In the midst of some fruitful discussion generated by the recent posts on Rowan Williams by Chris Green and Joel Daniels, a friend of mine (who also happens to be an outstanding MacKinnon scholar) shared these words with me. I’ve been meditating on them all week, and thought that they were worth sharing here not only for what they tell us about MacKinnon’s mind (and perhaps too about Williams’), but also for what they tell us about ourselves and about our being overcome, and – here playing the risk of presumptuousness – of the depths that such overcoming involves:
At its heart there lies the recognition that historical self-consciousness belongs to the very stuff of human existence, that freedom in the sense of a true autonomy is at once the foundation of our every effort to make sense of our inheritance; but that it is a freedom menaced all the time by forces, many but not all of which lie outside our control, facing us by the pressure of their ugly insistence upon our purposings with a sense of overmastering futility, defeat, even besetting cruelty. The threat is of something much more profound than that of Cartesian malin génie, it is the menace of a backlash somehow built into the heart of things that will lay our sanity itself in ruins. We are face to face not with a grisly theodicy that allows historical greatness to provide its own moral order (there are more than hints of this in Hegel) but with a cussedness which seems totally recalcitrant to the logos of any justification of the ways of God to man. And here the last word is with the cry of redemption.
– Donald M. MacKinnon, ‘Finality in Metaphysics, Ethics and Theology’ in Explorations in Theology, Volume 5 (London: SCM Press, 1979), 105–06.