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The Cry of the Subject: Franz Hinkelammert

by Hermann Steinkamp Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2007 at 10:43 AM

The Sabbath exists for people. The "fatal law" is a synonym for "the world." According to Hinkelammert, obedience to the law is "sin." Those who wanted to stone the woman-the law abiding-committed sin. Abraham was commanded to decide for the life of his child.


By Hermann Steinkamp

[This book review of Frank Hinkelammert’s “The Cry of the Subject: From the World Theater of the Gospel of John to the Dog Years of Globalization.” With an epilogue by Pablo Richard, Luzerne 2001 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

Franz Hinkelammert’s “The Cry of the Subject. From the World Theater of the Gospel of John to the Dog Years of Globalization” presents a spirited and convincing theological interpretation of globalization. The economist and liberation theologian discusses the most controversial ideological theme today.

Born in 1931 in Emsdetten, Hinkelammert has lived in Latin America since 1963 and teaches economics at the universities of Tequcigalpa (Honduras) and Heredia (Costa Rica). He is a co-director of the DEI-ecumenical research center in San Jose, Costa Rica and author of many books that caused great sensations in Germany including “The Ideological Weapons of Death” (1985), “Abraham’s Faith and the Oedipus of the West”

(1989) and “Critique of Utopian Reason” (1994).

Criticism of capitalism as a religion and metaphysics (the subtitle of “The Ideological Weapons of Death”) pervades Franz Hinkelammert’s work like a central threat. He is regarded as one of the most influential liberation theologians. In “Abraham’s Faith and the Oedipus of the West,” the theme of his new work was already heard: the tension between the law and the value of life. Against the mainstream classical interpretation, Hinkelammert does not interpret the Abraham figure as a prototype of obedience (of faith). The voice of the angel that Abraham heard at the last moment and kept him from killing (“sacrificing”) his son Isaac is not interpreted as God’s voice but as the voice of one’s conscience commanding the father to decide “against God’s will” and for the life of his child.

The traditional interpretation as the “obedience of Abraham” is influenced by Oedipus’ experience and consciousness that characterizes the Greek and western thinker and “conditioned” the (twofold) obedience in a way that even overcame the killing taboo – up to the henchmen of Auschwitz!

Life as the most important value is also the basic idea in “The Cry of the Subject.” A critic of globalization, Hinkelammert traces its theological roots in the key ideas of the Gospel of John.

According to his interpretation, the “fatal law” (the law that kills) is one of the central motifs of the “world theater” of the Gospel of John. This law is a synonym for “the world” (in the sense of Johannine and Pauline theology where believers are “in the world” but not of the world). According to Hinkelammert, obedience to the “law” is sin. This can be illustrated with the story of the adulteress. Those who wanted to stone the woman – the law abiding – committed sin although the woman also committed sin (adultery). The criticism of Jesus (later Paul and Christians today like Franz Hinkelammert among others) is not directed against the law as such since the law has a very good intent – for regulating human interaction. However the authority of the law ends where it is directed against persons and against life. The Sabbath exists for people.

Jesus’ praxis that was characterized by this maxim led consistently to his execution. His death was the last consequence of the “fatal” logic of the law. Jesus’ death reveals the whole (“diabolical”) self-dynamic of the law that still marks the “world theater” today.

According to Hinkelammert, the logic (“the law”) of capital functions in this sense. Corresponding to its immanent plausibilities (of the “value law”), it is completely legal and self-evident that it “costs interests.” Corresponding to this interpretation, “value law” is synonymous with the law of money and the market. Jesus takes the same position against the value law in the synoptic gospels, Hinkelammert says, as against the Sabbath command under the aspect of debts and debt payment, that is the law. This law is derived directly from the value law… Where the value law rules, credit and the inevitability of debt payment appear.

Although legal, the self-dynamic or self-lawfulness of capital is deadly. Thousands of people die daily of hunger (because many governments of poor countries must spend more for servicing their foreign debts than for feeding their residents). People dying daily are “not the question” according to the (“legal”) law of capital!

Unlike the synoptics, Jesus according to the Gospel of John focuses on another meaning of money and the value law. The Gospel of John does not mention Jesus’ criticism of debt payment generally. Jesus attacks money and the value law for another reason. Money and commodity relations replace God and become idols. The deeper meaning of temple cleansing lies here, Hinkelammert proclaims.

The logic of capital as the “law” of the world is the continuous world theater! In his important epilogue, Pablo Richard, another influential liberation theologian, discusses the reasons why Hinkelammert’s book triggered such passionate semantic irritations. This lies in the “reversal” of “power” relations in the historical process from early Christian communities to powerful Christianity. The central terms “value,” “law” and “sin” are reversed into the opposite of their original meaning. The theology of liberation (“from the perspective of the poor”) encourages a corresponding shift in thinking.

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