i’ve been reading Alain Badiou‘s Saint Paul over the last week for class. He writes about Paul and Paul’s antiphilosophy from his atheistic perspective, but many of his interpretations of Paul seem to be very accurate. Here are some notes from his section on the law of the Flesh and the law of the Spirit.
The resurrection of Jesus–whether actual or not (as Badiou claims it to be)–is the central part of Paul’s message and is the life-changing event of the present. For all people, argues Paul, are living under the (only) Law. To call it the “Law of the Flesh” implies that there is some other Law. This Law is similar to the commandments–”thou shalt not”s which must be followed reactively (here, Nietzsche’s Will to Power, along with Deleuze’s interpretation of Nietzsche, can be used for furthering the notion of the reactive will to power and its link to this). The Law of the Flesh can be best described as the autonomy or the automatism of desire (cf. Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, specifically his distinctions between the autonomy and heteronomy of the will). The autonomy is characterized by the “freedom” from the law–that is to do what the self wants. This “freedom“, though, is a delusion of self-power (cf. Heidegger’s Being and Time, specifically the concept of the hiddenness of Dasein from Dasein) because the self lacks the ability to enact its will. It is enslaved to its desires (Nietzsche: “The condemnation to be whay my desires want me to be”).
For Paul, the next step is the realization of this bondage and the divorce of thought from power (“Who will save me from this body of death?”). The life under the Law of the Flesh is really life under the sign (or reign) of death (cf. Santner’s “death in life” or “undeadness”). The self then desires not to do what it desires to do (cf Romans 7). This leads to a freedom of the self to doubt its desires.
This situation is utterly transformed when the self experiences the resurrection (cf. Romans 8, 2 Corinthians 5). This is the re-aligning of the self’s will to God’s. It is the liberation from the body of death (see above). For Paul, though, it is not a re-animation of the dead, but a de-animation of the dead. It is the present crucifying (cf. Galatians 2) and not a promised future. It is this (present-tense) sharing in the death of Christ that the self can share in life (cf. Philippians 3, Romans 6). Ultimately, this is the only message Paul preached after Damascus, of course).
The resurrection transforms the self to live under Love (what Paul calls the Law of the Spirit). This law is true freedom from the law in that it becomes a freedom to choose what the self wants and no longer be enslaved to doing what the self wants. This results in the empowerment of the self to enact its will and freedom from the automatism of desire. The will is no longer under the autonomy of desire, but the heteronomy of desire. It subjects itself to some other law (i.e. God’s will) and aligns itself to that. This is a law of God (cf. 1 John 4) as God is Love.
From this Law of the Spirit, the self is no longer required to perform. Reading Paul closely, he is not against rites or rituals (such as circumcision), but is indifferent to them. Those rites are worthless to the Law of the Spirit that results from encountering and sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ. This is a message for all peoples. It was meant to be secularized and brought forth to all nations.