My long silence around here must now come to an end. As folks get back to school and other such pursuits, I will do my part to send some distractions peoples’ way via the blog.
For now, folks would do well to check out a recent post by Tim McGee about John Milbank’s inherently imperialistic theology and its detrimental relation to Christian mission and Christian approaches to Isalm (I would also suggest browsing through the old posts at Rwanda and Theology — there’s a lot of good stuff there). McGee rightly points out that, for all Milbank’s talk of an ontology of peaceable difference, for him “the form of harmonic difference is simply a nondifferential difference, an irrelevant difference, for they will basically become like us (and thus the binary still reigns supreme).”
McGee concludes, rightly, that for Milbank:
For the sake of a better Islam, Islam must be subjugated to Euro-Catholic cultural forms. Since there are some small strands of this culture within Islam, Euro-Catholic Christians can and ought to form them in this way. Since they are small and minor traditions, such a transformation can only be secured by Euro-Catholic rule. Finally, since the differences between Islam and Christianity are irreducible, such Euro-Catholic rule must be perpetual: Muslims must be continually coerced into striving to become what will forever escape them, that is, a proper (Western, Christian) human community. That is missions-qua-Milbank, which is utterly incompatible with missions-qua-scripture (Acts).
The Episcopal church has defrocked one of its ministers for being both Christian and Muslim. Well, don’t that beat all! At least they managed to defrock her, I suppose. Even though she has been practicing both faiths and seeing no real contradiction there for two years.
Stories like this are almost too ridiculous. This is what happens when the construction of religion in the modern West is taken seriously as a way of living one’s life. After all if all its about is whatever we think our spiritual or existential needs are then why the hell not? According to Ann Redding, the defrocked minister, the issue is just doing all that you feel you need to for personal fulfillment. “I am not saying you have to go somewhere else to be complete” she says. “Some people don’t need glasses, some people need single lenses. I need bifocals.”
What I find funny is why her imam or mosque put up with this while the Episcopals managed to step in and put their foot down. Aren’t Muslims supposed to be really serious about their faith and stuff? I can see why and Episcopal might look at faith as a pair of glasses you might need to see the world how you want to, but a Muslim? Crazy.
The always interesting and entertaining Terry Eagleton has a fascinating article in the latest issue of Commonweal entitled “Culture and Barbarism.” A couple quotes:
Islamic fundamentalism confronts Western civilization with the contradiction between the West’s own need to believe and its chronic incapacity to do so. The West now stands eyeball-to-eyeball with a full-blooded “metaphysical” foe for whom absolute truths and foundations pose no problem at all-and this at just the point when a Western civilization in the throes of late modernity, or postmodernity if you prefer, has to skate by on believing as little as it decently can. In post-Nietzschean spirit, the West appears to be busily undermining its own erstwhile metaphysical foundations with an unholy mélange of practical materialism, political pragmatism, moral and cultural relativism, and philosophical skepticism. All this, so to speak, is the price you pay for affluence.
The idea, touted in particular by some Americans, that Islamic radicals are envious of Western freedoms is about as convincing as the suggestion that they are secretly hankering to sit in cafés smoking dope and reading Gilles Deleuze.
That problem encompasses a contradictory fact: the more capitalism flourishes on a global scale, the more multiculturalism threatens to loosen the hold of the nation-state over its subjects. Culture, after all, is what helps power grow roots, interweaving it with our lived experience and thus tightening its grip on us. A power which has to sink roots in many diverse cultures simultaneously is at a signal disadvantage. A British defense think tank recently published a report arguing that a “misplaced deference to multiculturalism” that fails “to lay down the line to immigrant communities” was weakening the fight against political extremists. The problem, the report warned, was one of social fragmentation in a multicultural nation increasingly divided over its history, identity, aims, and values. When it came to the fight against terrorism, the nation’s liberal values, in short, were undermining themselves.
H/T to Horstkoetter.
There are three “Abrahamic” faiths. Judaism, Christianity, Islam alone among world religions trace the beginnings of their story back to a single patriarch, all of whom claim to be his true heirs, interpreted variously of course. But herein lies the fundamental difference between Christianity on he one hand and Judaism and Islam on the other. For Christianity it is precisely not legitimate ethnic or national descent from Abraham that places one within the people of God. This is a distinctly biblical point. God is able to raise up true children of Abraham from stones (Luke 3:8), it is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no value (John 6:53). The incorporation of persons into the people of God according to the Christian faith, be they Jew or Gentile is always a distinctly unnatural event.
This is clear in the Pauline corpus with regard to the Gentiles (see especially Romans 11 cf. Eph 2:12-13). However the Johannine corpus goes even further in arguing that being reborn into the true community of God’s people is a miraculous novum, not just for Gentiles, but for the Jews as well. “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13). The people of God, in John’s gospel in particular are constituted not by any sort of legitimate, natural, historical succession. Rather the people of God are constituted by the miracle of being reborn by the Spirit into a radically new community that interrupts and scandalizes all “natural” communities.
Thus, from the perspective of inter-religious dialogue, one key element that distinguishes Christianity from the other two Abrahamic faiths is Christianity’s explicit denial of what the other two vehemently claim, namely that “legitimate” descent from Abraham substantiates the claims of their faith. Christians make no claim to be legitimate children of Abraham, rather they claim that their status as God’s people is derived from nothing inherent within themselves either ethnically or politically. We are the people of God solely and only because of the radical miracle brought about in Jesus Christ which shatters and scandalizes any “natural” claim to be God’s people through historical natural succession.
There is one thing and one thing alone that distinguishes Christianity, Judaism, and Islam from all other world religions: they all trace themselves back to the same person, Abraham. For all three of these religions, the connection to the patriarch, Abraham is a central part of their identity. These three religions, unique among all others, consider themselves in some sense deriving from Abraham.
The Jewish theologian Peter Ochs has often highlighted the importance of the common Abrahamic heritage of these three faiths in his dialogues with John Howard Yoder and in his response to 9/11. If there is any theologian who takes the issue of “Abrahamicity” seriously in terms of inter-religious dialogue, it is him.
Here is my question: what theological significance, if any, does the common Abrahamic heritage of Judaism and Islam have from a Christian theological perspective? Clearly we cannot think about Judaism and Islam the same way we think about, say, Hinduism. At some level our stories are connected. What theological difference does this connection make?