We are delighted to welcome Professor Gerald West to speak at our TheoRel seminar next week. Gerald is Professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible and African Biblical Hermeneutics in the School of Religion, Philosophy, and Classics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He is also Director of the Ujamaa Centre for Community Development and Research, a project in which biblical scholars and African readers of the Bible from poor, working-class, and marginalized communities collaborate for social transformation. His most recent publication is The Stolen Bible: From Tool of Imperialism to African Icon (2016). He is currently based at the University of Otago working on a book project (Facilitating Interpretive Resilience: Biblical Scholarship, Local Communities, and the Bible as a Site of Struggle) as part of the De Carle Distinguished Lectureship.
Gerald’s lecture for us next week is titled, “Building biblical interpretive resilience and resistance in the context of gender violence”. Gerald will discuss the ways that the Bible is complicit in gender violence in South African (and other) contexts. So how do we work with a complicit Bible in the struggle for gender justice? He will draw on the praxis of the Ujamaa Centre for Community Development and Research’s ‘Tamar Campaign’ and ‘Redemptive Masculinity Campaign’, reflecting on the participatory interpretive practices of the Ujamaa Centre’s work, using the story of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13:1-22 as an example.
This event is co-hosted by the Shiloh Project, a joint initiative run by scholars at the Universities of Auckland, Sheffield, and Leeds. It fosters research into the intersections of religion and rape culture.
The lecture is free and open to everyone. We hope to see you there.
Today’s student essay continues the theme of contemporary messiahs, which we started looking at yesterday, and considers another superhero saviour – Batman – who has brought the American Monomyth to our screens. This fabulous essay is written by Ryan Costello, who has just completed his Bachelor of Commerce (majoring in marketing and management) here at the University of Auckland. Ryan originally hails from South Africa, and currently lives on Auckland’s North Shore. Next year, he plans to travel and work abroad, starting in the USA. His future plans include working in Human Resources and Management, and he hopes, ultimately, to start his own business. Ryan took our Bible and Popular Culture course after checking out our glowing reviews from previous years and on the recommendation of friends.
This is a wonderful essay, so we hope you enjoy it.
Gotham City: Batman, the Biblical Messiah and the American Monomyth
The concept of Messiahs links to the idea of an American-Monomyth, which is pop-culture’s modern day example of a secular western hero. Essentially, the monomyth acts as a substitute for Christ’s role, within a world where the idea of Christ is not present. A Messiah, on the other hand, is a Hebrew word associating with Jesus as an “anointed one” (Satterthwaite, Hess, and Wenham 1995, 88). This essay will look at Christopher Nolan’s film, The Dark Knight Rises. It will be argued that Batman acts as a Messiah figure within his community of Gotham. This paper will start by discussing the notions of the American Monomyth, and the Biblical Messiah, as well as exploring Batman’s primary similarities to these figures. Then, I will analyse Batman as a leader of Gotham in contrast to the Biblical Messiah, and to the other Messianic figure in the text, Bane. Next, it will discuss how Batman saves Gotham from sin, and compare it to the American Monomyth. Finally, I will look at how Batman suffers and sacrifices himself for the people of Gotham, and contrast it with the Biblical Messiah and sacrificial theme in American Monomyth.
Batman is a modern day version of the Biblical Messiah within the film and incorporates many characteristics of an American Monomyth. The people of Gotham City had spent their days in fear. Fear of the crime that surrounded them. Fear of the new villains that would emerge. They had this fear until Batman (A.K.A. Bruce Wayne) arrived as their saviour from these villains and this crime. Bruce is Batman’s alter-ego who lives a normal life. He is motivated purely by his desire for justice in the city that he loves; which enables him to persist and never give up, regardless of the foe he faces. The idea of a Monomyth is derived from the Biblical Messiah and entails a “lonely, selfless” (Lawrence and Jewett, 2002: 5) hero who saves a “terrorized community” (ibid) and then subsequently disappears. Batman departed from his community of Gotham to “undergo trials and later return to be integrated” (Lawrence and Jewett, 2002: 6) back into the city as a saviour. He did this through training alongside the League of Assassins, just as the angels had ministered to Jesus in Matthew 4:11 (Kozlovic, 2016). Upon Batman’s return, he was “both in the world but not of the world” (Kozlovic 2004: 10). Batman is a Monomyth through being “distinguished by disguised origins, pure motivations, a redemptive task, and extraordinary powers” (Lawrence and Jewett, 2002: 47). Although Gotham is known for its crime, it experiences some temporary harmony when Batman defeats the evil attempting to take over. Although he engages in violence, it is portrayed as being justified because it is to rid the city of sin. As an audience, we can accept his violence because we understand it is for the greater good of Gotham and that as a Messianic figure he knows how to lead his city (IMatrix Wiki, 2013).
