alixtii: Mary Magdalene washing the face of Jesus of Nazareth, from the film production of Jesus Christ Superstar. (religion)
[personal profile] alixtii

Adapted from this LibraryThing thread.

I happen to think the moral strictures, at least, of the Bible are on the whole pretty darn clear, as opposed to being, you know, valent, whether multi, poly, bi (not that there’s anything wrong with it), tri, or any other variation on same: Do not murder, do not have sex with someone else’s spouse, lay off of worshipping big wooden statues, don’t lie with beasts, and don’t lie (if you’re a male) with other males (especially if they’re angels and especially if it’s non-consensual).

In one sense, I agree with this, in that I'm distrustful of the project which claims we can apply a conservative hermeneutic to Scripture and still get liberal conclusions--the What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality project, where it seems to be conceded that the Bible could condemn homosexuality, but it's a contingent fact that it doesn't. Whew! What a relief. [On the flist, I know that [livejournal.com profile] hermionesviolin is a big proponent of this view. Sorry, Elizabeth. --ed.]

But I'm not sure that "clear" and "multivalent" are actually mutually exclusive. It seems to me possible that a certain reading could be clear and at the same time God could be using it to say or do something completely different than the "clear" reading suggests. If one finds evolving revelation problematic, then the fact that God seemingly eschews being clear could be problematic. But since my faith commitments (which are fairly orthodox in this respect at least) don't lead me to do so, the problem disappears.

It seems to me "clear" and "multivalent" measure different things; the former measures plausibility (which I think the religionist by virtue of being a religionist has already abandoned [another point I think Elizabeth would disagree with me on--ed.]) and the latter possibility (which is the space in which religion thrives).

Leviticus is pretty explicit on male homosexuality: "don't do it." But as liberal apolgists are probably too prone to point out, it's in a list that also forbids wearing polyester. Is the doctrine of dispensationalism which supposedly frees us from the polyester rule something read into the Bible, or a direct exegesis of the New Testament? I don't pretend to know. Is the division between ethical and non-ethical rules that exempts the homosexuality clause from dispensationalism exegetical or eisegetical? Again, I don't know. I don't think there's a right answer. (Well, actually, I'm fond of "It's all eisegetical.")

But what I'm left with is that the Bible never says anything simply; interpretation is always required. We don't get very far before my "obvious" reading and your "obvious" reading no longer line up very well.

I don't want to deny that the "condemnation of homosexuality" reading is the most intuitive one. I don't know if this fact says more about us (and what we find intuitive) or Scripture, but to deny it would be disingenuous. All I'm trying to claim is that alternate readings are valid. Which reading we choose will say a lot about who we are as Christians, obviously.

Now, it may be that there are texts that, as modern thinking Christians, we might decide are so inherently problematic that they can't possibly be part of God's Word. I won't rule it out completely. But such a move should only be made as a last possible resort, I think; as long as there are ways to constructively re-vision our understanding of a passage, that should be the preferable route.

Scripture, as compiled under the watchful eye of Mother Church, is important because it is, not solely but nonetheless very importantly, what we as Christians draw on and look back to as part of what defines us. But this is a wrestling with God, not a list of directives. Penuel, not Sinai.

I think we need to be honest about this, and admit that our interpretations are born as much from our moral commitments (both personal and communal--and we cannot forget that Mother Church, fractured and divided as she is*, is guided by the Holy Spirit) as they are from any type of straight, direct exegesis. (These commitments are not prior to our interpretation of Scripture, but rather in constant unending dialect with it.) But I also believe that that's the only game in town.[This brings us to Alixtii's peculiar brand of meta/ethics.--ed.]

[*Yes, there's gendered language there. There's something in the gendered language which I think is particularly effective at conveying a particular (Anglo-Catholic) understanding of the composition of the Church. At the same time, all that bride of Christ stuff is so deeply problematic from a feminist viewpoint. Still at the same time, I didn't actually mention any of that bride of Christ stuff, nor would I ever (although I do refer to the Church as "His Church" upthread), just a positive feminine embodiment of a religious concept, and stripping our religious language of positive feminine embodiments of religious concepts is problematic in its own right. I still don't know how I feel about it all, except that there's part of me that feels really comfortable talking about Mother Church.--ed.]

