Introduction

This is a work of commentary, that venerable and somewhat neglected tradition that emerges from millennia of biblical criticism. I engage intimately with the writings of some of the major Marxist critics of the twentieth century. But the subject matter that draws me in is not what has drawn most of the critical passion, with its concern for the great themes of Marxist criticism. Rather, my commentary picks up the often extended reflections and deliberations over theology and the Bible that we find in these critics. Apart, perhaps, from Walter Benjamin, my surprise is how much theological material there is in their work and how little critics have dealt with it. To my great pleasure, in each case - Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, Louis Althusser, Henri Lefebvre, Antonio Gramsci, Terry Eagleton, Slavoj Zizek and Theodor Adorno - I discovered a wealth of material in which to immerse myself.

My purpose here is simply to offer a commentary on the extensive engagements with theology and the Bible by these characters. This calls for detailed readings of certain, oft-neglected works and parts of works. If I imagine a gathering of all eight Marxists, it is hardly a furtive meeting in a gloomy and rubbish-strewn alley, collars up against the rain, surreptitious glances cast over hunched shoulders to ensure that no tail is in sight. Each of them - and this is one of the reasons for their presence here - sits down at midday with the Bible and theology, in full view of passers-by, who happen to be made up of literary critics, philosophers, sociologists and the odd theologian and biblical scholar.

Each of the Marxists I consider is important in contemporary political, cultural and philosophical debates, which is perhaps reason enough to invite them to the table. But, despite their own openness concerning theology and the Bible, their willingness to bare it all in some collective critical confession, others have been far less willing to talk about this part of their work. If I asked each of them to bring along a book or essay in which they have written about theology or religion, but which their critics and commentators have mostly ignored, we will be in for some surprises as the worn volumes emerge from backpacks, satchels, coat-pockets and battered leather brief-cases.

Ernst Bloch, giving the others a messianic stare, produces with a flourish his Atheism in Christianity (1972), loudly bemoaning the fact that critics pass by this volume looking askance, preferring his other texts. Louis Althusser, hanging cigarette that is of one with the black circles under his eyes, thrusts forth a fist-full of essays, hastily typed in a frenzy of exhilaration during the high moments of his bipolar state - some of the early theological essays, his famous ideology essay with the Christian 'example' highlighted in red, and the collection of lectures Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists (1990). Henri Lefebvre, with a twinkle in his eye that belies his asthma, draws from his pocket a few 'Notes Written One Sunday in the French Countryside', written in 1947 at his village church in Navarrenx. Soon he would be cursing the 'crucified sun', the Gallic crosses scattered about those same hills that represented for him the Church's systematic stifling of life and joy. The diminutive Antonio Gramsci, silent now after his years in Mussolini's prisons, places on the table the pages concerning the Roman-Catholic Church from his Prison Notebooks, content to allow the neat script of these pages to express his fascination with the Church and the lessons it might provide for the communist movement. Sitting close by Lefebvre, Althusser and Gramsci, the last of the Catholic Marxists, Terry Eagleton, makes not a move. He has some books with him, but is reluctant to bring them out. Eventually, one of the others produces a number of slim volumes from his days among the Catholic Left in England, books found in the basement of some library and to which Eagleton resolutely refuses to refer in his later works - The New Left Church (1966), The Body as Language: Outline of a 'New Left' Theology (1970), the 'Slant' Manifesto (1966) and various essays from the 1960s journal Slant. As prolific as Eagleton but much more willing to proffer his works, with an emphatic gesture of his left hand Slavoj Zizek thumps down on the table his theological trilogy - The Fragile Absolute (2000), On Belief (2001) and The Puppet and the Dwarf (2003). Zizek offers to say grace, much to the surprise of everyone else, before Alain Badiou prods him in the ribs. Zizek withdraws the offer, realising that it is hardly of the stature of his rediscovery of the Protestant Reformers' doctrine of grace itself. Finally, the melancholy Theodor Adorno carefully extracts from his leather briefcase his Habilitation thesis, Kierkegaard:

Construction of the Aesthetic. Everyone at the table knows about this first book in philosophy, but few have read it recently if at all and only a few register that it is in fact a theological work through and through. Adorno, however, encourages a retiring Walter Benjamin, whose work everyone seems to know despite the fact that much of it was unknown when he wrote and even more remained unpublished. Of all those gathered here, Benjamin is the exception, for his engagement with theology and the Bible, from early essays such as 'On Language as Such and the Language of Man' to the final theses on history, is by far the most well-known and most commented upon.

