There Is No Sexual Relationship Versus Being Joined to Christ

The conclusion of Jacques Lacan that “there is no sexual relationship,” is due to the fact that one cannot coordinate the reality of the human body with the ego.  The sexed body provides a mode of relating which cannot be coordinated with the mental or symbolic order.  Sex and gender seem to be a realm apart from the concept I have of myself; so, the way I would relate to the other is not sexual but through the symbolic realm of language – yet this realm falls short of establishing a complete (full-bodied) relationship

In Scripture, a similar discord is noted with the sign of circumcision and what it was to signify.  The surgical removal of the foreskin of the male reproductive organ was meant to signify a relationship with God.  It was to signify that the heart was given over to a relationship with God. What is most clear is that these two realms represented by two organs – that of the embodied sexual means of relating and the realm of soulish or conceptual relation  are in discord.  The flesh or the body, with its mark of circumcision, does not accord with that which it signifies – a promise of faithfulness.  The sign and the signified are separated and this alienation characterizes the human predicament.

This is not simply an abstract problem but it is the contradiction embodied in the human condition. Sex or human sexuality cannot be, or is only with difficulty, coordinated with a love relationship and this is a sign of the fall. That which clearly marks man as man and woman as woman, that which binds the human pair together, bears the sign of a broken promise. The human problem is a gender problem – or this is how it manifests itself.

Idolatry, as portrayed in Ezekiel, is a living illustration of Lacan’s formula.  The idol (the tselem or image – the word used to describe the human pair’s creation in the image of God) is a phallic symbol which the idolaters/adulterers lust after but which is so large that it is beyond attainment (like that of a donkey according to Ezekiel 23:20). The idol holds out a promise of final or ultimate relationship but there is no sexual relationship.  It is, by definition, impossible as the idol is not living flesh but inanimate stone of unattainable proportion.  The result is an exponential desire which gives rise to child sacrifice.  The drive to relate by means of one organ (the reproductive organ) cannot be coordinated with the other organ (the heart). This discord is reified and made absolute so that a false transcendence – nothing (Paul’s designation of the true content of the idol) is made an absolute something.

This goes a long way toward explaining why Paul (in Romans 1), following Old Testament historical development, describes the digressions of the Fall as proceeding through idolatry to homosexuality.  The idol represents the obstacle to sexual relationship and this obstacle is made absolute and definitive of identity. The male reproductive organ made absolute – the phallic idol  absolutizes sexual difference.  There is no sexual relationship and this gives rise to an impossible desire (exponential desire) which is converted into the “life force” of the false religion. Lacan also absolutizes desire, as his one guiding ethical principle is, “Do not give way on your desire.”  Desire is an end in itself which he equates with the life force.

This system/sickness of identity through an absolute difference is diagnosed by Paul and the prescriptive cure constitutes his understanding of salvationThere is no sexual relationship, as the law of the mind and the law of the flesh are pitted against one another.  The “spiritual,” legal, symbolic realm, (the law of the mind in Paul’s description) has somehow constituted itself through a division with or in the body.  The two organs of relation – the mind and the body – are pitted against one anotherThe law does not solve the problem, though it mitigates the full idolatrous/sexual expression of the problem, and it marks the nature of the problem (circumcision – the sign of the need to unify heart and body).  Alienation from God, one another, creation, and within the self is a condition that calls for regulation.  The law regulates and marks the condition and points to the need for a cure while offering no cure itself.  Paul’s cure is radical beyond measure.

Paul makes it clear that manipulation of the organs will not affect a cure. Circumcision or no circumcision is beside the point.  The challenge of the Judaizers in Galatia points to the futility of attempting to cure the discord of alienation through the law.  Paul’s recommendation of emasculation to the Judaizers is not serious medical advice.  The point is that the problem is not with the organ(s) of relation but with the very manner in which they have been constituted.  Paul’s recommendation that the legalists just keep cutting, is to point to the futility of the operation of circumcision in the first place (and by extension to any cure which would manipulate a dynamic conceived in and through alienation).  The problem is so serious that genital extraction does not begin to get to the heart of it. 

In Romans 1 & 7, Paul describes how the “I” or ego, constituted in the symbolic or the law (the universal problem), results in sexual malorientation and alienationThe law of the mind and the law of the flesh are pitted against one another in the alienated “I.”  The two realms which are in discord might seem to need to be more intensely engaged (struggling more intensely to enact the law of the mind in the body), but Paul’s point is that the entire construct is built upon a deception or misrecognition. To engage the struggle more intensely is simply to be more intensely consumed by the problem. 

In Paul’s description, the topography of the two realms – the mind and the body – are not two realms at all but are constituted in and through alienation as such.  Paul refers to this false construct as “the body of death” as it is a dynamic which takes the alienation and separation definitive of death into the self.  The cure is the dissolution of the entire construct: the “I” is crucified with Christ and it is no longer “I” that lives but Christ which lives within the self as the new animating force.  Covetousness or desire is displaced by hope engendered by the Spirit, the “I” is displaced by the image of Christ, and the entire construct – the body of death – is displaced by resurrection life.  

In describing this new life Paul often (usually?) resorts to the language of sex: the male seed, birth, marriage, adoption, barrenness, labor pains etc.  The key word he employs describing the choice of either emasculation or being joined to the body of Christ is καταργέω. The word means suspension or release and as Paul poses the choice – one can either suspend the law and be joined to the body of Christ or one can circumcise himself and suspend Christ and he might as well cut off (ἀποκόπτωhis reproductive organ. The voiding or suspension of Christ falls back into the pattern of “no relationship” as it cuts one off from the relations to be had in Christ.  

In Romans 6-7 the voiding or suspension or καταργέω of the “body of sin” and thebody of death” is the demise of the dynamic of the “I” or the Pauline version of the ego.  Paul has here determined the content of dying to the law (7.4) as it is illustrated in 7.1-4. The identity of the dead husband of 7.1-4 can be understood on the basis of who dies in Chapter 6 and who the dead “I” is in 7.7ff. The old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing(6.6). The body of sin (6.6) which was identified with the body of death (7.24) is the summing up of the dynamic of the “I in 7.7ff . This “I will not survive into ch. 8.  

In terms of the wife and her dead husband, in v. 4 the you in the first half of the verse locates the readers with the dead husband: You have died to the law through the body of Christ” (7.4a). The second half of the verse locates the readers with the wife who has died, remarried, and is expecting: so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God (7.4b). Paul pictures baptism as entombing a cadaver (a Subject ready to be buried) and what happens in the tomb is a fusion or joining of two bodies.  “You also have died not just any death but through the body of Christ that you might belong to another (7.4). 

Paul’s illustration disrupts the categories which are the stable, unchanging necessities – the body and mind of 7:7ff. The two incompatible dimensions and the gap which is constitutive of the Subject are undone. The cardinal rule in the Lacanian universe is here broken: there is a sexual relationship; it is possible to obliterate the dynamic of sin, in which the law and the real of the body cannot be coordinated. The believer knows Christ, not in the sense of identity through difference, but in the bodily sense – the full-bodied change of baptism. “The man shall leave his father and mother and the two shall become one” – this is a great mystery which unfolds in Christ and the Church.


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Author: Paul Axton

Paul V. Axton spent 30 years in higher education teaching theology, philosophy, and Bible. Paul’s Ph.D. work and book bring together biblical and psychoanalytic understandings of peace and the blog, podcast, and PBI are shaped by this emphasis.

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