Why I Used to be Attracted to Radical Orthodoxy

As I was reading Yoder’s The Original Revolution I was struck by the following paragraph, because it crystallized for me both what originally attracted me to  Radical Orthodoxy (back in 2004, and for a while thereafter—though, to be honest, I still read them) as well as why I distance myself from that movement/book series/whatever-you-consider-it:

It is especially from the Anglican tradition that the rest of us have learned something of the pervasive intellectual power of the idea of the Incarnation. It has been a most impressive vision, to say that all human concerns have been divinely sanctioned and hallowed by God’s coming among us, taking our flesh. Gardening and the weather, our work and our family, the total fabric of our society—economics and warfare, have been bathed in the light of God’s presence. All of humanity is thus now seen to be good, wholesome, holy. This seems to a non-Episcopalian to be a deceptively incomplete way of saying something that is nonetheless deeply true. When God came among men He did not approve of and sanction everything, in ‘normal, healthy human society’; He did not make all human activity, not even all well-intentioned activity, a means of grace. There are some loyalties and practices which He rejected when He came among us.

My pietistic upbringing taught me to be intense about spiritual things, and in undergrad I learn from thinkers like Alexander Schmemann that all of life is to be sacramental—to reject any dichotomies of sacred/profane (I still like his work). Radical Orthodoxy came along, promising to have something theological to say about economics, sex, cities, philosophy, aesthetics and music, and I was thrilled! In retrospect, I suppose I was attracted by the Anglican tendency of RO to let the idea of Incarnation expand into various arenas.

On the other hand, it is RO’s ambition to “reclaim the world” that grew to bother me—not the desire to engage all of the world, but to somehow claim it, colonize it. I still aspire to view everything theologically, but not by bathing everything—including the struggle for political control—in God’s presence. Something I tried to work out in conference papers in the last couple of years is the judgment of Christ which accompanies the Incarnation (under Rowan Williams’s influence). I understand that Milbank includes judgment in his work, but there is something (possibly?) British and possibly Anglican about RO that I dislike (there are Anglican things about it, including things I like; I am just saying I am not sure that is the source of things I disagree with), and I think it has to do with how Milbank wants to reclaim things (I am obviously moving beyond the Yoder quotation topic). J. Kameron Carter gave an interesting paper on Coleridge’s influence on Milbank at the AAR last Fall, zeroing in on a sort of British pride—being neither East nor West, but better than both, which drives colonialist tendencies—that may be putting a finger on the same issue, i.e. colonizing all of life under human (though “theological”) rule.  So, reading this Yoder passage reminded me of why I was drawn to RO—making everything matter to theology—but I think there are other ways this needs to be done (I obviously have not addressed that here!).

49 thoughts on “Why I Used to be Attracted to Radical Orthodoxy

  1. The idea that you can carry on viable intellectual debate in terms of “the britishness” of Milbank or any thinker is really disturbing. I can see why you’d want to say “colonial”, but to identify ideas with nation states seems completely misunderstood.
    There is no doubt a colonising tendency in Milbank’s work, but why make this British? It seems you would like all Brits to live under the condemnation of bad faith: either be bad or betray your geographic origins.
    Now there is no doubt a habit of universal affirmation in some Anglican incarnational thought, but that is only half the story for most post-war thinkers. We mustn’t forget the reformed element of Anglicanism, which I think drives a great deal of Milbank’s overtly catholic criticism of secularism.
    So by all means, let’s divide out what’s appealing and worrying about Anglican theology, but let’s not wed those things to enduring identities and geographical units.
    RO is, after all, merely being hip and academic when it gives a theological account of economics, politics, etc. You will find parallels in disciplines like Classics and Economics. We need to be more specific about what is colonial about RO incarnationalism and what is just inter-disciplinary (and therefore obedience to the academic super-ego).

  2. That Yoder quote is quite interesting, and speaks to a conversation Adam & I were having last week I think it was about (Hegelian) idealism. That the same quote speaks to Anglican Incarnationalism and Hegelian idealism may surprise some, but perhaps not others. Maybe I should write some thoughts on this, rather than usurping Thomas’ thread.