These, then, are the texts, along with one or two others, that are the centre of my critical commentary. At times, this calls for the treatment of vast slabs of text in a synoptic fashion, but, more often than not, I come in for a much closer look, discussing key passages in detail as befits the genre of commentary itself. And my preferred mode of dealing with these texts is to offer, where possible, criticism on the basis of each writer's own methods. Often, this will require hauling in material from elsewhere in their writings, seeking cross-references, comparisons and questions that arise from such comparisons - in short, a mode of reading that comes from the tradition of biblical commentary. For instance, since I feel that Bloch's strategy of the discernment of myth is one of his major contributions, I argue that, at times, he lives up to the method itself and provides some brilliant readings of biblical texts, and yet, at other moments, he falls short of the method's requirements. Or Zizek's identification of the revolutionary potential for the doctrine of grace is one that he realises only fitfully, pursuing all too frequently cul-de-sacs of love and ethics that are diametrically opposed to grace.

This work has some obvious overlaps with the standard Marxist criticisms of religion, usually based on the well-known sentences from the early philosophical manuscripts concerning opium, oppression and flowers, as well as with what has become known as political theology in its European forms (especially Johann Baptist Metz and Jürgen Moltmann) and liberation theology in Latin America and the Third World. My effort at this level differs in a number of ways. The various Marxist theories and criticisms of religion seek to use standard Marxist categories to analyse religion, especially the notion of ideology and class consciousness. The most interesting of these concern themselves with the revolutionary forms of religious thought - Bloch is the major example in this study - such as the Levellers in England or the peasant wars in

Germany under the leadership of Thomas Münzer. By contrast, the fascinating work of liberation theology, which will, in fact, appear in my discussion at various points, comes from the side of theology, causing something of a scandal in the Church when it came to attention in Latin America in the 1970s. And yet, liberation theology sought a conjunction between theology and Marxism, using the insights of Marxist social, economic and political analysis in order to deepen the theological discussions. In attempting to build bridges between Marxism and theology, it conjures up the cafés and conference rooms of the 1970s when the Marxist-Christian dialogue was in full swing in continental Europe, or the furore caused in England with the Catholic Left in the 1960s, or the political theology of German theologians such as Johann Metz. Finally, I am less taken with the more recent efforts to show the theological core of Marxist thought, of which the most sophisticated effort is that of John Milbank's Theology and Social Theory,1 nor indeed the so-called post-secular theologies of the likes of John Caputo, Jean-Luc Marion or even Jacques Der-rida, for these are notable by their avoidance of the distinctly Marxist strain I consider here. All the same, these earlier moves in some way inform what I do here, immersed in them as I have been in various ways for the past two decades, but I should point out that I do not seek a rapprochement between Marxism and theology (as the youthful Althusser and Eagleton sought to do), nor do I want to apply Marxist categories to theology, nor am I interested in pointing out that, beneath the various systems, lies a covert theology.

I have organised this book in three sections or parts - biblical Marxism, Catholic Marxism and the Protestant turn. I begin with those whose primary engagement is with the Bible, namely Ernst Bloch and Walter Benjamin. Their assimilated Jewish background plays a role here, but it is by no means the only reason for such an interest in the Bible. As for the Catholic Marxists, three of the four worked in dominantly Roman-Catholic cultures (Althusser, Lefebvre and Gramsci), and three of them moved from intense involvement in the Church to Marxism (Althusser, Lefebvre and Eagleton). Finally, there is what I have called the 'Protestant turn'. In Slavoj Zizek, we find a move from a distinctly Roman-Catholic emphasis on ethics to a Protestant concern with grace, particularly in the effort to develop a materialist theory of grace. Lastly,

1 Milbank 1993. See Boer 1998.

Adorno also appears in this section, for not only is the Lutheran context of Germany significant, but his most sustained theological work engages with the one who is perhaps still the leading Lutheran philosopher, Kierkegaard.

