332: RED CHRISTIAN DOCUMENTS #25; THE RADICALISM OF JESUS IN HISTORICAL CONTEXT (EAGLETON,UK, 2007)

“A warm welcome to Zingcreed, my personal blog where I think aloud on religious and political issues, especially those ignored by the mainstream. You’re very welcome to ‘eavesdrop’ and I hope you get something from it!” Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.

I’ve long been intrigued by Terry Eagleton: how can a man be a practicing Catholic and a militant Trotskyist at the same time? Good for him, but it’s not easy to get an answer from his writings. I bought his early works ‘Slant manifesto’ and ‘New left church’ in the 1960s and I’m still reading him today. He seems to have disowned those early works, but his latest stuff is well worth trying. I ‘spoke’ to him briefly when I asked him a question from the floor at the Socialist Workers Party annual ‘Marxism’ conference in 2012. He didn’t seem to understand my question, and I thought he was hard to comprehend! He’s a well respected jet-setting academic now, a far call from his early days selling ‘the paper’ at factory gates at 7 in the morning!

Red Christian documents #25:

The Radicalism of Jesus in Historical Context

by Terence Eagleton

(Edited by Peter Turner)

There is a wealth of gospel imagery which casts Jesus, like Mary, in the role of anawim – the useless, vulnerable, discarded, what St Paul racily describes as ‘the shit of the earth’. In the anawim the approaching kingdom is most powerfully prefigured. Since they have little to hope for from history, they are the purest signifiers of a justice and fulfillment beyond its threshold.

Jesus is the skandalon or stumbling block, which the builders rejected, but which shall become the cornerstone of the new order. The new dispensation is constructed out of the flotsam and jetsam of the old. Those who are outcast shall be granted first place at the table; those who are destitute shall inherit the earth; those who have lost their lives will save them. Only by dying to the current power set-up can you rise to the new life of peace and fellowship. For Jesus there can be no negotiation between the domain of justice and the powers of this world. No liberal middle ground is permitted – what is at stake is not a reformist matter of pouring new wine into old bottles, but an unimaginably new regime which in Jesus’ view is already breaking violently into the world, and of which he regards himself as both harbinger and incarnation. In this sense he is an avant-gardist, not a social reformer. In a curious tension between present and future, his role seems to be both to proclaim the advent of the kingdom of God and to inaugurate it in his own person in the present. Rather like socialism for Marx, the domain of justice is both immanent in the present and a goal to be aimed for. But there can be no smooth transition from old to new, in the manner of evolutionary socialism; achieving a just social order involves passing through death, nothingness, turbulence and self-dispossession.

One reason why Jesus and his followers expected the kingdom to arrive very soon is that they had no notion that human activity might have any role in helping to achieve it. For the early Christians, the kingdom was a gift of God, not the work of history. History was now effectively at an end, and the votaries of the Lord had simply to stand surrendered in faith to the Christos who was imminently to appear. There was no point in seeking to overthrow the Romans when God was about to transform the whole world. Jesus’ disciples could no more bring about the kingdom of God by their own efforts than socialism for deterministic Marxists can be achieved by intensified agitation. There was no room in this first century outlook for the idea of men and women as historical agents capable of forging their own destiny, or at least assisting in it. Once Christ failed to return, however, the church began to develop a theology for which human efforts to transform the world are part of the coming of the New Jerusalem and pre-figurative of it. Working to bring about peace and justice on earth is a necessary precondition of the coming of the reign of God(Editor’s emphasis)

There could be no place for such a political theology in the world-view of the Gospels, which is one reason why Jesus is not a revolutionary in the sense that Lenin was. He was not a Leninist because he would have had no conception of historical self-determination. The only kind of history that mattered was salvation history.

For later Christianity, however, with its altered understanding of historicity, such a politics is arguably implicit in Jesus’ teaching. God works through politics. Working for the kingdom involves surrendering or suspending some of the goods which will characterize it. The same is true of working for socialism. Jesus is no mild-eyed plaster saint but has most of the characteristic features of a relentless, fiercely uncompromising, revolutionary activist, including celibacy. (Editor’s emphasis)

Source:
“Terry Eagleton presents Jesus Christ. The gospels” Verso Revolutions: Classic revolutionary writings set ablaze by today’s radical writers. (2007)

Other books by Eagleton:
(i) “Slant manifesto – Catholics and the Left” by Adrian Cunningham,Terry Eagleton, Brian Wicker, Martin Redfern and Laurence Bright OP. Sheed and Ward (1966)
(ii) Eagleton, T. “The new Left Church”, Sheed & Ward (1966)
(iii)Eagleton, T. “The Terry Lectures. Reason, Faith and Revolution. Reflections on the God debate”  Yale University press (2009)

See also:
Boer, Roland “Criticism of Heaven. On Marxism and Theology” Haymarket (2005) chapter 6 ‘The apostasy of Terry Eagleton’

Related Zingcreed Posts:
Alphabetical index of other ‘Red Christian documents’ Posts

[331, indexed & linked, t&c]

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