Hildegard_von_Bingen_Liber_Divinorum_OperumIn each of the scenes of resurrection notice the role of belief and sight in the realization of resurrection.  As they believe they see what is in front of them. For Thomas, Mary, and John, in John 20, belief dawns gradually as they acquire the eyes of faith.  So too with the two on the road to Emmaus: “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:26-27). The story ends in a Eucharistic like revealing of Christ as they recognize the suffering, resurrected Christ in the breaking of bread. The eyes of faith have enabled them to see what is in front of them.

Gotthold Lessing, one of the fathers of modernity, asked why he should be asked to believe something which he has not seen.  What we see from the resurrection accounts is that seeing is itself subject to belief. Seeing alone is not believing but the resurrection requires the eyes of faith.

As is obvious in the case of David Friedrich Strauss and Rudolf Bultmann their belief in autonomous human reason, a closed Universe, did not allow for belief in the resurrection.  If the universe is a closed continuum of events in which everything is explained by cause and effect – this rules out resurrection and miracle while it establishes autonomous human reason.  Belief in the resurrection will turn this sort of world upside down.

But this is not simply true of modernity – it is true of every worldview – the resurrected Jesus changes up everything.  Even in the lives of the Apostles belief in the resurrection changes everything and they do not get to this belief on the basis of their former understanding. James thought Jesus was insane, Paul persecuted Christians, Peter denied Jesus.  Each was changed by his belief in the resurrection.

The claim to behold Jesus’ “glory” (1:14) in the events of Jesus historical ministry is theological as it already entails the vision of belief. John refers not to a single, visible transfiguration such as appears in the Synoptics, but overall to Jesus’ ministry. The same event (miracle or sign) falls either on blind eyes or on those eyes that can see the glory of God. And so it is in the resurrection appearances, belief brings about recognition of Jesus, and not the other way round.

While experience (firsthand vision) speaks of knowing, belief is the only means of appropriating the Word of God even when the living word stands before you. A common characteristic of the proto-Gnostic groups John is writing to combat was the teaching that the realization of gnosis (esoteric or intuitive knowledge) is the way to salvation of the soul from the material world. Knowing is the means to escape death and the material world. The proto-Gnostics would know, while Jesus in John counters this knowing with belief and through belief an alternative knowing arises. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (Jn 5:24).

There is an incapacity to hear where there is an insistence on sight (the auditory is displaced by the visual in priority as in Gen. 3) while the capacity to see Jesus in his resurrection glory is enabled not directly by sight but by hearing and belief. (Mary does not recognize Jesus until she hears him speak her name. Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (Jn 20:16).) John’s vision is a reversal of pagan vision in that the locus of this vision is on one in this world seen rightly, while pagan vision entails seeing beyond this world – a certain blindness to this world.

John is distinctive not for advocating knowing or seeing God but rather for claiming that the locus of revelation is in Jesus. The theme of seeing the divine was pervasive in Greek and Hellenistic Jewish spirituality. For example, Middle Platonists such as Philo of Alexandria and later Maximus of Tyre emphasized the soul’s vision of the divine, an experience of the divine that increasingly divinized the soul. In contrast, the eyes of the disciples have been prepared by the incarnation to see the resurrected Jesus. The beatific vision of God was one that some ancient thinkers associated with the time of death or the end of time. The defining point for John is in fact when they see God in Jesus who had come in the flesh (1 John 4:2).


Depicted in John is the ongoing battle between knowing, seeing, believing and the darkness and the light.  The darkness constitutes the cosmos of man without God and the light of Christ is penetrating this darkness and yet the darkness has not “comprehended” or overtaken it.  By the end of the Gospel the light is firmly established. In I John 2:8 he proclaims that “the darkness is passing by and the true light is already shining.”



110115-200910  The first three chapters of my book, “The Psychotheology of Sin and Salvation: An Analysis of the Meaning of the Death of Christ in Light of the Psychoanalytic Reading of Paul,”demonstrate that psychoanalysis has taken up a task (the diagnosis of human suffering and even called ‘sin’ by Lacan and Žižek) which is the proper realm of theology. The specific overlap of the two disciplines lies in the psychoanalytic understanding that the human Subject or the psyche is structured in three registers, the symbolic, the imaginary and the real, which function like a lie analogous to the deception of sin. The historical development of this understanding from Freud (recounted in Chapter 1), through Lacan (the subject of Chapter 2) to Žižek (the subject of Chapter 3), demonstrate the ‘discovery’ of the importance of the unconscious as it relates to human consciousness as these realms are founded in an inner antagonism which Freud dubs the ‘death drive’. The key shift which Lacan introduces into his reinterpretation of Freud is to read what Freud took to be biological or cosmic, as having its origins and explanation within the realm of language, making it possible to explain the working of human interiority utilizing, in part, the resouces of linguistics.   The symbolic, as the medium of human reality, by its very nature fictionalizes or displaces the physical reality of things with their symbolic representation, which means that the physical body and its mortal condition are only realized as a gap or the negative force of an absence (the register of the real) or disturbance (the work of the death drive arising from the real) in the symbolic realm which knows neither death nor mortality. Freud’s ego or Lacan’s imaginary is assailed on every side by the other registers (by the oppressive superego or its Lacanian equivalent the symbolic, acting on behalf of the id or the Lacanian real) so that the ego is constituted by pure frustration and fear.[1]

The unique vantage which Žižek brings to Freud and Lacan is that his theory fuses Lacanian theory with German Idealism and particularly the thought of Hegel, and from this perspective the problems of the psyche and its identity become the solutions. The frustration, negation and alienation inherent to the Freudian/Lacanian picture of subjectivity are subsumed into a larger picture in which the gaps and absences are taken as the formative ground of the Subject. The goal is not to overcome the gaps but to conceive them as the origin of the Subject. As in the example of Cartesian philosophy, the failure of the cogito to account for the subject and the object of the sentence accounts for the rise of the Subject. The passage into subjectivity involves the necessity of withdrawal, madness, and failure that opens up the space for its symbolic reconstitution (The Abyss of Freedom, 8-9). The fundamental fantasy names this capacity to transform the problem and reify it into the solution because, in Žižek’s analysis, it is clearly a deception or lie but it is a necessary lie as it allows for the formation of the Subject.

