Notes on the “post-secular”

I am interested in two things primarily: 1) an analysis of what we mean when we talk about post-secular religion in light of Charles Taylor’s distinction between the descriptive and normative senses of the word “secular”; and 2) the prospect of a post-secular study of religion, as it relates to the normative sense of the word.

What do we mean when we talk about “post-secular” religion and post-secularity in general? Do we mean those forms of religion that persist in our late modern, rationalized Western context? Are we talking about the fact that despite a long process of disenchantment that has been underway ever since the Protestant reformation, we find new forms of religion, which themselves often reflect the secularization process (such as the New Age concern over the modern, buffered Self, for example)?

If that’s the case then we’re speaking about the post-secular in a purely descriptive sense of the word. We’re talking about religion happening after the rationalization of the West. This is an age where our socially constructed imagination compels us to see ourselves as autonomous, rational agents, whose flourishing is secured through bureaucratic means. It’s late modernity, where atheist scientists, like the deistic philosophers of early modernity, seek to discern the efficient causes underlying a universe conceived of mechanistically— a universe emptied of God and telos. This is an age where meaning and order are imposed on the world by us— all in the name of human flourishing. For it’s our flourishing that matters now, this is the new common good; no longer does life point to anything beyond that. This is an age of immanence, and age of “we can do this”, we can access the truth.  We carry the torch of reason. And many thought this would be an age in which religion comes to an end.

But religion persists. It’s not on its way out, said the critics of the secularization thesis— and they were right. Now protestantism paved the way for an exclusive humanism, as Charles Taylor explains. The apologetic response to atheism reflects this, as does the atheist’s criticism of religion. God is reduced to an abstract idea, a transcendent signifier the need for which is either argued for or against, either internalized or rejected. No longer is belief understood communally, as something material, embodied, or liturgically formed. Belief is reduced to a set of abstract propositions. Within modernity, God is reduced to a mere Deus ex machina, as both Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Søren Kierkegaard were aware of, with regard to the German and Danish Protestantism of their day.

Scholars have studied many contemporary forms of religion, happening within the secularized context of the west, but what about religion that is post-secular in the normative sense of the word? Are there religious imaginations that subvert the modern, secularist imagination? The Emergence Church movement in North America and the United Kingdom, for example, is an expression of such a post-modern, post-secular move beyond the modern, secularist assumptions of civil society regarding religion. What is emphasized, for a post-modern, post-secular form of Christianity, like the Emergence Church, is not belief or the need to make sense of the world, but a liturgically shaped habitus, or way of being in the world. Religion is not, as is the case with modernity, a disembodied affair, but a material one.

David Morgan is right to criticize the modernist assumptions of some scholars regarding what religion and belief are all about, but seems unaware of the fact that there are forms of Christianity happening in the West today that make a conscious effort to move beyond the modernist way of “doing” religion (which is really nothing more than a way of “thinking” about religion in so far as it doesn’t translate into a textured way of life). Scholars like Morgan along with Birgit Meyer and others, reflect a recent tendency within religious studies to direct attention towards what has been termed “lived religion”, or “material religion”. This is an analysis of religion as it plays out, not in the head, but in the embodied habitual way of life of practitioners. I am influenced by their work. However, following James K.A Smith and Peter Rollins, I think our analysis of lived religion will often mean, at least in the modern, secularist context of today, diverting out attention not towards the proclaimed beliefs of persons, but the cultural formations and habits that shape their way of being in the world. For as Kierkegaard expressed in his attack on Danish Lutheran Church, the religion of modernity often means proclaiming the gospel without bearing the weight of the cross. In other words, preachers can walk the walk without having to worry about talking the talk, because religion is analyzed in terms of discourse and beliefs, not in terms of an embodied way of life. Thus, in a secular age, we can have what Peter Rollins calls the “ironic gesture”, where we can identify as Christians while exploiting the poor and oppressed, despite the fact that Jesus stood for exactly the opposite.

The work of Morgan et al. raises methodological questions regarding how we, as religious scholars study religion. Do we reflect the normative assumptions of modernity in the way we analyze a religious movement? What then would a post-secular religious studies look like?

Since the theory was first put forward, scholars have wrote about “post-secular religion”, as those forms of religion that persist within secularized (that is, rationalized, bureaucratic, and legalistic) societies. Religion is not on the way out, say scholars of post-secular religion. This isn’t, however, to deny a rationalization process that has been underway within Western societies and other parts of the world, as famously spoken of by Max Weber. Rather, what scholars have shown is that religion persists, even within secular environments.

As Charles Taylor knew, there’s a story to be told as it relates to how we came to find ourselves living in what he calls a “secular age.” This isn’t an age where religion has disappeared, but one in which religion no longer offers the only plausibility. The transcendent and the immanent now bleed into and compete with one another, as James K. A. Smith expresses. In our secular age, we find the conditions that make it possible for there to be an exclusive humanism. This possibility to live without God is, as Taylor points out, tied up with the emergence of the modern self and the advent of social atomism.

In medieval times, the “secular” was understood in terms of the “worldly”— of mundane vocations— as distinguished from the sacred offices of priests. During this time, as Taylor explains, the world was so enchanted that it was almost impossible not to believe in God. This was a time when the human being was understood— and rightly so, I think— as vulnerable rather than autonomous. However, with modernity the “secular” came to mean something else entirely: a kind of neutral, a-religious, foundation that we’re left with once the religious layers of society have been peeled away. In France, for example, the secularization of society was seen as a sort of purification. Civil society— armed with the light of reason— rescued France from the irrationality of religious belief and the influence of the Catholic Church, or so the narrative goes. This modernist sort of secularism has its roots in the enlightenment project, with its views on the utilitarian self, as a ‘sovereign, self-possessed, dispassionate “thinking thing,”’ as the American philosopher of religion, John Caputo, describes it.

Underlying the former, medieval viewpoint, as well as the secularization thesis, is a descriptive model of society, whereas the latter mentioned Enlightenment epistemology reflects certain normative assumptions regarding the human subject’s access to the world— assumptions that are, I will argue, problematic. These secularist assumptions are still with us today, though. Tyler Roberts, for example, in his book, Encountering Religion, demonstrates the extent to which these assumptions underlie the field of religious studies today. Religions are often studied in a “top-heavy” fashion, with scholars favouring quantitative analysis. What is, in reality, a complex, material, embodied, and liturgical mode of being in the world is reduced to a worldview, to discourse and beliefs. In this way, religious studies continues to reflect the rationalism of the enlightenment tradition as well as European Protestantism. Thus, Peter Rollins can argue that secularism and fundamentalism share much in common.

Following James K. A. Smith, I want to argue not simply against quantitative analysis, or the notion of a worldview, but against the inadequacy of these for understanding a given cultural formation. What Smith calls for is radical rethinking of what we take religion to be. This means moving beyond what Tyler Roberts calls the “locativist” tendencies of many religious scholars, whereby they securely locate themselves on one side of the religious/secular divide. Smith deconstructs this divide by demonstrating that all theorizing is, in a way, “religious”. What Smith means by this is that “non-believing” religious scholars construe their world as embodied subjects shaped by a culturally informed habitus. The way a “scientific” scholar of religion analyses Christianity as compared to a continental philosopher of religion such as John Caputo, for example, has to with the background with which they are working with. This background— what Smith, following Charles Taylor calls our “social imaginary”— is culturally formed, and will determine the horizon of what we find meaningful. And this construal must be understood, says Smith, following Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in terms of an embodied, pre-reflective orientation to the world. Whether we’re Christian or Atheist, we’ll imagine things as meaningful based on the narratives and practices that shape the “background” of our theorizing.

Following Smith, I want to explore the phenomenological tradition in order to undermine the secularist epistemology of modernity as well as its views on the human subject as buffered and autonomous. Far from having direct access to the world, scientific scholars of religion, no less than Christian monks, navigate the world as embodied subjects whose predispositions to things are shaped by habit and thus mediated. Phenomenology offers a remedy to the enlightenment tradition’s disembodied view of the human subject. Yet phenomenology is here understood— as Smith is careful to point out— not in terms a supposed “essence” of all religious experience (that would be a Hegelian phenomenology, not a materialist one), but as the phenomenology of religion’s happening, material and embodied as it is (cf. Morgan and Meyer). For this reason, Smith calls his work an “anthropology of liturgy.” Religion, argues Smith, has more to do with our being in the world, with our orientation towards things. It has to do with the habit formations that shape our longings and desires. We talk about the Christian liturgy, but its due time we talk about what Smith calls “secular liturgies”.

Within the west scholars 1) find themselves in the midst of rationalized, bureaucratic societies within which they 2) acknowledge that post-secular forms of religion happen, and yet 3) analyse them in terms of a secularist framework.

Reading Levinas Contra Heidegger

Levinas’ entire project had as its aim a description of the limits of ontology and thought’s ability to disclose what can, broadly speaking, be called the “Real”. Reality is not reducible to representation, not reducible to the grasping of the “I”. Levinas will try, by means of phenomenological descriptions of the sorts of experiences that challenge, or reveal the limits of, phenomenality and the intentionality of the “I”, to approach the “Real”. Such experiences are what, according to Levinas, summon or direct us beyond the world as we know it. Such experiences transform time, even if briefly, into a relation with “God”, or Mystery.

Levinas’ conception of philosophy can be understood in terms of an escape from Being, or an approach towards the Otherwise. Indeed, his first attempt to articulate such a conception of philosophy, in an essay written just three years after his 1932 doctoral study on Heidegger’s ontology, was titled “On Escape” [De l’évasion]. Like Heidegger, whom he studied under, Levinas thought that philosophy had, up until that point, overlooked something fundamental. For Heidegger, this was the question of Being; while for Levinas, this was the question of the Other.

