Thursday, 26 February 2015

On Charity in Reading

Love is a central aspect of Lonergan's thinking. For Lonergan a conversion to love is what ordinarily sets us down the path towards cultivating our moral and intellectual awareness: through loving I learn what to value; through learning what to value I learn to value truth; and through valuing truth I learn how to discover what is true. I regularly ask myself: within the academy, how does such love work itself out in practical terms, however?

In typical Lonerganian fashion I begin by looking at my own operations. Thus will I go semi-autobiographical. With the recent spate of hate crimes against Muslim persons in Canada and the US I have found myself motivated to learn more about Islam. Not that I'm ignorant of Islam, of course, but it's not something to which I've given that much thought over the years. But one of the things that I wanted to do was read the Qur'an straight through, something I've never done before. Now, like probably any text, there are passages in that text that seem bizarre, even troubling, to the uninitiated. As I encounter those texts my first instinct is always to put them in the best light possible. I ask myself, for instance, "Do these texts unambiguously advocate violence, as both groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda as well as anti-Muslim provocateurs might suggest?" If I find myself unable to see how they cannot be read as anything but warrants for violence I look at the writings of, for instance, feminist Qur'anic interpreters, or more generally any interpreter of the Qur'an who is concerned to present what we might consider a more "humanist" or irenic exegesis. This is because my interest is precisely to see how Muslims and non-Muslims might coexist in the same world without sniping at or killing one another.

Let us call such a procedure "reading for charity." I would suggest that it is a procedural example of the priority of love. Quite simply, I am giving the Other, in this case Muslims, the benefit of the doubt. I know that those enamoured with a certain understanding of the hermeneutic of suspicion might find this foreign, even offensive, but I'm okay with that. And that's because in point of fact what I am employing is precisely a hermeneutic of suspicion, namely a suspicion that those who would use the Qur'an to warrant violence--either in the name of Islam or against Muslim persons--are driven not by a commitment to truth but rather by a commitment to hate. Such persons are violent not because of how they read the Qur'an, but rather they read the Qur'an the way they do because they are violent. Violent people, it turns out, tend to produce violent exegesis, and of such exegesis I am indeed quite suspicious.

No comments:

Post a Comment