Is it possible to construct a Maoist Christology? Earlier, I noted some reflections from the young Mao on Jesus, only to come across yet more. He begins by noting Confucius’s famous observation: ‘The superior man wishes to be slow in speech and earnest in conduct’. But then he goes against the sage:

If one person who has obtained a pearl and another who owns half a jade disk do not engage in mutual questioning and interaction, how can they broaden their knowledge and achieve erudition? Perhaps this is what is known as inviting offense with speech. But even so, speech cannot be discarded because it can cause transgression, just as food cannot be discarded simply because it can cause one to choke. Furthermore, he who speaks does not necessarily transgress, and even if he does transgress, this is but a small matter to a wise man. Jesus was dismembered for speaking out, Long and Bi were executed for speaking out. (The Writings of Mao Zedong, vol. 1, pp. 72-73).

Crucifixion does not seem to have been an ancient Chinese practice, although dismemberment and disembowelment were (the latter being the fate of Guan Longxian and Bi Gan, who opposed the brutal Zhou Xiu in the twelfth century). Apart from the angle on Jesus, I am intrigued by the way he already draws on eastern and western dimensions in his thought, which was a feature of his later practice.

Someone said, ‘I see, in history, some great men did not regret even the sacrifice of their own lives and families.’ The sages and worthies who wanted to save the world have acted thus, such as Confucius (at Chen and at Kuang), Jesus (who died on the cross), and Socrates (who took poison).

A saying goes like this: ‘When a strong soldier’s hand was bitten by a poisonous snake, he had to sever his wrist, not because he did not love his wrist, but because if he had not cut it off, he could not have saved his own body. A benevolent man looks at the whole world and  the whole of humanity as his body, and considers one individual and one family as his wrist. Because he loves the whole world so much he dares not love himself and his family more. If he can save the whole world, even if it costs his own life and that of his family, he is at peace about it. (A benevolent man seeks to remove the suffering of all those living under heaven, so that they may be saved.) (The Writings of Mao Zedong, vol. 1, p. 22)

Is this the beginning of a Maoist Christology?

A new piece over at Political Theology, which explores that curious phenomenon of implacable opposition to property and wealth in the Gospels.

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Deane has been after something biblical, for that weird carnival he puts together every month. So one for Deane:

Criticism of Religion is now out in paperback from Haymarket Books (that reputable press run by the International Socialists – in the USA, of all places).

And on Bible and Interpretation a new piece called ‘Narratives of the Fall‘ – on the nature and practices of biblical criticism.

Terry Eagleton still has the knack of turning out catchy sound bites, such as the following:

The truth is that Marx was no more responsible for the monstrous oppression of the communist world than Jesus was responsible for the Inquisition.

The problem is that Eagleton’s renowned flippancy has once again ensured that he misses a deeper truth here: one can trace a path from the recorded sayings of Jesus to the Inquisition, as one can from Paul as well. And we can also follow a thin line from Marx’s writings to the atrocities of Stalin or Pol Pot. That is a far harder pill to swallow, but I suggest it is more truthful. Why? First, it is easy to blame the ‘distortions’ of followers and zealous disciples, while leaving the original words of the founder untainted. Second, a profound dialectic may be found within both Christianity and Marxism, one that leads to the Terror, to oppression and bloodshed, and another powerful line that leads to liberation. Third, although both elements may at certain times be inseparable, and although one needs to make some tough choices (as Lenin found), the trick is to ensure that the liberating side of the dialectic comes out on top. Easier said than done.

A thought for Lent:

I have recently come across the ipsissima verba of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, as they were passed on to Lenin:

Away, away! Let this cup of revolutionary-democratic dictatorship pass from me! (Collected Works, vol. 8, p. 288).

There you have it: the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat is actually a christological doctrine.

