Barth and Žižek: Dialectical Theologians

Žižek has written enough books on the theme of theology that even theologians are starting to take notice. However, he is usually seen as a philosopher trying to force his understanding of philosophy upon religious texts; many of his commentators chide him for ignoring or misunderstanding the long history of the Christian tradition. Thus, his interlocutors will give him points for some interesting insights but ultimately dismiss his theology as inadequately heterodox. In this article, I claim that we should take Žižek’s theology seriously by placing him squarely into the Hegelian, Protestant tradition of theology which includes figures like Barth, Bultmann, Tillich and other dialectical theologians. Žižek recently defines himself, in his debate with the Radical Orthodox theologian John Milbank, as a dialectical, Protestant theologian. Therefore, I argue that one way to build upon this self-definition and add credibility to his position is by placing him in dialogue with other famous dialectical theologians. In doing this we find that Žižek has some striking similarities to the thought of Karl Barth and also some points where he challenges him and the Christian tradition. The conversation between the two will center on their focus on negativity in Barth’s dialectical Word and Žižek’s use of the death drive as they relate to the person of Christ; each turn to theology via revelation in analyzing the ideologies of the world
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