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Open Theology

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Levinas and the Significance of Passivity in the Christian Religious Experience

James Cyfko
Published Online: 2018-10-05 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opth-2018-0040


Analyzing the tendency of Christian believers to rationalize the religious experience of the face of the Other, I reveal through Levinas, how, in doing so, they paradoxically neglect to perceive God, who is love. I will focus on the appropriate response shown by both Levinas and Christ in the inter-human drama, specifically, that of passive kenosis, as opposed to self-preserving activity. In undergoing the an-archic passion of the Other, I encounter a possibility of transformation from my self qua ego which disconnects me from reality, to my self qua responsibility which throws me back into my finitude. This becomes most powerful upon experiencing the Crucifixion of Christ, as ‛I’, as active agent, become traumatically substituted by ‛me’, as passive recipient. When I surrender to this accusative gaze of the face of Christ which pierces my egoistic shell, I encounter, according to Levinas, the infinite demands of the vulnerable Other haunting me before ontological qualification. In this, I experience the trace of the inescapable Infinite who calls me to holiness. This holiness can only be reached if I cease to manipulate God, instead allowing him the freedom to do with me as he wills through the self-emptying passivity which Levinas describes.

Keywords: Levinas; phenomenology of religion; self-Other relationship; substitution; ethics; kenosis; transcendence; guilt; Christianity; love


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About the article

Received: 2018-06-06

Accepted: 2018-09-18

Published Online: 2018-10-05

Published in Print: 2016-08-01

Citation Information: Open Theology, Volume 4, Issue 1, Pages 511–519, ISSN (Online) 2300-6579, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opth-2018-0040.

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© by James Cyfko, published by De Gruyter. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License. BY-NC-ND 4.0

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