Hegel - Chesterton: German Idealism and Christianity - Slavoj Žižek

Žižek gets theological.

Submitted by aacammy5 on November 23, 2006

According to a commonplace, Judaism (and Islam) is a "pure" monotheism, while Christianity, with its Trinity, is a compromise with polytheism; Hegel even designates Islam as THE "religion of sublimity" at its purest, as the universalization of the Jewish monotheism:

"In Mohammedanism the limited principle of the Jews is expanded into universality and thereby overcome. Here, God is no longer, as with the Asiatics, contemplated as existent in immediately sensuous mode but is apprehended as the one infinite sublime Power beyond all the multiplicity of the world. Mohammedanism is, therefore, in the strictest sense of the world, the religion of sublimity."1

This, perhaps, explains why there is so much anti-Semitism in Islam: because of the extreme proximity of the two religions. In Hegelese, in Judaism, Islam encounters ITSELF in its "oppositional determination," in the mode of particularity. Against this, one should argue that it is Judaism which is an "abstract negation" of polytheism and, as such, still haunted by it (Jehovah - plural; do not celebrate other gods IN FRONT OF ME; etc.), while Christianity is the only TRUE monotheism, since it includes self-differentiation into the One - its lesson is that, in order to have truly One, you need THREE. Here Hegel's logic of triads gets stuck into a deadlock: the triad that offers itself is that of Judaism - Christianity - Islam: first the immediate/abstract monotheism which, as the price to be paid for its immediate character, has to be embodied in a particular ethnic group (which is why Jews renounce all proselytism); then Christianity; then Islam, the only TRUE universal monotheism. What would be an alternative here?

Two features which cannot but appear opposed, characterize the modern subject as it was conceptualized by the German Idealism: (1) subject is the power of "spontaneous" (i.e., autonomous, starting-in-itself, irreducible to preceding causality) synthetic activity, the force of unification, of bringing together, linking, the manifold of sensual data we are bombarded with into a unified representations of objects; (2) subject is the power of negativity, of introducing a gap/cut into the given-immediate substantial unity, the power of differentiating, of "abstracting," of tearing apart and treating as self-standing what in reality is part of an organic unity. In order truly to understand German Idealism, it is crucial to think these two features not only together (as the two aspects of one and the same activity - like claiming that the subject first tears apart natural unity and then brings these membra disjecta together into a new, his own ("subjective"), unity), but as stricto sensu identical: the very synthetic activity introduces a gap/difference into substantial reality, and/or the very differentiation consists in imposing a unity. How, exactly, are we to understand this? The subject's spontaneity emerges as a disturbing CUT into the substantial reality, since the unity the transcendental synthesis imposes onto the natural manifold is precisely what this word means in everyday use, not in Kant: "synthetic," artificial, "unnatural." To evoke a common political experience: all great unifiers started with a divisive gesture - de Gaulle unified the Frenchmen by way of introducing an irrreconciliable difference between those who wanted peace with Germany and those who did not recognize capitulation and wanted to go on fighting.

And the same goes for Christianity: we are not FIRST separated from God and THEN miraculously united with him; the point of Christianity is that the very separation unites us - it is in this separation that we are "like God," like Christ on the cross, i.e., the separation of us from God is transposed into God himself.

And the same goes for ethics: radical act of Good HAS to appear first as "evil," as disturbing the substantial stability of traditional mores.

This is why we find in Christianity opposed features attributed to Christ: he brings peace, love, etc.; AND he brings sword, not peace, he wants to turn son against father, brother against brother... Again, this is ONE AND THE SAME gesture, not a logic of "first divide in order then to unite." And, again, it is crucial not to confuse this "identity of the opposite" with the standard pagan motif of a divinity who has two faces, a loving one and a destructive one - we are talking about one and the same face. But, yet again, this does not mean that "the difference is only in us, not in God, who dwells in his blessed Beyond" (as in the old simile of our reality as a painting: if we look at it from too close a point, we see only blurred stains, but from a proper distance, we see the global harmony) - or, rather, it IS like that, but not as external to God-in-Himself: this shift is inherent to God. The dialectic of appearance holds here also: appearing is not external to God, God also is only as deep as he appears, His depth has to appear as depth, and it is this appearing that introduces a gap/cut: God has to appear "as such" in the domain of appearance itself, tearing it apart - it is NOTHING BUT this appearing.

