The Grapes

Ran (cloudy skies at 96% humidity), fruit breakfast and coffee, clean up and go to Morning Prayer, then a clear day for honest work. At 6:00, I’ll be observing an online talk and panel discussion on a Christian theology of Israel, given by Paul Griffiths (a ferocious and unpredictable, unruly intellect). My impression is that he’s utterly committed to a version of theology which comprehensively acknowledges the primacy of God’s covenant with Abraham, concomitant with a certain belatedness of Christ’s incorporation of gentiles into the people of God — but that line requires such delicacy that I’ll be eager to see how Paul manoeuvres the many challenges that will surely arise.

Paul Griffiths is the professor who resigned his post at Duke University (we were colleagues when I was Visiting Professor for a year) when he outraged students and colleagues by denouncing a mandatory diversity training session. I have several things to say about this. First, I have the impression that Paul consistently supported and encouraged people who had historically been sidelined and excluded by academia — if he respected them intellectually. Second, some mandatory consciousness-raising events derive their benefit more from the public demonstration of commitment than from any learning that the event engenders — it’s a sort of sacrifice of time, energy, and patience as an earnest sign of commitment. Opinions manifestly vary concerning whether that sign, that sacrifice, is ‘worth’ what it costs. Third, there are plenty of academics who think themselves above such sacrifices, who deceive themselves and the truth is not in them with regard to their need to learn more about power differences within the academy. By the same token, qualification as a diversity trainer does not immunise such a trainer from criticism, and some trainers are less subtle in their apprehension of the nuances of power relations than are some of the academics they’re training.
Paul combines a rare, intricate array of characteristics: amazing brilliance; thorough familiarity with the theoretical analysis of racial, gender, sexual, and interreligious power dynamics; a conservative view of Catholic social theology that nonetheless comprises elements much more commonly found among ‘progressive’ circles; and rough-edged impatience at administrative time-wasting or intellectually feeble arguments. Not surprisingly, different interlocutors will assess Paul’s interventions in various discourses differently. He has imperfect self-knowledge, and his critics and supporters have imperfect self-knowledge; he and his critics may not understand their counterparts as well as they think they do. Horses for courses, etc.
The topic of a Christian theology of Israel is exactly the sort of fragile construction that Paul might execute with exquisite finesse, but also might cause further outrage. We shall see.

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