“When I feel almighty and omnipresent everything is fine. On the other hand, when I am an obedient and self-sacrificing son, things get difficult. But the days that make me sick are when I feel like a little bird. Damn multiple personality disorder!”
Since ancient times, God and evil seem to be mutually exclusive terms. Epicurus himself, who is credited with the supposed authorship of the problem of evil against the existence of God, seems to have been aware of the paradox inscribed in the conception of a God who is benevolent as well as omnipotent.
And, although several apologists have taken up this reasoning, finding conceptual flaws, all they have done has been to elucidate various theoretical justifications that displace the central problem through suitably elaborated definitions to dissolve the multiple consequences of accepting the existence of evil in a world created by God. But what would happen if this question were examined from the psychoanalysis or existentialism of Kierkegaard? That is, what would happen if God were to be seated on a couch?
To begin with, it must be said that the ultimate reason that exposes the problem of evil is that the coexistence between the concepts of God and evil are incompatible by definition since both, individually, discard each other. That is to say that either God exists and taking into account his inherent characteristics of goodness and omnipotence, consequently, it would imply denying the existence of evil, or, on the contrary, there is evil for which the idea of a good and omnipotent God turns out to be false. This argument ends by accepting as an undoubted fact the existence of evil in the world, thus denying the existence of God.
Theological opponents and critics of this approach argue that evil in the world is only a subjective illusion from our finite position and that, therefore, we do not realize that evil is a means to a greater good designated by God. Regarding this argument, it must be clarified that, although initially, its point of criticism is correct, its observations are not radical enough to clarify the mechanism that keeps this problem afloat. In other words, it is left halfway by declaring that the evil that inhabits the world is part of a divine plan that, in the long run, is destined for a kind of global ataraxic.
The Hegelian dialectic and Kierkegaard
What we have to do now is to question the role that God plays in this strange dialectic between subjective evil and objective good. To achieve this purpose, it is necessary to bring up White’s thesis where he assures that the Kantian sublime serves as a link between aesthetic judgments and ethical judgments within the philosophical system of the Prussian thinker. According to this author, in Kant, the sublime:
It provides us with a sense of that which is beyond our own self-interest, and provides access to (and pleasure in!) the kind of rational ‘disinterestedness’ which for Kant must form the basis of ethical rather than selfish action. In the sublime, we recognize in such a dimension of our nature our highest and truest freedom. (White, 2006)
Under this perspective of disinterest and pleasure as a starting point for ethical activity, Lacan offers a provocative reading of the Kantian notion of the sublime in his work Kant with Sade (2006), where unlike what, at first glance suggests this relationship of authors; the thinker, at all, elaborates an analysis where he points out that the Kantian ethical subject enjoys the self-imposed prohibition by reason, a kind of enjoyment through the blocking of his instincts. What this thinker proposes is exactly the opposite, according to Žižek:
the focus of Lacan’s interest rather resides in the paradoxical reversal by means of which desire itself (i.e., acting upon one’s desire, not conceding it) can no longer be grounded in any ‘pathological’ interests or motivations and thus meets the criteria of the Kantian ethical act, so that ‘following one’s desire’ overlaps with ‘doing one’s duty’. (Žižek, 2006: p.332)
In other words, from Lacan’s gaze, the Kantian subject finds his passion inherently committed to his ethical behavior. Within the psychoanalytic theory, there is a concept that describes this paradoxical situation: jouissance. That is, what the subject experiences when fulfilling certain obligations even when the fulfillment of them implies the suffering of others.
To exemplify this term, let’s think of the manager of a company in crisis who is asked to increase the productivity of his employees for the company to recover soon. The manager does the same and forces workers to stay overtime every day without a break, which gives him inexplicable satisfaction. When the same employees rebuke him about such excessive measures, the manager limits himself to saying that he is only doing his job. This pleasure he experiences in forcing his subordinates under the guise of the fulfillment of their duty is what is known as jouissance.
