Thursday, January 13, 2011

By Way Of Introduction

Since the move this past summer, I have felt more focused in certain interests. In particular, reading through my small, incomplete Reinhold Niebuhr library gave me a greater appreciation for just how radical the pre-WWII Niebuhr was, that his critique of Protestant liberalism was from the left, although itself deeply rooted in much of the same set of categories. After Niebuhr, I read Ernst Bloch's most thoroughly theological work, Atheism in Christianity. While dated, particularly his approach to biblical criticism, there is still a wealth of beauty, as is usual in the case of Bloch. His thesis, that the dialectic of Scripture reveals a protest against the royalist vision of YHWH, that Jesus' life and ministry was a protest against just such a vision. Inherent in Bloch's critical work is the idea that, at heart, the Bible is as much a sustained argument against the reigning notions of God as it is a defense of God.

After floundering around quite a bit this fall, I was given a new sense of where I wanted to move in thinking about being a Christian after reading, twice in rapid succession, Terry Eagleton's Reason, Faith, and Revolution. I was not just intellectually impressed, I was emotionally moved by much of Eagleton's writing, not least because, as a Marxist, Eagleton's work provided evidence that much of what has passed for "the God debate" over the past few years has been deeply flawed on any number of levels. I turned back to Ernst Bloch, a collection of his writings on aesthetics (The Utopian Function of Art and Literature), and then, taking a hint from a friend on Facebook, just received (after much toil and trouble) Criticism of Heaven: On Marxism and Theology by Australian Roland Boer. The book is nothing short of exactly what I'm interested in - a critical engagement of 20th century Marxist thinkers at their deepest engagement with theology. Boer reads Bloch, Walter Benjamin (I guess I never really considered him a Marxist, per se; more a fellow-traveler), Louis Althusser, Henri Lefebvre, Antonio Gramsci, Terry Eagleton, Slavoj Zizek, and Theodor Adorno. That such a wide array of important figures in 20th century Marxist thought have considered theology important enough to address on its own terms should give any critic who wishes to dismiss it as irrational drivel at least a moment's pause.

So, because I am utterly predictable, expect posts over the next week or two on Boer's work, as I work through what he has to say about each of these men. That this work was suggested to me at the very moment that I was moving toward this very subject - the junction of Marxism and theology, and how to engage with respect two very different intellectual traditions - is proof, to me, of the existence of God.

Virtual Tin Cup

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