Marx Goes to Church

11 Dec
  Within the past 10 years, the world of academic publishing has seen an increase in prominent thinkers (re)-considering the place of Christ’s teaching in the present age, some of whom are notably Marxist atheists. Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian social critic and philosopher, has repeatedly engaged the Christian message, emphasizing the ways that the heart of the Christian message has been ignored in favor of the excesses of capitalism. British literary theorist and critic Terry Eagleton has written in a similar vein, arguing that the “new atheists” (Dawkins, Hitchens, etc.) fail to see the power of the Christian message to transform our social consciousness.
  Both critics nobly seek to “re-frame” the message of Christ in the present historical context. Their critiques of the capitalist practices that reinforce oppression and seek to undermine the influence of the poor in the political realm finds much sympathy with Church teaching. However, both critics fail to see the relationship between the revolutionary aspects of the Christian message and the nature of ideology.

Marxist critics often envision society as a conflict between classes where the ruling class makes normative as values their own preferences. This process, referred to as “cultural hegemony” by philosopher Antonio Gramsci, deceives the lower classes into thinking that the value preferences of the ruling class are universal, although in fact they act as beneficial only to the ruling class, thus allowing them to continue their rule.

What Eagleton and Zizek ought to consider is that Christianity enters into our present social dynamic with the possibility of uprooting the matrix of our present class dynamic. For, the ruling cultural values in Western society have moved the heart of the Christian message–the outrageous love of God for humanity and the possibility for incomprehensible (and yes, revolutionary!) transformation–largely into the private sphere. Yet, in innumerable ways, the West remains thoroughly entrenched in religious paradigms and values, and its deep ethical thinking reflects the continuity of a religious mentality.

This means that the Christian message, free from the confines of forms of social control, can now return to the cultural forefront, free from any associations with coercive or hegemonic power. But the message of Christ can not only return renewed, it can also completely disrupt the entire matrix of cultural power practices. It is Christ’s power, forged in sacrificial love that seeks not a power over others, but rather a “power-under.” Here, new social and cultural bonds are formed, not based on class, race, or any forms of division, but rooted in the love of God. All will be one in Christ.

– Tim DeCelle

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