Friday, December 31, 2010

Problems Of Method In Scott's Re-Imagine The World, Part III: False Distinctions

In the concluding section of Bernard Brandon Scott's Re-Imagining The World, he writes the following:
Jesus' revolt takes a very special form. He revolts in parable. I see no evidence that Jesus was leading a political revolution or that he had a social program in mind. . . . Although the idea is now out of fashion, Jesus the oral storyteller seems to me closer to a poet. The activist will always be dissatisfied with he poetic vision, but change comes about because a creative individual has that vision.
First of all, the evidence that Jesus may well have been leading, at least in part, a political revolution is the manner of his death.

Be that as it may, the distinction Scott offers - Jesus wasn't a political or social activist or organizer, but a poet - misses an important point. These distinctions would have been unintelligible for Jesus' original audience. Furthermore, the idea that political activists are not visionaries - that this is the realm of the poet, a part in some way of the life of the mind, rather than the gritty life of a political or social revolutionary - is belied by the fact that the most important political and social activists are, in fact, visionaries, sometimes visionaries of a most poetic bent.

To see Jesus as a traveling poet, I think, subsumes the rest of his ministry to his parabolic teachings. For Scott, they are primary; all the rest of Jesus life and teachings and ministry is the working out of these parables. While the parables are important for understanding what Jesus was about, they should be set alongside the rest of his ministry - his direct teachings, his healings and exorcisms, and his various social engagements that raised so many eyebrows. They are part of a whole, rather than the central fact of his ministry, to which the rest of his work was dedicated.

It is important to remember our modern preference for separating out the political, the social, the religious, and even the poetic, is false. It is part of our problem, one of the ways the modernist project, for all its successes, fails us. By creating artificial divides among the various ways we live our lives, we see ourselves fulfilling different roles, with different rules, different values, and different voices. We are not whole people, living from a center within a community that defines and upholds and supports us, but wandering hither and thither among a variety of situations and communities that compete to define who we are.

This is not to say that Jesus' ministry can be reduced to political activism, or re-envisioning social relations, or even kicking against the pricks of the established order. It included these things, but transcended them, and in that transcendence pointed out the contingency of all our attempts to corral God for our personal projects.

I would like to repeat that I really like much of what Scott has to say. I am setting my criticisms in separate posts in order to make clear that they do not at all distract me from the wealth of goodness this short work contains.

Virtual Tin Cup

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