There are (not too numerous, but numerous enough to be considered systematic) passages in Hegel which explicitly belie the notion of the "end of history," demonstrating that he in no way thought that, at his historical moment, history came at an end. At the very end of his entire "system," in the conclusion of his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, he tersely states that this is, for the time being, the state of knowledge: Dies ist nun der Standpunkt der jetzigen Zeit, und die Reihe der geistigen Gestaltungen ist fuer jetzt damit geschlossen. 2 In the Introduction to The Philosophy of World History, he concludes that "America is therefore the country of the future, and its world-historical importance has yet to be revealed in the ages that lie ahead," 3 and he makes a similar statement on Russia: both are "immature" states, state which have not yet reached the full actualization of their historical form. Even in his much-maligned philosophy of nature, he concedes his own historically conditioned limitation: "We must be content with what we can, in fact, comprehend at present. There is plenty that cannot be comprehended yet." 4 In all these cases, it is that, "for a moment, /Hegel/ can take an external point of view with respect to the (universally comprehensive) story he is telling and announce that at some later stage a more articulate (universally comprehensive) story will be available" 5 - how, from what position, can he do it? Where does this excess/remainder of historicist common sense come from, which relativizes the highest speculative insights? It is clear that there is no space for it WITHIN the Hegelian philosophical narrative.

Is then THIS the task of a proper "materialist reversal of Hegel": to introduce this self-relativization INTO the "system" itself? To recognize traces which, for us today, REMAIN unreadable traces; to recognize the irreducible parallax gap of multiple narrative (of those in power, of those oppressed...) which cannot be brought together, etc.? What if, however, this conclusion, seductive as it appears in its prima facie convincing character, proceeds all too fast? What if there is no external opposition between the "eternal" System of Knowing and its historicist (self-)relativization? What if this (self-)relativization does not come from outside, but is inscribed into the very heart of the System? The true "non-All" is thus not to be sought in a renunciation to systematicity that pertains to the project of "negative dialectics," in the assertion of finitude, dispersion, contingency, hybridity, multitude, etc., but in the absence of any external limitation that would allow us to construct and/or validate elements with regard to an external measure. Read in this way, the infamous "closure of the Hegelian system" is strictly correlative to (the obverse of) its thorough (self-)relativization: the "closure" of the System does NOT mean that there is nothing outside the System (the naïve notion of Hegel as the individual who claimed to achieve "absolute knowledge of everything"); it means that we are forever unable to "reflexivize" this Outside, to inscribe it within the Inside, even in the purely negative (and deceptively modest, self-depreciating) mode of the awareness that reality is an absolute Otherness which forever eludes conceptual grasp.

This is why of all those who try to demonstrate some deeper affinity between Heidegger and Oriental thought, mostly Buddhism, miss the point: when Heidegger speaks about the "appropriating event /Ereignis/," he thereby introduces a dimension which, precisely, is missing in Buddhism, that of the fundamental historicity of Being. Although the (wrongly) so-called "Buddhist ontology" desubstantializes reality into a pure flow of singular events, what it cannot think is the "eventuality" of the Void of Being itself. To put it in yet another way, the goal of Buddhism is to enable a man to achieve Enlightenment through "traversing" the illusion of the Self and rejoining the Void - what is unthinkable within this space is Heidegger's notion of the human being as Da-Sein, as the "being-there" of the Being itself, as the site of the event-arrival of Being, so that it is Being itself that "needs" Dasein - with the disappearance of Dasein, there is also no Being, no place where Being can, precisely, took place. Can one imagine a Buddhist claiming that the Void /sunyata/ itself needs humans as the site of its arrival? One can, but in a conditional way which totally differs from Heidegger's: in the sense that, of all sentient beings, only humans are able to achieve Enlightenment and thus break the circle of suffering. Perhaps the clearest indication of the gap that separates Christianity from Buddhism is the difference in their respective triads. That is to say, in its history, each of them divided itself into three main strands; in the case of Christianity, it is, of course, the triad of Orthodoxy-Catholicism-Protestantism, which neatly fits the logic of Universal-Particular-Individual. In the case of Buddhism, on the contrary, we get a case of what, in Hegel, occurs as the "downward synthesis," in which the third term, whose function is to mediate between the opposition of the first two, does it in a disappointing-regressive way (say, in Hegel's Phenomenology, the whole dialectic of observing Reason culminates in the ridiculous figure of phrenology). The main split of Buddhism is the one between Hinayana ("the small wheel") and Mahayana ("the great wheel"). The first one is elitist and demanding, trying to maintain the fidelity to Buddha's teaching, focusing on the individual's effort to get rid of the illusion of the Self and attain the Enlightenment. The second one, which arose through the split from the first one, subtly shifts the accent onto compassion with others: its central figure is bodhisattva, the individual who, after achieving Enlightenment, decides, out of compassion, to return to the world material illusions in order to help others to achieve Enlightenment, i.e., to work for the end of suffering of all sentient beings. The split is here irreducible: working for one's own Enlightenment reasserts the centrality of the Self in the very striving for its overcoming, while the "great wheel" way out of this predicament just repeats the deadlock in a displaced way: egotism is overcome, but the price is that universal Enlightenment itself turns into an object of the instrumental activity of the Self. So how to bring these two orientations together? The third big school, Vajrayana, which predominates in Tibet and Mongolia, is clearly regressive, a reinscription of Buddhism into traditional ritualistic and magic practices: the opposition between Self and others is overcome, but through its "reification" in ritualized practices which are indifferent to this distinction. It is an interesting fact of historical dialectic that Buddhism which, originally, dispensed with all institutional ritual and focused solely on the individual's enlightenment and end of suffering, irrespective of all dogmatic and institutional frames, ended up as clinging to the most mechanical and firmly entrenched institutional hierarchic frame...

