No, really, what does Christian theology want from philosophy?

Back in 2009 I asked the question, “what does (certain) contemporary Christian theology want from philosophy?” No one from among the “certain” Christian theologians answered the question. Hardly surprising, as they rarely do answer questions, or engage outside of their own very closed circles. Perhaps it has to do with something about pearls before swine or, just maybe, something about cockroaches scattering when you turn the light on them (I’ll allow the reader to choose their preferred speciesist insult). Without anyone willing to answer, I still have the question rattling around. Recently a few friends and acquaintances on Facebook have been raving about David Bentley Hart’s recent The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss and exchanging Christian high-fives about how Hart has really given it to those stupid, incoherent (new?) atheist materialists. I admit it, something about Christian triumphalism in a world bleeding under Christian knives means I couldn’t help but make a few jokes and ask a few aggressive questions. Now, I have never enjoyed reading Hart (his prose so often praised by other Christian theologians has struck me as bloated and pompously overblown, typical of an aggressive 16 year-old overachiever) and I haven’t touched his most recent books (after trudging through the burnt husk of a body that was his reading of Deleuze in The Beauty of the Infinite I had used up all the charity I had for his work), but this question is not really one about Hart in general. Rather, the question has to do with the kind of general condition of the kind of contemporary Christian theology that Hart and others do. When I see a book like The Experience of God or a recent article in Modern Theology by Aaron Riches called “Christology and Anti-Humanism” I cannot help but wonder, who are they writing for? Read the rest of this entry »

A vaguely shared sensibility

One thing that has always puzzled me about Radical Orthodoxy is their refusal to acknowledge that they are a school of thought. Recently, this befuddlement has been reawakened by reports that a Theology Studio member regards their group as highly diverse compared to the more homogeneous viewpoints represented here. What could this mean, I wondered? Are we to take such claims seriously, or are they nothing but “I know you are but what am I?”-style provocation?

Read the rest of this entry »

The Third Way!

You know how every so often I’ll say that any political ideology putting itself forward as a brave new path beyond the stale opposition of left and right is always going to be either boring old liberalism or else a new variant on fascism? And you know how everyone always gets really really pissed off about that and thinks I’m giving short shrift to the innovative new ideas of communitarianism and subsidiarity, etc., etc.?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Phillip Blond’s proposal to build the Big Society by means of military academies! Thank you, Mr. Blond, for proving my point for me!

AUFS’s published critiques of Radical Orthodoxy: A beginner’s guide

It has come to my attention that we here at AUFS are famous as critics of Radical Orthodoxy, but at the same time, many people believe we have no substantive critique. It is true that many of our posts here are occasional and underdeveloped in nature (i.e., are blog posts), so that one might come away with the idea that we are solely occupied with scoring cheap points. Yet there is a whole world outside the blogosphere, where we have actually published various books and essays! It is in that extra-blogical world that one can find our substantive critiques of Radical Orthodoxy. Read the rest of this entry »

The Principle of Sufficient Theology: Some Remarks on “Theology and Non-Philosophy”

My copy of The Non-Philosophy:Project: Essays by François Laruelle arrived in the mail yesterday. Up front I will admit that I have been nervous about this volume, since generally I think it is safe to say I’m part of the inner-circle of some kind of non-philosophy cabal and so tend to hear about projects related to non-philosophy. But, I knew basically nothing about this volume other than one of the editors is a theologian and that it was coming out with Telos Press Publishing and this made me very nervous since I consider Telos essentially a right-wing press, often publishing or supporting right-wing Christian political theologians work.  But that said, I was happy to see that Ray Brassier, nowhere near a right-wing Christian and often quite critical of Laruelle’s work, appears to have had a heavy hand in the volume. That suggests to me that the translations are at least excellent and though many of the essays were previously available on-line or in journals, it is nice to have a set of the occasional essays that have been floating around for a bit now. Some readers will be especially happy to see that a chapter from Introduction au non-marxisme is also included, so that will be a preview of the larger book that I’m translating and which should be out in early 2013. Read the rest of this entry »

John Milbank on Blogging: Or, some remarks on why insular gasbags don’t like a public free to speak

In many ways AUFS lasting contribution to on-line theological discussions has been to refuse and end the hegemonic reign that Radical Orthodoxy had for many graduate students interested in Continental philosophy and theology. It goes without saying that this hegemony was, of course, mostly found amongst students of Christian theology, many of them post-evangelical and so suffering from a certain piety inescapable for such damaged individuals. I think what many of these students turned to RO because of a deep sense of the wrong state of things present in their own Christian life. Of course RO only presents, as all forms of apologetics, various theodicies and so this perpetuates the split, the wrong state of things, that these students try to heal by parroting the assumed masters, like John Milbank. But by presenting these often meaningless words to students, whose only knowledge of the figures and forms of life being critiqued by RO comes from those claiming to have mastered them, we’ve been able to move the debate simply by demanding one. Read the rest of this entry »

Audio of “From the Fractured One of Shi’ism: On a Speculative Theory of Concealment and Dissimulation”