  3. Andy:

    I am tracking with you for sure. I am definitely not interested in throwing everyone under the same blanket statement. I wish I could remember how Carter put it in his paper (sorry, I misspelled his name in the original post), though maybe you would dislike his argument as well.

    I like the Anglican obsession with the Incarnation–that is something I hoped to make clear, whether a focus on Incarnation is true of all Anglicans or not. I don’t mean to make too much out of stereotypes, but maybe if I like something about them it makes it less offensive?

    On the other hand, I do in fact feel compelled to betray my “Americanness” as a Christian and an academic. This does not mean to betray my geographic origins, but to distance myself from a very clear ethos that has often been associated with the USA. If I were writing on violence or economics and someone were to call my work “too American,” I would know what they were referring to. Feel free to disagree.

    (And Brad: feel free to colonize my thread for whatever purpose you have)

  4. Just a little further clarification: when I say “but maybe if I like something about them it makes it less offensive?” I mean that I like Anglican ideas, not that I like stereotypes. Also, I changed a couple of words in the post for clarity’s sake.

    And yes, Andy, there are plenty of parallels to RO as far as engaging things and being inter-disciplinary; I simply ran into RO first. Alex once made a comment here to the effect of “why read Milbank when you can read Rowan Williams and get the same good stuff without the undesirable baggage?” I still read both thinkers, but I have more respect for Williams. Anyway, thanks for the correction and the conversation–I appreciate it.

  5. Andy, So it’s just impossible to generalize about national intellectual cultures? I disagree — particularly since each nation has educational institutions that tend to reproduce certain patterns (whether consciously chosen or not). The difference between French and German styles of scholarship is pretty pronounced, for example, even if you can find exceptions to each.

  6. But you don’t need Anglicanism in order to recover the goodness of all creation. Yoder could have found that in Catholicism and, perhaps especially, Eastern Orthodoxy. Seems to me that this “recovery” of the meaning of incarnation comes difficult to any tradition that doesn’t sit well with the development of trinitarian theology. For radical reformers (or for restorationists like my own faith background, the Churches of Christ), they look to the Bible and first century Christianity. What radical orthodoxy gave to me was a way of challenging my Christian primitivism and modernist assumptions.

    If Anglicanism (I am now in the ECUSA) brought me something uniquely Anglican, I think it would be the idea of lex orandi lex credendi. Of course, I haven’t studied that particuar idea much…so it, too, probably comes from somewhere else!

  7. I do not read the post or discussion afterwards as having discussed national intellectual cultures. I don’t think either Thomas or I would consider colonial attitudes or what he describes as American attitudes to economics or violence as a part of intellectual culture.

    I was objecting to continuing an intellectual debate based on national characters, as if they were unavoidable or carried some inchoate validity (a bit like the way Nietzsche lists up European characters). Milbank just can’t help being colonial because he’s British. This is a temptation, and I don’t think Thomas’ post actually went there.

    Curious thing: by noting who are the types and who are the rebels, we affirm the truth of these stereotypes, and enable Milbank to make his orthodoxy move – “unless you are like me, you are refusing to admit who you really are (British in my case, but also theologian, Christian, whatever).”

    So yeah – I know what you mean when you say “too American”, but I wish I didn’t, and I refuse the validity of the term. It’s perfectly American (and theologian, if I may use it as an adjective) to be socialist, pacifist, etc. We must not leave language exactly as it is.

    Similarly re. academic cultures: I’d be much happier giving detailed names to academic tendencies, as I think this blog is very good at doing, than using “French” as a catch-all term. We lose something of the inevitability of it all. Things can be different without the maddening experience of orthodoxy and betrayal.

  8. J. Kameron Carter’s paper was not premised upon an essentialist account of Englishness. It utilises Paul Gilroy’s Postcolonial Melancholia, through Milbank’s use of Coleridge.

