Just Let Me Read the Books I Have and Stop Tempting Me with These New Ones

From the website:

What matters is not so much that Žižek is endorsing a demythologized, disenchanted Christianity without transcendence, as that he is offering in the end (despite what he sometimes claims) a heterodox version of Christian belief.
John Milbank

To put it even more bluntly, my claim is that it is Milbank who is effectively guilty of heterodoxy, ultimately of a regression to paganism: in my atheism, I am more Christian than Milbank.
Slavoj Žižek

In this corner, philosopher Slavoj Žižek, a militant atheist who represents the critical-materialist stance against religion’s illusions; in the other corner, “Radical Orthodox” theologian John Milbank, an influential and provocative thinker who argues that theology is the only foundation upon which knowledge, politics, and ethics can stand. In The Monstrosity of Christ, Žižek and Milbank go head to head for three rounds, employing an impressive arsenal of moves to advance their positions and press their respective advantages. By the closing bell, they have not only proven themselves worthy adversaries, they have shown that faith and reason are not simply and intractably opposed.

Žižek has long been interested in the emancipatory potential offered by Christian theology. And Milbank, seeing global capitalism as the new century’s greatest ethical challenge, has pushed his own ontology in more political and materialist directions. Their debate in The Monstrosity of Christ concerns the future of religion, secularity, and political hope in light of a monsterful event—God becoming human. For the first time since Žižek’s turn toward theology, we have a true debate between an atheist and a theologian about the very meaning of theology, Christ, the Church, the Holy Ghost, Universality, and the foundations of logic. The result goes far beyond the popularized atheist/theist point/counterpoint of recent books by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and others.

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4 comments so far

  1. R.H. on

    The only thing stranger than the book itself is the fact that it’s being published by MIT.

  2. MJS on

    This is what theological discussion is supposed to be. Great post, Jeff. Thanks, especially, for the summary paragraphs. My humble, humble opinion? It’s all the “orthodox” theology being published that’s strange. Even worse is the reactionary preaching to an anachronistic choir masquerading as “cultural engagement” or “criticism.” What the world needs now is NOT another sure-footed New Testament scholar’s take on (fill in popular skeptic’s subject matter), or a debate between Richard Dawkins and some anxious Christian apologist.

    Thank God for the trouble-makers and the problematizers! A Milbank/Zizek book might actually amount to Christian theology refusing to indulge in premature, unearned transcendence. It looks like it might be an actual dialogue instead of apologetics posing as a discussion of “the facts.” I mean, what if they could both be partly wrong and sometimes right! It might actually be worth talking to one another. Milbank’s appears to be a theology behaving like it belongs in the larger world and the present moment.

    What’s unique is that he appears to accept that the contemporary context might actually be able to inform our understanding of the incarnation. A strange concept, perhaps, unless God becoming man were actually “monsterful event,” and not a problem to be treated or explained by a system or dogma.

  3. jeffreimer on

    Thanks, Matt. I should make it clear that I didn’t write anything in this post. It’s all copy from the MIT Press website.

  4. R.H. on

    “Milbank’s appears to be a theology behaving like it belongs in the larger world and the present moment.” An interesting observation; the usual criticism of Milbank is the precise opposite (e.g., Jeffrey Stout).


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