I have a problem with John Milbank. It's the same problem I have with pretty much everyone who sets up the dialectic of modernity and positions Christianity as the alternative to it. Their version of Christianity, to be sure. And perhaps I've been guilty of that sin myself. But when the discussion of the deprecation of religion, or of atheistic secularity, or in Milbank's terms, the pagan and heretical theological misinterpretations of the Christian concept of the saeculum, points toward a dialectic of Christianity vs non-Christianity (religion vs atheism as it inevitably seems to boil down), I must object! This is the logic of the "keep Christ in Christmas" crowd, that seems to think that the problem with Christmas is all these non-Christians spoiling the fun. That political correctness is a means of getting Christianity to water itself down so that other people won't get offended by the truth. Yes, that's the pop side, but the advocacy of agonism in interreligious dialogue is no better. And the Christianity advocated is inevitably culturally conditioned. It carries a host of historical appurtenances that do not belong to the message. It is a thrown brick of Western cultural hegemony wrapped in a paper message of Christianity. It offends, but not with the truth of Christ crucified. It offends in the name of the glory of God.

Christianity is not the answer. It isn't an answer, at all. And the saeculum is not the problem. A healthy saeculum, in the basic sense of interregnum, is a sphere in which those who trust in God can do the work of God in humility. It is likewise a sphere in which those who disagree coexist. It is the ground between the already and the not yet. To insist that it be subjected to God's No is to forget that it has received God's Yes at the same time. It is hubris, the offense of replacing God with self. The aimless meandering of the contingent is ever in danger of being made to seem the long upward spiral towards divine truth. The world only relates to God by God's good grace. From creation through eschatological termination, with as many covenants and relationships as may develop between, God proves faithful and we prove offensive. We do not have a relationship with God, except as God sustains a relationship with us. We do not have knowledge of God, except as God sustains revelation to us. On the other hand, we have a remarkable plethora of attempts to own some aspect of this, to retain it in the absence of God. To mediate that unreliable immediacy. To remember, to teach, to explain, to understand. Because we look at God, and then something else. And, to be sure, God works with us. While they are honest attempts to be true to God, there is no evil in them, just human nature in the wake of God. But they are part of the saeculum. Christianity has no business opposing its permanent failure, its mediateness in the face of the immediate. Christianity is not right, any more than Judaism or Islam. Only God is supreme. And God keeps correcting and affirming this secular humanity (as though there were any other kind). The No and the Yes come upon everything, and we are not permitted to take the Yes for ourselves while deferring the No to another.

Forget post-secularity. Give me a healthy secularity, a truly pious humility that remembers at all times that every formation of this world stands under condemnation, its own included. That fears, loves, and serves God without concern for its own righteousness because God has given the Yes without connection to merit. That is Christian without lordship, without domination, without any right but the grace of God freely given. Judgment is God's and has been given, and the agon is no longer to be right, but to be faithful. If we believe that God has achieved the salvation intended through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as Christ, once for all, how then should we struggle against the saved? Least of all on behalf of some supposed righteousness of our own position!

... and yet I will continue to do theology. This may be hypocrisy on my part. You can tell that I think I'm right. More right, in fact, than another whose position is also wrong. I'm not sure what to do about that.


  1. Bravo! It's not hypocrisy. It's limited, but open to the possibilities of God. Cheers, my friend!

  2. As Barth says, the impossible possibility. We do it because we must, but never because it is ours to do. Salut!

    And a friend of mine has persuaded me that the basic effort of post-secularity is not as I have understood it. The idea is that the secular as it exists has had its essential religious elements abstracted away. The joys of Enlightenment rationalism. Intellectual honesty compels us to recognize the essential relevance of religion within the concept of saeculum, and thereby to repair the artificial void of it. I understand myself as in line with that thought in my expression above. In fact, I habitually wonder why we're still fighting "atheism" when it owes its existence to religious belligerence. The belligerently religious saeculum and the belligerently atheistic saeculum are a particle pair destined for mutual annihilation. They are the result of external force exerted upon the natural nucleus of a population whose religions are culturally integral elements of their existence.


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