Jürgen Moltmann on the Judeo-Christian Roots of Utopian Literature

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Michael Ott:

"In the late 1960’s, the critical, political theologian Jürgen Moltmann, Professor of Theology at Tübingen University in Germany, was a Visiting Professor of Systematic Theology at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina, USA. While here, Moltmann [1969, 1967], who was greatly influenced in the development of his theology of hope and of Christian eschatology by Ernst Bloch’s philosophy of hope, presented the theological doctrine of Christian eschatology in terms that expressed the influence of Bloch’s Marxist thinking on utopia, e.g., “The Prophecy of the New,” “Religion, Revolution, and the Future,” “Christians and Marxists Struggle for Freedom,” “God in Revolution,” “The Future as New Paradigm of Transcendence,” etc. In the language of hope, Moltmann spoke about and wrote on the notion of utopia, its history, and its Judeo/Christian religious roots.

Moltmann made the historical distinction between the notion of utopias of freedom in space and utopias of freedom in time, between the existence of a New World and the historical “New Age” of the future. Using the United States as his case study, Moltmann stated that for Europeans, where there was no longer any open and unpopulated territory, the New World of America with its vast open and supposedly unpopulated frontier, presented itself as a utopic chance for a new beginning, for freedom and happiness in a new place. However, as this open frontier of America became more and more populated, it became obvious that in America as in Europe there was no “new” place to which one could travel and find such spatial freedom any more. With this experience of the “falseness” of the notion of utopia in space, a change occurred in the thought of utopia: Freedom in space was changed now to the pursuit of freedom in time in terms of the movement in history toward a new future.

In Europe, particularly for those who had no chance of emigrating to the New World or to any other far-off and thus, different place, people internalized their longing for freedom and made it into the spiritual world of the soul or mind. Of course, this spiritual mystifying of the utopic longing for freedom and happiness did little if anything to change the actual, existing social conditions that produced the utopic longing for that which is “other” than what is. As Marx [1975:85; Moltmann 1969:xii] stated, this reduction of human freedom to the realm of an inner light ultimately was changed through philosophic reflection seeking to realize itself outwardly in society and history.

When philosophy turns itself as will against the world of appearance, then the system is lowered to an abstract totality, that is, it has become one aspect of the world which opposes another one. Its relationship to the world is that of reflection. Inspired by the urge to realize itself, it enters into tension against the other. The inner self-contentment and completeness has been broken. What was inner light has become consuming flame turning outwards. [Emphasis added by author]

It is with this turn outward to now address the existing socio-historical conditions that generate the utopic longing for a more reconciled, free, rational, just, equitable, good, happy and peaceful future that the theory and praxis of utopia became dangerous to the status quo and its ruling elite.

Religious Substance of Utopia: Eschatology

As Marx, Bloch, Adorno, Benjamin [1968:253-264], Fromm [1949:257; 1966b, 1976, 1992]; Moltmann, Metz [1980b, 1981], Habermas [2008a & b; 2006a; 2005b], and many others have stated, this dangerous, revolutionary longing for a better future in history is rooted in the myths, narratives, and teaching of the world religions. Particularly, the hope-filled utopic genre in time has its roots within Judaism’s and Christianity’s world-shattering prophetic, Messianic, eschatological/apocalyptic theodicy proclamations that announced God’s kairos: the Infinite breaking into the finite world-order and history to liberate and redeem the enslaved, the oppressed, the suffering, dying and dead, in order to bring an end to this barbaric pre-human history and create a good “new creation” in preparation for the coming of God’s kingdom [e.g., Exodus 2:23-15:21; Deuteronomy 26:5b-10; Psalms 2, 9-10, 12, 14, 22, 33-34, etc.; Isaiah 9, 11, 60-66; Micah 4; Matthew 5-7; Luke 4:4-18; Acts 2:42-45, 4:32-35; Romans 8:18-25, 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Ephesians 4:17-24; Revelation 21:1-6; Horkheimer 1972:129-187; Fromm 1992, 1966b; Bloch 1970b:118-141, 1972, 1986:I-III, 2000; Tillich 1926, 1968; Brown 1965; Moltmann 1967, 1969, 1996; Metz 1977, 1980b, 1981; Gutierrez 1973; Cardenal 1978, 1979, 1982; Zizek 2000; Ott 2001, 2007:167-196, 273-306]. As Ernst Bloch [1986:1193] states:

