Thursday, June 26, 2008

Milbank discussion

There is a extremely revealaing discussion with John Milbank posted at (HT:, F&T). It discusses the last chapter of Theology and Social Thery, but it goes off in all kinds of directions, and Milbank talks a bit about his background and stuff. For those of you, like me, still trying to figure out what it actually is Milbank wants to accomplish this is a great source.

Otherwise, the book came to be written really by accident in the sense that I was asked to write a textbook, and the publishers were totally horrified when I didn’t produce a text book. And when I set out to write it I really honestly and truly assumed I was going to talk about the mutual help that theology, sociology, and Marxism could give to each other. But somehow quite quickly when I started to get into that I felt that there was an incredible assumption going on in the usual approaches, that somehow social/scientific discourses were sort of theologically innocent or neutral, and that theology wasn’t inherently itself a social theory and an account of history. And I suppose that is the main methodological point in a sense that is being made.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Meme: The Academy and the Poor

Dan asks the difficult question: when confronted with 'the Poor' of our day, how do you justify your own academic endeavours?

As I have said before, living in Finland, "the poor" tend to be arather abstract concept. Although the divide between those that have and those that don't has widened considerably in Finland during the last few decades, what goves for poverty here is still being privileged if want takes the global perspective.

But that does not really change things that much. So I would answer the question this way.

1. The Academy has not given me very much in terms of money, power or security. I'm really badly paid (mind you I'm not complaining), my wife works in a kindergarten and she has a lot more than I. Which is ok, because I love my job. People that have jobs that need big salaty as motivation are kind of sad. What I'm saying with this is that working in the academy has for me moved me closer to the "poor" of our community, in that I share with them the constant feeling that when my short term working contract ends (next month) I have no real idea how to pay the mortages on our house.

2. I would never ever ever accept to do academic work that I do not feel in the long run at least serves to somehow change this world a little. Be it by teaching future pastors to see the global implications of their future work, or by working on theology in a way that asks the questions about the way our world functions. I cannot honestly say that I know of a way that I could hope to do more good than in the way I hope to do inside, or one the margin of academia. For me, in my situation, the university is still a place where there is at least some space for thinking against the powers of the world. As long as that is true (and that space is shrinking all the time), I'll try to hang on.

I'm not sure if a meme on a subject like this can work (a bit easier to name your favourite book!), but do feel tagged if you like to.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Book Review: Theology and the Political - The New Debate

I was very excited about this volume, since it seems to take the Radical Orthodoxy in the direction I find most interesting, and because it has such a impressive list of writers from outside of Theology, many of which I regard highly (Zizek, Toni Negri, Simon Critchley to a degree). And there is much of interest here (and a lot of filler, that has to be said), but still one comes away from it with some sense of disappontment. None of the writers from outside theology engage with the RO perspective, nor, with the exception of Zizek, with theology properly. Thus the title is kind of misleading.

In this volume the bad i mostly boring so I won't waste time on that. The writers that stand out for me in this volume is Zizek, Daniel M. Bell, Catherine Picstock (much better here than in "Radical Orthodoxy"), Graham Ward and John Millbank. In other words, the core of the RO-Movement all give good contributions here.

Zizek reads Chesterton like no other, and comes out with very interesting things about paganism and Christianity. Only Christianity gives us possibility to enjoy this world, because unlike for pagans, Christians do not belive that "tomorrow we will die". Funny as hell also, although I still do not understand why he insists on describing Christianity as perverse.

Bell reads Deleuze, and more interestingly, Anselm. To read Anselm away from the ususal economic framwork is fruitful, and of the many criticisms of Capitalism that are found in this book, Bell's is the one I feel most likely to return to.

Ward does Marx. His argument, that is repeated in many of the other essays, is that capitalism and marxism share too much in terms of basic premises, and that Christianity offers a radically different view of man and the world, one that is based on gift instead of contract, on love instead of fear and so on.

Millbank discusses the Christian claim to universality based on Badiou and Zizek. I think a lot of this is solid stuff. I have been hesitant to think much about the idea of universal truth and Milbank does have some interesting points. But there is an obvious problem, that is not so much visible here as in this interview.

(The ‘other religions’ thing doesn’t matter. The world as a whole is rapidly Christianizing and even in Islamic countries Muslims are finding their own intriguing Islamic way to Christ in ever increasing numbers; this is readily verifiable).
What on earth can he possibly mean? Is this Milbank's suggestion for how Christianity is to deal with "other religions". It seems absurdly naive, to the point of delusional. If this is what his notion Christian universalism is like, I think we'd better pass on it.

Can anybody possibly shed som light on what he could be referring to?