1 March 2002


RageBoy, not one to permit a bluff lightly, has put his postmodern theological cards on the table and even challenged me to show what I’m holding.

I had been playing these close to the chest because (a) experience teaches that very few people in the world actually want to talk about theology and (b) those who do often want to explain how they figured out what life, the universe, and everything were all about and (c) they’re usually painfully shallow and (d) when they’re not shallow I’m embarrassed that I figured they would be and (e) it’s a topic about which I get even more excited than I do about things like voice, authenticity, community, and so on — and you’ve seen what disastrous consequences come from my getting excited about those topics.

But having been dared to reveal what I wear under my cassock, I will acknowledge that I’ve read some (not all) Mark C. Taylor (and what many readers won’t know is that there are more “Mark Taylor”s in the theological world than you can shake a blackboard pointer at: Mark C. Taylor, Mark Lloyd Taylor, and my former colleague Mark Lewis Taylor, to start with). Though the umbrella labelled “postmodern theology” probably looks pretty small when you’re not underneath it, for those whom it covers the umbrella provides more than enough space for some pretty significant divergences.

For instance, Mark Taylor (the “C.” one) talks about theology and a/theology, but most of his time he plays in the sandbox identified within the discipline as “religious studies.” “Religious studies” tends to treat “religion” as a general category (Christianity, Buddhism, cargo cults, Islam, fundamentalism as a cross-religious category, things like that). Religious Studies gives people a place to study and talk about religion and theological topics without the potentially awkward obligation to believe anything in particular. Within this group, Taylor is a brilliant and subtle scholar — but this is not the sandbox I play in, nor do I particularly care to work with the religious-studies ideology on its own terms. That’s okay; they do their thing, and I do mine.

One of the other possible sandboxes is (and here I continue oversimplifying to an extreme) the “theology” sandbox, within which one plays when one says “I’m a Christian (or, less often but quite interestingly, “a Jew,” “a Muslim,” “a Buddhist”) and here’s how I puzzle out all the confusing and complicated stuff that my tradition and I claim to be true.” This is probably the sandbox within which I’m most comfortable, but for odd reasons it’s not my home.

Another sandbox is the “biblical studies” sandbox, which is where my training and job description locate me. “Biblical studies” differs from “theology” inasmuch as “biblical studies” (which I will not abbreviate to initials, for obvious reasons) is another sandbox where one may play without owning up to believing any one thing rather than another. Many people, I dare say most people, who play in biblical studies are adherents of a variety of Christianity or Judaism; but non-adherents are welcome to the discussion, and that’s part of the self-definition of the sandbox.

I eschew the temptation to talk about the peculiarities of these divisions, or the strengths or weaknesses of particular versions of the sandboxes.

What matters relative to Rageboy’s instigation to talk this talk is that I entered the “postmodern” discourses by way of biblical interpretation, in deed by way of literary interpretation. I was flummoxed by how staggeringly boring most books about the Bible were, and I sought an understanding of interpretation that might help me both figure out why biblical interpreters wrote boring books and articles, and avoid tedium myself. The explanations that clarified matters for me came from courses I took on literary theory and postmodernism.

Derrida, Foucault, and Lyotard, Fish and Rorty, and eventually people like de Certeau and Irigaray put ideas into my head that interbred and mutated (with the maieutic intervention of beloved friends), and brought me to the theological position from which I teach and preach today. That position is probably closest to the kinds of writings associated Radical Orthodoxy, a sort of politically progressive, theologically traditional, philosophically postmodern guacamole: spicy, tasty, rich, and great with tortilla chips. I got acquainted with John Milbank in grad school, where some of us sat around reading the early drafts that became Theology and Social Theory. Neighbors of mine have written Divine Economy, These Three Are One, Torture and Eucharist, Engaging Scripture, and Beyond Sectarianism.

My own works have dealt mostly with the ways that biblical interpretation as a collective enterprise has assimilated assumptions from modern culture, treating those assumptions as necessary axioms of rational interpretive practice. That got me onto a number of lists as a spokesperson on postmodern biblical interpretation, so I write a lot of definitions and overviews. If I could build my own sandbox, it would lie at an intersection of theology and biblical interpretation and postmodern theory. (Anyone who wants to buy my stuff can reach it from here.)

Thanks for asking.

Proof of Objectivity

Make that, “Thanks for asking, RageBoy, you pustulent excrescence on the stinking corpse of cultural literacy.”

From There to Here

After all this time, to believe in Jesus….
( 9:49 AM )

Oh, for heaven’s sake

Bad enough to indulge in cutesy-wootsy circumlocution (which I was about to delete this morning, having had an acute attack of good taste)–but then David Weinberger has to notice and, worse still, blog it.

One of the useful functions of writing in public lies in its propensity to increase one’s humility.

Speaking of DW, if John Dvorak has to ascribe Cluetrainista-style writing to drug use, what would he think of the JOHOblog segment on the recent music award ceremonies? My hunch is that he would not identify it as an outpouring of the Spirit of prophecy: “In those days, your old men will see visions, and your young men will speak in anagrams….”

Jargonman, to the rescue!

Dave, an “ideologeme” is “a fundamental element of a complex ideology”; so one might say that some of the ideologemes of specifically modern culture are the axioms that newer is better, that “expertise” is more important than judgment, that objectivity is more important than engagement, and so on. So the ideologeme that “you shouldn’t prefer to hang around with people you like” (which I am not ascribing to our insightful email interlocutor Cinnamon) might constitute an element of a sort of kinky populist ideology that tries to eliminate conflict and discomfort by suppressing difference. (Or it might just be an obviously true statement about the world that an ideologically-blinkered elitist just doesn’t get.)

Actually, this gets back to the parrhesia, blogthread from a few weeks ago and the Web-personae blogthread as well. Let’s recognize in the radically anarchic domain of Hyperlinxia a situation where folks can speak as they want and then live with the consequences, without trying to police the conversations bloggers fall into.

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