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Mil Bank

Mil Bank

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Published by: AnthonyPaulSmith on Apr 11, 2010
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11.1 (2010) 126-135]
 Political Theology
(print) ISSN 1462-317X doi:10.1558/poth.v11i1.126
 Political Theology
(online) ISSN 1473-1719
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010, 1 Chelsea Manor Studios, Flood Street, London SW3 5SR.
15 V 
 John Milbank 
The University of NottinghamNew LentonNottingham NG7 2RDUK  john.milbank@nottingham.ac.uk 
This is a response to Slavoj Žižek, which carries the debate between us for
- ward. This debate is published as
The Monstrosity of Christ
edited by CrestonDavis and published by MIT Press, 2009.
: Catholic, Chesterton, Hegel, Protestant, scientism, Slavoj Žižek.
Žižek and I, whatever he may suggest, do not seriously disagree about
the reading of Hegel and Lacan; that is not what is at issue between us.He tries, for example, to say that I do not fully allow that for Hegel the
nal synthesis involves a complete release of contingent difference, but
I make it clear that I agree with him about this. As to Chesterton’s viewson magic, elves and miracles, I leave it to the reader to check who isright.Much of his response to me consists in a simple dogmatic reiterationof the claim that an “Hegelian” (Protestant, gnostic and atheist) reading of Christianity is clearly the “true” one. None of my Catholic argumentsagainst this conclusion are really dealt with.
Žižek’s response nonetheless tends to conrm my claim that the really 
serious issue in the West still lies between Catholic and Protestant and notbetween Right and Left. He repeats the standard view that monotheismtends to disenchant and Christian monotheism disenchants absolutely. Isubmit that this uncritically accepts a Protestant “whiggery” concerning a supposedly necessary development. Contrast this with the CatholicCharles Taylor’s attempt in
 A Secular Age
to show that secularization was a contingent accident in the Latin West and happened because of agradual decision that the more “pagan” and “festive” elements in Catholic
Without Heaven There is Only Hell on Earth
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010.
Christianity were alien to its true spirit which was taken to be disciplinary and organizational. (There is a big debt to both Foucault and Ivan Illichhere.)
Yet in the early modern period it became clear that such an attitude was far better expressed by a revived Stoicism; its Christian character istherefore highly debatable.
Moreover, he also conrms my thesis that without a realist belief in
a transcendent God and heaven, the ontological ground for hope for atransformed human future is removed. This is shown in the fact that theconsequence of removing the
character of Orthodox Christian-ity—whereby one
proceeds from cross to resurrection, from sorrow 
to joy, from tragedy to resolution, from death to life—is that the signi
cance of human historicity is abolished also. Hence Žižek in his own way 
proclaims an Hegelian “end of history” by saying that the hell of humanhistory cannot be transformed, but can nevertheless be seen from an alto-gether different and “rosier” perspective which does not remove, entirely 
overlaps with, and yet does not touch, its crucied aspect.This means, as Žižek now nearly admits, that what the materialist
offers is a mode of religious consolation, an opiate for the masses, andno hope of real striving for human transformation. His Hegelianism is
not Marxism and is symptomatic of a new twenty-rst-century situation
in which atheism (and scientism) tend to
the left and ensure itspessimistic, misanthropic and essentially conservative character in ourtimes. The Catholic Christian will refuse this mode of pietism, whichis the reverse of everything that the boundlessly mirthful and optimisticChesterton ever stood for.
This new dening secularity of the left (from liberal left to far-left) alsotends to abandon philosophically agnostic nitism of a Kantian variety.The innite can now be known, but the innite is material, as Žižek 
suggests, following Quentin Meillassoux.
But the idea that all religious
thinkers are still stuck in the twentieth-century nitist moment is false:
Ratzinger’s Regensburg address was
an attempt to escape the merely 
agnostic piety of the nite. He suggests there that we can have faith thatreason, through the exercise of faith, can reach the innite, which is itself innitely rational (the second person of the Trinity, the divine
).Obviously the materialist will respond that we can dispense with faith.But to this the theologian will respond in turn that, without religious faith,the materialist must in the end deny the reality of reason—or else theprimacy of matter. For he faces an aporetic fork: if being is prior to reason,then reason, in knowing being, loses itself as epiphenomenal (Laruelle),
1. Charles Taylor,
 A Secular Age
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).2. Quentin Meillassoux,
 Après la Finitude
(Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2006).
 Political Theology
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2010.
but if being coincides with the comprehensible, then it would seem thatmatter is really ideas or numbers (Badiou). Only theology allows one tohave both matter and reason, both mysterious solidity and the apparentpresence of spirit. Only theology, as Chesterton suggested, allows us toreturn to the reality of the everyday world. So some religious people in the
twenty-rst century, myself included, are not (as was admittedly prevalentin the twentieth) defending the sacrality of the nite on its own, but themediating opening of the nite (matter and spirit) to the transcendentinnite in which being and intellect coincide without priority. (And actu
-ally I think Tarkovsky’s iconic cinematic technique also opened up thisself-transformative passage.)The scientism of the new (essentially apolitical) secularist left is also
in evidence in Žižek’s celebration of the alliance between the perspectives
of psychoanalysis and developments of “brain-machine interface” whichallow a kind of immediate “thought control” of objects external to thehuman body—even though in reality a series of (now effortless) physicalmediations are taking place. Supposedly this gets rid of the “dualism of the soul and body” and replaces it with a soulless object and partial objectfused into one spontaneous material process. In reality, of course, this is just a
and extension of Cartesian duality, which Lacan explicitly espoused (indeed it was the fundamental basis of all his thinking). Soul/ 
body duality was qualied because the soul was (prior to Descartes) taken
to be the form of the body, without which the body would not exist, but would only be formless matter. The Cartesian self-referential “subject,”however, truly is lodged within the body by accident. This means thatthe body no more belongs to the subject than does material extension ingeneral and it is indeed just a portion of that extension. Hence the mindnow knows all of material reality by a kind of direct intuition, without the
mediation of body whose reexive sensation was seen by Aristotle (and
again by Merleau-Ponty) as belonging neither to the objective nor thesubjective sphere and at the same time to both. On this understanding Cartesianism obliterates the body, and brain-machine interfacing contin-ues this impulse—although in reality any remote control I might achieveof objects remains parasitic on my historically and epistemologically prior“handling” of objects, since I must still think the world and myself init through my bodily presence to it. (This holds, even if one can try toclaim that this mode of bodily presence is somehow self-deluded.) Soeven where the subject is materialized and the mind is reduced to brain asfar as possible, the “magic” of this interfacing still resides in the direct cor-relation of a moment of consciousness with a material event.
Žižek) is incorrigible, and yet an admission of bodily mediationallows us to see how the “reexivity” of consciousness is somehow (albeit

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