WHY THERE IS NO METHOD TO MY MADNESS
For the past several days, in a rather hilarious attempt to be profound, I came up with and tried out a “sound bite” to see what traction it would gather. And did it ever gather a storm, without the clarity I will give it. Both Optymystic Chad and James McGrath let their disagreement known.
As far as I know, I have not posted or written a paper on my view of the Bible and its interpretation. But what I want to address is the concern that I did not (and wrongfully so), explain myself as I should have. When people read “Allegory is everything, and everything is allegory,” I know that some can become immediately suspicious. Am I suggesting that it is the Christian neo-imperial mission to “out-narrate” the competition and Christianity’s story, ala John Milbank? Nah, I reject that approach. It is an honest mistake to think that I could go the way of Hauerwas and the Emergent narrative school of theology, and admittedly, I was perhaps four years ago. On one hand, I stand with biblical scholar Sugi, in his criticism of narrative theology and interpretation, that it denigrates both praxis and real human bodies in human history.
At the same time, we should keep a balanced approach; how much of Sugi’s approach is a political stance against the exclusive English/German/French onlyism of conservative U.S. American and British biblical studies? Even the way that we approach our own “methodologies” as scholars is a reflection of an allegory that we adhere to. I do not believe in a universal human experience or the universality of reason, but I can affirm both in their particularities, in their appropriate place within human bodies.
By allegory, I mean a particular set of stories that we refer to in our social and personal lives that influence the way we see the world. As my theology of pedagogy once said, “Our lives are best described by stories and that we, as human beings, are ultimately, narratively-formed people. Behind all human behavior, there is a story, a particular interpretation of that story, and a specific performance of that narrative.” Allegory just does not just tell us how we see things, but also how we as human beings do things. Stories must be performed, and as such, science fiction literature and movies perform not just as passive objects to be consumed, but also take on a life of their own as commentaries on our stories playing out in the world. This is not a religious concept, but it can be, but what I am referring to as story, are the general activities that are articulated in a specific context, time, and space. For example, I have said more than once about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Quark could represent the Dot.Com Bubble businessman of the late 1990s. If one goes into a possible economic reading of Joss Whedon’s Angel, why do people relate so much to the characters? Because the villains are all too familiar; an evil corporation that is corrupt, greedy, and filled with nasty, double-minded lawyers.
There is no point in writing a science fiction novel or producing a said movie if the audiences cannot relate to the characters. Part of what makes a bad movie (regardless of the size of the budget) is the relatability of the characters. No wonder Christian evangelical, sermons every 5 minutes, movies often flounder at the box office; because no one can relate to the unrealistic expectations of the producers and writers (among other things—sssshhhh). I would argue that allegory is the means by which human beings primarily relate to each other. Others are free to disagree or agree. My interaction with Science fiction and its history thus far this year has been one with surprising results, and I hope to share what I have noticed in the future, but not every allegory is the same, nor is every allegory innocent. In fact, the storied natures of our humanity is quite ambiguous, as the Underdog in one story could easily fit the Big Bully trope in another story. I may disagree with its helpfulness, but James McGrath’s use of Job as an allegory for life in the academia is but one possible example.
Lastly, I would like to address the methodology issue. James claims that by me claiming that I do not have a methodology for understanding science fiction and its potentially religious content is the reason why I SHOULD have a methodology. I would like to expose one of my weaknesses: I do not even have a methodology when it comes to doing theology. I only had a methodology section in my thesis because I was required to for a grade. You see, people who stick to and rely on methodologies, are like the people with plans that the Joker refers to in The Dark Knight. While I, like the Joker, I don’t have a plan; in theology, I just do things! Methodologies put me in a box, it may make me more marketable, but orthodox is not how I have ever done things. I think it is my rather eclectic but consistent theological voice that differentiates me from my peers. If I may wax the apostle Paul, “some say I follow Karl Barth, and some say I follow Karl Marx, and still others of you, “I follow Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And still others Alfred North Whitehead.”
German theologian Jurgen Moltmann has been criticized for not having a methodology (even his book on methodology was quite “non-methodological”). When I do theology, I imagine that my mind is a library catalog, and I say to myself, “should I take this book on post-structuralism off the shelf, and use it?” Or Feminism[as a black male]? Or Narrative? Perhaps Patristic theology. Never hoping to recycling quotes for the sake of recycling and therefore affirming my own opinions, but for taking these ideas in new and provoking directions. If that’s a methodology, then that may be it. The thing about clinging to 1 methodology is that it makes you less likely to engage in conversation with people of other epistemological starting points (ways of knowing). Systematic theologies in the past depended perhaps too much on singular methodologies and topics, but constructive theologies today, I believe are going in a totally different direction.
In conclusion, all I am hoping for is a re-appropriation of the allegorical use of Scripture (without all of the anti-semitism in its history–thanks for nothing, Augustine), something that could potentially link the Academy and the Church, the political class to the grass roots, where participation and praxis are prioritized in the Christian life, with reconciliation–gender, racial, and economic as real goals.
But again, if you think about it, my goals are a reflection of my allegory.