Daniel Whistler on “Improper Names for God” and Other More Inflammatory Items: Sunday Link Post

Following of week of Adam alienating our readers with controversial statements like, “Maybe this bin Laden guy was sort of a bad person” and people objecting to his objections of their policing because he too was policing, I thought we could all use a healing link post.

The UK based Association for Continental Philosophy of Religion has posted audio from two of their recent seminars. One is by David Lewin on “The Middle Voice in Eckhart and Heidegger“, but of particular interest to AUFS readers will be Daniel Whistler’s “Improper Names for God“.

For comedy purposes I’d suggest checking out James KA Smith’s grumpy, old man exasperation at this new-fangled blogging stuff. Added to this comedy is, well, Christians talking about universalism.

Speaking of universalism, it appears that some headway can be made between British Atheists and British Christians on the basis of the universality of racist logic. In a recent blog post flagged up by Lenin’s Tomb the racist Richard Dawkins suggests that, while all religion is evil, Islam is an unmitigated evil that may require atheists supporting Christians in Africa in conflicts between the two evil groups. This reminded me of the racist logic I located at work in Milbank’s approach to Islam that I flagged up in an article recently (finally!) published  in Political Theology. The editors asked that I move this into a footnote and soften some of the language, since it was considered inflammatory, so I’ll quote from the bulk of that footnote below:

Milbank’s own recent (and somewhat troubling) views concerning the confrontation between “the West and political Islam” show that his own ontology of peace must be fought for, or at the very least, defended from Islam: “it is also dangerous to our liberty to ignore the fact that most global terrorists are now indeed part of political Islam and that other manifestations of this also threaten the West. This is because the majority Islamic religious view that political law and the political state are full aspects of a religious order is not compatible with Christian religious views. There can be no dialogue’ about this. To the contrary, this constitutive aspect of Islam does in fact need to be defeated – as peacefully as possible. […] Suddenly the idea that we do indeed have to defend ‘Christendom’ seems not entirely ridiculous to all those in the West who think clearly and rigorously.” John Milbank, interview by Luiz Felipe Pondé, “Appendix: An Interview with John Milbank and Conor Cunningham,” in Belief and Metaphysics, eds. Peter M. Candler Jr. and Conor Cunningham (London: SCM Press, 2007), 507. The closeness of Milbank’s views here with that of the court intellectuals of the American empire should give pause especially because of his own criticisms of the American empire. Any construction of a binary of “the West” and Islam already suggests a stratification that is not only conservative, but potentially extremely harmful in that it slips Schmitt’s friend/enemy binary into hierarchical political theology. This slippage is present when he says, “For to a certain degree, it is indeed plausible to say that the arrival of Islam in Europe is a danger and to say this has, of course, nothing to do with racism.” However, he immediately follows this by saying, “It is a threat in population terms” (ibid).

Isn’t that charming? And yet some people like to mock those who reject RO on these grounds…

Don’t you all fell loved up now?

16 thoughts on “Daniel Whistler on “Improper Names for God” and Other More Inflammatory Items: Sunday Link Post

  1. My post had nothing whatsoever to do with RO, nor really Milbank. His name was a cipher for the larger, or rather only, point of the satirical post. It was a reaction to the reactions to to the killing of Osama bin Laden. Although if I’m honest the underlying frustration goes back to the inter-Anglican fights over authority in recent years. In that conversation, it is very important to know what each bishop has to say about everything, so that it can be dissected, commented on and so on.
    You’ll notice the tag on my post is “judgment in an information age.” Short, instant, quippy judgment of global figures and events is the stuff of 24 hr “news stations,” and is not conducive to the sort of sustained, intelligent and engaged commentary we need.
    Since our last encounter, Anthony, I’ve taken it as a goal not to make passive commentary on specific posts or people, so please don’t make the assumption that this was really a veiled slap at those who don’t dig RO. I myself am troubled by Milbank’s East/West dichotomy and his “clash of civilizations” model of Islam and Christianity.

  2. It wasn’t a reference to your whole post, of course. I have re-read your final sentence a few times and, in the context of the sarcasm of the post (NB. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t have been sarcastic! I’m quite fine with your tone or whatever, but you don’t need my approval either.), I still can’t for the life of me figure out how to read it otherwise. What am I missing?

  3. For the sake of my post it could just as well have been Zizek, who’s been written off as racist because of an op-ed piece, or against-the-cause because of his criticisms of China, or Rowan Williams, who’s confused comments on bin Laden has caused ire, or whoever.

    I suppose that inasmuch as I haven’t yet written Milbank off despite some terrible popular pieces and lukewarm support of Blond, I can see what you mean. But I guess all I can ask is that it be understood as part of the larger post. It just wasn’t meant to be about him, he was just the first example that popped in my mind when I was writing.

  4. Tony,

    I’m not going to start down a weird path of psychoanalyzing why you choose Milbank instead of Williams (I’ve never heard anyone outside a tiny fringe upset with Zizek for criticizing China… who are you thinking of?). But, and you’re free to do this, you’re fooling yourself if Milbank’s support of Blond is “lukewarm” (I’ll gladly explain why in an email, let me know). And it is clear that you were mocking those who have written him off. The whole point of the post was to mock those who write off people you like on the basis of a particular view, like, I’m guessing, your example of Williams. The only difference, and it is an important one, is that writing off Milbank for his politics is called for because they expose problems that are endemic to his thought.

