Anti-Capitalism, anti-war, Beliefs, Justice

the people’s climate march and hermeneutics

I’ll admit it: I’m a hermeneutics fanatic. Whenever I enter a bookstore, I head straight for the literary criticism section. There is something enthralling thumbing through Roland Barthes’ Mythologies, Edward Said’s postcolonial criticism of Jane Eyre‘s madwoman in the attic, and the overweight, almost 3,000 page, Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. I am fascinated about the different ways one can read a text and the world.

And it’s not like this is a new phenomena. Writers and critics alike have been reading and re-reading texts for centuries coming to different conclusions. For instance, in my Sunday School class, ages 6-13, I wanted to give them a hermeneutical key to read Scripture. I offered what I called a good news model, i.e. looking for good news in every passage. After explaining it, the first question posed was why we think Jesus’ death on the cross is good news? This third grader said that it sounds like bad news. I couldn’t help but agree. A man dying/dead on a cross plastered all over our churches is not good news. The good news, I explained, is God raising Jesus from the dead. God redeemed what was made deplorable. God transformed the pitiful and made right what Roman Empire deemed wrong. That’s Good News. And in a different context, I would have explained something more nuanced.

This weekend I participated in the People’s Climate March in NYC. It was hermeneutical heaven. Everyone with a sign, unless it was massively reproduced, had a varying lens in which to approach Climate Change.

fracking: little economic gain counts for nothing if you’re destroying the Earth and you can’t drink the water.

veganism: against factory farming, the destruction of the Amazon rainforest for grazing land for cows

anti-capitalism: Global Capitalism casts a deadly shadow across the whole world. it will take, borrow, and steal anything, and re-directs climate justice discussion to neo-liberal laws

personal reasons: guilt for voting and registering as Republican (saw a sign reading, “Ashamed Republican”), concern for one’s grandchildren

Climate change

It’s these various anthems that make marches great. And even if we don’t have the same platform, we can still chant, sing, and march together. And this happens everyday and is concentrated in religious worship services. Not all United Methodists congregants interpret Scripture or even the hymns the same way. The same can be said for Muslims reciting the Qur’an, Jews singing Torah, or Hindus interpreting their sacred texts.

So what can we take away with different hermeneutical perspectives? First, that we shouldn’t make sweeping assumptions about groups of people or even individuals about the way they view the world or read. Second, humanity and the cosmos are full of contradictions, blind spots, and missteps. No one approach will be perfect, it may be complete, but never perfect. Lastly, that one should explore other traditions, while at the same time going deeper in their own. In this way, one can show respect toward others and are able to articulate their own hermeneutical lens.

Interpreting texts and the cosmos should life-giving and not a burden.

Beliefs, Christainity, LGBTQI+

radical theology and the lgbtqi+ commmunity (part one): the multivocal scripture

This will be one in a series of posts on LGBTQI+, theology, and Scripture. The rest of the series will be posted this week.

Two minutes before I boarded the train the other morning to come back to Philadelphia, I was posed the question, “Do you think that the Bible is against homosexuality?” The question seemed not only inquisitive, but also had a hint of innocence. When one lives in an area for their entire life, and some notions are always answered the same way, and the national dialogue (Chick-fil-a’s stance becoming publicized) on a particular issue is brought up, how can one not, but to answer the same way? Yet, the questioner was looking for a different answer, maybe not a answer of hope, but from a different perspective. I started to answer in the way I usually answer, by starting with Leviticus and explaining it historical-critical fashion. I did not get to finish the conversation, so I wanted to write the rest of it down since I have not done anything on LGBTQI+ community.

