Archive for August, 2010

Some Calvinist Reflections

08/29/2010

Over the past week I read two books on Calvin’s Institutes and listened to a course taught by Christopher Morse on the Institutes at Union. Charles Partee’s The Theology of John Calvin was excellent. He reads the Institutes and pays special attention to an idea he finds central to Calvin: union with Christ. The other book by Parker was less more just a straightforward exposition of Calvin’s Institutes. The class was an amazing resource led by Morse and other seminarians. I especially appreciated the approach Morse took in leading the seminar. The primary objective was to let Calvin speak for himself. We all know what Calvinists in America believe Calvin to have taught, but many of us have not read Calvin himself. I want to address a couple of salient points.

Biblical Inerrancy – Partee surveys the wide range of opinions amongst Calvin interpreters on his view of scripture. In the Institutes Calvin has little to say on the doctrine of Scripture but interprets it rather straightforwardly. Although many are quick to assume Calvin was an inerrantist, Partee does note some challenges to this view. For one, in Calvin’s commentaries on the Psalms, he points out that David did not write some of the Psalms. Likewise, Calvin remains unconvinced that Paul wrote 2 Peter. Of course, on a practical level Calvin did treat the Bible as holy writ, although to be fair, he always emphasized the need to not divorce the Word of God from the Spirit of God. Hence, from Calvin’s perspective it would be inappropriate to treat the Bible as an encyclopedia without likewise attending to the Spirit’s involvement when interpreting.

Fall of the Devil – Calvin like Barth refused to try and interpret the fall of Lucifer and the fellow angels from Heaven in a systematic manner. Much like Barth, he recognized the scriptural foundation for such a narrative was too scant to justify any developed doctrine.

Providence and Predestination – Partee argues that for Calvin “providence is the doctrine of predestination applied universally to the world, and predestination is the doctrine of particular providence applied directly to individuals” (The Theology of John Calvin, 116). As distressing as Calvin’s view of double predestination might be, I found myself more frustrated with the doctrine of providence. During the course on Calvin, Morse said his teaching on the problem of evil often disappoints his students in his systematic theology class. Essentially, he believes that the problem is insoluble. This was perhaps my greatest frustration with Calvin. The doctrine of providence simply offers no hope to those in suffering other than to the chalk it up to the mystery of God’s will. Those under the enchantment of Calvin’s doctrine of providence are unable to protest against suffering. That possibility has been foreclosed because they are forced to accept that everything happens according to God’s inscrutable good will. Another thing about Calvin’s doctrine of predestination that struck me as odd was its placement in the Institutes. Unlike Barth, who put election at the center of his Doctrine of God, Calvin relegates predestination to the end of Book III of the Institutes. It is almost as if he was embarrassed by the horrible nature of it and tried to hide it away at the end of his Institutes. It does raise the question why have people so often associated Calvin with his view of predestination when it appears to simply be a repetition of Augustine’s view. In fact, considering Calvin does not place it front and center in his dogmatics seems to suggest that he did not think it was central or by any means foundational to his theology. In fact, God’s revelation in Christ was central not this doctrine of election.

Total Depravity – Many of Calvin’s critics often fault him for emphasizing the wretchedness of man. However, as Morse continued to emphasize in the course, God’s No to creation is always overwhelmed by his Yes to creation in form of God’s self-revelation through Jesus Christ (God for us).

Atonement – Many theologians often attribute to Calvin the penal substitution view of atonement. In fact, many Reformed evangelicals believe that this specific reading of Christ’s atoning death is an indispensable doctrine (despite the fact that the church fathers never settled on a single interpretation of the atonement theory). Contra those who believe Calvin’s view of the atonement was strictly forensic and objective in character, Partee points out that Calvin “does not have a single, unified doctrine or theory of atonement” (159). Partee argues that if the union of Christ is foundational for Calvin than the charge that his idea of the atonement is too objective “is called into serious question” (161). Emil Brunner emphasizes that there are different pictures of the atonement but not a unified theory. According to Partee “Calvin is clear that salvation is found in Christ, emphasized in the blood of atonement and the flesh of Eucharist. But this is finally a confession, not an explanation” (188).

