In The Huffington Post, Feisal Mohammed offers an excerpt from his new book, Milton and the Post-Secular Present: Ethics, Politics, Terrorism, published in Stanford University Press’s beautiful “Cultural Memory in the Present” series.
In first thinking about the post-secular, I was determined to speak to it with no friendly voice. I am now less certain. Secular dismissal of belief seems to me less an antipathy to superstition and valuation of reason than it does a triumph of technē stifling freedom from the given. There is more than a little merit to Creston Davis’s claim that “the portal to theology was opened precisely because capitalism is ultimately a self-enclosed structure, and so theology gives us a way to transcend capital,” a way that is “premised on relationality and not on Ego.” Even blind hopes, Prometheus suggests, can have the salutary effect of leading us to ignore our certain doom and to look beyond mere mortality. The granting of fire by which we learn the crafts of technē, by contrast, seems like a significantly less beneficial afterthought.
Citing Kant’s Contest of Faculties, Slavoj Žižek has incisively suggested that if there is such a thing as human progress, it is punctuated by triumphs of illusions—equality, liberty, justice—which have an ethical value that material gains do not. That is the significance, as he describes it, of Toussaint L’Ouverture’s reception as an equal in the Popular Assembly of Revolutionary France. That is also the significance, he rightly discerns, of the election of Barack Obama, a centrist whose policies will contain only the faintest glimmer of progressivism. What those locked in a cynicism deeply skeptical of change fail to see, Žižek concludes, “is their own naivety, the naivety of their cynical wisdom which ignores the power of illusions.”
Milton marks for us the torment of a life without illusions through Satan in Paradise Lost. Satan’s rebellion arises in no small measure from an over-estimation of the importance of existents and a rejection of those aspects of his relationship with God to be affirmed through belief: the unobservable act of his own creation; and the benevolence of the Son’s vicegerent rule, which he takes to be an expression of divine authoritarianism.
Read more from Milton and the Post-Secular Present here.