Deus Ex Machina? Religious Texts, Spiritual Capital and Inequalities – in Continuation of the Current Debate

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 9:54 AM
Room: Harbor Lounge B
Oral Presentation
Christo LOMBAARD , Christian Spirituality, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
This paper is borne from three impulses: broadly, the presently ubiquitous influence of liberation theologies within mainstream Christianities; narrower, the widespread religious assumption that the divine addresses the world through the “Holy Word” of the Bible; most specifically, a current South African debate (in which the author is a participant) on the contextual relevance of scholarly exegesis of these texts. The contention here is that the usual “application” of biblical texts to modern issues of inequality is undertaken in unsophisticated ways. First, the hermeneutical difficulties are often left unacknowledged. Second, the exegesis is often poor and seldom new, because the prime concern is a pressing modern issue. However, third, with little academic background in socio-political, economic and related fields of study, the pressing issues are often analysed superficially. Thus, good intentions flounder on poor scholarship, based on a critical (by now, clichéd) rejection of “Western” exegesis combined with an uncritical appropriation of theologically conservative “Western” biblicism. The underlying assumption is that Bible texts can be directly brought to bear on modern issues. The concepts of spiritual or religious capital can ameliorate this. The history and implications of these concepts are therefore reviewed. In constituting the religious identity of individuals, the Bible may well be an influence, but one among many. The thus-molded religious identity of persons so inclined may lead them to address social inequalities, pursuing a less unjust and, usually, more egalitarian society. Agency is mediated by such a constructed religious identity. The issues addressed, almost exclusively socio-political, from a position of moral high ground, presented with firm conviction, may in this less instrumentalist engagement with the religious heritage be expanded to include the theological, with greater humility, seeking clarity.