    Here is the abstract:

    Creation, Imperialism, and the Aesthetic Imagination: Radical Orthodoxy’s Postcolonial Melancholy
    This paper interprets Radical Orthodoxy (RO) as a case study in postcolonial melancholy–the reproduction of the colonial injuries of modernity under new post-imperial conditions–within Christian theology. Its doctrine of creation and its closely-related doctrine of the analogy of being exemplify this melancholy. But to really grasp how this melancholy works, one must understand RO’s doctrine of creation in relationship to its reclamation of British literary figure Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Writing as Britain was establishing its world empire, Coleridge advanced a theological aesthetics of creation rooted in analogy by which to imagine British/Western culture at home as grounded in an “ontology of peace” beyond violence and capitalism. I surface the imperialism of this outlook–how it worked within the British civilizing mission–and show how RO melancholically inhabits this project and its theologico-imperial vision of creation (and destruction) in postcolonial reproduction of the injuries of modernity.

  9. There is a sense in which the world is multiple. In that it is signified, culturally, in multiple ways. It seems that the argument over whether the world is divinely sanctioned tends to pass over this problem, which is to say both sides, pro and con, tend to see the world as being unitary. This is a problem, and one that comes up equally in “Barthian” or RO approaches. With regard to the latter and colonialism, one of the basic problems that emerges is whether the “other” (non-Christian/British) culture has rightfully signified. To make this culture participate in the (Christian) divine is not really to be for the world, at least not in its multiple senses.

  10. I’m a regular lurker here.

    You mentioned Alexander Schmemann. Having studied Eastern Orthodoxy for several years now, I would venture to say that Schmemann’s intuitions on the sacramental life, which, is thoroughly and completely predicated upon the notion of the ‘phronema’ of the Orthodox Church, has been taken up by RO in weird ways that — as you seem to intuit — smack of “colonialism”. When one reads the writings of the Eastern Church Fathers, and even contemporary saints of the Orthodox Church (such as those described in the powerful little book, “Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit”), the writings of St. Silouan the Athonite, Archimadrite Sophrony, and their disciples, one is particularly struck about a certain interesting sense of humility and simplicity that explodes of positive possibilities for the transformation of the world, without the sense that it *must* involve a sort of political play of signifiers. Suddenly, after reading more of these blessed elders and ascetics, RO, in my experience, appears wrongheaded at some inexplicable level. One reads the teachings and lives of even the contemporary living saints of the Orthodox Church, and one can’t help but to be struck about how RO, though at first glance interesting and seemingly teeming with the positive possibilities of the kingdom of heaven on earth, is still in the same ol’ business of frenetic, worldly management of flux and power — or, “colonialism,” if you will.

  11. Good stuff Derek. I’m very much an amateur at theology, so the distinction you give is a good one.

    What I get about RO is the idea of the kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. What you fear is a tendency for RO to bring the kingdom in non-kingdom ways. I’m not familiar enough with it all to agree or disagree, but I am reminded of an apocryphal story where Stanley Hauerwas was in a forum with Millbank and said (in blue collar language) that he was pissed Christians couldn’t still kill people. I took it as a hyperbolic statement about the need to remain in charge.

  12. Agamben says that the division of the sacred and profane is what religion is. Serious question: in these expansive ‘everything is sacramental’ theologies is there anything that is profane?

  13. I was gone for a few hours and only back momentarily, so I will not be able to respond to all of the things I wish to at the moment, but…

    First, thanks to Alex for the abstract to Carter’s essay–I should have looked that up myself. My reference was vague and I was sloppy with my wording.

    To Derek: I need to think more about what you are saying. I have actually not seen Schmemann moving in that direction, but you may be more familiar with his work than I am. Most of my learning is based upon For the Life of the World.

    To everyone: we really ought to work through the whole sacred/profane stuff. I know conversation on blogs seems to end on weekends, but I hope to engage some people after I get back from our welcome picnic for new MU theology students! (Maybe Brad will be lonely and drinking on a Friday night, and we can create a dialectical fight about Hegel and the profane)

  14. Alex asked: “in these expansive ‘everything is sacramental’ theologies is there anything that is profane?”

    I often say the same thing (I think), only differently: If everything is sacred, then nothing is.