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-25 02:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] http://users.livejournal.com/peasant_/
It seems to me possible that a certain reading could be clear and at the same time God could be using it to say or do something completely different than the "clear" reading suggests.

I think an exemplar can be drawn from the creation/evolution debate. Because regardless of where you stand on the biblical evidence, the evidence available in the earth itself means that the bible reading cannot be taken as simple and clear. Either, God used evolution to create the world in which case the bible must be read as more complicated than the superficially clear story, or God did not use evolution but for some reason chose to make the world in such a fashion that it appeared that He did, in which case the bible must be read as more complicated than the superficially clear story. The important point being not whether evolution is or is not true but that the bible story is not and cannot be taken as a simple explanation of everything that is going on. Even if you are a hard-line creationist the undeniable fact of dinosaur bones means that on some level the Creation story has non-simplistic elements.

It seems to me this logic can be extended beyond the first chapters of Genesis and taken to any other aspect of the bible. You don't need a 'dispensation' if you take the reading as being more complicated than a simple set of 'rules'.

Although, point of doctrine, didn't Paul excuse most of those rules just as he did with things like circumcision?

I think we need to be honest about this, and admit that our interpretations are born as much from our moral commitments (both personal and communal--and we cannot forget that Mother Church, fractured and divided as she is*, is guided by the Holy Spirit) as they are from any type of straight, direct exegesis. (These commitments are not prior to our interpretation of Scripture, but rather in constant unending dialect with it.) But I also believe that that's the only game in town.
I'm just quoting this because I like it so much.

Wrestling with God is an ongoing task not just for each individual but with a greater historical scope. The idea that modern moral concepts can somehow be ignored or should not be applied to religion 'because the bible says so' seems to me to be wrong. Christianity is not fossilised in some fictional past when morality was fixed in a clear fashion. Morals have always changed, and thus the way in which Christians respond to the bible are bound to change along with them.

Mind you, I speak as a conservative agnostic, so probably not your intended core audience.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-25 03:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alixtii.livejournal.com
Yeah, we see eye to eye on this. Which, as you point out, might not be indicative of all that much.

My quoted interlocutor was a fairly mainstream Christian who was to the right of me only by virtue of my being so radically theologically liberal. The context was a debate I and others were having with an atheist on whether evolving revelation rendered religion incoherent.

When I pointed out ways that religion could understand evolving revelation, they argued out that those understandings were based on undemonstrated claims they had no reason to accept. My response was a confused, "Well, yeah, that's why you're an atheist." Did they really think I was going to be sucked into an argument over whether Christianity was true? God forbid.

So what you have hear is the ensuing nitpicky hair-splitting between me and another, slightly more conservative Christian as to how exactly Christianity does/should make sense of evolving revelation.

Most of these thoughts aren't new to my flist; at the same time, the argument is structured somewhat differently than pieces written with the flist as intended audience have been, so I thought it would be useful to pull it out and post it.

Although, point of doctrine, didn't Paul excuse most of those rules just as he did with things like circumcision?

Yes. I don't pretend to really understand the difference between dispensationalism and supersessionism or replacement theology; I just know that dispensationalism is the doctrine that Evangelicals draw on to reconcile fundamentalism with not wanting to follow those annoying rules in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

Now, if my memory serves (and admittedly my knowledge of the epistles is somewhat spotty), St. Paul is explicit about circumcision and dietary laws but vague as to where the Old and New Covenants begin and end otherwise. I frankly don't think he gives us enough information to be able to draw the line on a sola scriptura basis alone; we need the traditions of Mother Church to make clear exactly what Gentile Christians are and are not called upon to do. The reason I wear polyester (assuming I do; if I look at the label at all it's to see if it's going to shrink) isn't because a studied reading of the Bible has convinced me it's okay to do so; it's because not doing it just isn't a tradition amongst my religious community the way it is amongst some Jewish communities. For that matter, I don't really need St. Paul to tell me it's okay to eat shrimp, either, although if my Church avoided shrimp I might do so as well because that would be part of my religious tradition.

I'm just quoting this because I like it so much.

And you and I have discussed that element, the interdependence of ethics and theology, at length before. I was re-reading those conversations this morning after I hit "post"; I'm really glad you prompted me those many months ago to articulate my thoughts on meta/ethics and save them. It's a really valuable resource to me.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-28 05:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] http://users.livejournal.com/peasant_/
Which, as you point out, might not be indicative of all that much.