And if the maxim that where hope is, religion is, is true, then Christianity, with its powerful starting point and its rich history of heresy, operates as if an essential nature of religion had finally come forth here. Namely that of being not static, apologetic myth, but humane-eschatological, explosively posited messianism. It is only here – stripped of illusion, god-hypostases, taboo of the masters – that the only inherited substratum capable of significance in religion lives: that of being hope in totality, explosive hope.

Particularly for Bloch, the Bible contains within itself a covert yet foundational underground, non-theocratic element of subversion, which biblical criticism and the interpretation of historical materialists have revealed. The biblical scriptures proclaim not only the Deus absconditus [the hidden, unknown God] but also the homo absconditus, the hidden or not-yet human being, who was originally expressed in terms of Eritis sicut deus scientes bonum et malum [“You shall be like gods knowing good and evil” – Genesis 3:5] to the later prophetic, Messianic notion of the “Son of Man” [Daniel 7:13; Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Revelation 1:13, 14:14]. For Bloch [1972a:82], it is this hidden human being, who is the revolutionary substance of the Biblia pauperum [the paupers’ picture bible], that expresses the biblical intention of “overthrowing every state of affairs in which man appears as oppressed, despised and forgotten in his very being.” In the biblical Hebrew and New Testaments, it is this revolutionary underground intent that is the foundation for the creation of a utopia of religion’s non-mythical elements. Although this revolutionary, religious potential became reified in the dogmatic notion of God, the original biblical call for people’s covenant with this God for the sake of God and humanity’s mutual future gave expression to future-oriented essence or entelechy of humanity.[3] For Bloch, the religious and secular utopic longing is “the pervading and above all only honest quality of human beings.”

Doctrine of the End

Christianity’s eschatological hope and revolutionary praxis for a new creation or new age in this world is the universalizing determinate negation [Aufhebung] – i.e., the negation, preservation, and furtherance – of Israel’s remembrance and hope of the liberating God of the Exodus and of the prophetic, Messianic promise of a time of peace, justice and integrity coming in which there will no longer be any type of predators and prey as the “the wolf will live with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid, calf and lion cub feed together, with a little child to lead them” [Isaiah 11:6-9]; wherein the weapons of war, domination, fear and death (swords, spears, guns, bombs, tanks, missiles, WMDs) will be turned into instruments not of aggression and death but those that create life and happiness, e.g., plowshares, pruning hooks, universal health care systems, free education, etc. [Micah 4:3-4; Isaiah 2:3-4]. The revolutionary, historical materialist theory and praxis of utopia is the continuation of this determinate negation as it is the secular translation or inversion of Christian eschatology and its social utopias [Bloch 1970b:118-141; 1972a; Adorno 1973:207; Fromm 1992:3-94, 95-106, 147-168, 203-212; 1966b; Ott 2001, 2007:167-196, 273-306]. According to Moltmann [1967], Christian eschatology was long called the ‘doctrine of the last things’ or the ‘doctrine of the end.’ According to this doctrine, the “fallen,” pre-history of humanity will be brought to its end through God’s kairos – the dawning of God’s New Creation. As a result of this New Creation being the work of God and not humanity, eschatology was theologically pushed to the end of history and thus, increasingly was seen to have little if anything to say about life in the world. Christianity’s eschatological hope for God’s New Creation, has thus become little more than an embarrassing addendum to the Christian evangelion, and as such, has become increasingly irrelevant. Coupled with this, the more Christianity became an institution of the Roman Empire and thus a religious component of the Roman state religion, the more eschatology and its concrete, revolutionary, prophetic and Messianic purpose in history was betrayed by the Church [Moltmann 1967, 1969, 1974, 1996; Metz 1980, 1981; Horkheimer 1972:129-131, 1974a:34-50, 1985:385-404; Ott 2001, 2007:167-186; Reimer 2007:71-90]. This demeaned and forgotten hope and praxis for a new and good future did not die out, however, but migrated into the struggle for a better future as expressed in the thought and action of revolutionary groups, e.g. the revolutionary Christian social utopianism of the 13th century Calabrian abbot Joachim di Fiore, the 16th century German radical reformer and Peasant War leader Thomas Münzer, Karl Marx and modern expressions of historical materialism, as well as the third-world base-Christian communities and the “Theology of Liberation,” etc. [Moltmann 1967, 1969, 1974, 1996; Metz 1973c, 1980b, 1981; Bloch 1970b:118-141; 1971a:54-105, 159-173; 1972a; 1972b; 1986a; Engels 1926; Gutierrez 1973, 1983; Cardenal 1976, 1978, 1979, 1982].

