Stuff White Liberal Catholic Theologians Like
Reader Andrew W., commenting on the Thin-Skinned Theologians post, says, “Being a liberal theologian is like having a Ph.D. in Stuff White People Like.”
Regarding that claim, another reader points out the four papers that Katie Grimes, a Villanova theologian, has uploaded to Academia.edu. Let’s peruse them, shall we?
Here is Butler Interprets Aquinas: How to Speak Thomistically About Sex. The abstract:
This essay examines whether the Catholic magisterium’s use of Aquinas to condemn homosexual acts is actually Thomistic. Rather than being aligned with the magisterium, Aquinas advances a moral epistemology better illustrated by the work of philosopher Judith Butler. Deploying Butler as a means of immanent critique, I show how magisterial attempts to argue ainst lesbian and gay sex fail on their own terms. Reading Aquinas alongside Butler shows us why we need not choose between ﬁdelity to Thomistic natural law and affirmation of lesbians and gays.
Okay. More from the paper:
I believe Aquinas has been misrepresented. Rather than being aligned with the magisterium in its recapitulation of Ratzinger, Aquinas advances a moral epistemology better illuminated by the work of philosopher Judith Butler, a scholar who at ﬁrst glance seems at best irrelevant, or at worst antithetical, to the aims of Catholic theology.
That’s because Butler is not known for writing theology, but for her work arguing that gender is a performance. More:
But Butler’s capacity to allow contemporary religious scholars to use Aquinas more effectively in the pursuit of sexual truth is far from accidental. Butler’s recognition of the performative instability of sexual identity positions her to appreciate the democratically discursive and inevitably unstable character of the collective pursuit of moral truth. Depicting sexuality as a process whose revelation unfolds in history much as Aquinas believes moral truth does, Butler allows contemporary religious scholars to read Aquinas in the hermeneutic he himself established. Deploying Butler as a means of what Jeffrey Stout calls immanent critique, I show how Ratzinger’s attempt to argue Thomistically against gay and lesbian sex fails on its own terms (2009, 163). Read in light of Butler’s work, Aquinas can come out of the closet.
Et voilà, theologian Grimes has queered Aquinas, twisting the great Dominican theologian of the High Middle Ages to fit into contemporary cultural politics. Did I mention that Prof. Grimes faults Ross Douthat for “his view of Catholicism as unapologetically subject to a politically partisan narrative that has very little to do with what Catholicism really is”?
We move on to “Do the Lord Care?: Tupac Shakur as Theologian of the Crucified People.” Tupac Shakur, for those who do not know, was a very successful rapper killed in a 1996 drive-by shooting. The abstract:
The slain rapper Tupac Shakur contributes indispensably to two contemporary theologies centered around the crucified people, the theological aesthetics of liberation presented by Roberto Goizueta and the theology of the lynching tree articulated by James Cone. Placing the pioneering work of Goizueta and Cone in conversation with existing scholarship on the theological importance of Shakur’s music, I argue that Tupac crafts a theological aesthetics of liberation aimed at illuminating the injustice and Christological implications of the hypersegregated ghetto and the black mass prison.
You will recall that Prof. Grimes complained that Ross Douthat “no professional qualifications for writing on the subject” of theology. But she certifies that a rapper was a theologian — this, even though unlike Douthat, he didn’t go to church:
Others may disqualify Tupac from speaking as a theologian on account of his detachment from institutional forms of Christian faith. Against this, I maintain that Tupac’s location outside of the institutionalized church may have strengthened his prophetic abilities. As Ralph Watkins reminds us, ‘‘the fact that the prophet does not come from the institutionalized church does not obviate the need for the prophet.’’
Here’s a link to her paper “Breaking the Body of Christ: The Sacraments of Initiation in a Habitat of White Supremacy.” The abstract:
Since the racially segregated space of the United States operates as a habitat of white supremacy, the vice of white supremacy pervades the church’s corporate body and thereby permeates all of its practices, including those of baptism and the Eucharist. Rather than turning to the church’s sacraments as an antidote to the vices of a presumed external culture, this paper chronicles the way in which these very practices have been corrupted by it. The church cannot reform itself from within. In order to enable these sacraments to build the body of Christ, the church must work to dismantle regnant patterns of white supremacist racial segregation in the world.
