Lilla on Religion

If you haven’t done so already, be sure to check out editor in chief Drew Christiansen’s discussion of "The Stillborn God," with sociologist Jose Casanova. Mark Lilla’s new books has received a number of approving reviews, and was excerpted on the cover of the New York Times magazine. But both our reviewers have serious questions about Lilla’s conception of religion. Fr. Christiansen writes: One of the assumptions driving Lilla’s argument is that the religious impulse is an apocalyptic one, imposing God’s justice by violence. He doesn’t use the term "apocalyptic" until quite late in the book; he prefers "eschatology," but eschatology has many forms, of which violent apocalyptic is only one. He even terms mystical longing, what he calls "spiritual desire", as "eschatological." Even Karl Barth and Franz Rosenzweig, with their other-worldly theologies, are wrenched into the pattern as unwitting progenitors of apocalyptic violence. The result is ultimately a polarized analysis poised between apocalyptic violence and political secularism. Is that a fair assessment? Is all religion, at least by imputation, apocalyptic in Lilla’s view? I am really befuddled by such an obviously learned man’s apparent fear of any (moderate) critical, oppositional role by religion, where there is no fear of violent tendencies in other cultural forces, such as ethno-nationalism, politics and the military. Nor, as John Cornwell points out in his Darwin’s Angel, science too. For those of you in the New York area, Jose Casanova will be discussing "the meaning of secularization" with Peter Steinfels at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus on December 5. Tim Reidy
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10 years ago
The Book of Revelation is a good example of apocalyptic literature which employs violent images while not condoning a culture of violence. One has to be careful not to take a literalist reading of apocalyptic literature in order to arrive at the conclusion that, at least in Christianity, the goal is the imposition of God's justice by violence. The author of Revelation seems to be deconstructing that apocalyptic viewpoint. Revelation counsels "patient endurance" in the face of injustice and proposes as a remedy to it the death of the Lamb, whose only weapon is the word of God.
10 years ago
Isn’t Marxism tied up in the notion that history's economic and social paroxyms can be ended by the establishment of the worker's paradise? And what about Nazism, with Hitler’s boasts of a “Thousand Year Reich”? Neither movement was explicitly religious, and yet both were apocalyptic in the extreme, seeing the fulfillment of history tied up in their own future and destiny. Even Francis Fukuyama’s predictions of the “end of history” in our own time are a form of apocalypticism. It is perhaps more fair to call all of modern Western consciousness apocalyptic in one form or another, rather than to dwell only on religious impulses towards the eschatalogical.
10 years ago
Tim, I also found Mark Lilla's article and analysis strange. He made no mention of Quaker or other religious peace church influences. It was also as if John Courtney Murray and the theological tradition that ended in Vatican II's declaration on religious liberty had never existed. Most one sided.

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