Western philosophers had, according to Heidegger, wasted their time trying to answer the sorts of abstract, metaphysical questions that hinged upon the kind of beings we are, without making it a point to first of all understand the more fundamental question of this existence itself— that is, of what it is to be the kind of beings for whom these sorts of questions even arise. Levinas would begin by agreeing with Heidegger, that Western philosophy had, up until that point, overlooked the more fundamental question of Being, or existence. However, for Levinas, Heidegger too had overlooked something even more fundamental: namely, the question of an Outside-of, or Otherwise-than Being. The metaphysical concepts and categories with which philosophy had, up until Heidegger, operated with, did indeed hinge upon our human mode of Being in the world (what Heidegger called “Dasein”)– the kind of beings for whom Being is ultimately a question. But our own existence, or Dasein, hinges upon an Otherwise-than-Dasein, upon that which Dasein is not. Even more fundamental than the question of my Being-here is the question of an Otherwise than my Being-here.

The difference between the two is perhaps best highlighted when it comes to their discussions of death. Whereas Heidegger spoke of death in terms of the anxiety that results when we are presented with the prospect of nothingness, or Dasein’s end, Levinas spoke of death in terms of that which brings us before that which we know not, that which is Otherwise than the categories of Being and nothingness. Death affects us by means of the trace of the Otherwise that it leaves in our lives. So whereas ontology became first philosophy for Heidegger, it was ethics for Levinas (and “ethics” can here be understood broadly as signifying our relation to the Outside– of ourselves, of the “I” that Heidegger described as having been “thrown” into the world).

Both Heidegger and Levinas look to undermine the prioritizing of representation and propositional ways of thinking within the western philosophical tradition— that is, the prioritizing of our own terms of thought, of “beings”, and for Levinas, “Being” and “nothingness”. In a way, both want to “bracket” these, both want to direct their attention to what is not apparent. Heidegger has his “ready-to-hand”, and Levinas has his “Otherwise-than-Being”.

For Heidegger, the target of his critique is “metaphysics”, which remains wedded to the language of “beings”, and which fails to turn properly to the more fundamental ontology— the modes of Being. The western philosophical tradition has failed to push thought further, towards a real study of Being, insofar as it has remained trapped within the logic and categories that are a result of Dasein’s grasping. Philosophers have, according to Heidegger, failed to direct their attention beyond these categories, toward a study of Being which acknowledges the terms of our thought as secondary to the more fundamental ontology upon which they are predicated: namely, that our Being (or Dasein, as Heidegger calls it) is the kind for which Being is itself in question. We are beings who care, who have projects, who are aware of their own finitude, and who worry about their own Being, their own future. We use language as beings for whom Being is a question. A crucial part of Heidegger’s project will be to find new ways of writing, a new language and way of doing philosophy which will enable us to finally return to the more fundamental topic of Being. This will, in the end, mean turning towards what can be considered a more “poetic” language.

One of the problems with all of this, for Levinas, was that Heidegger remained too self-ish in his analyses. Like the philosophers Heidegger accused of overlooking the question of Being, Heidegger overlooked the question of the Other. For Heidegger, I am the kind of being for whom Being is a question: what drives me is an awareness of my own finitude, a concern for my own projects. Heidegger never addressed the ways in which the Other orders us. Levinas is critical of Heidegger, in God, Death, and Time, for being too limited in his philosophy of Death, for seeing man as the kind of being who is ordered from within, by anxiety, by an awareness of his own death. But what of the Other? And what of the Other’s death? Death presents us with the prospect of an Outside, or Otherwise-than-Being, rather than a nothingness. And it is not only from within the confines of the Same that Death announces, for me, this prospect. That is, it is not only an awareness of my own finitude that affects me, and that presents me with an “I know not what”. The Death of the Other is as much a question for me as my own. Rather than speak of Death in terms of the amphibology of Being and nothingness, Levinas speaks of Death in terms of an outside: the Outside that is the Other’s, and not merely my own, death; and the Outside that is the “I know not what”, felt in the face of my own and the Other’s death.

So yes, according to Levinas, Heidegger was right to point out that philosophy has suffered a limitation, insofar as it has remained wedded to the framework of the logos and has treated as primary the terms of Dasein’s grasping. We need to take philosophy further, to push it beyond these boundaries. However, for Levinas, we have to take philosophy even further than Heidegger did: we have to push it beyond the amphibologies of Being and beings, and Dasein’s Being and the nothingness that is, for Heidegger, the prospect delivered to us in an awareness of our own mortality. Philosophy has, since Kant, Levinas says in God, Death, and Time, been a philosophy of finitude without infinity. Levinas wants to bring infinity back into the equation. That is, Levinas wants to bracket the Same— that is, the “I” with the terms of its own grasping— in order to appreciate the Other, the non-Same, or Outside-of-the-I. The point in doing this, it must be said, isn’t to know the Other, or to get at the Real-in-itself, but to prioritize the Other as primary, as that upon which the amphibology of Being and beings, as well as the logic and categories that rest upon it, rests.

Heidegger rightly saw it as a mistake to prioritize the logos, or representational thought, as primary. For this is, according to Heidegger, predicated upon Dasein’s being the kind of being for whom Being is a question. However, for Levinas, it’s not Dasein’s being the kind of being for whom Being is a question that is primary. Ontology is not, as it is in Heidegger, first philosophy. For Levinas, ethics is. Our being the kind of beings for whom Being is a question is itself predicated upon that which is truly primary, according to Levinas: namely, the Other, or the outside of the “I”. Before we are the beings Heidegger saw us to be– that is, beings for whom being is a question– we are beings facing the other. “The identity of the subject,” Levinas writes, “comes from the impossibility of escaping responsibility”.1

Levinas sought to escape Being by means of those experiences that communicate to us the limits of Being, of ontology. These are the sorts of experiences that “unhinge” us, as John Caputo puts it2; that leave us with a sense of something Other, something that can’t be articulated in terms of the ontological difference, between Being and beings. Thus, for Levinas, internal to the order of things is the trace of something Other than it. Put differently, one of the facts of Dasein is what Levinas calls the “profound need to get out of [it].”3

Yet such an “escape”, as Levinas calls it, works not to transport us out of the world, but to reorient us in it; that is, it works to draw us up out of our own life-worlds, to direct us towards what is Other-than them. The trace of the Transcendent left within the world, and the “need to get out of being” that is a fact of our Being, should be understood therefore as serving an ethical purpose, of orienting us towards the world, and towards others, in new ways.



1Levinas, Otherwise than Being, p. 14


2Caputo, On Religion, p. 29


3Levinas, On Escape, p. 72


Passivity rather than Will to Power


In order to understand the difference between the existentialisms of Nietzsche and Levinas, we have to take into account the differences between their conceptions of time, or the temporality of our being-here.

The temporarily of my being-here is, according to both Nietzsche and Levinas, my relating to what is other than “me”. Time can be thought of as my approach towards what is other than “I”. To exist in time is to have the “I” put in question. Both Nietzsche and Levinas understand time on the basis of our being-towards-death. Death is the hierophant of the not-I, of the “otherwise than living”, or “otherwise than being”.1 It is as beings aware of our being-towards-death, that we have a sense of the lonely, silent Nothing that “waits impatiently behind all the noise”.

Time, as Levinas says, “is a way of enduring the Infinite.”2 This endurance is, for Levinas, patience3; while for Nietzsche it is the will to power. The temporarily of my being-here, as expressed by Nietzsche and Levinas, can be thought of as the facing, or awakening to, the non-phenomenological. However, as demonstrated by the difference between the existentialisms of Nietzsche and Levinas, one can awaken to the beyond in one of two ways– and the way one awakens to the beyond will determine the way one endures it. Nietzsche’s “beyond”, as understood from a Levinasian perspective, is not non-phenomenological enough.

The beyond that calls into question the “I” is otherworldly. The infinity Levinas names as “the teleology of time”4 faces me as nothingness; and nothingness defies though5. Levinas’ conception of time as an enduring of the infinite is grounded in our being-towards-death. For what we are presented with, with the prospect of our own death, is a mystery– something beyond thought, beyond being. The nothingness death delivers us unto is not a nothingness to be made sense of in terms of the structure of the world. It is not the opposite of our being-here; rather, it is the very surplus of being itself. Death is, as Levinas puts it, both “the phenomenon of the end […and…] the end of the phenomenon6.” Death presents us with that which is impossible to think. The movement of death is a movement towards an absolute future. This future is a question for us, for which there can be no answer. “The question that the nothingness of death raises,” Levinas writes, “is a pure question mark.”7 Death is “a movement opposed to phenomenology.”8

Nietzsche, as I see it, following Levinas, makes the mistake of reducing the other to the same. Death, as Levinas argues, presents us with something wholly other, something that cannot be made sense of in terms of being and nothingness (“nothingness” here understood superficailly as being’s opposite). Our being-towards-death presents us with the prospect of the end of the “I”– and therefore an absolute, or impossible, future. Thus, it would be wrong to reduce the “nothingness” of death to the categories of the “I”. The nothingness that Nietzsche’s übermensch endures is a nothingness that contests the “I” only superficially. For it is a nothingness made sense of according to the logic of being. The nothingness Nietzsche awakens to, in imagining the death that will come with the cooling and congealing of our star9, is not Levinas’ Infinity. Death brings Nietzsche not to “total nothingness”, as Levinas calls it10. Nietzsche acknowledges the limits of the phenomenological without ever fully acknowledging the non-phenomenological. He challenges the static world of enduring objects; and time does indeed become, for him, a relation with the otherworldly. But the “other” here is the other-than-the-static-world, not the wholly other.

Time, for Nietzsche, goes no further than the flowing time that is opposed to a static one. And the “nothingness” conceived of within the framework of this time– which Nietzsche imagines we will be delivered unto with the cooling and congealing of our star– is not, like Levinas’ “total nothingness”, a nothingness impossible to think. Nietzsche’s nothingness is a nothingness bound to being.