I suspect it is because we are coming at it from the same religious tradition, so the only difference is faith, which isn't relevant to the discussion.

a debate I and others were having with an atheist on whether evolving revelation rendered religion incoherent.

Let me guess - the atheist expected his 'revelation' of incoherence would come as a huge shock to you all. The trouble with a lot of atheists, especially while they are still at the evangelical stage, is that they stopped learning about religion at the moment they stopped believing, so they are genuinely unaware that Christianity has had a long time to think about these problems and actually has some very impressive responses. If I didn't happen to spend a fair bit of time in Christian services I would be unaware of this myself. (Because I sing in various choirs, including singing services, if you were wondering.)

And you and I have discussed that element, the interdependence of ethics and theology, at length before. I was re-reading those conversations this morning after I hit "post"; I'm really glad you prompted me those many months ago to articulate my thoughts on meta/ethics and save them. It's a really valuable resource to me.

I must go and reread it myself, because I've been thinking all afternoon about the nature of morality versus legality and need to remind myself of some things.

BTW, I have a question about the nature of radical feminism, if you are minded to discuss it. I have been wondering the following for some time now:
If radical feminism revolves around the notion that there are those in positions of power (loosely, men) and those who are disempowered (loosely, the rest) then to what extent does the radical system perceive the necessity for establishing methods of negotiating with the powerful on behalf of the the disempowered, or does it try to avoid such negotiation as 'playing into' the existing power structures?

Of course this may not be the sort of thing you want to discuss right now, so please don't feel any pressure to answer.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-03-01 02:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alixtii.livejournal.com
If radical feminism revolves around the notion that there are those in positions of power (loosely, men) and those who are disempowered (loosely, the rest) then to what extent does the radical system perceive the necessity for establishing methods of negotiating with the powerful on behalf of the the disempowered, or does it try to avoid such negotiation as 'playing into' the existing power structures?

This cuts straight to the quick as to my critique of radical politics. While I for the most part agree with their modes of analysis, it's hard to see the traditional 1970s radical feminists as arguing anything other than the latter claim--that negotiating on behalf of the disempowered with the powerful is playing into the existing power structures, which need to be torn down in toto, don't ask me how.

As a result, traditional radical feminists eschew pursuing change through legislation or litigation. I'd probably agree that liberal feminism is a little too law-happy, to the detriment of enacting cultural change, but it's simply a fact that the most meaningful and important changes to a woman's lot in society have been wrought by liberal feminists working through the political system. No, it's not a throwing off of the yoke of the patriarchy, but in the meantime it's an important work of marcy, and by increasing the scope of women's ability to be actors culturally and politically increases the possibility in my mind of eventual radical change.

Furthermore, it's not as if the radical feminists have, as far as I can tell, a coherent agenda for cultural change either (at least if we discount lesbian separatism) beyond women telling their own stories--something vitally important, but not sufficient. Here too I think a series of negotiations and compromises are necessary; we can't just replace everything in the library with Margaret Atwood; we need the Joss Whedons, whose works are empowering and deeply problematic at the same time. Enacting cultural change requires speaking to people in a language they can understand, which requires a partial and temporary appropriation of the patriarchal mythos in order to deconstruct it.

Do you remember just how horrible Dissenter's Tolkein fanfic was?

As I wrote in my Non-Defense of the Organization for Transformative Works:
Liberalism and radicalism always tend to exist in an uneasy tension with each other, and my temperament is to be a radical. (If for no other reason than that I am still young.) And yet for all that I am a radical--my brand of feminism is not the "liberal feminism" of the ERA brand (that's my mother's feminism)--I can see the good work that liberal feminism has done: suffrage, anti-discrimination laws, assurance of basic rights like holding property and not being raped. So too can I see the compromises with authority which brought about these reforms, and problematize them--and problematize them I do! But that does not change the fact that the plight of women is better than it was 100 years ago, for all the fact that the feminist movement consisted for much of that time of middle-class white (heterosexual) women who, no, did not speak for all women.

Liberalism is necessary for concrete change, but radicalism is the vision which both motivates it and critiques it.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-03-06 08:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] http://users.livejournal.com/peasant_/
Thanks for clarifying. And sorry for being so slow replying. I plead the need to think and my usual health issues.

