Žižek and Sacrifice

I’m currently reading Slavoj Žižek and Boris Gunjevic’s God in Pain and I came across this passage in one of Žižek’s chapters:

The radical break introduced by Christianity consists in the fact that it is the first religion without the sacred, a religion whose unique achievement is precisely to demystify the Sacred.[1]
I really loved this quote so I decided to share it with some friends of mine here at school and most of them were either indifferent or flat-out disagreed with it (at least by itself). Of course it was a lesson in hermeneutics in itself. “What a blasphemous thing,” some might say, “to claim that Christianity considers nothing sacred!”
I hadn’t anticipated that sort of interpretation, probably because I was so excited about it. Žižek’s analysis of the Sacred is a bit different than the common idea of “something worthy of worship” or something like that. “The sacred is,” for Žižek, “a limitation of ‘ordinary’ evil…[and] nothing but the violence of humans, but ‘expulsed, externalized, hypostazied’. The sacred sacrifice to the gods is the same as an act of murder–what makes it sacred is the fact that is limits/contains violence, including murder, in ordinary life” [2]. Furthermore, sacrifice is always done with “the collective” in mind–that is, those who stage the sacrifice, the people sacrificing and typically those who the sacrifice is for. Žižek refers to the collective as a singular agent, though. “The collective” might be a hivemind or a tradition of religious narrative, saying “this is why we sacrifice, this is why we need it. Praise God.” Evil can have “enough qualifications to make sure it can be done whenever one really wants to do it” [3]. Such is the essence of sacrifice; it is the exception to the rule “do not kill.”
Christianity, thus, was/is faced with the problem of “[containing] violence without sacrificial exception, without an external limit” [4]. This is effectively solved by allowing the victim to tell their own story. Sacrifices are only sacrifices insofar as the victim is “a part” but never “a voice.” (Here, we have an interesting intersection with Derrida in that the victim is an event contained within the story.) Through the victim’s story–their narrative that is an anti-narrative–the Sacred is demystified.
All this is to say that Žižek does not simply mean sacrifice in the sense of the quasi-archaic practice of “requiring the blood of a virgin” or something like that. Sacrifice is an ideological practice, one that is found in many systems and societies today–including America. Demystification is the realization that “my social status depends on objective social processes, not on my merits” [5]. The poor and the proletariat are the bourgeoisie’s sacrifice in capitalism, for instance. Or, as another example, civilians (American or otherwise) are among those being “sacrificed” for our country’s “safety.”
At this, one might say that “sacrifice” (and thus all that is “sacred”) is a rationalization, or rather, a justification of an atrocious thing for a higher cause which involves the incorporation of abstract or delusional elements, such as “national safety” or “for the sins of the people.” Since Žižek’s conception of the “Sacred” is always told by “the collective,” Christianity effectively denounces the value of “Sacredness” by silencing the collective and allowing there to be space (whether it is the collective making room for the victim, or the victim breaking through as an event) for the victim to speak.
The “Good News” of the Gospel, then, is not some narrative justifying or explaining sacrifice or why such a sacrifice was needed, but rather that we get the opportunity to learn from the victim–that is, without overpowering them physically or narrativistically, without subduing them and insisting that they somehow conform. Nonconformity is thus never “them believing a lie,” but instead the victim’s indignation and insubordination, for they have heard the collective narrative for centuries.
_______________________________________
[1] Slavoj Žižek, “Christianity Against the Sacred” in God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse, 68.
[2] Ibid., 63.
[3] Ibid., 69.
[4] Ibid., 63.
[5] Ibid., 66.
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Posted on March 22, 2014, in Thoughts and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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