Batman portrayed himself as a leader in Gotham City throughout the film, similar to that of Jesus the Messiah, the American Monomyth and Bane, the main villain in the movie. Batman can be seen to fight with Bane for the role of the Messiah figure in Gotham. “Gotham, take control… take control of your city. Behold, the instrument of your liberation! Identify yourself to the world!” Bane says this which results in him gaining more followers.
Batman’s leadership is also similar to that of the American Monomyth through leading “without paying the price of political relationships or responding to the preferences of the majority” (Lawrence and Jewett, 2002: 48). Just like Jesus, Batman had followers; however, there were also those who despised him and sought to destroy him, even if he was helping them. Three of the main police figures within the film have names which make reference to the Bible. These being Jim Gordon, John Blake, and Peter Foley. These names refer to three of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles in the Bible; John, James, and Peter. These three key figures follow him and always believe in him and his ability to save the people of Gotham from all the evil in the city. In Matthew 14:25-29, Jesus walks on water. This act is similar to when Batman walked on Ice towards Jim Gordon (James), to save him and other police officers. This similarity shows the resemblance the figures of Jesus and Batman have to each other, especially in their leadership qualities. Through this leadership, Batman can defend his city from sin.
Batman challenged the sin of his city when no one else was willing or able to. He is a vigilante who, against the odds, manages to always save the day, yet still experiences persecution from those very people he saves (Kozlovic, 2004). In the Dark Knight Rises, Batman shows himself as someone who does not just forgive others’ sins but also takes the burden of sin away from them. He illustrates this through granting Catwoman her only true desire; to have a clean slate, so that all of her crimes could disappear. Batman did this through deleting her criminal record from the International Crime Database. He forgives her even though she betrayed him (Richards, 2012). He wiped away her sins similar to the way Jesus is said to forgive our sins in 1 John 1:9. Bruce faces temptation to sin through Catwoman telling him to leave the city with her and abandon the effort to save the city. However, he resists this temptation because his purpose is to protect the people of Gotham (Kozlovic, 2000). In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is tempted in the wilderness for 40 days by the devil, to act selfishly with his powers, yet Jesus always resists this temptation as well (Matthew 4:1-11). Through vigilantism Batman can act beyond the law, and can reinstate justice within Gotham City when it faces violence and evil. In Batman, we see “elements of the selfless servant who impassively gives his life for others and the zealous crusader who destroys evil” (Lawrence and Jewett, 2002: 6).
Both Batman and Jesus were victorious over evil in their community. However, through Batman’s actions we can see flaws within the American Monomyth. Batman believes his actions are right no matter what they entail, which can raise questions about morality and ethics. He will do whatever it takes to achieve justice, but he is operating in the grey area between what is illegal and legal. He is already acting above the law, but is he above morality? Therefore, this shows that the only perfect Messiah is the Biblical one because Batman could not achieve justice without himself sinning. However, through Batman’s resurrection, he could rectify his wrongs, and bring new hope to his city.
Both Batman and Jesus experience some form of resurrection, which is one of the primary aspects of the Monomythic figure, which associates the Monomyth to Jesus, the Biblical Messiah. Although Bruce never died, his alter-ego Batman was gone for such a long period after being sent to the pit by Bane, that when he reappeared (rises), people viewed him as resurrected at a time when he was needed the most. Catwoman depicts a Mary Magdalene figure in the film after she is the first person to see Bruce after he returns from the pit, which symbolizes Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb, in Mark 16:9 (Babb, 2017; Kozlovic, 2004). There is a theory known as Christus Victor that states that through Jesus dying and being resurrected he was able to be triumphant over evil (Gunton, 1985; Kozlovic, 2004). Batman was only able to defeat Bane after he had experienced resurrection and a “rebirth” (Kozlovic, 2016: 17) of his superhuman-like power. It is almost as if Batman had a divine-like calling to the city, which would not allow him to fail in his mission to save the people of Gotham (Deacy, 1999). Kozlovic, 2016). At one point Batman instructs Gordon to light up his Bat Symbol – portraying him as coming back to life – which then gave Gotham new hope that the city could be saved because their Messiah had returned (Caro, 2012). The Batman symbol acts as a cross-like symbol which the people of Gotham look at for hope (Kozlovic, 2004). Therefore, Batman connects to the sacrificial and resurrection themes of the American Monomyth and from within the New Testament.