  15. I often say the same thing (I think), only differently: If everything is sacred, then nothing is.

    Which the Hegelian theologian would counter, — The nothing that is everything! Which is to say, the loss, the lost perhaps isn’t so great after all.

  16. I think that the resolution here is probably in the fact that there are different ways of seeing things. That everything is in some sense sacred might just mean that everything can serve a sacramental function; that everything is profane might just mean that everything which can serve a sacramental function can also act in a contrary way. It then depends on how a particular whatsit is taken (by a particular person in a particular time at a particular place) whether it is right for them to think of it as sacred or profane.

    And one might have some sort of argument that tries to show that all contrary-to-sacrament functions can only be carried out by things which can also carry out sacramental functions. It might be similar to Spinoza’s claim in EIIP36 that “All ideas are in God (E1P15), and in so far as they are referred to God are true (EIIP32) and (EIIP7S) adequate; therefore there are no ideas confused or inadequate, except in respect to a particular mind” — which is of course not a rejection of all inadequate ideas (lest the Ethics have no reason to be written), but an explanation of what they are. In one way there are no inadequate ideas; in another way they’re all over the place.

  17. I have to say I think Carter’s project is profoundly flawed. I have yet to read the piece cited above, but I was in the class he taught that gave birth to it, and the argument he advanced throughout the course most often failed to meet the basic criteria of an argument, to say the least. He failed to address Milbank on his own terms or even to accurately interpret what Milbank was saying and why: from the start, the postcolonial melancholy line served as an a priori framework that -big surprise- cranked out just the kind of results Carter was looking for. He had little time for other theories or even for potential dangers that students raised about the line he was toeing. As the abstract above suggests, Carter even read things like the analogia entis as a kind of imperial tool at the level of theory (painting folks like Aquinas and Scotus, and even St. Benedict with the same disingenuous brush). Not exactly the most charitable hermeneutic for reading the tradition, let alone Milbank. It became clear that any version of ecclesiology that relies upon institutional centrality and has a mission to convert the world was for him just colonialism by another means (of course that is always a danger, but for Carter it seems it’s actually essential to such a view).

    I sure hope he’s actually developed things to the point of a decent argument. There is certainly some fruit in the criticisms of Milbank, even along the lines Carter thinks. But his cause was laced with so much questionable scholarship that I’m not holding out much hope. All of the dangers Andy signals were exemplified in his reading.

    Pax Christi,

  18. X-Cathedra

    Discussion of Milbank and colonialism, related to the theology he exposes isn’t entirely coming from left field. Consider the following quote from an interview with Ben Suriano:

    The evil disasters of colonialism can only be redeemed when they are seen as perverse and yet providential ways to the further proclamation of Christian universalism.

    I’ve heard him say much the same another time at a conference. I have heard his student Phillip Blond give an account roughly similar to those proffered by Nial Ferguson that colonialism and the British empire weren’t all that bad. I haven’t done the legwork, but you consider the case at least plausible for a jumping off point is your problem with the idea of post-colonial melancholy as a theory? As a Brit, I have to say, I find it alive and kicking. I’m not wanting to jump to any conclusions, about Milbank or anything but I’m just wondering if you could flesh out the questionable scholarship claim – because anyone who has even flicked through Race: A Theological Account would probably find the idea that Carter isn’t scholarly difficult to believe.

  19. X-Cathedra, I’d echo Alex’s challenge to back up the claim of “questionable scholarship.” My hunch is that the problem for you, on the contrary, is the absence of what you call a “charitable hermeneutic for reading the tradition.” Why should one have such an approach? If I had to commit for or against such a thing, I’d certainly go “against.” I know that Carter is making that commitment against, and that’s precisely what makes his work so much more interesting than most “theologians.” There’s nothing intrinsically good about the word “tradition.” On the contrary, it can oftentimes be a prophylactic against thought.

  20. Just one other thing – to be fair to Carter he is a sympathetic reader of the tradition. In Race it is Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Great who provide the robust theology that Black liberation theology in Cone et al lack because of their endorsement of version of theological liberalism. Pretty sympathetic eh? – and as he himself notes, not dissimilar to the approach of Milbank.

