Tag Archives: Barth


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.