Original sin: divine and symbolic violence in the turn to the Apostle Paul

Wotherspoon, Iain David (2016) Original sin: divine and symbolic violence in the turn to the Apostle Paul. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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When we take a step back from the imposing figure of physical violence, it becomes possible to examine other structurally violent forces that constantly shape our cultural and political landscapes. One of the driving interests in the “turn to Paul” in recent continental philosophy stems from wrestling with questions about the real nature of contemporary violence. Paul is positioned as a thinker whose messianic experience began to cut through the violent masquerade of the existing order. The crucifixion and resurrection of the Messiah (a slave and a God co-existing in one body) exposed the empty grounding upon which power resided. The Christ-event signifies a moment of violent interruption in the existing order which Paul enjoins the Gentiles to participate in through a dedication of love for the neighbour. This divine violence aims to reveal and subvert the “powers,” epitomised in the Roman Empire, in order to fulfil the labour of the Messianic now-time which had arrived.
The impetus behind this research comes from a typically enigmatic and provocative section of text by the Slovene philosopher, cultural critic, and Christian atheist Slavoj Žižek. He claims that 'the notion of love should be given here all its Paulinian weight: the domain of pure violence… is the domain of love' (2008a, 173). In this move he links Paul’s idea of love to that of Walter Benjamin’s divine violence; the sublime and the cataclysmic come together in this seemingly perverse notion. At stake here is the way in which uncovering violent forces in the “zero-level” of our narrative worldviews aids the diagnosis of contemporary political and ethical issues.
It is not enough to imagine Paul’s encounter with the Christ-event as non-violent. This Jewish apocalyptic movement was engaged in a violent struggle within an existing order that God’s wrath will soon dismantle. Paul’s weak violence, inspired by his fidelity to the Christ-event, places all responsibility over creation in the role of the individual within the collective body. The centre piece of this re-imagined construction of the Pauline narrative comes in Romans 13: the violent dedication to love understood in the radical nature of the now-time.
This research examines the role that narratives play in the creation and diagnosis of these violent forces. In order to construct a new genealogy of violence in Christianity it is crucial to understand the role of the slave of Christ (the revolutionary messianic subject). This turn in the Symbolic is examined through creating a literary structure in which we can approach a radical Nietzschean shift in Pauline thought. The claim here, a claim which is also central to Paul’s letters, is that when the symbolic violence which manipulates our worldviews is undone by a divine violence, if even for a moment, new possibilities are created in the opening for a transvaluation of values.
Through this we uncover the nature of original sin: the consequences of the interconnected reality of our actions. The role of literature is vital in the construction of this narrative; starting with Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, and continuing through works such as Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, this thesis draws upon the power of literature in the shaping of our narrative worlds. Typical of the continental philosophy at the heart of this work, a diverse range of illustrations and inspirations from fiction is pulled into its narrative to reflect the symbolic universe that this work was forged through.
What this work attempts to do is give this theory a greater grounding in Paul’s letters by demonstrating this radical kenotic power at the heart of the Christ-event. Romans 13 reveals, in a way that has not yet been picked up by Critchley, Žižek, and others, that Paul opposed the biopolitical power of the Roman Empire through the weak violence of love that is the labour of the slaves of Christ on the “now-time” that had arrived.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Apostle Paul, Violence, Continental Philosophy, Literature and Theology, Original Sin.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BS The Bible
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > Theology and Religious Studies
Supervisor's Name: Jasper, Professor David
Date of Award: 2016
Depositing User: Iain D Wotherspoon
Unique ID: glathesis:2016-7331
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 01 Jun 2016 10:55
Last Modified: 20 May 2019 12:20
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/7331

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