Roland Boer on Ernst Bloch, Utopia, Revolution, and the Bible (oh, and Star Wars)

As I continue to slog through the vast amounts of German that I must read for my current Helmut Gollwitzer project, I’ve begun to spend my evenings trying to deepen my familiarity with the tradition of socialist engagement with religion and theology. Roland Boer, who is based in Australia and – currently – China, has proven to be a very helpful guide. He has published numerous works on this theme, and you can get a bit of a feel for him from his blog: Stalin’s Moustache.

In any case, I’m currently working through sections of Boer’s book on Lenin, where I discovered something of an aside on Ernst Bloch. This comes while Boer discusses Lunacharsky, whom he sees as an early forerunner of certain themes that reemerge in Bloch. As part of this, Boer summarizes one way in which Bloch interprets various of the biblical stories. The following paragraph jumped out at me, as you no doubt surmised by the fact that I took the time to write up this post and share said paragraph with you…

Roland Boer, Lenin, Religion, and Theology, New Approaches to Religion and Power (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 88–89.
In Bloch’s hands, utopia becomes the universal term for socialism, a desire and hope found in the myriad moments of the full range of human and natural existence, from glimpse in everyday life, through festivals and myths and literature, to the revolution itself. Yet, Bloch gives this search a decisive twist: If revolution is the act of the oppressed against their masters, then utopian glimpses of that revolution will be found in many stories of rebellion. One finds them in what are now narratives and myths of “sin,” of resistance to the white-guard god of the despots. In the Bible, these include the story of Eden, with its oppressive God who treats the first humans as children only to find that they rebel in league with an intriguing serpent; in the fatal conflict of Cain and Abel, where another face of God appears, the one who protects Cain with the well-known mark; in Jacob’s wrestling with God (El in this case, not Yahweh) in Genesis 32; in the rebellion of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11; in the Nazirites, those enigmatic figures who vow not to cut their hair, not to drink strong drink, and call the people back to their desert, Bedouin-like life in the wilderness; in the oppressive deity of Moses and Aaron, who seeks to punish the people’s constant murmur of rebellion in the wilderness; in the insurrections of Miriam, Moses’s sister, and Korah against that authority; even in the two figures of Moses, who is both liberator of the slaves and theocratic tyrant in the wilderness; in the protests of Job against his inhuman treatment by this same Yahweh; in the prophetic denunciations of economic maltreatment and religious hypocrisy; in Jesus’s stringent criticisms of the quislings who would accommodate the Roman colonizers; and in the fiery revolutionary protests of the Apocalypse against empire and its gods. At times, the bloodthirsty, vengeful God has the upper hand, but at others (admittedly less frequently) the rebels win out through cunning and ruse.
This provides a very stimulating suggestion of how to understand these stories that are very different than the readings that I grew up with. At the very least, it highlights the way these stories can be coopted by oppressive power by showing us what they look like through the eyes of the oppressed. It’s pure bonus that the last sentence reminds me of Star Wars. . .


Subscribe to Die Evangelischen Theologen


Popular Posts

So, You Want To Read Karl Barth?

Types of Theology

So You Want to Read….Dietrich Bonhoeffer?

Abortion, Authoritarian Self-Deception, Evangelicals, and Trump: a collected Twitter essay from Christopher Stroop

Karl Barth on Hell, the Devil, Demons, and Universalism – A Florilegium