The End of (Religious) Ideology: Zizek, Brueggemann, Job, and Radical Theology

“The book of Job provides what is perhaps the first exemplary case of the critique of ideology in human history…” Slavoj Žižek (The Puppet and the Dwarf, 125)

tumblr_l26jzi538L1qa18sao1_500This happens before our eyes as we move from the opening account of Job’s sufferings, to Job’s lament and cursing of creation; wherein Job’s friends enter and begin to vocalise their disagreement with Job’s bewailing of all that has befallen him.

A fitting description of Job’s friends would be “ideologists.” Žižek observes how they respond to Job’s speeches peddling some religious ideology: “Job you must have sinned and so deserve this;” “God is testing you, hang in there” etc.

Pertinent here is the reality that if we pay attention to, and take note of, how the book of Job is an inditement of a prevailing understanding, and conceptualisation, of divine justice and activity in the world, this ideological assessment of the friends’ speeches can be taken further.

The God of Israel’s duetoronomistic tradition – who acts as a moral accountant, doling out justice, so the good get good things and the bad get bad things – is, in the book of Job, roundly criticised, taken to task, and found to be lacking.

The friends/ideologists(/”idologists?”) enter the scene coming to the defence of this god, as Job tears away at it, suffering no id(e)ol(ogy) – asking the critical questions (21:7); demanding his day in court and lamenting how even if he could make his case he would, no doubt, be swatted (23); refusing to play to the pious etiquette his friends demand, who wish to inscribe meaning on his quite meaningless suffering (27); and, ultimately, stating outright that there is no justice in the world (24:21-25).

Žižek notes that, come the end,

Job’s properly ethical dignity resides in the way he persistently rejects the notion that his suffering can have any meaning, either punishment for his past sins or the trial of his faith, against the three theologians who bombard him with possible meanings—and, surprisingly, God takes his side at the end, claiming that every word that Job spoke was true, while every word of the three theologians was false. (Ibid.)

The words of Walter Brueggemann are of worth paying attention to here, as he shares and furthers Zizek’s observation,

The friends are dismissed because they had settled for an ideological conclusion, without taking into account the problematic of lived experience… for Yahweh does not want ideology to crush experience. And that leaves only two parties for the conclusion: Yahweh and Job, face to face. Job, in contrast to the friends, has spoken what is “right” (42:7-8). (Theology of the Old Testament391)

To develop what I was attempting to outline the other day, via Radical Theology, in ‘Christ(ianity) is a Problem, Not a Solution;’ so often what we are offered in actually existing churches and theology is (religious) ideology. “There is a deeper meaning;” “x may not make sense now, but someday…;” “Believe God gives satisfaction and certainty, but don’t question why you’re missing it.” etc.. We have a structure that will not let real questions – “the problematic of lived experience” – be addressed. Our songs and sermons, so often, amount to ideology; dulling our imagination and believing on our behalf; while the peddlers(/”idologists”) attempt to silence those who threaten the language game.

But “Yahweh does not want ideology to crush experience,” and we should not let it. Like Job, eventually declared in the right, we should endlessly, and incessantly, vocalise and protest against the ideologists, cling to our righteousness (where and when it applies), and above all learn from the re-articulation of divinity that the book of Job presents – a God of nature, witnessed in creation; unable to arbitrate moral accounts; who solicites us to see and care for the creation, and to engage the material world around us, making justice happen.

In this same way, as with Job so with Christ – as Radical Theology would have us understand: we join in the protest against, and vocalise our objections to, ideologies(/idology); be they certainty and satisfaction, from “having” the god we desire; or suggestions of hidden meanings and divine agendas in our experience – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – we refuse to let experience be crushed. We rip Temple curtains; bear witness to the absence of the ‘big Other;’ follow in the steps of the crucified “God-man;” and take up and engage material existence, as members of church-collectives – fully instantiating and embodying the Holy Spirit – making justice happen, ourselves, as we call an end to (religious) ideology.

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