Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Scripts, Imagaination, and Worldviews

Coming out of the recent discussion concerning the work of Walter Brueggemann, Anthony Smith raised the concern that all this talk of scripts is really just a throw back to worldviews. I strenuously disagree, and here is why.

During college, and being a faithful evangelic, I was all about discussions of worldviews and apologetics, especial reformed apologetics. Here, worldview indicated the rational basis by which we understood the world- all the presuppositions, attending arguments, and consequences of a particular belief system. The goal of Christian apologetics (which is the defense of the Christian worldview) was to show the consistency of Christianity, and the inconsistency of all other worldviews to explain reality.

Now, of course like many other young evangelicals, I got a good intellectual buzz from all of this, but then it wore off and other concerns crept in; like, why is the church still so screwed up if we have all the right answers? why do we still get divorced, abuse our wives and children? why are we slaves to capitalism? etc... So, one day, while having breakfast with my fiance at the Heavenly Cafe, just before leaving California to go to seminary, I made a shift in my thinking and gave up on worldviews as utterly too rational and unable to form us beyond consumer-capitalism. What I put in place of worldview, was the imagination, by which I meant the internal interpretive filter, or hermeneutic grid, which not only structures our rational ordering of the world, but all the irrational, unconscious desires, dreams, hopes, and fears. Then, during seminary I found that this shift was not all that original, but had been outlined by the likes of Marx, Freud, Lacan, and Riceour (and of course many others). So now I'm armed with words like "ideology", the "unconscious", jouissance, distantiation, and the interpassive subject, to go along with what I already know: i.e. "the clearing", will to power, language games, and differance.

So this is where scripts come in. We live by the scripts we have been give, and those scripts are generally not worked into our worldviews. The way an abused child interprets a raised voice (or raised arm) is very different than children who haven't been abused, regardless of the intentions of the adult. And in politics, words like freedom and democracy are very different in a consumer society than one which has been excluded from that system.

Therefore, back to Brueggemann, when he says that the script of technological-therapeutic-militarist-consumerism promises safety and happiness, he is not saying that this is merely a worldview that best articulates how to promote safety and happiness, but also that is molds and shapes us into thinking that safety and happiness (individual safety and consumer happiness) are the greatest values, rather than, say, justice and peace. So we could say that this presidential election is a war b/w worldviews (how best sustain American military and corporate dominance), but based in the same script (which says the freedom of Capital is paramount). And when we conceive Christianity as a worldview, a set of propositions which needs defending and enforcing, we end up distancing ourselves from the transforming power of the Gospel. But when we see it as a script needing creative interpretation (even as it interprets us) the acts of the Gospel become a transforming power b/w polls Life and Death.

Recent related posts:
Faith and Fantasy
Discipleship and Desire: The Death of the Self

Friday, September 17, 2004

Brueggemann conference

Walter Brueggemann's 19 Thesis: or, what he's thinking right now about things.
(Walter is an old testament theologian of the post-liberal/yale school mentality if that means anything to you.)

1) Everyone lives by a script.
2) We get scripted through normal nurture and socialization.
3) The dominant script of our society is that of technological-therapeutic-mulitarist-consumerism.
4) This script promises safety and happiness.
5) This script has failed.
6) The health of our society depends on moving beyond this script, but doesn't want to.
7) [The task of Christian] Ministry must de-script this dominant script.
8) This task is accomplished thru alternative scripting, or the funding of a counter imagination.
9) This alternative script is funded by the scripture and tradition of the Church.
10) This alternative script is about the Triune God.
11) This alternative script is not monolithic, total, complete, but it is rather a rag-tag, disjunctive collection hinting at a hidden God.
12) This rag-tag script can't be smoothed out or domesticated (not even by systematic theologies/ians).
13) This script invites adherent of text to quarrel with each other.
14) The entree into this alternative script is Baptism.
15) The nurture/socialization of this counter script is the work of ministry.
16) Most of us are ambiguous about this alternative script. That is, we really want both scripts and vacillate between them.
17) The space of ambivalence toward scripts is the arena of the Spirit.
18) Ministry is the manager of this ambivalence.
19) The work of ministry is necessary because no one else but the church (and synagogue) is willing/able to enter this open of ambivalence.

Other memorable ideas:
-Concerning violence in the Old Testament, Brueggemann says that "God is a recovering practitioner of violence." By this he means that God used to think violence was a good idea, but then gave up on it. However, like all addicts, He has relapses. Of which the cross is either the final deliverance, or another relapse.

-Concerning faith and knowledge: "We all have a craving for certitude, but the gospel is all about fidelity." By this he means that certitude is an epistemological category while fidelity is a relational one. And the way of the Cross is to depart from our certitude, to die to our answers/desires/scripts.

There is also much to say about the scripture, scripts, and the imagination, but I’ll put that in the next post.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Theological Conversation with Walter Brueggemann where I will be until Thursday. It should be a great time.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Faith and Fantasy

Many, diagnosing the current ailments of the Church, contend that "We are where we are because of what we believe," meaning that the formal content of Church doctrines are cancerous, needing the radioactive treatment of postmodern, post-foundational philosophy (which is Brian McLaren's assertion). Now, certainly I have no serious argument that many doctrines (or at least their current formulations) are horribly deformed.

But posing the question in this manner assumes an unfortunate direct relation between knowing and doing, and therefore, reinforcing the priority of knowledge over practice (and speculation over affectation). This perspective overlooks the imaginative, or fantastic, aspect of agency, or the fact that how we relation our action to our belief is an creative act of interpretation. As Kevin VanHoozer says, "We have biblical doctrines, but secular imaginations."

So my point is that while some, or many doctrines, need revision (i.e. substitutionary atonement, premillenialism, etc.), our recent modernist method (or lack) of cultural engagement blinded the Church to syncretistic moves in relation to the Enlightenment, modernity, and even postmodernity. What the Church has generally failed to do is what Freudians would call "analysis", Marxists call "ideology critique", and the Church used to call "casting out idols."

So our ability to engage (and I don't even like that term anymore—"engage" sounds like Capt. Pichard on the Enterpise) the postmodern context, or liberal democracy, or global capitalism, doesn't just depend on recovering/articulating the Faith, but on articulating the idolatries/ideologies of the present age which insinuate themselves into the practices of the Church.

So the question is not how what we know affects what we do, but also how what we are doing doesn't accord with what we think we know. It is not what we believe, but how we believe.