The more I read and hear about it, the more I am puzzled: the new secularist fad in religion studies and biblical criticism. Studies in religion has been engaged in a turf war for some time, or, to shift the metaphor, in teenage rebellion against its parent, theology. Some biblical critics have been scurrying around making similar noises, forgetting that biblical criticism broke with theology more than 150 years ago. This approach has the same form as other disciplines that saw the need to hive off from theology some time ago: denigrate the parent and say loudly and frequently that theology is not even a scholarly pursuit. So also with studies in religion and secularist biblical criticism. But a few items are now added to the list, the most curious one being the hypothesis that religion is a ‘construct’ and that therefore it doesn’t exist sui generis. Instead, we should study how it is constructed. But since when is a construct unreal? A similar silly suggestion is made concerning the Bible.
However, I am interested in another part of this argument: theology or the Bible or religion isn’t going to save the world, or even make things a little better. A few points need to be made here. First, it is an old move, which took place in other disciplines in the earlier part of the twentieth century: remove any political agenda from a discipline, call it ‘scientific’, and set about explaining the world as it is (that is, the world viewed from the Atlantic). Second, it is deeply conservative, for it supports the status quo with such a move. Third, it is a very bourgeois project, which Marx, Engels and Lenin derided: targetting religion is a diversion from real socio-economic problems. Finally, and for me most importantly, it seeks to negate the religious revolutionary tradition that Kautsky first mapped out. In the end, the problem is not religion, or indeed theology and the Bible, but rather the radical political possibilities they may have.