Friday, November 25, 2016

In both his mercy and his expectations, it means we are being taken with ultimate seriousness. Walter Brueggemann - The Bible Makes Sense - The Covenantal - Historical Model

As might be guessed from the title of his book, Walter Brueggemann presented the three previously posted framings of reality so he could contrast them to what he presents as the framing that the Hebrew-Christian scriptures present as the nature of reality or, better, the human experience of it.   

In most of what I've heard of his recent presentations, he, unsurprisingly, contrasts it to the "Modern Industrial-Scientific Model" because that is the predominant world view of those in the West, especially the United States where he is based.   And it is what is killing our plant and us. 

That is the world model that the overwhelming majority of those who call themselves "conservatives" and those who call themselves "liberals, or progressives or leftists" hold.  It is the shared framing of many who would consider themselves Christians thought it is basically and inevitably in complete conflict with their professed religion.  It is the framing of every, single atheist I've ever encountered, even most of those who believe themselves to be Buddhists, which, if they take the teachings of the Buddha seriously, can't be reconciled with it, either.   

It is the official and required framing of virtually all of academia.   I'm unaware of any university that, unless you are majoring in some aspect of religion, requires you to do any reading which force you to consider any other framing than that one.  

In my experience of writing things online, in the past decade, if you push on its contradictions and incompatibilities with experience and even the existence of life, you will be met with everything from total incomprehension to outrage and anger to derision but most often to a confused and vague incomprehension and fear that you are not safely held to be respectable.  

I think that is because most people must realize it is completely inadequate and can't explain their experience or account for why life under it leaves them with a feeling of discontented unease and not infrequent crises of faith in its reason and demand for control and predictability.  The lapses between those and their real experience in life cause crises which their habits of thought,  learned through that framing, can't manage or escape while remaining in that required framing.  I think those crises are the most common reason that even very conventional people will seek refuge in the Transcendentalist Model or in some quasi or pseudo-religious model of fundamentalism.  If they are fortunate, they will realize a different way of viewing reality was lying there, hidden by the uninformed and naive reading of the Scriptures which could consider them only as if they were written as historical or scientific reports.  More on that later.  

The Covenantal-Historical Model

This view may be contrasted at important points with the “different faith models” we have already reviewed.  Distinct from the modern-scientific-industrial view, covenantal-historical faith affirms that human existence does not consist primarily in the capacity to know and control and manage.  Against a this-for-that world based on success and competence, it asserts that real life with God consists in risking commitments, in powerful memories and compelling visions.  Distinct from existentialism,  this perspective asserts that meanings are never private but always communal, never to be found in an isolated “now,”  but always in an ongoing process of trust and betrayal,  and never with individual persons as the only actors.  It insists that life consists I a dialogue with a powerful, compelling Other who bestows mercy and compels accountability.   The God whom we confess is a serious partner in our lives.  We may pray to him for mercy because he does not give us what we have coming to us.  He does not settle for quid pro quo.  He does not deal with us according to our iniquities.  But he also takes our loyalty seriously.  He leaves us not free but requires that our lives be lived in answer to his expectations.  In both his mercy and his expectations,  it means we are being taken with ultimate seriousness.  Distinct from transcendentalism,  the biblical frame of reference denies that meaning can be immune to the incongruities and discontinuities of history.  These discontinuities include such things as the real grief and loss of death which cannot be explained as a “growth point,”  the real failures of relationships,  the real collapse of institutions upon which we have relied.  It asserts that discursive meanings are located in and derived precisely from historical hurts and historical amazements which judge and heal and call to repentance.

When we read the Bible, then, we need to learn to pay attention to the understandings of reality which permeate the texts.  Unless we do this, we may fail to discern what is in fact present to the text and to the church.   For the believing community is always confronted by the text as summoning it to make a new decision about perspective.

Thus one main reason why we read Scripture is so that we may not settle easily for any other notion of life,  forgetting who we are and the understanding of life that we have confessed and embraced. Informed by the Bible, we are invited to live in faithful response to this faithful covenant partner. Such a possibility is not guaranteed by Scripture study,  but it is peculiar to our faith tradition and provides us with a context for living quite different from the reigning alternatives.  In other words,  one of the most important gifts the Bible can give us is a frame of reference for our lives.  Given that frame of reference, we are still left with major decisions to make about our world, our freedom, and our responsibility.  But scripture reading can provide us with resources and images enabling us to understand, embrace, and respond to life in all its richness.   For the Bible presents human life in terms of the vitality of being in history with a covenantal partner who speaks newness in a world which always seems fatigued and exhausted.  That is what is most deeply characteristic about this view of reality:  that we are in covenant with One who speaks newness, who dismantles what is old in our lives, and who calls us to welcome and live toward his newness.