Looks like I will need a chapter on Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? in my Lenin and Theology book. Up until this work of 1902, I have found scattered biblical allusions in Lenin’s work and some occasionally entertaining reflections on the church, but in this thoroughly engaging text I hit pay dirt. What Is To Be Done? is saturated with biblical references, drawn especially from the Gospels and the sayings and parables of Jesus. For example, in the crucial section concerning organisation of the workers and of revolutionaries, we find:

It is precisely our campaign of exposure that will help us separate the tares from the wheat. What the tares are, we have already indicated. By the wheat we mean attracting the attention of ever larger numbers of the workers to social and political questions … In a word, our task is to fight the tares. It is not our business to grow wheat in flowerpots. By pulling up the tares, we clear the soil for the wheat. And while the Afanasy Ivanoviches and Pulkheria Ivanovas are tending their flowerpot crops, we must prepare the reapers, not only to cut down the tares of today, but to reap the wheat of tomorrow. Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 5, pp. 455-6.

This parable, along with that of the sower, becomes an extended metaphor throughout this crucial section.  What happens in the process is not merely that Lenin draws upon Gospel themes for thinking through revolutionary organisation, but that the sayings and parables themselves become radicalised. On this count, Badiou was wrong with his analogy between Lenin and Paul (Lenin is to Marx as Paul is to Jesus), since Lenin himself finds Jesus’ sayings much more useful for revolutionary organisation.

As I sink into my two main projects for 2011 – Lenin and Theology and The Sacred Economy – a brief intro to the book I have just completed on Nick Cave, with a preface written on the Trans-Mongolian train, somewhere in Siberia …

Over 2010 I wanted to engage in some other material that has interested me for a while – the Fleshly Readings book, which has managed to piss off a goodly number of people, and the one on Nick Cave. The latter is called Cave Droppings, looking at things like his engagement with the Bible, the novels and total depravity, death, apocalypse, love, Jesus and a big chapter on the philosophy of music and musical form, via Ernst Bloch and Theodor Adorno. The best bits were listening again and again to all of the music (back to 1977 and the Boys Next Door), engaging deeply with Bloch and Adorno on music, and reading through some 300 or more interviews, unpicking the narratives he spins about himself. And that’s where you find some pretty good turns of phrase, like:

I’ve got to stop quoting from the Bible because it’s irritating.

A chilly thing. The Bible. Sometimes.

All they wanted was the usual holiday snap of hell.

To eat at the same ball of vomit year after year.

When the big bomb goes off, all that’s going to survive are goths and cockroaches.

Two abiding passions – crime and theology.

Death looms large because it should.

And the decomposing lover says …

Jesus only loves a man who loses.

When those two things get together, love and violence, it makes for some nasty song-writing.

But he [Blixa Bargeld] was always more concerned with making his guitar sound like a dying horse, more than anything else.

Sometimes it [Cave's voice] sounds like the moaning of a dying insect

And the TOC:


Chapter One: Searching the Holy Books.

Synopsis: Nick Cave and the Bible.

The Life of Nick.

The ‘Word’ of Cave.

Conclusion, or, Strategies of Containment.

Chapter Two: The Total Depravity of Cave’s Literary World.

Cave World.

That House on the Edge of Town.

A Slug of White Jesus.

Rain in the Valley.


Lamentations of Woe.

The Calling of Eschatological Madness.

Conclusion: The Dialectic of Redemptive Depravity.

Chapter Three: Some Routine Atrocity, or, Apocalyptic.

Three Modes.

God’s Anger: The Flood.

Murder, Mayhem and Atrocity.

Glimpses of Redemption.


Chapter Four: Death.

From Form to Content: The Sinister Song.

Death Inflicted.

Death Suffered.

Individual Annihilation.

Collective Destruction.

Death Overcome.

Conclusion: Death Is Not the End?

Chapter Five: God, Pain and the Love Song.

Secular Soppy Songs: No Pain, No God.

Painlessly Divine: No Pain, With God.

Painfully Secular: With Pain, No God.

Brutally Divine: With Pain, With God.

Chapter Six: Jesus of the Moon, or, Christology.

Volume and Noise.

Sex and Seduction.



Chapter Seven: Hearing Round Corners: Nick Cave Meets Ernst Bloch.

Hearing around corners.

Concerning the Wandering Path of the Note, or, Forms of the Song.

Anarchy …

… and Discordancy.


Hymn (and Lament)

Sinister Song.

Dialectical Song.


Conclusion: The Dialectics of Theo-Utopian Hearing.

Conclusion: Gates to the Garden: The Search for Redemption.