The Naked Offense of the Cross
I want to put forth the argument here that the Christian cross, understood radically, constitutes a strange and unusual offense. This offense is not merely an offense to a particular culture or subculture of humanity. The offense is offensive to culture as such, reflected in the image of a naked body on a naked cross on Golgotha (or ‘place of the skull’), a place symbolically naked of all cultural identities, marking the radical apriority of the nakedness of being anterior to the entire socio-cultural technology of human existence. That naked cross and naked crucifixion as an abyss of human meaning and fullness of darkness paradoxically signifies the nonbeing that haunts the being of God—a nonbeing that is the difference always-already within the life of God, and a Life whose structure is the trinitarian ground of being. Thus the trinitarian God appears in the cross as the primordial One (1) whose Life is always-already a Multiplicity (2) in Excess (3) of itself (to use Badiou’s terminology). Hence the structuring of God as a One whose eternal self-emptying is a multiplicity always in excess of itself constitutes a more deeply abstract and ontological elucidation of the trinitarian technology of divine spirit. I will return to this trinitarian structuring shortly, but first I want to elaborate this offense of the cross where it appears 2,000 years ago as well as where it appears now.
II. The Gospel of Christ-Crucified
Saint Paul sought to preach ‘nothing but Christ crucified’—strange terminology for what he called his ‘gospel’ or ‘good news.’ What is so good about God’s divine and messianic representative being crucified? Yet for Paul, the crucifixion of Christ is absolutely imperative for any positive meaning to resurrection (but not in the sense of dialectical necessity, for conversely, it images the very anti-dialectical foundation of what is called ‘grace’). For Paul, as noted above, the cross was the place where every former identity perishes—the entire self and ego. A new identity is born ‘in Christ,’ where one is now self-identified as a member of the ‘body of Christ,’ which is the incarnate body of God that appears as an abyss to every contingent meaning. One (as both oneself and Primordial One) is self-realized in the incarnate body of God when the divisive illusions of culture are thrown off, which is how Paul images Christ as the naked divine hanging from a cross—a cross which the Gospel traditions place on Golgotha, bordering the valley of Hinnom (translated by modern Bibles as ‘hell’) where—in Jewish consciousness—human identity is placed under a Curse and forgotten. For Paul, Christ enters this darkness of forgotten-ness, abandonment, oppression, and erasure in order to open up a new subjectivity indistinguishable from the naked spirit of God itself manifest in humanity. Thus Paul’s offense is the naked immediacy of God in its unconditional access to all beings (and, in Paul’s radical terminology, nonbeings!), an immediacy constituted by the radical self-abandonment and self-emptying (kenosis) of God in the absolute self-outpouring of divine spirit into the world.
III. A Stumbling Block and Broken Word
This offense offended both Jews and Greeks, which in Paul’s cultural consciousness are symbols for the religious and the philosophers. The religious are offended because they look for signs and wonders—magic and power—traumatically encountering in the cruciform image of God an impotent and defeated God unable to intervene to rescue us from existential vicissitude. The philosophers are offended because they seek wisdom, and a wisdom that can center all existence in an unbroken (and thus un-crucified) Absolute whose Oneness remains intact and whose static Logos maintains harmony and balance in the world. But Paul’s God is the crucified One whose divine elements are scattered and emptied throughout existence, a divine multiplicity always-already in excess of itself, always-already exceeding every identity and rule with novelty and evolution. New things are perpetually conceived and born from the divine Womb, which is why Paul loves baptism. For Paul, this image of new birth is what the cross is actually about, where Resurrection—as a surprising, unconditional, and graceful appearing—is the novel creation that arises from the floodwaters of catastrophic history and spaces of nonbeing, opening new worlds through the naked divine itself that trickles through open cracks and continually forms new essences.
IV. The Trinitarian Ground of Being
Here I return to the trinitarian ground of being as the orthodox symbol that harbors a secret heterodoxy against the omnipotent One who reigns atop the hierarchy of Orthodoxy. The radically trinitarian God—understood as the Primordial Being who is simultaneously Multiple and One—is structurally the same as Paul’s crucified God. That is, Paul’s crucified God is the crucified One whose kenosis splits it into 2, then 3, ad infinitum. In the trinitarian hermeneutic, Father [or Mother] is Primordial Being. The second element, Son [or Daughter], signifies the doubling of the divine One through incarnation (spirit<–(-/+)–>flesh/matter). The third element, Holy Spirit, is the Multiple that dynamically exceeds all static identities by always exceeding what was via ongoing evolutive novelty.
V. The Naked Offense
Unfortunately, today’s most deeply conservative philosophical theologians—entrenched in a Calvinism that continues to dominate a large portion of American religion—still define the offense of the cross according to the cross’s mediation of the disapproval and condemnation of sin by a ‘Big Other,’ which in psychoanalytic terminology means the authoritarian phantom of cultural ideology that remains in the aftermath of childhood parenting (and more specifically, distorted family systems). Such theologians claim that the cross is the place where a controlling Father (dwelling in a separate abode of existence) murders His innocent Son so as to both testify and satisfy his Wrath against us, boldly proclaiming that the logical and ethical paradoxes inherent in this image constitute the true scandal and offense of the cross. Is it possible that the offense is on them—a nonjudgmental offense that simply unveils their inability or unwillingness to accept the cross in its absolute nakedness, darkness, and trauma? Or more specifically, is their authoritarian monotheism offended by an unpolished cross where the transcendent One of judgment and imperial legitimation unexpectedly transfigures into a broken Absolute, and a broken One whose divine elements are incarnately spilled and disseminated in the birthing of new Life? Such an evolutive portrait of reality, structured by a trinitarian and kenotic ground, cannot legitimate a static view of existence or life. Rather the dynamic paradigm of trinitarian and evolutive divinity suggests that any good posture toward Life is one of openness and self-transformation. The good news—as seen in the cross and its evolutive outpouring of Life—is that the naked event of new birth remains a possibility within our grasp yesterday, today, and tomorrow, constitutive of an Unconditioned Real that cannot be cornered, owned, or defeated, always luring things forward into creative self-transcendence without end. Consequently, the naked offense neither caters to the image of Christ as merely an apocalyptic prophet nor a traditional mystic/sage. Rather this Christ proclaims an immediate and eternal apocalypse that perpetually contaminates all Presence, destabilizing and exceeding every order that it births through its own chaordic ground of eternal flux and creativity.