From the viewpoint of the alternatives, the Bible presents a curious reading of reality quite out of harmony with that proposed by other viewpoints.  Of course the elements about which we are speaking are nowhere neatly spelled out in systematic fashion.  But they do emerge, and their emergence in diverse times and places is important as resource and context for all of us in the church.  Four dimensions of covenant summarized below are especially important as they hint of a new history in which we might live.

I will post more of this section soon.

One of the consequences of materialism and especially in its most popular scientistic sect is the absurd notion that all of reality is reducible to entities and definition of events simple enough to subject to a pose of quantitative analysis and, so, BE science.  Though that idea is among the most absurd superstitions about both what science is, claiming for it powers and abilities it can't have and claiming for it realms of human experience and phenomena that can't be honestly squeezed into its corset.  The obvious fact is that our everyday experience, never mind less straight forward human activity and experience is of a complexity which science can't be applied to.  It can to some though far from all individual aspects of that experience and action which are simple enough to be successfully treated with science.  But the experience of life, any life is not really able to have more than a few things things isolated from it for scientific treatment, neither those things which are amenable to scientific treatment when taken in the abstract instead of within real, living organisms, nor those which aren't.  And what you can say about individual lives is even more true of society and the world of human beings.  I'll point out that due to our inability to understand even our closest mammal and bird cousins thinking about their experience, it is ever more and always removed from being honestly treated with science.

Science often works when it chooses its problems carefully and honestly, its success diminishes rather rapidly when scientists propose biting off more than they can process and insist on applying scientific methods to things which can't be sufficiently discerned to be characterized, measured and analyzed or which are too varied and complex to be characterized both honestly and succinctly enough to be treated scientifically.

Yet the habits of the Modern Industrial-Scientific model are so ingrained that huge numbers of people are hoodwinked by anything which  a University and their colleagues in their "specialty" allows to be called science.   The social-sciences are the perfect example because they have repeatedly, over and over, built enormous towers of papers and books and careers and university departments much of it alleged to be scientific research, only for those, after decades of building them, to collapse due to the weight of the accretions of their inevitable corner cutting.  And they begin by building on the sand of desired assumptions and prerequisites instead of the rock of adequate observation.

But the social sciences are hardly the only ones.  I heard a biologist once remark that nutrition is far, far from a successful science, though it has come up with some basic facts about human and animal needs by way of food.  I would guess that is because that our organisms are far too complex to be easily observed in real life and far too variable, both within a population and even over time in an individual.  The problems they propose to deal with are, past a fairly simple level, too complex to produce real science, the results are seen in the constant contradictions of studies and the not infrequent falling of dogmas and commandments concerning what you must eat and not eat to maintain a real life.

I have talked, at length, before about contemporary cosmology in this regard as well as the Darwinian dogma about the phenomenon of evolution and its horrible impact on human history [You can search my blog for those posts].

Of course, I'm presenting the inadequacy of the most common opposition of the Covenantal - Historical model that Walter Brueggemann wrote about because that Covenantal-Historical way of viewing the world is quite new to me, though I read plenty of scripture and I read more theology and history of religion than, I'd guess,  the average college educated American.

If you want to really understand it, you should read the book, The Bible Makes Sense,  or some of his many others,  or listen to any of his lectures or sermons or interviews available online.  And not only him but any of a large number of other such scholars who you can hear on Youtube of Vimeo or on podcasts.  They don't always agree with each other or choose to emphasize the same things - which, unlike in the Modern Industrial - Scientific model, is OK.  They can even be friends with and respect those who disagree with them.

I would mostly recommend that when you read or think about the writings that make up The Bible or, indeed, any scripture that you read them in the ways that Brueggemann recommends, not in the fundamentalist-atheist manner of a literal discourse nor as mere allegory but as something far more complex and difficult to understand, the insights, inspired quite often, though sometimes less so, of human beings thinking very hard and quite often at a stunningly deep level about human experience and action and the human societies they lived in.  I do believe much of it is divinely inspired, by which I mean inspired by the insight we, as potentially rational beings and, more important, beings capable of unselfish love are capable of when we are at our best.  And much of the rest of it, the Psalms of anger and revenge, for example, can give you a deeper understanding of our less worthy emotions and the temptations and traps we can set for ourselves and which, if we don't, life can for us.

1 comment:

  1. "When we read the Bible, then, we need to learn to pay attention to the understandings of reality which permeate the texts. Unless we do this, we may fail to discern what is in fact present to the text and to the church. For the believing community is always confronted by the text as summoning it to make a new decision about perspective. "

    In a nutshell, why I don't argue with atheists who insist they have "read" the Bible. They aren't reading what I'm reading. It's a called a "hermeneutic."