OK now it’s time to go back to some good old heterodox queer theology.

More Animal Theology

08/29/2010

Apparently there’s a new major work by David L. Clough entitled On Animals: Systematic Theology coming out in 2011. Clough has written other works on Barth, ethics, and pacifism. This is coming out next year and promises to be a very important work in systematic theology.

Quick Observation

08/28/2010

Today the Tea Party hosted the restoring honor event in DC. Unfortunately my friend and I were walking around my campus (GWU), which is very close to the Lincoln Memorial. Unsurprisingly the metro was absolutely congested with tea partiers. My friend and I detected a curious pattern amongst these patriots. Apparently to qualify for this group you have to be white, middle-aged, and wear a fanny-pack. I swear to God I did not see one non-white person in the gigantic group of tea partiers (of course they are the ones carrying on King’s dream). Fortunately Al Sharpton was hosting a reclaiming the dream march at Dunbar High School. You know I think my major problem with the partiers is that they think are carrying on the Christian/American legacy. I’m OK with them being nationalists, but I feel as if they should have to make a choice: Christianity or nationalism. You can’t have both.

Analogy

08/24/2010

This just dawned on me

Psychoanalysis:Empirical Sciences::Theology:Biblical Studies

Updated: OK now I’m going to flesh this out.

First off let me say that theology and psychoanalysis are my two favorite subjects. The contrarian streak in me probably gravitates to the controversial status of both disciplines. Psychoanalysis is far from popular (or even credible) in the US, and Deleuze probably said it best that theology is the science of non-existing entities.

Here are some common parallels:

A) Psychoanalysis has an awkward relationship with the empirical sciences, a term I am using to describe both neuroscience and psychology. Specifically clinical psychology is an empirical science interested in generating support for certain thereapuetic modalities to test the efficacy of different interventions. In the US from the 30s to the 80s psychoanalysis dominated not only clinical psychology but also psychiatry. With the increasing emphasis on empirical research and an attachment to produce evidence-based treatment psychoanalysis soon lost favor in the States to the highly researched and effective treatment known as cognitive-behavioral therapy. Initially analysts turned a blind eye to research denigrating it and claiming that analysis did not need to demonstrate its utility. Unfortunately, psychoanalysis realized too late in the game that insurance companies would no longer be covering long-term therapy when a shorter-term treatment could just as easily get the job done. Now psychoanalysis has tried to develop an empirically supported treatment known as psychodynamic therapy, but the amount of credible research demonstrating its usefulness is still slim.

Likewise since the 19th century theology has had to contend with the historical-critical method. Liberal Protestantism completely embraced the method of discerning how the Biblical texts were composed. This method helps us analyze the origin of these texts and the changes made to these texts throughout history. One example of this method is various constructions of the historical Jesus. This of course has generated the split between the famous Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. Although there are certainly other methods of interpreting scripture (feminist, Marxist, etc), the historical-critical method is one of the most useful. I find that certain types of theology are weakened by their refusal to engage with this method. Barth likely over-reacted against his liberal teachers, and his Dogmatics-in my opinion-is weakened by his failure to take into account historical criticism. Of course literalists are the most resolute in opposing this type of criticism holding fast to their unwavering belief in the absolute truth of the Bible despite the mass amount of evidence in opposition to this claim. Theology would be greatly strengthened by at least taking into account this method and applying it to develop a historical and responsible theology. The refusal to acknowledge the importance of Biblical studies often weakens the value and import of theology as a credible discipline.

B) Psychoanalysis and (orthodox) theology often do have scholars doing work in these different fields. My chief complaint is that these scholars only tend to seek research that serves to confirm what these fields already believe. Hence, it comes as no surprise that orthodox theologians adore N.T. Wright who basically finds that the Gospels are an accurate record of first century Palestine (I’m not saying that a confirmation of orthodoxy is proof that his research his by definition fallacious, but it is telling that other Biblical scholars who pose a threat to orthodoxy are generally dismissed). Likewise, a new field of psychoanalysis has been in conversation with neuroscience (neuroanalysis) and is seeking confirmation of Freud’s meta-psychology. However, the problem is that most (but not all) still only seek research that corroborates Freud’s model of the mind (although I must point out that neuroscience has done wonders in confirming some of Freud’s ideas). Again the relationships of psychoanalysis to neuroscience and of theology to Biblical studies is still a hierarchical one in which analysts and theologians turn a deaf ear to any of the latest research that might serve to dis-confirm their cherished doctrines.

