I had an outbreak of worldviewism today on my Facebook page today after I shared my post on privilege and Biblical interpretation. Worldviewism is a school of thought within the evangelical world, particularly among the homeschoolers and tribulation preppers, that divides the world into thought-systems (there are often said to be four) which are completely self-enclosed, disconnected, and incompatible with one another. Your task as a Christian is to make sure that your Christian worldview hasn’t been infiltrated by traces of other ones (except for capitalism which isn’t one of the other three worldviews since capitalism is just the way God created the world to work ;-)).
So this is the comment that got tossed in my face from a guy whom I’d never met before.
We ought to realize that “privilege” and feminist concerns as concepts are foreign to the biblical text and echoes a more Marxist view than some might like to admit. Liberation theology runs deep in certain Catholic circles, especially when it’s bolstered by the unquestioned assumption of Christ’s and the Holy Spirit’s appearing at Mass in a way his original followers could never have imagined. All this comes from without rather than from within the text of Scripture and so those of us not so concerned with these things must be ready to question their inherently foreign nature when it comes to the God-breathed Word. For those who can’t help themselves, we should be listening when God speaks instead of trying to formulate our understanding of his word within the present matrix previous ideological commitments make clear. Maybe it’s time to drop some of your long-held beliefs and take God’s Word for what it actually says rather than what you’d like it to say.
Admittedly, I didn’t respond in a very Christian way to this. I ended up having to block the guy because he was bringing out the Satan in me. But I’m not sure you can expect to get a charitable response when you open with something like that. That last sentence really made my blood boil: “Maybe it’s time to drop some of your long-held beliefs and take God’s Word for what it actually says rather than what you’d like it to say.”
If you’ve been reading me long, you know how hard I’ve resisted the temptation to drop-kick verses out of the Bible that I didn’t like and you’ve seen the fruit of the wrestling that I did with things like wrath, the fear of the Lord, the blood of Jesus, predestination, etc. I’ve simply read the Daily Office; I didn’t handpick the verses that I read. Each day that I’ve actually read it (it’s not daily), God has been faithful in giving me what He wanted to show me. “What you’d like it to say.” Wow.
So examining my privilege is a concern that’s “foreign to the Biblical text?” And trying to be introspective about my obliviousness to what other categories of people experience makes me a Marxist? I thought it was just part of the process of learning how to speak the truth in love to other people (Ephesians 4:15). I thought it was part of learning how to be a servant to all (Mark 10:44). I thought it was part of cultivating love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
The irony is that being introspective about your privilege, bias, worldview, or whatever you want to call it is precisely what worldviewism purports to be about (though I’ve only seen it deployed as a red herring tactic to torpedo other peoples’ arguments). It’s actually a populist bastardization of postmodern deconstructionism if you think about it. The idea of trying to comb through another person’s arguments for evidence of unacknowledged motives or agendas is what deconstruction is, whether you’re looking for “Marxist secular humanism” or looking for privilege. So worldviewism itself is already “corrupted” by postmodernism and self-invalidated according to its own impossible rubric.
The reason that I don’t fall over when somebody tries to throw out the “Marx” bogeyman on me is because I believe that all truth belongs to God. Atheists can know truth. Buddhists can know truth. I just believe the Christian story is the truest representation of reality. But it’s certainly not the case that everything outside of Christianity is utterly bereft of truth. And whatever truths Marx or anyone else has discovered are just remixes of truths that have been revealed before using different language and slightly different paradigms, some of which are canonically bound inside of scripture.
Marx has helpful insights to offer about the way that capitalism sucks the intrinsic value out of life by making the exchange of value the central activity in the universe, which causes us to look at the world as a marketplace of commodities rather than a garden of God’s gifts (or see the church as a conversion-experience producing enterprise rather than a kingdom of disciples).
Marx completely misunderstood religion because he’s a materialist, the tragedy being that sacraments are the only real resistance to the monstrous force that is turning everything in our world into commodities. Without any concept of transcendence, there is no escape from the hegemony of the market. The only effective antidote to capitalism is not communism but fully sacramental, kingdom-based Christianity (as opposed to the fake religion of suburbianity that goes by the name “Christian” throughout America).
I didn’t need to read Marx to know that. I only needed to read Augustine. Marx did give me more precise language by providing the term commodity. Augustine would have just talked about the ways of the city of man. Of course, Augustine needed a little Platonism to understand how to explain what it means that “in [Christ] all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16), using the eternal/temporal duality to explain the sacramental infusion of Creator in creation.
Throughout Christian history, God has used non-Christian resources to help Christians gain a better grasp of our canonical truths. In some cases, this has gone poorly. The Platonism really did major damage to the Christian theology of the body. But none of us can retreat to some solipsistic Cartesian study in which to read our Bibles; we will always bring our context with us.
Recently, I read James K.A. Smith’s The Fall of Interpretation which critiques the modernist quest for an unmediated encounter with truth, or as our friend put it: “what [truth] actually says rather than what you’d like it to say.” Smith’s point is that we are always already in a mediated context when interacting with any kind of text. There is no vantage point that provides a univocal “what the text actually says” because the text always says what it says to people in a context.
One of the main projects of modernity has been to pretend that white people don’t have a context. We don’t have cultural biases like those people with ethnicity and customs and traditions do. We are simply rational. The reason that I talk about privilege is not because I secretly want to overthrow the US government and establish a communist dictatorship. It’s because I want to be cognizant of the ways that I’m making truth “what I’d like it to be” even though it’s impossible to purge them completely out of my system.
People who try to squelch any analysis of their privilege in Biblical interpretation reveal an anxiety that they will be caught claiming to “take God’s word for what it actually says” when in fact their privilege causes them to selectively hear “what they want it to say.” Hey just skip over that Matthew 25 chapter if you don’t like “liberation theology.” Be sure not to read about the Good Samaritan. Liberation theologian Jon Sobrino spent his whole book El Principio Misericordia meditating on the implications of that story. And be sure to cross Matthew 9:13 out of your Bible, because it’s dangerous to tell people to “go and find out what this means: ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice.'” That’s what ruined my life.