The nothingness Nietzsche’s übermensch awakens to is not truly irreducible to the same. It remains ego-centric; and thus the response to, or way of enduring it, is likewise selfish. The will to power is self-serving, whereas the patience Levinas gives expression to is not. That Levinas awakens not to a nothingness reducible to the same, but a “total nothingness”, or Infinity, results in a different sort of endurance. Levinas calls time the endurance of, or relation with, the Infinite; and the difference between Nietzsche and Levinas, it seems then, has to do with each of them relating to, or enduring a different sort of “beyond”. Nietzsche’s overman, when faced with the prospect of his own or the other’s death– as will inevitably happen with the cooling and congealing of our star– wills power. Levinas’ response is different; for what he faces when faced with the nothingness of death is a mystery.


1Levinas, God, Death, and Time, p. 65

2Ibid. p. 116


4Ibid. p. 111

5Ibid. p. 70

6Ibid. p. 50

7Ibid. p. 113

8Ibid. p. 50

9Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense”

10Levinas, God, Death, and Time, p. 78


Black Metal Theology

According to the Jewish kabbalist, Issac Luria, it was through a constriction of the godhead that a space was opened up for the creation of the cosmos. This exile of the godhead within itself is referred to as the tzim tzum. It was in the vacuum opened up by this constriction that a series of descending worlds were brought into existence through an emanation of divine light. For the kabbalists, God was understood in terms of infinity, ineffability, inexpressibility, namelessness, and non-existence. As the fourteenth century kabbalist David ben Abraham ha-Lavan puts it, “Ayin (nothingness) is more existent than all the yesh (being) of the world.”[1] All exists within the nothingness of God, and the nothingness of God transcends all.

Two events of central importance to the Lurianic understanding of 1) the creation of the world, and 2) the origin of evil, are the creation and destruction of the primordial worlds and the “breaking of the vessels.” Luria referred to the first post-tzimtzum world as Adam-Kadmon. This realm was too lofty for the creation of our universe to take place; therefore, light is said to have emitted from Adam-Kadmon as ten independent points of light contained within a single vessel. This world was referred to as that of Akudim. The subsequent world which emanated from Akudim was referred to as Nikudim. In Nikudim, each of the ten points of light were contained in individual vessels. Now according to Luria, these powerful points of light were situated one above the other, without the sort of harmonious structure that the emanations of divine light would come to take in the world of Tikun. As Luria explains:

“The existence of vessels begins only in the world of Akudim – in which there is but one general vessel for all the ten lights – and below. Subsequently, the world of Nikudim was emanated, in which ten vessels were formed for the ten lights. /…/ [These sefirot] are referred to as ten “nekudot”, meaning individual “points” of light, rather than as ten complete sefirot. /…/ Now these ten sefirot were emanated in such a way that they were situated one above the other.”[2]

This primordial world of Nikudim, unstable and violent, is also called Tohu. Lacking any sort of harmonious structure, the lower seven vessels are said to have shattered. The shells of these broken vessels, known as the qliphoth, fell down into the abyss.

With the destruction of Tohu came the ordering of a new creation referred to as the world of Tikun. This is translates as the world of restoration.  As Moshe Miller explains, it is this world, of restoration, after Tohu, that Gensis 1:31 is said to refer to when it says: “And God looked over everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.”[3] And it is the old world, of Tohu that is said to be referred to in Genesis 36, when it speaks of the kings who once reigned in the land of Edom, before Israel. Like the old kings, who ruled lawlessly in the land of Edom, the world of Tohu was without the harmonious structure of the ten Sephirot in Tikun.

The Jewish kabbalist and mystic, Nathan of Gaza, notorious for the role he played in the seventeenth century mystical messianic movement behind the figure of Sabbatai Sevi, conceived of the infinite godhead, Ein Sof, as containing two lights— a thoughtful light, with a desire to create, and a thoughtless light, without such desire. He also believed that the vacuum (which he called tehiru), created through the tzim tzum, was divided into an upper and a lower hemisphere. Nathan theorized that when the light of Ein Sof entered tehiru in order that the worlds be created, remnants of the thoughtless aspect remained. These remnants are the shells, or qliphoth, of the disharmonious light.

So inherent to creation, and the godhead itself, according to Nathan, is a dialectic between opposites— on the one hand, we have that aspect of the divine light that desires to create (as seen in the harmonious structure of Tikkun, and the sephirotic tree of life), while on the other, there is that which despises, or works against order. The shells that contain the residue of the anti-cosmic light, according to Nathan, reside in the lower hemisphere of tehiru— this is the realm of demons and anti-worlds, described metaphorically as the realm of dragons.

Nathan did not think that the tikkun ha olam, or restoration of the world, performed by the Jewish people through the observation of the commandments, or mitzvot, involved the redemption of these qilphoth. Rather, he believed that such tikkun could only come about through a certain kind of messianic redemption—namely, the messiah’s (who was, for him, Shabbatai) descent into the depths of the Abyss.

Satan too can be viewed within a qliphotic framework, as the opposer, or anti-thesis of this world. What is important, though, is that this dialectic takes place internal to Ein. This involves telling a certain story of Satan, made possible, in large part, thanks to the framework of Rabbi Isaac ha-Kohen, as set out in the Treatise on the Left Emanation.

For Isaac ha-Kohen, the potential for evil originates within the divine economy itself.

“Nature Itself,” says Andrew Chumbley, “desires the breaking of its own laws and possibilities, and thus even its own Iconoclasm.” And “[t]he Perfected Sorcerer”, he tells us, “must ally himself to this Design and by Magick he must walk beyond it.”[4] Chumbley was a member of the closed order, Cultus Sabbati.

The “Arcanum of the Opposer”, Chumbley explains, concerns the “Powers of Self-overcoming”. The sorcerous path is a crooked one; for it is transgressive. It is a path of becoming. Stagnation is enslavement; the “Arcanum of the Opposer”, freedom. The “crooked path”, is a means of opening one’s self up to that which is wholly other, the unmanifest, beyond the veil.  In Qutub, Andrew Chumbley defines the purpose of magical practice as follows:

“to refine, develop, and eventually to transmute the Entire Being of the Magician; this process being in accordance with his Will, Desire and Belief. It is to recreate oneself in a form aligned unto one’s True Nature (the Ipseity of Otherness), and thus to become a perfect vehicle for the expression of that nature (36).”

Elsewhere he says the Adept:

“facilitates communication with the Powers and Intelligences which are masked by Name, Number, Image and Symbol. Passing through such Gates he participates within the Reality veiled by Myth and Rite, he partakes wholly of Otherness Ineffable.”

Various black metal bands, such as Dissection, Ofermod, and Mortuus, magical orders such as the Misanthropic Luciferian Order and the Temple of the Black Light, and publishers such as Ixaxar, have articulated an anti-cosmic philosophy, challenging not just the hegemonic structures of modernity, reason, capitalist consumerism, and organized religion, but even ontology.[5]

There are differences, of course, between the orders of Dragon Rouge, Cultus Sabbati, and TOTBL. But there are also similarities, as it relates to themes of transgression and becoming. My intention is not to discuss the history and philosophy of these orders per se, but to highlight some of the ways in which their ideas have influenced the theological thrust of black metal. As I see it, this is a bid farewell (adieu) to god as “big other”, or idol/demiurge, in order to move towards God (à dieu) as wholly Other, or No-thing. I’m weaving a story, drawing on several sources. And what they share in common is the theme of exit—through the cracks in Malkuth, beyond form, towards that which is No-thing, infinite.

“No time can hold the power that grows

from black earth caves and trees that die

From fierce breath and tail that whips

Black magic metal to rule again”

So sings Tommie Eriksson, of the Swedish act, Saturnalia Temple. The song, “Black Magic Metal”, taken from their first full length, Aion of Drakon, speaks of dark, occulted forces, brooding deep within the earth, extending beyond it. To come into contact with these forces, that both predate and exceed the cosmos is to be unhinged, to say the least.

“Do not come near if you are not strong

prepare to fall… and be born anew

Inner fire, only few can stand”

It’s helpful to understand the occult philosophy with which Saturnalia Temple is working. The guitarist/singer, Tommie Eriksson, is a friend of Thomas Karlsson, founder of Dragon Rouge and author of Qabalah, Qliphoth, and Goetic Magic. Eriksson is himself a member of Dragon Rouge and has contributed on more than one occasion to the order’s journal, Dracontias.[6] Other Swedish bands associated with Dragon Rouge are Ofermod and Serpent Noir. In Dragon Rouge, the Qabalah is an important pillar, especially as it relates to the spiritual ordeal that is the ascent of the tree of knowledge— described in terms of ten anti-poles, corresponding to each sephira on the tree of life. These anti-worlds, or qliphoth, are sources of power and becoming, populated by demons. From Nahemo (the antipole of Malkuth, ruled by Nahema) to Thaumiel (the antipole of Kether, ruled by Satan and Moloch), the adept must ascend the tree of knowledge in order to attain Godhood. This spiritual ordeal, this exit— out of the cosmos, through Lilith’s womb— is carried out in order that the sorcerer may enter into the fullness of his or her own existence. This is none other than the path to Godhood. It is a fiery path— like Lucifer, the adept must fall in order to be born anew. “Do not come near if you are not strong… only few can stand,” as Eriksson sings.

Members of other Swedish bands, such as Ofermod and Serpent Noir, are also fraters in Dragon Rouge. Then there’s the now defunct, but also Swedish, Dissection, whose front man, Jon Nödtveidt, was a member the Misanthropic Luciferian Order (later renamed the Temple of the Black Light). Dissection’s third full length, Reinkaos, is full of occult symbolism related to the MLO, with lyrical content gleaned from the order’s grimoire, Liber Azerate. Lyrics are cited as being penned not only by Nödtveidt himself, but also Frater Nemidial who was the Magister Templi of the MLO.[7] Like Dragon Rouge, the TOTBL has developed a magical system based on the qliphoth.

