Tag Archives: countercultural

No Revolution After The 2020 Election? Depends On How You See It.

Kevin Williamson writes an interesting piece in National Review entitled, The Revolution Isn’t Coming. I think it is a thought provoking piece but right away, I thought two things:

A.Williamson has either been lulled asleep by the forces around him or like the proverbial frog, in this case, is being boiled alive in a pot of water. Or:

B. Are my expectations too high?

Well, I don’t happen to believe my expectations are too high. I think he, in this article, is blind to the liberal incrementalism, in which case he has moved the political goal posts and is happy with the status quo as is.

You can also see the problem in this video here.

Racism, Abortion and the Constitution

To add to the conversation from my last post, I mentioned that my buddy Dwayne had problems with States Rights because of racism. Dwayne mentioned that there were a few individual states calling to keep people segregated. For an example we had the infamous Jim Crow Laws where blacks and whites, were not allowed to marry or drink at the same fountains, sit at the front of a bus or move or get off the bus if there was no room for whites, etc. Thus, there are some problems with States Rights or so many on the left think.

Such laws are not only foreign to our way of thinking and behaving (legally) today, but the question needs to be asked how we got from there to where we are now. Why is the state (on the federal level) allowed to say, no to slavery but not to abortion? The answer to that is in the founding document, “The Declaration of Independence.” In there it says:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The basis of the US Constitution is found in this document and this portion of that document. It is one of the reasons, that some on the right say leaving abortion to the states is a half-way measure. It doesn’t fulfill that portion of the document. Why, if the unborn are full persons, don’t they have these inalienable equal rights?

The problem of saying that blacks were not created equal (as other human beings, namely white) was based on the arbitrariness of skin colour. So that had to change and eventually did via the US Civil War. Again, to say that blacks are not human and to keep them enslaved via state rights is so unpopular today to be as unthinkable as making state laws against people driving cars or telling people what toppings they can put on their pizza for dinner tonight. (In a sense we DO tell people what to put and not put on their pizza’s, like, for example, bleach, but we don’t make laws covering every contingency. Even bleach is covered under personal harm to another or murder laws).

In relation to abortion, both concern humanization and dehumanization and how it intertwines with state and federal law. In some philosophical/metaphysical respects, they overlap, (personhood/humanness) in others they don’t.

In the case of abortion, the thing in question is (going back to what was asked above in the second paragraph):

  • Is the state, in this case the federal government, allowed to make a sweeping law for dehumanization and thus death? Or should that be left to the individual states?

In the case of slavery and blacks, the thing in question is:

  • Is the state, in this case the federal government, allowed to make a sweeping law declaring dehumanization on all blacks so as to enslave them or should/can that be left to the individual states?

This is essentially what my buddy Dwayne was asking. Why is it left to individual states to declare who is a person in one case but not in the other? The answer goes back to the Declaration of Independence where all men are created equal. In the case of slavery and blacks, they are humans persons created equally as other human persons.

In the case of abortion, the question would, it seems, hinge on whether the Founders INTENDED the unborn to be INCLUDED in the statement of them being created equal (as the already living) and having inalienable rights (as the already living).

If one wants to argue that the “spirit” of the Declaration of Independence should include the unborn, and thus be reflected in a sweeping law in which all states CANNOT have abortions, then all I can say is, GOOD. LUCK. WITH. THAT! Hence, the reason that abortion is and should be left to the individual states and not the question of blacks and slavery. If one really sought to make the unborn as a part of the spirit of the Declaration of Independence then the next level battle would have to be Amendments to the US Constitution of which I really don’t see that happening. Most of the population today would not allow for a federal law or state law declaring other already living human beings non-persons based on the Declaration of Independence, the 14th Amendment and a Civil War. It would be hard to make that shift with regard to abortion through the process of amendments to the US Constitution and I doubt pro-lifers are going to start a war over it. Thus, the question should be left up to the individual states.

The Rule of Countercultural Witness: Analyzing What Warrants It Pt. 3

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.”

The Rule of Countercultural Witness: Analyzing What Warrants It Pt. 2

Essential to the rule of countercultural witness is Cosgrave’s assessment of “environment.” By environment, Cosgrave is not speaking merely of social settings and comparing groups within that social setting where dominant groups oppress the less dominant groups. He looks at “distinctiveness.” Distinctiveness has to do with dissent from “…the dominant cultural values, values of the wider environment that may also have been dominant in Israel or in the early Christian movement.”

As a part of this distinctiveness, as the rule stipulates, we have to separate that which is cultural from that which is not intrinsic to the biblical witness. That is why the Bible should not be confused with revelation. Revelation is not cultural relativity found in the Bible. Thus, for example, while it is not denied that there are “male-dominated, androcentric and discriminatory” texts, these would have to be separated from the revelation that is found there. For example, patriarchalism would not be revelation. Even though, for revisionists, patriarchalism is not to be viewed as culturally relative (it is to be regarded as problematic, but one that is “pan-cultural”) women’s voices need to be regarded as equal to that of the iconic voices of scripture. So here, God would be for the liberation of women. That is, God is inherently counterculture in an anti-ideological way.