I had pretty much come to the conclusion that radicals could only be either entirely theoretical or working towards revolution. I hadn't actually thought of the separatist lesbian utopia, but actually that makes a lot of sense and I suspect is the world view a lot of radicals in fact are falling back on, whether they realise it or not.

So, subsidiary question:
radicalism is the vision which both motivates it and critiques it.
Do you think liberal feminists can in fact take their theories from radicals and still maintain their full ability to negotiate? The thing that has struck me about this empowered/disempowered binary is that it really undermines someone's ability to talk with (i.e. negotiate with) the empowered because it also breeds contempt and dislike for the power. And while many people can have respect for someone who disagrees with them, it is very rare indeed to respect someone who has no respect for your position in society.

Oddly enough this even holds true if the power is something you've only been granted by the very person being disrespectful of it - if I say 'you are more powerful than me because you were given a rubber toy dog as a child, and I despise you for it' you are going to be in no mood to listen to my criticisms of why you shouldn't have been given a toy dog, or why everyone should have been given one, even though up until that moment you had never given a moment's thought to your toy dog.

So radicalism poisons its own waters. The question is, does it also poison other people's? Can one take lessons from radicalism about what the world's problems are and still find a new way to actually solve them? Or should one turn away from radicalism as an intellectually fascinating but ultimately fruitless cul-de-sac and look for something entirely different?

I'd probably agree that liberal feminism is a little too law-happy, to the detriment of enacting cultural change
And of course the danger of that is that if you manage to impose a law before the culture of society at large is ready for it, it will backfire far worse than any radical ranting on their soap box. Liberals have the potential to do more good, but they also have the potential to do more harm.

I'm not sure. I've been fumbling around thinking about this sort of thing for, what, two or three years now? And I sort of have the swirly shape of an understanding at the back of my brain but I can't bring it into proper focus. It is something to do with cultural expression, and negotiation not confrontation but negotiation without people even knowing they are being negotiated with. I kind of take Torchwood as my shiny example because I think that has done a brilliant job of negotiating for alternative sexualities, yet maybe that is just from my angle of looking at it. I know I've seen people who really didn't get 'the point' about sexuality in Torchwood. So maybe that isn't entirely the answer either.

I know a lot of things it's not - it's not confrontation, or expressing ones frustrations, or criticising other people's output, or doing anything to enforce, police or rely on the boundary between X and Y - but as you know, it is very easy indeed to criticise what other people are doing :D What I need to do is find some way to bring my own ideas into focus and work out what they actually are in detail so I can start applying them properly.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-03-14 06:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alixtii.livejournal.com
The thing that has struck me about this empowered/disempowered binary is that it really undermines someone's ability to talk with (i.e. negotiate with) the empowered because it also breeds contempt and dislike for the power.

I think this conflates the power and the empowered a little too much. It sort of resembles the strawman (strawperson?) feminism where the patriarchy is understood to be a cabal of rich white men deliberately seeking to keep women down, or the stereotype of the man-hating feminist. I think there's a huge difference between a recognition of privilege and contempt.

And since privilege comes in so many shapes and colors, thinking of it as a binary is probably less than effective.

Can one take lessons from radicalism about what the world's problems are and still find a new way to actually solve them? Or should one turn away from radicalism as an intellectually fascinating but ultimately fruitless cul-de-sac and look for something entirely different?

I just don't see what that something could be. It might just be my own blindness, but it seems like it'd most likely develope into that "most of feminism's battles are fought and won" post-feminist nonsense and complacency which is so frustratingly common nowadays. Radical feminism reveals just how deep (thus the name) the problems with our society go. I don't see anything else (other than the other forms of radical leftist politics, of course, which I think need to stand in solidarity with feminism) able to fulfill that role.

But I don't see why seeing just how deep the problem runs prevents one from making temporary, short-term attempts at, if not solving it (planning for the revolution might still be in order), at least mitigating it. And like the ship of Theseus, this approach might allow us to, over time, radically replace all elements of our culture while still existing within it.

So, no, I don't see any real tension between a liberal politics and a radical theory.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-03-15 07:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] http://users.livejournal.com/peasant_/
What? Really? OK, I am obviously hugely misunderstanding something fundamental here. I clearly need to go do some research - my reply will be even slower than usual. (Although since our record is about nine months, that doesn't mean much ;)

August 2014

S M T W T F S
     12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
242526272829 30
31      

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags