Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Kyon Q?

[That's a pun in Hindi ... "kyon" means "why"]

Amy has an awesome post[A Case against Q] (on the use of historical-critical scholarship in catechetical texts. [Sorry, because of the inaccessibility of blogspot and typepad, I'm using proxy servers and can't post comments there, or provide the permalink].

No, she's not making a scholarly case against the Q hypothesis, or arguing for Matthean priority (a la William Farmer) but is talking about the corrosive effects of an overemphasis of historical-critical scholarship in modern Catholic rel. ed. books.

Here's the comment I wanted to leave there: (If someone sees this soon and would like to put it up there for me, that would be great)
Great post Amy! When the General Directory for Catechesis came out (the one from the Vatican, in, 1997 I think it was), I read through it eagerly, and one of the things that struck me was this: the goal of all catechesis is union with Jesus Christ. I thought about what I'd seen, and it was quite clear: nope, this isn't happening in the parishes I'm familiar with.

My first exposure to the historical-critical method was in a parish in Pune (India) where a Jesuit (then in his diaconate) was giving a class to the parish on scripture study. It was an overview of the historical-critical method. He used materials from the Jesus Seminar freely -- at that time (I was taking classes to prepare for baptism that year) it was all very thrilling, even more so that the old ladies were getting shocked. What I remember clearly thinking was, "Oh! Well, if this is true, then I guess nothing (in the Gospels) is realiable!"

It did instill a love for Scripture study in me, and I discovered more traditional ways of studying (and praying) the Word of God later ...

Years later (and after an MA in NT studies), I completely agree that an overemphasis, an almost gleeful,"we're going to debunk everything you know" overemphasis on the historical-critical method has been part of the problem ... it's whole thrust seems to be, "The Church believed this for a such a long time, but now, we know the real story."

"I don't care if Paul didn't write it -- it's in the Bible, and for a Christian that's what ought to matter, I recall telling a startled prof in class one day! :)"

Much more fruitful would be to actually get people/students/parishioners to read the Scriptures, to imbibe them, to seep in them. I am always envious of the converts from Protestant denominations who know their Scriptures backwards and diagonally. That kind of familiarity ought to be the goal ... while discovering other ways of reading scripture, such as Lectio Divina. "Ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ" right?

Q can come later, in a grad-school course, if someone so chooses to go that route.

All this said, I don't think it is at all possible to just ignore critical scholarship. It's achieved a lot, and, within the proper constraints, can enrich one's faith. I am a fan of Luke Johnson's approach and I find his intro to the NT a great introductory book for serious (critical) study.

[As a complete tangent: do y'all think critical scholarship of the nature Christians are now accustomed to dealing with, would be a welcome development with respect to the origins of the Qu'ran?]
Here's another article from (Protestant) biblical scholar, Richard Hays, on a hermeneutics of suspicion vs. one of trust. "Salvation by trust? Reading the bible faithfully."

[I want to develop that last thought (on Islam) a tad: one of the reasons critical scholarship arose is a desire by its early practitioners (von Reimarus, for instance, who's credited with getting the ball rolling, though some -- such as Luke Johnson -- would go back further, to Luther and the whole idea of sola scriptura) to discredit traditional Christianity. Would it be incorrect to say that in pre-critical times, a Christian approach to Scipture would not be unlike what is the case in Islam with respect to the Qu'ran? Certainly at the popular level, and even otherwise? I don't know for sure, but I wonder. So, wouldn't some critical scholarship that examines the origins of the Qu'ran (and the Hadith) be welcome? Taken to an extreme, I guess, this is the argument of the secularizers. Christianity has been "tamed" by being secularized. Islam ought to be tamed in the same way, and critical scholarship is one of the tools to achieve this end.


St. Elizabeth of Cayce said...

Amy posted your response under the header Gashwin's .02.

She concludes discussion of your post and the arguments in /discussions on the original article with: makes no sense to me to put theories about composition and sources front and center of adolescent catechesis and basic adult faith formation. Gashwin puts it well.

Here's my response. You can read the other 15 (as of 10:24 PM EDT) when you leave Babu's firewall.


Like Gashwin, my first exposure to higher criticism came at church.

It was in a Sunday night "Training Union" class (any current/former Baptists out there are nodding now) and we were reading our way through Genesis. The class was led by our Interim Pastor and I was thrilled to be allowed at age 12 to study with the adults.

One Sunday night, the Pastor presented the interpretation that the stories of Abram & Sarai and of Issac & Rebekah interacting with the household of Pharaoh were likely one story repeated three times, not three separate accounts. One older lady piped up "Pastor Pat, that's not what it says in my Bible."

I couldn't believe his response: Well, that's OK. You can believe whatever you want to believe." Even as a preteen, I knew that "believing anything you want" was not something a church would teach--orthodoxy has to be there somewhere. Our family was gone from that church within a year.

Unlike others, though, my experience with "debunking" didn't sour me on the veracity of Scriptures. I read even more and became one of those converts Gashwin envies who knew her scriptures backwards and diagonally.

Now, one anecdote doesn't make a conclusion about the place of historical-critical methods in youth catechesis or adult faith formation. I see a place for textual criticism and examination of sources--but not at the expense of strengthening the faithful to live holy lives in light of what we know for sure to be true. (Love my neighbor??--that's too hard...let's go back to counting Abram's encounters with Pharaoh ;-/ )

Like Gashwin, I respect Big T Tradition and believe that what appears in Scripture was given to us by the Church, safeguarded by the Holy Spirit---and I appreciate learning new ways that the Church gives me (Lectio Divino, etc.) to imbibe deeper in them.

assiniboine said...

Well indeed. And the first time I heard an Indian opening a conversation on his cell phone with "kya kyon?" I wondered, "Now how did he know that?" (Kya kya being "good morning" in a non-Austronesian language of my acquaintance)

Gashwin said...

@assiniboine: hmm. kya kyon? That would be "what, why?" ... possible, but not really a greeting. ("kyon" like not a few Hindi words, doesn't sound exactly like it's written, being pronounced more like "kyoon"). It could have been, "kya kaon"> (What, who?) ... anyhoo ...

@st. lizzy: thanks for posting that here. Haven't had much time to blog lately (as y'all have surely noticed) but I did manage to get direct access to Amy's (and typepad) blogs eventually ... ah the munificence of Babu ... :)

assiniboine said...

It was, in fact, "kya kiya."

Gashwin said...

Ahh that would mean "what did you do?" ... I wonder what s/he did do! :)