The Prejudice of Love

In discussing the objectivity that those in the modern academy strive so hard towards, Hannah Arendt writes, “Scientists formulate their hypotheses to arrange their experiments and then use these experiments to verify their hypotheses; during this whole enterprise, they obviously deal with a hypothetical nature.”

Not only does the scientist feel so much pressure to remain objective, but his striving to remain objective “puts him back once more… into the prison of his own mind, into the limitations of patterns he himself created.” Essentially, Arendt argues that man needs to step back and realize that the world he creates to mimic nature doesn’t actually match reality very well.

Objectivity is really hard to achieve. In fact, Hans-George Gadamer argues that we can never fully overcome our prejudices. Rather than trying to be completely objective, we must seek to recognize our prejudices and qualify them as such. Explaining Gadamer, Richard Bernstein writes:

“Gadamer maintains that there is no essential difference between understanding and interpretation. All understanding involves interpretation, and all interpretation involves understanding… We are always understanding and interpreting in light of our anticipatory prejudgments and prejudices, which are themselves changing in the course of history. This is why Gadamer tells us that to understand is always to understand differently.

This can be most easily explained and demonstrated if we imagine the way in which we approach a book. If we read a book, and then re-read it a few years later, the chances are we’ll learn very different things each time. This is not because the book changed, it’s because we have changed. We’re in a different place of life. We have had and are in the midst of different experiences and circumstances. The state we as individuals are in when we approach a book determines the way in which we understand it. This is why “to understand is always to understand differently.”

Ultimately, the research process itself is extremely influenced by individuals’ subjectivities. That is why I find it only fair to lay my own subjectivities on the table. If “to understand is always to understand differently,” I think researchers ought to reveal and explain more about the way in which they interpret as they engage in the inseparable processes of interpretation and understanding.

I have found that Gadamer’s view has never rung more true than when I approach Scripture. The reason is twofold: not only do I approach passages of Scripture with different prejudices every time, but God also reveals different truth to me through His Spirit every time.

In A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans writes:

“Philosopher Peter Rollins has said, ‘By acknowledging that all our readings [of Scripture] are located in a cultural context and have certain prejudices, we understand that engaging with the Bible can never mean that we simply extract meaning from it, but also that we read meaning into it. In being faithful to the text we must move away from the naïve attempt to read it from some neutral, heavenly height and we must attempt to read it as one who has been born of God and thus born of love: for that is the prejudice of God. Here the ideal of scripture reading as a type of scientific objectivity is replaced by an approach that creatively interprets with love.’

“For those who count the Bible as sacred, interpretation is not a matter of whether to pick and choose, but how to pick and choose.We are all selective. We all wrestle with how to interpret and apply the Bible to our lives. We all go to the text looking for something, and we all have a tendency to find it. So the question we have to ask ourselves is this: Are we reading with the prejudice of love or are we reading with the prejudices of judgment and power, self-interest and greed?”

For me, seeking to read Scripture with the prejudice of love involves sincerely asking God to reveal His truth. If I approach Scripture without asking God to prepare my heart for what I’m about to study, my interpretations are much more likely to be self-serving and rampant with my own prejudgments and expectations.

This research has taught me the importance of humbly accepting that I will always be caught up in my own prejudices, but that, to a certain extent, that’s okay. What’s not okay is treating my subjective interpretations like they’re more than interpretations. I believe that the process of sanctification, the process in which God empowers His followers to become more like Him through the power of His Spirit, is a process in which He slowly teaches his followers to shed their own self-serving prejudices. My hope is that little by little, whether I’m making judgments on text, making decisions in an organization, or making decisions about how to spend my time, Christ will rid me of my prejudices of judgment and power, self-interest and greed.

I think it may be limiting to God’s omnipotence and glory to think about Him as being trapped in the same kind of prejudices and prejudgments as humans. However, if God did have a prejudice, I think Rollins and Evans are right in saying that He would pick and choose according to the prejudice of love. I also think that it is useful to use anthropomorphism as a tool to better understand how we can strive to be a better refection of God’s character. So excuse my anthropomorphism, but if I’m going to be prejudiced, it is my goal to adopt God’s prejudice: the prejudice of love.

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Comments

  1. No need to apologize for anthropomorphisms, at least when we’re talking about the Christian God, who was, after all, fully human. And in any case we need not think of God, or ourselves, as “trapped” by prejudices — but rather as actively taking up a particular stance toward which to view the world. So, what exactly does the world look like through the lens of love?