Growing up I was taught the importance of reading Scripture. I memorized many bible verses through Awana and youth groups. Wholeheartedly, I agree that Christians, and others who are interested, should read the Bible as a personal spiritual practice. Yet as I have become older and hopefully more wiser, I believe that context should be included with text. (As my Critical Theory professor taught, “contexts accompany texts at all times.”) For example, in eighth grade I memorized a section of Isaiah 53, commonly known as the suffering servant, and for the longest time, I thought that this was speaking of Jesus as prophecy. Now, might I add that many of the early followers of Jesus as well, using their Christian imagination, thought the same thing. Yet, since I have had the chance to contextually analyze Isaiah, which is one of my favorite books from the Hebrew Bible, I have come to appreciate it more with having a knowledge of its historical context, socio-economics, and political situation. For scholars like Walter Breuggeman, who insist that Scripture can have double meanings, which is also an early development in the Christian tradition. This too was adopted, of course, from its own context, and it was called sensus plenar. This suggests that even if there is a plain meaning to a text, since it was written by God, there must be more to it. There seems to be nothing wrong with this kind of interpreting and if rightly used can have great theological benefits. Anyway, back to Isaiah 53 and the Suffering Servant.

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:4-9)

These verses read as a good theo-narrative for the Gospels. It gives meaning to the Gospel narratives, since most of it is mostly narrative does not necessarily bring about a meaning for the atonement. For example. when Mark’s Jesus died on a cross, he cried out, and gave up his spirit. Barely anyone was there to comfort him. Jesus dies a sad prophet, without hope; therefore, the only kind of atonement theory that one could come up with is the one that Jesus earlier in Mark says “That I will be a ransom for many.” This, of course, was the earliest atonement theories, and that many of the early church mothers and fathers adopted this idea about Jesus’ death.

Yet, in the original context of Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55), the suffering servant is a metaphor for Judah who suffered through the Exile. They were the ones who were tortured and as it seems in these verses, idolized for doing so. These verses also speak to a kind of hope, although they were in the belly of the beast, Babylon. Isaiah declares God’s imagination to them, in the chapters previous and after, of a new society in which God’s Law is followed and all are called back into the land of Judah. With the help of context, Isaiah 53, proclaims more and is not as literalistic as it may seem, and gives me hope that with the use of Christian imagination, Scripture can come alive and have more than just a plain sense of the word.

Leviticus, the third book in the Torah, is a book that Christians do not usually read or follow for that matter, unless it concerns an issue that they feel should be followed. When I hear anyone quote the book of Leviticus, I wonder how much of it that they had actually read and second how important they find this book to be in the context of their lives. It may be the Word of God, but it seems more like a pack of bullets ready to be aimed at whatever “unethical” group Christians are against at the time.

Most biblical scholars affirm that the book of Leviticus should be the books of Leviticus. It has a few different authors, although they all would have been priests in one way . The section in which “man shall not lie with man” comes from a section called the Holiness Code. This section was written during the Babylonian Exile, between 597 (first deportation) and 538 (mostly all the Exiles returned to Judah). Scholars believe this is so because many of laws written here are new concerns that the Judeans were not concerned with until the Exile. The Exiles must have seen an overabundance of men having sex with men and women with women and certainly orgies. To defend against these types of behaviors the priests thought that if one was going to follow the Law without a Temple, the place where God reigned, then even sexual behavior must be conducted in a particular way. Yet, some of the Jews were cast as Eunuchs, and this was done for the purpose for the male to be pimped out to other people. This was a humiliating position, and probably callused many of them to God. The Holiness Code’s purpose was originally to keep people pure unlike the Babylonians. Thus, God did not seem too concerned with who is having sex with who until then.

Yet, since Scripture was written by several different authors, there are always different ways to . When the prophet Isaiah declared who should come back into the land, he called out in Isaiah 58 to the Eunuchs and Foreigners to join with Judah. The other side of this conversation must have been, “Those Eunuchs who are having sex with tons of people should not come back into the land! They are not holy like us heterosexuals, who have pure Jewish blood children.” As Derrida has taught, the Law does not equal Justice and the prophet Isaiah was allowing all to come back into Judah. Anyone who wanted to follow God would be allowed to come back. This is a reversal of the Leviticus’ law. God desires all to come back. This was also the literary purpose of Jonah and Ruth. People were probably questioning whether its good to have these foreigners in the land, and Jonah and Ruth respond in their own particular way. Jonah shows that foreigners can repent and turn to God, while even Jonah doesn’t. Ruth shows how a foreigner can give up everything and follow God.

