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Marxist theology

It is strange to observe that Slovenian Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek is now famous now for writing books about theology.


Slavoj Zizek
Slavoj Zizek

Steve Latham


Zizek has written in glowing terms about St. Paul, and forthrightly defended the Christian heritage against secularist attempts to minimise its influece.

He is, of course, not about to convert. Instead he wants to discover within theology resources for radical resistance to the totalising powers of capitalism.

Marxist theology 9The Christian notion of absolute, universal, truth gives the revolutionary confidence in his or her beliefs, and also an external standpoint from which to critique the system.

In addition, the faith in a coming new world order, the Kingdom of God, supplies a sense of subjectivity and agency in a world of seemingly impregnable domination.

Maoist philosopher, Alain Badiou, has also written a book about St. Paul. Like Zizek, he values the experience of universalism and agency found within Paul’s letters.

Marxist theology 4Paul’s missionary church-planting strategy is thus re-conceived as anti-imperial subversion, creating new dissident communities in the eastern Mediterranean.

But Badiou also identifies the resurrection of Christ as a key motif in Paul’s writings. In doing so, Badiou uses the concept of the ‘Event’.

Used frequently to refer to historical revolutions, as in France, the ‘Event’ is seen as a moment which transforms the bounds of what is possible, which, in Paul’s mind, the resurrection did.

Antonio Negri
Antonio Negri

Antonio Negri, an Italian Autonomist Marxist, also has resorted to Christian terminology in constructing his anti-globalist ideology.

He draws on Augustine’s City of God, to devise a metaphor of a mobile, flexible, pilgrim revolutionary people, the multitude, which are journeying toward the just society.

In doing so, he also eulogizes St. Francis of Assissi, as the model of what a true militant will look like: free from material possessions, and full of deep communist joy.

Another example is Jürgen Habermas, German philosopher, and heir of the influential Frankfurt School of Critical theory.

Karl Marx
Karl Marx

He has participated in debates with the previous Pope, and claimed that western notions of human rights, and democracy, rest, not just on religious roots, but on the foundations of Christian faith.

So, why are these materialist, atheists, Marxists looking to Christian theology as a source of renewal for their politics?

There appear to be two causes for this theological revival. First, postmodern relativism has undercut the possibility of systemic critique, since there are no absolute values.

Secondly, the increasing influence of Islam threatens the sway of western traditions of secular society and intellectual inquiry.

They have discovered that simplistic Marxist categories are not sufficient to comprehend this changing situation.

So they have searched for the historical roots of their value-system, within Christian theology, not to support it, but to discover stronger foundations for their values.

Marxist theology 13The vocabulary of faith furnishes them with emotional vigour and rhetorical flourishes, which can motivate and mobilise protest.

But it also illustrates the cultural exhaustion of western intellectual radicalism, that it is forced to go cap-in-hand to a religious tradition that is has spurned for so long.





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