John Milbank’s, Theology & Social Theory, “takes on all of the major social theorists and evaluates them from a Christian theological perspective” (Meneses). Milbank’s work starts with the statement, “Once, there was no ‘secular’” (p. 9). Next, Milbank continues with his critiques of the modernist construction of the secular. He discusses the ways in which modern theology has returned to the secular.
Milbank scrutinizes how modern theologians have adapted to the secular standards of scientific objectivity and therefore, they have given up any pretense to speak comprehensively. He states, “The secular as a domain had to be instituted or imagined, both in theory and in practice” (p. 9).
Secularism, according to Milbank, is either a heretical branch of Christian theology or a kind of counter-theology. Furthermore, Milbank explains that secularism emerged from two sources, which share a common thought: the creation of reality is contingent on a reaction to either chaos or conflict. Milbank further explains that the heretical ideology of the secular assumes that laws are necessary to set limits on individuals that seek to dominate others.
Whereas, the pagan ideology of the secular focuses on the political control of the ruler, who is indifferent to any type of moral consideration. Milbank notes that the pagan secular thought evolved from the ancient Greek or Roman myths of physical beauty, heroic strength, and the ability to outwit one’s opponents.
For example, in the chapter, For and Against Marx, Milbank is critical of Marx own critique of religion. Milbank states, “The full complexity of the Marxist critique of religion has rarely been brought to light” (p. 178).
Marx assertion in “the capitalist economy as a necessary phase within the process of human becoming” (p. 177), together with his imagining of the utopian stage “primarily in terms of the unleashing of human freedom and the unlimited possibility of human transformation of nature” (p. 177) succeeds in retaining “the perspectives of liberalism” (p. 177).
Marx beliefs were influenced by “a Feuerbach materialist element, and a Hegelian dialectical element” (p. 178). In Feuerbach’s assumption, he describes our devotion as being misplaced, for his thought is that worship should be placed on humans, and not on an imaginary God. His opinion was that God’s qualities were not of a mystical source but instead a reflection our own human ego.
Subsequently, Marx adopted Feuerbach’s thought but, only to the extent that the theoretical should return to humanity’s practical existence. However, Marx went beyond Feuerbach and linked Christianity with capitalism in such a way that, “religion and economic, run in precise parallel” (p. 184).
According to Marx, the principal mistake of humanity is the separation of theory from real life. Hence, Marx wants to return to materialism and he extends this thought to include social power, which originated within the priestly class. Marx assumes that religion is analogous to the state and therefore is over and above common humanity at an alienating distance.