The Christians have at times held a vision that has been gradually shaken out of them by Western society’s better judgment… a belief in some dimly perceived future history, a belief that we all exist in a story that we’re not masters of, that moves towards some kind of awful redemption. A mad and religious sort of thought. An eschatology (which is a word I’ve never heard from anyone but Christians, although I’m sure others must use it?) …of divine visitation, no less.
The more thoughtful criticism is that this, in some perverse forms, leads to a sort of historical indifference… a passivity about what’s going on here and now, it will be extra terrestrially resolved anyhow. The more common criticism is that any vision of redemption or happiness that is not sat squarely in the hands of (Western) man is intellectually incredible.
But Theodor W. Adorno says that such a vision is entirely necessary:
The only philosophy which can be responsibly practiced in the face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption. Knowledge has no light but that shed on the world by redemption: all else is reconstruction, mere technique. Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world, reveal it to be, with its rifts and crevices, as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day in the messianic light. (Minima Moralia, p247)
That is to say, that it is only because of some vision of what the world must become that the Christians could arrive at a critical consciousness of the world as they found it. And so St. Paul could reasonably write, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world…”
That which the Christians now feel compelled to shut up about is not some embarrassing superstition. It’s the guiding star for a kind of thought that is presently forbidden as something dangerous and blasphemous – because it leads to a criticism of the present order of things: its powers, politics, social structures and interests… and because it gives a basis for action, resistance, resilience and radical change… for the deviance that St. Paul mentioned above. The apocalyptic has never rightly been a passive escape from the present, but a critical light shone on it – and Western man’s present order doesn’t appreciate that scrutiny. It was the Christians with their otherworldly thought who were, perhaps rightly, credited with the fall of Rome.
So, eschatological thought is necessarily radical. It’s a gift of thought that we need to reintroduce to an age that is blind to itself, stagnating in its illusion of an eternal present.
The most important criticism of such thought, is that it is, as Adorno says, “the utterly impossible thing.” He speaks specifically of a religious vision of redemption that comes Godwards to the world… from the outside in… that mocks the Western presumption of humanist progress. It must come from the outside in to have any objectivity. A Biblical vision of the future redemption is dimly cast and easily abused. But this is no reason to leave it to televangelists and illuminati obsessives. Quite the opposite. This is why, in humility, the Christians have to recover a vision of a future history that casts the messianic critique on the present… that ponders the present in light of the thought that “that the creation itself will be liberated…” (Romans8). But the radical faith that turns the world upside-down has to transcend the a-historical ghetto of mere personal salvation if it would be anything more than a domesticated and well behaved religious product in the present age.
We note that the Christians are not only thinkers but believers in the said redemption, but Adorno says that such thought is no less credible, and no less necessary, to those without belief: “the question of the reality, or unreality of redemption itself hardly matters.” A vision of the world redeemed is imperative for all but entirely pointless thought about life.