I expect that there will continue to be relatively little from me on the blog until I’ve finished my dissertation (the tentative hand-in date is July 1st). On Wednesday, though, I took time out to present a paper on some of the work in Islam I’ve been doing for the “Speculative Philosophies and Religious Practices: New Directions in the Philosophy of Religion and Post-Secular Practical Theology” workshop co-organized by Daniel Whistler. The event was good and it was interesting to speak with practical theologians whose concerns are very different than my own. My talk, “From the Fractured One of Shi’ism: On a Speculative Theory of Concealment and Dissimulation“, was a mix of the personal, reflecting on the environment in which my interest in Islam has grown, as well as the beginnings of some of my speculative re-working of certain Islamic practices. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t really like giving very technical papers and this is the second polemic I’ve given, but I hope to bear out the argument more intentionally in its future written form.

The US Council of Radical Orthodox Bishops?

I’d like to highlight a post by Br. Dan on the Elizabeth Johnson affair that others have already recommended in comments. In it, he connects the attitude of the bishops with Radical Orthodoxy, taking as an example a recent book by Chicago’s own Cardinal George in which he repeats the “Scotus ruined everything narrative,” citing nothing but standard Radox authorities like Milbank and Pickstock. The whole post is worth reading, and here I’ll snip the conclusion:

As I said above, one way to read the report on Johnson’s book is to see another iteration of the Radical Orthodoxy movement’s concerns articulated as: contemporary theological engagement with the social and natural sciences as suspect, distrusts modern (and postmodern) philosophical resourcing and seeks to re-appropriate medieval articulations and formulae for today’s usage.

The committee doesn’t like the place of evolution and science in Johnson’s theology, finds the Kantian qualities of Johnson’s modern theological project problematic and seeks to reiterate Thomas (notice the report’s only footnotes are from the Summa). This is not about the problems with Elizabeth Johnson’s theology, this is about problems with the entire purpose of theology and what a certain group of people in the last twenty or so years thinks theology should look like.

On Radical Orthodoxy’s Qutbism

A certain theoretical homology between Radical Orthodoxy and Qutbism hit me this evening while doing some background reading for the Speculative Medevialisms event. The connection was made while reading Bruce Holsinger’s chapter on Derrida’s medievalism in The Premodern Condition, which uses Catherine Pickstock’s polemic against Derrida in After Writing as a foil. It’s been awhile since I’ve read Pickstock, but Holsinger’s criticisms seem to me unassailable and crystallized some misgivings I had with Pickstock’s texts way back when about the flatness of her reading. But, that isn’t surprising since, after all, this was Holsinger’s goal. What is, well, perhaps not surprising, but interesting, was the structural similarity between Pickstock’s “utter lack of rhetorical modesty” (as Holsinger diagnoses her constant use of words like ‘only’, ‘optimum’, ‘alone’, ‘genuine’, ‘real’, and the like) and the same lack of rhetorical modesty in the Islamist theorist Sayyid Qutb. Read the rest of this entry »

Class Struggle and Christianity For Christmas

Hard left Labour party member, philosophy of logic liker, Catholic and avid coffee drinker Simon Hewitt has been doing an excellent series on Marxism and Christianity and seemingly he hasn’t even heard yet of Roland Boer‘s work!

In the first post, Simon sets the scene, in the second he discusses the meeting ground for religious and atheistic Marxists in a something like Aristotelian style naturalistic ethics – among other gems include that as grace completes nature we can all agree socialism from nature anyone with any sense should overthrow capitalism, and that Marxists should only worry about religion being opiate when it destroys commitment to socialism. Some of the moves here remind me a lot of similar ones I attempted in my essay for After the Postsecular and the Postmodern (USUK) where I attempted to sketch a non-atheistic (and also non-theistic) account of the generic secular as pluralism, that would please neither Dawkins and Hari or aggressive theological anti-secularists. The third (and not final) post in the series discusses the ethics of revolutionary violence and whether Christians could support it. This is done partly via Herbert McCabe’s classic required reading ‘The Class Struggle and Christian Love‘ wherein everyone’s favourite editor of Modern Theology claims that since class struggle is an objective reality which it is impossible to stay neutral in (‘it is just there; we are on either one side or the other’) Christianity must be on the side of the proletariat, against myriad soggy Christian socialisms and distributisms which only prop up the system and must consider revolution as one of its aims on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount – Christian pacifists beware!

Speaking of soggy distributisms that only prop up the class struggle ideologically on behalf of the rich (cough recent missives from the radically orthodox stable supporting the Conservative reforms in higher education that will free marketise the whole system and destroy the humanities as such as part of a larger scheme of austerity which will throw almost a million children into absolute poverty over the next three years), Simon also has a post on Phillip Blond et al that is worth reading. Among other points that amuse and inform, in the sense that RO is utterly unable to locate and self-critique itself within class society then it is in fact, pretty similar to liberalism. Oh and that Red Toryism shares many similarities to other third ways, ie, close to fascism. Enjoy!


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