Writing on the gender differences in the account of the Fall in the garden prompts me to reflect on a factor in the modern (or actually, postmodern) zeitgeist that profoundly affects our reception of the whole biblical doctrine of creation, let alone Adam and Eve. This arises from my old bogey of Promethean thinking, spelled out at length in God’s Good Earth but in brief here, but which has its own peculiar manifestation only in our times.
Let me start with a twentieth century bogey, Soviet Communism. As Solzhenitsyn pointed out exhaustively in Gulag Archipelago, Lenin polarised society into the categories of “the people” and “class enemies”. That led to the concept called “revolutionary justice,” in which since class enemies were, by definition, the oppressors of the people, no charge against them had to prove, or even be based on, actual crimes. If they were not guilty of a particular charge trumped up by the state or made up by a jealous neighbour, they were (by virtue of their class) guilty of something like it anyway.
The link with postmodernism is that influential PM philosophers like Michel Foucault, who like so many intellectuals then was a Marxist, generalised that concept from the purely political area to the whole of life, and somehow gained traction for his ideas amongst our intelligentsia.
Without attempting to ground this in any overt manifesto, the trend has been to say that:
1 All relationships are power relationships,
2 All power is exploitative, and (most recently),
3 All polarities are power relationships, and therefore exploitative.
The first subsumes all the subtleties of human social interaction to what might be seen as a crude Darwinism. We may think of our responsibilities, expectations, loyalties, synergisms, biological makeup or loves – but these are all to be reduced to “power” – who has it, and on whom it is exercised. I’ve heard little more depressing than an apparently happy couple interviewed on BBC radio, in which the woman described everything in terms of what gave her man power, and what enabled her to reclaim some for herself.
The second takes the adage that “power corrupts” a stage further, by making it axiomatic that the exercise of power is intrinsically the exploitation of others. The only way in which this may be avoided is by the scrupulous imposition of equality, so that power is perfectly balanced. You’ll appreciate that this is a tall order, given that there are nearly 8 billion people in the world. Fortunately for the idea, just as in the older communism, the first step towards the goal of perfect equality for all may be achieved by destroying the power of the expoiters, whoever they may be.
The third stage simplifies the identification of the enemies, because Foucault and others, in developing “Queer Theory”, claimed that wherever there is a polarity between two categories, one party will necessarily be the oppressor, and the other the oppressed. This, you will realise, is only a generalisation of Marx’s class warfare – and logically, one may also generalise the concept of revolutionary justice into these other areas.
At present (and quite deliberately, as far as the activists are concerned) the most obvious polarity to be addressed is that of gender. We see it played out in recent US political events, in which (it would appear, when the chips are down) the word of a woman is to be accepted against a man on principle, rather than evidence, because all women are, by definition, exploited by all men.
The problem (or one of the many!) is that as soon as such polarisation becomes established as being other than gross exaggeration (let alone arrant nonsense), it becomes fair game for the opposite gender to re-define the power-struggle as that between downtrodden decent males, and exploitative feminist academics. And so the theory of equality becomes, in the event, the progenitor of mindless, and endless, conflict. In the matter of gender, postmodernism exacerbates Gen 3:16b. As, of course, it did in relationship to Gen 3:17-19 in Russia under Stalin or China under Mao. The error lies in the very premise – that relationships are all about power, and humanity’s good is all about equality.
Incidentally, it is important to see that the logic of point (3), in Queer Theory, is that the only way to remove oppression is to destroy the polarity altogether. It is not enough that men and women be equal, nor even that other categories be accepted and affirmed. Whilst “men” and “women” exist as identifiable categories, then injustice must prevail. That is why we see conflict between established feminist groups and transexual activists – the latter are as offended by the existence of women as they are of “transphobia”. It can sometimes be difficult to see whether the self-identity or the politics/philosophy are more primary. If you believe the theory that polarities are evil, how can you in conscience belong to one pole?
Most people are not rank and file postmodernists. But dominant ideas always infiltrate society in diluted form. The fact that we see it as self-evidently desirable that a female drone-operator should be killing enemies whilst heavily pregnant, or that in publishing theology we are urged to construct gothic sentences like “X is true of God God-self” to avoid “gendered” pronouns, is evidence of the trickle-down of these neo-Marxist ideas… just as the backlash to such things is evidence of the inevitability that they produce instability in society, not the promised utopian equality.
I’ve concentrated too much on gender, because that emerged from the question of Adam and Eve. But similar things could be said of many other bipolar issues our world, for they are all being treated as matters of power rather than truth, with the aim of abolishing the categories. For example, the self-identity of atheists as a minority oppressed by the religious is a classic example played out in a mythical narrative every day at places like Peaceful Science, the perceived utopia being that, by the abolition of the oppressing “pole,” ie religion, one can imagine, like John Lennon, “all the people living for today…” And needless to say, the reaction to that by some is that it is the religious who are oppressed by the power of a secular state, to which the answer is to get rid of the politicians by a Man of Destiny.
There is, of course, some truth in all the stories – the tens of millions that Communist governments have destroyed as class enemies are all real people. The error is in the postmodern interpretive theory.
Rather than multiply examples, or even probe them in depth (it would be instructive to explore how counter-cultural it is for Eve to be derived from Adam, which is why feminist theologians reject the text as patriarchal, rather than accept that the modern theory may be false), I will cut to the limiting case.
One of my favourite sayings was from a theologian on one of the discussion sites, whose first lecturer at seminary wrote on the blackboard: “There is a God, and you are not him.” Surely, this is the grossest example of a power polarity one can imagine. And be under no illusions: in our current emotional and intellectual climate it rankles. How can such an unequal power relationship be tolerated? Well, of course for many it can’t – according to Queer Theory, God must be abolished as the oppressor of all that is created, and we must all be gods.
But if God is not abolished, he can at least be emasculated. Take Thomas Jay Oord’s extreme Openness theology, for example, in which by some means God does not even force existence on creation, but sacrifices his own being in order to empower creation to create itself. Oord, I think, has few takers beyond academics consciously influenced by postmodernism. More telling of the percolation of postmodern ideas are more common tropes that wouldn’t have been given houseroom in an earlier age: “The puppetmaster God.” “God calling all the shots.” “Like an Eastern Despot.” And so on. The underlying problem is that we cannot bear God to be God, and us merely creatures. It’s just too unfair.
But the problem is our mindset, whether that be throughly Post-modern or merely Post-renaissance and Promethean. There is actually Lordship and Servanthood built into God’s reality. “In the beginning, God…” He causes us, and we do not cause him, and the godly mind rejoices in that, rather than looking for ways round it.
It’s often been pointed out how much modern thinking, for example on gender, defies not just human convention, but nature itself, for nature regularly places the right minds in the wrong bodies and fails to cater physically for dozens of mental genders. To the Christian, though, “nature” stands for “God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth and of all that is in them.” We would do better to identify and isolate what is mere philosophy in our thinking, and ask ourselves why we give it any authority whatsoever in our lives.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces a of this world rather than on Christ.
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Col 2:6-12).