June 25, 2005

Irony: Political Theology and Social Theory

Category: Theology - Political :: Permalink

After several failed attempts and false starts, followed by a long hiatus when I didn’t read anything heavy at all, I’ve started reading John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory again. My repeated readings of the opening chapters haven’t been wasted, however: each time I read this stuff I get some more out of it.

This time through the Introduction, I was struck (not for the first time) by the ironic shift which Milbank describes in both contemporary political theology and modern social theory.

Contemporary political theologians, in part because they don’t fully subscribe to the faith once delivered anymore but also because they want to be able to cooperate with non-Christians in society, have tended to affirm the “scientific” and “humanistic” approaches of sociology, letting sociology define the problems and suggest the remedies and leaving “religion” to the side.

Meanwhile, modern social theory, under the influence of Nietzsche, has come to believe that there is no neutrality and that every view presupposes a “metanarrative” which is religious or mythical in nature. Indeed, Nietzsche’s own suspicion, Milbank notes, “embodies an ontology of power and conflict which is simply another mythos, a kind of re-invented paganism” (p. 2).

And here’s the irony:

An extraordinary contrast therefore emerges between political theology on the one hand, and postmodern and post-Nietzschean social theory on the other. Theology accepts secularization and the autonomy of secular reason; social theory increasingly finds secularization paradoxical, and implies that the mythic-religious can never be left behind. Political theology is intellectually atheistic; post-Nietzschean social theory suggests the practical inescapability of worship (p. 3).

All of this, by the way, sounds at times as if Milbank is channelling Van Til.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:48 pm | Discuss (0)

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