As for the biblical Marxists, the major issues that bind both Bloch and Benjamin to each other are the nature of biblical interpretation, the potential contributions from the Bible to Marxist thought and practice, and the relationship between biblical studies and theology. Yet, their primary focus is the Bible: Bloch is the most enthusiastic, and he urges the importance of the Bible in any revolutionary politics, so I begin with him. Benjamin is much more enigmatic, always evading the efforts to pin him down, slipping out at the moment when we think we have him sorted out. And so he appears guarded, toying with biblical interpretation while drawing from it some fundamental categories for his own thought, albeit problematically.

Thus, in the first chapter, I follow the train of Bloch's enthusiasm, for he is the only Marxist in this book to have written a monograph on the Bible, Atheism in Christianity. But the Bible also constitutes, along with Goethe's Faust, one of the major inspirations for that endless book, The Principle of Hope. There is much that I want to retrieve from Bloch: his infectious language; the subversive potential of the Bible against the Church; his call for a discernment of myths; an effort to deal with the continued appeal of the Bible to revolutionary groups; and a distinctly political exegesis of the Bible. However, in the end, he runs the Bible and theology together, moving from one to the other in a grand sequence: I will argue that the two are by no means on the best of terms and that, at this point, Bloch tends to lose sight of his most useful strategy, the discernment of myth. Although I keep fi nding myself referring to Bloch, drawing elements from his work for other projects, I would rather that he kept the Bible and theology at least at arm's length.

As for Benjamin, he was enchanted by allegory, saturated as it is with biblical exegesis. Some key essays, 'On Language as Such and the Language of Man', the translation essay, along with 'On Violence', the major texts of The Origin of the German Mourning Play, The Arcades Project and the final theses 'On the Philosophy of History' all indicate a sustained concern with the Bible and theology. In this chapter, I focus on Benjamin's use of allegory, arguing that it is primarily a theological mode of biblical interpretation. This theological dominance has its most obvious and powerful presence in the way it highlights and extends the deeply mythical dimensions of the Bible, especially those around creation, the coming of Christ and his return at the end of the age, the Parousia. So Benjamin's attempt to develop categories from the Bible in order to break out of the mythic hell of capitalism paradoxically perpetuates the myth he seeks to escape. His favoured motif of creation and origin in order to speak of the communist break from myth, his use of a 'salvation history' moving from creation to Eschaton, and his reversion to images of procreation and birth when he speaks of the revolutionary break, of origin, creation and the eschatological new world - all of these are signals of the dominance of theological thought in his favoured method, allegory, that perpetuates the deepest myths of the Bible and theology in his work. Still, I will argue that, in his failure, Benjamin provides an insight into the function of myth in relation to utopia.

The second and largest part of the book deals with the small-'c' catholic Marxists. I use the term 'catholic' here in a double sense. Most obviously, Althusser, Lefebvre and Gramsci wrote in environments saturated, culturally, socially and religiously, with Roman Catholicism. The most pervasive mark of such an environment in their work is the way neither theology nor the Bible but the Church dominates their reflections on religion. They deal, in other words, with ecclesiology first and foremost. Eagleton's difference, working in the context of a Roman-Catholic minority in a Protestant England, shows up in his concern for biblical and theological categories. And yet Eagleton's emphases will turn out to be indelibly Roman-Catholic, particularly the focus on ethics and Christ as exemplar. But there is another side to their 'catholicity', namely an inherent tendency to universalise in a particular fashion. Such catholicity shows up clearly in the assumption that the Roman-Catholic Church is the 'Church', but also in the various philosophical and literary arguments that assume a comparable universality.

