Posted on: February 23rd, 2007 Radical Orthodoxy: Introduction to _Theology & Social Theory_

I am rereading Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory. If one were to read only 5 pages of Milbank (or Radical Orthodoxy, for that matter) then he should read the introduction to this book. The salient points:

– Milbank argues that no secular discourse (including sociology) should be allowed to position theology, but rather theology (which “alone … remains the discourse of non-mastery”) is truly the metadiscourse for everything. (Note: speaking of theology as “metadiscourse” is so much better than speaking of it as “the queen of the sciences,” as, for example, R.C. Sproul has done.)

– When theology allows secular discourse to set its terms (whether in the “liberal” attempt to be relevant to modern man, or — and this is more of a “conservative” tendancy — by confining itself “to intimations of a sublimity beyond representation”), theology becomes guilty of false humility, which is its “modern pathos.”

– The “method” Milbank employs in this effort is to co-opt Nietzche (and others, perhaps), turning his critical guns back toward secular modernity, in genealogical (or archaeological) fashion. Milbank wants to show how the presupposition of secular discourse (especially “politcal science”), that of a pure “remainder” left over once humanly constructed reality is “desacralized,” is false. This alleged residue is always already charged with its own mythological, religious (and pervasively neo-pagan) commitments. Primary characters in this story include Grotius, Hobbes, and Spinoza, with the likes of Vico, Hamann, Coleridge, Kierkegaard, and Blondel serving as “counter-moderns” (ie, “good guys”). The very idea of the secular, to take the largest example, was hijacked by modernity and transformed from its older Christian view (simply the time span between the fall and the eschaton) to its novel significance as an autonomous realm or cultural space, autonomously independent of God, religion, theology, and (most of all, perhaps) the church. (Another example of false modern construction: the “free market.”)

– Milbank provocatively sees a connection between antique thought (characterized by virtue, represented by Alisdair MacIntyre) and modern thought (characterized by difference, represented by Neitzche). Even though one of Milbank’s “two voices” with which he speaks in this book is the voice of MacIntyre, nevertheless Milbank thinks that Neitzche correctly reduced antique virtue (with its ultimate princple of logos or reason providing order to a chaotic world) to difference (which is the overarching principle of modernity, subsuming both reason and chaos in violent conflict). Both non-christian worldviews, however, radically fail since they both presuppose an “original violence” which is the opposite of the Christian doctrine of creation (affirming as it does a good world and the importance of peaceful communities of difference).

– Finally, since modernity has already called the bluff of antiquity, all that is left is a Christian construction of reality, which denies the necessity of violent difference. Only Christianity can provide an account of difference which is truly beneficent and peaceful. This, Milbank suggests, is our future.

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