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May 30, 2011



Just ordered a copy. From a forensic perspective, I'm curious whether this situation came about in evangelical churches because of influence from the business world, where I suspect the master signifiers are intentionally empty to prevent middle management from perceiving and interfering with upper management's objectives. Regardless of intent, it seems pretty clear that language use in churches is often more optimized for political mobilization than for community-building.

Greg Horton

Fitch covers that. He attributes it to the Liberal/Fundamentalist schism of the early 20th century when much of the "inerrant" nonsense was formulated. That's not to say business language didn't affect it later.


If Fitch references Zizek as much as you say he does, I can't imagine he doesn't know from Wittgenstein.

Oooooh, boy. I unplugged from the Viral Bloggers scene after my first go-round with it. The book I read was a waste of my time, and I felt badly for the slagging I had to give the poor author in exchange for a free book. This title caught my eye, but I imagined another serving of earnest hand-wringing over a subject I couldn't be arsed with. I might have to re-visit this VB thing....

Michael Laprarie

"...key phrases (inerrant Bible, decision for Christ) that ought to be deeply steeped in meaning are in fact empty signifiers, thereby causing Evangelicaldom to shape itself around empty ideals that contain the verbal simulacra of Christianity but none of the genuine practice."

Makes perfect sense to me.

I see American Fundagelicalism suffering from two serious flaws. First, it is an ideology of fear ("if you question any of these truths you could 'lose your way' and your soul will burn in Hell for eternity) and second, it works well enough to keep the 7 to 9-figure budgets of super mega churches and television ministries funded.

How ironic is it that money and power (instilled by fear) -- two of the basic evils that a relationship with God and the community of believers should purge from our lives -- are the things that most deeply control the 'true remnant' fundagelicals?

I must say though I am a little disappointed in the author's use of the Bush "quote" as a proof. The original quote has Bush telling a Palestinian leader that God commanded him to go after terrorists in Afghanistan, and then to go after Saddam ... and then to give the Palestinians their own state! Not surprisingly, this final part of the quote is always omitted, because it pretty much erases its credibility.

A good discussion here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/08/AR2005100801094.html

Otherwise this book looks very good, I am putting it on my Amazon wish list today.

Greg Horton

Not sure what isn't credible about it, Mike. It was on tape. BBC, wasn't it? Ended up in a documentary. The White House wanted it removed. Fitch covers the issue thoroughly. I do think he oversteps a bit; Bush's decisions were likely caused by hubris unrelated to the Bible. It's the weakest part of his Bible section, but he is right that the arrogance related to "having absolute truth on our side" is a negative and inevitable consequence of this particular empty signifier.


I want to read this.

Trevor Palen

Don't remember where I first saw this book reviewed, but it was also a positive review. I may just have to get this book.

Good stuff, Greg.

Jay Kelly

I'm writing this because I really want to understand, not because I want to be right. So I'd love feedback and/or a pointer to someone who can give feedback . . .

Here's my understanding:

1. For Zizek, words have meaning only insofar as they stand in a referential relationship to other words.

2. A master signifier just is self-referential.

3. Therefore, a master signifier is necessarily devoid of meaning. (from 1 and 2)

4. A master signifier is the only thing around which a community can form shared identity. (That's the big one I'm not sure about . . . Zizek may make space for shared identity around something other than a master signifier.)

5. Therefore, the shared identity of a community is necessarily founded upon something that is devoid of meaning. (from 3 and 4) (That's not to say that the shared identity is devoid of meaning--only that the shared identity is founded on something that is devoid of meaning.)

But if those things are true, then Fitch can't just replace certain master signifiers with another master signifier. He's still stuck with a self-referential term that's necessarily devoid of meaning.

The linchpin in the argument above is (4). If it turns out it's possible for a community to organize around something other than a master signifier, then Fitch isn't forced to conclude (5). But I suspect he may get himself into trouble if the above argument is in the ballpark of accurate.

If the argument is passably accurate, Fitch can deconstruct all he wants, but he won't able to build a positive case for a Christian community built around something of substance.

Feedback? Thoughts?

Greg Horton

Zizek is a materialist, so he assumes all master signifiers are empty. He's willing to make peace with "the void." Fitch's assertion is that Christians can't do that. I agree that he's theologically consistent on that point, but I said in the review I think Zizek and Fitch's application of the read are wonderful deconstructively, primarily because construction requires the replacement of these terms with other terms. You may be right that he will find something for the community to organize around, and I'll let you know when I finish the last chapter. I suspect though that given the nature of religious language, you only have master signifiers to deal with. Theists would say they deal with the Risen Christ, and they would mean it with all the sincerity they can muster, but for the skeptics among us, it's just another master signifier.

Jay Kelly

That's what I thought. I hope he can do more than say Christians 'can't do that' and can instead argue that Christians don't have to. But I share your suspicion that the nature of religious language will make that argument close to impossible.

Make sure you read all the way to the end to see if there are closing comments that say 'You should loan Jay this book the next time you share a bottle of The Transcendentalist.'


I'll be getting to this book soon, but until then, I want to say I find all statements of the sort "Christians can't do that," to rest on pretty shaky justificatory grounds. Even if it were the case (which I don't think it actually is) that no interpretation of Christian texts, history, or tradition allowed for finality in the mortal universe, I don't think that would bar present Christians from accepting the void as the most likely fate of our consciousness. Two important points in support of that:

First, it just does not seem to be right to say that because something will ultimately cease to exist that it's existence is made meaningless by that fact. As such, my present decisions to follow a roughly Christian ethic in my mortal life need not be meaningless just because I will not eventually be resurrected or even because the universe will ultimately become so cold and matter so sparse as to make all life finally impossible.

Secondly, concerning authority within traditions, if we see Christianity (or any other religion) as a MacIntyrean practice or something like it, then we should expect the practice's traditions and rules to change as our broader understanding of the world changes. Christians need not be only Christians, and in fact it would be impossible for them to be. They are also members of a civilization far different from the one in which the practice of Christianity was born. As such, that practice will be shaped by more modern practices and by more modern understandings of the world. Why then could a present Christian not, while continuing to engage in a present iteration of the practice of Christianity, not also recognize that new understandings make certain aspects of the tradition (e.g. belief in literal resurrection) obsolete?

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