Academic journal article Arena Journal

On Eschatology and the 'Return to Religion'

Academic journal article Arena Journal

On Eschatology and the 'Return to Religion'

Article excerpt

Introduction: On the 'Return to Religion'

First, two vignettes

We begin with Tony Blair's July 2009 Australian visit. Mr Blair converted publicly to Catholicism in 2008. In Australia that year, he argued that the West was facing an internal crisis of confidence, as well as external threats. Blair warned in particular against what he called 'aggressive secularism' and the Western tendency to 'see people of religious faith as people to be pushed to one side'.1 The Australian's 'editor at large', Paul Kelly, responded enthusiastically. Blair's position represented 'the best argument against the rise of secular intolerance and its distorting of history in the education system by seeking to downgrade or eliminate religion in the West's story'. This stood in contrast to the Australian Labour Party's 'disastrous' distancing from the Christian tradition. Kelly styled Blair as opposing 'the fashionable Western idea that religion can be suppressed or confined to the private realm' as 'a delusion and dangerous'. The Australian's position is not surprising, given the newspaper's long-standing, US-influenced neoconservative position. In the 1990s, Irving Kristol, the self-styled godfather of the neoconservatives' 'culture wars', was instrumental in brokering a politically necessary alliance of the neoconservatives with the evangelical Right. In order to do so, Kristol recurred to the old, functionalist argument that religion is necessary for social cohesion - a fact that he, like his teacher Leo Strauss, argues all great premodern thinkers had recognized. Although most neoconservatives were secular, Kristol reassured readers, many were becoming observant in their public lives.2

Calls for a 'return to religion' of some kind are, however, not restricted to the neoconservative Right, as Tony Blair's Catholic response attests. In the academic world, the Radical Orthodoxy movement - denominationally, a peculiar species of high Anglicanism - is predicated on an acceptance of the postmodern criticisms of modern political rationality, universality and institutions. If postmodernism tells us that there is no truth or lasting normative value, so even the natural sciences are one more narrative used to legitimize certain power interests ('just as fictional as all other human topographies').3 John Milbank, for example, directly argues that this relativism relegitimizes the Christian story as one more mythos in the marketplace of ideas.4 In the light of real anxieties about the social cohesion and lasting goals of later modern, liberal-capitalist societies and the failure of the secular, progressive vision, the Christian promotion of the substantive values of love, hope, charity and humility can seem the only remaining source powerful enough to resist the reduction of all elements of social life to economics. Here then we see the coin2 cidence of contemporary ideological opposites, around the motif of a 'return to religion', which the culture wars serve to conceal. The Radical Orthodoxasts' promotion of revealed religion as a repository of non-commodifiable human values today feeds directly into the 'return to religion' on the post-Marxist theoretical Left. Variants of this position (which position religion as source and preserve of longed-for normative direction) have over the last three decades been gravitated towards by many of the thinkers who the corporate media would demonize as the relativistic sources of the West's loss of faith: people like Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, Giorgio Agamben, and before them Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy, JeanLuc Marion and Jean-Francois Lyotard.5

The second vignette begins 11 September 2001. The flipside of the emerging post-political consensus on a return to religion in the liberal West is the positioning of the West's enemy as fanatical adherents to extreme Wahhabist forms of Islamic religion. These enemies are wholly hostile to the modern Western way of life as led by the United States, which is styled in their propaganda as 'the great Satan'. …

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