The post Mark pointed me to was the second of two on Catholic Social Teaching, Further Thoughts on Papal Strategy. Some really good stuff and here's a sample
the overall function of CST is not to provide a concrete plan of action — indeed, the papacy never takes the risk of outright endorsing any overly concrete plan of action or set of political actors. The function instead is to serve the self-preservation and self-aggrandizement of the papacy itself by providing rallying points for the various constituencies whose loyalty the church must somehow preserve. Again, I don’t want to accuse any individual pope of doing anything purely out of his own personal vainglory — undoubtedly they believe that preserving and glorifying the Church is an intrinsic good, which makes sense if you view the Church as the means of redemption on earth. For example, maintaining the Church’s privileges allows for easier access to the means of grace, which justifies maintaining good relations with the powerful. In the extreme case, avoiding endorsing revolution helps to keep Catholics from being persecuted as such — certainly a prudential step that it’s hard to argue with, although the history of the Latin American church suggests that the papacy could’ve done more good by making more aggressive use of its moral authority and publicly shaming leaders.
But here’s the thing: the papacy never really uses its moral authority in a direct way. It just accumulates it and reinforces it. It says all the right things to appeal to a variety of people with moral instructions that sound really good while being non-obvious — yet it never really puts itself on the line for anything concrete. The papcy never intervenes directly in the political scene, only tries to cultivate the impression that if it did, that would be a good thing.
That’s what I was trying to get at in a weird conference paper last year that drew together Gramsci and Schmitt’s writings on Roman Catholicism with Laclau and Agamben: the pope is a unique political actor insofar as he never has to do anything. In the division Agamben posits between glory and governance, the papacy is pure glory.
You can also check out the earlier post A Rule of Thumb; or Catholic Social Teaching isn't what you think it is. As someone who quoted from several Papal encyclicals back in 1972 when in court for breaking the National Service Act by giving out literature encouraging people not to register for conscription, I can't help but think about the unintended consequences of texts. I recalla that Dorothy day and the Catholic Worker movement drew strongly on Catholic social teaching giving it a very pacifist and anarchist slant (one of the reasons/motivators for my ending up in court in 1972). And the same applies, of course, to biblical texts, scripture. Could the author ever have imagined the rich and diverse and often very bizarre uses to which their texts would be applied.
I also want to highlight this post Christ did more than just Suffer, which contains a critique of something by James Alison. This is the passage being critiqued
And this for me is the central point in any discussion about monotheism and idolatry: what is the criterion by which we can learn the difference between idolatry and worship? The answer which the Catholic faith gives me is this: the reason why it is possible to be non-idolatrous is because God has given us God’s own criterion for what it looks like to be non-idolatrous. And that criterion, given that God has no parts or divisions, and in every movement towards us is One, is also God. The criterion took the form of a lived-out fully human life story, that of Jesus, whose meaning was the reverse of all the human criteria that are usually brought into play in such stories. God gave, as God’s own criterion for God’s own power, not the power of Emperors, legislators or Priests, but the ability to occupy the space of losing, curse, shame and death without being run by them, in such a way that that space and the whole anthropological structure of human existence that depends on it, is able to be relativised. Idolatry is seen to be an involvement in the human cultural reality of death from which God longs for us to be free.
And here is some of the critique:
In the comments to the post, I react with the annoyance that people have come to expect from me:
Why the “reverse”? Why not say that it was different from everyday standards, yet recognizably good nonetheless? Why this fetishizing of reversal for its own sake? It leads you to miss things — like the joyfulness of Christ’s life. He didn’t submit to the cross because that would really fuck with our preconceptions. Right? God isn’t just willfully trying to screw with us because he would be mad if our expectations were too accurate, right? Seriously. It’s perverse, the way so many Christians fetishize Christ’s suffering as though it’s the key to everything.
I’d like to expand on these remarks here, at some length. I am perfectly happy to say that Christ is against “the power of Emperors, legislators or Priests.” If I didn’t think he was, then I wouldn’t identify at all with Christianity. What I object to is the supposed logical consequence, namely that Christ’s true power is “the ability to occupy the space of losing, curse, shame and death without being run by them.” Why is it that God appears to be so bound by the expectations precisely of the Powers? Why does rejecting their claims amount to “losing, curse, shame, and death” and only that?
Look at things from the perspective of the oppressed. To them, is “the power of Emperors, legistlators, or Priests” a self-evidently desirable and good thing? Sure, it’s better to be powerless than not if you’re in the current system, but once you see an alternative to that entire structure in Christ, those power positions don’t seem very appealling. No one is going to follow Christ if he’s saying, “Just suffer for its own sake, because I’m God and I’m here to mess with your shit!” No — they follow Christ because of the joyfulness of his life, because of the unexpected abundance he brings along with him.
His life is recognizably good and appealling, and if you’re oppressed by the structure rather than benefiting from it, you can see that clearly. If you’re benefiting from it, he looks like a total nihilist who will destroy everything — and so with much regret and hemming and hawing, you must unfortunately put him to death. But again, I think it’s perverse to claim that this was the goal. Christ’s willingness to face death — though please note, he doesn’t do so stoically or nobly, he’s crying out in honest agony — is absolutely crucial to what he’s doing, because it shows that he absolutely refuses the blackmail of the earthly Powers and because it subsequently empowers his followers to refuse that same blackmail.
I encourage you to read the rest and check out the rest of the blog.