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Nurturing the Indwelling Protest: Max Horkheimer and the Dialectic of Religious Resistance and Betrayal

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AbstractThis article critiques and assesses Max Horkheimer’s lifelong interest in matters of religion and theology. He rehearses a theme throughout his work that strengthens in his later years: an authentic Christianity or Judaism owes its allegiance to and longing for a “totally other” and not any temporal power such as the state. Indeed, in the name of this other - understood in either ontological or temporal terms - Christians would do well to remember the trenchant criticisms of vested power and wealth and Jews would do equally well to remember the basic impulse of not being conformed to this world. In short, such a religious standpoint is one of persistent and incorruptible resistance to the world in every fibre of one’s being. The problem is that religions like Judaism and Christianity have betrayed that resistance in the name of the totally other and made deals with the world - with the state, with wealth, with influence and with the economic systems of the day. This betrayal shows up, for example, in the way Christianity has often become an established religion, in the establishment of a Jewish state and in liberal theology. I am not taken with this grand opposition, which trades on the distinction between authentic and inauthentic, the latter functioning as a betrayal of the former. Far more interesting are the moments when Horkheimer sets his dialectical skills to work on this opposition. When this happens, we find him arguing that the “betrayal” was often a necessary process for the survival of the religion in question, for any religion that followed the precepts of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels would soon have been ground into the dust.

Affiliations: 1: School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle University Drive, Callaghan, NSW 2308 Australia, Email: Roland.Boer@newcastle.edu.au

10.1163/157430111X614727
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/content/journals/10.1163/157430111x614727
2011-01-01
2016-12-10

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