Sorry I've been mostly AWOL of late, breaking my blogging fast only on occasion, merely to post Obama video clips.
I've been reworking some of my theological and academic projects, and such work can't be broken down in a nice and neat way for this blog. This blog started as a response to my own (accidental) participation in the "culture wars," and the content here has reflected that. While I grew up an evangelical Christian, I also grew up a liberal Democrat, and that created and interesting dichotomy from which to write. Additionally, my brief experiences as a pastor, and especially the abuse I took from a congregation that led to my resignation from ministry (and nearly, for a time, to the dissolution of my marriage) motivated me to write out my peculiar theological take on hot-button social issues.
While I have yet another post on abortion and scripture (an exegesis of Exodus 21:12-27, focusing on verse 22) outlined and ready to go, I can't bring myself to write it, much less post it. Why? Frankly, I'm tired of that conversation. It isn't getting us anywhere.
Many of the conversations that have happened here over the years have been the same way. Though I've loved them, at their best they serve merely to provide some relatively safe arena in which those on the left and the right rehearse their best arguments. There's a place for that, no doubt. That place may even be here. But I simply haven't been able to get up for those conversations lately.
Neither have I been able to get up for conversations concerning the role and authority of scripture, or principles of Biblical interpretation. And while I still hold that religious language is principally metaphorical, and that faith is a condition of radical dependency and a commitment to a comprehensive way of life rather that the ability to articulate intellectual agreement with speculative propositions, there really are only so many blog posts I can squeeze out of that.
Meanwhile, I've been cruising toward graduation wondering what I'm going to do with the rest of my life. Least importantly, but most pertinent to this conversation, I've been wondering how I'm going to spend my academic life. One of my advisers tells me that at some point I'm simply going to have to drop anchor somewhere. But where? That question, far more than any of the artificially hot-button social issues that comprise the so-called "culture wars" that I've been fighting in and commenting on, has been burning in my brain.
To wit, I've been working on two separate thesis ideas, with one question navigating the treacherous waters between them: Am a philosophic theologian, or a theological ethicist? Of course, both of those rest on contrived distinctions created in an academic climate that favors specialism to the detriment, I would argue, of authentic theology (that is, theology that refuses to be sequestered into its own little corner of the academy). But, in the meantime, my friend who counseled me to "drop anchor" is right. I probably can't learn everything about anything, but I certainly can't learn everything about everything.
So I'm trying to choose between an overtly philosophic thesis that uses, among others, William James, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Alfred North Whitehead to speak to the relationship between religion and science, and an overtly ethical thesis that explores the history of Christian reflection on violence, especially revolutionary violence.
That overtly ethical thesis idea, you might guess, started with a post here on James Cone's defense of revolutionary violence. But as I study more, I'm beginning to notice that the way I've laid out the topic for myself, narrowly looking at Christian tools for resisting oppression and empire (which go hand in hand) especially concerning the moral permissibility of violence is flawed in two related ways: First, it is too limited, and second, it fails to understand the nuanced nature of empire and oppressive power differentials. Consider this quote (which made me jump up and down, and then run to the computer to break my unintentional blogging fast) by Joerg Rieger, from his essay "Christian Theology and Empires" from the book that he helped edit, Empire and the Christian Tradition: New Readings of Classical Theologians:
The fact that despite widespread initial support among the population some churches and bishops in the United States opposed this war [that is, the US invasion of Iraq - CB] might be seen as a sign that the empire can never completely control Christianity.
Yet this rejection of war is not enough because the methods of empire have changed dramatically. War is not the only problem and perhaps not even the primary one; war has not been particularly effective in recent history and many of its supporters have become disillusioned. The deeper problem has to do with more covert expressions of economic and cultural power which drive broad processes of globalization.
Broadly, this means that violence isn't the whole picture, and perhaps isn't even the biggest part of the picture. Violence is only one of many forms that coercive power manifests, and isn't always particularly effective. And any Christian ethic of resistance has to be concerned with much more than just the ethics of violence- whether it be criticizing oppression as a form of violence or reflecting on the moral permissibility of the oppressed responding violently to the violent oppression.
My task then, if I choose the theological ethics route, is to reflect on what tools Christian theological reflection has for responding to the complex phenomena of empire, oppression, and power differentials. The biggest tool, however, that I think Christian theological reflection (or any theological reflection - this claim is by no means limited to Christianity) has to offer is this: a prophetic refusal to allow the broad spectrum of human goods to be reduced purely to economics.
More on that later, as that is a rich sentence that needs to be unpacked.
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