The Villanova sage continues in the body of the paper:
Inverting the moral gaze by shining a spotlight on the white body, this article attempts to ask whites, both individually and corporately, “how does it feel to be problem?”
is appears to be white, for what it’s worth (here’s a link to her blog page, with a photo). Her paper details truly wicked historical collaboration between the institutional Catholic Church and white supremacy, but she concludes that the central sacraments of the Christian life — Baptism and the Eucharist — were defiled by that. It is hard to figure how she squares that with Catholic sacramental theology, but what do I know, I’m just a magazine writer.
Grimes says that
In reality, God cannot be truly worshiped where there is no justice and no common weal. Cavanaugh may speak the truth when he encourages Christians to work “to transform earthly affairs while resisting being conformed to the evils of the world.” But at least in the case of white supremacy, the church cannot reform itself from within.
Indeed, the vice of white supremacy entered the church’s corporate body not just when the churchwas acting in un-Catholic ways; the church acquired this vice even by being itself. Nor can the church overcome this corporate vice by clinging together more tightly. The church acquired the vicious habits of white supremacy not by losing itself in the world but even when it remained cohesively distinct from it as it did in the era of the urban Catholic parish.
Even in the opening decades of the twentieth century, when the Catholic church was its most sacramentally active and parochially uniﬁed, it enacted the corporate vice of white supremacy with great vigor. Precisely because the church both must and cannot help remaining open to the world outside of it, the world’s injustice almost always becomes the church’s. This occurs not just when the church fails to accurately perform or understand its body-making sacraments, but precisely because the church is a body. Rather than facing a choice between the pursuit of justice in the world and the preservation of ecclesial integrity, we must instead pursue justice in the world for the sake of ecclesiastical integrity.
You might be thinking, “Isn’t this the heresy of Pelagianism? I mean, she’s saying that we cannot have true worship until the world is made perfect by our efforts.” Katie Grimes says she is no heretic. She just wants the Church to ride the government’s backside until it forces white people to move:
We should not expect white Christians either to choose new racial habits or to change the racial character of the white supremacist places they inhabit. Rather than leaving Christians to their habits as Hauerwas proposes, white Christians need to be made to submit to spatial re-habituation.
Rather than distinguishing themselves from the world in order to serve and save it, white Christians need to be compelled to inhabit a world not of their making.
In particular, white Christians will be re-habituated only when they no longer possess the power to perpetuate white supremacist racial segregation in their neighborhoods and parishes. Rather than espousing a type of Pelagianism, I expose the narrow limits of white agency. White people cannot save themselves. The vice of white supremacy must be unmade by the transformative grace of Black Power, which places black life and freedom ﬁrst.
Theologians need to learn to care less about how to persuade whites to do the right thing and more on what they need to be made to do. Rather than intensifying projects of moral suasion, the church ought to begin devising strategies of white corporate coercion. At stake is not just the justice of the church but its very identity as the body of Christ.
I know what some of you are thinking: “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Villanova’s theology department employs a Social Justice Warrior crackpot.” Well, let me tell you on behalf of Fr. Jim Martin, SJ, your hatey-hate is wrong, and it’s not even theology.
Do you know where we would be without liberal Catholic theologians like Katie Grimes, telling us that Aquinas was a closet case, Tupac Shakur (sample lyric: “A smokin ass nigga robbed me blind/I got a tech nine now his smokin ass is mine”) was a true theologian, and that the Church ought to commit itself to advocating for the government to forcibly move white people out of their homes and neighborhoods? Why, we would be at the mercy of nincompoop Catholic laymen like Ross Douthat, who only thinks he knows what Catholic theology is!
That group letter to the Times sure is paying rich hathos dividends …
UPDATE: Reader WhiskeyBucks nearly made me fall off my chair with this:
“Reading Aquinas alongside Butler-” You can stop right there. When Martha Nussbaum calls Judith Butler “The Professor of Parody”you know you’re dealing with the worst kind of anus-gazing, tortured gibberish that the post-modern academy has on offer. You could take a box of Crispix and “read alongside Butler” and churn out 25,000 words about how wheat-based cereal lacks the agency to presuppose its own subordination which exemplifies a temporally based vulnerability when submerged in milk, and therefore sogginess is a product of the patriarchy, and Jesus Christ was a drag queen.