The situation of Badiou

In my last post about Homebrewed’s Paul course, I complained a bit about feeling targeted by remarks about liberals and progressives. Another session, and I’m not feeling less targeted – and it’s going to get worse as we move onto Badiou’s snarky remarks about Pascal’s mysticism. Let’s face it, I’m a mystic as well. I do note that F.C. Happold identifies Paul as a mystic, with the assumption that mysticism founded Paul’s career, so sidelining that aspect may be a mistake.

Time for some pushback, I think. I started this book (Paul, the Foundation of Universalism) with some expectations – Badiou is, after all, a French public intellectual. What I therefore expected was an Atheist Marxist who tried hard to come up with some provocative remarks, dressed in a stack of obscure language  – and Badiou manages to be boringly conformist to this stereotype despite being somewhat dismissive of postmodern situatedness. His “provocative remark” is to centre his fantasy on a theme of Paul on the Resurrection, which is clearly an entirely unacceptable idea to an Atheist Marxist, particularly a French one (as Atheism is pretty close to being the state religion of France – they haven’t got over elevating reason to the status of goddess in 1792, a fairly short lived experiment but one which has coloured all French republics since then).

Sadly, Badiou goes to some lengths to stress that it’s an unacceptable idea, even a “lie”. Paul, however, almost certainly believed implicitly in the resurrection (I reference the first talk), and I do not hear from Badiou any clever argument like Pete Rollins’ in “The Divine Magician” (where it is crucial that the thing wished for does not in fact exist) nor “I know that it didn’t happen like this, but I know this story is true” to adjust the standard opening of some native storytellers.

I say “fantasy on a theme of Paul” as in truth it bears as much resemblance to an analysis of what Paul actually said as do the Christian theologians who Niezsche’s complained about in Taubes book, finding the cross in every mention of wood in the Hebrew Scriptures.

For one thing, Badiou concentrates on the resurrection. However, what is clearly for Paul a “scandal to the Jews and a foolishness to the Greeks” is actually the crucifixion, not the resurrection (see 1 Cor. 1:23). In fact, although to Badiou’s atheist eyes the resurrection is the stumbling block, to the eyes of Jews and Greeks (or Romans) a resurrection or revivification wasn’t an impossibility. Both traditions could accommodate such an event, and in theological developments over the next century or so, arguments were put forward which bent Jewish and Greek presuppositions minimally if at all.

What was an impossibility was a messiah who was crucified rather than leading the Jews to reestablishment of their nation in glory, or a son of God (like Caesar) who was put to death as an insurrectionary rather than elevated to rule the known world. It was absolutely scandalous that Jesus should die an ignominious death and not reign forever. Perhaps even more so that God would not intervene and save him, which has the potential still to be a scandal for about 90% of the Christians I know. God either does not care, does not wish to or cannot intervene? Not a popular sentiment in churches I’m acquainted with.

So, of course, his followers put that right by demoting the crucifixion to a temporary blip and (after some time) positing that he would return to do all the things which were expected of a Jewish Messiah or a Roman Caesar. If there hadn’t been a resurrection, it would have been necessary for his followers to invent one.

Oh, wait… the overwhelming probability is that they did – or, at least, that’s what I’d expect to hear from a psychoanalyst. Granted, the psychoanalyst might not go so far as Badiou and describe it as a “lie”, just as hallucinations brought on by cognitive dissonance reduction and wish fulfillment, perhaps with a side order of deindividuation. (I should maybe point out for my more conservative readers that just because we can identify psychological mechanisms which could well have produced resurrection experiences doesn’t actually mean there wasn’t more to them than that.)

Badiou does, of course, mention Pauls main other shockingly transgressive set of statements, but the French Marxist Atheist is not shocked by the dissolution of Jewish exceptionalism (by rendering circumcision and dietary laws irrelevant), abolition of patriarchal attitudes to gender or the denial of the master-slave relationship, which would have been truly shocking to Jew and Greek alike whereas resurrection, which Badiou is shocked by, would maybe have raised an eyebrow or two. It was, indeed, sufficiently transgressive that the pseudo-Pauline epistles and the Fourth Gospel (in particular) did their utmost to undo Paul’s good work, to deny the event.

Similarly, the French Marxist Atheist finds nothing particularly startling to mention  in Jesus’ proclamation of God’s preference for the poor, women, children, lawbreakers, the irreligious and other contemptible people, even so far as religious opponents (the Samaritans) and outright enemies (including Romans). This, however, still has the power to shock. (In the USA not by any means least when couched as “affirmative action”.) Autre pays, autre moeurs, as they say.

I wonder, would Paul, today, say “In Christ there is no theist and no atheist”? Would Jesus say “Blessed are those who do not believe in anything”?

Que M. Badiou soit beni.


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