  21. Alex and dbarber,

    Thanks for your responses. You are right, Alex, in your last comment that Carter does indeed elsewhere read the tradition with charity and think its something worth doing. But, dbarber, I should note that I didn’t mean to suggest that his problem is his failure to trust a supposed oligarchy of the dead. I simply meant that kind of charity in reading that should be expected of any scholar claiming to exegete another thinker, whether from the tradition (in Carter’s case, Milbank and other figures from Christian theological history) or not.

    I’ll qualify my comments by noting again that they are restricted to his class lectures and readings, which were a kind of laboratory for his project. Some of them are problems that will likely be remedied during the formal organization of his argument for a book (if he ever does write one on RO). And again, my issues aren’t necessarily with the nature of his conclusions (I think there is such a strain in Milbank), but are with some of his methods.

    While we read a number of Milbank’s work for the class, we never engaged in anything like close textual analysis when Carter was making his criticisms. What citations were made were either of single words or short passages with little attention to internal context and no attention to the questions and problems Milbank himself is trying to address. Overall Carter endorsed, with no explicit critical hesitation, a genealogical approach to Milbank’s project that cast everything he writes on the level of theory as entirely reducible to a subconscious imperialistic ideology “down here.” Now while genealogy can certainly do its job, even the most sophisticated genealogists were aware that it cuts both ways and calls into question the Archimedean point of the critical observer. When a few students raised concerns about this and the effect it should have for Carter’s alternative, he was dismissive; even interrupting one student to note that the point was neither interesting nor important.

    At least the danger of an overly-reductive reading of this kind should be clear: it would be simplistic to suggest that all of the metaphysical and dogmatic arguments that Milbank makes can be exhaustively reduced to whether or not he is a British theologian with a subconscious motive to reconquer the empire on the level of theory. Not only does it suggest a simplistic relationship between theory and praxis, but it fails to do justice to the fact that a number of concepts and theories central to Milbank’s theology not only predate him, but long predate the British empire. Carter’s basic response to this was, as I’ve noted, to cast folks like Aquinas and Benedict as proto-colonialists, whose dogmatic and metaphysical claims are nothing other than expressions of the same kind of imperial ideology. Now a story like this seems reductive to me, but I’m open to arguments. It strikes me as questionable scholarship only when it relies principally on assertions, “family resemblances,” or hermeneutic presuppositions that are never argued for, made explicit, or ones that students are actively discouraged from questioning.

    My point about about ecclesiology comes from the fact that Carter’s proposed solution to Milbank’s will-to-power was Bonhoeffer. This move makes sense, but what we read of Bonhoeffer was essentially limited to a critique of high ecclesiology and of the Church’s presumption to mediate Christ’s saving action. But this seems to me to extend to argument to throw out the Catholic/Anglican/Orthodox baby with the Milbank bathwater. Nor did we address why we should not have applied the genealogical fires to our reading of Bonhoeffer as well, since we applied it to Milbank, Pickstock, and the Medievals.

    Again, these are my impressions from experience, and reasons why I need to be convinced of the soundness of Carter’s project.

    Pax Christi,

  22. But Benedict’s project IS, in fact, imperialist — he claims that there was an intrinsic necessity for “the gospel” to become European. That claim in itself is enough for me to deny charity to a tradition that finds its representation in him. And Milbank has increasingly hitched his boat to Benedict.

    There are, in other words, interests in play here, including those of an imperialist ideology. Does that mean every statement made by a figure that also makes imperialist statements should be rejected? No. But i think it does call for an interrogation of why imperialist statements are continually made by figures of a certain theoretical bent. And my suspicion (perhaps i am wrong — if so, please explain how) is that hermeneutical charity is a way of foreclosing such interrogation.

  23. Oh, did i make a mistake? I assumed the Benedict at issue was the current pope, the obviously colonialist (and i guess thus not proto-colonialist) Benedict. Clarification?

