Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks a Radical Orthodoxian? A specter of Radical Orthodoxy in contemporary Western public discourse


Jonathan Sacks presented a noteworthy speech to Benedict XVI late last year, addressing the European context in general, the economic challenges in particular. After going through the transcript, one finds it curious that the gist of the speech very much resembles with the thesis tabled by John Milbank et al in the Radical Orthodoxy project.

The rabbi cited works done by various researchers from diverse background such as Niall Ferguson, David Landes, Eric Nelson, Rodney Stark, and William Rees-Mogg in his highlight on the undeniable influence of the Judeo-Christian heritage on the present economic system:

"...the market economy and modern capitalism emerged in Judeo-Christian Europe and not in other cultures like China that were more advanced in other ways. The religious ethic was one of the driving forces of this once new form of wealth creation.

Equally however, this same ethic taught the limits of capitalism. It might be the best means we know of for generating wealth, but it is not a perfect system for distributing wealth."

In similar fashion, Milbank offered his "archeaological approach" with "inestimable advantages" to narrate the emergence of present western secular discourses, of which the economic system is one:

"…on my reading, secular discourse does not just borrow inherently inappropriate modes of expression from religion as the only discourse to hand, […] but is actually constituted in its secularity by 'heresy' in relation to orthodox Christianity, or else a rejection of Christianity that is more 'neo-pagan' than simply anti-religious."
(John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond secular reason [UK: Blackwell, 1990; Second edition, 2006], p.3. Emphasis original.)

The Radical Orthodoxy's offered solution to our present problems is to "re-envision" a "more incarnate, more participatory, more aesthetic, more erotic, more socialized, even 'more Platonic' Christianity," (John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, Graham Ward, eds., Radical Orthodoxy: A new theology [UK: Blackwell, 1999], p.3).

Notice the identical language in Sacks' solution below?

"Economic superpowers have a short shelf-life: Spain in the fifteenth century, Venice in the sixteenth, Holland in the seventeenth, France in the eighteenth, Britain in the nineteenth, America in the twentieth. Meanwhile Christianity has survived for two thousand years, and Judaism for twice as long as that. The Judeo-Christian heritage is the only system known to me capable of defeating the law of entropy that says all systems lose energy over time."

With these similarities, one wonders whether is the Chief Rabbi a closet Radical Orthodoxian?

Probably Radical Orthodoxy has been criticized so much so that it has become a vulgarity in the field and an obscenity in its own right. Hence people can't resist but simply to shy from the label.

Nonetheless, as seen here, its specter lingers, and manifests itself in the works of Ferguson, Landes, Nelson, Stark, Rees-Mogg, and Sacks---those who are not related to Radical Orthodoxy in anyway.

There is always another way to call a female canine, no?

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