Sexuality in Scripture is fluid as well. It matters which book you are reading depends on the kind of answer that you will receive. Personally, I am a big fan of the prophets rather than anything else in Scripture. The prophets call out in political and social situations, demanding justice. For the sake of homosexuality, it is justice that God wants them as well as everyone to be apart of the kin-dom, and for the sake of the law comes the “hierarchy of being.” For God there is no order, we are all called good. For human structures, hierarchy abounds and concerns itself with the particulars of some people over others.

Stayed tuned more posts are coming!

Christainity, Patriachy, Philosophy

hermeneutic of suspicion and climate change

Paul Ricoeur, twentieth century philosopher, developed a way of reading called the “hermeneutics of suspicion.” Simply put, it is the concept that the way we read and understand texts (not only things written, but also spoken) must be challenged through conscience efforts. This means when reading a text, we must understand that we live in a context that influences our reading, as well as the authors (or speakers) also have their own context. The final goal of reading a text then would be to know our context as well as the writers and try our best to come with a good interpretation. For example, referring to the parable of the talents, the ministers in a country that follows capitalistic tenancies will normally emphasize the investment aspect of the parable or spiritualize the text. They will use the word talent as common English defines it, a special ability that one has and then bypass the last section when the servant condemns the master. If I were to use the “hermeneutic of suspicion” on these sermons, it would question if they had indeed used the entire parable for the sermon or just parts. It would question whether there is any historical context in accordance with the economics of the first century Palestine. Finally, I would ask about their influences on whether s/he thinks that God influences the world, and id they believe that God is the master in the parable.

Ricoeur’s hermeneutic is a well rounded approach to reading texts and listening to a speaker. Something that I did not add was that Ricoeur used the likes of Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche, whom he thought were primitives to this approach. We must go further than these authors and  towards an even more radical and inclusive hermeneutic, since they all ignored feminism, were hetero-normative, and even more, thought of universals rather having more contextual and subjective theories. Thankfully, postmodern theory has aided to a more inclusive hermeneutic, i.e. deconstructionism (this certainly is not the be all end all of hermeneutic).

Along with the idea that when we read texts we must be critical of both ourselves and of the text, it has gained momentum in conservative ideology (this does not mean that the neo-liberal ideology which is rampant in the world does not have its suspicions, especially of other political ideologies). In a recent debate, the issue of climate change was set before the Republican candidates. Rick Santorum said that climate change is

“an absolute travesty of scientific research that was motivated by those who, in my opinion, saw this as an opportunity to create a panic and a crisis for government to be able to step in and even more greatly control your life,”

This is not an example of hermeneutic of suspicion, but rather a falsification of another’s ideology. Santorum wants to bankrupt the scientific ideology by saying that when science wants others to conform to its ideas that it produces fear. The problem is that Santorum’s own capitalist, hetero-normative, patriarchal, and conservative ideology is using the same tactic (whether or not this is true of the scientific ideology). Santorum also in this debate says that he wants to get rid of the EPA so that there may be more “freedom” for capitalist businesses. In an upcoming post, I will share my thoughts on freedom and how we have a paradoxical view in the U.S. Therefore, Santorum believes in the negative definition of freedom, in which we are free from things rather than the positive definition where we are free for things. A good position would be that of the idea of the common good. For example, a neighborhood could take the position that “none are safe unless all are” and start a neighborhood watch that consists as neighbors taking turns walking around the neighborhood in he late afternoon in to the night. This freedom would show that freedom is only true when all are safe and able to pursue their own pleasures because they are free.

In conclusion, if one wants to commit to performing a hermeneutic of suspicion, one must also question their own ideologies and contexts. This is something that Santorum fails to do. We must try harder to question ourselves and others, while at the same time being humble.