TOTBL’s occult philosophy is meontotheological, in the way Conor Cunningham describes, insofar as “the hegemony of the nothing sucks all in, allowing (only) nothingness to escape.”[8] With “meontotheology” (coming from meontology where the One is held to be beyond being), the logic of the ultimate nothing reigns supreme.[9] Beyond the veil, beyond conscious grasp— beyond what Tehôm of Mortuus calls the “excrements of history”, the “simplicity of hunger, sleep and pro-creation”— lies the void, the unmanifest nothingness:

“In blindness you deemed Satan comprehensible –

Still you cannot even see the smallest grain of sand,

In this desert of otherworldly misgrowth

Where we erase our names from the book of life

And let our voices fade into nothingness

For what could ever be more beautiful

Than the abandonment of it all –

In a self-chosen bestial madness?”[10]

The demiurge emerged, stupidly, out of the divine Nothing, and the divine Nothing shall one day swallow up his cosmos. Satan is the antithesis of the thoughtful light, the opposer of the demiurge, who will usher in this return to Nothingness. “The vastness of hell is expanding in every direction,” as Tehôm sings.

We see can find similarities in contemporary continental realisms, as well as Chumbley and Daniel Schulke’s (another Cultus Sabbati member) occult philosophies of nature. As Graham Harman explains, with regard to the vitalism of the philosopher Iain Hamilton Grant, for example, “the dynamism in the world comes from a formless “productivity” rather than from individual objects.”[11] Now in Schulke’s Lux Haeresis, the Unknown’s becoming manifest is spoken of in terms of a “refraction of singularity.”[12] Indeed, the Void is described as “being monad”.[13] A similar sort of conception of unmanifest reality is to be found in Chumbley’s opus magnum, Azoëtia, the arch-grimoire of the Cultus Sabbati. Thus, it turns out that the otherness of being mentioned above, which, for Chumbley, alignment with is the goal of sorcerous practice, is none other than a quintessence conceived of as “the indivisible Monas of Magick Itself, the seed of primordial gnosis which is inherent to the entity of the Mage.”[14] “The Arcanum of the Magickal Quintessence may be understood,” says Chumbley, “as the direct comprehension of the source which informs, supports and vitalises all elements of the Manifest.”[15] It is “a subtle means,” as he goes on to tell us, “to behold manifest form and character as the modalities of the single power.”[16]

This isn’t a reductive monism, however. Like Emmanuel Levinas, Chumbley and Schulke speak of transcendence. Levinas was weary of monism insofar as it reduces the otherness of beings under the unity of the same. But Chumbley and Schulke aren’t at all denying the category of the “absolutely other”. Rather, the two seem to have more in common with Levinas’ own position. For Levinas, like them, held that 1) reality exceeds conscious grasp, and 2) beyond form there is the anonymous rumbling of the il y a—a formlessness which itself extends into the absolutely other. Indeed, Chumbley and Schulke are certainly not denying the possibility of that which can shock, of those moments in our lives which defy all comprehension. Indeed, such moments are an important component of magical practice. That Harman accuses Levinas of “[undercutting] the presence of all phenomena with a single mighty stroke of divine Infinity,”[17] bears witness to the similarity between Levinas and the Cultus Sabbati writers.

It’s not that the Kabbalists, Levinas, Chumbley and Schulke, or even the Gnostic Satanist, are reducing the world to a formless reality in the sense of the world being an illusion. The world has substance, apart from the Nothing. The world isn’t an illusion. The Kabbalists aren’t espousing the same sort of monism as an Advaita Vedantist, for example. The world is contained in the Nothingness of God; yet God, at the same time, transcends the world. This is the key point. The world isn’t an illusion, it is contingent. It emerges out of, is sustained by, and (for the Satanist, at least) will be swallowed up by that which transcends it. In Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim: Early Masters, Rabbi Levi Yitzkhak is said to have sung the following song:

“Where I wander—You./ Where I ponder—You./ Only You, You again, always You./ You! You! You!/ When I’m gladdened—You./ When I am saddened—You./ Only You, You again, always You./ You! You! You!/ Sky is You. Earth is You./ You above. You below./ In every trend, at every end/ Only You, You again, always You./ You! You! You!”

Thus, the monism, as espoused by the Kabbalists, has to do with the unity of all things in God, “the All”. Yet, God is, at the same time referred to as “No-thing”, that which transcends form. There is not a second in which the universe is not sustained by the divine force of God. God is “the All” insofar as everything exists in and through God; yet God is “No-thing”, transcending the bounded world. The bounded world of things exists in and through the boundlessness of God. As Rabbi Yitzkhak comments in on Genesis 1:1, in the Kedushat Levi:

“Everything (ha-klal) – that the Creator, the Blessed One, created all (ha-khol), and is all (ha-khol), and His influence/emanation, it never ceases from the universe, because in every moment His emanation flows to creation, and all the [material] worlds, and to all the celestial precincts, and to all the angels, and to all the holy beasts. Thus we read: Forming (yotzer) light and creating darkness, – [but] not, He formed (yatzar) light and created darkness. [We] only [find] yozter, in the present tense, because in every moment He is forming, that in every moment He is flowing life-force to all life. And everything from Him is blessed, it is complete, and it is comprised (k’lul) from The All (ha-khol). And thereby when a person comes to No-Thing (Ain), then he knows that he [himself] is not anything (aino klum), [there is] only the Creator, the Blessed One, placing strength/existence in him. Only then can he call to the Creator, the Blessed One, by the aspect yatzar [the past tense], namely, that He has already created him.”[18]

Of course, for the Gnostic Satanist, yesh is, as Nebiros of Ofermod sings “[m]isgrown diversity”, and “[v]ain existance where existance is Naught.”[19] What distinguishes the Gnostic Satanist from Levinas, or the Jewish Kabbalists is their view of creation, of the emergence of something out of nothing. The Gnostic Satanist, drawing on Nathan of Gaza, sees this as a mistake— the result of a thoughtful light, of the demiurge’s foolish desire to create. Whereas the kabbalist believes in the reconstitution of cosmic harmony through tikkun, the Gnostic Satanist desires no such balance. The Satanist instead wills the swallowing up of this world: “Pralaya Divine/Withdrawal to Ain,” as is sung in Ofermod’s “Pralayic Withdrawal”.

Like the kabbalists, and Levinas, the theological movement of black metal is monotheistic. Everything is born and dies in the No-thingness of God. The difference between the philosophy of Levinas and back metal lies in their view of the thoughtful light—according to which the Godhead, rather than rest in thought of itself, constricted itself so as to create an “atheist” space, or vacuum, wherein the outpouring of worlds became possible. As expressed in the art of Ofermod or Mortuus, the creative principle is a retardation of the No-thing, of the “rest of perfect Darkness”, when “the Vast Darkness was in Itself”, before “the outpouring of transient worlds”.[20] This is no vulgar Satanism. This is a theologically refined Satanism. No longer are we talking about the naïve evil vs. good of earlier bands such as Mayhem or Burzum. Like the kabbalists, the potential for evil, the anti-thesis of the creative principle, can be traced back to the same source as the good, as the will to create. All exists in the No-thing. However, while the kabbalists espouse the idea of tikkun, of balance, of the severity of Gevurah being kept in check, the theological impetus of black metal is to see this “unplugging” of the power of the left emanation from the harmony of the ten sefirot, and its growth, as fed by the evil inclination of man, as inevitable.

Satan is worshiped as the face of Gevurah. “[T]he vastness of hell is expanding in every direction,”[21] as Tehôm of Mortuus sings. This is the inevitable overcoming of god. The demiurge, or creative principle, and the cosmos it gave rise to, are but the child of No-thing, delivered only to be swallowed up again. The cosmos is, as Nebiros of Ofermod sings, “[l]ife taken from Death”. It is No-thingness “[d]isturbed in its holy peace.”[22]

In the “Evocation of Amezarak”, Dødsengel recounts the prophecy issued by the opposer:  “[g]eburah, the dagger, will sever the ties between the cosmos [and] [a]ll shall embrace the utter spiritual void…”[23] “[E]verything becomes Thee,” sings Tehôm— for everything dies in Ein, returns to No-thingness. As Ofermod sing, in “Chôshekh Ên Sôf”:

‘Negating the emanations of the “father of all”

inverting the process that once gave me Life

Destroying the world of the speaker

bathing in the well of life beyond life’[24]

The theological impetus of black metal is Gnostic insofar as it looks beyond the creative principle/demiurge, beyond being, towards a G-d who inexists— in short, a G-d who is no god. Whereas Levinas and the kabbalists look favorably on creation, the Gnostic Satanist sees it as “a second”, a “fleeting state”[25]— a mere fluctuation, to be subsumed once again in the perfect black. “The pendulum is set in motion,” as Tehôm sings in “Disobedience”; “[i]n a heart beat day has turned into night.”[26]

As Tehôm sings, in the hymn, “Supplication for the Demise of All: Withdrawal into the Lifeless Sanctum”:

Oh, God of the perfect black, how could I possibly describe in words,

the awe and worship I feel for Thee?

Yea, above all thing Thou art!

And everything becomes Thee,

yes, everything dies in Thee!

For Thou art the channel of Thyself.

There lies the redemption of Death fulfilled

There is the salvation and final release.

Of course, Harman has a problem with what he sees as “the single De Profundis[27] of Levinas—and would no doubt say the same of Chumbley, Schulke, or Tehôm. That is not to say, however, that Harman’s own philosophy doesn’t give expression to a sort of De Profundis, but that it’s not a single, monotheistic God. For Harman, Levinas’ mistake is that in “downplaying the notion of manifold individual surpluses lying in various individual things, he tends to regard Infinity as a single Holy Other.”[28] For Harman, “things have exteriority— an aspect that lies beyond their position in the world as we know it”[29] Yet, for Harman, this exteriority isn’t thought of in terms of formlessness or transcendence. For Harman, it’s forms, or objects, all the way down.

