But enough of this religious imagery.139
I must admit that I am in two minds, caught in Bloch's materialist enthusiasm, but suspicious of how he fails to live up to his own method, particularly his key category of the discernment of myth. Not merely the acumen required to differentiate between myths of subversion and submission, it is more the dialectical insight that myths of insurrection appear in the midst of myths of domination. But, too often, he strays from this strategy, and I want suggest that he does so when theological concerns begin to over-ride his biblical criticism. For the discernment of myth emerges in his analysis of biblical material, but it falls away when he reverts to theology. And this is the problem: he takes the Bible and theology as two parts of the same endeavour,140 with the result that theological categories begin to dominate his biblical interpretation. Here, Bloch's discernment of myth loses its nerve.
Let me tease out this criticism. The structure of both The Principle of Hope and Atheism in Christianity runs from the Bible to a full-scale theological reflection. Thus, in the last two chapters of Atheism of Christianity, he waxes increasingly theological and the biblical references fade away, serving nothing more than as proof texts for the theological points. While, in some cases, the points Bloch makes in the theological sections are thought-provoking, not least because Christianity and Marxism are the two great systems, as Jameson reminds us,141 that have been state ideologies, I want to suggest that Bloch's programme would have been served better if he had made a sharper distinction between theology and the Bible.
137 Bloch 2000, p. 246; Bloch 1985, Volume 3, p. 307; see also Bloch 1986, pp. 276-80; Bloch 1985, Volume 6, pp. 310-14.
138 Bloch 1986, pp. 158-9; Bloch 1985, Volume 6, pp. 181-2.
139 Bloch 1972, p. 263; Bloch 1985, Volume 14, p. 344.
140 To often, commentators on Bloch do the same thing. See, for instance, Raulet 1983.
141 Jameson 1971, pp. 117-18.
But what is the problem with secularised theology? Here, Adorno's comment to Bloch may be applied to his whole Utopian project: 'We have come strangely close to the ontological proof of God'.142 This comes in response to Bloch's comment, 'one should not be allowed to eliminate it as if it really did not exist'.143 All of Bloch's categories, such as the anticipatory illumination [Vor-Schein],144 'not-yet consciousness', 'life-force', yearning for a better life and so on become variations of a secularised version of Anselm's 'that than which a greater cannot be thought'. It is not for nothing that 'God' becomes, in the words of The Spirit of Utopia, 'the problem of the radically new, absolutely redemptive, as the phenomenal of our freedom, of our true meaning'.145 The risk of idolatry in such a secularised theology is almost unavoidable, as we will see with Adorno.
The implication of the seamless connection between Bible and theology is that Bloch grants a crucial point before the debate has begun, namely that the home for the Bible is the Church (understanding theology as the central ideological structure of the Church). Such a move must be regarded, like his deal with the Stalinist devil, as a strategic concession in order to make other gains, since Bloch is not unaware of the distinction, noting that the Bible has always been the Church's bad conscience, that it was on the basis of the Bible that the peasants under Munzer opposed the Church, and that the Church itself has too often been the dangerously hypocritical heavenly state that reinforces the earthly.146 However much he may find protest against such régimes in the Bible, his compromise with theology sits ill with his espousal of Munzer and other Christian revolutionaries.
I would much rather that Bloch had allowed his politicised biblical criticism loose on theology. I think of the discernment of myths along class lines, between those that encourage servility and those that enable human beings to stand up to the powers that oppress. Is not this kind of discernment necessary in his readings of theology? These debates might continue, but, in the end, Bloch drops his ideological guard too often, especially in regard to theology, and it is precisely here that it is needed.
142 Bloch and Adorno 1988, p. 16.
143 Bloch and Adorno 1988, p. 15.
144 See Zipes 1992, pp. 10-14.
145 Bloch 2000, p. 201; Bloch 1985, Volume 3, p. 254.
146 Bloch 1986, pp. 277-9; Bloch 1985,Volume 6, pp. 311-14.
Was this article helpful?