Saturday, 7 August 2010

Fantasy Island

The theologian with whom I have most in common, Don Cupitt (differences too, but the fundamentals are the same), dealt with John Milbank in his book Kingdom Come in Everyday Speech on page 49 (SCM Press, 2000). Postmodernist and conservative at the same time, Cupitt says Milbank echoed C. S. Lewis in his inaugural Cambridge lecture as if single-handedly trying to keep going a tradition that has died out in practice, a Church that ought to exist rather than one that does exist. It is a sort of a literary afterlife to make a space in which that once actual Christianity might repeat itself.

Cupitt overstates it, but only just: the tradition is still dying rather than dead, a minority in decline within a minority. In effect he classifies it as part of British fantasy-theology.

How out of touch John Milbank is regarding actual Christianity is shown in recent comments about Pope Benedict XVI coming to the UK in a report for AsiaNews.it (a Vatican based website) by Giulia Mazza.

The fact that John Milbank thinks that the Pope can be received positively in Britain because his "thinking about society, economics and human relationships is often far more insightful than that of the general run of secular culture" shows a staggering naivity about British religious culture.

The first point is that the British, especially the English, care little for the Pope, this one or any. There is some recognition that the last one connected with his Eastern European society and suported social movements to overturn communism. But this one shows a 'rationality' that has turned into arrogance, and he is part of an unfolding of a deeply unethical Church from inequality through to abuse.

Milbank is fantasising again if he thinks the opportunities are there for a great coming together of Anglicans and Roman Catholics. Being generally pro-gay and socially progressive, he seems to think that there is the coming together of Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism on this basis!

The debates about the role of women, married clergy and the norms for homosexuals are discussions that are now common to all the episcopally-ordered churches and in a globalised era it will prove anachronistic to think that they can be confined within any one single communion.

Yet the Roman Catholic Church has just announced that the attempted ordination of women is equivalent to child abuse. Thus the Roman Catholic foot goes in its mouth yet again, but the intention is clear. Milbank is fantasising again. So he does when it comes to these intended ordinariates:

I still think that the AC (Anglicanorum Coetibus) will be of great importance in the future. First because it involves a new recognition by the Papacy of the validity of the Anglican tradition, beginning to equate it more with Eastern Orthodoxy; secondly because it can create a fluidity between the two communions that will help to lead to full intercommunion in the future.

Surely Anglicanorum Coetibus is to arrive at a position in the Vatican where Anglican Churches have, for it, gone beyond the point of no return, that what Rome is doing is picking up some surface crumbs of Anglican style to be fitted into Roman dogma, and practically to set up a means by which it can poach some right wing clergy for its own shortfall.

There might be a Vatican recognition of the skills of Rowan Williams, but they would like him to be another John Henry Newman, and thus, in Milbank's own words regarding Newman:

Anglicans by no means feel that Newman 'betrayed' them by becoming a Catholic. On the contrary, they are very proud of Newman's double contribution to both modern Anglicanism and to modern Catholicism. Newman is a sign of unity: he belongs to both Churches.

Milbank suggests further our prayers to God through John Henry Newman.

I'd rather send my prayers to such a God through Francis William Newman, but then he would come out of his grave and jump on me that this is not legitimate. The transcendent, if it exists, is to be approached directly. The concerns of the transcendent, as I'd put it, can be approached looking at how others have tackled the issues, but in the end it is up to us to make our own journeys. If others point we also point, but we communicate directly and travel on our own feet.

John Milbank's attitude of ridiculous optimism even extends to the recent General Synod meeting. Regarding the Archbishops' amendment "intended to safeguard the interests of those who cannot accept the advent of women bishops", he states:

Although this was defeated, most people involved agree that these interests will be in any case adequately safeguarded under the arrangements now agreed upon.

So he completely misreads the very people for whom the Archbishops made their move. They are not satisfied with a code of practice. They have ever fewer options, but the most obvious being taking up the Pope's - if they are prepared to undergo a bit of self-sacrifice. Otherwise they can stay, sulk and continue to draw pay and pensions.

I doubt Milbank has much connection either with the liberals or close in Anglo-Catholic dress, who are really quite subjective and secular, and he clearly has little connection with the 'nutters' likely off to Rome, if he thinks that

Anglican liturgy, involving ordained women, is in many ways far more conservative and numinous in character than much modern Catholic liturgy, in which the lay involvement of both men and women seems rather random and ill thought-through.

Then he thinks the Latin Mass has its place, and Anglicans must preserve its best worship.

The man is an island to himself, if with a very small bunch of followers who with him seem to think that postmodernism gives a licence to fantasy.

2 comments:

The young fogey said...

Anglican liturgy... is in many ways far more conservative and numinous in character than much modern Catholic liturgy.

True. I explained that.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Liturgical modernity and Catholicism eh? What a mixture.