Harman argues that there isn’t much reason, apart from speculation, to think exteriority in terms of “a formless elemental realm preceding any condensation into definite shapes.”[30] Yet, Harman is himself speculating. For if reality is, as he concedes, far stranger than we could ever imagine, then on what grounds are we to dismiss Levinas, or Chumbley and Schulke? Ironically, Harman bases his dismissal on the world as it appears to him—namely, as made up of objects. Indeed, I’d say the Jewish mystic, or Chumbley and Schulke, have the upper hand insofar as their exploration extends beyond ordinary states.

Tehȏm of Mortuus expresses his devotion towards the wholly Other God, or De Profundis, as follows:

The spirit can not die in anything but in Thee

Therefore I implore Thee in prayer

for everything must be destroyed so that You can live,

…so that I can live

Oh, God of the perfect black, how could I possibly describe in words,

the awe and worship I feel for Thee?[31]

And Naas Alcameth of Nightbringer proclaims the apocalyptic euaggellion of the absolutely other:

“And in the eyes of their dying children, they shall see

In the shallow breath of the sick and starving, they shall hear

In the husks of their failing mortality, they shall feel

The great Truth shall be known and all will despair

The Nothing lurks just beyond the horizon

Flesh and blood is all that binds

Ever-failing as life’s light grows dim

The end is coming

And all shall be cast to the void”[32]

If the distinguishing feature of narrative is “a linear organization of events”[33], then the narrative underlying this black metal can be said to hinge on the notion of a primordial beginning and an apocalyptic end, or return to the primordiality of Edom. The devotee forsakes the flesh, as well as the world, undergoing a hermetic death or alchemical solve of self in order to progress along the path of theurgy or coagula, towards union with the divine Other, moving beyond all cosmic structure:

“Death is thy name, yet I name thee God, for there is no other. To thee I give my body like fodder to the grave and offer breath that hath become as the Serpent’s hiss. I exhale from my mouth the flame of an inner fire, the greater “I” becoming, and let my husk be filled with the wine of the abyss.[34]


“I would draw the gaze of my daemon self upon myself that I may murder myself and become my daemon, and move ever closer towards the incalculable totality of the Great Darkness that is the Supreme.”[35]

“Death in the highest sense”, according to Ophis of Nightbringer, “is literally transformation, transcendence beyond formal limitation.”[36] Fellow band member Naas Alcameth clarifies further, in another interview, the concept of spiritual Death:

“Death as a gate of immanence to be known and embraced that would lead away from the law of severity which governs conditioned existence. The ascent proceeds to realms which are progressively un-ruled and unrestricted by the laws of multiplicity and “form,” representing the passage from becoming to Being in the traditional initiatic conception.”[37]

“However”, says Ophis, “even this is not the pinnacle, for beyond Being is the Absolute, the Divine Darkness.”[38]  Just as Partridge traces much of Western demonology back to an exegesis of the Genesis story of the Sons of God and the Nephilim[39], many bands’ conceptions of the wholly Other, the outer Darkness, Nothingness or the Void can be traced back to an interpretation of the Genesis creation myth which sought to reconcile the infinity of God with the emanation of a finite cosmos, or, in other words, provide a theologically coherent account of the transition from ayin (nothingness) to yesh (something). Tehȏm of Mortuus recounts how:

“Before the outpouring of transient worlds

the Vast Darkness was in Itself

He was not, and I in Him

in a rest of perfect Darkness

. . .

Still-born existence, rejoicing in a pitch-black womb[40]

As I’ve pointed out, for the Kabbalists, the creation of something (yesh) out of Nothing (ayin) came to be explained through the notion of a divine self-contraction, or tzimtzum. The infinite light (ohr ayn sof) of God was drawn aside so as to create a space for the creation (or better yet, emanation) of the world. As Gershom Scholem explains, God made room for the world through “abandoning a region within Himself, a kind of mystical primordial space from which He withdrew in order to return to it in the act of creation and revelation.”[41]

Nathan of Gaza (referenced in the publications of both Dragon Rouge and the Temple of the Black Light) conceived of the infinite godhead, Ein Sof, as containing two lights: a thoughtful light (ohr she-yesh bo mahshavah) and a thoughtless light (ohr she-ein bo mahshavah). As Scholem explains, the nature of this latter light was “to rest in itself and to emanate unto itself, without leaving the realm of Ein Sof[42] Nathan also believed that tehiru, as he referred to the vacuum created through tzimtzum, was divided into an upper and a lower hemisphere. The shells containing residue of the thoughtless light reside, according to Nathan, in the lower hemisphere of tehiru. This is crucial to understanding the TOTBL’s occult philosophy, and its 218 current.

These are the “very destructive, demonic forces” which Mika Hakola of Ofermod says the band channels “in an occult way”. He continues:

“I am myself approaching these forces in this way in my personal spiritual life, forces that for me become constructive instead of destructive, because through these forces I am in search of Luciferian Gnosis and illumination, which in the end results in godhood attained, according to the promise of Lord Lucifer in the shape of the serpent in the book of Berashith/Genesis when he offered mankind the potentiality to become gods themselves by tasting the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, that is the shadow side of the Tree of Life. It is this northern shadow side that I explore to achieve Self-Deification. A long and demanding process, but each treasure of the underworld is worth the effort required by him or her who have chosen this path.”[43]

Within occult black metal, the Devil is “the Idol of opposition, the Opposer or Adversary”[44], the great (anti-)emanation of the thoughtless light, the Christos of tehiru’s draconian depths that beckons the return to the Nothingness that is the womb of All:

“Behold the Great Opposer, thou who art as Death! Oh that I may become at one with mine otherness of being. I seek the smagdarine crown jewel of the victorious conqueror of Eden, Lucifer Trismegistus, Janus-faced daimon. Thou who gazeth upon the Dark Abyss of Silence, Vast Depth of Nothingness, Great Void of Light beyond Light. Oh Highest One, Great Devourer, Universal Solvent, may I become at one with Thee! Bring forth the Flame that cracks the clay and tears the soul to unite the deathless spirit with Death itself. Illuminate me with a scourge of burning cinders that strikes me with the causeless liberty of Thine unfathomable fantasy. The draconian perfection born from thy boundless rebellion.”[45]


See Eschaton’s molested cunt unfold

Icons vomit seas of curdled blood

And Christ descends in feverish rapture

Mantis-faced and reeking of insane love

His tongue crushes the horizon line

Fingers distort their sidereal march

Gaping mouths filled with burning seed

A Wisdom too swift for Reason’s claws

O Messiah that lurks between each heartbeat . . .

The Kingdom shall come as a thief at night

To rob us off formation’s sleep

With a Light that no eyelid was made to block

Like eardrums that burst a great lengths ‘neath the sea

Come! Come!

The cracked bells of Ratio have all rung

Come! Come!

Savior of a Secret Sun

Come! Come!

Exclaim the Truth that we all shun

Come! Come!

Christi vel Abaddon…[46]

Binaries such as cosmos/anti-cosmos, order/chaos, life/death, day/night, light/darkness, God/Devil run through black metal. Given that black metal is, like any form of popular music, a historically and culturally situated text,[47] these binaries are to be understood in relation to the context in which the genre emerged. For within Western socio-cultural contexts, symbols of life, light, and fertility are given prominence over those of death, darkness, and decay. The latter, being anomalous to the symbolic taxonomy of the West, have been dealt with in various ways— whether temporarily controlled through bio-medical technologies, or religiously elevated into “the greater scheme of things”. The movement of black metal, however, assimilates these anomalies, giving to them a metaphysical significance, as the poison of the Devil, the acosmic forces which beckon a return to the Void. As Anthony Sciscione notes, “[b]lack metal’s discourse of renewal is grounded upon its harnessing of polar energies in collusion with its antagonistic posturing against standard, non-intense social and ontological states.”[48] Black metal musicians, in their performance, mark the socio-symbolic and ontological boundary between yesh and ayin upon their bodies, expressing their identity as an identity-in-contrast, and acting as conduits to the spirits of the Nightside, giving voice to the Voiceless, to the thoughtless Light (ohr she-ein bo mahshavah) beyond light. As Kæffel of Hetroertzen declares:

Peace is the Absolute Darkness

Which came before this Light

But the True Light lies far beyond the Dying Sun

There is no Form, no Matter, no Time, no Pain, no Death.

The Endless Hole of Nothingness

Devours all False Light shining in Space.[49]

Or as one of the conduits of Irkallian Oracle explains:

“When performing live we want to do nothing else than to invite those present to the apocalyptic and mystical oration of the Abyss itself. So the use of hoods, incense, skulls and so on are mainly meant to set up the useful atmosphere for such an event, but they obviously carry symbolic virtues in themselves as well. For instance, the veiling of our faces signifies our role as the Oracle, being bereft of our individual human features and speaking the voices from beyond the fabric of illusion.”[50]

For the anti-cosmic Satanist, “Sitra Ahra ruled solitary before creation”, as one Saturnalia Temple track is titled; and Lucifer is the torchbearer who will usher in the return to the primordial womb of chaos. All those of the blood of Cain will turn their back on the demiurge, and like Cain, murder the Adam that is their human self. The sorcerer sets out on the path, as paved by the first murderer and illuminated by Satan, through the womb of Lilith, towards Nothingness— “the madness into which all things flow”, as one Thantifaxath track is titled. The sorcerer seeks a jouissance fulfilled, whatever the cost. When posed with the question, “your money or your life”, the Satanist opts for the latter. That one will lose one’s money either way doesn’t necessarily make it a forced choice, as Lacan thought. Remember, Death is the gateway to the Other Side. One may lose one’s money, as well as one’s life, but one gains something which cannot be gained in any other way. As Naas Alcameth recounts, “the destruction of the ego is only immediately accessible via physical death.”