The fourth chapter shows how Žižek reads Romans 7.7-25 and how he sees his theory as a development of a Pauline understanding of the Subject. Žižek locates the fundamental fantasy in Paul’s depiction of the deception of sin (Rom. 7.11) and he recognizes that the Lacanian focus on desire as primary is matched by Paul’s picture of covetousness as giving rise to the sinful Subject (Rom. 7.7). Žižek reads Romans 7 as exposing the problem of the pervert, who would fuse the law (which Žižek understands as the equivalent of the symbolic) with sin (breaking or transgressing the law). So the perverse understanding of the law (as in the forbidden desire of Romans 7.7) is synonymous with, and gives rise to, sin. Where the pervert does not question the status of the law, the hysteric questions this perverse understanding and in questioning it has already moved beyond it. Paul, according to Žižek, provides the question and answer of the hysteric which amounts to a questioning and displacement of the perverse approach to the law: ‘Is the law sin? Certainly not!’ (Rom. 7.7).[2] Hence there is the possibility of reorienting the Subject (from the pervert to the hysteric) through their becoming aware of the fundamental lie (there is life in the law or in the symbolic). Only in ‘traversing the fantasy’ or in ‘dying with Christ’ (which Žižek takes as the Pauline equivalent of traversing the fantasy), the subject of Chapter 5, does one arrive at the limit experience of destitution where the contradiction of the law is exposed (promoting what it forbids), opening the possibility for a new orientation. Those who ‘were made dead to the law through the body of Christ’ no longer serve the letter of the law. That is, they no longer serve the obscene superego supplement to the law (the negative force of sin attached to the law) which causes the law to be equated with sin.

The claim in Žižek’s reading of Paul, that the Žižekian and Pauline understandings of the Subject are largely the same, is tested in chapters 6-10. The two readings, Žižek’s and Paul’s (as interpreted by New Testament scholars) are compared and I conclude that the diagnosis of the human Subject Žižek finds in his reading of Paul is analogous to the problem of sin Paul describes in Romans 7. In Paul’s description, the deceit of sin, like Žižek’s fundamental fantasy, deludes the Subject to imagine that following desire is the source of life and this desire becomes the animate force of sin. This alienating force is expressed as a split within the self and as alienation from the body is indistinguishable from the real/symbolic divide. This dynamic is summed up in Paul’s phrase ‘the body of death’ which is analogous to Žižek’s notion of the dynamic of death drive. A key difference is that Žižek sees this alienation from the body (along with the death drive) as necessary to human subjectivity where Paul views this form of subjectivity as an aberration.

I show that Žižek’s attempt to find his theory of a solution to the problem of sin in Romans 6 is inadequate and that Paul’s solution would displace the Žižekian registers. Paul’s picture of the death to sin in baptism is not simply one of symbolic or subjective destitution since it involves being ‘joined to’ Christ and is an ontological participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. By being joined to the body of Christ, the Žižekian real or the Pauline ‘body of sin’ (6.6) or ‘body of death’ (7.24) is displaced in the resurrection life of the Spirit (8.10-11). Paul’s resolution of the alienation of the Subject of the law is to become a child of God through the power of the Spirit. The ἐγὼ or imaginary is crucified or dies with Christ and the life in the imaginary or Paul’s ‘I’ (ἐγὼ) is displaced by the corporate identity in the body of Christ. Paul’s resolution to the fear and frustration of the ἐγὼ is life in the Spirit (8.2), experienced and conjoined to the categories of hope, adoption as God’s children, and participation in the Trinity. Žižek’s work, though an inadequate understanding of salvation, supports and accentuates the contrast between Romans 7 and 8 in which Paul is demonstrating how Christ overcomes and displaces sin.

The development of sin and salvation set forth above suggests a different focus than is sometimes found in a theology influenced by the peculiar emphasis on the individual, such as that which Gregory Schufreider describes as developing with Anselm of Canterbury’s adjustments to a basic Augustinian theology.[3] As Derek Nelson argues, hamartiology and soteriology have tended to either focus on individual salvation or on the social and structural notions of sin,[4] with two different understandings of the function of the law and of human nature.[5] The claim I would make for the book is that due to the focus on sin as a lie distorting the law it accounts for the role of the individual and the law as well as the structural and social aspects of sin.[6] If the analysis of Paul and Žižek above has any value then, at the least, we need to reckon with the explicability or the systematic nature of sin as it is exists in society and the individual, and to think of atonement less as the repayment of a debt and more as a transformation of the Subject. Also, because of the social nature of the Subject, neither individual nor social emphases in the doctrine of sin should be prioritised but we should attend to the dynamics which underlie both. The suggestion made in the conclusion is that part of what it means to overcome sin is to dispel the mystery which is accounted for by its deception and that this dispelling of the mystery opens the possibility of examining the depth and seriousness of sin in both its social and individual aspects.

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[1] Both Lacan and Žižek continue to use the Freudian names of the registers (i.e., ego, superego, and id) as near parallels to the Lacanian registers (i.e., imaginary, symbolic, and real).

[2] Where Paul would completely separate the law and sin Žižek’s hysteric can only raise the question of a difference. The Subject can question the fundamental fantasy and the reality of the symbolic but he cannot survive their dissolution.