In the third chapter my major argument is that Althusser's expulsion of the Roman-Catholic Church from his life and work, after a deep commitment to the church, enabled it to permeate all of his work. Not so much a return of the repressed, the Church becomes the absent cause of his philosophy. So I will follow this subterranean presence of the ecclesial, its shortfalls and promises, the possibilities and limitations for Althusser's own thought that such a social, political and theoretical context enables. I organise my discussion in two sections. First, the form of Althusser's rejection of religion is not so much in terms of theology or the Bible, but of the Church with which he had a lingering connection after many years of involvement and religious commitment. Secondly, I explore the logic within Althusser's arguments for a reconsideration of religion from the perspective of materialist philosophy.

From Althusser, I move to another Frenchman, Henri Lefebvre. My concern in this chapter is Lefebvre's continual negotiation of religion, specifically the strange ghost of Roman Catholicism and catholicity that continues to visit his work. That Lefebvre's comments on religion assume that the Roman-Catholic Church is the norm of religion, that religion in fact means ecclesiology, that the presence of the Church in his work may be designated 'catholicity' in a range of senses, points to the situation of Marxist intellectuals in France in the middle of the twentieth century. For all his earlier fractious commitment, Lefebvre sought to excise the Church from his life and thought, but the vitriol of his rejection speaks more of its continued influence. My discussion of Lefebvre exegetes his late essay from Critique of Everyday Life of 1947: 'Notes Written One Sunday in the French Countryside'. In his passionate polemic against the parish church near the Navarrenx of his youth, narrated through an existential tour of the church and then worship, Lefebvre reveals more than he realises concerning the continued hold of the Roman-Catholic Church on his life. From this essay and his predilection for heresies, I extract three key categories of his thought - everyday life, space and women - that might be used for a Marxist theory of religion.

The fifth chapter crosses the Alps to Italy and Antonio Gramsci, whose writings on 'religion', scattered characteristically throughout the Prison Notebooks, take on a distinctly ecumenical scent. I read these various notes as an extraordinary example of what a Marxist analysis of religion, or rather Christianity, might look like. The Church leaves its stamp at various places in his writings as he seeks out possibilities for communism and the party, particularly in the four areas on which I focus in this chapter, namely ecumenism, the politics of a global Church, the role of the intellectual, and the possibilities for 'moral and intellectual reform', a phrase he takes directly from his infatuation with the Protestant Reformation of Northern Europe. To begin with, Gramsci's ecumenism shows up most clearly in his interest in the ecumenical movement, and the question of proselytisation. Further, in a complex analysis that rivals Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Gramsci is fascinated by the institutional structure of the Roman-Catholic Church, its political status and machinations, concordats, internal debates, Catholic Action and the complexities of events in which the Church as the first global movement was a crucial player. In short, the Roman-Catholic Church in Italy shows in relief the intricacies of the Church as a temporal and political institution. Thirdly, the organic or democratic intellectual takes on a different shape in light of his reflections on the Church. His interest in the clergy, the variations from region to region, the transitions from the clergy as a medieval class to a 'caste' of intellectuals, their moral and intellectual work to further the cause of the Church, constitutes a major slice of what he comes to describe as the organic intellectual. Finally, there is his astonishment with the Protestant Reformation: the notion of moral and political reform, a central feature of the programme for a communist revolution, is modelled on that Reformation that took place to the north but did not filter down to the Mediterranean. As one of the only models for social change that worked its way through all levels of society, the transformation the Reformers wrought in Northern Europe, in terms of culture, politics, economics and social organisation, provides a paradigm for communist revolution in Italy and elsewhere.

