This used to be a blog dedicated to one of my interests, dream interpretation. I have decided to expand it to include thoughts about pretty much Everything.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Thoughts on Subverting the Norm 2--Layer 2: theology of privilege?

Several times in the conference I heard the question come up in various forms: "Is Radical Theology a theology of the privileged? Can it work for the downtrodden, the poor, the unfortunate?"  I think I have some small ideas to contribute on that topic.

I'm living in Emporia, KS, because, after the divorce, my ex moved to France, and I needed to be close to my mom for help with my two babies.  I live far below the poverty line.  I'm currently studying towards a degree that (I'm hoping desperately) will provide me the opportunity for a job that will lift me out of poverty.  While working.  While raising two children aged 2 and 5.  I don't even get weekends to catch up on anything, since the ex is gone.  Someday I might post my story, to provide explanation for why I am where I am.  For now, my point is, in certain lights I could be considered one of the poor, the downtrodden, the unfortunate.
Well, perhaps not, because I'm white, and I have a college education.  So I'm not as far down as I could be.  But I'm far down enough to, I think, be able to claim experiential knowledge of need and lack.  Maybe I can serve as a bridge.

One thought that comes up from my opening question:
Actually, ANY theology, philosophy, or academically-informed orientation to life is a theology of the privileged.  We only have time or energy to work out some kind of systematic approach to interpreting life if we aren't slaving away all day just to bring in the bare essentials of survival.  I've been feeling guilty lately, because I never read anymore.  I think I've read maybe 3 books in the past 5 years.  My time is just so filled with making ends meet, when I sit down to read, it's hard to focus.  (And I have it fairly easy compared to the horrible life conditions of some, thanks to our country's social safety net, and the loving help of many around me.)  So whether it's radical theology or any other kind of systematic theology, or philosophy, or whatever, a life of the mind is usually only possible if the life of the body is somewhat secure.  (And I realize there are exceptions.)

However, I DO think that this kind of theology could be a difficult sell to those lacking education or privilege.  Positivism is simply easier to understand.  All the psychological responses that postmoderns are trying to get people to see beyond (externalizing a god figure, clinging to belief, rationalizing systemic injustice, and so on, and so forth) are pretty normal psychological responses for anyone who's human.  They just seem intuitive, and, therefore, normal.  Getting people to question the responses that arise within them unconsciously, could be difficult without some kind of academic thought habits to appeal to.

What I think people of lower privilege CAN understand, though, is a suffering God and a God of solidarity.  Maybe the majority of humans can't follow the logic of Nietzche or Caputo.  But we can tell someone suffering that God is suffering with them... and that might make sense. (Though it raises the Problem of Evil...)  And we can tell them that when humans band together and work together to solve our problems, that is when God is most present... that might make sense.

Myself, I'd just prefer not to bring God into the conversation at all. Makes things messier than they already are.  I'd just prefer to demonstrate love, solidarity, and the bringing about of justice for the marginalized.  But we see from statistics that religion is growing, not diminishing, among that demographic.  We can't go among them and just not address their culture, which is becoming more religious.  So maybe we do have to work to ensure that dangerous, structure-enforcing interpretations of religion are questioned, and that "subversive" interpretations are offered.  I'm not sure how that is possible, again, because positivism is much easier to grasp.  But we might have to settle for some compromises along the way.
Sometimes it could just be a matter of finding clever ways to turn things on their head.  The simpler the better.  For example:

Maybe we don't have to argue about how God is weak, etc.  Maybe we can just point out another way of seeing things in a specific situation, and, if it's simple and powerful enough, "you can never un-see it."

Also, education would help. A lot.

Ultimately, I want to think that the goal is not necessarily to get the poor and marginalized to (dis)believe the way we do.  The goal is to get the poor out of poverty, and to give the marginalized a voice.


  1. Howdy, neighbor! I live in Meade, KS and was also at Subverting the Norm.

    I've been where you're at. I'm divorced with two kids. When they were babies, we were living in Vermillion, SD in a trailer house with holes in it so big the cat could climb in and out all by itself. My kids are currently 17 and 16, and life is much better now, but I remember those days well.

    I think that if at least a few Radical Theologians could learn to speak plain English and get over their fear of preaching it to their congregations, it could become theology for working class and poor people. The problem is that we are spending too much time responding to John Caputo and Peter Rollins amongst ourselves and not enough time responding to Joel Osteen and Beth Moore in the pulpit and the Sunday School room.

    One of the many things that Tony Jones is right about is that regular folks aren't talking about God. Nobody is signing up for a church Bible study or discussion group on the nature of God. They're signing up for groups on self-esteem, marriage, parenting, etc. Until our theology trickles down into those areas, we won't have a change with working class or poor people.

    1. Thank you, Renee! Hey, I grew up in Sioux Falls, SD! We are neighbors, indeed! Next time you're in Emporia, give me a shout. :)

  2. Interesting that you point out that any academically informed theology or philosophy is of privilege, simply because it's academic. Maybe this makes the "academics" all the more accountable for how they wield their knowledge. Interesting thoughts on positivism being more natural as well. Trying to think of what differentiates positivism from affirmation (at the heart of Derrida's deconstruction, per Phil Snider's post http://bit.ly/YbWU8U?r=bb) Vast differences of course, but looking at it this way it seems odd that affirming the depths of life is so difficult. Perhaps positivism is indirectly traumatizing, whereas affirmation directly faces the traumas of life. Just thinking out loud... :)

  3. I think positivism is easier because we want so desperately to believe that there is an ultimate solution to our suffering. A magic bullet. Something certain to hold on to.
    Affirming and facing our deepest fears is incredibly difficult because the so-called reptilian brain works to shut down or divert our attention when strong emotions arise. It's a survival mechanism. http://www.cushnir.com/emotional-connection/the-glitch-in-your-brain?cbg_tz=300