Within Christopher Nolan’s film, Batman incorporated many of the themes associated with a modern day Messiah, as he led Gotham to salvation. Although Nolan never mentions Christ, he was able to create religious symbolism through Batman, and the people surrounding him. Batman showed that a saviour can incorporate the ideals of a Messiah while still showing flaws within their ability to live that life. The key idea that was argued was that Batman is a significant Messianic figure to the people of Gotham. This essay began by looking at Batman’s primary characteristic similarities to Jesus, the Biblical Messiah, such as their heroic abilities. Next, it discussed Batman’s leadership in contrast to that of an American Messiah, Jesus, and Bane who led Gotham in an uprising. The idea that Batman could challenge the city’s sinful ways was then explored, through looking at his ability to resist any temptation to sin and to wipe away others’ sins. Lastly, the paper looked at Batman’s experiences with resurrection throughout the film, which has similarities to the Biblical Messiah’s experiences with it.
References to the Bible are taken from the NRSV Version
Continuing our focus on contemporary prophetic figures, today’s student essay discusses the prophetic credentials of twentieth-century social activist Dorothy Day (1897-1980). The essay is written by Lauren Wilks, who is from Nelson, NZ. She has just completed her second year of study for a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Economics and International Business. Next year, she plans to spend a semester in Mexico on the University of Auckland’s 360° student exchange programme. Lauren took our Bible and Pop Culture course upon a recommendation by her elder sister who took the course in 2012 and enjoyed it a great deal. Lauren assures me she loved it just as much! Her essay is fabulous, so we hope you enjoy learning more about the amazing figure of Dorothy Day.
Living for more than today
“…God did not intend that there be so many poor… we are urging revolutionary change.”
(Day, cited in Barrett, 2017)
Summarised in her own words, Dorothy Day (1897-1980) was a passionate pacifist and one of the most well-known Catholic social activists in history. Her uncompromising vision for social justice caused disturbance among the status quo, but generated lasting change to society’s role in serving the poor. Borg (2001) established a framework to define biblical prophets, which we can use to determine if a modern-day figure or group fulfills a similar prophetic function. Fulfilling all six criteria of Borg’s definition, Dan can be seen as effectively performing a prophetic role. This essay will conclude Day is a contemporary prophet, focusing on her disturbance of social norms, her prophetic action to fight for social justice, and her relationship with God. The biblical texts of Isaiah 58, Isaiah 20, Ezekiel 2 and Isaiah 41, will be used throughout to relate Day to the biblical prophets.
Borg (2001) explains that Biblical prophets disturbed dominant discourses, not just accepting, but challenging the status quo to fight for something they believed in. In Isaiah 58, Isaiah encourages the confrontation of injustice. He challenges false compared to true worship, stating religious practices are in vain if there are people who are oppressed, Isaiah 58:1, “Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion…” Day’s message of social justice, focused on pacifism and serving the poor. She confronted those in the church who were living comfortably, favouring the rich and powerful, while the poor were continuously mistreated. She insisted that the “church is the cross on which Christ is crucified”and that social injustice was an insult to Christ (Forest, n.da, para.23). Her heart for social justice was derived from Jesus’ message, particularly the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Day took this scripture of Jesus’ moral teaching and truly lived it out (Allison, n.d). Like Isaiah, she understood working for and being with the poor was an essential part of being Christian: “share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them” (Isaiah 58:7). She considered it immoral to call yourself Christian without acting out what the Bible requires. Day had a focused vision, which is evident in the following excerpt from her writings: “To follow the gospel teaching of the works of mercy. If your brother is hungry, feed him, shelter him. How can you show your love for God except by love for your brother and sister? The one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he hasn’t seen?” (Dear, 2011, para.28).
Day also challenged society to evaluate how everyone’s work benefits (or not) the wider community. She believed jobs in finance and advertising led to social tension by making people desire possession they did not need (Hinson-Hasty, 2014). Through her message of social justice, Day was a founding encourager in the Catholic Church expanding their outreach (Bailey, Ohlheiser & Zak, 2015).
Day lived in the 20th century, a time where many believed they were obliged to serve their country during war. She was outspoken in her anti-war stance and did not accept that moral conditions ratify war (Parachin, 2016). Her message addressed people in power, particularly Church leaders as throughout history, Popes had blessed armies and supported crusades (Forest, n.db). The Church had accepted ‘just war’, but Day wanted non-violence to become a fundamental Christian principle. Her pacifist views were revolutionary to the Church, in that she claimed violence contradicted biblical values as it fortified the rich and devastated the poor (Coy, 1988). She believed that in order to achieve peace, the most vulnerable needed to be helped. Like the prophet in Isaiah 58, she did not hold back in telling the Church their shortcomings. In writing to the Vatican Council, she said war was a crime against God and man (Fox, 2015). Although her message was radical at the time, it has since been accepted and adopted by many. Pope Francis named her one of the four most influential Americans in history. His support of Day’s non-violent ideologies shows the development in the Churches attitude towards peace and social justice (Bailey et al., 2015). Her willingness to critique the system and not accept that poverty was a normal part of society saw many touched by her message of justice and humility. Day clearly fulfills Borg’s criteria of disturbing social norms to bring about revolutionary change.
