Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Response to ABC "Listening to Scripture"

From Bill Carroll at Anglican Resistance writing on Archbishop Rowan Williams lecture to theology students in Canada. From the last few paragraphs:

It is not sufficient in my view to acknowledge the tensions present in the text, which only a strict fundamentalist ignores (and does so at the price of any academic or intellectual integrity). One must also recognize that there are ideologies present in the text which actually corrupt and destroy the liberatory thrust of the Good News (as well as of Torah, prophets, and other writings) and that these ideologies are used by Christians today, including Christians in the churches of the Anglican communion, to deadly effect. The point made by the citation from Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, which I have summarized as follows "portions of Scripture were written and canonized to marginalize women," is too important to ignore.

What I see operative in Williams' thoughts here is an emphasis on the "hermeneutics of retrieval" over the "hermeneutics of suspicion" (see the writings of David Tracy and Paul Ricoeur). He seems to fear that giving the well founded suspicions of feminists, Marxists, Freudians, queer theorists, etc. their due place within a Christian theological hermeneutics will mean giving away the store, i.e. making Scripture "one element in a merely modern landscape of conflicts." Rather, can we not insist that these suspicions arise from the heart of the Eucharistic assembly itself, as this diverse community, growing under the Spirit's influence into the fullness of Christ, seeks a faithful response to the Word of God? Until we admit that portions of our sacred text serve an anti-Kingdom, anti-Gospel agenda and were written to do so, we cannot take adequate account of the contradictory collection of writings, which I too hope to listen to, as a whole, as the record of God's mighty acts in salvation history and as the contemporary means by which God addresses human beings and calls into being a People out of nothing. The need for ideological criticism of Scripture is aptly demonstrated by feminist theologian and biblical critic Sandra Schneiders, whom no one can accuse of ignoring the theological sense of the text.

I am deeply troubled by Williams remark that "The canon is presented to us as a whole, whose unity is real and coherent, even if not superficially smooth." The book of Joshua alone, with its conquest narrative, should give us pause. So should the texts of terror discussed so well by Phyllis Trible. The Bible countenances holy war, putting captives to death by the sword, rape, and other atrocities. Williams appeals to the Shoah, the Holocaust, which we just commemorated. (At Ohio University Hillel's service for Yom HaShoah, we also remembered the victims of the Holocaust who were of African descent, physically and mentally handicapped, Roma (Gypsies), Jehovah's Witnesses, and--YES--LGBT persons). Doesn't this memory, to say nothing of the anamnesis of the crucifixion, point us in a direction where more interruptive, disruptive voices must be heard? As Thomas Aquinas once wrote, "Every truth, no matter by whom it may be spoken, comes from the Holy Spirit." The unity of the canon is the person of God whose story is told there, as well as the People whom God calls into being. But the story is filled with inconsistencies and contradictions. A superficial attempt to find coherence is at least as dangerous and unfaithful to the canon as those positions which, overwhelmed by the superficial contradictions, find no meaning or truth there. The ecclesiological corollary, which Williams seems also to ignore, is that some forms of unity are sinful. Williams apparent hostility to Enlightenment liberalism needs to be countered by voices like David Tracy's, who acknowledges the ambiguities of the Enlightenment project, without rejecting its unfulfilled emancipatory possibilities. We do not have to choose between an adequate theological hermeneutics and the critical thrust of the Enlightenment. In fact, those hermeneutics which ignore the voices of suspicion may be shown to be inadequate on strictly theological grounds.
Read it all here

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