C) Finally one finds that both analysts and theologians often resort to the same smear tactics when conversing with scholars from those respected fields. Specifically, when clinical psychology research exposes that a certain method of intervention (e.g. challenging defenses) is non-efficacious, analysts hurl insults such as ‘positivistic’ or ‘reductionist’ at these researchers. Similarly, theologians have resorted to similar methods to suppress the often embarrassing findings of historical critical method (e.g. Jesus and Paul’s false belief in an imminent apocalypse).

I think the future of both fields depend on the establishment of a more egalitarian relationship with these related fields. Otherwise, both disciplines run the risk of becoming increasingly irrelevant (i.e. scientifically untenable or historically inaccurate). I do not think theology should completely capitulate to the historical-critical method insofar as theology has always recognized that creative work is needed to accurately generate orthodox faith (e.g. developing the Christological and Trinitarian positions). Also, it is true that the amount one can actually know from the historical-critical method is not robust enough to develop a full-fledged theology, which is why the historical Jesus research often takes as much imagination as it does scholarship. I would suggest that the boundaries separating theology from Biblical studies and psychoanalysis from empiricals sciences should be selectively permeable. There should still be a separation, but the membrane separating the two should be porous lest both disciplines end up completely suffocating from a rigid orthodoxy that cannot adapt to current scholarship.

Calvin, Dungeons & Dragons, and the Glory of God

08/22/2010

Dungeons and Dragons was before my time. I never played the game although I did know of some parents who explicitly forbid their sons and daughters to protect them from the ‘occult’. So you must imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon this:

http://tinyurl.com/352vevg

There are two things I found especially interesting. First, one gets the sense that the group has suffered persecution before from Christians who condemn the game as being anti-Christian. Second, this quote struck me: “We do our best to honor God in our lives and in our gaming.” I imagine Calvin turning over in his grave. Theologically, I get the sense that that the group justifies its own existence by assuming that playing D&D brings glory to God, a common motif in Reformed theology. While I understand some theologians question this idea in Calvin’s theology (especially when one considers Calvin’s double predestination), I think Barth is right when he claims (I can’t remember the reference in CD) that the glory of God is explicitly linked to the glory of man. That is to say whatever brings God glory will likewise result in man receiving glory from honoring God.

However, I’m very suspicious whenever Christians justify their actions by claiming they did it all for the glory of God. First off – and this is why the group is so humorous – how in the hell is God glorified from people sitting around all night playing a board game? I mean I’m all for having fun (although this doesn’t suit my particular taste), but I never justify my actions by claiming God will receive glory from it. We detect a similar move being made by many an athlete who after winning the big game dedicates the victory to God claiming it’s all for God’s glory. Again, what in the hell does that mean? How does God derive glory from a game of football? I remember having a humorous conversation with one of my roommates in college (an avowed atheist) after watching a college football game. We both decided that if God existed He was probably quite confused as to why athlete X just dedicated the game to Him. In fact, my friend and I continued the conversation about God and agreed that God must be consistently confused by mankind’s actions and the bizarre relationship he assumes he has with the divine.

In Christian circles the glory of God of course often functions to end a conversation in much the same what that a Christian invoke the notion that the Spirit was working through me to justify action X (an inversion of the devil made me do it). The real question of course to be asked is what exactly brings God glory. Certainly the majority of actions we engage in every day are simply banal and cannot be justified by appealing to the idea of bringing honor to God. The Lord might work in mysterious ways, but I remain skeptical that playing dungeons and dragons all day in a basement is the way to honor Him.