But the point here is not to make fun of the "superstitious" features of the Tibetan Buddhism, but to become aware of how this total externalization DOES THE WORK, "delivers the goods": is the relying on a prayer-wheel or, more generally, on the efficiency of the ritual not also a way to achieve the "mindlessness," to empty one's mind and repose in piece?

G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday tells the story of Gabriel Syme, a young Englishmen who makes the archetypal Chestertonian discovery of how order is the greatest miracle and orthodoxy the greatest of all rebellions. The focal figure of the novel is not Syme himself, but a mysterious chief of a super-secret Scotland Yard department who is convinced that "a purely intellectual conspiracy would soon threaten the very existence of civilization":

He is certain that the scientific and artistic worlds are silently bound in a crusade against the Family and the State. He has, therefore, formed a special corps of policemen, policemen who are also philosophers. It is their business to watch the beginnings of this conspiracy, not merely in a criminal but in a controversial sense. /.../ The work of the philosophical policeman /.../ is at once bolder and more subtle than that of the ordinary detective. The ordinary detective goes to pot-houses to arrest thieves; we go to artistic tea-parties to detect pessimists. The ordinary detective discovers from a ledger or a diary that a crime has been committed. We discover from a book of sonnets that a crime will be committed. We have to trace the origin of those dreadful thoughts that drive men on at last to intellectual fanaticism and intellectual crime. 6

As cultural conservatives would have put it today, deconstructionist philosophers are much more dangerous than actual terrorists.

We say that the most dangerous criminal now is the entirely lawless modern philosopher. Compared to him, burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men; my heart goes out to them. They accept the essential ideal of man; they merely seek it wrongly. Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it. But philosophers dislike property as property; they wish to destroy the very idea of personal possession. Bigamists respect marriage, or they would not go through the highly ceremonial and even ritualistic formality of bigamy. But philosophers despise marriage as marriage. Murderers respect human life; they merely wish to attain a greater fullness of human life in themselves by the sacrifice of what seems to them to be lesser lives. But philosophers hate life itself, their own as much as other people's. /.../ The common criminal is a bad man, but at least he is, as it were, a conditional good man. He says that if only a certain obstacle be removed - say a wealthy uncle - he is then prepared to accept the universe and to praise God. He is a reformer, but not an anarchist. He wishes to cleanse the edifice, but not to destroy it. But the evil philosopher is not trying to alter things, but to annihilate them. 7