Not only does the adept of the 218 current form part of a subculture existing in the shadows of the mainstream— they give metaphysical significance to the very shadows they lurk within. Socially repudiated images of death, darkness, night, shadows, and decay become appropriated as symbols in relation to which the identity of the practitioner is constituted. The linearity so central to the structure of narrative[51] is in this case expressed in relation to the two events of: 1) a primordial beginning conceived of as an utter darkness which preceded the light (or in Kabbalistic terms, Ein Sof’s state of resting within itself before the tzim tzum or self-contraction necessary for the emanation of the cosmos), and 2) an apocalyptic withdrawal of all cosmic emanation to this womb of Nothingness. The practitioner makes use of these images in order to deal with a present state of existence that is deemed hostile, to be escaped from. As the somewhat anonymous author , N.A-A. 218, associated with Ixaxar publishing and magister of the Cult of Falxifer, states, regarding 182 current of the Qayinite cult (related to the 218 current of TOTBL) that:

“Qayin was much more than just a murderer, He was the first Awakened One of Spirit . . . the First Killer of Man, the First Gravedigger, the First Necromancer, the First Exiled, the First Luciferian/Satanist (consciously siding with the Adversary of the Demiurge), the First Conqueror of Fate . . . the First King/Sovereign ruling outside of the “grace” of the Demiurge and the First Mighty Dead who. . . transcended the limitations of the Dayside and took throne in Sitra Ahra.”

The pseudonymous Noxifer, on behalf of the once Swedish Misantropiska Lucifer Orden (perhaps most well known for its association with the Swedish Black Metal band Dissection, particularly its front man Jon Nödtveidt who himself committed ritual suicide.[52]) once stated that:

“Misanthropy and contempt for society are also essential parts of the true Satanism. Because if a sufficient will shall be able to exist to attain the spiritual evolution and bring forth the endless dark aeon, which is the highest goal for the Anti-cosmic Satanist, there must also exist a burning hate against the prevalent order and the human sheep who gladly submit to the tyranny of the demiurge and the light, pro-cosmic religions.”[53]

The dissolving energy that black metal channels is necessarily followed by a coagula, a reconstitution in the form of an ascended Self. This Self can be said to be “hyper-excarnate”. It is certainly the opposite of hyper-carnate in so far as the flesh is, in typically Gnostic fashion, deemed a prison. However, excarnate is not enough. The Satanic repudiation of the cosmos— coupled always with the theme of transcendence— represents a form of extreme excarnation.

Yet, this excarnation occurs from the locus of incarnation. This is where we find the theme of the anti-logos. The anti-logos is the very “hideous gnosis”[54] of black metal; or as Nightbringer have referred to it, the “The Gnosis of Inhumation”[55] or “death to the profane self”[56].

A good example of this theme, of the incarnation of the anti-logos/Word of Satan, is the 2012 album by Verbum Verus entitled, Melkiresha. We can translate the name of the band itself as “true word”, and the name of the album is none other than that of Satan, as taken from the 4Q’Amram dead sea scroll fragment. The figure Melki-resha, is the antagonist of Melchizidek, he is the anti-messiah, or prince of darkness. The album itself perfectly represents this theme.

Satan’s horns cast a shadow in this world— one can look around and discern his mystery, his dominion. Here we have a rich theological inversion of the Christian theme of incarnation. It is through the incarnation of the anti-logos, of the holy word of Satan, that transformation takes place. The inner body is dissolved in order that the coagulation of the excarnate body can take place. As Alcameth sings, “until my heart is not but flame”. The theme of the body as a vessel for the Lord is inverted within Melkiresha. The mouth, the eyes, the heart, all become transformed in Satan.

Is this not the perfect inversion of the doctrine of the incarnation, as expressed by Athanasius, for example, according to which the logos became incarnate so that the flesh could be transformed? In Melkiresha the transformation of the body of the servant of the Lord Satan in turn transforms that with which it comes into contact with. “May what I touch become cancerous” he sings, and “may my gaze pierce the heart of the righteous”.

This theme of transformation then comes to climax with the theme of the apocalypse as taken from the Book of Revelation. What Satan begins through sowing his seed within the world— a seed spread by his faithful disciples (you see the inversion? Compare to the Christian theme of spreading the Word of God)— is brought to completion with the coming of the beast. We find throughout Melkiresha a theme which, true to the name of the album, comes straight from the dead sea scrolls; namely, an antagonistic struggle between the Christ and anti-Christ. Indeed, the theme of inversion expressed throughout the album is none other than the channelling of the spirit of the anti-Christ as an inversion of the Christ. Redemption belongs to those chosen (and this chosenness is emphasized throughout the album) few, Satan’s elect; it takes the form of a rapturous hyper-excarnate transcendence of the flesh, having been transformed by the Word of the Lord Satan. Indeed, even the New Testament theme of every knee bowing before the Lord is taken up by the band, and inverted. It is Satan before whom every knee shall bow. The earth belongs to him. His cancerous seed has been planted within the soil of the earth—an earth which, like the selves of his servants, will be dissolved.

However, though the self is in a process of dissolution, and the earth one of degradation, the eschaton will result in liberation, transcendence, redemption. This narrative event, of the apocalypse, is an important one; however, Melkiresha highlights the full force of it. It is in relation to this event, when all shall bow before the ten horns of the beast, that the process of alchemical dissolution initiated by the internalization of the anti-logos finds its coagula. Here we see the theological significance of the Cain/Abel dichotomy. Cain’s transcendence—his exit, out of Eden, and into the wilderness (which can here be read theologically as a kind of anti-Eden, the primordial Nothingness before the Tzim Tzum)— is closely related to the slaying of Abel’s flesh.

Redemption is, as I have already pointed out, hyper-excarnate. One must die in order to live. Here, once again, we find an inversion of Christian theology. As is the case in baptism, one dies to the world in order to be reborn apart from it. In order to move beyond the confines of conditioned existence, one must dissolve the house of clay.


[1] As quoted in Daniel C. Matt, “Ayin: The Concept of Nothingness in Jewish Mysticism”, pg. 43

[2] Isaac Luria, Shaar HaHakdamot, Derush 1 b’Olam HaNikudim, quoted in Moshe Miller, “Shattered Vessels”, Kabbalah Online, web,

[3] Moshe Miller, “Shattered Vessels”, Kabbalah Online, web,

[4] Andrew Chumbley, Azoetia,

[5] I can only refer you to search out a 2010 publication of the Temple of the Black Light which is no longer available online via their website due to them closing it in order to safeguard the closed nature of their organization, which they perceived as becoming too publicized at one point. I myself have a PDF version of this publication which includes explanations of their doctrines as well as rituals for the practitioner to work through; however, as they explicitly warn in relation to their copyright, this information cannot be “altered, reproduced, posted, published, or otherwise displayed without the express written consent of Temple of The Black Light”.

[6] See, for example, Tommie Eriksson, “Tantra and the Left Hand Path. Part 2: Amrita”, Dracontias, Vol. 2, 2009, pp. 4-7; also, Tommie Eriksson, “The Triangular Temple of Draconian Initiation, Magical Tradition, and the Penurious.” Dracontias, 2008, pp. 6-8

[7] Dissection, Reinkaos, Black Horizon, 2006

[8] Conor Cuningham, Genealogies of Nihilism, p.250

[9] Ibid. p. xiii

[10] Mortuus, “Nemesis”

[11] Graham Harman, The Quadruple Object, pg. 138

[12] Daniel A. Schulke, Lux Haeresis, Cheshire: XOANON Limited, 2011, pp. 19-20

[13] ibid

[14] Andrew Chumbley, Azoëtia, Cheshire: XOANON Limited, 2002, p. v

[15] Ibid. pp. v-vi

[16] Ibid. p. vi

[17] Harman, G. Guerrilla Metaphysics, 2005, Chicago: Open Court, p. 14

[18] As quoted and translated by Rabbi Geoff Dennis over at Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism. See the blog post “Ain and Yesh: Being and Nothingness in Judaism”, web,, 2008

[19] Ofermod, “Death Cantata”

[20]Mortuus, “Rebirth in the Sterile Triad of Six”

[21] Mortuus, “Nemesis”

[22] Ofermod, “Death Cantata”

[23] Dødsengel, “Evocation of Amezarak”

[24] Ofermod, ”Chôshekh Ên Sôf”

[25] Mortuus, “Tzel Maveth”

[26] Mortuus, “Disobedience”

[27] Harman, G. Guerrilla Metaphysics, 2005, Chicago: Open Court, p. 14

[28] Ibid. p. 13

[29] Harman, G. “Levinas and the Triple Critique of Heidegger”, Philosophy Today, winter, 2009, p. 410

[30] ibid

[31] Mortuus, “Supplication for the Demise of All: Withdrawal into the Lifeless Sanctum”, De contemplanda Morte; De Reverencie laboribus ac Adorationis, The Ajna Offensive, 2007, CD

[32] Nightbringer, “The Void”, Rex Ex Ordine Throni, Full Moon Productions, 2005, CD

[33] Cohan and Shires, quoted Franzosi , R., “Narrative Analysis-Or Why (And How) Sociologists Should be Interested in Narrative”, Annual Review of Sociology , Vol. 24, 1998, p. 519

[34] Nightbringer, “Eater of the Black Lead” Hierophany of the Open Grave, 2011, Season of Mist, CD

[35] Nightbringer, “Dreaming Above the Sepulcher” Hierophany of the Open Grave, 2011, Season of Mist, CD

[36] Matt, “Nightbringer”, Metal Psalter, 2010, web,

[37] Dalihrob, “Interview with Nightbringer”, Mortem Zine, September 2011, web,

[38] Matt, “Nightbringer”, Metal Psalter, 2010, web,

[39] Partridge, C., The Re-Enchantment of the West, Vol 2, London: T&T Clark, 2005, p. 211

