Monday, December 08, 2008

Is reading a political act?

There's an interesting post over on Robin Parry's excellent blog about using God to serve our social agendas.

In effect the post is about the politics of interpretation. He suggests that a particular feminist scholar does her theology backwards - namely that she knows the kind of God her politics will tolerate, so finds him (or her) in scripture.

This might or might not be true (I've never read the scholar in question) but it does raise a key question about hermeneutics, it seems to me. Recently, scholars have rediscovered that the New Testament was written in a time of empire and that there is possibly counter-imperial language in the documents.

Now is this because these scholars are politically liberal - some suggest their motives have to do with being anti-American - or because they put two and two together and make four. It seems pretty obvious that people who are used to hearing that Caesar is Lord and saviour, upon hearing that Jesus is Lord and saviour might question what that says about Caesar as well as Jesus. Or that when Mark talks about 'a gospel' (Mark 1:1) his original hearers would have wondered how it was related to the other gospel they heard regularly concerning Caesar (especially Augustus).

Are the scholars making such connections, seeking them for political reasons, because they want to create the faith in the image of their own political creed? Or are those who say these scholars are wrong, doing so because they want to ensure that God's politics mirror theirs.

Isn't politics a bit like culture. we are so used to our political attitudes, they are so second nature to us that we do not see them and their effect on how we read texts? Politics affects the paper we choose to read, how we respond to news events - just look at the storm of disagreement over the rights and wrongs in the arrest of Damien Green.

So Robin Parry is right when he says 'She decided what political goals she wanted to achieve, worked out what kind of God would be needed to support that agenda, and then reverse-engineered a doctrine of God that serves the pre-decided political agenda. It is the very self-conscious, and blatant crafting of a God to serve our political ends that is ... worrying.' But wrong to imply that we don't all do it; indeed that it is to some extent inevitable.

What we need is a community of scholarship - gatherings of Christians generally - that gently and lovingly holds one another to account for our interpretations, especially in sensitive areas that spill over into the way we live as disciples in the real world.

I'm just embarking on a study of Ched Myers' Binding the Strong Man, a self confessed political reading of Mark that seeks to close the gap between the text and our discipleship in every area of life in our world - including politics. Is this a more tendentious reading that William Lane's or Morna Hooker's that merely claim to engage in historical-critical-literary criticism of the text?

Let me know what you think...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think it's rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.

Of course people use God, the Bible and the church to justify their beliefs. It's been done for generations and will be for generations to come.

However you wrap these theological discussions up, whatever intellectual viewpoints you take, or however you choose to present your versions of the truth are essentially meaningless.

It's navel gazing, irrelevant and dull.

Did Jesus talk to his disciples about hermeneutics? Did God sent Moses down the mountain to offer a discourse on the dissonance created by interpreting the scripture for his own ends? I don't think so.

Jesus was a revolutionary figure who wasn't afraid to kick arse.

I can't believe how quickly your blog has turned from putative action into prevarication, pseudo-relgious navel gazing and spuriousness.

I think I preferred it when you were giving out flip flops on the streets of Bromley. At least it was doing something useful.

Sorry to criticise, but come on ...