Yet, in critically returning to the Hebrew and Christian biblical texts to confront the historical church’s betrayal of its own living and world-changing gospel – the dangerous, revolutionary memory, hope, and praxis of freedom in Jesus the Christ, critical, political theologians have made it clear that eschatology and its hope of a new future given by God is not the end but the beginning and dynamic, prophetic and Messianic purpose of Christianity [Metz 1980b, 1981; Moltmann 1967, 1969, 1974, 1996]. One is not to worry about one’s life, about one’s need of food, drink, clothing, commodities, nor even about tomorrow, but rather is “to renounce oneself and pick up one’s cross” for the sake of the oppressed so as to negate the fearful power of the cross and of death itself by setting one’s “heart on (God’s) kingdom first, and on (God’s) righteousness” and by so doing “all these other (material needs) will be given you as well” in the new, future community of love, equity and shalom – the new society/creation/history of which followers of Christ are to be “ambassadors” [Mark 8:34-38; Matthew 7:25-34, par. 33; 5:1-12; Acts 2: 42-47; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20; Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:17-24; Colossians 3:9-11; 4:32-351 Peter 3:13-15; Revelation 21, 22]. As Bloch [1970:118-125] stated, there is no other book that remembers the nomadic God of freedom over and against the static gods of place and time and describes the corresponding nomadic institutions of “primitive semi-communism” as does the Bible.

A single line, full of curves but recognizable as one and the same, runs from the Nazarites’ memories of primitive semi-communism to the prophet’s preaching against wealth and tyranny and on to the early Christian communism of love [Acts 2, 4]. In its background the line is almost unbroken; the famed prophetic depictions of a future kingdom of social peace reflect a Golden Age which in this case was no mere legend [Bloch 1970:119].

From the “Alpha” to the “Omega” from the beginning to the end, Christianity is eschatology, an anamnestic and proleptic hope and praxis for the promised and redeemed future of humanity and God. Again, as Bloch states:

“… nowhere is the Omega of Christian utopianism so untranscendent and at the same time so all-transcending, as in the ‘New Jerusalem’ of Revelations 21, 22. Religion is full of utopianism, as is evident above all in the Omega which lies at its heart … This is a realm … where the world is totally transformed, so that (humanity) is no longer burdened with it as with a stranger.”

