Zizek and Sloterdijk

” I believe that only through Christianity one can truly be an atheist.”
———— Slavoj Zizek

There’s a hidden tension between these two philosophers, as if there was a sort of comradeship below the surface, a friendship that tempers their differing views and struggles. We discover in Culture Magazine a dialogue between these two indefatigable troubadours of the contemporary scene. There comes a point when the interlocutor says: “To overcome the crisis, you, Sloterdijk, opt for the revival of individual spiritual exercises, while you, Zizek insists collective political mobilization and the reactivation of the emancipatory power of Christianity. Why such differences?”

Peter Sloterdijk:

I propose to introduce the study of pragmatism in the alleged religions: the pragmatic nature forces us to look more closely at what the religious do, to meet internal and external practices, which can be described as exercises that form a structure of personality. What I call the main subject of philosophy and psychology is the bearer of the series of exercises that make up personality. And some of the series of exercises that constitute the personality can be described as religious.

But what does this mean? Mental exercises are made to communicate with a partner invisible, are absolutely concrete things that can be described, there is nothing mysterious about that. I believe that until further notice, the term “financial system” is operating a thousand times that the term “religion” refers to the righteousness of the Roman state. We must not forget that the use of the terms “religion” “mercy” or “fidelity” was reserved in Roman times to the epithets that had the Roman legions stationed in the Rhine Valley and elsewhere. The highest privilege of a legion was carrying fedelis pia epithets, because it expressed a particular loyalty to the emperor in Rome. I think the Europeans simply forgot religious meaning. The word literally means “diligence.” Cicero gave the correct etymology: reading, legere, religere, that is, carefully consider organizing protocol for communication with higher beings. It is therefore a kind of diligence or in my terminology, a code of training. For that reason I think the “return of religion” would only be effective if it could lead to financial practices intensified. By contrast, our “new religious” are not, most times, more than lazy dreamers. But in the twentieth century, sport was imposed on Western civilization. He did not religion, sport reappeared, having been forgotten for nearly 1,500 years. It was fideism athletics but who came to the fore. Pierre de Coubertin wanted to create a religion of muscle in the early twentieth century. Failed as a founder of a religion, but succeeded as a creator of a new system of exercises.

Slavoj Zizek:

Consider religion as a set of embodied practices already existed in the Russian avant-garde. Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948) wrote a very beautiful text on the Jesuit Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) as someone who systematized some spiritual exercises. My thesis about the return to Christianity is paradoxical: I believe that only through Christianity one can truly be an atheist.

Considering the great twentieth-century atheism, it is actually a completely different logic, that of a “credit” theological. The Danish physicist Niels Bohr (1885-1962) one of the founders of quantum physics, received a visit from a friend at his dacha. This, however, refused to pass the gate of his house for a horseshoe was nailed-a superstition to keep out evil spirits. And the friend said to Bohr: “You’re a first-rate scientist, how can you believe in such superstitions?” “Do not believe it!” Said Niels Bohr. “But then why let that mule?” Insisted the friend. And Niels Bohr had this excellent response: “Someone told me that it works even if you do not believe.” It would be a pretty good picture of our current ideology. I think the death of Christ on the cross is the death of God and that is no longer the Big Other who pulls the strings. The only way to be a believer after the death of Christ is to participate in egalitarian collective ties. Christianity can be understood as a religion accompanying the order of the existing or a religion that says “no” and helps to resist. I think that Christianity and Marxism should fight together the new wave of spirituality and the capitalist gregariousness. I defend a religion without God, without love communism.

I must admit to identifying with Zizek’s statement: “I believe that only through Christianity one can truly be an atheist.” I came to my own form of atheism through Christianity after having truly begun as a convert and actual believer in the American sense of that term. So a religious view of life without a ‘God’, or Big Other, for me is appropriate. I agree with Sloterdijk in the need not to reject religious practice but to study it, understand the deep heritage and reason for its existence in the human world. Is there something of value there? Are there disciplines and unique exercises that can attune us to something of value and unique in our own lives and bring us toward a greater communal awakening that does not mean worship of some Big Other (God, Country, etc.)? Can we build political movements that will last beyond the current crisis and resolve many of out eras struggles?


Not sure if that last sentence by Zizek is translated aright. Seems she translated it using google… lol. Either way interesting discussion. From a recent interview, reprinted and translated by Nicolas Truong (and found on Amy M Denes site: click here and here in the original).

6 thoughts on “Zizek and Sloterdijk

  1. Add to this Altizer and Vattimo. Sloterdijk strikes me as a fairly reactionary thinker, his pragmatism a pretty unreconstructed one. The fact is, as his latest book tells it, he only seems able to think of practices, rituals, and resistances as ultimately being concerned with the individual. A cursory scan of Rage and Time also made it look like he is more interested in half-hearted provocations of Marxists than helping look to how to live in the common.


    • Yep, I agree with your summation. He doesn’t seem willing to engage in more than a cursory nod on any truly large project of that type. Yet, we shouldn’t dismiss the weaknesses of his position out of hand, he still has viable things to teach us. Even Zizek, has read him carefully, and attacks him not out of betrayal but with the knowledge of a seasoned professional. He knows Sloterdijk is not in his camp.


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