some particular strata or individuals are no longer satisfied with this place.
I was confused. “This is something to do with breaking the cycle between Law and sin-desires?”
“Saint Paul makes clear,” Žižek explained, “the basic point of Christianity proper is precisely to break out of the vicious superego cycle of the Law and its transgression via Love”
“So Love breaks the cycle between Law and sin-desires”
“Christianity asserts as the highest act precisely what pagan wisdom condemns as the source of Evil: the gesture of separation, of drawing the line… It is love itself that enjoins us to ‘unplug’ from the organic community into which we were born – or, as Paul puts it, for a Christian, there are neither men nor women, neither Jews nor Greeks..”
“Like the way Nietzsche admires the caste system in India, and criticises Christianity for disturbing the natural order by making outcasts think they are worth something…so radical equality is a kind of unplugging… In the same way love breaks up a rigid pagan society, it also breaks the cycle between Law and sin-desires..”
“In a situation of forced choice, the subject makes the ‘crazy’, impossible choice of, in a way, striking at himself…this rather changes the co-ordinates of the situation…the subject gains the space for free action”…
“So the Father striking at the Son, who is also fully God, breaks the cycle between Law and desire to sin?” Žižek flow was suddenly interrupted. Was he unhappy with my continued misunderstanding?
“it is totally misleading to reduce the death of Christ to a sacrificial gesture in the exchange between God and man – to claim that by sacrificing that which is most precious to Himself, his own son, God redeems humanity, ransoming its sins…”
“But Paul’s big breakthrough is that through Christ the law of the Spirit of life, the Holy Spirit, set him free from the written code that leads to death…What are you then saying the crucifixion of the Messiah means?”
“in it, the very structure of sacrifice, as it were, sublates [negates/denies] itself, giving birth to a new subject no longer rooted in a particular substance, redeemed of all particular links (the ‘Holy Spirit’)…”
“So Jesus’ example, for you, interrupts the pagan cosmos and shows another kind of community is possible with a different kind of psychic geography. And one that isn’t just fraudulently re-written, pagan-style. This is a community somehow not subject to the cycle of Law and sin?” I asked.
Žižek continued, “The Christian ‘unplugging’ is not an inner contemplative stance, but the active work of love which necessarily leads to the creation of an alternative community.”
“Ah, a community of outcasts. So this is what you meant earlier when you said we are told to love our neighbour…”
“As every true Christian knows, love is the work of love – the hard and arduous work of repeated ‘uncoupling’ in which, again and again, we have to disengage ourselves from the inertia that constrains us to identify with the particular order we were born into. Through the Christian work of compassionate love, we discern in what was hitherto a disturbing foreign body, tolerated and even modestly supported by us so that we were not too bothered by it, a subject, with its crushed dreams and desires…
“So we love our neighbour in such a way as to break away from the balance of a Nietzschian structured society, which is very interesting, because Conservative Evangelical Christians so often seem to be saying God designed us to fit into society in a certain way and if we conform to that rôle we’re sure to be happy, but instead a perpetual revolution in…
“The Holy Ghost itself, the community of believers qua ‘uncoupled’ outcasts from the social order – with, ideally, authentic psychoanalytic and revolutionary political collectives as its two main forms..”
“Ah! Wait a minute!” Suddenly I was hit by reservations, everything seemed to become clear in an instant,
“I see what you’re doing!” I said, “You’re trying to co-opt the Holy Spirit as a kind of ‘revolutionary spirit’! And the whole community of outcasts refusing to be satisfied with their social strata, they’re the proletariat aren’t they! And the pagans, they’re fascists, and the cycle of sin and transgression is something to do with the corruption of the revolution, probably…You’re trying to pick God’s pocket!”
An argument ensued. Eventually I was to be found loudly asserting that what Žižek had completely misunderstood was the meaning of grace, probably because he was trying to have all the elements of a Judeo-Christian universe without yhwh, a point I admit I emphasised by prodding his collarbone, syllable by syllable.
To his alarm, I produced my little crossbow,
“Look you haven’t understood how this works.” I began to describe the mechanism. “You see, how over time the two pieces of wood at the front, this one is faith and this one is law, they seem to want to pull apart as you put more load on. The string we call sin and this windlass is obedience. The really important thing is to put a gratuitous amount of tension in. The more the sin-load increases the more grace will result. The Christ pops on there. But be careful; the Christ is sharp.”
“But,” Žižek interrupted, “at what do you shoot?”
“No, you don’t shoot it; you just tighten it until it breaks”
Žižek looked bemused. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t following such a simple premise.
