Tag Archives: Michel Foucault

So You Wanna Read The Bible With Suspicion?

Meaning, Suspicion, Tradition, and Hope

Retrato del filósofo francés Michel Foucault

 

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?

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I Believe in Limited Government, Therefore I can no longer be a libertarian

Blame it on the Founders

I have this gosh awful bad habit of wanting to be part of clubs where I don’t belong. When I was in elementary school, I always wanted to be part of the cool clique One day in early 2006 came when I kissed Calvinism goodbye and rightly so. As I reflect on the past in self-criticism, I believe whole heartedly that I made the right decision, that my Calvinism was holding back in not allowing me to fulfill my own potential. I know it’s not I am not articulating it very well right now, but maybe someday I will have to words to say it. Today begins a less bitter departure from the label of “libertarian”; although, I still want to hold on to the idea of limited, decentralized government that some libertarians promote. After all, the notion of the state limiting itself is not in and of itself a bad idea, as I argued in one of PJ’s original 3-part series: Limited Government and the Bible Part 1; Part 2; and part 3.

The problem is, as radical as consistent as the Left Libertarian strain of libertarianism was and as it appealing as it was for me, it did not go far enough for me. The question I keep asking and coming back to is this: What does it mean to be governed? Do public officials act alone in the managing of our lives? Are the private enterprises that seek to discipline our bodies to where their investors want them to go? Post-structalist understandings of power as interpersonal do not match the Right Libertarian view of power as institutional, while the Left Libertarians continue to struggle to find their voice. Have a problem? Blame the government! Have to pay taxes? Why that’s a form of violence?

It’s the arbitrary and disembodied definition of violence that really cut the cake for me, especially from extreme Right Libertarians. That, and their pseudo-intellectual pontifications on U.S. American history. Take Glenn Beck for instance: Teddy Roosevelt owned the label of “progressive” and therefore, all progressives in history were evil. Take an honest look at history. Question: What is the difference between Beck’s and Roosevelt’s foreign policy? Answer: Basically, nothing. They were/are both jingoists and believed in the U.S. as an active military power exerting its influence over the world. When it comes to economics, of course Beck claims “anarcho-capitalism.” Or take Thomas Woods case to bring back ideas such as “nullification” and “secession” in his Nullification. Of course, I think many would agree that these ideas are best used in self-defense when human life is at stake, like the case of South Sudan, but I do not think President Obama’s policies amount to some sort of genocide against the U.s. American people.

Which leads me to my last two points. First, many Right Libertarians believe that behind every positive claim about government, there is a Marxist or Nazi hiding nearby. This obsession with Red conspiracies is enough to drive people crazy, you know, John Birch-type crazy. The final straw, however, was the anachronistic views of history, the Tea Party’s argument that their ideas are in the Founders’ documents, and they just are not. Whether we are talking about Jefferson and the Anti-Federalists who wanted agricultural socialism (states subsidizing the slave trade) or Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists, who had no problem with crony capitalism, and the government cooperating with early forms of industry in the late 18th century. Reading The Federalist Papers opened up my eyes, and while it is not the perfect document, I can affirm a majority of the ideas it promotes, the federal government as a decentralized and limited national government. The separation of powers is something that no one ever talks about anymore unless it relates to how a Supreme Court case did not go in their favor. Even the cases and examples that Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison use from history (the Greek city-states, etc.) are quite selective in nature, and further proof that our existences are story-bound through and through. Allegory is everything, everything is allegory (there I go again).

Bottom line: libertarianism, story-wise, means idyllic romances with a past that never happened and fretting over a dystopian future that is only hypothetical. By the way, who doesn’t have their own version of a dystopia? What is needed to happen is a hope-filled and updated rendition of the Federalist Papers, an understanding of the ideals behind the Founders (at least the winning side, right!), which Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Martin Luther King Jr. tried to continue. A “Federalist” today is known as someone who believes in states’ rights but how did that happen through an honest reading of history? That just does not happen over night. That takes the power of anachronism and deception.

Quite simply put, the Federalist tradition is one that promotes the idea of a decentralized national government dedicated to protecting the rights of individuals. One of the weaknesses of Federalism that Libertarians, left and right, rightfully point out is that Federalism in terms of economics meant the federal government picking the winners and losers (crony capitalism). I would argue that the very best way to fight against public and private spheres from dominating our lives is making education available to all; after all, Christian is right; public education was one of the original dreams of our Founders and should remain a staple in our society. Secondly, on a related note, expanding the power of the electorate by giving homeless/propertyless U.S. citizens the right to vote should also be a priority. The idea that people have to own homes in order to vote in their district is archaic, classist, and discriminates against many of our veterans. Thirdly, I believe that it is important that communities start to emphasize political activism on the local level, with city council elections being on par with our votes for governor or Senator. How this happens? I don’t have all the answers, but it is worth a look.

