Sunday, March 28, 2010

Walking old paths with trepidation

John Milbank used to dominate my intellectual landscape but has for several years been peripheral at best. Well, I took him into my sights tonight after stumbling across two interviews, both very articulate (wouldn't have expected any less), both downright obstinate (also hardly surprising).

The first took place earlier this month and includes some startling theo-political triumphalism. The conclusion seems to suggest that Red Toryism, as a re-working of the religious and classical legacy of the Western world, "alone can now save Europe, America, and the world." The man's got balls. To demonstrate:
NS: Do you see your participation in this dialogue as evangelization? What do you hope to accomplish?

JM: Yes. Victory.

In the other interview, printed nearly two years ago, Milbank gives some of the bang-on cultural analysis that has brought him so many disciples over the years.
The boy at the shop counter with no customers is not allowed to read a book to improve himself all day, but who cares what he gets up to with sex and drink after the shop closes? general it would seem that, as Adorno and Horkheimer predicted, sexualization is intended to keep us all quiet: neurotic, hysterical, frustrated and unhappy but still ‘looking’.
Science and the so-called sexual revolution are happy bedfellows in the quest for individual liberty, one guaranteeing the possibility of an unquestionable morality, or freedom to truth, and the other guaranteeing the endless freedom of choice. Milbank recognizes the perverse nature of this new ideal of subjectivity. Of course, his stories of how this subjectivity has been created and how we might be saved from it are far too simple, or at least too confident in themselves.

I've been dipping my feet into the theological blogosphere lately and find myself drawn in and put off in equal measure. I've been away from the us-them rhetoric of the church and theologians for so long. Ironically, I would wish of this sphere exactly what Milbank wishes of the public debates surrounding atheism: for "more recognition that many embrace a complex mix of belief and unbelief" and, I would add, a greater humility and reserve when it comes to social stories of salvation. Some bloggers demonstrate great acumen in navigating this complexity, like Ben Myers over at Faith and Theology. The best post I've read in recent browsing is his brief contribution to the official 2010 Global Atheist Convention online discussion, on the role of atheism in Christian thought.

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