This provocative analysis demonstrates the limitation of Chesterton, his not being Hegelian enough: what he doesn't get is that universal(ized) crime is no longer a crime - it sublates (negates/overcomes) itself as crime and turns from transgression into a new order. He is right to claim that, compared to the "entirely lawless" philosopher, burglars, bigamists, murderers even, are essentially moral: a thief is a "conditionally good man," he doesn't deny property AS SUCH, he just wants more of it for himself and is then quite ready to respect it. However, the conclusion to be drawn from this is that CRIME IS AS SUCH "ESSENTIALLY MORAL," that it wants just a particular illegal reordering of the global moral order which should remain. And, in a truly Hegelian spirit, one should bring this proposition (of the "essential morality" of the crime) to its immanent reversal: not only is crime "essentially moral" (in Hegelese: an inherent moment of the deployment of the inner antagonisms and "contradictions" of the very notion of moral order, not something that disturbs moral order from outside, as an accidental intrusion); but morality itself is essentially criminal - again, not only in the sense that the universal moral order necessary "negates itself" in particular crimes, but, more radically, in the sense that the way morality (in the case of theft, property) asserts itself is already in itself a crime - "property IS theft," as they used to say in the 19th century. That is to say, one should pass from theft as a particular criminal violation of the universal form of property to this form itself as a criminal violation: what Chesterton fails to perceive is that the "universalized crime" that he projects into "lawless modern philosophy" and its political equivalent, the "anarchist" movement that aims at destroying the totality of civilized life, ALREADY EXISTS IN THE GUISE OF THE EXISTING RULE OF LAW, so that the antagonism between Law and crime reveals itself to be inherent to crime, the antagonism between universal and particular crime. - And our thesis is that this limitation is not constrained to social problematic, but that it affects also Chesterton's global theological vision, in two forms: on the one hand, it prevents him from grasping all the consequences of the Christian act of love which "sublates" the entire domain of Law and its criminal transgression; on the other hand, he is more consequent in his theological ratiocinations than in his social vision: in his theology, he DOES explicitly posit the identity between Law and universalized/absolute crime - therein resides the very final twist of Thursday, in which "Sunday," the arch-criminal, anarchist's all-powerful leader, is revealed as the person as the mysterious chief of the super-secret police unit who mobilizes Syme into the fight against anarchists (i.e., HIMSELF). So let us proceed with our brief description of the novel and look at how, in a scene worthy of the Mission Impossible, Syme is recruited by this mysterious chief reduced to a voice in darkness, to become one of these "philosophical policemen":

Almost before he knew what he was doing, he had been passed through the hands of about four intermediate officials, and was suddenly shown into a room, the abrupt blackness of which startled him like a blaze of light. It was not the ordinary darkness, in which forms can be faintly traced; it was like going suddenly stone-blind.
'Are you the new recruit?' asked a heavy voice.
And in some strange way, though there was not the shadow of a shape in the gloom, Syme knew two things: first, that it came from a man of massive stature; and second, that the man had his back to him.
'Are you the new recruit?' said the invisible chief, who seemed to have heard all about it. 'All right. You are engaged.'
Syme, quite swept off his feet, made a feeble fight against this irrevocable phrase.
'I really have no experience,' he began.
'No one has any experience,' said the other, 'of the Battle of Armageddon.' 'But I am really unfit'
'You are willing, that is enough,' said the unknown.
'Well, really,' said Syme, 'I don't know any profession of which mere willingness is the final test.'
'I do,' said the other - 'martyrs. I am condemning you to death. Good day.' 8

Syme's first duty is to penetrate the seven members' "Central Anarchist Council," the ruling body of a secret super-powerful organization bent to destroy our civilization. In order to preserve their secrecy, members are known to each other only by a name of the week; through some deft manipulation, Syme gets elected as "Thursday." At his first Council's reunion, he meets "Sunday," the larger-than-life president of the Central Anarchist Council, a big man of incredible authority, mocking irony and jovial ruthlessness. In the ensuing series of adventures, Syme discovers that all other five regular members of the council are also secret agents, members of the same secret unit as himself, hired by the same unseen chief whose voice they've heard; so they join their forces and, finally, at a lavish masked ball, confront Sunday. Here, the novel passes from mystery to metaphysical comedy: we discover two surprising things. First, that Sunday, president of the Anarchist Council, is the same person as the mysterious never seen chief who hired Syme (and other elite detectives) to fight the anarchists; second, that he is none other than God Himself. These discoveries, of course, trigger a series of perplexed reflections in Syme and other agents. Syme's first reflection concerns the strange duality he noticed when he first met Sunday: seen from the back, he appears brute and evil, while, seen from the front, face to face, he appears beautiful and good. So how are we to read this twosome nature of God, this unfathomable unity of Good and Evil in Him? Can one explain the bad side as just conditioned by our partial, limited, view, or - a horrible theological vision - is the back really His face, "an awful, eyeless face staring at me," whose deceptive mask is the good jovial face?