Barth and Hegel on the Resurrection

08/21/2010

Today I began reading CD IV/1. I generally try to read some scholarly articles to have a better framework for tackling Barth’s Dogmatics. I just read an article by Adam Eitel entitled The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Karl Barth and the Historicization of God’s Being. It’s an excellent article that is very clear and concise. He works through Barth’s understanding of the resurrection in CD IV/1 and discusses the implication it has on the trinity, election, and the historicization of God’s being. He puts Barth’s doctrine of the resurrection in conversation with Hegel’s Lectures of Philosophy of Religion Vol. 3 noting the striking similarities between both Hegel and Barth’s understanding of the resurrection. Eitel follows McCormack’s understanding of the election in which God’s self-determination (i.e. election) precedes God’s triunity. It can be found in International Journal of Systematic Theology 10(1), January 2008.

Brunner’s Truth as Encounter

08/19/2010

The entire works attempts to steer a middle course between objectivism (represented by Barth and conservatives who substitute belief in doctrine over Christian faith) and subjectivism (represented by Bultmann and Schleiermacher). He believes Barth over-reacted against the subjectivism of Schleiermacher’s theology and subjected faith to God’s self-revelation. According to Brunner “in Barth the correlation between God and faith is broken” (45). Furthermore, Barth relegated faith to the end of Dogmatics, which betrays the fact that Barth denigrated the important role faith plays in Christian life. We also need to resist the Bultmannian temptation to collapse theology into anthropology. It’s Bultmann’s mistake to simply equate faith in Christ’s resurrection with a new self-understanding. In Brunner’s theological system God’s revelation is always to man. However it’s God who initiates this self-communication. God comes first, man second. Bultmann reduces “faith to understanding brings about a transformation that reduces faith to something merely individual, something merely subjective” (47).

His major arugment is that a legitimate understanding of Christian truth must displace the subject-object antithesis pervasive in the Western tradition. The objective side falters by making truth graspable and static whereas true Biblical revelation is always personal and dynamic, an encounter. Following Kierkegaard, the problem with subjectivism its mistakes is thinking that truth comes from the inside. On the contrary, Christian faith for Kierkegaard is always an event that comes from the outside. Of course the truth event is none other than the “incarnation of the divine Word in Jesus Christ, which an only be perceived in the act of faith” (18).

Later on Brunner claims that in “faith man possesses no truth except God’s and his possession is not of the kind whereby one ordinarily possesses a truth, but personal fellowship” (108). Another problem with objectivism (i.e. orthodoxy) is that it reduces revelation to something when in reality God’s self-revelation is in fact a self-disclosure, a personal revelation. God’s revelation can never be grasped and tamed but rather is a dynamic revelation. Orthodoxy also faltered by equating the Word of God with doctrine. God’s revelation is always a personal self-communication in love. If Christian revelation is reduced to knowledge about X then too often this hardens into a loveless abstract truth void of God. Brunner seems to be basing this theology heavily on Buber’s I-Thou encounter. Orthodoxy fails because it reduces the I (i.e. God) to an It which merely discloses knowledge about God and not God Herself.

Here’s where I think his position starts to break down. He writes, “faith, in other words, is in the final analysis not faith in something – something true, a doctrine, it is not “thinking something,” but personal encounter, trust, obedience, and love” (133). Although he recognizes we can’t merely have faith in this event but in something about the event, yet he wants to prioritize this personal fellowship. He also critiques the early church fathers for being too obsessed with doctrinal debates when they should have been focused on proclaiming that Jesus is Lord. Finally, Brunner laments that orthodox theology has been dominated by Greek philosophy and timeless substance (noun) rather than the actualistic (verb) language of the Bible. Jesus is God’s act, and Brunner believes we need to have a greater focus on Christ’s work. Again, this is a helpful point, but Brunner fails to deliver the goods. Brunner never goes on to discuss the works of Christ and the ethical imperative he commands of believers. In fact, he completely neglects the actual sociopolitical message of Jesus’ ministry and collapses the Kingdom into God’s love for fellowship with humanity. Recall that Barth placed ethics in the Doctrine of God (II/2) right after the discussion of the election of God. Barth had no desire to neglect the importance of ethics for the Christian life. Yet Brunner’s treatment fails to address the actual historical nature of Jesus’ ministry. He makes a common move made by many theologians: Jesus’ love is for all of humanity. Love is the central ethic not justice. (Side note: there should be a moratorium on theologians using the word love. It seldom communicates anything meaningful. As Hauerwas said it tends to be sentimental bullshit). But this does injustice to Jesus’ particular solidarity with the oppressed, poor, and weak. Also, Brunner’s emphasis on the personal God seems to lead to an overly individualistic concept of faith (perhaps not surprising since Kierkegaard is one of his heroes). For Brunner what matters most is the individual’s personal relationship with God, but what about the individual’s sociopolitical responsibility to his neighbor?

