William Desmond (Institute of Philosophy, KU-Leuven, and Department of Philosophy, Villanova University) introduces the latest issue of Political Theology (guest-edited by Péter Losonczi), which is devoted to the theme, “Evil and Political Theology.” His lengthy introductory essay appears here in two parts, first introducing the theme in general, and tomorrow introducing some of the particular contributions.
…Instead of treating contemporary consumerism as a wholly negative phenomenon, Augustine suggests we look at the issue differently. The behaviour of the shopper or spiritual tourist is the way it is because of the deep structure of the human condition. The longing for fulfilment is at root an existential need: a secularized version of the call at the heart of Augustine’s Confessions: ‘You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.’
Christ’s actions on Maundy Thursday present a challenge to Enlightenment views of property. Through the Eucharistic vision of Christianity, we become more like Christ, and we do so together enveloped in an all-encompassing commandment of love: we grow together, not only in that we all simultaneously grow, but the barriers between us dissolve and our original love is mended.
In likening kingdoms lacking justice to criminal syndicates, Augustine invokes the story of a confrontation between Alexander the Great and a pirate. Indeed, Augustine judges “that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, ‘What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor’” (De civ. Dei 4.4.1).
Now that the election season is over in America, it might be a good time to take a step back and take a longer, more substantive look at some of the principles of Christian social thought than is sometimes possible in the midst of soundbites and stump speeches. Given the religious makeup of the candidates at the top of the tickets, Catholic Social Teaching (CST) was the focus of some attention in the national political conversation. It’s been noted that the political overlays onto religious faith are often just as constricting and reductive as partisanship itself. As Robert Joustra has observed, “Isn’t it ironic that the ecclesial conversation is essentially a thinly-baptized version of exactly the same disagreements in the secular world, but with less technical capacity and more theological abstraction?”
This is in some sense what has happened to principles of CST like subsidiarity and solidarity.