When I first saw Sunday /.../ I only saw his back; and when I saw his back, I knew he was the worst man in the world. His neck and shoulders were brutal, like those of some apish god. His head had a stoop that was hardly human, like the stoop of an ox. In fact, I had at once the revolting fancy that this was not a man at all, but a beast dressed up in men's clothes. /.../ And then the queer thing happened. I had seen his back from the street, as he sat in the balcony. Then I entered the hotel, and coming round the other side of him, saw his face in the sunlight. His face frightened me, as it did everyone; but not because it was brutal, not because it was evil. On the contrary, it frightened me because it was so beautiful, because it was so good. /.../ When I see the horrible back, I am sure the noble face is but a mask. When I see the face but for an instant, I know the back is only a jest. Bad is so bad, that we cannot but think good an accident; good is so good, that we feel certain that evil could be explained. / I was suddenly possessed with the idea that the blind, blank back of his head really was his face -- an awful, eyeless face staring at me! And I fancied that the figure running in front of me was really a figure running backwards, and dancing as he ran. 9

If, however, the first, more conforting, version is true, then "we have only known the back of the world": "We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front" 10

However, things get even more complicated: God's essential goodness itself is hold against him. When, asked who he really is, Sunday answers that he is the God of Sabbath, of peace, one of the enraged detectives reproaches him that "it is exactly that that I cannot forgive you. I know you are contentment, optimism, what do they call the thing, an ultimate reconciliation. Well, I am not reconciled. If you were the man in the dark room, why were you also Sunday, an offense to the sunlight? If you were from the first our father and our friend, why were you also our greatest enemy? We wept, we fled in terror; the iron entered into our souls -- and you are the peace of God! Oh, I can forgive God His anger, though it destroyed nations; but I cannot forgive Him His peace." 11

As another detective notices in a terse English style remark: "It seems so silly that you should have been on both sides and fought yourself." 12 If there ever was British Hegelianism, this is it - a literal transposition of Hegel's key thesis that, in fighting the alienated substance, the subject fights his own essence. The novel's hero, Syme, finally springs to his feet and, with mad excitement, spells out the mystery:

I see everything, everything that there is. Why does each thing on the earth war against each other thing? Why does each small thing in the world have to fight against the world itself? Why does a fly have to fight the whole universe? Why does a dandelion have to fight the whole universe? For the same reason that I had to be alone in the dreadful Council of the Days. So that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist. So that each man fighting for order may be as brave and good a man as the dynamiter. So that the real lie of Satan may be flung back in the face of this blasphemer, so that by tears and torture we may earn the right to say to this man, 'You lie!' No agonies can be too great to buy the right to say to this accuser, 'We also have suffered.' 13

This, then, is the formula provided: "So that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist." So that Law is the greatest transgression, the defender of the Law the greatest rebel. However, where is the limit of this dialectic? DOES IT HOLD ALSO FOR GOD HIMSELF? Is He, the embodiment of cosmic order and harmony, ALSO the ultimate rebel, or is He a benign authority observing from a peaceful Above with bemused wisdom the follies of mortal men struggling each other? Here is the reply of God when Syme turns to him and asks him: "Have you ever suffered?"

"As /Syme/ gazed, the great face grew to an awful size, grew larger than the colossal mask of Memnon, which had made him scream as a child. It grew larger and larger, filling the whole sky; then everything went black. Only in the blackness before it entirely destroyed his brain he seemed to hear a distant voice saying a commonplace text that he had heard somewhere, 'Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?' 14

This final revelation - that God Himself suffers even more than us, mortals, brings us to the fundamental insight of Orthodoxy, Chesterton's theological masterpiece (which belongs to the same period: he published it a year later than Thursday), not only the insight into how orthodoxy is the greatest transgression, the most rebellious and adventurous thing, but a much darker insight into the central mystery of Christianity:

»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. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. 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. 15

This is why Christianty is »terribly revolutionary. That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already; but that God could have His back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents for ever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king.« 16 Chesterton is fully aware that we are thereby approaching "a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss /.../ a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in that terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt." 17 In the standard form of atheism, God dies for men who stop believing in Him; in Christianity, God dies for himself. In his "Father, why have you abandoned me?", Christ himself commits what is for a Christian the ultimate sin: he wavers in his Faith. This » matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss« is narratively presented as the identity of the mysterious Scotland Yard chief and the President of the anarchists in Thursday.

