Milton and the Post-Secular Present: Ethics, Politics, Terrorism

Milton and the Post-Secular Present: Ethics, Politics, Terrorism

Milton and the Post-Secular Present: Ethics, Politics, Terrorism

Milton and the Post-Secular Present: Ethics, Politics, Terrorism

Synopsis

Our post-secular present, argues Feisal Mohamed, has much to learn from our pre-secular past. Through a consideration of poet and polemicist John Milton, this book explores current post-secularity, an emerging category that it seeks to clarify and critique. It examines ethical and political engagement grounded in belief, with particular reference to the thought of Alain Badiou, Jacques Derrida, Jürgen Habermas, and Gayatri C. Spivak. Taken to an extreme, such engagement produces the cult of the suicide bomber. But the suicide bomber has also served as a convenient bogey for those wishing to distract us from the violence in Western and Christian traditions and for those who would dismiss too easily the vigorous iconoclasm that belief can produce. More than any other poet, Milton alerts us to both anti-humane and liberationist aspects of belief and shows us relevant dynamics of language by which such commitment finds expression.

Excerpt

Since I became a tramp, I’m a somewhat better man. I couldn’t preach
to’em anymore.

—The Chaplain in Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children

Bertolt Brecht perceived clear parallels between the human cost of religion in the seventeenth century and the human cost of radical politics in the twentieth century. in the wake of the Munich agreement that opened Eastern Europe to Nazi expansion, and the growing recognition among communists of the excesses of Stalinist absolutism, Brecht composed the Life of Galileo, a play, as he describes it, concerned not with ecclesiastical resistance to scientific inquiry so much as with ‘the temporary victory of authority,’ and meant to reflect upon ‘present-day reactionary authorities of a totally unecclesiastical kind.’ If the moment of the play’s initial composition suggests a comment upon Nazism especially, its subsequent revisions and performances suggest other reactionary authorities: staged in the wake of the nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the 1945 American version raises questions on the ethical content of scientific discovery; and the 1955 performance in Cologne, Germany—the final one that Brecht oversaw—seemed to speak to the death of Stalin in 1953. in the former context, Brecht toys with including a Hippocratic Oath for the natural sciences, the absence of which has reduced its investigators to ‘a race of dwarfs who can be hired for any purpose who will, as on islands, produce whatever their masters demand.’ in the latter context, his editors note, ‘[T]he parallels are too clear: the Catholic Church is the Communist Party, Aristotle is Marxism-Leninism with its incontrovertible scriptures, the late “reactionary” pope is Joseph Stalin, the Inquisition . . .

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