Paul’s New Moment

I have just finished reading the most complex book that I’ve read for quite a while, Paul’s New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology, by John Milbank, Slavoj Žižek and Creston Davis.

According to Creston Davis, “The book examines how Paul gives us the coordinates to breakout of the deadlock of liberal identity politics and into universalism.”

Paul’s New Moment is part of an attempt to resurrect the role of theology in philosophical discourse and thereby harness the revolutionary teachings of Saint Paul to the Marxist critique of contemporary capitalism, as stated in the second paragraph of the Introduction:

We think there is a discipline or field of study that does possess the resources to mount an uncompromising stance against capitalism and its supplement, neoliberalism. That discipline is theology…. theology (and the Christian tradition) serves as a wellspring capable of funding a materialist politics of subjective truth. Unlike liberalism, theology has a positive truth-claim, namely, that God’s disclosure happens most fully in the Event of Christ’s death on the cross. So this Event forever shatters a world defined by passive indifference, diluting “truth” to the common denominator, and clarifies the stakes of a materialist life. Consequently this positive stance is not founded on an eternal, unchanging idea but in a fragile, contingent Event in time and space. Further, this Event gives the ontological coordinates of a stance for something and not simply a stance that is picked out of the choices already determined ahead of time. (pp 1-2)

I shall endeavour to expand on this blog post (in due course) by looking at some of the key points of the book:

  • Milbank’s attack on Agamben’s view of Paul,
  • Zizek’s discussion of Badiou’s “Truth-Event” and Pauline theology
  • Davis’ discussion of Paul, Parmenides and truth via “subtraction” from Socrates to Hegel.
  • Catherine Pickstock on liturgy and the senses.

Also, as I read the book I sometimes felt that in it’s attempt to renew the link between Christianity and Marxism via Badiou’s “truth event”, Paul’s New Moment entered territory last vacated by Georges Sorel and the power of what he called “myth”:

People who are living in this world of myths are secure from all refutation; something that has led many to assert that Socialism is a kind of religion. For a long time people have been struck by the fact that religious convictions are unaffected by criticism; and from this they have concluded that everything which claims to be beyond science must be a religion. It has also been observed that Christianity tends to be less a system of dogmas than a Christian life, that is, a moral reform penetrating to the roots of one’s being; consequently, new analogy has been discovered between religion and a revolutionary Socialism which aims at the apprenticeship, preparation and even reconstruction of the individual which takes place with this gigantic task in mind. (Letter to Daniel Halévy (1907), Reflections on Violence p.30)

I have just searched for some supporting or damning evidence  for the similarities that I think I have detected and found this page, which suggests that Sorel and the writers of this book may well occupy some common ground, but come to different conclusions: