A question of faith

July 16, 1999

The article on radical orthodoxy gives a misleading impression of the movement ("Angels in dirty places", THES, July 2).

First, it is true we ascribe to a Credal orthodoxy. At the same time, we regard certain "literalist" interpretations of such doctrines as Jesus's ascent into Heaven as just as modern and positivist as is their reduction to mere symbols.

Second, the full scope of the group's interests is not suggested. Very few of us are concerned with a cultural studies agenda, and none of us regards sex shops as the work of God. Instead, we are concerned with the consequences of the most rigorous philosophical thought of our time whose increasing anti-foundationalism calls into question the secure bases of knowledge, ethics, and humanist culture. Such tendencies point objectively towards nihilism, unless one further calls into question the very founding autonomy of modern and postmodern thought in relation to its bracketing of theology. A vital dimension of our concern with philosophy is an interest in its ethical and political dimensions; we are not only interested in questions of sexual politics, but also in issues of social justice and the relation of humanity to nature.

To make this claim rigorous, most of us are engaged not with the latest semiotics of consumerism or gender practices, but rather with the historical genealogy of philosophy and other secular disciplines in relation to theology. In general, we seek to show that the separation of philosophy from theology is a more complex matter than is usually assumed.

Because the premodern philosophical tradition was also theological, modern philosophy tends to perpetuate specifically theological themes, but usually in distorted forms. From a theological perspective, secular thought often turns out to be pagan or heterodox, rather than secular, and sometimes, it is unwittingly orthodox.

Also significant is radical orthodoxy's place in relation to 20th-century theology. Radical orthodoxy seeks to blur the boundary between faith and reason. It considers that all knowledge involves faith, trust and promise, while inversely, all articulated faith relies upon the coherence and consistency of argument.

Catherine Pickstock, British Academy postdoctoral fellow, faculty of divinity, University of Cambridge. John Montag, St Edmund's College, Cambridge. John Milbank, Professor of philosophical theology, University of Virginia. Graham Ward, Director, Centre for Religion, Culture and Gender, University of Manchester

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