Chapter 8. Stained Bloodline: Insincere Conversos

For fans of the currently trending movement described as Radical Orthodoxy, also known as the Cambridge movement since it began there, is a war cry which goes, “Once, there was no secular…” This represents, for the movement the call to expose false pretentions to secularity in modern thinking. John Milbank, who first wrote this in his Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason, argues that the “secular” was an invention. Tracing the development of the social sciences, he reveals in that work the rejection of the religious and the theological starting with the Enlightenment through into the modern era. In fact historical-genealogical studies of the origins of the social sciences reveal that these are indebted to theological sources, in spite of themselves: in the veins of prodigal modern secular social science run the blood fathered of religion.

Sociology which is a paradigmatic instance of secular social science, whilst clearly an attempt to replace theological speculation, Milbank explains, is itself deeply theological, despite its pretentions to secularity or secular social scientism. At the end it also purports to offer claims about overarching goals for the human race, except that God has been substituted. It simply replaces one kind of final end with another. It is hence just as much theologically motivated as say, Christian theology. Only that, it is bad theology in disguise. Therefore, Milbank rejects that modernist rejection, and for that reason, describes Radical Orthodoxy as a post-modern (i.e., after and against modernism) movement. The response? Welcome good (Christian) theology. Return to orthodoxy, in a radical way.

The movement is pertinent and relevant, because we are still very much in the modern era. Even if there are incommensurable post-modern pockets of resistance which welcomes thinking that ventures into the realm of the theological, these are by far compromises. Much of post-modern thinking is of the sort J-F Lyotard describes as being incredulous of grand-narratives, and has the tendency to throw out the baby with the bath water. Lyotardian post-modernism is unwilling to discriminate between true and false grand narratives, and is diplomatically fearful of all of them taken together, and whilst it welcomes all, is nevertheless cautious of the dominance of any one particular account. The irony in all of this is that the power gap is taken up by the obsession with anti-metaphysical, anti-theological, technological and scientific thinking. This way of thinking is easily aligned with atheism, as Richard Dawkins shows us clearly, and soon the path is paved for a kind of militant atheism, which is itself a kind of anti-religious religious fervor, with its own atheistic grand-narrative, such as naturalistic evolution. Radical Orthodoxy’s post-modernism seems to me different and discriminating: it distinguishes good from bad theology and rejects the modernist grand narratives for being bad ones and seeks to usher in and re-introduce the kinds of grand narratives that are ethically wholesome and metaphysically informed.

While still in its infancy, Radical Orthodoxy scholars offer interesting studies of great medieval theologians like Thomas Aquinas, and explain how for him, truth is always couched in the larger context of theological and metaphysical speculation about ultimate ends and our radical creaturely ontological dependence on God from which we all share of His existence (esse) through participation, and thus Aquinas’ account of truth is deeply theological. A proper appreciation of the epistemology of truth, therefore cannot end with social scientific interrogation, but must enter a discussion that is fully theological. The practical implication of this is that Universities, which are centers of learning in its quest for the truth (if they still are), need to conduct its investigations about these meta-questions theologically. The case is easily made, therefore, for the serious study of theology in the University.

This point of view is corroborated by analytic studies regarding the presuppositions of the credibility of truth claims—yes even scientific truth claims. Alvin Plantinga, for example, has pointed out that the suggestion that we actually can get to some kind of truth, i.e., an accurate account of reality, supposes that our minds are functioning properly, and this in turn cannot be maintained unless its evolutionary coming to be had been the result of some form of interventionist intelligent design by a God. Short of this, there is no way we could warrant saying that our grasp of reality is really a grasp of reality; it could well be some epiphenomenon that is sufficiently useful for our evolutionary survival. The same I think may be said of our account of right and wrong: strong fully prescriptive claims that enable us to criticize wrongdoing as unjust and evil, are in the end fictions, nonsense on stilts unless the epistemic capacities that grasp these moral truths have been intelligently designed through its evolutionary genesis by God.

From this it follows: the modern University, which is often found to be secular, dismissive of religious and theological departments as well as philosophy departments concerned with natural theology and the philosophy of religion—all of these completely impractical and un-patentable!—and often obsessed with the secular sciences, is therefore, from this point of view, very deficient indeed, and cannot in the end fulfill its major function in the service of the truth. To remedy this, one must be serious about establishing departments where the study of theology can flourish.

But this is a hard pill to swallow for Universities. Universities, seeking as they do to establish themselves in international league tables which especially celebrate modern scientific research and achievements have an interest to disregard the important place which theology has in the proper frame of mind for the quest for truth in its complete dimensions. These departments usually are those that are first to face blood-letting cut-backs. This anti-religious intellectual stance has become very public lately. Indeed militant counter cry of the holder of Oxford’s Charles Symoni Chair of the Public Understanding of Science is, “God is a Delusion!” Blasphemy! This is not always helped by people like Dawkins who celebrate the fact that most of the Fellows of the Royal Society, the scientific intellectual elite, in fact think little of religion. There is on the part of Universities, a purposeful amnesia, a strategic forgetfulness of their shameful origins.

Photographic studies of University buildings and architecture or other historical memorabilia of academic institutions are therefore very useful. Capturing forgotten or ignored signs of past religious and theological influences reminds students, professors, administrators and chancellors of their religious due and help to un-conceal that stained bloodline that so currently shames them. Capturing evidence of the religious in the architecture of academic institutions with the camera therefore helps purge us of these secular conversos, whose turn towards the truth is insincere and incomplete, because un-theological.

REFERENCES

Jude Chua Soo Meng, “Design in Education, Inclusive Design Research and the Idea of a University” in SSRN: available here.

(First delivered at the “Quodlibetal Questions in Education” Colloquium-Seminar during the Doctoral Research Week at the Institute of Education, University of London, as Visiting Academic in June 2011.)

Jude Chua Soo Meng, “The Reason of God: Practical Reasoning and Its Anti-Naturalistic Implications” Angelicum, 83, (2006), pp. 21-42

GALLERY

Here is a fridge magnet of the coat of arms of the University of Oxford, which I visit on occasion. It reads: "Dominus, Illuminatio Mea", which means, "The Lord is my Light", taken from the opening of Psalm 27

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