“I think there’s a bit in Agamben that might explain it,” I said, reading:
‘Grace is that excess which, while it always divides the two elements of prelaw and prevents them from coinciding, does not allow them to completely break apart. The charis [grace] issuing from this fracture between faith and obligation, between religion and law, cannot in turn be taken as a substantial and separate sphere, for it can only maintain itself through an antagonistic relation to faith and obligation.’
“No that’s even more confusing isn’t it, sorry.” I said. But the passage had piqued my curiosity. “Hey, this might explain what Paul means when he makes the apparently contradictory point that Law is upheld by grace; the righteousness given by God gratuitously when it was undeserved?” I turned to Žižek and asked “How does the Messiah really solve the problem of an unobservable Law?”
Suddenly we realised that our shouting earlier might have alerted the rioters to our position, someone approached! We crouched down out of sight, but were relieved to see it was just a cashier hunting down a first-aid kit.
Act Three: The End of the Law
I continued to annoy Žižek with my habit of creeping off and returning with other people’s books. I came back with Nietzsche’s Antichrist and leafed through it until I found what I wanted:
‘The authority of the law is established by the thesis: God gave it, the ancestors lived it. – The higher rationale of such a procedure lies in the intention of gradually making the way of life recognised as correct.. unconscious.. to concede to a people the right henceforth to.. become perfect. To that end the law must be made unconscious: this is the purpose of every holy lie.’
“Now we have established that the Law cannot be observed and therefore will never become unconscious, but we also seem to be saying that in some way it must be made unconscious.”
Žižek shrugged in a faintly sulky way.
Žižek snorted; bored. The conversation has reached a hiatus, so I continued reading and puzzling these things through for myself. Many of these thoughts did not become consolidated until later. I read how Agamben proposes as a Messianic way of living exigency; that which cannot be forgotten even if nobody remembers it.
‘the exigency of the lost does not entail being remembered and commemorated; rather, it entails remaining in us and with us as forgotten, and in this way and only in this way, remains unforgettable.’
To put it simply, if the Law is to be core-written we are saying it will become natural to us. We forget what the Law is in that we simply do it. The Law of Moses was written down and had to be commemorated and enacted from outside, and even with the indwelling Holy Spirit, Paul has to warn us not to submit to sin which is no longer our master. I remembered something and turned to Žižek
“Have you heard the legend that all books will survive Judgement Day intact?”
“All the books of law from all civilisations will be in the New Library, from the Code of Hammurabi that says architects should be put to death if their buildings kill the occupants through to the Anglo-Saxon penalty for accidental wounding with a spear carried over the shoulder; even parking regulations. Apparently every sentence of law will have a thin line striking it out, though it will still be legible.”
“And all other books will be unmolested. The errors will be ignored for lack of interest.”
I continued thinking. A core-written law is one that isn’t merely memorised and performed as a script, because if we do good which comes from the very core of our desires it will pass without comment. This must be what Paul is talking about when he says the law of the Spirit of life saved him from the written code, the Holy Spirit is not the community of believers itself, it is God himself bringing new life somehow through the Messiah. The answer is that there is a new covenant that breaks the cycle and is the fulfilment of all the preceding ones and their emerging crisis. Jesus makes this covenant when he observes the Passover with his disciples; the liberation festival commemorating the Exodus just before the covenant with Moses and Israel,
‘When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’ Luke 22:14-20
And Agamben locates this New Covenant in the Old Testament:
“The time is coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the LORD.
“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbour,
or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the LORD.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.” [Jeremiah 31:31]
‘The space that opens up between the two diathEkai (covenants) is the space of grace. This is why the kainE diathEkai [new covenant] cannot be something like a written text containing new and diverse precepts…As stated in the extraordinary passage right before the affirmation of the new covenant, it is not a letter written in ink on tables of stone; rather, it is written with the breath of God on hearts of the flesh. In other words, it is not a text, but the very life of the messianic community, not a writing, but a form of life: hE epistolE hemOn hymeis este, “You are our letter” (2 Cor. 3:2)!’
So what exactly is the rupture that breaks this cycle? How does it become core-written?
‘For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man in order that the requirements of the law may be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.’ Romans 8:3-4
The Messianic Community place their faith in the blood of the Messiah; the New Covenant. This means trusting that their sinful nature has been placed on the Messiah and condemned in him who could bear it, and that yhwh has replaced it in them with a new righteousness, the Messiah’s goodness, allowing the total intimacy yhwh wanted to accomplish through the covenant promises. Everyone with faith in this gratuitous forgiveness has the Spirit of God in them instead of the desires of the sinful nature, like the Spirit once had residence in the Jewish Temple. The Spirit is present in the believer as a conquering immortal remnant in a mortal frame. It is the Spirit of sonship, making all believers co-heirs with the Messiah of the glorious promises made to Abraham and King David.
