7 July 2007

Masochistic Desire and the Law

Filed under: Christianity, Psychology — ktismatics @ 7:34 am

They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them. But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner. (Galatians 4:17-18)

Paul has been warning the Galatians against those who would require them to follow the Law. They desire you but not in a good way, Paul warns. They desire you so they can reject you, and then you will desire them. This sounds familiar: Hegel‘s master-servant discourse, Girard‘s mimetic desire, Lacan‘s desiring the desire of the other. They seduce you then reject you, which makes them all the more desirable.

Isn’t this principle intrinsic to the Law itself? Doesn’t the Law coax you into following it in order that it might reject you? And then you desire the Law all the more, not just as a manifestation of a goodness that is wholly Other but also as the confirmation of your own badness? So that the more zealously you follow the Law the more corrupt and inadequate you feel?

But it’s good to be desired in a good way, says Paul; a way that leads to acceptance and love and freedom. And so Paul is perplexed: why would the way of the Law remain attractive when a far more appealing offer is on the table? It’s because the Law isn’t just a means of suppressing desire. The Law relies on desire for its appeal, the desire to be dominated and rejected and humiliated — the masochistic desire.



  1. When one’s whole identity and uniqueness is wrapped up in The Law, it’s quite understandable that the Jewish diaspora and even ‘believing Greeks’ would find solace in thiose very elements that most separate an mark off the ethnicity and the uniqueness of the Jewish way. Standing apart culturally has always been one of the greatest strengths of Judaism.

    The sudden revelaton of kingdom teaching, teaching particularly that stood the separatationist parts of the Law on it’s head, abolishing uncleanness, the Sabbath restrictions on even good actions and finally attacking particularly under Paul’s interpretation, table fellowship and matters like circumscision, that Jesus himself had never specifically mentioned, and then there is the whole idea that by having a simple water baptism, anyone of any ethnicity, or social stratum, could in effect become a follower of a Jewish messiah!


    Comment by samlcarr — 7 July 2007 @ 2:41 pm

  2. I agree that being unique can become a source of pride and identity. However, here Paul warns that they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them. Paul says that the separationists will keep the Galatians on the outside, but this very act of exclusion will cause the Galatians all the more attracted to those on the inside. So who’s going to be on the inside? The priests, the rabbis, probably the ethnic Jews. The high status of those on the inside depends on the esteem bestowed on them by those on the outside, who are assigned the low-status position. I think there are analogies to this sort of status hierarchy in our contemporary experience, don’t you?


    Comment by ktismatics — 7 July 2007 @ 4:34 pm

  3. Yes, that’s a very astute observation. They want to eventually be your lords wheras i want to be your servant. That may be overstating what’s actually there in this passage, Paul may just be saying “wheras I want us to be fellow servants together”. Paul’s motive is commendable, while theirs is selfish and finally vile, but perhaps more attractive for all that?

    The Jewish desire to maintain holiness by separation has always had it’s share in a different kind of masochism, that of the progrom and the holocaust. There is a strong element of apparent blindness to the effect on a society in which one is a minority and within which one maintains any sort of a superior caste or class mentality.

    I remember the ethnic cleansing that Idi Amin effected in Uganda in the late sixties and early 70s. this was pointed particularly at the Indian population, who were mostly traders and money lenders, and who kept themselves to themselves in secluded colonies within the African cities, secluded except for business that is!

    My father was a different sort who insisted on living with the general populace (we were in neighboring Kenya) and he could feel the anger building and repeatedly tried to convince the leading lights of the expatriate Indian community that they needed to integrate themselves, but they laughed.

    In a sense Mugabe has tried to harness the same feeling against white farmers in Zimbabwe, but these third or fourth generation farmers are known to be as African as the native blacks, so the population has actually not joined his progrom.

    But, getting back to the masochism, it is a general thing that we learn in childhood. There are ‘in groups’ and one is encouraged to ‘do anything’ required to be accepted, or even to be just peripherally tolerated by the selected group. Going in, you know that they are already a ‘closed group’ and the best you can hope for is to be in the second or third tier, but that’s ok, anything like acceptance is ok.

    From the group’s perspective, you want the hangers on, for it adds to the prestige, but the worse one treats them and the worse they are willing to be treated for the privilege is also an indication of the power of the core group. And so we come to Foucault!


    Comment by samlcarr — 7 July 2007 @ 10:42 pm

  4. “Paul may just be saying “wheras I want us to be fellow servants together”.”

    Based on the text I think Paul is saying “whereas I want us to fellow masters together.” Or better, “I want us to be rid of master-servant distinctions altogether.” Paul characterizes the Law as a slave morality, whereas Christianity as a fellowship of free people.

    Everyone who participates in a master-servant culture acknowledges the validity of both mastery and servitude. The possibility of relationships that aren’t predicated on status hierarchy was an alien concept in the Middle Eastern confluence of Greek and Roman, Jewish and Babylonian cultures. As Hegel, Girard, Lacan and company remind us, we still have a hard time with it.


    Comment by ktismatics — 8 July 2007 @ 9:39 am

  5. “The Jewish desire to maintain holiness by separation has always had it’s share in a different kind of masochism, that of the progrom and the holocaust.”

