Mini-Book Review: Beyond Secular Order by John Milbank

David Russell Mosley

11 February 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Here is a book review I’ve written for John Milbank’s Beyond Secular Order: The Representation of Being and the Representation of the People. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2013.


The most recent work from theologian, philosopher, social commentator, and poet, John Milbank, is his book Beyond Secular Order. This book, not unlike others written by Milbank, is in two sequences. The first sequence, On Modern Ontology, is primarily a helpful re-hashing of much of what Milbank has done and said before, here in a smaller, and relatively more easily digested size. Essentially, Milbank is seeking to critique modern philosophy first by evidencing its history in theology (which Milbank traces from late medieval neo-scholasticism, primarily through John Duns Scotus and other, for Milbank primarily Franciscan, neo-scholastic theologians.

This is the portion of the book that is most likely to cause readers to take sides. There are those who will say that Milbank is, knowingly or unknowingly, misrepresenting Scotus and later Scotists (as opposed to Thomas Aquinas and some, though not all, later Thomists); there are those who will say that Milbank’s assessment of Scotus, et al., is correct; and there are those who will say that whether Milbank is right or wrong about the genealogy of modern philosophy he is right (or wrong) in his assessment of modern theology today. This is, perhaps, where I would recommend readers focus their attention, not so much on whether Scotus’ notion of univocity of being is as Milbank portrays it, but whether or not univocity so defined (primarily as saying that God and humanity have the same kind of being but in different quantities, this is admittedly putting it far too glibly), as well as the other three pillars of modern philosophy (Representation, Possibilism, Concurrence) are a correct understanding of the place of modern philosophy/ontology. Milbank develops this theme as well as others, such as a theological critique of modern philosophy. One final note on this sequence, footnote 140 is labeled in the text (pg 79), but not on the note itself causing footnote 141 and every footnote following to be mislabeled by one. Update: I have been informed that the issue is one of typesetting, having taken place after the copyediting and has been corrected for the Kindle edition and the forthcoming reprint.

In the second sequence is where John begins to do something new. Here John begins to outline more systematically than he has anywhere else, to my knowledge, his political ontology. The key points of this seem to be that politics/culture/the arts, etc., are a gift to the human animal from God, they are not natural to us in the sense that we have them by our own power, but they are gifts given to humanity from the beginning. With this as the foundation, Milbank goes on to argue not simply for a theology of politics but that politics is inherently theological (as it is a gift). The implications of this are manifold, but two points which Milbank brings out rather poignantly are these: first, politics, et al., is tied to deification. That is, politics, by virtue of being concerned with the human person, body and soul, and being a gift from God to humanity, is thus immediately related to the telos or end for which God has created humanity. This end Milbank equates, rightly in my opinion, with the theological notion/doctrine of deification or theosis. Second, the further implication for this works in political and church leadership. Milbank argues that since political life (that is culture, the arts, society, etc.) in many ways is a foreshadowing of the resurrection, there is a sense in which we can talk about the politic leader as having a role higher than that of the spiritual (king and priest/Pope in Milbank’s language). This is again because while the priest prepares and cares for the souls of the people, the king foreshadows the reign of Christ in the heavenly Jerusalem by caring for the people’s (or perhaps person’s) ‘spirit’ that resurrected unified whole of body and soul united to the Triune God in deification.

There is so much more I could say about Milbank’s new book (for instance my disagreements with him on the issues of Incarnation without Fall, Milbank sides with Aquinas on this issue, I do not; or his mistreatment of poor John Cassian; or the implications of his understanding of culture/creation as a gift and its relationship to deification). However, my words will pale in comparison with reading the book for yourself. This is something I highly recommend for both Milbank’s critics, detractors, friends, and fans. As Milbank continues to write (he has already mentioned a sequel for this book within the book itself) this book will be the starting place for understanding his thought, both as he critiques modern philosophy and as he understands the theological nature of politics/culture. I highly recommend this book.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Seth Rogen, The Green Hornet and Christian Heroism: Old Post 3


