Uncovering a New Marxist Cosmology through Natural Historical Time

Dr Caroline Edwards


In Atheism in Christianity (1968) Ernst Bloch argues that the logos myth underpinning orthodox Biblical exegesis militates against the Cosmos. Bloch’s discussion in this text uncovers a rich reading of natural historical time in which Nature cannot merely be figured as the backdrop to, or raw material of, human history. Despite the Church’s appropriation of various pagan-astral myths (such as Stoicism and Gnosticism’s engagements with the nature-religions of the Egyptian and Babylonian states), as well as the pagan origins behind Christmas and Easter, Bloch demonstrates how Nature is largely feared and demonised in the Bible. However, these residual pagan nature-myth elements remain useful for Bloch because they contain a productive conception of nature that is post-anthropocentric, furnishing “deep-reaching memories which still enable nature to be seen not just as a cold shoulder, or a source of terror, or a mere receptacle for the past” (AC 191).
Bloch’s utopian reading of Nature in Atheism in Christianity and his subsequent text A Philosophy of the Future (1970) introduces one of his most radical critiques of both Judeo-Christian theology and dialectical materialism. In this paper I will consider Bloch’s conceptualisation of natural historical time and suggest its relevance for our own 21st-century re-evaluations of the role of Nature within contemporary ecocriticism and environmental humanities debates. My reading of Bloch’s natural historical time will consider this “new Marxist cosmology” in a comparative analysis of Jürgen Moltmann’s contemporaneous theorisation in 1965 of eschatological cosmology in Theology of Hope. Nature thus offers Bloch a concrete alternative to the logos myth; whose transcendent understanding of divine temporality precludes what Michael Löwy refers to as the time of “messianic activism” – which I will suggest can be figured as an eschatological intervention within the present moment. Through such a “greening of eschatology,” I hope to demonstrate that Bloch’s idea of natural historical time and natural futurity – or, ecoeschatology – can help us to rethink the times of Nature. This has implications for theology’s complicity with progressivist linear time (the hyper-industrialization of the planet’s ecological diversity) and also enriches our understanding of the beleaguered environment at a time of looming ecocatastrophe.

Ernst Bloch, - philosophy of time - Nature - Marxist messianism - ecocriticism