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Milbank on Scientism, Sex, and Personhood

The latest issue of The Other Journal has a fascinating interview with John Milbank on contemporary atheism.  In the process a whole mess of things get talked about, including the sexualization of contemporary culture in contrast with the sort of inverted totalitarianism that obtains in regard to all other forms of freedom.  Here’s just one snippet:

“Science is the freedom to know and is Faustian. Beyond this is the right to choose one’s lifestyle. But of course one can’t interfere with the freedom or happiness of others nor the power of the State. The really crucial thing here which the left has missed is that sexual freedoms have increased exponentially while all other freedoms have declined.

Today in Great Britain you scarcely have the right to demonstrate and a higher proportion of the population is in prison than are in China. The boy at the shop counter with no customers is not allowed to read a book to improve himself all day, but who cares what he gets up to with sex and drink after the shop closes? Of course there’s also a double think about sex—its all OK, male sexuality is nearly always exploitative, etc… But in general it would seem that, as Adorno and Horkheimer predicted, sexualization is intended to keep us all quiet: neurotic, hysterical, frustrated and unhappy but still ‘looking’. With sex divided from procreation, science and sexual freedom come together.

So by supporting the total disjuncture of sex and procreation, the left is really supporting a new mode of fascism. ‘Women’ are lined up with science and choice in order to produce a new kind of ideal human subjectivity—male and autonomous and yet pliant in ‘female’ manner. The newly envisaged female body is the final site of the coming together of scientific objectivity and absolute freedom of choice. Perhaps one could even speak here of a new racism of the human race as such—it’s to be made the object of an endless ‘objective’ improvement and expression of a will to freedom/will to power. Of course this also means that the specific phenomenology of the female body is destroyed. It’s denied that this body is inherently linked both to the male body (as also vice-versa) and to another body that is itself and yet becomes not itself—the baby. Having denied the link of babies to men and also to women save as objects of their (‘male’) choice, babies thereby become pure consumer objects and all human personhood is abandoned.”

–Ben Suriano, “Three Questions on Modern Atheism: An Interview with John Milbank“, The Other Journal June 4 (2008)


  1. Devin Rose wrote:

    Right on! His ideas correspond closely with John Paul II’s as explained in the Theology of the Body and Love and Responsibility.

    These are some of the main reasons why the Catholic Church opposes contraceptive practices that divorce procreation from the marital embrace.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 10:30 am | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    I find the Catholic witness on that point to be very compelling indeed. Although, of course as a single person that is pretty easy to say as it currently costs me nothing!

    Nevertheless we have to ask the hard questions and be willing to submit sexuality to the gospel if we really want to be Christians.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 11:02 am | Permalink
  3. Hill wrote:

    Milbank’s emerging affinity for recent and current RC magisterial thought is a fascinating (and encouraginng) phenomenon. It seems like only yesterday he was charging the encyclicals of JPII with “crypto-fascism.”

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 11:17 am | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, his stuff in Being Reconciled on angels and transcendental homosexuality seems a far cry from what he’s saying here. Which is good. When I read that I was flabbergasted at how ridiculously he strove to sexualize everything.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  5. David wrote:

    I’m also increasingly encouraged by Milbank’s positive positioning vis-à-vis the Roman Catholic church. I’m not sure he would have changed his mind on the issue of homosexuality but his was always a more nuanced position and he rejected the idea that heterosexual relationships should no longer be the normative paradigm.

    I’d be interested to hear which “significant public places” are beginning to listen to the new political agenda he seems to be promoting. Phillip Blond seems to think David Cameron is going someway to embodying this “Red Toryism” but I’m not at all convinced by that, even if I am of a ‘Red Tory’ or ‘One Nation’ conservative persuasion. Not surprisingly, people have tried to link this reference to the Tories (in particular in a letter he wrote to the ‘Guardian’ newspaper) to Milbank’s ‘fascist’ tendencies!

    I also wish Milbank would write as clearly as he expresses himself in interviews in his academic works…

    Friday, June 6, 2008 at 8:48 am | Permalink
  6. Hill wrote:

    This is actually the best part of the article:

    “The ‘other religions’ thing doesn’t matter. The world as a whole is rapidly Christianizing and even in Islamic countries Muslims are finding their own intriguing Islamic way to Christ in ever increasing numbers; this is readily verifiable.”

    And by best, I mean most hilarious. “This is readily verifiable” is classic Milbank.

    Friday, June 6, 2008 at 9:20 am | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:

    Oh yeah. I found that pretty hilarious as well.

    Friday, June 6, 2008 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  8. David wrote:

    Amusing indeed, but if there really were any evidence of this I’d love to read about it.

    Friday, June 6, 2008 at 11:38 am | Permalink

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