But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves. (Galatians 5:11-12)
We back up a little more in our investigation of Galatians to savor this rhetorical flourish from Paul. Wouldn’t you say that circumcision is a symbolic or metonymic castration? It’s a perpetual reminder not to enjoy yourself too much or else. But Paul says the real stumbling block, the real skandalon, isn’t forbidden desire but rather the cross.
The cross isn’t meant to function as an even more intensified warning — if you don’t stop giving in to your desires you’re dead, just like Jesus. Here’s a guy who follows the Law to the letter, and what happens? He gets killed anyway. Wouldn’t you infer that the Big Other who stands behind the Law isn’t playing fair? And you’d be right, because the crucifixion demonstrates that the power behind the Law isn’t God but the social order that derives its power from enforcing the Law. Jesus did what the Law specified, but he antagonized the priests and the rabbis and the Jewish political leaders. They’re the ones who punished Jesus, holding out the threat of castration or worse for anyone who fails to acknowledge their authority.
And from where do the leaders of the Jewish community derive their authority? They would have you believe that they’re stand-ins for God himself, temporal representatives of the Big Other. But Paul says it’s not so. So where do they get their authority? From those who allow themselves to believe that the authorities represent the Big Other. Back to Galatians 4:17 — They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them. The leaders derive their power not from God but from the people they dominate, from the community that assembles itself around and beneath them. The rulers can rule only if they can seduce people into following them. And people are willing to follow, because they want someone to tell them precisely what God demands of them. Paul warns the Galatians: don’t let them get away with it, don’t give in to your own desire to enslave yourselves.
This is how the rulers get off: by seducing the heirs into being slaves, by proclaiming rules and punishments, by issuing warnings and threats, by commanding respect — by positioning themselves as the Big Other. If that’s what makes them hard, says Paul, then they ought to cut their own dicks off.