Sunday, August 21, 2016

Milbank on "Christianity and coercion"

     "The only finally tolerable, and non-sinful punishment, for Christians, must be the self-punishment inherent in sin.  When a person commits an evil act, he cuts himself off from social peace, and this nearly always means that he is visited with social anger.  But the aim should be to reduce this anger to a calm fury against the sin, and to offer the sinner nothing but good will, so bringing him to the point of realizing that his isolation is self-imposed.  This instance of real punishment is also the instance of its immediate cancellation.  However, in a line of symbolic economy quite different to that of Moberly [(cf. p. 427.3)], the practice of forgiveness involves also a practice of restitution and of 'compensatory offering'.  Wrongs must be put right, either by rectification and restoration, or, where this is not possible, by other acts and signs which sufficiently show that we now will again a harmony with our fellow human beings.
     "The Church, while recognizing the tragic necessity of 'alien', external punishment, should also seek to be an asylum, a house of refuge from its operations, a social space where a different, forgiving and restitutionary practice is pursued.  This practice should be 'atoning', in that we acknowledge that an individual's sin is never his alone, that its endurance harms us all, and therefore its cancellation is also the responsibility of all.  Here we do echo God [(cf. p. 427.3)], not in punishing, but in suffering, for the duration of the saeculum, the consequences of sin, beyond [penultimately legitimate] considerations of desert and non-desert. . . .
     "The Church, in order to be the Church, must seek to extend the sphere of social aesthetic harmony — 'within' the State where this is possible, but of a state committed by its very nature only to the formal goals of dominium, little is to be hoped.  A measure of resignation to the necessity of this dominium can also not be avoided.  But with, and beyond Augustine, we should recognize the tragic character of this resignation:  violence as such delivers no dialectical benefits, of itself encourages only further violence, and . . . can only be 'beneficial' when the good motives of those resorting to it are recognized and recuperated by a defaulter coming to his senses.  The positive content of benefit flows only in the quite different series of purely positive acts, including, decisively for us, the active enduring of unmerited suffering — a series that knows of its own impulses only conviviality, and seeks to escape, forever, the mesmerizing lures of tragic aporia."

     John Milbank, Theology and social theory:  beyond secular reason, 2nd ed. (Malden, MA:  Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 428-429 ("Christianity and coercion"), underscoring and insertions mine.  The importance of this for me is that, given the overarching thesis of Theology and social theory, I didn't expect anything like it.

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