Derrida was right?!?!
So for any of your philosophical purists, you will undoubtedly be unhappy with my post because I am going to engage a postmodern philosopher without much knowledge of him. That being said… Tuesday confirmed something that I have long suspected and only recently come to really understand. Jacques Derrida, considered the father of deconstructionism was really onto something. A text, regardless of the author’s intent does take on a life of its own.
We were assigned to read Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics III.4, the section on Man and Woman (pgs 116-181 for you purists). In the final part of this section Barth addresses the issue of “orders” in creation, basically arguing that because man and woman are not the same (man is A, woman is B) and A precedes B, etc. (I won’t go into the detail of the argument). Needless to say, we were dealing with sensitive issues relating to gender roles and Barth said some strong things. There is only one woman in the class and that was a shame because it would have been great to have multiple female perspectives. However, this woman, who I’ve come to respect a great deal, gave what I thought to be a compelling critique to Barth’s work from a female’s perspective. What’s interesting is that I didn’t get the same read of Barth as she did, but I can see where she’s coming from. So who’s “right”? Well, I think that’s the wrong question.
As I read Barth’s section, especially as one planning on getting married in less than six months, I found Barth’s discussion helpful and in some parts convicting. To her, she found Barth’s theology oppressive and dangerous, to the point that it would encourage pastors to counsel women who were in abusive situations to remain there. So why is this? Well, regardless of Barth’s intent what he wrote (and corresponding the words used by the translators) have contexts all their own, and depending on how one defines those words one’s understanding will change. So what Barth’s meant by “orders” and what he intended to say isn’t necessarily precisely what we understand when we read him. So, since I want to rescue Barth, I’m going to argue that he never intended to present a platform which would encourage pastors to counsel women to remain in abusive relationships. But, we must recognize that he could be read in that way.
Shortly after the national youth workers convention I told my dear friend Matt that I was going to write a blog entry entitled “Why I am Not a Christian”. Now, what I intended by that statement was the term Christian is so socially loaded that identifying myself as one will in some cases put a whole bunch of labels on me that I don’t believe to be accurate. However, as Matt pointed out, by using the title of Bertrand Russell I would be also placing a whole bunch of labels on myself that I didn’t want either. The same holds true with my use of the word postmodern. In my PIF (fancy Presbyterian title for a resume) I use the word postmodern. As my pastor pointed out, that term is a loaded one, and might scare people off without just cause.