John Milbank of “Radical Orthodoxy” fame always seems able to stir up controversy in the theo-blogosphere. The latest hullabaloo stems from an essay Milbank wrote for an Australian website that seems to endorse a romantic nostalgia for western colonialism (or as he puts it, “the lamentably premature collapse of the Western colonial empires”). That, and the fact that Milbank draws on the right-wing American Enterprise Institute’s favorite apostate Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali for much of his essay’s treatment of Islam, seems to have confirmed for many that there’s little that’s radical about Milbank’s Radical Orthodoxy and much that is an apology for old-fasioned Christian imperialism and exclusivism. (Milbank’s flirtation with David Cameron’s Tory party in the UK is, for many, another data point.) Milbank’s essay has generated several responses: at An und für sich, Religion Bulletin, and Inhabitatio Dei, among other usual suspects.
I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but I can’t help but notice that Milbank, as in other of his writings, has a highly idealized view of Christian history, which allows him to play a tolerant, reasonable, even feminist Christianity off of a historically intolerant, irrational, and repressive Islam. While Milbank generously allows that there is more potential for Islam to change than does Ali, the fact that he sets up the opposition the way he does loads the dice from the outset. Essentially, Milbank’s “solution” for Islamic reform is for Islam to become more like Christianity. I’m also puzzled because Milbank says that Islam should become more “ecclesial,” more “mystical,” and less “political,” but I was under the impression that Radical Orthodoxy saw the church as the “political” entity par excellence.