The Monstrosity of Christ
Paradox or Dialectic?
Slavoj Zizek and John Milbank
Edited by Creston Davis
What matters is not so much that Žižek is endorsing a demythologized, disenchanted Christianity without transcendence, as that he is offering in the end (despite what he sometimes claims) a heterodox version of Christian belief.
To put it even more bluntly, my claim is that it is Milbank who is effectively guilty of heterodoxy, ultimately of a regression to paganism: in my atheism, I am more Christian than Milbank.
In this corner, philosopher Slavoj Žižek, who represents the critical-materialist stance against religion’s illusions; in the other corner, “radical orthodox” theologian John Milbank, an influential and provocative thinker who argues that theology is the only foundation upon which knowledge, politics, and ethics can stand. In The Monstrosity of Christ, Žižek and Milbank go head to head for three rounds, employing an impressive arsenal of moves to advance their positions and press their respective advantages. By the closing bell, they have proven themselves worthy adversaries–and have also shown that faith and reason are not simply and intractably opposed.
Žižek has long been interested in the emancipatory potential offered by Christian theology. And Milbank, seeing global capitalism as the new century’s greatest ethical challenge, has pushed his own ontology in more political and materialist directions. Their debate in The Monstrosity of Christ concerns nothing less than the future of religion, secularity, and political hope in light of a monsterful event—God becoming human. For the first time since Žižek’s turn toward theology, we have a true debate between an atheist and a theologian about the very meaning of theology, Christ, the Church, the Holy Ghost, universality, and the foundations of logic. The result goes far beyond the popularized atheist/theist point/counterpoint of recent books by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and others.
Žižek begins, and Milbank answers, countering dialectics with “paradox.” The debate centers on the nature of and relation between paradox and parallax, between analogy and dialectics, between transcendent glory and liberation.
Short Circuits series, edited by Slavoj Žižek
About the Authors
Slavoj Zizek is a philosopher and cultural critic. He has published over thirty books, including Looking Awry, The Puppet and the Dwarf, and The Parallax View (these three published by the MIT Press).
John Milbank is an influential Christian theologian and the author of Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason and other books.
Creston Davis, who conceived of the encounter between Slavoj Žižek and John Milbank, studied under both men.
“The contemporary return to the theological most dramatically occurs in this book, as Zizek fully realizes his earlier Hegelian and Lacanian theological work, a work that Milbank can essentially know as a uniquely modern expression of nihilism. Nonetheless Milbank enters into a genuine theological dialogue with this nihilism, and a truly new theological discourse occurs. This effects a paradoxical union between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, and between radical orthodoxy and radical heterodoxy, which is perhaps the deepest motif of the contemporary return to the theological.”
—Thomas J. J. Altizer, author of Godhead and the Nothing
“In this dazzling dialogue, Zizek and Milbank change words and cross swords, until the point where both recognize that Christ and Hegel, in their monstrosity, look very much alike. A phenomenal achievement!”
—Catherine Malabou, Maître de Conferences, Philosophy Department, Université Paris-X Nanterre