What hath Menno to do with Athens, and what hath the Radical Reformation to do with the philosophical Enlightenment? In his forthcoming novel Menno in Athens, Ron Tiessen narrates the travels of a young Mennonite on the islands of Greece, and stages what may be the first sustained literary-philosophical encounter between Mennonite and Greek thought. In a key moment, the narrator asks his father, “if you have the proclamation of a truth in one case that is considered divine revelation, and the same proclamation is found in another culture, must we assume that one is divinely inspired and the other not?” The questions Tiessen raises are at the heart of this roundtable series where we place Anabaptism in dialogue with the traditions of western philosophy. How are we to treat the resonances and oppositions between Anabaptist Mennonite identities and philosophers?
In this presentation I argue that the way forward for this dialogue is to fully dignify the similarities and differences between its two ‘sides’ without the comforts of syncretistic unity or the paralyses of irreducible difference. To do this, I will articulate a ‘secular Mennonite social critique’ that uses the critique of redemptive violence to deconstruct rigid oppositions between religion and secularity, theology and philosophy, and ‘the church’ and ‘the world.’ Beginning from the assumption that these terms do not name stable phenomena, but instead are conceptual tools that are used and abused for diverse purposes, this presentation critiques the imposition of enmity and competition onto the names and concepts we use to make sense of this discourse and this world. The wager of this lecture is that if the Anabaptist Mennonite community is truly committed to the critique of violence and pursuit of peace, then a critical reconceptualization of interdisciplinarity is essential, lest we allow suspicion, fear, and reactivity to define the terms of our encounters with others and ourselves.