[3] Gregory Shufreider claims the key figure in the transition from an Augustinian understanding of interiority to Descartes’ cogito, the one who in fact lays the necessary ground for the transition and transformation of Augustinian thought, is Anselm of Canterbury. Anselm’s adjustments to a basic Augustinian theology created a new emphasis in the doctrine of sin and salvation and in how knowledge of God is appropriated, but all of this flows out of the particular emphasis he puts on human reflexivity (see Gregory Schufreider, Confessions of a Rational Mystic: Anselm’s Early Writings (West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 1994), 18. See also Giorgio Agamben, Language and Death: The Place of Negativity, Translators Karen Pinkus and Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 25). Augustine, employing Platonic categories, but fusing them with the Johannine Logos and Light and the biblical Trinity, would locate the Platonic truth, not in the forms or transcendent universals but within the self. He directs us toward a radical interiority: ‘Do not go outward, return within yourself. In the inward man dwells truth.’ Plato had employed visionary imagery, but Augustine will turn this imagery on itself to examine the very possibility of seeing. Where Plato would presume to find the ‘highest principle’ in what is seen, Augustine will focus on what enables us to see in the first place (Augustine, De vera Religione, XXXIX.72, Quoted in Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), 129).

[4] Among Derek Nelson’s many examples of this tendency is the individualism of Charles Finney who defined sin as the individual choosing to break God’s law, which fails to take into account that it is only in concrete relations with other Subjects (in family, church, and state) that one could come to know the law (Derek R. Nelson, What’s Wrong With Sin: Sin in Individual and Social Perspective from Schleiermacher to Theologies of Liberation (London: T & T Clark, 2009), 181). Finney’s understanding also overlooks the reality that breaking the law has concrete effects in the relational spheres in which selfhood is formed (Nelson, What’s Wrong With Sin, 181). On the other hand, the focus in liberation theology on structural or corporate sin tends to blur the difference between human nature and sin and as a result the agency behind social structures (the importance of the individual choosing) is sometimes lost (Nelson, What’s Wrong With Sin, 180-187).

[5] Derek Nelson traces the shift from Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin to a Lutheran notion that sin is against God’s word as either law or Gospel to Schleiermacher’s exclusive focus on human interiority. He then examines the strengths and weaknesses of several liberation theologies as examples of the most developed and best of corporate notions of sin and salvation (Nelson, What’s Wrong With Sin).

[6] Žižek’s theory, as with the argument above, in positing the Other and the symbolic as part of human interiority does not abolish a distinction between the individual and the social realm but explains how they overlap and are necessary to one another. See Adrian Johnston, Badiou, Žižek, and Political Transformations: The Cadence of Change (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2009), 85-91.


“To my knowledge, no American (United States, Canadian, Central American or South American) Mennonite scholar has looked critically at John Howard Yoder’s written and taught theology and system of ethics through the lenses of his harassing behavior from 1970 until his death in 1997 (the years of his greatest academic productivity and the years of his sexual misconduct).” Ruth Elizabeth Krall

john yoder

John Howard Yoder, perhaps more than any modern-day theologian, closed the gap between the Christian walk (living the Christian life) and Christian thought (theology) as a replacement for abstract “theological methodology.” His theology, in refusing scholasticism (and “Constantinianism”), is seen as the alternative to onto-theology (which presumes to be able to establish theology on a philosophical ground). In turning from metaphysical speculation, he brought ethics back into the heart of theology and advocated a holistic ecclesiology that would equate the Church and Christian life with an alternative culture. In giving inspiration to James McClendon Jr. and Stanley Hauerwas he succeeded in making Mennonite theology part of mainstream theological conversation. My own theological understanding has been profoundly shaped by Yoder. I use his books and ideas in my classes and I continue to mine his theology.

Yoder, however, has left a mixed and confusing legacy that only this year (more than 15 years after his death) is being addressed by his denomination and the seminary where he spent most of his career. In Yoder’s explanation, he conducted an “experiment” (of some twenty years duration) in “non-genital touching.” The women who were the subjects of these experiments (more than 100 in recent counts) describe “unwanted sexual violations” ranging from public sexual harassment and aggression, to stalking, to indecent exposure. In short, John Howard Yoder, the premier theological ethicist and pacifist of the 20th century was (to use the technical term advanced by Lacan and Žižek and not meant as a form of derogation as it is universal) a pervert.

As of now, there are two distinct realms dealing with Yoder: that which honors his legacy with conferences, named lectureships, festschrifts, collected essays,[1] and the growing documentation of his sexual harassment and an outcry against the long silence engineered by his seminary and denomination. The critical assessment of his theology has, for the most part (as indicated by Krall in the epigraph), not been viewed in conjunction with his sexual perversion. Given Yoder’s own theological holism and narrative approach to theology, the duration and widespread nature of his “experiment,” and the fact that he defended his actions on the basis of his theology, it would seem both necessary and easy to link his sexual proclivities to a systemic failure of thought. By Yoder’s own standards, his violence toward women and his long-term moral failure would seem to indicate an inherent and obvious problem, not just in the character of the man but in his theology (which Yoder would not want to separate).


The notion that one’s belief system or worldview can be read from one’s actions is inherent in Jesus linking of mouth and heart (Mt. 15:18).   Žižek’s link between the philosophical and psychoanalytical (on the same order as “mouth” and “heart”) provides the concrete tools for apprehending the structure behind particular orientations and behaviors. Thus, hysteria and perversion are not simply psychological orientations but identify philosophical systems (e.g., “Hegel is the most sublime of hysterics”). It is originally Lacan’s point that perversion does not refer so much to abnormal sexual practices as to a structure in which the Subject sides with the law in the attempt to escape its punishing effect and to partake of its surplus enjoyment (Ticklish Subject , 247- 51). At the same time, it is a disavowal of castration or a disavowal of anything lacking, and the pervert takes it upon himself to complete or cover up what is lacking (Seminar IV, 192 – 3). The pervert seeks to completely establish the law through a transgressive relationship to the law – sinning so as to increase grace or merging law and sin into two sides of the same coin with each side dependent upon the other.[2]

The hermeneutical tools that would draw these two realms (the practical orientation of sexuality and the theoretical aspects of thought) together are largely lacking in theology. Yoder, in particular, lends such weight to ethics and ecclesiology (as explanation for anthropology) that his theology is completely lacking in a moral psychology.[3] Theologically and personally Yoder had little interest in issues of subjectivity. Stanley Hauerwas, who (personally and theologically) has emphasized his need for friendship, nonetheless, following Yoder’s lead, says he does not “give a . . . about subjectivity.”[4]  What Hauerwas misses is that his account of friendship comes with notions of subjectivity that are diametrically counter to the implicit structure of Yoder’s theology.

