The Politics of Atheism

John Milbank has written here of the link between atheism, the Left, and nihilism. Regardless of Milbank’s greater point, underlying his theme is the reality that the secular, politics in general, and the Left and Right are all imagined and theory-laden metaphysical narrative frame-works that deal with life in community.

There are no neutral or theory-less ways of asserting how one should live in community. And yet, for most these theories generally go unexamined and are asserted as “just so.” The greatest thing that could happen in the West would be for the fundamentalists of both the secular and religious Left and Right to have that moment which comes to every person old enough and wise enough–that being the moment when one learns that something he just believed was true, something taken in simply as the air one breathes (everyone knows that! It’s common knowledge!) was false.

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1 Response to The Politics of Atheism

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Hi Darrell-

    A fine observation. I can count two times my thinking has changed significantly. Once on gay rights, and more recently on the conventional wisdom about how terrible federal deficits are (they aren't) and that we should have balanced federal budgets (we shouldn't).

    But the likelihood of facing such sobering realizations (or even being threatened with facing them) goes up dramatically the less defensible one's original assumptions are, which is why you find so many adversarial positions so highly provoking.

    Incidentally, there are many of atheists on the right (the ultimate cranks, one might say!). But there is a temperamental issue, where people on the right tend to adhere to authority, which channels them to not only religion, but to traditional religion. You will note that left-ism also aligns with new-age-ism and other recherche forms of religion.

    On Milbank, as usual, he is spouting nonsense. Nietzsche is documented to not be the Nazi forebear his estate made him out to be. Whacky and sui generis, but not doctrinaire right wing. The deeper connection may be that the left is looking for deep & progressive critiques of the current order, not for those who carry water for it. To call Ratzinger some kind of enemy of capitalism is the height of absurdity.

    And Thatcher? Has Milbank lost his mind completely? No person has done more to promote crass materialism, capitalist triumphalism, and labor evisceration, than she did (from the right). And what she undid was not any Anglican fantasy, but real Labor gains from the post WWII era. Thatcher was avowedly pro-religious.

    If he cares about “issues of substantive economic justice”, then why doesn't he talk about them, instead of talking about religion? There's a mystery! The fact is that however many moral people you have on your side praying for justice, there are going to be amoral people working the system, necessitating regulation and control by the collective (i.e. the state). Economics is difficult enough to master, and through our ignorance is used more as an ideological brickbat than as a way to further public and private purpose. An ounce of real knowledge and insight is worth a pound of pontification.

    And his self-pity over being a Christian is truly moving. Perhaps he could have a heart-to-heart with Deepak Chopra sometime. That would provide him some therapy! I hear Deepak is in town.

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