In a recent piece about Les Misérables, which is in general a fine study of the dynamics of law and grace in the film, Michael W. Hannon worries that a view of the state, and the political realm more broadly, as an unnatural institution is insufficient for a vibrant and vigorous engagement of this realm, or as he puts it “our faith in law.” Hannon aptly notes that Valjean, one for whom “it seemed as though he had for a soul the book of the natural law,” is the ideal in Hugo’s work. Valjean’s remarkable conversion, for instance, results in a situation in which he recognizes a greater sense of moral obligation rather than less.
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.
Maybe it’s strange to think about political theology at a wedding ceremony. But political theology was on my mind a few years ago, when I attended the wedding of a same-sex couple in my extended family. The recent victories for marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, and Washington have me thinking about political theology again. I had a Thomist epiphany at that wedding years ago, and as the levees blocking marriage equality seem ready to break, I’d like to share that experience…
There is no shortage of elements in Romney’s statements to investigate. In particular, his ridiculously inaccurate statements about taxes are being addressed by journalists and analysts like Ezra Klein in today’s Washington Post. But behind his statement about victimhood and the dismissal of almost half the country as dependent upon the government without any contribution to civil society is a revealing ideology of the public order that I find most disturbing.