In other words, some of the best of theology is working blind when it comes to a robust account (inclusive of sexuality and personality) of the structure of the sinful Subject. By bringing together a critical but appreciative account of Yoder[5] with Slavoj Žižek’s reading of Paul I provide below a worked example of how the sinful Subject might be accounted for in theology. The failure to name sin, to be able even to identify the Subject of sin, shows itself in the characteristic failures of theology. If we cannot name the systemic distortion we cannot effectively resist it. [6]


“I think what is most destructive for living truthful and good lives is not what we do, but the justifications we give for what we do to hide from ourselves what we have done. Too often the result is a life lived in which we cannot acknowledge or recognize who we are.” Stanley Hauerwas[7]

Hauerwas has a profound sense of the depth of self-deception and he understood how that applied to his friend; what he seems to have missed is the structural nature of the deception in Yoder’s theology. Perversion is the notion that law or the symbolic realm (inclusive of law in the normative sense but also theories or principles) encompasses and accounts for all of reality. Thus in science, Newtonian theory, with its notion of absolute laws of nature, and in theology, onto-theology, with its notion that theological explanation is all-encompassing, would be perverse. As with Newtonian science (as opposed to Einsteinian science), what gets left out is an account of the scientist or the observer. In onto-theology, likewise, the theologian does not account for his own situatedness but presumes to speak from a God-like point of view. Yoder’s theology opposed this sort of philosophical foundationalism but in assuming the Subject is accounted for in ethics (a point I explain below) the Subject is reduced (with his emotions, interiority, empathy, if not his humanity) to the choices he makes.

Hauerwas, in his memorial essay on Yoder in First Things, relates one of his favorite stories about his friend:[8]

“The 1978 Festival Quarterly featured a profile of John Howard Yoder. The interviewer asked John     if he enjoyed his significance. ‘Oh, time has passed me by,’ he responded. (The questioner noted he said this ‘without feeling.) ‘I won’t strategize making sure I get my monument.’

Failing in his first effort to get Yoder to be introspective, the interviewer tried again by asking him if he was happy. ‘I haven’t found it very useful to ask that question,’ John replied. But, he conceded, he was thankful. ‘So far our children haven’t hurt their parents much. I have tenure. And I don’t think I’ll run out of Anabaptist sources.’” [9]

Here is classic Yoder– “without feeling,” simultaneously off-putting (alienating) to the interviewer and refusing introspection, and completely utilitarian in a “thankfulness” not related to happiness. This snippet is simultaneously indicative of his ecclesiology (which is his anthropology or lack thereof), his personality (odd, frustrating – according to various accounts), and his low regard theologically and personally for the affective registers (happiness, delight, warmth, etc.).

As Hauerwas puts it, “Charm and John Howard Yoder were antithetical.”[10] Due to “his intellect as well his shyness and personal awkwardness . . . he often seemed ‘alone.’”[11] Though Hauerwas says he was his friend, it was always a friendship he had to “work at.” “I think I was one of John Yoder’s closest friends. I have no idea what that meant . . . I loved John Yoder. I think he loved me.” [12] For Hauerwas depth of friendship is a key part of his theology, but what he seems to miss is that this warmth was not reciprocated by Yoder (in Hauerwas’ own description) as the very structure of his theology and personality were bent in another direction.


Yoder’s sexual perversion evolves from the mid 1970’s to the early 1990’s with a theological perspective that came to focus almost exclusively on ethics and politics, to the exclusion of the uniqueness of Christ. In Paul Martens’ description Yoder’s theology subtly shifts toward equating Christianity and Judaism: “it is beginning to appear that Yoder understood a certain expression of Christianity to be very similar to a certain expression of Judaism, pushing his ecumenical and sociological concerns against the absolute uniqueness of Christianity.” [13] As a result, “secular thinkers have begun to appropriate aspects of the politics of Yoder without particular interest in the theological importance of either Jesus or Christianity.” [14]

Martens (who is intimately familiar with Yoder as the compiler and editor of several of his works) maintains that Yoder comes to equate kingdom building with morality and the kingdom itself with politics and social practices.[15] The Church and Israel differ only in that the Church includes Gentiles and the Church is inaugurating rule under the Lamb but Yoder equates this with “humbly building a grassroots culture” (as with Jeremiah), or defying the pagan King (as with Daniel and his friends). He equates it with the call of Abraham and a social revolution constituted as “the creation of a distinct community with its own deviant set of values.”[16] Though Martens does not make the connection, Yoder’s sexual experimentation and his theological reduction of the Kingdom devolve to immediate experience of a deviant socio-political situation with its own deviant sexuality.

