Critique of Heaven addresses the writings of the young Karl Marx in relation to what Arend terms ‘critical theology’. The series takes its departure from Marx’s claim that ‘the criticism of heaven is transmuted into the criticism of earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of right, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics’. Arend sets about investigating the meaning and origin of this remark with the conviction that the critique of heaven is the central task of theology and the critique of earth its necessary corollary.
Lecture I looks at Marx’s critique as a transformation of theology, exploring some prejudices often attributed to Marx about the origins of his critique of religion to prepare for a discussion of the Marxist-Christian dialogue. Arend finds Marx’s philosophy to have a theological character in both structure and origin. Lecture II traces Marx’s entrance into the community of European culture, looking at his early education, interpreting some of the early papers that shaped his thinking, revealing his dialectical methodology and illustrating that religious instruction could not be divorced from his classical education. Lecture III looks at some documents containing a collection of poems that were products of Marx’s first academic years at Bonn and Berlin, giving evidence for his receptivity toward the Romantic inspiration prevalent in Germany since the French Revolution and detailing his first encounters with works by Hegel. Lectures IV to VI set out to examine Marx’s first scholarly dissertation. In Lecture IV, Arend outlines the massive influence Hegelian thought had on Marx’s intellectual life before illustrating how Marx’s dissertation engaged the writings of the ancient Greeks toward his vehement opposition to a Christian religion that seemed, to him, little more than a pseudo-pagan cult. Lecture V further details Marx’s struggle to establish his philosophical identity in the wake of Hegel’s death, returning to an examination of the impact of Epicurean thinking on Marx’s development, while Lecture VI develops the Epicurean connection still further in relation to Marx’s application of Epicurean notions to the realm of religion. Lecture VII is a further treatise on Marx and ancient Greek philosophy, where Marx sees his own situation reflected in that of Epicurus, with human self-consciousness as the new divinity. Lecture VIII throws light on what Marx outlined as the task for critical philosophy, while Lecture IX demonstrates Marx’s critique of religion as the culmination of his critique of Hegel. Arend considers the consequences of Marx’s departure from Hegel and Marx’s application of his analysis of Epicurean philosophy to the domain of politics. What Epicurus accomplished for the Roman era, Marx accomplished for the modern era—‘he turned the critique of heaven into a critique of earth, the critique of theology into a critique of politics’ (p. 183). Finally, in Lecture X, Arend discusses Marx’s transition from the critique of religion to the critique of law. Marx is concerned with the relationship of religion and the world of man. ‘Epicurus’s atomistic philosophy brought Marx to the very point where the critique of theology turns into the critique of politics … [his philosophy turns out] to be a prototype of the modern mind’ (p. 203). Arend concludes that the critique of political economy (the critique of law, or civil society) that Marx concerned himself with for the rest of his life took the form of a struggle with a number of contradictions that Epicurus had uncovered. The final lecture, therefore, is something of a gateway to the second series of lectures, which are concerned with this (later) phase in Marx’s life. Ultimately, Marx’s critique of religion turns out to be a critique of law.