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Fragile Dignity

Fragile Dignity: Intercontextual Conversations on Scriptures, Family, and Violence

L. Juliana Claassens
Klaas Spronk
Series: Semeia Studies
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 348
  • Book Info
    Fragile Dignity
    Book Description:

    Human dignity insists that every human deserves respect and a safe place to live. For many, this is not a reality. The essays collected here analyze the background of this problem in contemporary family life and society at large, with special emphasis on the role of women and on the Bible as a source of inspiration and transformation. The collection is the product of a six-year conversation on family, violence, and human dignity between the Protestant Theological University in Kampen, The Netherlands, and the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, a North-South dialogue that included annual conferences, a series of responsive letters, and additional external responses. The contributors are Cheryl B. Anderson, Hendrik Bosman, Gerrit Brand, Athalya Brenner, L. Juliana Claassens, Dorothea Erbele-Küster, Leo J. Koffeman, Frits de Lange, Monica Jyotsna Melanchthon, Magda Misset-van de Weg, Beverly Eileen Mitchell, Anne-Claire Mulder, Ian Nell, Mary-Anne Plaatjies-van Huffel, Jeremy Punt, Petruschka Schaafsma, D. Xolile Simon, Lee-Ann J. Simon, Gé Speelman, Klaas Spronk, Ciska Stark, Elsa Tamez, Charlene van der Walt, Robert Vosloo, and Yusef Waghid.

    eISBN: 978-1-58983-896-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  2. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)
    L. Juliana Claassens and Klaas Spronk

    In her bookFrames of War, Judith Butler reminds us of a reality we know all too well: human beings are vulnerable, prone to injury, disease, and death. From the moment we are born, our survival depends on what Butler calls “a social network of hands” (Butler 2009, 14–16). Most of us are born into families that provide a child care not only to survive, but also to thrive. Family thus serves as the space that protects life. However, in many instances today, the family has unfortunately become the space in which human life is prevented from flourishing.


  3. Part 1: Hermeneutical Framework

    • The Hermeneutics of Dignity
      (pp. 9-38)
      Frits de Lange

      Within the history of modern morality, one finds a complex set of interwoven, often implicit, meanings with regard to the concept of human dignity. I consider it part of an ethicist’s hermeneutical task to try to make these meanings more explicit.

      Furthermore, the concept of dignity can only be understood when its narrative structure is acknowledged. By using the metaphor of an old master’s canvas, covered in several layers of paint, I first try to condense the historical dimension of the narrative to form a composite image. I further assume that “dignity” does not refer to some objective essence of...

    • Figuring God and Humankind: The Imago Dei in View of Anthropologies in the Old Testament
      (pp. 39-64)
      Hendrik Bosman

      When one person kills almost eighty unarmed people without any obvious remorse in Norway, a country renowned for its culture of human rights and cultural tolerance, the brutality triggers the renewal of age-old questions: What does human dignity entail? What is it to be human?¹ Presupposing that the Old Testament has any contribution to make will not meet with unqualified support. On the contrary, most critics may deny that the Old Testament has any contribution to make to this debate at all—a point of view with which a few scholars, such as John Rogerson, will disagree (Rogerson 2009, 171–...

    • The Givenness of Human Dignity: A Response to the Essays of Frits de Lange and Hendrik Bosman
      (pp. 65-70)
      Beverly Eileen Mitchell

      Frits de Lange’s “The Hermeneutics of Dignity” (and Gerrit Brand’s response) and Hendrik Bosman’s “Figuring God and Humankind” (and Klaas Spronk’s response) provide a stimulating contribution to the ongoing discussion on the nature of human dignity. Not surprisingly, I found many points of convergence with my own thought. Each author also raised issues that were intriguing to me but would require more sustained reflection on my part before I could offer a fully developed response. There was also a small subset of ideas that were discussed that raised serious questions for me, but I will offer a sustained comment on...

  4. Part 2: Engaging the Text

    • A True Disgrace? The Representation of Violence against Women in the Book of Lamentations and in J. M. Coetzee’s Novel Disgrace
      (pp. 73-100)
      L. Juliana Claassens

      The beginning of the book of Lamentations, written after devastating events of 597–587 b.c.e. that saw the city of Jerusalem repeatedly invaded by the mighty Babylonian army, introduces one to a most tragic figure. In Lam 1–2, Jerusalem is personified as a violated woman, a woman invaded, raped, and humiliated. In gruesome detail it tells of the destruction of the walls and protective fortifications around the city and how enemy forces gained entry into her innermost sanctuary, desecrating her secret places. The devastation is described in terms of sexual violence and rape—a metaphor used throughout the prophetic...

