Archives For Zizek


David Fitch gives us
a (diet and decaf?) foretaste of his coming book
The End of Evangelicalism?

Last week or so on facebook, some friends were giving me a hard time for comparing evangelicalism to an ‘empty’ Caffeine-Free Diet Coke. Of course I was referring to philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s famous cultural analyses found in his book, The Fragile Absolute (chapter 3). It’s an example I use in the intro to my upcoming book The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission. There I use Zizek’s Coke illustration to ask questions about the current state of evangelicalism in N America. Allow me to explain.

Zizek narrates how coca-cola was originally concocted as a medicine (originally known as a nerve tonic, stimulant and headache remedy). It was eventually sweetened and its strange taste was made more palatable. Soon it became a popular drink during prohibition that still possessed those medicinal qualities (it was deemed “refreshing” as well as the perfect “temperance drink”). Over time, however, its sugar was replaced with sweetner, its caffeine extracted, and so today we are left with Caffeine-Free Diet Coke: a drink that does not fulfil any of the concrete needs of a drink. The two reasons why anyone would drink anything: it quenches thirst/provides nutrition and it tastes good, have in Zizek’s words “been suspended.”

Read the full piece:

A Review of Jamie Smith’s

It has become all too common these days for discussions of North American evangelicalism to transpire solely in terms of disdain, so much so that the very word evangelical has almost become a slur. Obviously, this is not to say that there aren’t many grounds upon which the evangelical tradition, especially in its North American variety, can (and should) be critiqued. Many have balked at the seemingly evangelical idea that the major tragedies of the last decade, namely, 9/11, the tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina, and the recent earthquake in Haiti, were somehow divine retribution for homosexuality, idolatry, or general unbelief. In addition, one could consider the ongoing campaign among many evangelicals in the United States to “take back America” through a perverse wedding of white, middle/upper class, conservative evangelicalism and a Republican agenda. Marching ever onward, this group of evangelicals frequently ends up propagating an agenda that often seems more American than biblical.

The criticism could—and should—go on, but while such critique is always necessary for the healthy growth of the church, there is a world of difference between denigrating the evangelical movement and critiquing it from within as a sort of loyal opposition. Fortunately, this is a point not missed by James K. A. Smith in his recent book, The Devil Reads Derrida and Other Essays on the University, the Church, Politics, and the Arts. In fact, this commitment serves as his starting point. Understanding his training as a philosopher as providing the platform for a diaconal vocation, a vocation of service to and for the church, Smith here offers a collection of essays directed toward the end of building up the body of Christ.

As is the case with any book of this sort, there is the inherent hurdle of overcoming the occasional nature of each piece in order to create some coherent whole. Smith’s book is no exception in this regard, and it suffers at times because of this. Nevertheless, at the risk of these various writings being reduced to mere cultural musings, Smith successfully manages to offer substantial insights and constructive critiques throughout the volume.

Read the full review:

The Devil Reads Derrida and Other Essays
on the University, the Church, Politics, and the Arts
James K. A. Smith.
Paperback: Eerdmans, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Powells Books Review of
THE WHALE by Philip Hoare

Philip Hoare’s account of his “search [for] the giants of the sea” is part travelogue, part history, part scientific discourse, and part elegy, all blended into a wonderful melange. He travels to New England in order to walk around whaling towns that Herman Melville  described in detail in Moby-Dick; discusses at great length the historical development of the whaling trade in both America and England; wanders about museums with various whale artifacts, taking in the immense grandeur of reconstructed whale skeletons dangling from ceilings; bemoans the massive destruction visited upon whale populations over the past century, threatening many species with utter extinction; and even goes into great detail about how ambergris — that rarest of whale treasures used in countless colognes throughout the ages for its distinctive aromatic quality — is actually created (it might lose a bit of its exotic luster when you find out).

All of this would be interesting enough on a strictly informational level, but it’s made especially poignant through Hoare’s eyes and fascination with his subject:

There is something about the sperm whale that leads me on, something that, even now, I find hard to describe. No matter how many pictures I might see, I cannot quite comprehend it. No matter how many times I might try to sketch it, its shape seems to elude me. None the less, my curiosity remains…

Hoare repeatedly mentions the mystical air surrounding these creatures that can dive deeper than any other mammal and who live so much of their lives hidden from our view despite their immense size. Theirs is a world ostensibly set apart from ours.

Read the full review:

THE WHALE: In Search of the Giants of the Sea
Philip Hoare.
Hardback: Ecco, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]


A Brief Review of
Transforming Philosophy and Religion: Love’s Wisdom,
Norman Wirzba and Bruce Ellis Benson, eds.

by Chris Smith.

Transforming Philosophy and Religion: Love’s Wisdom, a new book from Indiana University Press edited by Norman Wirzba and Bruce Ellis Benson, is a fine collection of essays that “call our attention back to the fundamental role that love plays in being wise” (10).  The essays here explore the role of love in philosophy, theology and a host of social issues from justice to gender to bioethics.  Norman Wirzba opens the collection with a compelling argument for the “primacy of love” in philosophy (lit. the love of wisdom).  Consider his poignant conclusion:

“The history of Western culture demonstrates that philosophers have wanted to be rulers far more than they have wanted to be lovers.  Rather than offering ourselves up in a loving response to the world – in ways that would promote mutual flourishing – we have instead sought to bring others within our control.  The result has been the world’s and our own destruction or disfigurement.  More than ever before, what we need is a transformation of philosophical practice so that an affirmation of others in their integrity can take place” (25).


I was pleased to see that a number of these essays engaged Kierkegaard’s works, most notably Amy Laura Hall’s “You’d Better Find Somebody to Love,” which maintains that Kierkegaard’s Works of Love may shed some light on the bioethical quagmires of the present.  Two other excellent pieces were that of John Caputo, who examines the meaning of the biblical concepts of “love” and “law” in the present age of postmodernity, and that of Tyler Roberts, who addresses the question of whether Christianity embodies Slavoj Zizek’s notion of a “militant love.” 

            However, the best piece in this collection is Edward Mooney’s “Love, This Lenient Interpreter,” in which he examines the possibility of a hermeneutic that is characterized primarily by love.  Taking as an example, two recent studies of Kierkegaard’s life and works, Mooney contrasts these two works to illuminate the importance of how we read a text (love vs. suspicion or mistrust).  This piece is one that should be read and discussed early on in the academic career of any aspiring philosopher or theologian in the Church.

            Taken together, these essays in Transforming Philosophy and Religion offer a resounding affirmation of St. Paul’s proclamations about the emptiness of knowledge without love (I Corinthians 13).  Given its contributors (esp. Caputo and Wirzba) and the topics that they engage (e.g., Paul, Zizek, etc.), it will be of particular interest to the aspiring theologians of the emerging church.

Transforming Philosophy and Religion: Love’s Wisdom,
Norman Wirzba and Bruce Ellis Benson, eds.

Paperback: Indiana UP, 2008.
Buy now:   [ Amazon ]