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Thursday, September 24, 2015

On the Fringe: Problems at TCU and Vanderbilt

I always dreaded the last chapter of my religion textbooks. No matter what the book was about—whether it was Life of Christ or Critical Issues in Old Testament Theology—my textbooks always devoted the last chapter to dealing with marginalized scholarship.
       And this chapter was, above all things, boring. All the meat of the book, everything the author had to say on the subject had been covered in the preceding chapters. It seemed liked an afterthought or a gesture in order to please the publisher to include a chapter on the feminist understanding of the life of Christ. If it was worth saying, it would have been said earlier.
       Eventually, I became less bored with these chapters and more enraged. Each time I encountered liberation theology, feminism, and queer theory in the back of a book, I wanted to tear out the pages. Rather than an inconvenience, they were an imposition of heretical scholarship on religious students everywhere.
       Finally, though, these perspectives piqued my interest. Partially because of the familiarity of mainstream studies, I began to find the benefit of minority scholarship and ideas. While I still did not adopt what I read, my respect and appreciation grew.

One of the most popular approaches to religion is Liberation theology (or sometimes called Marxist theology). Liberation theology attempts to understand the faith through the eyes of the poor. Its marxist root is concerned with material production (and the hands that control it) as well as the abuse of the proletariat/minority by the bourgeoisie/majority which leads to social revolution. These ideas were especially strong in the 1950s and 60s within the Catholic Church in Latin America, and have obvious drawing today for those involved with “Black Lives Matter” and “Occupy Wall Street.”


       Feminist theology is probably the most prevalent perspective outside of mainstream studies. Feminism has been misunderstood at times to place women above men, but it is really concerned with equality on a number of fronts (political, social, economic, etc.) and protecting women from male abuse, particularly sexual. Feminist theology seeks to reinterpret from a feminist perspective. It deals with the clergy and male-language to describe God. This theological perspective receives less press than the other two mentioned here but is relevant today because of America’s hyper-sexualization.


       One last minority scholarship worth mentioning is Queer theory. This field stems out of feminism, and it deals with with identity relating to a mismatch of sex, gender, and desire—those who are neither heterosexual nor cisgender. Queer theory attempts to read Scripture with the understanding that queer individuals have always existed and the Biblical text witnesses to this. It is of obvious importance to contemporary culture, specifically noting the recent Supreme Court ruling.


       In the order I’ve just discussed these three fringe approaches—liberation, feminism, queer—I think they represent a biblical perspective. Liberation theology has a lot of verses it can point to, particularly in the Gospel of Luke or in the Prophets. Queer scholarship on the other hand doesn’t have much scriptural basis (at least not directly). And of course in the opposite order of what I presented—queer, feminism, liberation—they blatantly dismiss the Bible or interpret it in irresponsible fashions.
       For that reason, it is dangerous to base one’s entire religious outlook on one of these peripheral schools of thought. Yet this is exactly what some universities/seminaries have done. They have focused on the theoretical (good for intellectual pursuits) or the marginalized (great for checking ourselves) but to the neglect of mainstream Christianity—the faith of the patristics, the saints, and the apostles. If we are to be healthy Christians, we must maintain a healthy diet of orthodoxy and occasionally snack on fringe theories—all things in proportion.
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