Reimagining Christianity | The Urgency of Radical Orthodox Theology
In realms of thought, where faith and reason meet,
The Radical Orthodox, their voices fleet,
David Bentley Hart, with wisdom profound,
John Milbank, in profound faith, astound.
Radical orthodox theologians often offer critiques of modern-day neoliberalism, which is an economic and political ideology emphasizing free markets, limited government intervention, and individual autonomy.
While the specific critiques may vary among theologians, here are some common themes found in their analysis:
Reduction of human beings to economic agents:
When radical orthodox theologians critique the reduction of human beings to economic agents within the context of neoliberalism, they express concern about the tendency to prioritize individuals primarily in terms of their economic value or productivity.
As an ideology, neoliberalism places great emphasis on free markets, competition, and individual autonomy. In this framework, individuals are often evaluated based on their economic contributions and their ability to generate wealth. This narrow focus on economic worth can overshadow other important aspects of human existence, such as the fullness of human dignity, community significance, relationships, and the value of shared responsibility.
By reducing human beings to economic agents, radical orthodox theologians argue that neoliberalism overlooks the inherent worth of individuals beyond their economic productivity. They advocate for a broader understanding of human flourishing that encompasses spiritual, moral, and relational dimensions. They emphasize the need to recognize and prioritize the communal aspects of human life, where the flourishing of individuals is intimately tied to the well-being of the wider community.
Moreover, these theologians contend that the reductionist perspective of human beings as economic agents undermines the moral and ethical considerations that should guide economic systems. They argue that the market-driven focus of neoliberalism can lead to the neglect of vulnerable populations, perpetuating social inequalities and marginalization.
In summary, the critique of reducing human beings to economic agents within neoliberalism highlights the importance of recognizing the multidimensional nature of human existence, valuing community and relationships, and embracing shared responsibility beyond the confines of market value and productivity. It calls for a more holistic understanding of human dignity and well-being within economic and social systems.
Individualism and consumerism:
The critique of individualism and consumerism within the context of neoliberalism by radical orthodox theologians revolves around the cultural values and priorities that this ideology promotes.
Neoliberalism emphasizes personal autonomy, individual freedom, and the pursuit of self-interest. It encourages a competitive mindset where individuals are seen as self-contained entities seeking to maximize their own well-being, often equated with material accumulation and consumption. This individualistic and consumeristic culture, according to these theologians, has significant consequences for society and human flourishing.
One major concern is the erosion of communal bonds. By prioritizing individual autonomy and self-interest, neoliberalism can undermine the sense of shared responsibility, solidarity, and interdependence that form the foundation of strong communities. The emphasis on personal success and accumulation of wealth can contribute to a fragmented society, where relationships become transactional and communal bonds weaken. This erosion of communal bonds can lead to a sense of isolation, disconnection, and a diminished sense of belonging.
Moreover, radical orthodox theologians argue that neoliberalism’s focus on market-driven values distorts the understanding of human flourishing. When human well-being is reduced to purely market-driven terms, such as material wealth and consumption, other dimensions of flourishing, such as spiritual, relational, and moral aspects, may be neglected. This narrow focus on material accumulation can foster a shallow and superficial understanding of happiness, often measured by material possessions or economic success, which fails to address deeper human needs and aspirations.
Additionally, the critique of individualism and consumerism by these theologians is connected to the notion of the common good. They argue that the pursuit of self-interest and the perpetuation of consumerist values can undermine the broader well-being of society and the common good. By prioritizing personal gain over collective welfare, neoliberalism can contribute to social inequalities, environmental degradation, and the neglect of marginalized and vulnerable populations.
In summary, the critique of individualism and consumerism within neoliberalism by radical orthodox theologians highlights the negative consequences of a culture that prioritizes personal autonomy, material accumulation, and self-interest. It emphasizes the erosion of communal bonds, the distortion of human flourishing, and the neglect of the common good. These theologians call for a reevaluation of societal values, emphasizing the importance of community, shared responsibility, and a more holistic understanding of human well-being beyond materialistic pursuits.