Yoder’s turn from the metaphysical and ontological abstractions often found in theology (the very thing which is in many ways attractive in his theology) was in his early theology off-set by his Christocentrism. However, as Martens describes, his early theological emphasis is undermined by his later emphasis: “The late Yoder has ecumenically attempted to bring Judaism and Christianity together in both their sociological expression of “not being in charge” and in their theological reasons for doing so. But in the process, he has reduced many of his earlier claims to secondary afterthoughts, if not untruths; claims that the life and death of Jesus is uniquely definitional, claims that peace is a goal and hope but not observable results of behavior, claims that Jeremiah proclaimed ‘peace’ when there was no peace are all reframed and subordinated to the ongoing privileged position of ‘not being in charge. . .’” [17] As a result, his theology comes to embrace secular-like notions of the idea of progress which can be verified by “serious social science.”[18]


With the shift away from (or subordination of) the unique role of Christ, what is left is social harmony constituted from the elements already present in any particular culture: “‘peace’ becomes synonymous with ‘the salvation of the culture’ in social and political terms” and this reduces to “secular well-being” in Yoder’s own phrase.[19] Martens claims that in the late Yoder there is no need for the particularities of Jesus once the function of his paradigmatic politics is understood.[20]

For Yoder politics becomes the universal element of Christianity, requiring no translation (the wider world need not learn the foreign language of Christian theology or Christian narrative) into the secular idiom (being already understood) and serving as the unifying element in ecumenism, as the propositional confessions of sectarianism are set aside for the prime reality of politics. The “wrapping paper” of “emotions, matters of the soul, spiritual development, divine mystery, propositional confessions of faith” can be disposed of “once the package itself is opened.”[21] The politics of Jesus pose the alternative reality of the Church to the false politics of the world and this constitutes the “direct communication” of Christian witness.

What Yoder seems to miss is that the “law of sin and death” in Paul is a universal law grounded in self-deception. The Subject grounded in a lie is dependent on a gap in communication as this gap constitutes his subjectivity. The law or the symbolic world of language manifests itself in an internal “politics” of the Subject in which the “I” (or ego in Paul’s description in Romans 7) would establish itself by integrating itself completely in the “law.” But this “law” is not ethical or moral, rather it is immoral; it is sin itself. The desire for/of this law (covetousness in some translations of Romans 7:7) is built on deception – so that the desire is itself the substance of the lie. The “I” passively relinquishes control so that it is no longer “I” that does it – but the law of sin within me (Rom. 7:17). The pervert imagines, without question (or hysteria), that to passively serve this law (through perverse sexuality or suffering) he is integrated into it. The very nature of the perverse Subject is to relinquish his own subjectivity to the law so as to establish the law (sinning so that grace may abound).

Yoder’s sexual experiments, like his theology, in passing over Paul’s picture of two alternative Subjects and two alternative laws (the law of sin and death and the law of life in the Spirit) misses the moral-psychological element inherent in the politics of Jesus. The gap between the politics of the world and the Church is itself grounded in alternative forms of the Subject and alternative laws and ethics. The law of sin and death is a deception that posits the notion that there is life in the law (when in reality there is only death).

Just as the pervert would equate the sign (the law, the symbolic order of language, the rules of society) with the signified (life, being, or God), Yoder comes to equate ethics and politics with salvation (and none of these is grounded in or entails an alternative ontology of the Subject). In the process the secondary order of human sexuality comes to dominate his pursuit of the “deviant kingdom.” The theological perversion reflected in the sexual perversion (and the other way round) is the reduction of a secondary form (the sign, sex) to a primary element (life, salvation).


In avoiding the “magical” element of Catholic sacramentalism and the rational reductionism of Zwingli, Yoder comes to equate the sacraments to social processes.[22] Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (which traditionally mark metaphysical/ontological participation in Christ) reduced to their immanent forms become egalitarianism and socialism. Given the notion of participation in Christ, egalitarianism and socialism might be apt descriptions, but Yoder seems to refer to processes in which Christ is paradigmatic or prototypical but not the enabling ground.

Baptism is the reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles, male and female, and so amounts to a trans-ethnic and trans-gendered inclusivism.[23] Yoder maintains communion “is the name for the group and not merely the sacrament.”[24] Eating the bread is an act of social sharing – a communion that is “to be visible in every place in the reality of persons whose lives are wholly shared with one another.”[25] Again, the statement may be read in an orthodox fashion, but if it is understood that the late Yoder is removing any notion of a transcendent or inter-Trinitarian participation, sharing bread is simply one of many empirical and sociological practices which together constitute a community visibly distinct from the world.[26]

To attain uninhibited communication and communion may require empirical and sociological practices that are otherwise considered deviant.  As Martens and friends conclude, “In pursuing what he called ‘nongenital affective relationships’ with women, Yoder may very well have seen himself ‘incarnating’ the ‘deviant set of values’ of this ‘distinct community.’”[27] Where participation in Christ is reduced not merely to the immanent but, with Yoder’s displacement of the subjective, to the exterior, new forms of touching may have been as close as he could come to intimacy.   Friendship and fellowship, drained of interiority, leaves only the eroticism of bodies and a koinonia of the flesh.

(To be continued)

[1] See Elizabeth Krall, The Elephant in the Room (a self-published book available online), p. 28.

[2] The pervert does not question the law or the power of the symbolic realm but presumes that life itself is to be found there (thus making epistemology the means of establishing ontology).[

3] See J. Alexander Sider, “Friendship, Alienation, Love: Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder” in Mennonite Quarterly Review (July 2010).

[4] Ibid 418.

[5] Primarily the work of Paul Martens.

[6] In turn, fallenness and redemption are expressed sexually as that is the sort of creatures we are. So too a systemic failure of thought will express itself in the peculiarities of our orientation to life (eros) and death (thanatos).

[7] Stanley Hauerwas. Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir (p. 246). Kindle Edition.

[8] I am following Sider here.

[9] Stanley Hauerwas, “Remembering John Howard Yoder: December 29, 1927 – December 30, 1997,” First Things 82 (April 1998), 15-16.

[10] Hauerwas. Hannah’s Child, 117.

[11] Ibid 244.

[12] Ibid 146-7.

[13] Paul Martens, “Universal History and a Not-Particularly Christian Particularity: Jeremiah and John Howard Yoder’s Social Gospel” in Power and Practices: Engaging the Work of John Howard Yoder eds. Chris K Huebner, Nekeisha Alexis-Baker (Herald Press, 2013), 131-132.

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid 137-138

[16] Ibid 140

[17] Ibid

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid 141

[20] Paul Martens, The Heterodox Yoder (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2012), 144.

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid 138.

[23] Ibid 137.

