Owen Hatherley reviews Ernst Bloch’s Atheism in Christianity in the September/October issue of the New Humanist:
Out with the new atheism and in with the old…
The very title of this book is a challenge to our current, increasingly caricatured “God debate”. Its central thesis, that Christianity has atheism at its very heart, was typically audacious for Ernst Bloch. Unlike his comrades and contemporaries such as Walter Benjamin or Theodor Adorno, this German leftist thinker rarely finds himself on syllabuses, and he is seldom read today. His first book, 1918’s Spirit of Utopia, helps explain why – a pile-up of apocalyptic theology, modernist poetics and political agitation that caught the fervent mood of the revolutions that followed the First World War.
After this explosive but impenetrable debut, Bloch’s work on politics, art and theology became somewhat calmer, although always retaining the angularity and force of Expressionism, a movement in painting which he famously championed in a debate with his fellow Marxist critic Gyorgy Lukacs, for whom this art was a mere symptom of a chaotic society – for Bloch, its ferocity and intensity pointed to a way out of that society. Bloch favoured the kind of unskilled, untutored creativity that would later be called “outsider art” and attempted to uncover the latent revolutionary, utopian content of everything from folk tales to Beethoven, while retaining a strident socialism that unsurprisingly led to exile from Germany in the 1930s.
Read more of Owen Hatherley’s fantastic review here.
Don’t forget to join us for the launch event:
“Only an atheist can be a good Christian; only a Christian can be a good atheist”
Saturday 17th October 2009, 3pm – 5pm, Room B35, Birkbeck College, London
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 – and finds, at the Bible’s heart, a heretical core. He claims that a good Christian must necessarily be an atheist: what of this seeming paradox?
Peter Thompson, Director, Centre for Ernst Bloch Studies (Sheffield)
Jane Shaw, (New College, Oxford)
Ben Morgan (Worcester College, Oxford)
Eric Kaufmann (Birkbeck)
And chaired by
George Pitcher, Religion Editor of The Daily Telegraph &The Sunday Telegraph