Marginalization of the vulnerable:
The critique of the marginalization of the vulnerable within neoliberalism by critics revolves around the social and economic consequences of neoliberal policies and the structural inequalities they may perpetuate.
Neoliberal policies often prioritize deregulation, privatization, and market competition. While proponents argue that these measures can lead to economic growth and efficiency, critics argue that they can exacerbate social inequalities and leave vulnerable populations behind.
Deregulation, for example, can weaken labour protections and regulations that safeguard the rights and well-being of workers. This can result in precarious employment, low wages, and inadequate social safety nets, disproportionately affecting economically disadvantaged individuals and communities. Moreover, deregulation can also lead to the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few, widening the gap between the rich and the poor.
Privatization, another aspect of neoliberal policies, involves transferring public services and assets to private entities. Critics argue that this can have detrimental effects, particularly for marginalized populations who may rely on these services the most. Privatization can result in reduced access to essential services such as healthcare, education, and social welfare, creating barriers for economically disadvantaged people.
The emphasis on market competition within neoliberalism can further exacerbate social divisions and injustices. Critics argue that market forces alone do not necessarily address systemic inequalities. They contend that market competition can reinforce existing disparities, as those already in advantageous positions tend to benefit the most. This can perpetuate economic and social hierarchies, leaving vulnerable populations with limited opportunities for upward mobility and exacerbating social divisions.
Overall, critics of neoliberalism argue that the emphasis on deregulation, privatization, and market competition can contribute to marginalising vulnerable populations and exacerbating social inequalities. They highlight the need for alternative approaches that prioritize social justice, equitable distribution of resources, and the protection of the rights and well-being of all members of society, particularly those economically disadvantaged.
Market absolutism and idolatry:
The critique of neoliberalism by some theologians, who argue that it elevates the market and economic efficiency as ultimate values, bordering on a form of idolatry, reveals concerns about the broader implications of prioritizing the market over moral and ethical considerations.
Neoliberalism significantly emphasises the market as the primary mechanism for organizing society and allocating resources. Some theologians argue that this excessive focus on the market can lead to a deification of economic efficiency and market forces, treating them as ultimate and unquestionable values. They view this as problematic because it can overshadow other important aspects of human life and diminish the significance of moral and ethical considerations.
By treating the market as an ultimate value, theologians argue that neoliberalism risks subverting or neglecting broader ethical frameworks that prioritize justice, compassion, and the common good. When economic efficiency becomes the sole measure of success and progress, it can overshadow moral and ethical concerns related to social justice, environmental sustainability, and the well-being of marginalized communities.
This deification of the market, according to these theologians, can lead to the exploitation of both people and the environment. When economic efficiency is the primary goal, there is a risk of disregarding the negative social and environmental impacts of certain practices. Pursuing profit at all costs may lead to the exploitation of labor, exacerbation of income inequality, disregard for workers’ rights, and environmental degradation. Theologians argue that this disregard for moral and ethical considerations in favor of economic efficiency can result in social injustices and the degradation of the natural world.
The critique highlights the need to reevaluate the role of the market and economic efficiency within a broader ethical framework that prioritizes human dignity, social justice, and environmental stewardship. It calls for an approach that takes into account the moral and ethical dimensions of economic systems and advocates for responsible and sustainable practices that promote the well-being of individuals, communities, and the planet.
In summary, theologians’ critique of neoliberalism as bordering on idolatry of the market underscores concerns about the potential neglect of moral and ethical considerations. They argue that prioritizing economic efficiency above all else can lead to social and environmental exploitation, and advocate for an approach that places human dignity and ethical considerations at the forefront of economic systems.
The critique by radical orthodox theologians of neoliberalism’s impact on the environment highlights concerns about the consequences of its focus on unlimited growth and profit maximization.
Neoliberalism, with its emphasis on market forces and economic efficiency, often prioritizes the pursuit of continuous economic growth and profit maximization. Radical orthodox theologians argue that this relentless pursuit can disregard the principles of ecological sustainability and the responsibility to care for creation.