[24] Yoder, Revolutionary Christianity (Cascade Books, 2012), 30. Quoted in Martens, Heterodox Yoder, 127.

[25] Ibid 31

[26] Martens, Heterodox Yoder, 138. As Martens is careful to point out, Yoder can be and is read as falling within an orthodox understanding. The point of his book is to demonstrate that he devolves through heterodoxy to what may be pure heresy.

[27] David Cramer, Jenny Howell, Paul Martens, and Jonathan Tran, “Theology and misconduct: The case of John Howard Yoder,” The Christian Century, Aug 04, 2014.


There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death. Proverbs 14:12

“ If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).


Slavoj Žižek, in his reading of Romans 7, finds within Paul two psychoanalytic categories, perversion and hysteria, which explain the possible orientations constituting the human Subject. Žižek’s project is largely aimed at demonstrating how every realm of human activity and thought, whether philosophy, politics, culture, or human sexuality, falls within these two orientations. The key issue for Žižek, though, is to demonstrate how Christianity itself can fail to realize the Pauline insight that identifies perversion and passes beyond it. His claim is that Anselm’s and Calvin’s respective theories of atonement, along with the Catholic and Protestant theologies that locate themselves in the closed systems of thought which Anselm and Calvin represent, are perverse.

The original question that Paul raises in Romans 7:7 has to do with confusing or equating law and sin. “Is the law sin (Rom. 7:7b)?” For Žižek (following Lacan) the question could be posed, “Is the Law the Thing?” (Seminar III, 83). Taking into account that law equals the symbolic (or the epistemological realm) and the Thing represents the real (which is not reality per se but the bedrock of the Subject), it could as well be read as, “Is the symbolic the real?” Is human language and knowing, which, according to Paul, operates according to the “law of sin and death,” adequate in and of itself to arrive at God or the ground of the ultimate Subject. Do we sin (propagating our philosophy, our world systems, our being) that grace may abound? “Certainly not!” (Rom.7:7).

Perversion – the Fusion of Knowing and Being

Perversion is fairly easy to identify. The pervert imagines that the world of language and law, or the realm of knowing (inclusive of the Hebraic notion of sex as knowing), provides direct access to Being and the power to establish Being through knowing. In Genesis 3 the original sin is to imagine that through “knowing good and evil” the Being of God (“You shall be like God”) is made accessible. Behind the screen of the law (“You shall not eat of it”) absolute knowing and ultimate pleasure are to be had. Transgression is the means of access and as Žižek describes it, the pervert somehow imagines himself to fill out or bring closure to a gap in the law by transgressively serving the law.

Perversion is a disavowal of anything lacking (a denial of castration or of death – “You shall not die”). The pervert seeks to completely establish the law within himself through a transgressive relationship to the law –sinning so as to increase grace or merging law and sin into two sides of the same coin with each side dependent upon the other. The pervert would provide himself, ultimately up to and including death, as the closure to the dialectic between sin and the law. As Anselm puts it, “death makes a gift of oneself to God.”

The sex pervert is the type of every perversion in that he would make the experience of sexual knowing the avenue to final reality. The comedian Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) exposes himself in a theatre, by-passing any mundane ordinary sexual experience, to commune directly (passively) with the Big Other represented by the theatre audience. The sex pervert is one who makes sex the Thing, an end in itself as a means of achieving access to the Big Other or the Ground of the Subject.

Idolatry and corrupt sexuality are often equated in the Old Testament. In the graphic logic of the pervert, Israel is said to have “lusted after her lovers there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses” (Ezekiel 23:20). The idol is fashioned into a phallic symbol so big it is impossible to achieve but producing an exponential desire that results in human sacrifice. So sexual knowing as the avenue to Being is the biblical metaphor for a more basic idolatrous desire that would establish Being through knowing.

The philosophical and religious pervert, alike, make knowing the avenue to Being. Duns Scotus makes no distinction between existence and essence as it is found in finite and infinite being and thus poses a “univocity of being” which makes God’s Being accessible through the being of the world (one understanding of the analogia entis). Anselm, with his notion that he could think the greatest thought (“something than which nothing greater can be thought”) harnesses the divine name to thought and provides the technique (the technology) for achieving the divine. Anselm and Scotus concentrate on a different organ than Pee-wee but for the same end. Anselm will call it “divine satisfaction.”

Anselm transposes the perverse understanding directly onto God. God finds satisfaction in the ultimate transgression: “What ultimately makes this painful, difficult death equivalent to the sum total of all sin is that like the offence of sin itself the killing of Christ is valued by the quantity of its offensiveness” (Why a God Man (CDH) 11, 11 pp. 330 331). “Pain is required because of sin’s pleasure.” To get the “ransom price” (to use the biblical metaphor) the deed must be done – the offence committed so that that “same death destroy the sins even of those who put him to death” (as the title of CDH II puts it.) God the Father must inflict on his Son, measure for measure, the pain up to and including death, so as to balance out the pleasure of sin. This not only brings final satisfaction to God, but by closing the gap in human will, mankind is able to will rightly and become self identical – melding the dialectic of thought into the non-thought of a pure vision of God (the beatific vision). Anselm pictures his ability to carry out his cosmological and ontological arguments as arising directly from the empowerment given to him through divine satisfaction. He would satisfy himself in the manner of God and in fact his own satisfaction is that of God.

Anselm does not attach his theology to medieval law primarily from a cultural constraint. He is dealing throughout with what he takes to be a self evident or self authorizing realm (raw power) and this can ultimately be reduced to the necessity called law. He does not hesitate to identify “power” or “necessity” along with “will” as his proper subject. These “necessary” realms are interlocking, each implying the other. “. . . it is essential to have an understanding of power and necessity and will and certain other things which are so constituted that no one of them can be fully considered without the others” (CDH 1, 1, p. 266). 