The attentive reader has already guessed that we do not have merely a duality, but a trinity of the features/faces of God: the whole point of the novel's final pages is that, to the opposition between the benevolent God of peace and cosmic harmony and the evil God of murderous rage, one should add a third figure, that of the suffering God. This is why Chesterton was right in dismissing Thursday as a basically pre-Christian book: the insight into the speculative identity of Good and Evil, the notion of God's two sides, peaceful harmony and destructive rage, i.e., the claim that, in fighting Evil, the good God is fighting himself (an internal struggle), is still the (highest) pagan insight. It is only the third feature, the suffering God, whose sudden emergence resolves this tension of God's two faces, that brings us to Christianity proper: what paganism cannot imagine is such a suffering God - what does one do when one suffers? One prays. No wonder that, in his "The Meaning of the Crusade," Chesterton quotes with approval the description he got from a child in Jerusalem of the Mount of Olive: "A child from one of the villages said to me, in broken English, that it was the place where God said his prayers. I for one could not ask for a finer or more defiant statement of all that separates the Christian from the Moslem or the Jew." If, in other religions, we pray to God, only in Christianity God himself prays.

This suffering, of course, brings us to the Book of Job, praised by Chesterton, in his wonderful small "Introduction to Book of Job," as "the most interesting of ancient books. We may almost say of the book of Job that it is the most interesting of modern books." What accounts for its "modernity" is the way in which The Book of Job strikes a dissonant cord in the Old Testament:

Everywhere else, then, the Old Testament positively rejoices in the obliteration of man in comparison with the divine purpose. The book of Job stands definitely alone because the book of Job definitely asks, 'But what is the purpose of God? Is it worth the sacrifice even of our miserable humanity? Of course, it is easy enough to wipe out our own paltry wills for the sake of a will that is grander and kinder. But is it grander and kinder? Let God use His tools; let God break His tools. But what is He doing, and what are they being broken for?' It is because of this question that we have to attack as a philosophical riddle the riddle of the book of Job.

However, the true surprise is that, at the end, the book of Job does not provide a satisfying answer to this riddle: "it does not end in a way that is conventionally satisfactory. Job is not told that his misfortunes were due to his sins or a part of any plan for his improvement."

"God comes in at the end, not to answer riddles, but to propound them." And the "great surprise" is that the book of Job "makes Job suddenly satisfied with the mere presentation of something impenetrable. Verbally speaking the enigmas of Jehovah seem darker and more desolate than the enigmas of Job; yet Job was comfortless before the speech of Jehovah and is comforted after it. He has been told nothing, but he feels the terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told. The refusal of God to explain His design is itself a burning hint of His design. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man."

This is why God has to rebuke his own defenders, the "mechanical and supercilious comforters of Job":

"The mechanical optimist endeavors to justify the universe avowedly upon the ground that it is a rational and consecutive pattern. He points out that the fine thing about the world is that it can all be explained. That is the one point, if I may put it so, on which God, in return, is explicit to the point of violence. God says, in effect, that if there is one fine thing about the world, as far as men are concerned, it is that it cannot be explained. He insists on the inexplicableness of everything. 'Hath the rain a father? /.../ Out of whose womb came the ice?' (38:28f). He goes farther, and insists on the positive and palpable unreason of things; 'Hast thou sent the rain upon the desert where no man is, and upon the wilderness wherein there is no man?' (38:26). God will make man see things, if it is only against the black background of nonentity. God will make Job see a startling universe if He can only do it by making Job see an idiotic universe. To startle man, God becomes for an instant a blasphemer; one might almost say that God becomes for an instant an atheist. He unrolls before Job a long panorama of created things, the horse, the eagle, the raven, the wild ass, the peacock, the ostrich, the crocodile. He so describes each of them that it sounds like a monster walking in the sun. The whole is a sort of psalm or rhapsody of the sense of wonder. The maker of all things is astonished at the things he has Himself made."

God performs here what Lacan calls a point de caption: he resolves the riddle by way of supplanting it by an even more radical riddle, by way of redoubling the riddle, by way of transposing the riddle from Job's mind into "the thing itself" - he himself comes to share Job's astonishment at the chaotic madness of the created universe.

"Job puts forward a note of interrogation; God answers with a note of exclamation. Instead of proving to Job that it is an explicable world, He insists that it is a much stranger world than Job ever thought it was."

To answer the subject's interrogation with a note of exclamation: is this not the best succinct definition of what the analyst should do in a treatment? So, instead of providing answers from his total knowledge, God does a proper analytic intervention, adding a mere formal accent, a mark of articulation.

There is a stupid question here which should be raised: why does God not consider telling Job the truth - that it was all staged to test Job's faith, and that Job won and the Devil is defeated?

