Join us for a panel discussion to take a closer, more nuanced look at the relationship between religion and society, inspired by Bloch’s epigraph, ‘Only an atheist can be a good Christian; only a Christian can be a good atheist’.
The free event to mark the publication of Atheism in Christianity will be held on Saturday 17th October, 3pm – 5pm, at Room B35, Birkbeck College in London. Copies of the book will be available to purchase after the discussion.
The panellists are:
Jane Shaw, Dean of Divinity, Chaplain and Fellow (New College, Oxford)
Peter Thompson, Director, Centre for Ernst Bloch Studies (Sheffield)
Ben Morgan (Worcester College, Oxford)
Eric Kaufmann (Birkbeck)
George Pitcher (Chair) Religion Editor of The Daily Telegraph &The Sunday Telegraph
A brief glance at any discussion of religion today either online or in print media will make clear just how polarised the debate has become. On the one side, a reductionist rationalism feels itself under attack from the creeping theologisation of society. On the other, those with belief fear the descent into valueless utilitarianism and individualistic hedonism. What results is largely a dialogue of the deaf.
In the long unavailable Atheism in Christianity, Ernst Bloch anticipates the sterility of this binary debate and tries to find a way out of this through recovery of the social voice. His original historical examination of Christianity illuminates the earthly context and denouement of religion. In his virtuoso reading of the Bible, Bloch pursues its long standing fascination for “ordinary and unimportant” people: in the Bible stories’ promise of utopia and their antagonism to authority, Bloch locates the appeal to the oppressed—the desire “to transcend without transcendence.”
Through a lyrical yet close and nuanced analysis he explores the tensions within the text that promote atheism, against the authoritarian metaphysical theism imposed on it by priest interpreters. At the Bible s heart he finds a heretical core and claims that a good Christian must necessarily be an atheist. What of this seeming paradox?
The value of Ernst Bloch’s work is that he takes on both the reductionists and the transcendentalists and tries to discern what can be gained from a dialectical synthesis of the two. Bloch’s highly messianic and even eschatological version of Marxism opened him up to severe criticism in his own lifetime. But now, with the return of religion as a significant social and political force, the time has come to reappraise Bloch’s work and to ask whether it has anything to offer the current debate.