  24. Yes, I mean the saint. Although I wasn’t intending to mention this, the Benedict comment occurred when, in discussion of MacIntyre’s _After Virtue_, St. Benedict came up and Carter went into a short speech about how St. Benedict was implicated in and in many ways represents the culmination of 16th century Western European colonial domination. I was a bit bewildered and mentioned that Benedict lived a good millennium before that. He seemed a bit confused. I imagine he meant someone like Ignatius (though I’d still contest that) and the Jesuits.

    To be charitable, I imagine he simply confused the saints. But then again, if that kind of charity forecloses interrogation, than wouldn’t I be justified in taking that as a sign of sloppy scholarship?

    Pax Christi,

  25. Ah, my mistake then — sorry about that.

    In the interests, though, of a consistent commitment to hermeneutical charity, I think it’s worth keeping in mind Carter’s interests, which are at once to maintain some kind of ultimately Christian perspective and to challenge, at an adequately fundamental level, the imbrication of Christianity in the invention of racializing discourse and the colonization of the globe. This is a really difficult endeavor, I think, and one that is going to seem disrespectful to some. But there is an ethical imperative here, one that i think shows a real degree of courage on Carter’s part. Perhaps I’m being a bit slipshod here, but it’s hard for me to imagine, off the top of my head, a thinker who responds to this ethical imperative while maintaining hermeneutical charity to “the tradition.”

    In other words, i think the problem with hermeneutical charity is that it tends to create a substance/accident mentality. Yes, the thought of X contributed to “bad effect,” but the substance of the thought of X does not require this bad effect. Does this sort of approach allow one to think the fact that colonization and racialization emerged in a specifically and self-consciously Christian tradition? My hunch is that it does not, and that if Carter is not showing proper charity it is because such charity prevents thought of the link between Christianity and colonization/racialization.

  26. Relevant here may be something (from Lerone Bennett Jr’s _Tea and Sympathy_) quoted in Toscano’s _Fanaticism_, which I think Anthony already mentioned:

    “Always, everywhere, John Brown was preaching the primacy of the act. ‘Slavery is evil,’ he said, ‘kill it.’
    ‘But we must study the problem…’
    Slavery is evil – kill it!
    ‘We will hold a conference…’
    Slavery is evil – kill it!
    ‘But our allies…’
    _Slavery is evil – kill it!_

  27. dbarber,

    I’m on board with you there. I agree that Carter’s project, especially regarding racial construction, is a noble and courageous one (even one that desperately needs doing). I think there is plenty of fruit in it. I only stress caution that we don’t replace Scylla with Charybdis here. It’s about balance, I think.

    Certainly such projects will rely upon some genealogy and some hermeneutic of suspicion. But what I mean by charity doesn’t conflict with these; I think rather it is presupposed by them. You need to at least properly identify your opponent if your critique is going to have some punch, even when your critique reduces him or her to shambles. I’d venture to say we all know that casting your target in the strongest possible light is the best preamble to a convincing deconstruction. But if you only ever reach parodies of your opponent, then you’re only deconstructing figments of your imagination, what you want your opponent to be. If only things were so easy! That’s often (though not always) shown by gaping holes in argumentation. Just because one has a noble cause doesn’t mean he or she gets a free pass to read into history what he or she wants (the ends simply don’t justify the means). If no challenging thinker exhibited this kind of hermeneutic charity, then they would not be worth reading. They would be sloppy scholars.

    I don’t really see the problem with a “substance/accident” mentality. It seems like it definitely can account for the fact that things like colonization and racialization emerge in self-consciously Christian traditions; it would simply hold that none of these emerge in any simple way solely BECAUSE the tradition is Christian. I don’t see why this approach would be surprising (at least among Christians in this case), because arguments that are all “substance” rarely have the explanatory power to do what they set out to do. Arguments of that kind of entailment are rarely convincing in any discourse and it seems like they wouldn’t be necessary to criticize or repent of even systematic collusion with evils.

    But your point is taken about the danger of being naively hospitable when reading the tradition.

    Pax Christi,

  28. It seems to me that X-Cathedra is pulling the move of talking endlessly about process as a passive-aggressive way of talking about content — that is, you’re stacking the deck methodologically so that you ‘ll get the results you want (and meanwhile “everyone agress” on your seemingly innoccuous method).

