Thursday, September 1, 2016
Race, Gender, Ethnicity–A Narrow and Self-Serving Deconstructionist Interpretation Of The Bible
The late Antonin Scalia proudly called himself ‘a strict constructionist’, dismissed calls for deconstruction of the Constitution according to principles of race, gender, and ethnicity, and insisted that with patience, erudition, and respect for the past one could indeed conclude the original meaning of the Founding Fathers. One could interpret the Constitution in this way because it is a document based on principle rather than law. The basic moral precepts enunciated in the document – the God-given rights of Man – were essential, fundamental, and unchangeable.
When Jefferson wrote about ‘the pursuit of happiness’, he was not referring to the satisfaction of individual needs, but the fulfillment of personal ambition which was conceived within the framework of the community. The pursuit of liberty was no less consequential. Freedom in Jefferson’s mind was not just a statement of political independence from King George and his colonial oppressors. It was more importantly a sanction to pursue one’s own God. To Jefferson and his colleagues the soul was not just a religious construct but more importantly the essence of human nature. Liberty mean unfettered pursuit of spiritual renewal and belief.
The Founding Fathers were sons of the Enlightenment, a movement which although based on rationality, intended logic to be used in the service of religion. One had an obligation to pursue the truth for only one reason – to know God.
Jefferson’s reference to the pursuit of life was not intended to justify any action that protected, defended, promoted one’s own life; but a responsible life, one grounded in precepts of the Bible which dictated personal responsibility and right action.
There has recently been a movement to radically alter the Constitution. It reflects the values and perspectives of 18th century patrician, intellectual men, say progressives eager to make the document more relevant and more appropriate to the current era. How could Jefferson and his colleagues have foreseen the pluralistic culture of today? How could they have anticipated the issues of social and sexual identity that define America today? Their idea of freedom, rooted in the philosophy of 18th century Europe and applied in the new American Republic in 1789 by necessity was Biblical and narrowly political in nature. Radical progressives go so far as to say that ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ were no more than nostrums to please and cater to the elite landowning classes of Virginia.
Yet strict constructionists like Justice Scalia understood the philosophical nature of the document. It was a statement of the philosophical and religious principles which are at the foundation of this and any liberal democracy. Conditionality had no place in judicial interpretation. It mattered not what determined an individual, only what his fundamental rights were. Murder in the name of retribution would always be a wrong because God conferred life and no one had a right to take it away. The freedom of religion was sacrosanct especially in a society in which many religions proliferated. The issue was not to protect or promote one particular religion, but to consider the expression of faith, however made, inviolable.
The freedom of assembly was again based on the principle of religious and political expression; but it was never intended to be lawless, indeterminate, and self-centered. The principle was to be respected at all costs; and advocacy of political or religious ideas should never intimidate. Groups with an antagonistic, anti-communitarian, and anti- democratic agenda were not welcome. The commonweal and the sanctity of the individual must be balanced.
Revisionist interpretations of the Bible are no different. Progressives, feminists, and radical racialists want their say in the revocation of Biblical injunctions based on currency and at least a cautious diffidence about Biblical texts. Once again, there is no way that Moses could have foreseen or predicted the complexity of the modern era. ‘Thou shalt not steal’ cannot apply to the poor, oppressed, and marginalized for whom ‘stealing’ is both a legitimate statement of economic necessity and a political statement against the elitist ruling class. ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ cannot apply to the millions of abused women who seek solace and comfort outside of a bad marriage. Why should a sexually abused child honor his father and mother?
Yet these revisionists overlook the fact that the Bible, like the Constitution, is a book of principles. The genius of Jesus Christ, his apostles, and the evangelist Paul, was not in their historical vision but in their appreciation of the revolutionary vision of the Messiah. Love, salvation, redemption, divine justice, and grace were the principles of a new age, and had nothing to do with class distinction, the role of women, the inclusion of ethnic minorities, or gender identity. These principles were overarching, absolute, and essential to the nature of Christianity. They, as enunciated by Jesus, his apostles, and his disciples, were not meant to be guidelines, but absolute dicta.
The Old Testament as well has come under progressive scrutiny. The injunctions against homosexuality are categorically rejected because they enunciated in a retrograde social era. These injunctions, however, were not meant as unique condemnations, but as statements of principle. The procreative family was natural, normative, and Biblically honored. The elaborate genealogy of Kings was nothing less that a paean to procreation, lineage, and future history. God created Adam and Eve, and presiding over the Fall, intended the human race to be fruitful and to multiply. Genesis is very specific about the maleness of Adam and the femaleness of Eve.
Gender ‘diversity’ is not the issue. The principle of a heterosexual, procreative family is. As long as the principle is not derogated, such diversity can exist.
Feminists have argued long and hard for a gender-neutral reading of the Bible. Despite the fact that the Palestine of the 1st century was traditional and patriarchal and that the apostles, disciples, Roman Emperors and governors, Jewish Kings and prelates, landowners and theologians were necessarily all men, feminists continue to search for female relevance. Who, they say, were the witnesses to the Resurrection? Regardless of their socially inferior status, they were chosen by God to attest to the miracle of the Risen Christ.
et, women in their socially inferior and caregiving role, were not surprisingly at the tomb of Christ. Who but the mother of Jesus, Mary, would be at the portal of the tomb, not to witness an expected Resurrection but to be near the body of her son?
Feminists turn to the Old Testament books of Judith, Esther, and Susannah for feminine legitimacy; but these books are minor in import and Biblical significance. Women were simply subsidiary, subservient, and at best acolytes.
The point is that the Old Testament was not about gender equality. It was about principle. Both men and women could bear witness to Judaic Law and to the divinity of Christ, and men were the most recognized. This omission or relegation had nothing to do with discrimination; but with depiction of reality.
It is testimony to the corrosive nature of the race, gender, and ethnicity agenda that so many courses at theological seminaries are feminist/progressive in approach and substance. Instructors hope to make the Bible relevant to their multi-racial and –ethnic students; but they dilute, diminish, and demean the essential messages of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. They neglect principle in favor of application and relevance. In other words, they miss the point.
It is hard to hold the academic line in the face of progressive demands. A seminary instructor’s first words to her students were, “Look around you. What do you see? A sea of diverse races, ethnicities, and genders.” Her subsequent words were to assure the class that there would be no old, encrusted, elitist, chauvinist interpretations of the Bible in her class. “Bravo”, shouted the seminarians, pleased that the instructor was sensitive, inclusive-minded, and appreciative of the contribution of women of color.
Those few students who had hoped for a Scalia-like analysis of the original text to decipher essential meaning, and principles walked out.
Both the Bible and the Constitution are texts of principle. They were intended to supersede pedestrian concerns, to move beyond identity politics and narrow political interests.
Only a ‘strict constructionist’ analysis and interpretation can express the intention of the Founding Fathers and the apostles. While temporal interpretation is expected, the current attempts to disassemble, disaggregate, and deconstruct texts recording principle can only lead to disappointment.
Texts, despite Deconstructionist and Postmodern claims, are not up for grabs. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the authors of the Old Testament were not simply chroniclers and journalists, but scribes to the truly revolutionary; and their words should be take as testimony to that revolution.