Thursday, September 10, 2009
is God holding a white-y Bible? (chapter two)
This continues a review of Mark Brett’s Decolonizing God: The Bible in the Tides of Empire and the question of whether God’s book, the Bible, really is an instrument that increases the power of white-y/Western cultures. For me, such conversations are essential to whether an emerging church can get beyond a stylistic makeover, and actually be part of a post- world in which the Bible can have a liberating, rather than enslaving, place in the task of being Christian and being church.
Chapter two Alienating Earth and the Curse of Empires. For Brett “one of the most significant biblical texts in the development of colonialism was Gen. 1.28, a single verse within the Bible’s complex theologies of creation. The divine command in this verse to ‘subdue the earth’ was frequently cited from the seventeenth century onwards both as the reason for imperial expansions and as a warrant for linking the cultivation of land to property rights.” (32)
Yet for Brett, the verse provides no endorsement of colonialism. Reading Genesis 1-11 as narratives, Brett notes that Gen 1:29-30 presumes a context of vegetarianism. In Gen 2, humans are tasked with service and care, rather than with rule and subdue. Then in Gen 9:1, when the vegetarian ideal is replaced, so is the command to “subdue.” Further, in 9:13, humans are offered a covenant of restraint with the earth. Consider also the Babel narrative (Gen 11) which encourages not the superiority of one culture, but of cultural diversity.
A second verse significant in the history of colonisation is the “children of Ham” in Gen 9:20-25. Brett argues that what unites the children of Ham is not in fact an ethnic unity, but a social and economic pattern of life. Ham-ites are city builders (10:8-12), while Shem-ites are rural dwellers. Brett suggests this would help a rural Israel make sense of their oppression as slaves of the city-building Egyptians.”
“Colonizers would be the ones to stand under Noah’s curse, not the Indigenous peoples whose connection with the land was swept aside. Thus it is not just that colonizers of modern history misconstrued these chapters in Genesis to serve their own interests. Rather, they inverted what the editors set out to do, and failed to see that the biblical texts potentially deprived them of legitimacy.” (41)
Brett notes the approaches of St Francis and the Celts toward creation. As Christians, they never read the Bible as giving license for exploitation of indigenous people and planet. Rather, for Brett, modern philosophies have re-configured Biblical texts.
For discussion: How important has “subdue” in Gen 1:28 been in your understanding of Christian faith? Does the notion of a complex of theologies of creation excite you, or freak you?