Now, having explained above, we return to the problem of evil by asking ourselves the following: Isn’t God the sublime agent of jouissance par excellence? When Mawson (2005) takes up the problem of evil, it solves it under the premise that there are no parameters, under the Leibinizian perspective of the best world of all worlds, to prove that our universe is better, or worse, concerning other possible universes. Besides, it affirms that God is not morally obliged to create a world without evil since this is a key piece to accomplish good in its entirety. (Mawson, 2005: p.294)
After doing this little theoretical tour, a passive notion of post-creation God has to be discarded, giving way not only to accept that God is aware that evil is a means for the realization of the divine plan but also, it is claimed that this process produces excessive enjoyment.
Following this tenor, the multiple biblical passages where God assigns some task to man to demonstrate his faith should be interpreted as ways that He has to access divine jouissance. This is how we can give a new reading to Kierkegaard’s work Fear and Trembling, where he is in charge of studying the figure of Abraham as the object of all praise for his faith.
Thus, it becomes necessary to analyze what the author understands by faith. In the voice of Kierkegaard:
Faith is precisely the paradox that the single individual as the single individual is higher than the universal, is justified before it, not as inferior to it but as superior—yet in such a way, please note, that it is the single individual who, after being subordinate as the single individual to the universal, now by means of the universal becomes the single individual who as the single individual is superior, that the single individual as the single individual stands in an absolute relation to the absolute. (Kierkegaard, 1983: p.56)
How he conceives faith is akin to the Hegelian dialectic, that is (away from the Fichtean perspective (thesis, antithesis, and synthesis) that makes it possible for the particular to overcome the general is that which, through a process in which a change of perspective is achieved, this transforms failure into true success (Žižek, 2006: p.42)
In the same way, it is important to bear in mind the various discrepancies and criticisms that Kierkegaard makes of Hegel; however, it is also necessary to observe the points of convergence between both thinkers. One of them is found in the relationship between how the existentialist philosopher perceives Abraham’s faith and the dialectic that Hegel proposes, above all, the last stage of this: “the negation of the negation”.
It must be emphasized that, according to Kierkegaard, Abraham was the greatest of all the men in the Bible since he knew how to turn his weakness into strength, his secret into folly, his hope into madness, and his hatred into love. (Kierkegaard, 1983: p.16) Does this not fit in with the perspective just mentioned on the Hegelian dialectic as a process that transforms failures into triumphs?
Fear, Trembling and Jouissance
This is how faith can be conceived as that paradox in which weaknesses turn into strengths and suffering into joy. Therefore, if we extrapolate it to the initial problem about God and his nexus with evil in the world, we can argue that it follows this same dialectical dynamic; what apparently should be a cause for suffering (God suffering for sins that cause evil in the world) seems to paradoxically transform into pleasure, or as it has been tried to demonstrate in this blog: en jouissance.
However, this very peculiar form of enjoyment at the cost of the suffering of others is not only exclusive to God but also to his staunch believers. Kierkegaard in the first chapter of Fear and Trembling; in one of the many variations on the sacrifice of Isaac, you can find this curious exclamation of Abraham: “Stupid boy, do you think I am your father? I am an idolater. Do you think it is God’s command? No, it is my desire.”(Kierkegaard, 1983: p.10) Abraham’s undeniable faith for God, that which manages to transform duty into pleasure, forces us to reformulate the concept of Faith in Kierkegaard by adding one more predicate: Faith, in addition to being fear and trembling, it is, above all, jouissance.
Arturo Roman Cesar Sanjuan- Majoring in Philosophy from Universidad del Estado México.
Kierkegaard, S. (1983) Fear and Trembling, Repetition. Kierkegaard´s Writings Vol. 6. Princeton University Press: New Jersey.
Mawson, T. (2005). Creer en Dios Una introducción a la filosofía de la religión (Biblioteca de Ensayo ed.). Siruela.
White, L. (s. f.). Sublime Resources – A brief history of the notion of the sublime. http://lukewhite.me.uk/. Recuperado 2 de noviembre de 2020, de http://lukewhite.me.uk/sub_history.htm#kant
Žižek, S. (2006) Visión de paralaje. Fondo de Cultura Económica: México.
Žižek, S. (2006) The Universal Exception: Selected Writings, Volume Two. Edited by Rex Butler and Scott Stephens. Continuum: London and New York.