Another criterion is that Biblical prophets took action to amplify their message, translating prophetic speech into prophetic action (Borg, 2001). With reference to Isaiah 20:1-5, both Day and the prophet Isaiah used action to signify the importance of their messages. Isaiah protested the military alliance between Judah and Egypt, “Just as my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent…” (Isaiah 20:3). Day always focused on what she could do, taking Catholic theology and putting it into action in prophetic ways (Chapp, 2015). Rather than helping the poor during the day, then returning to her comfortable home at night, Day fully immersed herself in a life of poverty to proclaim the importance of her vision (Chapp, 2015).
In May 1933, Day and Peter Maurin, a French revolutionary, started the Catholic Worker newspaper to synthesise Catholic social teaching and social justice (Xiaoyu, 2010). Her decision to live in voluntary poverty meant she was greatly empathetic, writing to and on behalf of the poor. The newspaper became a beacon of hope by confronting the oppressive system. She wrote about social injustices, using scripture to challenge the Church in failing to exemplify the Gospel message, but also to inspire action to help those in need. Her pacifist views caused division within the Catholic Worker movement, with those who believed war was justified breaking away from the movement. Even though her message was controversial, the complaints the Church received about the newspaper did not stop Day from publishing it despite its loss of popularity during the wars (Bailey et al., 2015).
The actions Day took were to fulfil God’s will. Drawing on Matthew 6:10, she said, “We are working for ‘a new heaven and a new earth, wherein justice dwelleth.’ We are trying to say with action, ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’” (Zwick, n.d, para.12). Her writings on social justice drew those in need into Catholic homes, which led to the creation of the Houses of Hospitality. Day believed hospitality was part of Christian tradition, using the houses to live out biblical values (1 Peter 4:8-9). They provided food and shelter to the needy, and as Day’s message confronted the rich and powerful, the houses gave them an opportunity to serve the poor (Barnette, 2011). There was controversy around who was accepted into the homes, as some believed not all were ‘deserving poor’. Day replied by saying, as family in Christ, they were welcome to stay forever (Forest, n.db). She established and inspired many houses, by 1936, there were 33 houses throughout the US, with a growing need during the Great Depression (Forest, n.db). The movement continues today, with 200 Catholic Worker communities and 40 Catholic Worker Houses (Bailey et al., 2015).
Day spent her whole life serving others. Further actions she took for the oppressed include protesting outside the White House for women’s suffrage, which led to the first of seven imprisonments, and going on a hunger strike to protest poor jail conditions (Barnette, 2011). It is evident Day fulfils Borg’s criteria of prophetic action. With the Catholic Worker newspaper and the Houses of Hospitality, her life-long commitment of personal sacrifice translating vision into action.
Borg (2001) found the prophets to be passionate about both God and justice, a two-fold relationship between the world and spiritual realm. Day’s intimate relationship and experiences with God were the source of her vision for social justice (Dear, 2011). In Ezekiel 2, the spirit of the Lord commissioned Ezekiel to speak God’s word to the rebellious Israel, “…I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God’” (Ezekiel 2:4). Day did not hear the audible voice of God calling her to serve the poor like Ezekiel and other Biblical prophets did, but God spoke to her through the Bible (Allaire & Broughton, n.d). Because she had an extensive knowledge of the Bible, she weaved scripture into her writings to convey not her message, but Jesus’ message. Using scripture as God’s mouthpiece, she once said, “If I have achieved anything in my life, it is because I have not been embarrassed to talk about God” (Howell, 2017, p.97). Borg (2001) sees the prophet’s dream as God’s dream. Day fulfils this criterion as she lived beyond herself, challenged by Jesus’ message to serve the poor (Mark 10:21). Daily spiritual devotions strengthened her knowledge and connection with God, which equipped her to face the challenges her fight for social justice bought (Allaire & Broughton, n.d). She said, “When God asks great things of us, great sacrifices,” (Ellsberg, 2010, para.11). The prophet Isaiah experienced great suffering in his life. Through the trials, he continually looked to God to renew his strength and protect him. Isaiah 41:10, “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you.” Day experienced discomfort in voluntary poverty. She let go of worldly possession as she believed to truly serve, was to give out of nothing (Hinson-Hasty, 2014). This was not easy, but her intimate relationship with God, through scripture and prayer, sustained her vision for justice.