The final 'catholic' Marxist is Terry Eagleton, coming out of the sectarian and minority position of a Roman-Catholic across the Channel and a world away. For Eagleton there is distinct political mileage in theology itself, rather than the Bible or the Church. The early political theologian of books such as The New Left Church (1966), The Body as Language: Outline of a 'New Left' Theology (1970), and the 'Slant' Manifesto (1966) returns belatedly in texts such as Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic (2003), The Gatekeeper (2002) and Figures of Dissent (2003). I am interested in three regions of Eagleton's writings: firstly, the transition from the deadly seriousness of his theological texts to the pugnacious wit of his screeds on English literature and politics. Patiently paeda-gogical, it is still Eagleton, and yet I argue that it has much to do with the content of an apostate theologian. Secondly, the crux of Eagleton's theological recovery in the later works is that Christology has a distinct political dynamic that the Left ignores at its own peril. I find this Christological focus less than helpful, since it exacerbates Marxism's fascination with messianism and the personality cult (here I look forward to Adorno's criticism of the personality cult). Thirdly, there is his deep involvement with the Catholic Left of the 1960s and 70s. This very public controversy in the British Roman-Catholic Church and outside it is something that Eagleton rarely if ever acknowledges, and I argue that his late notion of autotelism also enables him to cover his tracks.

Two Marxists exhibit what I want to call the 'Protestant turn'. Slavoj Zizek moves from a distinctly Roman-Catholic position, with its emphasis on good works, the law and love-as-ethics, to a Protestant emphasis on grace. This comes belatedly, with many byroads, and then only under the heavy influence of Alain Badiou. Adorno joins Zizek in a strange conjunction: coming from the Lutheran-saturated situation of Germany, Adorno's major theological text was an engagement with perhaps the premier Lutheran philosopher, Kierkegaard. However, even Adorno's most Jewish notion, the ban on images that he made a philosophical principle, is also a very a thoroughly Protestant motif. Yet it is the implicit emphasis on grace, as well as the deep iconoclasm that renders Adorno a Marxist of the Protestant turn.

As for Zizek, my major argument is that he can emerge as a Leninist, that is, as a distinct political thinker, only by means of Paul in the New Testament. For Paul enables Zizek to get out of the closed circuit of Lacan's psychoanalysis, particularly in response to the criticisms of both Judith Butler and Badiou. Or rather, it is only via Alain Badiou's deeply Reformed reading of Paul that Zizek is able to break, however partially and with profound angst, from his Lacanian basis. I begin by focusing on the dialogues with Judith Butler and Ernesto Laclau in order to show how Zizek juxtaposes Marxism and Lacanian psychoanalysis in a first effort to become a political writer. Subsequently, I offer a close reading of Zizek's engagement with Badiou in The Ticklish Subject (1999), where Zizek seeks to answer Badiou's charge that psychoanalysis cannot give us any political position. While Zizek initially attempts to answer the charge in psychoanalytic terms, by the time of The Fragile Absolute (2000), he changes direction and moves through Paul to a more distinctly political position. However, he is still caught within the Roman-Catholic binds of love-as-ethics and good works, having missed Badiou's emphasis on the search for a materialist notion of grace. Eventually, in On Belief (2001), he makes the Protestant turn, carried through in The Puppet and the Dwarf (2003). In effect, he finally realises Badiou's point, undergoes his own Reformation and focuses on grace.

Finally, I turn to Adorno, with whom I remain deeply enamoured and yet whom I take to task most consistently. One of the most neglected areas of Adorno criticism is his engagement with theology, and so what I do here is bravely venture into what is widely agreed to be one of his densest texts, the Habilitation thesis and first philosophical work on Kierkegaard. And, from this text, I draw two key categories, namely theological suspicion and the closely related criticism of secularised theology that saturates the work of all the other Marxists I consider in this book. These points require a close reading of Kierkegaard: Construction of the Aesthetic, for which I make no apology. But I also find that the attempt at a thorough demolition job on Kierkegaard goes too far, that Adorno's effort to show how Kierkegaard's philosophy fails under the weight of its theological and mythical paradoxes falls short precisely where he refuses to say anything positive concerning theology. I close my discussion of Adorno by pushing him to say what is implicit in his writing but what he refuses to say himself - that love must be a radically collective practice if it is to offer reconciliation (drawing on his little known essay 'Kierkegaard's Doctrine of Love'), and the possibilities of grace as 'undeserved salvation'.

Chapter One

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