[40] Mortuus, “Birth in the Sterile Triad of Six”, De contemplanda Morte; De Reverencie laboribus ac Adorationis, The Ajna Offensive, 2007, CD

[41] Gershom Scholem quoted in Aschheim, S. E., “The Metaphysical Psychologist: On the Life and Letters of Gershom Scholem”, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 76, No. 4, 2004, p. 906

[42] Scholem, G., On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead: Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah, New York: Schocken Books, 1997, pp. 84-85

[43] “Ofermod Interview”, Absolute Zero Media Magazine, 2008, web,

[44] Naas Alcameth quoted in J.B. Bauer, “Interview with Alcameth of Nightbringer”, Full Moon Productions, December 2005, web,

[45] Nightbringer, “Lucifer Trismegestus”, Hierophany of the Open Grave, 2011, Season of Mist, CD

[46] Irkallian Oracle, “Iconoclasm”, Grave Ekstasis, Bolvärk, 2013, CD

[47] Santana, R. & G. Erickson, Religion and Popular Culture: Rescripting the Sacred, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers, 2008, pg. 69

[48] Sciscione, A., “Goatsteps Behind My Steps . . .’: Black Metal and Ritual Renewal” Hideous Gnosis: Black Metal Theory Symposium I, Ed. Masciandaro, N., p. 171

[49] Hetroertzen, “Light Beyond the Obscure” Exaltation of Wisdom, Lamech Records, 2010, CD

[50] Ankit, “Cthonic Revelations: An Interview with Irkallian Oracle”, Heathen Harvest, 2013, web,

[51] Cohan and Shires, quoted Franzosi , R., “Narrative Analysis-Or Why (And How) Sociologists Should be Interested in Narrative”, Annual Review of Sociology , Vol. 24, 1998, p. 519

[52] See Granholm’s recent article, “Ritual Black Metal: Popular Music as Occult Mediation and Practice”, in Correspondences, 1.1, 2013, 5–33, for a brief walk through of the black metal- occult connection in which he makes mention of both the MLO and TOTBL.

[53] “MLO: Misantropiska Lucifer Orden”, Slayer Magazine, no date given, web,

[54] I am here making reference to the Hideous Gnosis: Black Metal Theory Symposium I edited by Nicola Masciandaro

[55] Nightbringer, “The Gnosis of Inhumation” Hierophany of the Open Grave, 2011, Season of Mist, CD

[56] Kristensen, R., “Nightbringer 1/2- …death to the profane self…”, Imhotep, web,

Writing on Religion After the Death of God (unfinished manuscript)

Not too long ago I attended a conference. During the Q&A, I raised a question, relating to power. At the end of the session, I overheard two professors (internationally respected professors, white men in suits): “it seems we can’t have a conference where the word “power” doesn’t come up”, they laughed. Sara Ahmed (2014: para. 4) instructs us to see “white men” as an institution— a normative framework, within which one is recognized as such. As an “academic”, for example— one looks the part, knows what conversation to contribute to. The participants assemble. The first speaker steps up. And the crowd— they “are seeing what they expect to see,” says Ahmed; “they are seeing one person and not another as professor because “white men” have already been assembled. Here come the professors, here is the professor; hello professor (Ahmed 2014: para. 15).” Such is the homogeneity of many an academic conference. When Ahmed posted her reflections on her blog, Adam Kotsko (2014) joined in the conversation. His post speaks to my own experience that day, where I overheard two white men— published, suited, respected— laugh at my concerns:

“The pushy interloper’s positions don’t seem to belong to the set of familiar toys we know how to manipulate. They don’t seem to allow us to take up our accustomed stance of studied neutrality, don’t let us assess them from afar by clear rational standards everyone would agree on. We’re trying to have an intellectual debate here, and the pushy interloper insists on asking us questions about how we live our lives. Worse, they seem to be insisting that we change our lives…(Kotsko 2014: para. 2).”

The problem in academia, I want to argue, is that it is too “theistic”. The solution, then, is a certain kind of “atheism”, a break from authority, as symbolized by the broken trident. Note, this has little to do with an attack on the supernatural, or the sort of scientism espoused by the likes of Dawkins.

The scholarly enterprise is, as Morny Joy (2005:36) says, “always already compromised”. We find ourselves in an enterprise where one becomes recognizable as a scholar by conforming to a certain matrix of intelligibility. The reproduction of knowledge happens, in the academy, within the confines of a discourse that is, for the most part, taken for granted. This is a discourse that stipulates that to be a scholar one must do X. X entails many things. Some of these are: be a man (just kidding…not really); adopt an informal mode of writing; be objective, impersonal; avoid the first-person, don’t use too much I’s and we’s; submit your papers to certain journals, the review boards of which uphold a hegemony of knowledge, and foster the sorts of attitudes that lead to a combative environment. These are just some of the things. The discourse is phallic. The rationalist epistemological assumptions underlying the reproduction of knowledge in the academia, as well as ideals such as scholarly disinterest and objectivity are, as feminists have been saying (cf. Joy 2005; Hawthorne 2005), androcentric, western (and, I would also add, bullshit).

On Lacan’s model, the child submits not to the literal father, but to the Name of the Father— the Big Other, the symbolic framework, or matrix of intelligibility, in relation to which the child becomes recognizable as such, becomes a subject, like the (m)other. The child learns this act of submission from the (m)other. The child can’t have the (m)other, can’t be the (m)other’s centre of attention. The Big Other has the (m)other, like a puppet on a string.  We enter the academy as children, and we learn from our peers/(m)others the way to submit to the Big Other. We learn that “academic writing” means leaving out the “I”, being objective, impersonal. No contractions, no “I’m”, or “that’s”, or “we’ve”. No informal language. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with this. Indeed, it is perfectly correct. It’s just not right in the academy. Because the Big Other says so. God bless the student who asks “why can’t I write informally?”. But God strengthen her soul when she’s told “that’s just the way it is” (whether explicitly or implicitly, either way, that’s what it boils down to at the end of the day). X is scholarly because X is X. That is the violence Zizek sees as characteristic of the law. The law is the law because the law is the law. No questions!

Here in Finland, persons like to think of things as being equal. Indeed, in many university departments there are as much, or even more, women as there are men. So it’s equal… or so we like to tell ourselves. Let’s drop the word “equality” and instead start talking about inclusivity, plurality, and the celebration of difference. Do our departments celebrate difference? If it’s easier for someone to get a job in a university if they write in an objective, “scholarly” style, as opposed to say an autoethnographer, who combines autobiography, self-reflection, and ethnography, do we have plurality? And if one doesn’t think autoethnographers have a hard time getting their work published, just read Nicholas Holt’s (2003) essay “Representation, Legitimation, and Autoethnography: An Autoethnographic Writing Story”. The fact is, for those of us who don’t conform to the matrix of intelligibility that reigns in academia today, according to which a scholar becomes recognizable as such, they have to convince their colleagues that they too are scholars.

When talking about the supposed choice between subjectification or rejection of the Oedipal structure, Lacan said it’s like being held up by a robber who proclaims “your money or your life!” In other words, it’s a forced choice. Either you submit to the Name of the Father, or be a no-body in the eyes of the (big) other. She who rejects the Name of the Father of academia is reduced to a “non-scholar”; she is in the academy, yet unrecognizable as an “academic”. “It is an interesting article but that is not scholarship,” one scholar once remarked in response to a piece written by Rita M. Gross (2005: 23). That feminist stuff…it’s too subjective, too normative. That’s the idea of many “scientific” scholars of religion. Indeed, “employment can be difficult” for those engaging in more personal, interested modes of research (Gross 2005: 24). Just as there is the abject of political life, there is the abject of scholarly life. To include more women, black, indigenous, and LGBTQ persons in the academy has been on the agenda for some time now, and has, in many ways, been successful (Gross 2005: 18). But we still have a long way to go. You see, while it’s on the agenda now to include female, black, indigenous, lesbian, and gay persons in our departments, and anthologies, this is often done insofar as these persons conform to a certain matrix of intelligibility. That is, that they are female, black, indigenous, lesbian, and gay “scholars”— “scholars” in the sense that they write and act as a “scholar” is expected to do. Things get a bit messy when a woman scholar, for instance, decides to make use of poetry in her research project (Fontana & Frey 2000: 659). “If I want to read a good poem, David Silverman asks, “why on earth should I turn to a social science journal (Silverman 2000: 665)?” Once again, the man has to step in and steer the “non-scholar” back on the right course, towards the Name of the Father that she should be submitting to.

Our western, androcentric “theology” is, by definition, a discourse on the One of (the white) Man; it is any discourse that raises our own, western, patriarchal, rationalistic, secular ways above all others; that invests in the One of Man in such a way as to grant in territorial hegemony. Atheism is the profession that the One of Man does not exist; that it is an illusion, a fantasy to be traversed. That the cross and crown were, as Caribbean theologian Kortright Davis (2011) observed, entangled in colonial Barbados has not only to do with politics, on the superficial level, but with the very “theism” implicit in a colonial politics. For colonialism is perhaps the discourse par excellence of the One of (the white) Man. It is to treat as axiomatic the western, “civilized” world, with its norms and laws, as well as invest in it in such a way as to give rise to a “territorial Unitarianism” as William Connolly (2005) calls it. In the Caribbean, persons were made to invest in the crown in this way. It was forced upon them; they were told to disregard their own ways, to see the way of the crown as the way. Africans were taken from their homeland, stripped of their culture. The One of (western) Man was and is still imposed upon coloured persons. Colonialism, like any form of authoritarianism, is a proclamation of the One over the many.