Since Day’s passing in 1980, her message has remained relevant and is evident in the Catholic Church’s outreach. She is often drawn upon as a source of inspiration, upholding values of peace, community, and integration of faith and acts (Allaire & Broughton, n.d). It is clear Ezekiel was known as a prophet, Ezekiel 2:5, “Whether they hear or refuse to hear… they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.” The Catholic Church has not named Day a prophet, but have identified her as an extraordinary person by commencing an inquiry into her canonisation (Catholic News Service, 2016). Elevating her to this status recognises her exceptional life and challenging vision of hope.
To summarise, Day can be regarded as a contemporary prophetic figure as defined by Borg. Her willingness to speak out for social justice, promoting pacifism and voluntary poverty, disturbed social norms. She used prophetic action through the Catholic Worker newspaper, Houses of Hospitality and protests, to solidify her vision. She believed in a personal God, and her strong relationship with him was the foundation of her mission. Although controversial at the time, her relentless commitment to pacifism and personal responsibility to the poor has continued to be an inspiration (Fox, 2015). Day’s legacy leaves a challenge, live out the Gospel and bear witness in everyday life (Ellsberg, 2010).
All Biblical texts are from the New Revised Standard Version
Today’s student essay is another treat – like some of the other essays I’m sharing, it discusses the ways that certain contemporary figures appear to fulfill some of the same roles as the biblical prophets. Our author is Eddie Mataele, who is studying for a Bachelor of Arts here at the University of Auckland, majoring in Sociology with a minor in Pacific Studies. Eddie hails from Tonga, and currently lives in the Mangere district of Auckland. Once he completes his degree, he hopes to put it to good use working in the social and public sectors. Eddie took our Bible and Popular Culture course to meet his General Education requirements, and enjoyed the creative freedom offered by the assignments.
So, for all Kendrick Lamar fans out there (and everyone else too), sit back and enjoy the prophetic potential of this most fascinating musician.
Wickedness or Weakness? The Prophetic Role of Kendrick Duckworth Lamar
Music can be used as a refuge from the cruel and haunting realities of life. On the other hand, it can also be a powerful platform for an artist to describe and express these realities into a stimulating, euphoric, and somewhat controversial masterpiece. Kendrick (Duckworth) Lamar (born June 17, 1987) is an African-American rapper, songwriter, and recipient of seven Grammy awards; whose music has conveyed his innocence, triumphs, trauma, and tragedies while growing up in the notoriously dangerous streets of Compton, Los Angeles. The dominant themes found in majority of his music catalogue is his critique of oppressive social structures, violence of gang culture, and his connection with God (Graham, 2017). Kendrick Lamar produced music that defends the rights of disenfranchised communities in USA and uplifts the voices of troubled youths, while openly conveying his personal experience with God, fame, wealth, poverty, violence, pride, fear, and more (Faraji, 2016). Similarly, ancient prophets found in the Bible also share these features.
According to Marcus J. Borg (2001), prophets are an ally of social justice, challenge the status-quo, empowers oppressed people, and protects the hope of a brighter future. The clear difference between ancient prophets outlined in the Bible and Kendrick Lamar is the cultural context/setting they are situated in. However, Kendrick shares similar biblical prophetic behaviour with ancient prophets such as Jeremiah, in that both figures openly voices their condemnation against the injustices caused by those in power (Fischer, 2015). Subsequently, this essay will aim to deliver a comprehensive analysis which supports the belief that Kendrick Lamar is a biblical prophet.
