I am usually sensitive enough to pick up on the somewhat dated movement of some English academics called Radical Orthodoxy. As an Anglican movement attracted to ressourcement theology, neo-patristics and Platonism, it has seems exciting and appealing as a “third way” out of the binary dialectics between liberalism / atheism / relativism and fundamentalism / totalitarianism. I have drawn readers’ attention to this phenomenon before in articles like John Milbank on the future of Anglicanism.
As one begins to read this sort of thing, there is something a little “stuffy” and elitist, something that isn’t easy to read, and even quite discouraging. I don’t know about Dr Milbank, but Catherine Pickstock is all for the ordination of women and the status quo in the Anglican Communion. The things she writes about the liturgy are generally wonderful.
What is it about a theological movement of this kind that is in a relationship of osmosis with aspects of at least outward conformity with post-modern agendas? The frontiers seem to be quite blurred, which is understandable when considering certain forms of conservative Christianity.
My attention has been drawn to a blog article A Note on Late Modernity’s Strange Bedfellows. I have always seen radical orthodoxy (at least aspects of it, not “all or nothing”), stuffy though it seems to those of us who are outside the university elite, as a “third way” between and above the tendencies of conservative and liberal Christianity, an appeal to the Church of before the Reformation and Counter Reformation. Such a vision would be ideal for us in the ACC (at least in England) as we steer between the “two one-true churches” and the simplistic claims of “classic Anglicanism” based on the Reformation being the default basis, mandatory for all, and those who are so inclined being allowed to add a little in the way of vestments and ceremonies, “smells and bells”. I have always been interested in the idea of what I have come to term conciliar (as opposed to ultramontanist) Catholicism and the possibility of finding a way for it to subsist in the world in which we live. This is a problem I find in this essay.
Is there a convergence between some kind of “radical orthodox” approach (assuming it is a little less “stuffy” and elitist than the Radical Orthodox movement properly speaking) and reactionary traditionalism and neo-conservatism? Whilst some aspects are in common, such as opposition to secularism and liberalism, the intellectual roots are quite different. The big point is how a viable solution could be implemented in our society. We are all more or less marginal in our continuing churches, traditionalist communities and intellectual groups in universities.
I remember many years ago toying with ideas of “distributism”, a kind of idealistic reconstruction of medieval guild economy which would involve a moderate form of capitalism with everyone owning his own means of production. The co-operative movement came close to this ideal, and still seems to work very well in the farming community. That being said, it has for the most part emancipated itself from Christianity or any religion.
Various forms of Christianity speculate about how they could make Christianity influence society, often making the most of the notion of a “social Kingship of Christ”. This has opened churches to the temptation of collaborating with right-wing dictatorships in Europe and South America.
If Christianity has to be privatised and let go of the public and political world, what does it do? How does it emerge from marginality and express itself in practical and pragmatic terms? These are questions we really need to think about.
What do we want and what do we think we can bring about? What is evangelisation in practical terms, not only in the USA where people are still open to religion and spirituality, but also in Europe where the only outcome seems to be a resurgence of the extreme right? For the time being, we only seem to have ideas of “bellwethers” and micro-communities, “new-monasticism” and faith communities surviving in an extremely hostile society. We may well be in survival mode for a very long time.
Yet, when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and someone told me about it, I thought it was a joke. No one expected it. Other walls are going to be coming down very soon, and we have to be ready to read the signs.