There is a problem with this however.

Revisionists have to come up with criteria for judging which texts or impulses in scripture convey the divine word of God for liberating women. It seems that it is an ideology itself that drives this. For those that “convey the divine word is the degree to which they promote God’s commitment to women’s liberation and equality.” So if you work with the countercultural rule, you work with the assumption that God takes up the cause of the oppressed and thus see ideology as “endemic to the human condition.” Thus, revelation in an unredeemed world is inherently countercultural. But is that not reading the rule into the text? Is this not circular? That is, it is believed that God is for the oppressed and then the Bible is read according to THAT norm? Also, if both the patriarchal AND the aniconic (Brueggemann) are in the text, should not equal weight be given to both? It seems we argue from a canon within a canon. It seems that one has to know what is oppressive in advance in order to argue against it to an audience that already accepts such assumptions about what counts as oppressive. If that is the case, “then it is not clear how scripture warrants Christian social ethics under the rule of countercultural witness.”

Many times, we have read those texts (myself included) like Gal 3:28 “as expressing the core of the Gospel and embodying the highest insights of the biblical writers.” But if an “anti-egalitarian” view is the dominant ideology then is it not possible that the biblical writers did not see it that way and thus there is something within patriarchalism that could be revelatory?

I’ll try and wrap this up tomorrow by looking at some other possible blind spots and responses to the dilemma.

The Rule of Countercultural Witness: Analyzing What Warrants It

I was reading Charles H. Cosgrove’s book, “Appealing to Scripture in Moral Debate: Five Hermeneutical Rules” The five rules he represents in the book are:

A. The Rule of Purpose
B. The Rule of Analogy
C. The Rule of Countercultural Witness
D. The Rule of Nonscientific Scope
E. The Rule of Moral-Theological Adjudication

As with many books, I don’t always start at the beginning, but rather somewhere the topic is most relevant to what I’m interested in. Well, in this book, that was in the chapter entitled, “The Rule of Countercultural Witness.” The reason this piqued my interest was because of what I think is going on presently in evangelical Christianity –using the presupposition of countercultural witness as a guiding motif in biblical interpretation and practice. This is no different from Christians, for example, using, the Lion motif as opposed to the Lamb motif in their political theology as pointed out by Mark Noll in his book, “Adding Cross to Crown.” Of course, Christians of all stripes have blind-spots. All of us highlight one motif above others ie., don’t we do something similar to this in worship on Sunday mornings where we sing about Jesus being King as opposed to another motif, say, being a lowly servant?

Well, essentially, the rule of countercultural witness basically says that there are dominant norms and values in culture and society and a countercultural witness is that “tendency” which, “…tacitly or expressly assumes, reinforces, or asserts a moral position…against the dominant norms and values of their home culture or environment.” That is to say, that the revelation of God (the true/pure/unmediated word of God) is against all ideologies or against those norms that are oppressive.

According to this rule, there are three theological tenets that are involved in the formulation of the rule:

A. Revelation is against ALL ideology. It is not against culture per se (you can’t have revelation without culture), but against those institutions that “serve the powerful in ways that harm the powerless.”
B. The Bible is the locus of authentic countercultural witness. Scripture teaches that God is the vindicator of the oppressed.
C. Scripture is not to be equated with revelation. It is a fallible human witness and thus carries codes of oppression as well.

At this point Cosgrove breaks down the rule into an equation:

“To say that countercultural voices or tendencies should be given special weight means that they have a presumptively greater claim on Christians than do culturally-affiliating tendencies. The rule works as follows. Where A and B accord authority (weight) to the Bible and where A argues to B that X in scripture “merely reflects the dominant culture of the time” A wants B to infer that X should be given little weight as a witness to divine revelation according to the following tacit logic: (i) divine revelation is inherently anti-ideological; therefore (ii) authentic witness to divine revelation is anti-ideological; for that reason, (iii) authentic witness is typically countercultural in form. Alternatively, where A argues to B that Y in scripture “goes against dominant cultural values ” A wants B to infer that Y has a presumptively greater claim than X as a witness to divine revelation.”

So we begin to see what is going on here. There is what Cosgrove says is an “epistemological privilege” given to the oppressed. We see it with regard not only to the poor but in black, Latin and feminist theologies. What this means is that somehow the oppressed have, in the minds of those who work with this assumption/rule, “a privileged location for discerning truth” because they are the ones who are struggling for liberation from that place. Essentially, one “cannot adequately understand the poor, the marginalized,the powerless, without incorporating the view from below.”

I’ll end this for now, but in the next post, I’ll refer to Cosgrove’s analysis of the rule as it relates to culture and cultural relativity.