Today was an intense day… partly because we had really long discussions… though for most part I was disatisfied with the conclusions being drawn. Being unable/unwilling to get into a discussion with my ‘conservative’/’evangelical’ views… I refrained from talk and stewed inside. In that sense it was an intense day of struggle, listening to quite a bit of UTC uncritical rhetoric.

The speaker was Dr. Jones Muthunayagom… the veteran UTC OT professor. His basic premise was that there have been multiple methodologies to interpret the Bible, but we need to use as many methodologies as needed for the situation. The last part is the key, meaning, he gives priority to current/local in interpretating scripture. Hence, depending on what the current context needs, you employ any methodology (usually a combination) that will best help address that need. Usually that need for context is ‘liberative’ for ‘opressed’ (as expected).

I really don’t feel like going through the details of today because while there was heavy criticism of evangelical positions in class (which is ok)… there was hardly any criticism of the proposed methodology. Of course Dr. Muthunayagam critiqued ecumenism, but his proposed methodology had an agreed-to-absolutised character about it. I found myself rejecting/critiquing his position but finding no avenue to express certain problems in the position as I saw it.

To put my arguments briefly…

My main problem was (as expressed earlier)… in the rejection of the Bible as ‘divenly inspired’. In fact, he clearly said that was was a human creative expression. I have no problem with people believing this. My problem lies in people then still opting to give the Bible and its ‘themes’ normative status. I can’t understand why they would do so… it’s almost as if they’re not even aware why this is a contradiction. If the Bible is not really God’s word… then why would we be interested in it?

They did not answer this, but I suspect that they have a idea of God that agrees with ‘their’ view of what God should be… possibly influenced by Christianity. This God-idea then is made normative and in every instance that the Bible agrees with that idea of God, the Bible is accepted. In any case that the Bible contradicts that God-idea, the Bible is rejected. Again, I have no problem with this methodology, as long as the proponents of this view (esp. teachers) are aware that this is an adopted position… and a clear expression that God is created not creator. But they are not willing to admit this… I think. And hence there remains a constant dichotomy with a ‘high’ view of God-christ-principles that needs to be ‘brought out’ and a low view of anything associated with God in the traditional realm… bible, church, Christians etc… that needs to be ‘cut out’.

This problematic starting point led to obvious confusion… which the students expressed through two questions: What is the criteria to use methodology? Isn’t violence justified? The second question was all the more pertinent because if the Bible is no longer normative in its entirety… can we pick and choose passages to suit our needs… so if violence is needed for social change, should we not support it? Dr. Muthunayagom actually asserted that violence CAN BE a ‘real instrument’… but only as a last resort!!! To understand non-violence he pointed to Mahatma Gandhi… but then admitted that Gandhi’s non-violent stand would work only with europeans. Furthemore… Medha Patkars non-violent fast was ineffectual, he believed, until Aamir Khan turned up. While he may be right on all counts, my only concern here is with the methodology that clearly leaves text at the mercy a person’s theological position. Here, our views govern the text. We determine/control and rewrite it. To the question “so why the Bible” the answer very simplistically seems to be… there are many ideas that also correspond to what we think is true (but perhaps also because it ‘pays’ to be a Christian)!!!

Another problem I noticed was the heavy generalisation of the ‘west’ as a consistent voice of colonialism. While I can understand us students making these leaps, but I would expect teachers to be a little more self-aware of the constructs of words like ‘west’ and ‘east’. I mean, the very acceptance of these categories can be an ascquience to colonialism. But instead, almost because it is the norm to do so, there is a constant ‘western’ bashing and ‘eastern’ upliftement. Sentences like, ‘we (easterners) need to tell them (westerners) that they are wrong’. I mean, who is we and them; and why is that not even a question in a methodological seminar?

Shockingly most of the students felt today’s class was one of the best. I was really upset in the class (something like how I was with Vinoth Ramachandra’s class at SAIACS). But all said an done, while the class was extremely disturbing, it was challenging and stimulating (again like Vinoth Ramachandra). I saw more clearly that ecumenism in some forms has posibilities, but only as a self-aware movement aware of its contingencies. This can be said of evangelicalism as well.

That’s all for now. I know this session update has been more reactionary and less descriptive, but these reactions were so strong that I really felt the need to vent them out! Maybe tomorrow will be better. :)