… in which she reveals herself to be a one-time feminist and probably loses half her readers.
I think that it should be clear by now that I have become quite a fan of this book.* I wasn’t intending to spend so much time on it, but it has become clear to me that it is worth digesting as thoroughly as possible – although I do intend finishing these write ups fairly soon and then putting it aside as there are also other things to read! I mentioned before that it may well be one of the most important books that I have ever read, and I’m inclined to say that that suspicion has been confirmed. I remain puzzled as to why I never came across it before, and why it has not received more attention. And I have wondered what influence it would have had on me had I encountered it ten to fifteen years ago.
For, if the truth be told, the theme of tradition is a theme that has pursued me for a long time, and which I focussed on in both my Masters and doctoral theses. My own concerns, however, were with whether and how the Church’s tradition could be understood as revelatory given its patriarchal nature and implication in relations of power. They were, therefore, influenced both by feminist criticism and by ideology criticism more generally, but sought to respond to the challenge of what we are to do after the critique. Now, I don’t particularly want to get into academic discussions of this now, as it is becoming a rather distant memory anyway, and I was never really entirely satisfied with what I produced, and in the end wanted to get it out of the way in order to get on with other things, becoming convinced that such dilemmas can be better resolved by living them than by theorising.
But I mention this now, as, for someone schooled in a hermeneutic of suspicion, Father Louth’s discussion, especially in his discussion of human tradition, seems to lack an awareness of the factors of interest and power that are also operative in human society. And of course the question can be raised of to what extent these sinful factors (to use a theological term) influenced the Church. This is not to disagree with the fundamental thrust of his argument concerning the positive evaluation of human tradition and culture, and I find the contrast with Gnosticism illuminating and perhaps also helpful for clarifying some contemporary realities, but I would have appreciated a rather more nuanced analysis of it.
I’m aware of course that to speak of a hermeneutic of suspicion is like a red rag to a bull in some circles, and I really am doing my best to avoid internet polemics! While this is part of a broader theme that I may come back to, I’m inclined to think that the fundamental problem in much contemporary theology associated themes of power and liberation is not that it is critical of structures of power, but rather, firstly, that it fails to put such discussions in a much broader ecclesial and theological perspective (and a reason why this book should be required reading for anyone doing theology today), and, secondly, that it is actually not critical enough, and needs to acknowledge that the “will to power” is deeply rooted in the human heart. But I would still like to see such critiques taken seriously.
* For the uninitiated, the book in question is, Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery. An Essay on the Nature of Theology, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983) – to order the new edition, which I would highly recommend doing, go here.