A key element of a biblical prophet outlined by Borg (2001) is their passion for social justice and serving the interests of the oppressed and disenfranchised communities. Specifically, Borg mentions the concept of “prophetic energizing”, which revolves around a prophet communicating with the oppressed, utilizing language that promotes hope , defends their identity, and rejoices in creating a brighter future (Borg, 2001). The prophet Isaiah declared messages of prophetic energizing to encourage Jewish people to believe in justice, hope, and God when they were exiled from Jerusalem and Judah by Babylonians in 586 BCE by using uplifting language:
“For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace. The mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands”
(Isaiah 55: 12)
These are some other aspects of the biblical prophets (and biblical texts more widely) which resonate with the music and impact of Kendrick Lamar, albeit in a darker and more aggressive manner. This is illustrated in his album “To Pimp A Butterfly” where he addresses issues suffered mainly by African-Americans. In “alright”, Kendrick aggressively attacks white supremacy and police brutality while simultaneously glorifying the importance of developing strength from these struggles and express his faith in God. In short, he encourages his audience to find hope in the struggles they face, as it gives meaning to their inner-strength:
“Hard times like, God! / Bad trips like, Yeah! / Nazareth, I’m f**ked up/ Homie, you f**ked up/ But if God got us, then we gon’ be alright”
The song also highlights the frustration and pain Black people in America are accustomed to because of the injustices committed by the police disproportionately killing unarmed African-Americans:
“Wouldn’t you know/ We been hurt, been down before/ N*gg*, when our pride was low/ Lookin’ at the world like, ‘Where do we go? / N*gg*, and we hate po-po, wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho’/ N*gg*, I’m at the preacher’s door/ My knees getting’ weak, and my gun might blow/ But we gon’ be alright”
Kendrick creatively describes the historical and relentless pain of being Black in America as severely debilitating. However, he counters it by claiming it will not erase the hope of self-empowerment and fighting for social justice which he expresses by continuously shouting “we gon’ be alright”. The impact of this song and its powerful lyrics has transcended music and entered the domain of social and political activism. Black Lives Matter activists draw strength and solidarity by chanting the lyrics “we gon’ be alright” during their peaceful protests against police brutality. Kendrick’s live performance of the song angered highly conservative and narrow-minded FOX News presenters who argued that a music genre (Hip Hop/Rap) has created more damage than racism among young African-Americans (Media Matters, 2015). Kendrick was thus effective in challenging the status-quo upheld by dominant systems of power, which regularly silence dissident voices of the oppressed (Faraji, 2016). Ultimately, the song “alright” was one of many in this album which advocated for social justice and served as a source from which African-Americans could draw strength, hope and unity.
Marcus Borg (2001) also suggested that biblical prophets are representatives of God or individuals who know God. This is not implying that biblical prophets are divine individuals, but rather indicates that prophets are individuals who believe in God’s teachings and deliver these teachings in a distinctive and influential manner (Borg, 2001). These too are features of a biblical prophet personified by Kendrick Lamar. His most recent album “DAMN.” comprehensively expresses his fears about his potential to be led to damnation (condemned by God to eternally suffer in Hell); to overcome this fear, he must first acknowledge it (Yoh, 2017). This is highlighted in the lyrics of his song “FEAR”:
“I’m talkin’ fear, fear of losin’ loyalty from pride/ ‘cause my DNA won’t let me involve in the light of God/ I’m talkin’ fear, fear that love ain’t livin’ here no more/ I’m talkin’ fear, fear that it’s wickedness or weakness”
Moreover, Kendrick references the commandments and statues written in the book of Deuteronomy 28, and delivered to the Israelites by the prototypical prophet Moses. Through these references, Kendrick ponders whether his previous acts of disobedience stemmed from his own wickedness or inner weakness (Yoh, 2017). From living in a gang-infested city ripe with violence and drugs, family members who were pimps and gang bangers, to suffering deep mental and spiritual stress due to his riches and fame, Kendrick’s world was filled with madness and chaos.
These experiences could drive a person towards a path of destruction. Kendrick likens his own suffering in this chaotic world to the curse bestowed upon Israelites, outlined in Deuteronomy 28. This suggests he believes it is in his (self-proclaimed Israelite) DNA to flourish in temptation and sin (Yoh, 2017). However, he overcomes the fears of succumbing to a destructive future by acknowledging his fears and trusting God’s wisdom. His greatest fear is that he could lose all his financial, social, and spiritual riches due to basking in earthly pleasures and not fearing God (Yoh, 2017). Less focus is placed on the joy of God and more emphasis is awarded to the fear of God. Consequently, he implies that people should fear God because the blessings bestowed upon them can also be swiftly removed from their lives by God.
The story of Job shares a few similarities with the story told by Kendrick Lamar. Job was a wealthy family man who was a staunchly obedient follower of God’s teachings but suffered unbelievable cruelty in the face of servitude, because God wanted to discredit Satan’s claim that Job is good only because God rewards him (Crook, 1959). Thus, Job was subjected to unbelievable suffering and pain. However, Job found meaning instead of despair in those dark moments. He gained humility, a refined perspective of God’s grace and a deep fear of God. At the end, God rewarded Job by restoring double of what he lost, which promotes the critical message that fearing God and trusting his wisdom will result in righteousness and salvation (Crook, 1959). Thus, Kendrick recognises the blessings he enjoys now were delivered by God and he fears that God can also take it all away because of his inner-weakness/wickedness.