One more question for Barthian scholars. Brunner claims that a “thing happened quite imperceptibly through a change of emphasis in the [Barth’s] understanding of faith. It began with the adoption of the ancient Catholic doctrine natus ex Maria Virgine” (42). “It was this doctrine summarized in the Creed, which Karl Barth from 1924 onward expounded in his CD as the subject of belief. This change showed itself in three symptoms” (43).

1) His stricter fidelity to the orthodox/Reformed teachers of the 17th century

2) This forced him to develop fine-tuned distinctions which resulted in the bloated CD

3) He moved further away from a dynamic understanding of faith in the Word of God and not doctrine. This led Barth to develop a new orthodoxy that downplayed his early Kierkegaardian motifs. In fact Brunner claims that hope is all but absent from Barth’s CD

Anyone have any thoughts about this? Is this valid? I’m less interested in supposed symptoms and more in the historical influence the doctrine of natus ex Maria Virgine had on Barth’s theological development.

Altizer on Heresy and the Godhead.

08/19/2010

Go over to AUFS to read Altizer’s latest post. It’s exciting to hear that Altizer is in the process of writing a book on the apocalyptic Trinity.

Some Lutheran Reflections

08/17/2010

The last two weeks I’ve work I’ve listened to Philip Cary’s (a student of Lindbeck) excellent courses on History of Christian Theology, Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation, and Augustine: Philosopher and Saint through The Teaching Company. The course on the History of Christian Theology was helpful for me as he traced the theological development of the different Protestant denominations. I highly recommend that course, and I must praise his ability to summarize Barth’s doctrine of election clearly in less than ten minutes. Also he explains quite lucidly the differences between Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic theologies. The shorter course on Augustine was a nice biographical introduction with a specific focus on his Confessions. After listening to that course I really want to delve into Augustine’s On The Trinity. However, the course on Luther was by far the best. He does a great job of capturing Luther’s theological genius while also emphasizing his many failures theologically and ethically. Never having read much Luther it was a great guide to his key concepts such as Law/Gospel, Two Kingdoms, and his understanding of justification. One thing that resonated with me (and this also came to mind since tonight I just finished Bonhoeffer’s Act and Being which is very Lutheran in character) was Luther’s insistence on turning away from oneself towards the cross to hold onto faith. Growing up in an evangelical/quasi-Reformed church I was constantly encouraged to turn inwards since Christ lived in my heart. Of course, inevitably, this only generated anxiety since when I didn’t find Christ inside I immediately began to doubt my faith.

Bonhoeffer says this quite well, “[h]ence Luther’s countless admonitions not to look on one’s own remorse, own faith, but to look on the Lord Christ Himself. While I am still reflecting on myself in order to find Christ, Christ is not there. If he is really there, I see only him. Conscience may be termed the voice of God only inasmuch as conscience is where, in the real temptation, Christ kills man – in order to give or not give him life” (Act and Being, 161).

Later on Bonhoeffer writes, “God can allow man to die “of” the knowledge of his sin, and can lead him through this death into the communion of Christ. In this case he turns man’s eyes away from man’s self and gives him his direction (the pure intentionality of the actus directus) to Christ the Crucified and Risen, who is the defeat of temptation to death” (Act and Being, 169).

Hopefully I’ll post some longer reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Act and Being this week.

Also, after getting a better background in the history of the development of the doctrine of predestination from Augustine to Luther to Calvin, I remain astonished at Barth’s brilliance in his re-interpretation of the doctrine of election. Say what you will about Barth, but it’s just incredible to me that he took a doctrine that the greatest theologians could only look on at in horror and transform it into truly good news that Barth defined as the sum of the gospel.

