Oral Thomas: Biblical Resistance Hermeneutics within a Caribbean Context
Soares, Judith, Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies
Biblical Resistance Hermeneutics Within a Caribbean Context
London and Oakville: Equinox, 2010, 238 pp.
Oral Thomas's most recent book, Biblical Resistance Hermeneutics Within a Caribbean Context, is a timely and well-crafted response to what the author understands as the historical and contemporary weakness in Caribbean hermeneutical practice. Writing within the context of national liberation movements for social justice and with a special interest in elucidating the role of the "interpreters" of biblical texts in this process of liberation, Thomas's work is geared at identifying critical shortcomings in their contributions. Primary among them, in the author's view, is the inability or unwillingness of theologians and practitioners of the faith to understand biblical texts as products of social processes, social contradictions, and the basis of societal change, that is, as socio-ideological productions themselves.
Moreover, Thomas notes that the interpretation of biblical texts in any socio-cultural situation and in any epoch of Caribbean history is critical as a tool to effect societal change precisely because such texts were written not in abstraction, but from a particular perspective out of specific social circumstances. In this matrix of theology, ideology, politics, and economics, biblical hermeneutics and particular interpretations of biblical texts have the potential to become a "weapon of struggle"; but, they can also dampen the revolutionary potential or blunt the revolutionary edge of social forces concerned with social justice. Hence, interpretation and contextualized reinterpretation of Christian doctrine are critical to the effectiveness of biblical texts as a tool of analysis within peoples' movements for social change. Thomas's commitment to a Caribbean constructed on the foundation of justice with cemented pillars of freedom and equality is reflected in his thesis that biblical hermeneutics within the reality of the Anglophone Caribbean must focus more on the meaning of biblical texts and less on the Bible itself as religious text. Combining Marxist analysis and Gramscian theorizing, the author advocates the innovative use of liturgy and worship by the "organic intellectuals" of the Church as a means to construct a critique of ideology and to politicize and radicalize culture as a "weapon" of resistance.
Drawing on selected narratives (e.g., biblical narratives, slave revolts, cricket, carnival, national budgets) from the historical and contemporary Caribbean, Thomas creatively demonstrates that reading the Bible is not just about "collecting facts for spiritual formation and faith development" (174). Reading the Bible is first and foremost a socio-political activity. It is about reading into biblical texts in order to create an "alternative consciousness" that leads to a world based on just social, economic, and political relations in a region historically scarred by the cruelty of colonialism and slavery and battered by the afflictions of contemporary capitalism and globalization. To this end, Thomas advocates a "resistant reading" of the Bible (8). It is a reading strategy that embraces the cultural meaning of contextual realities, laying the basis, as it were, for a commitment, both ideological and political, to being involved in the "struggle" for social change and social justice.
"Resistant reading" of the Bible is a refreshingly new way of doing theology in the context of the Caribbean, but with utmost relevance to the countries of the South with similar characteristics and experiences of colonialism and Empire. …