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Blog // Thoughts
August 20, 2008

Zizek On Science And Religion

“Science today effectively does compete with religion, insofar as it serves two properly idelogical needs, those for hope and those for censorship, which were traditionally taken care of by religion.. … In a curious inversion, religion is one of the possible places from which one can deploy critical doubts about today’s society. It has become […]

“Science today effectively does compete with religion, insofar as it serves two properly idelogical needs, those for hope and those for censorship, which were traditionally taken care of by religion..

… In a curious inversion, religion is one of the possible places from which one can deploy critical doubts about today’s society. It has become one of the sites of resistence.”

In these lines (from pps 69-70 of Violence) Zizek highlights what is clear to any critical reader of the new atheism (Dawkins, Hitchens and co.); that it functions as a secular kind of fundamentalism. This is not a new insight.

What is more compelling is the role Zizek assigns to religion. Rather than the future of marginal voicelessness that many church leaders fear, the church has a place as a “site of resistance” able to express “critical doubts about today’s society.”. In support of this argument Zizek quotes John Gray “…churches have become sanctuaries of doubt” in contrast to science’s “refuge from uncertainty.”

The point shouldn’t be lost on theologians, apologists and church leaders. If the church has something unique to offer in our cultural moment then it will be found in resistance, critical thinking, doubt and uncertainty -which is another way of saying it will be found in offering people the space to think.

The question, of course, is what happens when folks walk through the doors of a local church. Will they find a “thinking space” or will they be confronted by something else.

Responses
Toni 14 years ago

As with so many other aspects of human social interaction, I expect there will be some that require right thinking only for acceptance. Rather like free-speech, the risk may be that it only works as long as no-one actually expresses a view to the contrary.

Paul 14 years ago

that’s a great quote, thanks F. I agree we need to have resistance, not least to the creeping consumerism and secularisation that pretty much is the water we swim in and therefore just do not see…

Adam 14 years ago

Very intriguing (and hopeful) – thanks.

Kai 14 years ago

Thanks for this post. I think you are essentially correct in your insight that the church offers a valuable counterpoint to the New Atheists.

Specifically, I think that when we view ‘science’ as a ‘tradition’ we will begin to see how the ‘tradition’ of Christianity can critique it successfully.

Inflexible fundamentalism as it is embodied in the New Atheists is just as bankrupt as it is in Christian, Muslim, and other circles.

Traditions self-critical enough to overcome this straitjacket will always successfully critique those that are not.

Fernando Gros 14 years ago

Toni, I’ve sure seen churches that opt for “right-thinking only” and it is not something I want to encourage. There’s a real danger there in disconnecting lived everyday faith from episodic (i.e., every Sunday morning) thinking acts. Right doctrine is a poor insurance for right action.

My hope is for the kind of thing Kai has articulated – a self critical tradition.

squidboot 14 years ago

I think, rather, what Zizek is saying here is that contemporary religious experience is informed by a number of evolved emotional and cognitive tricks, maintaining cohesion against the fragmenting effect of “the world”.

Religious experience is manufactured and maintained by these means. Science, on the other hand, seeks radical transparency and, through its process, is uncovering the world independent of religion’s former characterisation of it.

It is, however, not a process of dogmatic concretion as with religion, but one of skeptical dynamism, changing to account for the evidence, within a richly complex and dynamic world. If religion’s process is becoming more dynamic, it is to compete with the relative dynamism of science, not its relative concretion; religion is losing the battle to maintain its cohesion.

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