    Clearly we’ve moved into non-PC interpretation of these atrocities, suggesting that the Jews were complicit in their own persecution by espousing a separate-but-superior attitude. Why didn’t the European aristocracy suffer the same fate, or the high-caste Hindus, or the controllers of the means of production in 19th century capitalist societies? Why, if these high-status sects aroused resentment, wasn’t there a more massive uprising? Why did resentment/envy of the Jews provoke such violence, rather than submission, on the part of those among whom the Jews lived? I suspect it depends on who controls the guns more than on who holds the moral high ground.


    Comment by ktismatics — 8 July 2007 @ 9:50 am

  6. “From the group’s perspective, you want the hangers on, for it adds to the prestige, but the worse one treats them and the worse they are willing to be treated for the privilege is also an indication of the power of the core group. And so we come to Foucault!”

    Right, I agree.


    Comment by ktismatics — 8 July 2007 @ 9:52 am

  7. One factor with rich and poor, (except for the two revolutions French and Russian) is the lack of ethnic distinction and that’s a factor common to both Idi Amin an Hitler. The racial card was a powerful motivator and we see this right through the bible too!


    Comment by samlcarr — 8 July 2007 @ 2:00 pm

  8. In India there is a hidden ethnic factor, though this is hotly dispute. In fact the archaeologists are as much ‘up against it’ in India as they are in the Levant. One problem is Harappa and the second is the ‘invasion’ of the Aryan, Vedic, “Hindus” from Eastern Europe (another hotly contested theory) and the subsequent marginalisation and victimisation of the indigenous Dravidian populace (who sometimes claim to be descended from the Harrapan civilization).

    Again, ethnicity and archaeology have proved to be difficult to reconcile, though there is hope that the science of genetics may eventually help to sort this out, but that then has problems with assigning dates to anything so a bit of a hiatus has ensued.

    In any case, something of a silent revolution has taken place with affirmative action rapidly pushing up the proportion of the middle class largely from the ranks of the middle and lower castes.


    Comment by samlcarr — 8 July 2007 @ 2:10 pm

  9. I agree that racial distinctions always seem to matter a great deal. Very interesting about India. So some of the lower castes claim to be descendants of the Harappan civilization, subjugated by the Aryans? What’s the story on Harappic writing — does anybody know wheter it came from Mesopotamia or was separately invented? Also, I wasn’t aware of the “silent revolution,” which I suppose has parallels among the lower strata of European and American industrial society.


    Comment by ktismatics — 8 July 2007 @ 3:41 pm

  10. As far as I know the Harappan writing has still to be figured out though they have lots of stuff to work with! It does not appear to be related to Meopotamian or Egyptian writing and of course, the Vedas do not have a script as they were purely oral. One theory claims that there are similarities with some South Inian languages tht are perhaps ancient enough but it is a ‘working backwards’ sort of thing so far and has not been widely accepted.

    The closest parallel for what’s happened in India is affirmative action in the US. There is even a move on to ‘reserve’ a certain number of seats in parliament for women but for some reason this has not been put to a vote yet.

    Interestingly in india we do have even older populations of truly ancient indigenous peoples whom we call tribals and many seem to have genetic affinities both with Africans and Australian Aboriginals, but population wise they are very small and quite scattered.

    We had one period of rule by the Hindu right wing and that saw quite a lot of rewriting of history textbooks especially to eliminate any notions that the Aryans came from Europe and promoting instead the idea that India exported the Aryans who then conquered Europe!

    History really is written by those in power to suit their own ends!


    Comment by samlcarr — 8 July 2007 @ 4:14 pm

  11. sorry, we’re a ways away from the subject!


    Comment by samlcarr — 8 July 2007 @ 4:18 pm

  12. So how is it that the Nazis decided they were Aryans? Did they regard themselves as sharing the same lineage as the Vedas?

    I saw a television program about the migratory pathway that led through southern India across Indonesia to Australia, as you say truly ancient — 70,000 years ago comes to mind, but I could be wrong.

    Regarding ancient history, I read recently that the version of Aramaic spoken in Israel at the time of Christ, was a Babylonian dialect that the Jews learned to speak while in exile. Apparently relatively few Jews at the time of Christ could read Hebrew and nobody spoke it. So it was already in effect a dead language except in the synagogues — kind of like Sanscrit and Latin.


    Comment by ktismatics — 8 July 2007 @ 6:12 pm

  13. Thankfully, there is increasing awareness that history really has to be a multidiscipline taking into account what every other relevant science can contribute including geology, anthropology, botany, genetics, weather scientists, and even the findings of other social sciences. It is not just archaeology, epigraphy and some overruling assumptions about how things ‘must have happened’ based on scanty and perhaps unreliaby polemical textual evidence.

    At the time of the Nazi movement the most prominent theories were in fact the products of German and British Orientalists and they, following the anthropological evidence, had concluded that the Aryans ‘invaded India’ about 1,000 BCE. But yes, because of this there was an affinity between the Nazi movement and right wing Hindu fascism that was Brahmin (Vedic Aryan) dominated at that time. Gandhi’s assassin is known to hail from this camp.


    Comment by samlcarr — 9 July 2007 @ 1:29 am

  14. Fascinating. I didn’t know that about the Nazi-Brahmin connection.


    Comment by ktismatics — 9 July 2007 @ 6:33 am

  15. The British/German and Indian/Brahmin sounds like a feast for Zizek.


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 9 July 2007 @ 10:15 am

  16. There was actually a fascist Indian leader who led an army of Indians against the Brits in Burma and as allies of Japan!


    Comment by samlcarr — 10 July 2007 @ 1:51 pm

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