This is why, for Chesterton, the book of Job "saved /the Jews/ from an enormous collapse and decay":

Here in this book the question is really asked whether God invariably punishes vice with terrestrial punishment and rewards virtue with terrestrial prosperity. If the Jews had answered that question wrongly they might have lost all their after influence in human history. They might have sunk even down to the level of modern well-educated society. For when once people have begun to believe that prosperity is the reward of virtue, their next calamity is obvious. If prosperity is regarded as the reward of virtue it will be regarded as the symptom of virtue. Men will leave off the heavy task of making good men successful. The will adopt the easier task of making out successful men good.

Towards Thursday's end, just prior to the six detectives' final confrontation with Sunday, they all participate in a ghostly masked ball wearing costumes which do not conceal but display their true inner nature - it is no longer "If you want to show your true self, tear off the mask!", but, on the contrary, "If you want to show your true self, put on the /right/ mask!"

Although, for Chesterton, Hegel was the worst of modern nihilistic "German philosophers," the proximity of his theological paradoxes to the Hegelian dialectic cannot but strike the eye. Let us approach this proximity from the other (Hegel's) side, by way of confronting the core question of the Hegelian Christology: why the idea of Reconciliation between God and man (the fundamental content of Christianity) has to appear in a single individual, in the guise of an external, contingent, flesh-and-blood person (Christ, the man-god)? Hegel provides the most concise answer in his lectures on the philosophy of religion:

Cannot the subject bring about this reconciliation by itself, through its own efforts, its own activity - so that through its piety and devotion it makes its inner /life/ conform with the divine idea, and express this conformity through its deeds? And further, is this not within the capability /not merely/ of a single subject but of all people who genuinely wish to take up the divine law within themselves, so that heaven would exist on earth and the Spirit would be present in reality and dwell in its community? 18

Note the precision of Hegel here: his question is double. First, the individual's divinization, spiritual perfection; then, the collective actualization of the divine community as "heaven on earth," in the guise of a community which lives totally in accordance with the divine law. In other words, the hypothesis that Hegel entertains here is the standard "Marxist" one: why cannot we conceive a direct passage from In-itself to For-itself, from God as full Substance existing in itself, beyond human history, to the Holy Spirit as spiritual-virtual substance, as the substance that exists only insofar it is "kept alive" by the incessant activity of the individuals? Why not such a direct "desalienation," by means of which individuals recognize the God qua transcendent substance the "reified" result of their own activity?

So why not? Hegel's answer relies on the dialectic of positing and presupposing: if the subject were to be able to do it on its own, through its own agency, then it would have been something merely POSITED by it - however, positing is in itself always one-sided, relying on some presupposition: "The unity of subjectivity and objectivity - this divine unity - must be a presupposition for my positing." 19 And Christ as God-man is the externally presupposed Unity, Reconciliation... first immediate, then mediate, holy spirit. From Christ, Love as his Predicate, to LOVE ITSELF as subject, as Holy Spirit - "I am where two of you love each other..."

But even here it may appear that one can counter Hegel with Hegel himself: is not this circle of positing-presupposing the very circle of substance-subject, of the Holy Spirit as a spiritual substance kept alive, effectively existing, arriving at its actuality, only in the activity of living individuals? The status of the Hegelian spiritual substance is properly VIRTUAL: it exists only insofar as subjects ACT as if it exists. Its status is similar to that of an ideological cause like Communism or My Nation: it is the "spiritual substance" of the individuals who recognize themselves in it, the ground of their entire existence, the point of reference which provides the ultimate horizon of meaning to their lives, something for which these individuals are ready to give their lives, yet the only thing that "really exists" are these individuals and their activity, so this substance is actual only insofar as individuals "believe in it" and act accordingly. So, again, why cannot we pass directly from spiritual Substance as presupposed (the naïve notion of Spirit or God as existing in itself, without regard to humanity) to its subjective mediation, to the awareness that its very presupposition is retroactively "posited" by the activity of individuals?

Here we reach Hegel's key insight: Reconciliation cannot be direct, it has FIRST to generate (appear in) a MONSTER - Hegel uses twice on the same page this unexpectedly strong word, "monstrosity," to designate the first figure of Reconciliation, the appearance of God in the finite flesh of a human individual: "This is the monstrous /das Ungeheure/ whose necessity we have seen." 20 The finite fragile human individual in "inappropriate" to stand for God, it is die Unangemessenheit ueberhaupt /"the inappropriateness in general, as such/" 21 - are we aware of the properly dialectical paradox of what Hegel claims here? The very attempt at reconciliation, in its first move, produces a monster, a grotesque "inappropriateness as such"? So, again, why this weird intrusion, why not a direct passage from the (Jewish) GAP between God and man to the (Christian) reconciliation, by a simple transformation of "God" from Beyond to the immanent Spirit of Community?

