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Monday, 27 August 2007

Godot, Sarajevo and the radical Christian tradition

I have been rereading, for reasons i am not quite clear about, David Toole's challenging reading of philosophy and politics Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo. (Radical Traditions, SCM Press, 1998) The subtitle, "Theological Reflections on Nihilism, Tragedy and Apocalypse" puts it into a context where it will likely be ignored by everybody.

Toole on reflection catches me in the opening paragraphs of his preface where he suggests that events in Sarajevo in 1914 marked the real beginning of the twentieth century and in 1992 we reached the end of that century with a further hofrrific outburst of war and genocide in the Balkans.

The book that follows is a reading of Nietzsche, Foucault and the theologians, Milbank and Yoder. This is demanding reading that is academically responsible, not cheap rationalistic Christian apologetics but seriously engaging with the deep themes that these thinkers raise.

Toole explores nihilism, the politics of tragedy and the apolcalyptic politics of John Howard Yoder (the peace church theologian) and the connections between these themes.

Toole is caught between a rock and a hard place. Many Christians of both liberal and fundamentalist persuasion will not take the trouble to go with him into the depths and return via an engaged Christian orthodoxy. Many academics will wonder why he wants to bring theology into the argument.

(Which reminds me of why I get annoyed by media interviews with John Shelby Spong - his presentation seems to suggest that if you do not accept his liberal version of Christianity your only choice is to be a fundamentalist. The radical tradition of Christian intellectual and political engagement gets totally ignored. For an accessible account of a recent trajectory of radical Christianity se Robert Inchausti Subversive orthodoxy: Outlas, Revolutionaries and other Christians in Disguise Brazos Press, 2005)

Toole's reading of Foucault on "apparatus" (p.172-173) opened up questions for me about a connection with Jacques Ellul on "technique" and opened up possible connections with issues of Christian witness and martyrdom in his discssion of physical resistance (pp.186-187).

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