Brooks's column this morning tries to summarize Charles Taylor's A Secular Age. There's nothing particularly striking in it to quote, but if you're not familiar with the book, the column will give you an overview of its concerns, which are the concerns of this blog. The basic question for the book, Taylor says, is "Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy but even inescapable?"
I think the answer to that question is complex, and Taylor's grappling with it is an honest and interesting response, which is as a believer, a Catholic, to embrace the pluralism at the same time as to rigorously pursue his own faith commitment. What other sane choice is there? Faith, most particularly the Christian faith, is most itself when it eschews a Constantinian project, which isn't to say that it hasn't an obligation to evangelize, which I think is done for most of us in our deeds in how we live rather than in aggressive public professions.
But I think it's also done by engaging with the spirit of the times and by reading the signs of the times, and so along those lines I wanted to say a word about John Milbank Radical Orthodoxy. I bring him up because I started reading his dialog book with Slavoj Zizek entitle The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic?
Taylor, Millbank, and Zizek are not for everybody, and the focus of this blog is not to become a forum for technical discussions of philosophy or theology, but I sense a shift in the zeitgeist and while only a minuscule percentage of educated people could spend more than thirty minutes reading any of these books without giving up in frustration, I think it's important to point to and try to understand what they are doing: Challenging the presuppositions of modernity and hypermodernity and creating a space for believers to become essential voices in shaping the thought and imagination of the global fusion culture that is now emerging. The Western tradition is this Christian tradition. It isn't the whole story, but it's a critical part of it.
Milbank's project to retrieve a tradition of Christian thought that uses Plato, and the Neoplatonism of Proclus and Iamblichus, and moves through the early church fathers, particularly Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine, then through Aquinas, Eckhardt, Boehme, the Cambridge Platonists, Kierkegaard and the nouvelle theologie of de Lubac, Congar and other Catholic thinkers of the early 20th century is one I find very appealing in its broad outline. I am all for a post-Kantian, post-secular retrieval of serious, high-level metaphysics, and I don't think it's possible to do without this Christian tradition being an essential dialog partner.
And that's why the Millbank/Zizek book interests me. I'm not ready to talk about that yet, and when I do, I'm going to try to make it as accessible as possible to lay readers. But I'm convinced what they are doing is worth understanding and knowing about.