Hysteria – Identity with the Law

Žižek reads Paul’s questions (“Is the law sin?” “Shall we sin that grace may abound?”) as the questioning of perversion that constitutes hysteria. Though he privileges hysteria, as with his reading of Paul, hysterical questioning involves the passage through and dialectic with perversion. The difference between perversion and hysteria is simply their different location within the dialectic. The pervert, as with Anselm and Scotus, presumes the law (the symbolic or knowing) provides passage beyond itself to Being (or life, beatific vision, Hegelian synthesis), while the hysteric suspends the closure (or passage beyond the law and symbolic) and directly identifies with the law and dialectic.

Between Anselm and Scotus, Thomas Aquinas poses the notion of the analogia entis, which he takes to be a rejection of Anselm’s ontological argument and its platonic notion of closure with the forms. Aquinas is not advocating either a univocity (on the order of Scotus) or a nihilistic equivocity, but his location between these two historically and intellectually marks him as having achieved a hysterical form of thought that amounts to a temporary suspension and dependence on the same dialectic.

Martin Heidegger, like Kant (and unlike Barth), recognizes that the ontological argument stands behind all of the arguments for God (including those of Thomas) as each is aiming at achieving the same sort of ontological difference. Aquinas only names and continues a form of thought of which he is the heir. He works with the same dialectic (identity through difference with a temporary suspension of sameness or synthesis). Hysteria, as its name implies, is an unstable compound and it naturally and easily slides into the perversion from which it arose. Thus the move from Anselm to Aquinas to Scotus traces the dialectic inherent between perversion and hysteria.

Though Heidegger dubs what he is refusing the “Onto-Theological constitution of metaphysics” he does not work out the mechanics of the ontological argument as developed by Anselm. As a result, in the estimation of Gregory Schufreider, Heidegger’s thought, in attempting to think the “nothing,” is simply the last in the line of onto-theological “rational mystics” which began with Anselm. It is not just Heidegger’s pursuit of the nothing on the order of Anselm, but his pursuit of Being as the form of knowing which Aquinas dubs knowing “that,” which implicates him in onto-theology. What he misses (and what Thomas misses) is that the mode of thinking of “that” (philosophy, philosophy of religion, rationalism) already entails the drive for conceptual mastery – a form of knowing that would obtain and manipulate what it knows. Heidegger’s notion (indicated in his diaries recently published) that the clearing of Being could be equated with the “inner truth and greatness” of the Nazi movement indicates the perversity underlying his thought. He is (another) proof that the attempt to keep open the distinction between Being and beings (hysteria), or between the “that” of Being (or in the case of Aquinas the “that” (res significata) of God’s existence) and the “how” (modus significandi) is an impossibility.

Karl Barth’s theology shares with Heidegger the move against onto-theology and yet, Barth saw early on in Heidegger the danger in his historical form of thinking.   Barth would persistently refuse Bultmann’s attempt to bring Heidegger and Barth together, and of course Barth’s prescience was to recognize in Heidegger the embodiment of a form of thought he would call the anti-Christ.

The question is if Barth, much like Heidegger, was implicated in the very form of thought he was attempting to overcome. Barth marks his own theological turn against Aquinas and the analogia entis with his discovery of Anselm. The indication that even when he recognizes the inadequacy of a dialectical theology he fails to escape it is found in a reading of Romans from which he will not depart. When he turns to Romans 7:7ff he reads it, as Žižek does, as the dialectic constituting the normal Christian life. Hysteria and the dialectic with perversion is as far as Romans 7:7ff takes us. Balthasar’s recognition that Catholic thought needs, in part, the corrective that Barth brings and that Barth can be made to fit within Catholic thought indicates that the dialectic pendulum between perversion and hysteria keeps swinging.

It is not until Romans 8 that Paul introduces the Christian alternative to the agonistic dialectic of the non-Christian form of thought. “ For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4).

He is risen and this constitutes a completely new form of thought – a post-Easter explanation and blog.



Flying over the desert of an evening, around Window Rock, over the Grand Canyon, the cool breeze a necessity for equilibrium and the star lit sky preferable for navigation; this was my singular capacity. With the veil of darkness, the arms pumping and as I gained confidence, the leap into a canyon or off a tall building (nearly absent in Page, Arizona) and I could just manage to obtain lift-off.

The ordinary family into which I was born had their abilities – special even – among mortals. I did not question their earthboundness, nor could I articulate the equation of flight with immortality, but this is how it functioned.   I was not grounded by the contingencies of bipedalism. Flight was incomparable with the local means of achieving immortality – throwing a fastball or running bases – it constituted an ontological difference. My apparent incapacities as the youngest and smallest were simply a foil. The three foot frame housed an ego temporarily fallen from the heavens. Though the slightest talent at anything might have tempered the necessity, but as it was, flying was my Kant and Plato – the equivalent of a philosophical proof of being – of innate immortality.

Freud claims, “There is no mortality in the unconscious,” and this translates into immortal capacities that seep through to consciousness. The newly minted ego is enabled by talent (as in the case of the celebrity never faced with mortality), or by religion and culture, to fly through life untouched by earthy realities. The University of Chicago sociologist, Peter Berger, pictures culture and religion as making possible an enduring identity on the basis of a manufactured “reality.” For example, the Babelites would “make a name for themselves” on the basis of an indestructible tower. To storm the gates of heaven on the ever ascending heights (cultural, national, or personal) is the human project. The temporal and mortal is “overcome” in an intensified effort to painlessly fly free from the bind of the mortal coil. Flying permits no equals, no true friendship or love, as the very point is to achieve the pinnacle of absolute difference – the oblivion of death. Freud dubs it the “death drive” as unwinding this mortal coil in the drive to life is to institute death as a way of life.

