A. Althouse Responds

Ann Althouse responded to my post from earlier todayHer post here.

Her comment on my post all the way at the bottom.

She writes:

AND: Cjsmith defends God and Psalm 137, and to that I say that I’m not trying to say what the Psalm really means, only what it sounds like Wright is saying. I do think Smith underplays the line “Blessed are they who dash your baby’s brains against a rock.” Even if the speaker is not God — and I don’t assume it is — to say something is “blessed” is to say that God blesses it. So I think it is an expression of the belief that God is well pleased when those who have reason to feel vengeful take their revenge even on an innocent baby.

So two points here.

1)Althouse clarifies that her post was not mistaking God as the speaker of Psalm 137.  So I stand corrected on that point.

2)She still believes that Wright by invoking this Psalm and the baby-smashing imagery of it, is blessing those who do so.  She says I downplay that sentence.

I was wrong on point 1, but here I believe my main point stands.  Here’s why.

To say something is blessed is not necessarily to say that such a thing is blessed by God.  Humans can give blessings to one another.  But Althouse is right that the Psalmist does want God to be on his side and bless killers of Babylonian Babies.

But Wright is using the text to actually argue against the text.  For Wright God does not agree with the Psalmist’s views of God on this matter.  That’s what I think she is missing.

iow, Althouse is correct that the view expressed in the Psalm (the view of the Psalmist) is one “that God is well pleased when those who have reason to feel vengeful take their revenge even on an innocent baby.” But for Wright and for Wright’s understanding of God’s view of the matter, the Psalm is wrong.  I’m with Wright on this one.  So I’m not sure I’m defending the Psalm as Althouse says but more defending Wright’s counter-reading.

Wright says that God does not want the people to stay there.  The there being the desire for revenge–i..e smashing babies’ heads.  God desire he says is for wholeness and restoration not revenge.  Now you could try to what I think is twist what he said and say “stay there” isn’t strong enough language.  Like they can do that for awhile but eventually gotta move on.  But if you listen to the entire sermon given on September 16th, 2001 you’ll hear differently I think.  It’s something more I believe like (as I said before) the desire for revenge is a natural one–might even be a product of natural selection for all I know…even I had feelings seeking revenge after the attacks–but not one to be enacted.  As soon as it becomes justification for violence, it is condemned.

It’s not the feelings or the expression of those feelings that is the issue, but rather acting on them.  Elsewhere in his interview Wright discusses a blues song about a guy whose wife leaves him for his friend.  The guy doesn’t buy a gun and kill himself Wright says, but rather sings a song about how is going lay his head down on the railroad track, lay it down on the track, but when that train comes he’s gonna take he’s poor fool head back.

Maybe something similar with the Psalm–a catharsis.  But definitely not in Wright’s sermon any blessing of violence.  It is pacifist from beginning to end.  He castigates the insane logic of violence no matter who commits it.  Violence is so pervasive and evil for Wright, it even ends up in the Bible on the lips of Psalm 137.

So again while the desire for revenge is understandable–back in ancient Israel as well as in America after 9/11–and one can empathize with the feeling, nevertheless there is no sanction in Wright’s theology for violence.  There’s no justification and no message to be taken from world history other than violence begets more violence.

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Published in: on April 26, 2008 at 4:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

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