Meaning, Suspicion, Tradition, and Hope
Usually, I travel around blogs on biblical studies from different perspectives, and when I do, I like to read (and hear, in my head) different voices. Yes, that’s right, when I read, I hear voices in my head, okay? I have come across quite frequently Bible scholars and Christian thinkers who just randomly go off on tangents about how wrong reading the Bible with a hermeneutic of suspicion is.
For many persons, the Scriptures themselves are the problem, and that’s fine, they can have their own opinions. For me, IMNSHO (in my not so humble opinion), the problems is our interpretations, our readings of its meaning that cause the most problems (for example, the Parable of the Talents is just one of those passages that is just, ugh never mind). For some strange reason or another, Christians who use this “hermeneutic of suspicion” are condemned. I think it has to do with people not liking their embedded theologies challenged, what they have been taught, the Sunday School answers. More specifically, those who retain this hermeneutic of suspicion, as cast as people without hope, people who are generally distrustful of others (and rightly so in my individual case), and too egg-headed for their own good. So the alternatives that are proposed are things like “a hermeneutic of trust” or love or whatever all while affirming critical engagement with the text over and against what they see as ideologically driven cynicism.
In other words, those with a hermeneutic of suspicion have nothing constructive to offer (this is my reading of these general criticisms). I take issue with this. First, and foremost, I continue to apply this suspicion, not out of my distrust for people or tradition (some traditions are good), but because of the Christian doctrine of human fallenness. One of the Niebuhr brothers rightly said the one doctrine Christians can prove is humanity’s sinfulness. Just take a look at history. Secondly, and most importantly, persons who are “driven” by suspicion/distrust of the text are inspired by hope. In Jonathan Tran’s Foucault And Theology, he quotes Michel Foucault on hope and suspicion:
“Despair and hopelessness are one thing, suspicion is another. And if you are suspicious, it is because, of course, you have a certain hope.”
I think this quote speaks volumes for persons of religious backgrounds and those who claim no religious affiliation, that critical readings of religious texts are drawn out of hopes. For some, a hope for a better world in the here and now, for others, the hope for conserving that which was from the past, and yet still others, a hope for the future. As Foucault would say, “power as relationship” is everywhere, and it is found in resistance. My hope is in the Risen Christ, who liberates all of humanity from the forces sin, death, and satan; therefore, as part of that hope, I know that there is a world beyond what John Calvin,Jacob Arminius, Adam Smith (the economist), and Karl Marx tell me. My particular hermeneutic of suspicion arises from not only my education, but first from being raised in the traditions of black churches: “The hermeneutics of suspicion and hope rises from the smoldering embers of the church of resistance. The black church uses a hermeneutics of suspicion because of the way Scripture has been used against African Americans in order to support racist policies.”
For more, read Stephen Breck Reid’s Endangered Reading: The African American Scholar Between Text and People (linked here, was working as of 8/6/2012)
What have you learned or heard about people who have a hermeneutic suspicion? Positive? Negative?