Thursday, October 25, 2007

Love and Law, Part 5: Two Views on Redemption

Part 4

Summary of Part 4: The Jewish law is typically seen as harsh and repressive, while Christian love and grace are set against this. Is this an adequate reading of redemption?

There are two basic interpretations of how the redemption made possible by Christ’s death operates. The first interpretation is sacrificial, and the second is participatory. We are redeemed either because Christ pays out debt to God, or because we participate in his death - we “die to sin” in Christ.

The problem with the sacrificial reading is that it leads up right back to the dominance of the Law. Christ pays a debt for us, thus simply leading us into a gift economy. Christ gives us a gift, and we must pay him back with what Spinoza might have called "the basest servitude." With this debt simply transferred to the Crucified rather than God, we are placed in a position in which we must continuously ask of Christ “what do you want from me?” Christ takes the position of the infinite superego; the infinite debt of sin can never be paid. Christ’s love becomes a mask for this infinite debt, this hyperbolic Law. The sacrificial reading ends with the same impasse as the attempt to fully accede to the Law: domination and repression.

Žižek expands on the difficulties with the sacrificial reading with a second biblical passage, offering context for the first. The passage ends with a rhetorical question, “and why should we not say ‘Let us do evil so that good may come!’” The suggestion St. Paul is intending to refute here is that, because God’s grace and forgiveness is a good thing, we should engage in ever more and greater sins so that more forgiveness will take place. What this does, however, is place God into the position of the pervert: God’s desire to act as our saviour becomes an imperative to sin and transgress. God’s actions become the source of our pleasure. This still ties pleasure to transgression, however, and the morbid guilt that arises from this remains.

It is the participatory reading that offers a move away from the oppressive superego. According to Žižek, it is Paul’s “way of the Spirit” that offers a way out of the dialectic of Law and desire. It is a matter of rejecting the subjective position of “death” and choosing the alternate position of “life.” The key to this choice lies in another Biblical passage from 1 Corinthians: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial.” This is a surprising shift away from the usual moralistic tone of religion; the Law finds itself suspended - by what? - love. In the sacrificial reading of the crucifixion, love becomes a supplement for the Law in the form in the infinite superego. In the participatory reading, however, “the Law which regulates and prohibits certain acts is suspended.” The Christian ceases to be bound by the Law, and their affirmations and negations are guided by love, not Law. Put another way, the Christian undergoes the second death, entering the realm of ate. This love beyond Law is no longer the transgressive desire that is aroused by the Law, but rather itself a fidelity (which, as Alain Badiou points out, is itself a term of love) to desire. The superego ceases to shout “do your duty!” and das Ding ceases to drag us into doing what we hate. When one is guided by love, one’s duty is their desire.

The Law, being constituted by the symbolic realm, obviously does not somehow disappear. In fact, the Law’s presence may actually grow or intensify under this regime of love. To see how, we must return to The Puppet and the Dwarf and it’s exploitation of the feminine non-all logic.

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