Top critical review
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Good start and finish
on June 3, 2011
Cavanaugh gives us a useful survey of the latest thinking in political theology from a left/radical Catholic perspective. There are some useful and illuminating discussions here. The ones I found helpful, in the order given: (1) the origins of the nation state, and its relation to war and society, and how the state has become omnicompetent in structuring our lives; (2) there is some interesting theologizing in the chapter that attempts to account for the sinfulness of the church Christologically, using the insights of Lohfink, Nicholas Healy and Balthasar; (3) the relationship between the life of the church and contemporary democracy, examined through the debates among Hauerwas, Stout, and Romand Coles. This was for me the strongest chapter.
Those 3 discussions constitute the first, and last two chapters of the book. Everything in between is, for me, much weaker.
I have two primary problems. The first discussion of the nation-state is Eurocentric, and doesn't take account of the uniquely American mode of the state (federalism, religious pluralism). Ch. 4 tries to address this with a "Theological Critique of American Exceptionalism," but I don't find it convincing. There is a dialectical quality to American Exceptionalism. It is not "Christian," but *almost* Christian. The messianic actions of the community are mediated through its pluralistic and "democratic" polity. The politics and history of this messianic ideal is much more ambiguous than his analysis would indicate. He seems to think that the errors of messianism are all on the conservative side, whereas the left-radical movements in American society drink from the same well.
He attacks the conservative appropriation of freedom as a way of acting Christianly in public affairs, but then develops a model of Christian involvement in democracy as "dialogical engagement and receptive generosity (conclusion last chapter)." It is not clear why his appropriation of American practice of freedom is better than, more Christian, or less theologically problematic than the conservative one.
The second problem I have is that his solutions are always left-radical. The theologizing is good, and the solutions are defensible. But the grounding appears arbitrary: he doesn't convince me that his theologizing leads to THESE solutions. Also, I find it hard to believe that the religious left always lives up to its own standards--"dialogical engagement and receptive generosity." I kept thinking: "physician, heal yourself."
Three stars for 3 interesting discussions.