Guests on Volume 138
• JOHN MILBANK on why politics needs to recognize the human soul (and what happens when it doesn’t)
• ADRIAN PABST on the “metacrisis” of liberalism
• GLENN W. OLSEN on Christopher Dawson’s understanding of religion and culture
• RUPERT SHORTT on how scientism misunderstands God and divine action
• OLIVER O'DONOVAN on the significance of love, community, and friendship as ethical and eschatological categories
• DAVID BENTLEY HART on the hazards and delights of translating the New Testament
“Liberalism is about the supremacy of the individual and in the wrong sense. It assumes that the individual is simply a focus of will, of self-motivation . . . and that apart from being a focus of will, the individual has merely kind of materially based impulses and intentions . . . So this tends to mean that the only public discourse we have is either about our individual rights . . . or else it’s about completely pragmatic processes.”
— John Milbank
John Milbank, theologian and president of the Centre of Theology and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham, discusses the Centre’s goals of reintegrating philosophy and theology, so as to equip theologians with the skills to address cultural and historical questions in light of a Christian account of reality. In this interview, Milbank also talks about how liberalism inadequately recognizes the human person in politics and economics. A robust account of political life needs to acknowledge the inherently transcendent nature of the human person; otherwise, argues Milbank, political and economic discourse assumes an anthropology that renders humans either as beasts or as machines. In The Politics of Virtue, co-written by Adrian Pabst, Milbank and Pabst describe a post-liberal vision of politics that denounces liberal, atomistic approaches to equality in favor of a “dynamic equity” that takes into account humans in time and at various stages of wisdom and knowledge.
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“It’s a metacrisis . . . because liberalism now really is seen to be going against the grain of humanity. It simply doesn’t recognize our political social nature; it doesn’t recognize association . . . Liberalism destroys the very foundations on which it rests. It needs a culture that is non-liberal in order to function. And that very non-liberal culture is precisely what liberalism undermines.”
— Adrian Pabst
John Milbank’s co-author Adrian Pabst discusses in this interview the nature of what many are calling the “crisis of liberalism.” Pabst argues that liberal assumptions about the human person and social relations lead to inherently self-destructive outcomes and that liberalism as an ordering principle for political life is parasitic upon pre-existing cultures if it does not establish a way to honor and secure non-liberal traditions. A better alternative to liberalism, argues Pabst, needs to preserve in its account of political life our primary status as social beings, which “flows out of the divine economy” of a trinitarian Creator.
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Glenn W. Olsen
“I don’t see that he really ever thought that [the triumph of Christianity] was going to happen. Rather, he didn’t want to see too much destruction and darkness, because there will not be a single uniting thing.”
— Glenn W. Olsen
Historian Glenn W. Olsen talks about Christopher Dawson’s approach to cultural history. Christopher Dawson, one of the leading cultural critics of the twentieth century, was an independent scholar who influenced such figures as T. S. Eliot and Russell Kirk. Dawson, known for his insistence on maintaining the religious, or cultus, component of cultural development, was often suspicious of “successionist” historical accounts of the West, which, in Olsen’s words, tend to “obscure the Christian influence of culture.”
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“God is seen in classical theism as the eternal source and cause of all, on a different plane from material reality. . . . God and creature-hood are too different to be opposites — they don’t occupy two separate and mutually exclusive zones in the way that a triangle can’t be a square or a sheep can’t be a man.”
— Rupert Shortt
Religion editor for the London Times Literary Supplement Rupert Shortt discusses some of the common misconceptions of God and creation that are made by champions of scientism. The apologetic debate over the existence of God depends very much on how we think about God and who the God is in which we believe or disbelieve. The mistake by both sides of the debate is often to think of God as a “link in a chain of causality,” but Shortt offers a different metaphor by which to understand causality and to understand God’s relation to us: light — that which itself is not seen, yet makes everything else visible.
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“The classical writers had an idealized conception of friendship: just two people (always men) from youth to age totally loyal to one another, both totally virtuous, somehow standing out. . . . For Aelred, it’s so different. You have to have lots of friends and they will be at all sorts of different levels of development in your friendship. You’ll have the friends you can wholly rely on and you will have the friends you can rely on a bit. And this sort of adapting of the ideal of friendship to the realities of the life of sanctification and grace in which, ah, ‘we’re not all sanctified yet,’ is very important.”
— Oliver O’Donovan
Theologian and ethicist Oliver O’Donovan talks about how “love” as an ethical and existential category connects to the theological virtue of love consummated in the Kingdom of Heaven. O’Donovan’s final volume in the Theology as Ethics series, Entering into Rest, deals primarily with how love is transformed and “made fit for the presence of God.” But correspondingly, O’Donovan’s work also inquires into how the love operating now in the eschatological Church affects how we order our lives tomorrow in the world. Drawing from St. Augustine and figures such as Aelred of Rievaulx, O’Donovan describes how the Church, communication, community, and friendship all significantly contribute to how we understand the role of love in both ethical and political reflection.
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David Bentley Hart
“I think one should never abandon the original idioms, for a number of reasons. One is . . . that they’re actually quite beguiling and attractive when they give you a picture of the time and the way the gospel is preached. I think, though, the most important reason for not abandoning the idioms is that we should never presume that our idiomatic usages today describe the same content. It’s a sort of crass notion that every age and every culture sees the world in the same way and the metaphors or mannerisms that a culture develops are simply the disposable husk of some clear kernel of simple information.”
— David Bentley Hart
Theologian David Bentley Hart explains his approach to translating the New Testament. In particular, Hart warns against the temptation to anachronistically introduce to a translation presupposed theological doctrines. While it is a given that every translation involves a level of interpretation, Hart wants to preserve as much as possible the integrity of the original idioms employed in the New Testament texts and the types of encounters the original hearers may have had with those texts.