Finally, what is Luther’s obsession with shit? I know from reading Derrida’s text on animals that Lacan distinguished animals from man by saying animals are unable to pretend to pretend. Elsewhere though Zizek claims in On Belief (I can’t find the Lacanian reference) that Lacan said that a difference between man and animals is man has a problem with disposing of his shit. Not simply because of the smell, but because according to Lacan man feels shame because he believes he has exposed his innermost intimacy into this concert, vulgar object. Of course animals have no such problem since they have no idea of this split between interior/exterior. There’s not really a connection there but listening to Luther got me thinking about scat. Also if anyone can direct me towards the Lacanian reference it’d be much appreciated.

One more thing, has anyone read Bloch’s work Thomas Munzer als Theologe der Revolution? It appears that it has yet to be translated into English. I know recently Bloch’s work Atheism in Christianity was republished after it had been out of print for years so maybe this work will eventually get translated. Perhaps not.

Update: I should also mention while looking for theological audio resources I stumbled upon Morse’s seminar at Union on Calvin’s Institutes. I haven’t listened to it yet but it’s over 18 hours long and free on ITunes U. I’m sure it’ll be good as it’s always nice to see Calvin in the hands of non-evangelicals.

Moving Beyond Oedipus: A Lacanian Critique

08/15/2010

I will be relying heavily on Verhaeghe and Grigg’s article in Jacques Lacan and the Other Side of Psychoanalysis for this post. Lacan beings redefining jouissance in Seminar XVII, which in early seminars jouissance was always defined of as that which resists the symbolic. However, in seminar XVII he no longer thinks of it as being in opposition to the symbolic. In fact, the genesis of the signifier is closely related to jouissance. We here run into something of a paradox. On the one hand, the introduction of the signifier leads to the impossibility of attaining jouissance, and on the other hand the signifier is also the condition of possibility for reaching jouissance. Verhaeghe writes, “the connection between knowledge and jouissance is the foundation for the introduction of the apparatus of the signifier in the subject” (Jacques Lacan and the Other Side of Psychoanalysis, 31). Borrowing insights from Freud’s theory of repetition Lacan posits that jouissance occurs in the body through invasions, which refer to the body getting off on itself. However, “[t]hese invasion acquire markings; they are inscribed in the body through the intervention of the Other” (31). Whereas here this idea of jouissance is still in the Real (as in his previous theory) the idea of inscription introduces an Other who inscribes.

“Knowledge, once it has been introduced into the signifier, is both the means to jouissance and the cause of the loss of jouissance” (33). The emergence of the signifier is a second major loss supplementing the loss the subject has already experienced during the mirror stage. The signifier leads to a loss of jouissance which invariably leads to the subject competitively repeating in attempt to gain back the jouissance that was sacrificed at the mirror stage. In fact the introduction of the signifier in in some sense a response to the original alienation the subject experiences in the mirror stage. However, the introduction of the signifier also leads to a gain, a plus-de-jouir since the advent of the signifier also grants the subject access to language and culture (i.e. the symbolic order). Culture and language can offer the subject alienated in language temporary means of enjoyment.

Originally Lacan advanced an understanding of the Oedipus complex that differed from Freud because in his theory the father intervenes not to prohibit the child but rather the mother’s desire. This allows the child to escape the insatiable enjoyment of the mother and enables the child to begin desiring independently of the mother. Freud’s understanding of the Oedipal complex revolved around the idea of identity acquisition and the superego, which Lacan refers to as Freud’s dream.

Verhaeghe suggests that “we can propose the following statement: we are the way in which we (don’t) enjoy” (37). This (don’t) is crucial because otherwise the subject would be indistinguishable from her desires. “One’s ex-sistence as a subject simultaneously implies a divided stance towards jouissance” (37). We have to be divided relative to jouissance (this explains why we have defenses that limit enjoyment) otherwise we would be headed on the road towards death. In Lacan’s theory death and enjoyment are intertwined and “the road to enjoyment is the road to death” (37). The parental objects then situate themselves relative to jouissance to prevent the child’s annihilation. The father steps in to limit jouissance and ensures it will remain limited by instituting a prohibition.

