Today at, Ethika Politika, I have an essay — “Francis’ Radical Realism: Performance v. Ideology” — about what I am calling Francis’ “radical realism.”
I trace this idea in three ways: (1) the words and deeds of his own pontificate, (2) the preceding progression of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and (3) in dialogue with the (surprisingly complimentary) thought of Alasdair MacIntyre and Slavoj Zizek.
All of this amounts to nothing short of a Latin American Catholic critique of ideology, including an ideological notion of Catholicism.
Francis’s radical realism, then, is to treat the Word as an incarnate thing, as a reality to be shown more than it is said, to let its proclamation live in the performance of its witness, to be captured in pictures of tenderness, embrace, ordinary living. A kiss. Acts such as these are immune to the ideological trap of Western ideas that has turned so much of the reality of the Gospel into intellectual history, moral theology, and dogmatic ideals. A real Gospel cannot be a philosophy or even a philosophical theology. A philosophical Catholicism is what Francis seems to be avoiding, and for good reason.
In predictable fashion, the essay has attracted the scorn of some Catholics, calling it “postmodern nonsense” or ridiculing it as an example of a young academic who has lost his way. (One critic suggested that I need to be slapped. He is very naughty.)
While there may be serious arguments to be made for these claims, and others like them, no such argument have accompanied any of these particular reactions, that amount to nothing more than petty insults.
But my critics have been too generous. Their defensive refrains, choosing from their ideological word bank — Is it really groundbreaking to call a university professor a postmodern and a danger to young minds? Didn’t Allan Bloom write that book int he 80’s? — are nothing short of a performance of ideology that pairs perfectly with Francis’ radical realism and its immunity to such nonsense.
In other words, the performance belies the content, providing a perfect foil to the argument I am making.
The essay ends with the following:
Francis is calling the Church, and the world, to reject ideology as such, to decolonize and disabuse itself from the deleterious effects of Western intellectualism, to perform an embrace of reality, most of all, the reality of Christ and his presence among us in the poor and the suffering.