Posts Tagged ‘Zizek

14
Sep
10

Zizek – relating to our neighbours

‘The Jewish commandment which prohibits images of God is the obverse of the statement that relating to one’s neighbour is the only terrain of religious practice, of where the divine dimension is present in our lives – the prohibtion ‘no images of God’ does not point towards a Gnostic experience of the divine beyond our reality, a divine which is beyond any image; on the contrary, it designates a kind of ethical hic Rhodus, hic salta: you want to be religious? OK, prove it,  here, in ‘works of love’, in the way you relate to your neighbours’ (Slavoj Zizek, Iraq: the borrowed kettle, Verso, 2005).

Zizek is only partly right here – the Kabbalist notion of ‘Ein-sof’ refers precisely to the ‘divine beyond our reality, a divine which is beyond any image’. But it is also true that even the most esoteric of Jewish mystics have generally been concerned with the life of the community rather than with  mere self-development.

That is partly the explanation for the somewhat perplexing link between some currents of Jewish mysticism and ultra-orthodox interpretations of the Law.  How people behave with their friends and neighbours – down to the minutest details of dietary regulations –  is seen as being critical to the possibility of redemption, and the advent of the Messiah.

From my perspective, the subordination of 21st century human relations to the regulations of ancient times is not only alienating but reinforces ancient prejudices and oppressions. But at the same time there is, as Zizek observes, an acknowledgement that ‘relating to one’s neighbour’ is the key ‘terrain of religious practice’ (if not the only one), and therefore an ethic of caring for others and the value of human species life.

This is something that is lost in much ‘new age’ mysticism, where the focus is often much more of the search for individual self-enlightenment than on the needs of others, let alone on how we can collectively create the conditions where basic human needs for food, clean water, shelter, health care etc. are met for all.