By now, you have probably heard all about the much-hyped encounter in Toronto between Jordan Peterson and Slavoj Zizek, billed variously as “the debate of the century” and “the rumble in the realm of the mind”.
Set at such a high bar, people inevitably came away disappointed. The internet has already exploded with criticisms against one or both foremost philosophical influencers of the age. But there were nuggets of gold throughout the three-hour debate. For all their avowed philosophical opposition, the debate turned into mutual admiration by the end. The Marxist philosopher and politically conservative psychologist look set for a beautiful bromance.
Peterson, lean and charismatic in an elegant three-piece suit, looked handsomer than an ageing Kevin Costner or George Clooney. But Zizek, ever dishevelled, overweight and constantly rubbing his nose like he was suffering from a cold, is by far the deeper thinker. Readers will forgive me for writing about him a second time in two weeks.
The Slovenian philosophy rock star casually throws off ideas; many of them percolate inside your head, leading you down paths you have never considered before. The two men at one point debated the intimate relationship between Christianity and atheism.
Christianity, according to Zizek, lays the seeds of doubt, disillusion and disbelief from its very inception, just moments before Christ died on the Cross: “Why hast thou forsaken me?”
At this point, Peterson was leaning at the edge of his seat like an attentive student. Unlike many deathbed conversions and confessions throughout Western history and literature, Christ realised that he was abandoned, betrayed and tortured in the most inhuman way possible at the moment of his death. He didn’t give up on God; God gave him up. That is terminal atheism.
Elsewhere, Zizek took this idea further: “The only way really to be an atheist is through Christianity. Christianity is much more atheist than the usual atheism, which can claim there is no God and so on, but nonetheless it retains a certain trust into the Big Other.
“This Big Other can be called natural necessity, evolution, or whatever. We humans are nonetheless reduced to a position within the harmonious whole of evolution, whatever, but the difficult thing to accept is again that there is no Big Other, no point of reference which guarantees meaning.”
Unlike any other religion, Christianity is the ultimate gateway drug to atheism.