Insofar as it is a discourse of the master, a socio-political structure of the One over the many, it can be called a theism. And the anti-imperialistic efforts of Algeria’s FLN, South Africa’s ANC, Guinea-Bissau’s PAIGC, Mozambique’s FRELIMO, or Angola’s MPLA are, in a sense, a-theistic. Anti-imperialism is anti-authoritarianism; it is the struggle against the theistic impulse to raise the One above the many. Colonialism is the western attempt to reduce the plurality of life to the One of (the white) Man. It is the west’s own investment, as well as that of pressured others, in the west, as the One. Civilization, progress, technology, reason— the west has taken it upon itself to be a light to the world. The light of the world is a white Jesus, who proclaims “come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden (Mathew 11:28).” But this is an imposter-Jesus, a trickster. For he offers no rest. He is a devil hiding behind a veneer of “concern”, of “human rights”; claiming to bring light to the world by taking the oil out of others’ lamps. His promise to bring light to the world is little more than a desire to keep his own lamp burning, his own belly full, and his own pockets fat. This is a greedy Jesus. This is a Jesus proclaimed as much by Dawkins as he is by evangelical Christians. The only gospel that this white, western Jesus brings is the gospel of the west— of “civilization”.

Caribbean and feminist theologians rebuked this western, capitalistic, and patriarchal demon purporting to be the Christ, or the anointed One, in the name of a radical, black, queer Jesus. This is an “atheistic” Jesus, one that doubts authority, and whose gospel is the sword that rends the curtain, revealing this perverse, colonial fantasy for what it is. This is a Jesus who says to the religious authorities, “you have heard it was said, but I say unto you…” This is a Jesus who offers the promise of rest to the labourers and heavy laden by encouraging them to take it for themselves, to mobilize outside the bounds of a seemingly axiomatic socio-political order. This is a Jesus who comes with the sword, who warns us of what carrying the cross really entails: being made unrecognizable within the matrix of intelligibility that acts as the glue holding together many a relationship, between man and father, daughter and mother. To the daughter recognized as such only insofar as she conforms to the hetero-normative paradigm that the (m)other submits too, Jesus says: “I did not come to bring peace but a sword. I have come to set a daughter against her mother…(Mathew 10:35).” The promise of rest for the weary, for those subjected to western imperialism, comes with revolution, with a willingness to challenge the principalities and powers that be (cf. Fanon 1963: 61). The early Christians were called “atheist” because they unplugged from the matrix of intelligibility in relation to which persons became recognizable as citizens within a Roman ruled Palestine.

Of course, I am playing with Christianity, as a story that is a part of my own heritage as well as privilege. I want to find ways of reading the Christian story that flies in the face of this privilege. To the white sky-god-jeezus, I say “three pronged trident in yuh rass!”

This way of writing, of turning to the language and concepts of Christianity, is itself  transgressive of what Tyler Roberts calls “the modern academic ideal of disinterested inquiry (Roberts 2013: 20).” In thinking through the potential of religious studies beyond secularism, Roberts encourages us to deconstruct the normative framework in relation to which it is deemed appropriate for the religious scholar to think about the other, but never with them. “Perhaps,” says Roberts:

“if we scholars of religion stopped viewing theology and the religious heritage of the study of religion with embarrassment, as the relic of a past we must overcome so that we can start doing what we think our colleagues in other fields are doing, we might in the spirit of such experimentation come to see this heritage as a resource that can help us think differently and creatively (ibid: )…”

Like Roberts, I think we can find, in traditions of religious thought, conceptual resources for critical self-reflection and cultural criticism (cf. ibid: 20).

The “larger Jesus” that Althaus-Reid speaks of is the enemy of theology, of the One of (the white) Man, and the idolatry that is His authority. The gospel of Christ crucified is a stumbling block, an interruption in the conversation. The gospel of Christ crucified is the end of the law, a turning of one’s back on the authority of (the white) Man. The Christians were called “atheists” by the Romans. For they recognized as contingent the laws and norms of Roman authority. They unplugged from it, did things differently.

The anarchist is, above all, as Daniel Guérin explains, someone in revolt (cf. Guérin 1970: 10). The actions of the anti-colonialist or the queer activist contain the trace of the anarchist spirit. For anarchism is anti-authority; it is revolt, direct action against the One ruling over the many. The anarchist stands in opposition to the idea of the “official” (ibid: ). And it is for this reason that the anarchist, like the Jesus who broke bread and drank wine with the wretched of the earth, is sympathetic to the outlaw and outcast (cf. ibid.). For it is in relation to matrixes of power/intelligibility that persons are made outcasts. Subjugation is, as Butler expresses, predicated on abjection. Indeed, Althaus-Reid, the queer theologian who reads Christianity indecently— her eyes on a larger Jesus, who occupied the margins of society— finds insight in the marginal cults of Santa Librada and Santa Muerte, both of whom are worshipped by the marginalized of society, whom “official” hierarchical Christianity has not welcomed. Santa Librada, a feminine Jesus, occupying the gap between Mary and Jesus, is popular among transvestites in Latin America, as is Santa Muerte (cf. Althaus-Reid 2000: 80-81). These female saints are also popular among criminals, such as petit thieves and drug dealers. As Althaus-Reid explains, her worship has “originated around legal and social transgression (ibid: 81).” Althaus-Reid associates this with what she calls a “transvestite epistemology”. Such an epistemology, she explains, doubts the binary structures handed down and enforced by authority. The action of the anarchist, like the outlaw or transvestite making an offering to their Saint, “repudiates [the] acceptance of the existing order and suggests that we have both the right and the power to change the world (Sparrow 1997: 6).” That is, a “transvestite epistemology” does not treat as axiomatic any normative or legal framework, and allows for space to do things differently.

The methodology of the anarchist, or queer theologian, then, is as Guérin explains, one of direct action. It is a methodology that disregards authority, that refuses to treat as “rightful” the hegemony of the One over the many. Underlying it is a “transvestite epistemology”.  Direct action isn’t, as Guérin clarifies, mere protest; rather, it rejects entirely the framework established by One of Man. In the academy, we’ve come to treat as axiomatic the stories we’ve inherited about what academic writing should look like, and how a “scholar” should behave. That a “scholar” is X and not Y is a story, without foundations. It isn’t natural, it isn’t a given. It involves an act of imagination. And it is this act of the imagination that feminists have sought to challenge. “Says who?” is the question.

What we need then is an “atheist”, or “anarchist” move, one that does not enact the fantastical existence of any Big Other, that does not treat as a given the Name of the Father we are encouraged to internalize, to conform to.  And this is the “atheist” kernel of Christianity. Zizek reads Christianity through Lacan and Hegel. Hegel’s reading of the incarnation was God entering into history, literally; and his reading of Christ’s death on the cross was God dying, literally. But God is resurrected, as Spirit, literally, in the community. Zizek reads this Hegelian historisization of God through Lacan’s psychoanalytic frame, as the death of the “Big Other”. For Lacan, the goal of the psychoanalytic treatment was what he termed “subjective destitution”. This was a coming to terms with the fact that ‘the other does not exist’. So the big other, the symbolic framework within which persons securely locate themselves, and find meaning, is rendered, according to Zizek, non-existent on the cross. Jesus cries “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. Zizek just loves Chesterton’s statement that “on the cross, even God became an atheist.” So for Zizek, the story of Christianity is a revolutionary one. It is the story that there is no ultimate meaning, no answer to make everything right. It’s up to us. The death of God, in Christ, on the cross rendered the political framework for what is it: contingent, without absolute foundations. So this makes possible a new mode of being in the world, it makes possible an emancipatory collective set apart from the old way of doing things. This is how Zizek reads Paul too then, as delivering a message of dying to the world in order to be born again, as something new. In short, Christianity, as Zizek reads it, is a means of undermining the discourse of the Master, so as to strip the law of its mystical hold over us. This makes possible for the event that is the mobilization of a radical collective, set apart from “the world”.

Lacan conceives of the subject as split— represented with the symbol “$”— alienated under being and in language. For Lacan, the subject is literally a “lack”. At the heart of the subject is a void. We are ultimately nothing. We are libidinal beings, born amidst forces that we did not contrive (Lingis). They weigh down upon us, shape us; we are alienated under Being. And we try to make sense of life, to capture it with language; we submit to the Name of the Father (S1) and our identities are constantly shifting as we navigate an endless chain of signifiers (S2). But there’s always excess. Fulfillment— represented in terms of the “objet petit a”— is impossible. We are barred (//) from the object of our desire, it is unattainable. There can never be true fulfillment. We are forever alienated from the object of our desire, it being, as Zizek puts it, an “impossible-unattainable”. True jouissance, true satisfaction, is a Real that can never be integrated within our Symbolic reality. The experience of a fundamental gap between “jouissance expected” and “jouissance obtained (Johnston)”, is a consequence of the lack inherent to the ontological status of the subject, hinted at by Freud in his notion of an initial state of complete satisfaction— before subjugation, before alienation under Being and in language— which the drives are forever geared towards.

Because of our emergence and constitution as subjects before the Other, who have internalized the Name of the Father, and on account of the differential gap between signifiers, this return to a pre-Symbolic, non alienated Being is impossible. We can never fully articulate (due to the very differential nature of language) let alone attain the object of desire. In contrast to many of the post-Freudian psychoanalysts of his day, with their views on sublimation and compensatory objects of satisfaction, Lacan interpreted the nature of the drives as oscillating around an irreparable lack. Subjective destitution then— the movement of the cross— is a traversal of the fantasy of fulfilment, of the existence of any Big Other whom we can secure ourselves in relation to. It is a coming to terms with the ultimate meaninglessness of the law, of the normative frameworks in relation to which we give form to and make sense of life. The law becomes, after the cross, after the psychoanalytic cure, something to be played with, as Agamben says. Authority is stripped of its fantastical pull over us, is recognized as anything but foundational or rightful. To be an atheist, to be an anarchist, is to no longer “bow before power like church wardens before the sacrament,” as Proudhon says. It is to traverse the discourse of the master.


Bibliography (haven’t got around to this yet! Sorry)