  5. Anthony,

    That you think my post was about “mocking those who write off people I like” shows clearly that you don’t understand what I was saying. The point manifestly is not about my own pet celebrities; in fact my point works for public figures of whatever stripe. It’s about a general tendency in public discourse that I’ve noticed. The rest remains internet-psychoanalyzing.

    I would be interested in an email, though, about what you were saying.

  6. Milbank’s remark that resisting Islam has ‘of course’ nothing to do with racism reminds me of his attempt to argue that women’s fight for the vote and other legal equalities led to a surrender of their distinctive feminine power. So ‘of course’ his defence of gender essentialism has nothing to do with sexism – he really wants to empower all you ladies (and no doubt open doors for you too).
    Despite his attempts to distinguish his Christendom socialism from Blond’s servile Tory ideology, Milbank’s recent interventions in favour of the UK government’s withering attack on the public sector demonstrate the opposite.
    RO’s denial of even the formal possibility of a space of dialogue, and its affirmation of an all consuming narrative rooted in Western soil leave it few places to go than a more or less soft fascism.

  7. OK, if I’m clearly not getting it can you summarize it for me? I normally wouldn’t ask someone to do that, but you’re writing in a form of “indirect communication” so forgive me for asking. Is it just the internet aspect you’re mocking then?

    I’ll email you now.

  8. By the way, Daniel’s talk is excellent, and more or less shows how specuative realist monism leads directly to the kind of linguistic anti-realism espoused by Don Cupitt. How’s that for a heartwarming reconciliation of extremes?

  9. To avoid further unclarity I’ll use Anglican problems as an example. So recently there was a meeting of the Anglican Primates in Ireland and, as expected, all the “liberal western” Primates showed up and many “conservative (“African”)” Primates didn’t come.

    This caused a huge stir and both the “conservatives” and “liberals” made the commenting rounds. And as so often happens, comments fell along predicted lines and predicted arguments.

    So with bin Laden, people latched onto particular reactions and made knee-jerk replies that could later perhaps be clarified, or simply failed to grasp what was being said. Or even the fact that some public figures didn’t say anything were criticized simply for not having a public statement on the matter.

    So it’s this ungenerous latching onto public statements, or demanding them from people who haven’t even said anything, that I was getting at. As if every event requires every public figure to make a declaration on the matter – and a declaration that is ideologically binding, about which no qualifications can be made or conversation had.

    We all say shit we regret or would reword or qualify with some reflection.

  10. Re. Milbank, Blond and the Tories: there are growing concerns in, ahem, rather unexpected places that this really is quite a worrying development… from well within his own ‘team’ if you will.

    On a tangent, at some point it would be interesting to hear someone from this blog say something about Maurice Glasman (perhaps Alex?). Despite the closeness on lots of issues, he’s obviously been one of the most vocal critics of Red Toryism and the coalition, primarily on the grounds that it (they) lack a proper critique of the market. Given that Glasman is pretty much a Polanyian (as I understand), and therefore potentially has a much more robust critique of neoliberal capitalism, doesn’t he (and by proxy Ed Miliband?) offer a more fruitful avenue for political reform in the British context? I know some people (even Milbank) would want to conflate Red Toryism and Glasman’s ‘Blue Labourism’ (or whatever it’s called), but it does seem that quite a key ideological difference exists between them on this issue, with big implications for economic policy.

    (Apologies that this is slightly off topic).

  11. Hullo Gerry,

    The first chapter on my PhD is on communitarianism in UK politics with and has gradually become something looking in detail at Red Toryism and Blue Labour on neoliberalism. I’d argue that Glasman is rather perversely for mainly of the goals of Red Tory – indeed this is implicit in what he has written about it himself. Indeed, the main problem for Glasman is (like many people) he can’t pick out neoliberalism – so he waffles on about German ordoliberalism as if it is a model of social democracy, when in fact it was one of the primary species of neoliberalism at its beginning and is in a sense key (as Michel Foucault knew) to understanding of neoliberalism – since in way, ordoliberalism is closer to the popularist version of neoliberalism than the American libertarian version. Co-determination, which he absolutely loves, is mostly a bit of a shabby compromise and was not the result of ordoliberalism but its moderation by Catholics, Marxists and socialists.

    I think the difference between the two is that basically Blue Labour is a bit more tied (but not much) to traditional labour organising whereas Blond is really cold on unions despite his love of ‘association’. Glasman talks a lot about capital and commodification, themes that I can surely get on board with, but supplements it with a ridiculous, ugly and inconsistent anti-immigration rhetoric – on one side London Citizens run a pro-naturalisation of immigrants campaign (Strangers into Citizens) which was good, but on the other, we need to lock down our borders, yet on the other community organising with immigrant communities in London in BME groups. As someone who has worked on a number of anti-deportation campaigns (including the one I alluded to above) I find all anti-immigrant rhetoric abhorrent.

    If you e-mail Anthony, APS can you send it on, cheers.

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