The Parody of Light in Marx’s Theology: How Marx’s Leisure Displaces the Sabbath-Rest of the Living God

I am continuing to read Terry Eagleton’s book Why Marx Was Right, he offers some interesting commentary on what Marx believed the ideal of a communist system ought to lead to: leisure. Not that leisure would come from being lazy or non-work but that it would produce a society where wealth was so prevalent and self-sustaining—based on the cultivation of prior systems of production—that the ideal of leisure would be reached. Here is how Eagleton describes these things in Marx’s ‘theology’:

Yet only the economic in the narrow sense will allow us to get beyond the economic. By redeploying the resources capitalism has so considerately stored up for us, socialism can allow the economic to take more of a backseat. It will not evaporate, but it will become less obtrusive. To enjoy a sufficiency of goods means not to have to think about money all the time. It frees us for less tedious pursuits. Far from being obsessed with economic matters, Marx saw them as a travesty of true human potential. He wanted a society where the economic no longer monopolized so much time and energy.

That our ancestors should have been so preoccupied with material matters is understandable. When you can produce only a slim economic surplus, or scarcely any surplus at all, you will perish without ceaseless hard labour. Capitalism, however, generates the sort of surplus that really could be used to increase leisure on a sizeable scale. The irony is that it creates this wealth in a way that demands constant accumulation and expansion, and thus constant labour. It also creates it in ways that generate poverty and hardship. It is a self-thwarting system. As a result, modern men and women, surrounded by affluence unimaginable to hunter-gatherers, ancient slaves or feudal serfs, end up working as long and hard as these predecessors ever did.

Marx’s work is all about human enjoyment. The good life for him is not one of labour but of leisure. Free self-realisation is a form of “production,” to be sure; but it is not one that is coercive. And leisure is necessary if men and women are to devote time to running their own affairs. It is thus surprising that Marxism does not attract more card-carrying idlers and professional loafers to its ranks. This, however, is because a lot of energy must be expended on achieving this goal. Leisure is something you have to work for.[1]

As a general axiom I’d think it safe to say that all human beings desire more leisure and less work. But what’s not surprising, given Marx’s atheism, is that his prescription for human flourishing is generated by ‘under the sun’ thinking; as if the horizontal is all there is. For the Christian is leisure the ultimate goal? No; we’ve been recreated in the risen humanity of Jesus Christ for good works that we might live in them, in him. For the Christian in this in-between leisure is not the telos, is not the aim of our lives; instead, the aim is to live in the work of the Father in Christ ‘overshadowed’ by the Holy Spirit resulting in the completion for which creation was always already commissioned—for koinonial existence living in the shared life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by the grace of God for us.

We might see a sort of parody between Marx’s vision and the Holy vision of God in Christ. Work is indeed required if the ‘pleasures at the right hand of the Father’ are to be enjoyed forevermore. But the work is not a self-generated or self-realizable reality; it is not something that is immanent within an isolated individual or isolated community (even of the global sort). The work that God envisions is only something that he alone can (and has) accomplish[ed] for us in our stead in Jesus Christ. The end goal of God’s vision for what it means to be genuinely human and flourishing is what that looks like in Christ’s vicarious humanity for us before the Father; a humanity that finds its source, or ground in the divine life itself (anhypostatic/enhypostatic); a humanity that God has seen fit to seat next to himself in the Son’s assumed humanity. There is eschatological leisure for the Christian, but it is a leisure that finds resplendence only in the all-sufficient all-sustaining work of God for us in Jesus Christ. Marx seeks to displace God’s place with an abstract conception of humanity thus giving humanity a divinity that it could never have of itself naturally (Gen. 3.5). God indeed wants humanity to sabbath-rest in his presence, and find utter enjoyment as we live and move in the space his triune life provides for us as he graciously has brought us into that mediated through the humanity of Jesus Christ; but this is not something that our work can produce, only his for us.

As I continue to read about Marx’s theology (that’s what I’m calling it) it certainly has a sort of parasitic reality to it; I mean it is easy to see why Marx’s thought has been called ‘Christian heresy.’ It reminds me of the Beast in the book of Revelation; he attempts to parody the reality of God’s triune life by way of offering a kingdom that replicates God’s Kingdom in Christ without having God in Christ at the center. I can see why some Christians are attracted to Marx’s thought precisely because it has wicks in it that look like the light of Christian critique; i.e. in regard to political theory. But ultimately since the source has more in common with the angel of light rather than the true Light of the world, the trajectory it will ultimately set, if ingested, cannot be one that honors the living Christ. Any system of thought that does not START with Jesus Christ, as far as I am concerned, can only produce rotten fruit; even if in the mean time it might appear to be producing wheat.

 

[1] Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right (New Haven&London: Yale University Press, 2011), Loc 1426, 1433, 1440 kindle version.

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One Response to The Parody of Light in Marx’s Theology: How Marx’s Leisure Displaces the Sabbath-Rest of the Living God

  1. Pingback: The Parody of Light in Marx’s Theology: How Marx’s Leisure Displaces the Sabbath-Rest of the Living God — The Evangelical Calvinist | James' Ramblings

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