Speaking of post-structuralism, I will end this post on bit of a light note, not to take myself too seriously:

Happy Birthday, Michel Foucault!

from Social Images

On Utopian Christianity: Rick Perry’s The Response, the Nation-State, and The Bible

Towards an OrthoPolitics in the Cities of the Triune God

“[…] to be a Christian nation would mean we would ultimately be faced with the task of regulating Jesus. […] Believing it best represents God’s will, every Christian government is ultimately doomed to sacrifice Jesus once again.”– Erin Hamilton, “Christian Nation”

And

“American public officials should make every effort NOT to even appear to favor a particular religion or denomination or religious movement over others AS A PUBLIC OFFICIAL. As a private person, which a public official always also is, he or she has ever right to attend and participate in religious ceremonies. However, a line of danger is crossed when a public official publicly endorses and participates in a parochial religious worship event wearing his or her public “hat,” as it were.”- Roger Olson, Politicians and Prayer Meetings

Recently, I have had problems reading my Bible, particularly the Old Testament. Why you ask? I took note of something that I didn’t realize that was there (and shouldn’t, or at least should be clarified). Have you ever read through any of the oracles of the prophets, against the Nations? When you see these two words, The Nations, what comes to your mind? Is it hegemonic nation-states that we are all caught up in from birth, the United States of America, the struggling- to be Palestinian nation-state, China the emerging hyper-power in the world? The priest-prophet Ezekiel gives a 3 chapter tirade against the city-state of Tyre (chapters 26-28:19). Come to think of it, Babylon was a great Ancient Near Eastern city-state as well. When we read our English translations of Scripture, however, because we see the terms “The Nations,” our minds go straight to our modern notions of nationality. In fact, I have come to regret my reading of the last few chapters of Ezekiel, fearing it was nationalistic when perhaps it was MY OWN GAZE that was instead, for nationalism requires the arrogant stance that we are not from the land.

Nationalization of our identities also assumes that local differences must be suppressed. As I have argued, along the lines of Willie Jenning’s theology of Israel that nation-building is the epitome of Gentile arrogance. A precise reason why this is the case is that the God of Israel in the Hebrew Bible historically reveals YHWH acting politically within the confines of city-states. I am coming to believe that the difference of utmost importance. In order for our particularities (on the local level) to be denied, space and place must be taken away. Therefore, our identity is separated from the ground from which we came. Biblically speaking, this becomes a prideful practice; whether in Scripture, we are discussing when human beings return to dust, or where the places that we are buried have sacred meaning (wouldn’t that mean we should come to question cemetaries? I believe so).

While many scholars are coming to criticize the Enlightenment and the creation of the nation-state, what is left in the void is no alternative. Perhaps anarchy? Perhaps a one-world international government? I reject both, in favor of a return to the city-state. Nation-states require utopian understandings of the world, which are purely dedicated to times (past & future) without any discussion of space or place. Our own nationalism minus conversations on spatiality allow us to dismiss the suffering of our First Nations/Native American sisters and brothers, whose identity is tied to the land. In an assignment as a Masters student, I used the thought of Michel Foucault in critiquing Jurgen Moltmann’s early eschatology, it is the lack of talk of our inhabitance within particular space that remains problematic for “theologians of the future.” The question we should put forth is not only how and when, but also WHERE does our God of Resurection act to liberate the crucified populations of the world. The problem with the nationalistic Gentile Christianity put forth by Christian Dominionists such as Rick Perry and Gary North is that the Triune God’s emplacement is restricted to the North American nation-state.

One thing I can appreciate from conservatives like Michelle Bachmann is that they openly talk about their faith, using stories from scripture to relate to persons. It reminds me of the confessional politics I read about; what I am looking for is a confessional politics that is also cosmopolitan, a Christian politics of particularity which seeks the welfare (Jeremiah 33) of cities all around the world (cosmo + polis). As I am working through this, I seek a rejection of both liberal and conservative utopian thinking, and in favor of something more along the lines of a baptizing of sorts of Foucault’s concepts of heterotopias, moments and places in time that reflect the Kingdom of God. One potential start could be the embodiment within the body politic of the Christian supreme virtue of humility, which, according to Phillipians 2:1-15, is inextricably tied to Christ Jesus’s planetary rule and our distinct Christian witness.

For more on Michel Foucault and heterotopias, please see Michel Foucault’s “Of Other Spaces.”