The New Green Hornet
Last night my wife and I watched the new Green Hornet with Seth Rogen. While I knew better than to expect something that remained true to the original Green Hornet, I was, nevertheless, severely disappointed. Not only did Rogen’s adaptation fail to deliver the essence of the Green Hornet as the purposely misunderstood hero who’s alter ego is the intelligent newspaperman, but he also failed to understand the purpose of heroes in society.
What Makes Rogen’s Hornet the Hero?
While heroes come from different kinds of backgrounds and upbringings, Rogen’s Hornet is the spoiled child of a mean, if not otherwise mostly virtuous, widower. Growing up he becomes a rather unintelligent, hedonistic loaf who becomes the head of a media empire after the death of his father. Through a variety of circumstances he and his martial art/engineering expert partner pose as bad guys to fight crime. First they do so in order to “stick it” to Rogen’s old man. Then they do it in his honor, once they understand him better.
What Didn’t I Like?
Rogen’s Hornet is selfish. Until the end of the movie he fights for selfish reasons. He refuses to listen to his partner Cato and does not have the intelligence to have any reason not to do so. Rogen’s Hornet is a bumbling idiot who fights for something, but it is difficult to figure out what. Is it justice? Is it the memory of his father? Is it to be cool? I’m not sure, but mostly the latter with a mix of the first two seems to be the case.
Also, I could not stand the sheer amount of violence and death that took place in this film. In their first outing, Cato causes at least one gang member to be shot and killed. The others seem either to be dead or unconscious. Either way, violence, the ability to better beat or kill your opponent is seen as a virtue. The rid themselves of the two main villains by killing them. One get stabbed in the eyes and the other is crushed by half of car falling from about 30 stories. This I cannot stand. It seems to me, that Rogen in his attempt to make a slapstick superhero movie missed the purpose of the hero rather than truly parodying it.
What are Heroes supposed to Be?
Rogen’s heroes fight for themselves or at least for some semblance of an idea of justice. This is not what the hero is supposed to be. The hero stands for societal values. The hero inspires societal values. The hero is someone both the individual and the society as a whole can say, “I want to be like that person. That person is better than I am and makes me want to be better than I am.” Heroes also cause some aspect, or aspects, of the divine to be brought down to the human level.
Upholders and Creators of Societal Virtues
Heroes, true, mythic heroes, are representations of what a society values. They embody the ideals and can even go beyond the current ideals of a society in order to encourage and inspire those who are not heroes. If we take a look at comics from the 30s, 40s and 50s, those heroes may have had flaws––save Aunt May or save the world? Always be Superman or take time to be Clark Kent? Take out your anger on the villain or help them get better––but they served to inspire. They taught the children of those ages that truth was better than lying; that justice meant doing what was right no matter the costs; that freedom for all meant the eradication of oppression. Captain America, Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Thor these characters filled a much-needed niche. They taught us to be better. In some ways they even showed us new virtues. A society built on capitalism might make us think that ends justify the means, Superman taught us never to lie (except about your secret identity).
Incarnating the Divine
Heroes also serve to show us God. Its true, many of the heroes I listed above were not made by professing Christians. Nevertheless, when they show us things that are true, that are virtuous, they are showing us aspects of God that we might not see or understand otherwise. God does this often. In fact, the Incarnation, God the Son becoming a human is perhaps the ultimate example of that. God knows that for us to be truly human, to reach the goals he has set for us, we will need not only his help internally, through the Holy Spirit, but we also need the example of other men and women. Sometimes it is hard to think that we can ever be like Jesus, he was perfect, infallible; we are not. But maybe we can be a bit more like Paul or Timothy or Polycarp or Augustine or John Cassian or Catherine of Siena or Mary the mother of Jesus. Perhaps these people whose faults we can see we can be like, while they also try to be like Christ. Rogen’s Hornet does none of this for us.
The New Green Hornet and American Virtues
The new Green Hornet seems to be saying that violence, sex, some misguided sense of justice and intelligence are what we value as a society. As Christians, even as Americans, we must reject these values.
Who are Our Heroes?
We need to return to better heroes. We need to be reminded of the virtues and values that all societies ought to stand for. As Christians we need to baptize the heroes our societies do have so we can use them to show people the light and truth that is Jesus Christ, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Teacher, our Model, our Hero. We also need to rediscover some of our own heroes from Christian history and learn from and follow them as they followed Christ. Finally, we need to every day become heroes ourselves so we can inspire those around us to be better, to become more like Christ and give their lives over to him. The only way to be truly heroic, to be truly human, is to be like Christ.