During the question period after my presentation at the SBL International conference in Amsterdam (entitled "The Personal is Still Political: What else did you expect, or have we forgotten just how radical feminist exegesis can be?"), I was asked a question by a very upset and angry participant. In essence, the questions were: "Why did I waste my time on something that I didn't believe in; didn't I have better things to do than rip apart the bible; why didn't I go and spend my time doing something else?"
So, how to answer? There is the obvious, academic answer: The bible and Christianity are the foundations of western culture in all its good and its bad. Therefore, we have to understand where the structures of our societies' ethical systems, presuppositions about the nature of human interaction, etc. come from. And to do this, we have to look at the bible as the foundational document of Western society.
That is how I would have answered the question 10 years ago. Two weeks ago, today, I answered quite differently. I just laid it all on the line. A short version: I was sexually abused when I was 8 years old by a Roman Catholic priest, became hyper-religious, spent years in therapy dealing with the biblical god. AND I DON'T WANT ANYONE TO EVER HAVE TO GO THROUGH WHAT I HAVE GONE THROUGH.
Now I know that that is not going to happen. I don't control the world. The bible is still out there, and that biblical god is still holding sway over people's lives (for one example, just watch Jesus Camp!!) However, by writing what I do, by saying what I say, I make a difference in the lives of a few people. And they have expressed this to me. A whispered "thank you" from a conference participant years ago; a "I never believed anybody else felt like that" from a very distressed woman who came to talk to me (after I gave her the Psalm of Anger to read); a secondhand thank you from the friend of an incest victim who said that reading "Christian Virtues and Recovery from Child Sexual Abuse" had helped her more than 2 year of therapy. And what I write sometimes forces other academic theologians to think differently about the Christian religious system - see Atonement, Cycles of Abuse, and Virtue, a classroom blog from Duke University. It is discussions like this one that give me hope for a better future.
I won't change the world. However, I have nothing to lose in taking the "extreme" position. The personal is political - my life experience is my life experience - but I am not alone and I am not the only one who has ever felt like this. I am not the only one who has ever suffered from a Christian worldview that blamed me, and not the perpetrator(s) of the crimes committed against me.
If what I say and write makes even one other person's life easier, it is enough.
I will end this blog with yet another quote from Babylon 5: year 1, episode 16:
Mollari: Of course, we do. There's a natural law. Physics tells us that for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. They hate us, we hate them, they hate us back. And so here we are - victims of mathematics.
Sinclair: He never listens.
Delenn: He will, sooner or later.
Sinclair: How can you be sure?
Delenn: Because the alternative is too terrible to consider. Without the hope that things will get better; that our inheritors will know a world that is fuller and richer than our own, life is pointless and evolution is vastly overrated.