Initially the child makes great demands on his mother and she ends up dominating any “inscription of jouissance; any attempt to repeat jouissance must be addressed toward her” (38). Originally the child enjoyed itself (i.e. his body), but now he demands the mother offer him enjoyment. The mother’s prohibitions enable the child to avoid the (death) threat of absolute enjoyment.

Now, in classical Freudian theory the tyrannical father breaks up this dyad. However, a question we must ask ourselves is from where did Freud derive this theory? This type of father figure is utterly absent from all of Freud’s major cases (e.g. Dora, Ratman, Wolfman, Little Hans). These fathers were always impotent, pathetic clowns. As I’ve already mentioned the early Lacan displaced responsibility onto the mother’s insatiable desire, which justified the father’s intervention.

Totem and Taboo is Freud’s Darwinian myth to justify his Oedipal formulation. Cleverly Freud even believes that the child can hark back to this mythical narrative to remember this prohibiting father (which is way too Lamarckian/Jungian) if the child’s actual father was a weakling. However even on closer inspection Lacan recognizes that the myth doesn’t work. Weirdly enough the threat of castration is absent from the myth. Secondly the relationship between law and enjoyment are inverted in the two myths. The law is primary in the myth of Oedipus and Oedipus’ enjoyment is understood as a transgression whereas in Totem and Taboo enjoyment is originary and the law is only formed afterward. On top of that Grigg points out that, “Freud retains, in fact if not in intention, is very precisely what designates as the most essential in religion – namely, the idea of an all-loving father” (60). This is indeed quite ironic since Freud hoped to expose religion as an illusion that was wholly accounted for by the child’s need for an omnipotent father. Verhaeghe writes that according to Lacan, “[t]he murder of the primal father is thus an expression of a death wish whose aim is to make the father immortal and, therefore, almighty” (41). Further on he says, “[w]e are inevitably tempted to elevate our father to unknown proportions in order to combat a danger we locate in the woman/mother, a danger that, in one way or another, always has to do with jouissance and our fears of becoming its victim” (42). Lacan even jokes that the illusion of an almighty father satisfying an entire clan of woman sexually is a joke considering a single father is hardly capable of satisfying one woman sexually.

In reality, mother, father and child are positioned around the impossibility of jouissance. Society is in complicit in trying to trick us into believing that impossibility is really just a prohibition. Here recall the male graph of sexuation where the male subject can only accept castration if he posits that there once was a male who avoided castration. Of course this is simply mythmaking since there never was an almighty father.

We must rethink castration unlike post-Freudians who have simply bypassed it entirely by focusing on the mother/child dyad via attachment theory. In place of the omnipotent father Lacan substitutes the castrated father who donates to his son the master signifier S1. Castration for Lacan is the subject’s alienation in language and a forfeiting of a primordial jouissance through a “primary identification with the S1” (43).

“The S1 intervenes in the already existing S2 that divides the subject through the chain of signifiers, making enjoyment impossible to reach. In sum, the intervention of the master signifier S1 on S2, that is on knowledge as a means for assuming jouissance, induces and determines symbolic castration” (43). This theory in fact presupposes for the father to offer S1 he too must already be symbolically castrated. In Lacan’s theory the glorified male tyrant has now been humiliated into a castrated sham. In fact Lacan believes the primary affect for the father is shame since he must admit that he can never adequately represent S1 for the child. The lack the father experienced can never be filled in, and he must pass on this disease to his child. Furthermore the idea that the father could ever have properly intervened and split up the powerful mother/child dyad to begin with was simply wishful thinking.

Here we see just how far Lacan went away from the clumsy Oedipal complex, which if you notice could never be explained for girls except by making up some ridiculous misogynist myth about little girls who suffer from penis envy and demand babies from their dads. Instead the original impossibility of jouissance is what is real and the whole notion of prohibition is simply a social conspiracy to trick the subject into believing that this prohibition can be transgressed.