Theologians point out that the focus on unlimited growth and profit maximization within neoliberalism can lead to the degradation of the natural world. This pursuit often involves the extraction of finite resources, overexploitation of ecosystems, and the pollution of air, water, and land. They argue that the disregard for ecological limits and the emphasis on short-term gains can result in the depletion of natural resources, loss of biodiversity, and irreversible damage to ecosystems.
Furthermore, these theologians contend that neoliberalism’s focus on profit maximization often neglects the responsibility to care for creation as a moral and ethical imperative. They argue that the Earth and its resources are gifts entrusted to humanity, and that stewardship and sustainability should be central to our relationship with the natural world. By prioritizing profit over environmental concerns, neoliberalism can undermine the inherent value of the Earth and the need to protect and preserve it for future generations.
The critique emphasizes the importance of recognizing the interdependence between human beings and the environment, and the need to prioritize ecological sustainability. Radical orthodox theologians call for a reevaluation of the economic systems that prioritize growth at the expense of the environment, and advocate for alternative approaches that incorporate ecological considerations, promote sustainable practices, and foster a sense of responsibility towards creation.
In summary, the critique by radical orthodox theologians of neoliberalism’s impact on the environment highlights concerns about its disregard for ecological sustainability and the responsibility to care for creation. It calls for a shift in economic paradigms that prioritize the well-being of both humanity and the natural world, recognizing the interdependent relationship between the two.
These critiques I have outlined above reflect a desire to restore a more holistic understanding of human flourishing, social justice, and the role of ethical considerations in economic and political life. It is important to note that these perspectives represent a specific theological stance and that there are diverse theological and ideological viewpoints on the matter.
Until now, on my journey of reading theology, I have been most influenced by Liberation Theology. Recently my friend and colleague Fr. Zach Story suggested I do a ‘deep dive’ into the works of David Bentley Hart, John Milbank and other Radical Orthodox Christian theologians.
Having scoured Google and YouTube, this page represents first impressions.
Although Radical Orthodox Christianity and Liberation theology share some common concerns and critiques but also have significant differences; while they engage with social and political issues, their approaches and theological frameworks diverge in certain respects.
Radical Orthodox Christian theology, represented by theologians like John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock, seeks to engage with postmodern thought while emphasizing tradition, liturgy, and sacraments. It critiques modernity, secularism, and individualism, aiming to restore a holistic understanding of the Christian faith. Radical Orthodox theologians often highlight the significance of communal bonds, sacraments, and the Church’s role in addressing social issues.
On the other hand, Liberation theology emerged primarily in Latin America, with theologians such as Gustavo Gutiérrez and Leonardo Boff. It prioritizes the plight of the poor and marginalized, seeking to address social and economic injustices from a Christian perspective. Liberation theology emphasizes the liberation of spiritually and materially oppressed peoples and advocates for social transformation, often through a Marxist-influenced analysis of structures of power and oppression.
While both Radical Orthodox Christian and Liberation theology critique aspects of modernity, capitalism, and individualism, their theological emphases and methods differ.
Radical Orthodox theology focuses on engaging with postmodern thought and reclaiming tradition, while Liberation theology prioritizes social and economic justice for the marginalized. Their differing theological frameworks and approaches reflect diverse contexts and concerns.
I cannot help but wonder whether there might be a way to combine these ideas into a coherent singular theological approach; I will continue reading to this end.
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About Rev Lloyd Hobbard-Mitchell
Rev. Lloyd Hobbard-Mitchell, an Englishman deeply connected to Thailand, was ordained to the Sacred Priesthood on 28th May 2023.
In addition to his religious journey, he has worked as an online English teacher and pursued a career as an artist. He has also operated a tour desk business with his wife within international brand hotels.
Lloyd has extensive experience in the voluntary sector, specifically in addressing homelessness and social welfare.
He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and embraces opportunities to meet new people, see new places, explore cultural similarities, and celebrate differences.