This is the last in this series of postings on this subject and more can be said, ie. the problem of trajectories in scripture, but I’m only keeping it to these issues so as to not overload the reader with details.
So, overall, what we have in the rule as Cosgrave states is this:
“The rule of countercultural witness depends on two basic theological judg-
ments: (1) that the Bible is a human witness to the divine word in which
God’s revelation is communicated but also distorted and (2) that God is
against ideology, that is, opposed to those cultural norms, values, institu-
tions, etc. that serve the interests of the more powerful at the expense of the
less powerful. These two judgments support the following two inferences:
(1) that one of the ways in which the Bible faithfully communicates the di-
vine revelation is by witnessing to God’s protest against ideology and
(2) that one of the ways in which the Bible distorts the divine revelation is through ideological distortion. The rule of countercultural witness dis- I
criminates between ideological assimilation and counter-ideological pro-
test in scripture. The rule accords special weight to those voices in scripture
that advocate for the socially powerless or marginalized against dominant
cultural value systems. The rule presumes that these marginalized voices
have a greater claim than culturally-affiliating voices to speak for the God
made known in Jesus Christ who, in order to save both oppressed and op-
pressor, joined with the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated, the power-
less, the weak.”
Essentially, one of the problems of the countercultural witness rule is what I hinted at in the previous post but want to look at a little closer here. Though the rule does not consider everything that is countercultural as good or its opposite, that everything culturally normative is bad it, as Cosgrave says, it “focuses on culture as a vehicle of asymmetrical power relations.”
As a result, it is presumed by most everyone that works with the rule that everything that “every countercultural interest or value of the disenfranchised is morally good. Well, you can already see where something like this goes. There may be some moral practices that are treated good that shouldn’t be. Now, if those working with the countercultural rule respond to this by showing that something must be “manifestly unjust or immoral” the problem with this is, manifestly unjust and immoral to whom?
An example that Cosgrave uses is that of chattel slavery. For slaveholders, the emancipation of slaves meant a “signified loss of ‘property’ and being placed on equal footing with blacks.” And for those who do not adhere to the countercultural witness rule? They do so on the basis of what THEY consider as manifestly unjust or immoral.
In our age of liberation people working with the rule of countercultural witness wonder how people at that time could have thought that slavery or patriarchy was morally good. They work with an “ideology as a vindication of the theory of ideology as an explanatory system”–a sort of circular argument. In other words, they use ideology so as “to map the moral landscape today in order to position themselves against ideology.”
Now, if you are on the “receiving end” of those who adhere to this rule they more than likely will see you as not giving greater credence to those with less power. For them, if you are to have moral knowledge of the powerless, it HAS to come from the powerless. They are the best voices. The minority voices.
But there is a problem with this. There is the question of whether a potential ideology is EVER GENERATED FROM BELOW. And the reason why this is, is because it is questioned that those who ARE disenfranchised are ever really able to do so in a way that is countercultural. In other words, do the disenfranchised produced ALTERNATIVE VISIONS that are either:
A. variations of the ruling ideology and hence not really countercultural (though they may potentially be)?
B. are genuinely utopian?
Now, if the disenfranchised produce potential visions that are both alternative AND a variation of the dominant ideology that are POTENTIAL then it is very well possible that this will be so for “B,” utopian visions. And to the extent “that advocates of utopian visions make their case from dominant traditions (including a revered past) they show their visions to be in some sense variations of the dominant tradition.” In other words, “Revolution must borrow from what it inevitably wants to destroy.” (Roland Barthes, “Writing Degree Zero”). So, even though there is always continuity with the past, a sort of paradox and dialectic, one should still be cautious in the use of the rule as such.
Lastly, according to Cosgrave, because the rule depends on a general moral hermeneutic of the oppressed, is it not really repeating what one knows through ideological critique? If such is the case, then one is really not APPEALING to scripture but rather, is appealing to an hermeneutic so as to provide a way of validating or invalidating the voices of scripture. There are many influences that bear upon us as we read the Bible and even an ideology has a place. However, when it comes down to it, the “church’s understanding of the Bible as a whole can appropriately shape the church’s hermeneutical approach to the Bible in any of it’s parts.” Thus, even if you are a feminist theologian, the Bible will have an authority based in “scripture’s overall redemptive purpose which would include redemption of scripture from the bondage of patriarchy.”
In the end, Cosgrave says that ideology, while providing a basis for a rule, the rule is presumptive at best and not final or absolute force. As a presumptive force, the rule would/should be “controlling UNLESS and UNTIL countervailing reasons are adduced against its application in a particular instance.”