Parousia Delay

It is this future-oriented hope for the Omega – the New Creation of God and humanity -that is the dynamic truth of Christianity that can lead to a revolutionary socio-historical praxis that transforms the present. However, it is also this promise of and hope for the coming of the Omega that confronts Christianity with its destructive theodicy problem: the parousia delay. In the gospel of Luke [9:27], Jesus told his disciples: “there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” It has been almost 2,000 years since this statement was made and yet the end of the barbaric, pre-human history with the arrival of the Omega/kingdom of God has not happened. As history has shown, religions rise and fall in importance based on their ability to address convincingly and redemptively the theodicy question of the innocents’ suffering and dying in the world. Because of the delay of the parousia as Christianity’s theodicy answer, the very prophetic, Messianic and eschatological substance of the Christian evangelion – to defiantly pick up the revolutionary “cross” of the present in order to negate its systemic power and deadliness in the hope for the promised New Creation of God – ends up sharing the same fate today as that of utopia: as being little more than a irrelevant myth.


Religion as Inheritance

Bloch [1972:82] also expressed the need for the translation of Christianity’s utopic, eschatological substance into the historical responsibility and praxis of human beings in saying that:

“the Bible only has a future inasmuch as it can, with this future, transcend without transcendence. Without the Above-us, transposed, Zeus-like, high up-there, but with the ‘unveiled face,’ potentially in the Before-us, of our true Moment (nunc stans).”

In speaking of the relevancy and future of the Bible and of the biblical religions ability to “transcend [the present] without transcendence,” Bloch changed the traditional vertical axis orientation of Hellenistic theological thinking in Christianity back into that first Jewish apocalyptic paradigm of early Christianity; to the revolutionary Jewish and Christian responsibility for making the religion’s utopic hope of the eschaton – of the mythologically conceived “end-time” – a goal of history [Küng 1995:CI-II]. Because of this, the critical, political theologian Moltmann [1969:Chapt. VIII] stated that Bloch’s entire philosophy of hope results in a type of “meta-religion.” To be heirs of this religiously expressed explosive hope for the end of the continuing history of inequity and misery through the dawning of a new and just creation, historical materialism must embody religion’s – especially Christianity’s – eschatological hope. For as Bloch [1987:1370] states, “Marxism, in all its analyses the coldest detective, takes the fairytale seriously, takes the dream of a Golden Age practically; real debit and credit of real hope begins.” The Judeo-Christian archetype of the prophetic, Messianic, and eschatological Kingdom of Freedom overthrowing and historically transcending – without reducing this to other-worldly transcendence – the reified and deadly Kingdom of Necessity towards a concrete utopia in the future is the dynamic religious heritage of revolutionary Marxism [Bloch 1972; Žižek 2000, 2003, 2010; Žižek and Milbank 2009]. For Bloch, it is only Marxism that has taken the utopic substance of Christianity’s expressions of hope and liberation and transformed them into the revolutionary theory and praxis for a better world; one that does not abstractly repudiate the present world but seeks its metaphysically inspired determinate negation so as to allow its materialistic Meta, the Novum contained and restrained within the present, the “Tomorrow within the Today,” the “Not-yet-essentially-being” and the moral “Ought” to unfold and develop its truth logically in history. For Bloch [2000:179-186], it is in this inward, transcendental and thus, becoming understanding of humanity and history that Kant’s Subjective Idealism and Schelling’s Transcendental Idealistic Philosophy of Nature triumph over or “burns through” Hegel’s Absolute Idealism, which Bloch states has objectified all their “inward” utopic vision and impulse into his “explicitly concluded system.” Because of Bloch’s almost ontologically conceived historical materialism, which metaphysically envisioned the historical necessity of nature and humanity’s freedom and truth ultimately realizing themselves in and through each other, Habermas [1983:61-77] called Bloch “a Marxist Schelling.” Adorno expresses the same critique of Bloch’s utopic philosophy, albeit more critically." (http://www.heathwoodpress.com/somethings-missing-study-dialectic-utopia-theories-theodor-w-adorno-ernst-bloch/)


  • Article: Something’s Missing: A Study of the Dialectic of Utopia in the theories of Theodor W. Adorno and Ernst Bloch. By Michael R. Ott.

URL = http://www.heathwoodpress.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Somethings-Missing-Adorno-Bloch-on-Utopia.pdf

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