But an incompleteness remains at our point in time. It is possible to obey the sinful nature that no longer dominates; it can be sensed, but only like a phantom limb. An emancipated slave flinches when he hears his old master’s voice, and yet he quickly recalls this man is not his master anymore.
Agamben also complains that whenever the Christian Church reintroduces nomos (Law) to Christian theology in the form of a compromise between grace and law, as with the controversy between Pelagius and Augustine around 415ad, a Kafkaesque universe of grace is created similar to the Kafkaesque universe of Law in modern Judaism. Grace must be maintained as a space of antagonism between Law and Faith. But he claims there is also a sense in which the problem of Law is resolved in the Messiah. Is the Law over or not?
Žižek had been peering over the barricade for some time, the fight had clearly not subsided and people seemed to be encroaching onto the remaining floors. Somewhat awkwardly, Žižek resumed his part in our dialogue.
“You know, there are two ways of subverting the Law,”
He reached into his pocket and handed me a small, two-colour leaflet with diagrams of stick men in boxes.
“One can violate/transgress its prohibition: this is the inherent transgression that sustains the Law…Much more subversive than this is simply to do what is allowed, that is what the existing order explicitly allows, although it prohibits it at the level of implicit unwritten prohibitions…”
The leaflet included the example that prison destroys you mentally if you don’t accept where you are, but if you fulfil the prison-life, it no longer has any hold over you. Under a box with a stick man wearing a little crown with a J on it holding two stone tablets the caption read:
‘When Christ claims he is here merely to fulfil the Law, he thereby bears witness to how his act effectively cancels the law’
“That’s interesting,” I replied, “Paul illustrates how the crucifixion could have a cancelling effect through marriage law. Like a marriage, the Law only has authority over us while we live. If a husband dies the wife is no longer married. By identifying with the Messiah through faith and throwing oneself into his death. It says here in Romans chapter seven, four to six, and chapter ten, verse four,
‘you also died to the law through the body of Messiah, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead…by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the Law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.’ Romans 7:4-6
‘Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.’ Romans 10:4
“End is a word with a wonderful double-meaning isn’t it. I mean that the end of something is its good purpose, but when something reaches its end it also has no more power over us; it is finished.”
I was just enjoying the flourish of my little quotation, perhaps too much, when we were both alarmed by a scuffle on the next landing. The rioters were coming our way.
The pagans had reached a frenzy and had now spotted our position. Žižek, perhaps relishing the violence to come, or perhaps trembling with anxiety said:
“There is only one choice. You must shoot yourself with that crossbow so that I can have it.”
We observed an awkward pause. “I’m not entirely sure that will be necessary…”
“But it is the only logical way to counter this massive onslaught of obscurantism!”
“But you don’t even know how to work it…”
“Are you not the one who has missed the point. It is much too precious to be left to you fundamentalist freaks…”
“I’m not a freak…I’m…”
“Not a freak? And what is it you have done here? Cut fragments from my books, shoved them into an absurd dialogue that has never happened? Do you not think I would put things differently myself if we were to speak face to face? Will you try and cut these pagans down to size with more false dialogues?”
I knew this accusation would come! I had planned ahead a reply from one of his own books!
“But!” I began triumphantly, “You could claim that this last bit, which is the only bit you didn’t actually say is more true to life, and that the harvested quotes are all true but amount to a lie because of their new context…but I suppose…”
This wasn’t working, I’d confused myself. I should have prepared notes, but then that would probably have undermined my rebuttal even more. Somewhat feebly I continued,
“I hope I’m giving an accurate reflection of what you said in your books…” Žižek was stony faced. “Do you think I should OK this chapter with the real Žižek?” I asked.
Žižek growled “I don’t think you should waste his time.”
And with that he proceeded to try and wrestle the crossbow off me. I was tangled absurdly, kneeling but with my shoulders yanked up to my ears by the strap under my armpits, as he pulled it and puzzled over the weapon, waving it over the barricade. In these final moments he was fumbling badly. Suddenly he was distracted by a glancing blow to the head; a copy of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus had been thrown. I needed no more opportunity, snatching the crossbow I gritted my teeth and disappeared through the fire exit.