I've started to work my way through Ernst Bloch's Atheism and Christianity: an intriguing attempt to reconcile ideological critique, Biblical exegesis, and the principle of hope (here, enabled by and contained within the Christian faith) that incites the revolts of subjected groups against their oppressors. My interest in this particular book comes not only from my interest in Bloch's work (including his exchanges with Adorno, Brecht and Lukacs), but from the similarities that his approach to biblical myth shares with that of Milton.
As with Milton, the very failure of the heretic against the powers of authority is a guarantee of his utopian premise. The struggle is all. Rather than adhering to the “either/or” debate over religion and secularism, Bloch’s dialectical method recognizes that the contradictions within a situation carry within them the potential solution of that situation—the surplus of one situation, in other words, carries over into the corpus of another. Not only do religious myths mark the limitations of the historical world, they also allow us to pass out of “anamnetic circularity” into active potentiality.
Taking his cue from Feuerbach, Bloch collapses the hierarchy of being embedded within orthodox theology so that “the Christ-impulse live[s] even when God is dead” (167). What is important is not some transcendent other, detached and uncontaminated by the world; rather it is the revolutionary impulse that founds this other-wordly reality that Bloch wants to endorse (in this way he carries the latter, often ignored part of Marx's famous indictment of religion to it's logical conclusion). According the Fredric Jameson, Bloch’s conception of utopia was one which would emerge out of a hermeneutical process of becoming: it was “an allegorical process in which various utopian figures seep into the daily life of things and people and afford an incremental, and often unconscious, bonus of pleasure unrelated to their functional value or official satisfactions.” As for Milton, Christianity for Bloch is also defined by a dialectic between freedom and necessity: liberationist impulses are always subsumed by the state, but in that process of sublimation one sees the active workings of human desire beyond the law’s authority. Bloch’s emphasis on the humanity of Christ offers another way in which we might interpret the contradictions of the Son of God in Paradise Regained (fully in the world, but wholly oriented in subservience beyond it). Much like Milton’s stark division between local hermeneutic practices and adherence to state-mandated worship (which, like Milton’s critique of Catholicism is sinful precisely because it accommodates the unquestioned transmission of doctrine, hierarchy and church traditions), Bloch understands the Bible as a dialectic between the Creator-God, on the one hand, co-opted by the state and the state church “whose all-seeing eye strikes not only fear (against which one can maintain one’s strength of opposition) but dread, which paralyses,” individualizes and alienates; and, on the other hand, “the religion of Exodus and the Kingdom,” which is carried to completion (i.e. to the end of religion) in the person of Christ.
As Bloch writes, perhaps looking back to Milton, “The best thing about religion is that it makes for heretics.”