Desert Ascetics in the Land of Plenty

God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse released last year and was co-written by Slavoj Zizek and Boris Gunjevic. Re-reading it again for a third time, I am enjoying the chapters written by Gunjevic even more. Gunjevic uses St. Augustine’s City of God as an ethical playbook to destroy capitalism. In the quote below, Gunjevic writes that to subvert capitalism one must follow the way of an ascetic. Walter Benjamin points us that capitalism is a religion; Gunjevic believes that the way to dismantle this religious system is though religious asceticism.

“This is why a measured dose of voluntary, disciplined asceticism is necessary, from which rough fragments of efficacious truths may surface and heal our desire, as Augustine says, since we will guide our desire not to something beautiful, desirable, and transitory, but to Beauty itself, immutable Truth itself, and Bliss itself. This is why we need asceticism, as only asceticism can redirect desire towards eternal plenitude. For ascetic exercise is not the destruction of desire as is suggested by various forms of Buddhism. Augustine’s understanding of ascetic practice begins with a voluntary renunciation of submission to pleasure the renunciation of a weakening of the soul and body, and renunciation of the avaricious aspiration to greater wealth. The lust for glory is a nasty vice and an enemy of true devotion, says Augustine, calling on the words of the carpenter from Nazareth and the Apostles whose practice was to place the love of God above.” “Babylonian Virtues–Minority Report” (100-101)

God in Pain


One thought on “Desert Ascetics in the Land of Plenty

  1. That is a great observation. I wonder, too, what resources could be found in the Desert Fathers for something like this. They responded to the religious empire of their day, which also claimed to be Christian, but specifically refusing its pleasures and moving to the abandoned spaces.

    The only dilemma, I think, is that asceticism too often ends with a sort of assumption that not participating is the same thing as changing things, and while it certainly has the ability to do that, I do fear that it’s a sort of gateway drug into yet another opiate, as it were.

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