faith is a ghost that haunts: Zizek and Barth

“One becomes a full member of a community not simply by identifying with its explicit symbolic tradition, but only when one also assumes the spectral dimension that sustains this tradition, the undead ghosts that haunt the living, the secret history of traumatic fantasies transmitted ‘between the lines,’ through the lacks and distortions of the explicit symbolic tradition.” [1]

“‘[Luther:] Only when that which is believed on is hidden, can it provide an opportunity for faith. And moreover, those things are most deeply hidden which most clearly contradict the obvious experience of the senses. Therefore, when God makes alive, He kills; when He justifies, He imposes guilt; when He leads us to heaven, He thrusts us down into hell.’ [Barth] The Gospel of salvation can only be believed in; it is a matter for faith only. It demands choice. This is its seriousness. To him that is not sufficiently mature to accept a contradiction and to rest in it, it becomes a scandal–to him that is unable to escape the necessity of contradiction, it becomes a matter for faith. Faith is awe in the presence of the divine incognito; it is the love of God that is aware of the qualitative distinction between God and man and God and the world.” [2]

 Zizek and Barth (quoting Luther) resonate here in emphasizing the anti-humanist element of faith that cannot be fully exorcised. 

I like that contradiction is inescapable for Barth—faith is not a matter of resolving the contradictions of searching and longing for God in the world, but of moving forward through the scandal in awe. I like that Zizek understands that rolling the comforting words of the tradition around in one’s mouth is still superficial. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is also the God of Job. 

Living in (and living out) the Christian tradition is not always uplifting, inspiring, and empowering. The faith that always smiles remains suspect. Has it ingested the contradictions, the fears, the doubts, the pain that are as integral to the transmission of the tradition as its hope, its joy, and its light?

This isn’t to valorize suffering and darkness as honorable, good, or even useful—it’s just to recognize that the Christian tradition has its ghosts and that all along the way the journey of faith is accompanied by these ghosts—even where they are supressed. 


[1] Slavoj Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: the Perverse Core of Christianity (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), 128.

[2] Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, trans. Edwyn Hoskyns (London: Oxford UP, 1933), 39.