In conclusion, Kendrick Lamar confronts his fears in order to overcome it and through this process he develops a deeper connection to God. In saying this, he also promotes the message of giving hope to yourself in times of tragedy and injustice, as it will develop greater inner-strength and self-empowerment. His music provoked intense solidarity among African-Americans protesting cruel injustices imposed on their community which reflects a core element of a biblical prophet suggested by Borg (2001). Moreover, he utilises his influence and power as a famous artist to convey his experiences with God and the influence it has had on him. Kendrick Lamar’s storytelling in his music empowers the narratives of the oppressed, fights systemic injustice, and expresses his deep belief and fear of God. Thus, he aligns with these aspects of a biblical prophet emphasised by Marcus Borg (2001).
Borg, M. J. (2001). Reading the prophets again. In M. J. Borg (Ed.), Reading the Bible again for the first time: taking the Bible seriously but not literally (pp. 111-144). San Francisco: Harper San Francisco.
Crook, M. B. (1959). The Cruel God: Job’s search for the meaning of suffering. Boston: Beacon Press.
Faraji, S. (2016). Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy performance points to a simple truth: #Black lives matter when Africa matters . Africology: The journal of pan African studies, 3-6.
Fischer, G. (2015). Is there a Shalom, or not? Jeremiah, a prophet for South Africa. Old Testament Essays, 351-370.
Graham, N. (2017). What slaves we are: narrative, trauma, and power in Kendrick Lamar’s roots. Transition, 123-132.
As you saw in our previous blog post, Professor David Tombs from the University of Otago delivered a public lecture recently here at Auckland TheoRel on the subject of ‘Acknowledging Jesus as Victim of Sexual Abuse’. The lecture considered the crisis of sexual violence in contemporary culture, focusing particularly on the theological implications of Jesus’ own suffering of sexual abuse during his crucifixion.
David was kind enough to let us record the lecture and share this recording for those unable to attend. To listen to this audio recording, follow this link. There is a Q&A session at the end of the lecture which lasts around 25 minutes. You may not be able to hear the audience’s questions, but David’s responses will allow you to work out what questions were being asked!
Auckland TheoRel are pleased to announce a forthcoming public lecture by Professor David Tombs from the University of Otago. Everyone is welcome. Please advertise widely! (Link for pdf of poster is below)
Early on the morning of Sunday June 12th, Omar Mateen opened fire on partygoers at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando Florida, killing 49 people and injuring over 50 others. This is the worst mass shooting in US history and the worst terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. Deliberately targeting the LGBTI+ community, this was, according to Barack Obama, ‘an act of terror and an act of hate’. And, while some media outlets (and world leaders) have been chary about identifying the homophobic roots of this attack, Guardian journalist Owen Jones is so very right to insist that it was also an act of terror steeped in homophobic fear and hatred.
In the days following the massacre at Pulse, as victims are named and families, friends and communities mourn their loss, questions inevitably arise about why this horrific event took place – what impelled Omar Mateen to commit this atrocity against the LGBTI+ community? The need to know why is fundamental to our human responses to trauma, in the hope that if we know, we can stop it happening again. And, while we don’t know – we may never know – why Mateen killed and hurt people who were simply celebrating the wonderful queerness of life, we do know that this is a world where the compulsion to homophobic violence is woven into the warp and woof of our everyday experiences. This is a world where the queer community feels the need to seek sanctuary in spaces like Pulse because they feel safe there from intolerance and violence. This is a world where same-sex couples are afraid to hold hands walking down the street in case they are hurt by words, fists or worse. This is a world where legislators are more concerned about who is having a pee where than it is about the fact that murder rates of transgender people have hit a historic high. This is a world where I could face imprisonment or even execution in over 70 countries for loving another woman. This is a world where #BlackLives don’t matter and where #BlackQueerLives matter even less. This is a world where religious communities marginalise and ostracise the LGBTI+ community in the name of their god. This is a world where wedding cake makers who refuse to bake cakes for same-sex weddings can spew out their bigotry and ignorance under the guise of religious liberty. And this is a world where churches spend years debating whether or not to acknowledge the full humanity and dignity of LGBTI+ people, all the while preaching a gospel of the God of Love. This is a homophobic world, and whatever drove Mateen to perpetrate his act of homophobic terror on Sunday morning, he perpetrated it in this world and was part of this world. And for that, the world has to hold itself to account.
I’ve edited this to reflect the version that was subsequently published on the ABC Religion and Ethics Website in Australia. Nick, 15 July 2016.
The term “Evangelical” is notoriously hard to define. Grace features somewhere in most definitions; graciousness is occasionally in shorter supply.
