The Lonely Painter Podcast
Joker and the Teleological Suspension of the Ethical

Joker and the Teleological Suspension of the Ethical

November 21, 2019

I think the common reading of the new Joker film is, “Look how society grinds down a person and eventually causes some to snap.” But the better question is - why do some snap and others don’t? It should be noted that when Arthur kills the 3 men who attack him on the subway, he does it in self defense and rage. It’s only later that he begins to buy into the larger poetic causal narrative that others concoct in an attempt to make sense of the killings. In this sense what creates the Joker is not the contingent circumstances of his life, but rather his interpolation into an ideological structure or meta narrative. In the same way Hitler had lots of bad things happen to him and we say, “If only he had not been rejected from art school…” "If only he had a better upbringing…" and so on. But we could make that argument for anyone -- everyone faces hardships and rejection. It was rather Hitler’s fascination with a poetic vision of a non antagonistic whole, unified society that drove him. That vision (of a unified society, obviously not his other goals) should inspire us as well -- we should strive to bring about a future in which the poor are not forgotten and overlooked, but we should always be on the lookout for rationalizing the existence of problems within our society as the effect of a cause that stems from a particular people group as Nazis did with the Jews. We must be careful not to scapegoat. Our fight is not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities.

Whether in this presidency or the last, we easily think, “If only this administration were out, then we could set things straight.” But what if the antagonism is not contingent to the current “bad actors” but rather is constitutive of human life itself? Again my point is, we shouldn’t merely critique the person in power (though we should call a spade a spade, we should oppose oppressive speech and acts, and there are better and worse ways of governing), but rather we should each think hard about the underlying narratives that drive us. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are usually not true.

As Slavoj Zizek contends: it's false to think that without God, bad people would not do good things. On the contrary, it's actually only something like God or some other poetic meta narrative that can make good people do bad things. This is what we saw on 9/11. If you perceive yourself as an instrument of God, then of course you can employ whatever means necessary to reach the end you feel called towards. This is what Kierkegaard referred to as the teleological suspension of the ethical -- that God's plan trumps human morality. In other words, it's possible that God could call you to do something that you would never be able to reconcile with humanity's notion of right and wrong, like being called to sacrifice one's own son. Therefore a leap of faith is required. 

Personally, I’m more and more convinced that the underlying temptation and super-egoic imperative for each of us is: To have it all. We run ourselves ragged fearing we'll miss out. Fearing we'll be seen as less than. Fearing we'll let others down. We see this temptation (to have it all) in the biblical garden story. We desire to be like God. That is: we desire a non antagonistic existence. We desire to lack nothing. 

I pray that we might each take a second to stop, breathe, and experience grace for who we already are -- lacking, imperfect beings -- remembering that Jesus himself did not count equality with God as something to be grasped. We need communities in which we can lay bare our struggles and imperfections with others. I'd argue that Story Night is one such community. AA is another.

My fear is this: now that this Joker movie exists -- if poorly understood -- it may become the poetic narrative which downtrodden citizens may find themselves in the grips of and will use to justify acts of violence. 

We too must be very careful in the way we see ourselves as instruments of some higher vision. Ultimately, I am for giving one’s self to a higher goal, but we must take extremely seriously what that higher goal is. 

We should search earnestly, just as Soren Kierkegaard did, for, "the idea for which I can live and die." And if we find it, pursue it with fear and trembling -- seeking justice, loving truth, and walking humbly with our G(g)od.

Che Vuoi?! What do you want from me?!
All is Vanity
Sequoia Collective and the Boiling River

Sequoia Collective and the Boiling River

October 18, 2019

Pure, infectious joy -- that's how I'd describe Brett Alexander. Listening through this old episode that I never got around to publishing makes me so happy. I hope you enjoy it too!

Divine Frivolity
A Play of Differences
A Fixxed Star

A Fixxed Star

September 3, 2019
Staying Home with Garth
Let There Be Lack

Let There Be Lack

August 5, 2019

I think we should pursue things that bring us into deeper and higher love. And when we do fall, and our lives are in pieces perhaps we can remember that though we will never have the power to speak light into existence as God did when he said, “Let there be light,” may we be reminded in those most trying and downtrodden times and when we’re tempted by that next thing that we fantasize will take away all our longings and problems we say what is fully in our power to say: “Let there be lack.”

Anti Wisdom

Anti Wisdom

April 11, 2019

Why do we fall so far short of human fulfillment?


"We fall away from what we could be, namely united in love through justice and truth, because we want to draw the whole world into ourselves and our finite reality. And this is the old doctrine of the paradise story, ' will be like God,' that’s the temptation."


-- Paul Tillich



"Wisdom is pagan!" -- Slavoj Zizek

Why I am opposed to wisdom teachers


The apostle Paul’s writings are, according to most scholars, the closest we get to the historical Jesus. Paul writes that he preaches only Christ crucified. It’s as if what Jesus the man said and did while alive was of little interest to Paul. Paul never knew Jesus in the flesh like the disciples and others did, and so I can’t help but wonder why he’s not interested in the words and actions of this man whom Paul had come to believe was the Christ. Based upon his writings, I can’t help but think that for Paul there must have been something far more profound in what the notion of Christ crucified means for humanity -- that this act was far more important than Jesus’ words and miracles. Why?


I hear friends that are worn down in the grind of life express how burnt out they are. The words, “I kill myself, and kill myself, and kill myself,” are suspect to me lately. For I have a sneaking suspicion: What if the point of the bible, God’s covenant with Israel, Christianity, and the idea of Christ crucified is to show us the impotence of our sacrificing and it’s inability to bring about the arrival of whatever ideal future we strive for and always miss? What if the point of Christianity is to break this frenetic obsession and belief in this form of destructive sacrifice? We think “if only this thing were different, if only they weren’t here, if only I had this one thing … then everything would be great.” ... “I’ll be happy when...” Such thoughts fail to recognize the radical saving grace of Christ crucified.  


The reality and insistent nature of death was once felt far more than we now experience. “...Here hung the lips  that I have kissed I know not how oft.” - Hamlet says while holding the skull of Yorick, his father’s old court jester. It’s been a while since I’ve held the skull of someone I once knew. The people of old experienced the wonders and horrors of nature and felt the anxiety of fate and death. They lived pondering the enigmatic nature of their world. Floods, droughts, disease, heartache, and inexplicable calamities of all kinds cause humans to ask, “why?” We seek meaning from such incomprehensible effects, and in this unknowing we look around for a cause. We offload, finger point, analyze, project, scapegoat and kill something or someone in the hopes that a better future is just around the corner. It is for us most difficult to abide God’s silence.


Fearing God’s wrath, the people of old sacrificed goats and slaves, and virgins, and children desperately seeking to appease God for hope of better days to come. Have we in 2019 come any further? Or do we throw ourselves and others against the sacrificial wall, seeing what latest diet, guru, and wisdom sticks around the longest? Do we not still point to various groups of people believing everything would be better if they weren’t here … or everything would be great if they could just see things the way I see things ... if they’d just believe how I believe? Despite the insistence upon meditation or the newest fad in self help the words, “I kill myself, and kill myself, and kill myself,” ring on.


Christ crucified breaks apart the need for scapegoats, gurus, and rules for life and thus is radically anti wisdom. Any prescription that overlooks this beautiful gift and sends a person on a path to self fulfillment by way of additional striving is idolatrous and is akin to the serpent’s lie and our subsequent temptation to be like God.