The first problem here is that, in a way, JEWS ALREADY DID THIS: if there ever was a religion of spiritual community, it is Judaism, this religion which doesn't say a lot about life after death, or even about the "inner" belief in God, but focuses on the prescribed way of life, of obeying the communal rules: God "is alive" in the community of believers. The Jewish God is thus both at the same time: a transcendent substantial One And the virtual One of spiritual substance. - So how is this Jewish community of believers different from the Christian one, from the Holy Spirit?

While observing Napoleon on a horse in the streets of Jena after the battle of 1807, Hegel remarked that it was as if he saw there the World Spirit riding a horse. The Christological implications of this remark are obvious: what happened in the case of Christ is that God himself, the creator of our entire universe, was walking out there as a common individual. This mystery of incarnation is discernible at different levels, up to the parent's speculative judgement apropos a child "Out there our love is walking!", which stands for the Hegelian reversal of determinate reflexion into reflexive determination - the same as with a king, when his subject sees him walking around: "Out there our state is walking." Marx's evocation of reflexive determination (in his famous footnote in Chapter 1 of Capital) also falls short here: individuals think they treat a person as a king because he is a king in himself, while, effectively, he is a king only because they treat him as one. However, the crucial point is that this "reification" of a social relation in a person cannot be dismissed as a simple "fetishist misperception"; what such a dismissal itself misses is something that, perhaps, could be designated as the "Hegelian performative": of course a king is "in himself" a miserable individual, of course he is a king only insofar as his subjects treat him like one; however, the point is that the "fetishist illusion" which sustains our veneration of a king has in itself a performative dimension - the very unity of our state, that which the king "embodies," actualizes itself only in the person of a king. Which is why it is not enough to insist on the need to avoid the "fetishist trap" and to distinguish between the contingent person of a king and what he stands for: what the king stands for only comes to be in his person, the same as with a couple's love which (at least within a certain traditional perspective) only becomes actual in their offspring.

Only one radical conclusion: the problem is not "how to overcome the split". The split stands for subjectivity: subjectivity is split, gap of negativity. THIS NEGATIVITY IS NOT A PROBLEM, BUT A SOLUTION, it IS already in itself DIVINE. Divine is not the abyssal all-encompassing Substance/Unity behind the multitude of appearances, divine is the negative power of tearing apart the organic unity...

So Christ's "death" is not overcome, but ELEVATED into Spirit's negativity.

We can also see the homology between this necessity of Christ as the immediate embodiment of the spiritual substance and the necessity of illusion on which, among others, Bourdieu insists in his critique of Levi-Strauss's explanation of potlatch: it is not enough just to claim that Christ is a reified-immediate materialization of the Holy Spirit, the true question is why does the Holy Spirit have to appear first in the immediate form of a singular human being.


1 G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of Mind, Oxford: Clarendon Press 1971, p. 44.
2 G.W.F. Hegel, Vorlesungen ueber die Geschichte der Philosophie, Dritter Band, Leipzig: Verlag Phillip Reclam 1971, p. 628.
3 G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1975, p. 170.
4 G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of Nature, Oxford: Clarendon Press 1970, p. 62.
5 Ermanno Bencivenga, Hegel's Dialectical Logic, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2000, p. 75.
6 G.K.Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books 1986, p. 44-45.
7 Chesterton, op.cit., p. 45-46.
8 Op.cit., p. 48-49.
9 Op.cit., p. 168-170.
10 Op.cit., p. 170.
11 Op.cit., p. 180.
12 Op. cit.
13 Op.cit., p. 182-183.
14 Op.cit., p. 183.
15 G.K.Chesterton, Orthodoxy, San Francisco: Ignatius Press 1995, p. 145.
16 Ibid.
17 Ibid.
18 G.W.F. Hegel. Theologian of the Spirit, Peter C. Hodgson, editor, Minneapolis: Fortress Press 1997, p. 237. Since this translation of some chapters from Hegel's lectures on the philosophy of religion is unreliable and fragmentary, one should always check the German original.
19 Hegel, op.cit., p. 237.
20 Hegel, op.cit., p. 238-239.
21 G.W.F. Hegel, Werke 17, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag 1969, p. 272.