    There’s a difference between accuracy and charity, a difference you continue to ignore. Obviously we want to get our opponents’ arguments right so our critiques have some connection to reality — but “charity” implies that you have to believe everyone’s motives are pure, etc. The kind of charity toward the tradition you’re advocating would lead to us always assuming that Christian thinkers are advocating true Christian (i.e., “good”) values, though sometimes they sadly come up short. It’s impossible, in your scheme, for Christianity to either be bad or lead inexorably to bad consequences. Why should anyone agree to such terms? Why would that be any kind of model for open inquiry?

  29. Adam,

    Thanks for your response. Perhaps I shouldn’t be using charity as synonymous with accuracy. But barring that last paragraph about “substance/accident” stuff (which I could do a better job of articulating), haven’t I just been advocating accuracy? My comments on Carter’s class haven’t criticized him for departing from Aquinas or Scotus or Benedict, etc. I don’t really have a horse in the Milbank race, and as I’ve noted a few times it’s not the content of his position that so worries me. But it’s just as much a stacking of the deck to assume one’s own deconstructive reading need not be argued for. Is it really that controversial or hermeneutically naive to expect scholars to back up sweeping claims- no matter how radical they may be- with close textual analysis, attention to context, and sustained arguments rather than assertions? Is it really hard to see how claims like Carter’s could appear overly reductive in the absence of such arguments?

    Given what I’ve described of my experience (and assuming you believe me, which you may not), why would you expect me to find Carter’s position convincing? As far as I can tell, it would only be convincing were I to be so charitable toward him that I accept his presuppositions outright. But isn’t that precisely the kind of charity you (rightly) note is problematic?

    Pax Christi,

  30. “Is it really that controversial or hermeneutically naive to expect scholars to back up sweeping claims- no matter how radical they may be- with close textual analysis, attention to context, and sustained arguments rather than assertions? Is it really hard to see how claims like Carter’s could appear overly reductive in the absence of such arguments?”

    It is when what you mean by these things isn’t clear. If by context you mean something like “but empire and racism were fine then” or by claiming to be anti-reductive you mean something like “Christian ideas qua Christian ideas can never be shown to be wrong”. So, yeah, perhaps because of the name you go by and the way you sign off you seem kine of like an unreliable narrator for this class.

  31. I guess I just don’t see where we really disagree. You agree with Carter that there is an imperialist-like strain in Milbank. You say that in writing a book, Carter could probably overcome some of the inadequacies that you found to characterize his approach in class (and while I believe you’re accurately portraying your experience, I would also ask for some basic “charity” insofar as there are some things that you just really can’t do in the classroom unless you’re going to go all-out European seminar-style and basically present a full paper every week with minimal (if any) discussion) — and if you think he’s capable of doing that (and has in fact done that before in Race), that means that you don’t think Carter is actually just a question-begging non-scholar.

    So are you really saying anything more than “Carter should’ve done a better job teaching his class”? Isn’t that the kind of thing that’s better discussed in the context of a course evaluation form?

  32. *sigh*

    No, I don’t mean something like “empire and racism were fine then.” No, I don’t mean something like “Christian ideas qua Christian ideas can never be shown to be wrong.” But then again, I’d like to know how you parse the “qua Christian” part, because we may be talking past each other. And no, despite my creepy Latin sign-off and the brilliant implication that my name suggests blind trust, I do not in fact advocate uncritical acceptance of the tradition.

    What would a reliable narrator look like?

    Nothing like a little selective suspicion;)

    Pax Christi,

  33. Adam,

    I’m not really sure where we disagree either. As I said, he will likely fill in some of the holes simply because he will be forced to write out his arguments. And of course, as you point out, there is plenty that simply can’t be done in a class context. Granted. All I’m saying is that given my experience, there were signs of questionable methodology as he presented things in class. He did present the class as a kind of argument: saying that it will be his attempt to convince us of his reading of Milbank. In that sense I’m just taking him on his own terms. My only point is that I have reason to doubt that he will read Milbank with accuracy or that his arguments will be sufficient; I actually have reason to be suspicious.

    Pax Christi,

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