To imagine with Yeats that the soul is “Fastened to a dying animal” is to miss the Pauline notion that dying begins with the soul. Paul’s “soulish human” – the “psychikos person” is precisely the one that does not receive the things of the Spirit – life itself (I Cor. 2:14-15). In contrast to David Hart’s recommendation of the platonic idea that “rational freedom of the spirit “always strive “to subdue the brute,”[1] Paul describes this struggle as definitive of death. It is the result of the objectification of (the flight from) the body due to the alienation of sin (Rom. 7:7ff). The attempt to subdue the body through the “rational spirit” is the sign that the Spirit of life is absent, thus Paul terms this struggle as constitutive of “the body of death” (Rom. 7:24) – the equivalent of Freud’s death drive. In his cry, “Who will rescue me from the body of death,” Paul makes no mention of the rational spirit; rather, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Rom. 8:2).

Christ’s refusal to leap from the pinnacle of the Temple to be borne on the wings of angels (Mt. 4:5-7) is the refusal of the disassociation of the flight of the death drive. His unwillingness to attain the kingdoms of this world, objectified from the perspective of a “high mountain,” by serving the “spirit, nous, or Geist” of this world is (contra Hart) to refuse to bow to this world’s prince. While he will not turn stones to bread, Christ will offer himself as the bread of life. He will be “lifted up,” but not “so that you will not strike your foot against a stone” (Mt. 4:6), but to be the stone that men stumble over. His broken body brings us to earth and it is only in this grounded mortal condition that we can be with one another. It is the means to draw the world into fellowship (“I will draw all men unto myself”) on the basis of an alternative Kingdom. Not a kingdom in the sky but the incarnate Kingdom of “God with us,” the New Jerusalem come to earth. The disassociation of flight, or the identity through difference achieved at this world’s pinnacles, is undone by the one whose body is the true Temple. This body, raised up and ascended, constitutes not flight nor absence but the sign that he is always with us.

In the little tin church in Page the desert sand serves as the floor. Bert Layman , the iron-worker cum preacher who built the church, prays over the rough hewn communion table he has crafted in his own rough hewn image. Grandma Yakashigi, Nakagawasan, Nishikawasan, from Japan are there. Cecil, who baptized me when I was 13, the most gentle of souls, is kneeling up front. Some way Pastor Sheets from the Baptist Church has strayed in – Bert will not be happy. The ordinary folk, the only kind I know, fill the little house of worship.  The journey from dust to dust does not seem so far in this dusty crowd melding into the sand floor. Roy, the local prison guard, comes bearing the emblems and as he bends down he brings me fully awake, I look at Roy who is silent but I hear the question from the emblems: “Paul, are you one of us or not?”[2]

[1] David Bentley Hart, “Roland on Free Will,” In First Things (February, 2015).

[2] The title and ending are from a Fred Chappell novel with a different meaning worked out here.


“Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord” (Ezek. 13:5).


Walking in the way of Christ is a learned activity. I came to understand Christianity best in the walk of Joe Smith and James Strauss, both of whom we lost in 2014. Joe as mentor and discussion partner (the conversation lasted some 38 years) initiated a theological conversation which became part of the warp and woof making up the fabric of my own thought. James Strauss reshaped the thinking of the generation that came under his influence in some 25 years at Lincoln Christian University where I studied. Joe and James exercised influence at a national and international level in the Restoration Movement. The Mission, to talk of God as we walk in the Way of Christ, was one that they balanced uniquely well in their generation. They understood that the talk (or the theology) induces and guides the walk (or the going and doing of the Gospel).

All walk and no talk (or activity aimed only at results and not guided by serious theological reflection) and you get the Church Growth movement which in its “seeker friendly” soft Gospel manifestation has become pervasive. The Church Growth Gospel as an obstacle to serious theological reflection was something both abhorred. Joe established a mega-church but understood that numerical growth needed to be backed up with theological depth and so he became the best educated preacher in our movement. He understood that a movement given over to the mechanics and pragmatics of “Church Growth” stood opposed to developing and preserving intellectual and spiritual growth. Jim infected his students with the desire to learn and many went on for further education.


All talk (a disengaged or academic theology) and no walk and you get the sort of neo liberal biblical studies which has now infected the once conservative bastion of our seminaries. Conservative theologians are besieged and outnumbered by a liberal biblical scholarship driven by the very historical critical method they endorse. The best of modernity, as Joe worked out with Jacques Maritain and Jim with Kuhn and Popper, was the realization of a limit to reason pointing to the Word of Christ. For Joe this meant the “end of the historical critical method” as pronounced by Gerhard Maier and for Jim it indicated the end of the identification of truth with a methodology. They both fostered a theology that engaged the principalities and the powers of the age.

Among other things Joe published the Camelback Papers and sent a copy to every Independent Christian Church in the country. The papers included the self-indicting correspondence of a seminary president refusing a student’s thesis proposal questioning higher critical conclusions. His explanation of how only “highly educated academicians” could possibly make such critical and historical judgments hardly needed Joe’s explanation of the illiberalism of liberalism.

Jim’s orthodoxy may not have been clear to those who were confused by his engagement with philosophy, science, anthropology, etc. etc., but his grounding of knowing in the concept of world view was geared to withstand the fracturing of truth in the postmodern era. The orthodox legacy that has followed him at Lincoln is proof of this.

In the battle against the principalities and powers working havoc among us, as Ezekiel describes it, “the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing have gone up into the breaches.” The foolish prophets don’t really change from one generation to the next, which occurred to me in the last conversation I had with Joe. Through graduate school in the States and England, through 20 years in Japan, and 10 years teaching in Missouri, we talked theology. In the beginning I was pretty much an empty vessel. Our “conversations” mainly involved me listening but as the years unfolded I had more to contribute and in the final few years, as Joe grew weaker, I held up the conversation. In this last conversation, as I described what my students were encountering in seminary, Joe just nodded and said things have not changed.

Joe and Jim prepared me and many others to prepare yet others to talk of God as we walk in the way. Their lives were spent filling in the breach or gap (the metaxological or the place between) in the fortification of the Church. So perhaps in their death the gap they have left will not be overrun by the foolish prophets who have seen nothing of their kind.