In a poorly-timed opinion piece, Michael Bird wonders when “social progressives” will realise that they can’t simultaneously support LGBTI rights and oppose Islamophobia. Some Muslims have appalling views on homosexuality, ergo, Muslims must by rights suffer when social progressives come after Christians and other religious communities (as he thinks they surely will).
More precisely: if progressive political parties like the Australian Greens try to bring religious groups into the purview of anti-discrimination laws, Muslims will suffer, and social progressives’ heads – unable to bear the “paradox” – will simply explode.
I’m not sure the Social Progressive Cabal would let me join their bid for global domination, but I am a fully signed-up liberal democrat. So, I suspect, is Michael Bird. And while debates about the place of religion in pluralist liberal democracies will always be complicated, I’d like to suggest that it’s not quite as hard to walk and chew gum as Bird appears to think.
To live in a liberal democracy requires an act of sympathetic imagination – particularly from those who belong to majorities, and even more particularly from those who belong to powerful ones. For example, middle-class men of European descent (like me) need to imagine how we’d see things if, by accident of fate, we found ourselves in a minority – particularly in a small and powerless one. What respect and dignity would we want the majority to accord us, our way of seeing the world and our way of doing things? What could the majority reasonably expect of us in return?
It’s not my intention here to suggest that there’s something inherently virtuous about being in the minority. A temptation into which minority groups sometimes fall is to glory in victimhood and indulge in fantasies of revenge (or even its realisation). This kind of ressentiment runs deep in Christianity’s DNA, but there’s plenty to go around elsewhere. It clearly underwrites the stories that a certain kind of Islamism tells about itself as well. It’s even common among majorities who feel as though they’re losing their grip on power. That may be why we find a striking incidence of this pathology among men of European descent at the moment.
Likewise, it’s worth acknowledging that sympathetic imagination can only ever be approximate. Different groups identify and prioritise their values differently. To imagine yourself into the place of another group will always require a kind of translation, and translation, as Michael Bird knows, never works perfectly.
On the other hand, translation gets us most of the way most of the time. Fortunately, it’s helped by the fact that few of us belong straightforwardly to one group or another. So I’m not just a middle class man of European descent. I’m also a gay man, and a (lacklustre) Catholic. My experience in the latter two minorities gives me some inkling of what it might feel like to be a Muslim in the present climate. I’m also lucky enough to have good Muslim workmates and associates with whom I can talk about this, however tentatively (though I don’t want them ever to feel as though they have to justify their place in the universe, any more than I want to feel I have to justify mine).
I can’t claim anything more than a superficial understanding of Islam, but I do understand very well what it’s like to have ignorant majorities windily opine about what “people like me” think and do. This is why I viscerally detest both Islamophobia and homophobia.
It’s also, incidentally, why I would strenuously oppose most (though not all) attempts to restrict religious freedoms – especially as religious belief becomes a minority avocation in New Zealand, and maybe soon Australia. If that “not all” seems a slippery out, I’d ask Bird whether he thinks religious freedom should be entirely unfettered. Should Evangelical husbands of a certain ilk have the right to physically “discipline” their wives, as surely once they did, and still occasionally do? Should migrants from northeastern Africa have the right to mutilate their daughters’ genitals? If, as I’d guess, his answer is no, then this is not a debate between “social progressives” and “religious” people, but between citizens of a liberal democracy.
But if the rights and freedoms of liberal democracy seems too dull and cramped a framework in which to continue this discussion, then I’d suggest that generosity and graciousness of spirit would get us a lot further than unlovely attempts to divide and conquer.
Announcing a fabulous seminar taking place later this year in the wonderful city of Glasgow. The Bible, Critical Theory and Reception seminar is northern hemisphere sibling to the Australasia-based Bible and Critical Theory seminar and journal (of which Auckland TheoRel’s Caroline Blyth and Robert Myles are current editors). For our friends in the North, this seminar is not to be missed. More details below from James Crossley’s Harnessing Chaos …
Bible, Critical Theory and Reception: Glasgow, September 2016
The sixth annual seminar will be dedicated to some of the latest developments in biblical studies. Building on the success of the Bible and Critical Theory seminar and journal in the southern hemis…
Located at the epicentre of the City of London, the outdoor pulpit of Paul’s Cross was a key site in the expansion of a popular early-modern ‘culture of persuasion’. Paul’s Cross contributed significantly to the transformation of England’s political and religious identity and to the emergence of a ‘public sphere’ of discourse.
5.30pm, Monday 29th February, lecture theatre 206-220, Arts 1, 14a Symonds Street