    • Birth as Creation under Threat? Biblical-Theological Reflections on Assisted Reproductive Technologies
      (pp. 101-126)
      Dorothea Erbele-Küster

      The following arguments are developed against my European context. They were stimulated by my background in Germany, where legal recognition of the inviolability of “human dignity” serves to open up German civil law.¹ Being aware of my context, I asked myself whether the issue of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs) is something that is restricted to middle- and upper-class (wo)men in neoliberal, social democracies? Are ARTs a luxury limited to such societies? How is the issue perceived by, for example, (wo)men in postapartheid South Africa?²

      I was asked to reflect on human dignity from the perspective of a biblical scholar. However,...

    • Human Dignity, Families, and Violence: The New Testament as Resource?
      (pp. 127-158)
      Jeremy Punt

      Any investigation into the connection between family and violence is from the outset confronted by two almost opposing situations, particularly in a context where biblical texts are deemed to inform the notion of family. On the one hand, the family—defined in various ways and comprising of smaller or larger units of various structural forms—has proven to be a dangerous context for many people. This is attested to, for example, by abused spouses and neglected, maltreated children; it is communicated in personal testimonies, anecdotal reports, and research findings. In the South African context, it is in families where marital...

    • A Fragile Dignity: Intercontextual Conversation on Scripture, Family, and Violence (On the Essays of Juliana Claassens, Dorothea Erbele-Küster, and Jeremy Punt)
      (pp. 159-166)
      Elsa Tamez

      After reading the three essays with your respective responses, my head was whirling with ideas. The diversity of approaches to the topic of dignity, family, and violence, to using the Bible, literature, and the complex problem of Assisted Reproductive Technologies as study resources indicate that we are experiencing a true intercultural dialogue. Intercultural and interdisciplinary dialogues are effective ways to become aware of the problems in other contexts, to learn from them, and to reflect on the facts in a critical and self-critical manner. In this regard, the objective has been achieved. However, you have asked for a third voice,...

  5. Part 3: Engaging the Context

    • Dignity in the Family? Analyzing our Ambiguous Relationship to the Family and Theological Suggestions toward Overcoming It
      (pp. 169-198)
      Petruschka Schaafsma

      In the present late liberal, Western context, family and human dignity do not exactly make an ideal pair.¹ It is not unusual to find suggestions that the family is precisely a setting in which human dignity is under threat. This idea is illustrative of current general distrust of the family. At present, the family seems to stand for things that are at odds with central late liberal values: family favors its own members; it provides people with fixed roles that hinder equality and free self-development; and it is in a sense a closed phenomenon, and may as such foster values...

    • Empowering Those Who Suffer Domestic Violence: The Necessity of Different Theological Imagery
      (pp. 199-226)
      Anne-Claire Mulder

      InProverbs of Ashes(2001), the North American theologian Rebecca Ann Parker writes about an encounter between a pastor and a woman who once came knocking at her door:

      “Hello pastor, I’m Lucia…. I saw your name on the church sign. You are a woman priest. Maybe because you are a woman you can understand my problem and help me…. I haven’t talked to anyone about this for a while … but I am worried for my kids now. The problem is my husband. He beats me sometimes. Mostly he is a good man. But sometimes he becomes very angry...

    • Family and its Discontents: On the Essays of Petruschka Schaafsma and Anne-Claire Mulder
      (pp. 227-232)
      Cheryl B. Anderson

      Even at first reading, the articles by Schaafsma and Mulder work well together. Schaafsma’s article acknowledges that the human dignity of individual family members may be compromised in the family itself—a problem that Dan Browning’s work seeks to address. In turn, Mulder’s article develops theological constructs to counter the low self-esteem of battered women. By discussing domestic abuse, Mulder effectively offers one example of how the human dignity of an individual family member can be undermined, just as Schaafsma notes.

      Schaafsma evaluates Don Browing’s proposals concerning “the equalregard family” as a way to uphold the dignity of it members....

    • Missing Links in Mainline Churches: Biblical Life Stories and Their Claims in Today’s Family Preaching
      (pp. 233-258)
      Ciska Stark

      When Walter Brueggemann describes the situation Christian preaching finds itself in in American culture, he uses the metaphor ofexileto express the “loss of a structured, reliable, ‘world’ where treasured symbols of meaning are mocked and dismissed” (Brueggemann 1997, 2). The loss of white, male, Western, and colonial hegemony that affects churches as well as cultures constitutes a limit experience for many Christians. This requires corresponding verbal expressions—for example, in sermons—that can adequately address this situation. Within this context, Brueggemann argues,

      such a consideration is appropriate for preachers precisely because preachers in such a limit experience have...

    • “Household” (Dis)loyalties and Violence in Judges 14 and 15: Dignity of Gendered and Religious “Others” in a Dialogical Theological Praxis
      (pp. 259-280)
      D. Xolile Simon and Lee-Ann J. Simon

      Referring to tragic stories, Exum (1992, 8) argues that “the association of good and evil within the divine provides fertile ground for tragic awareness to grow.” According to Exum, “telling” and “re-telling” a biblical tragic narrative also makes one knowledgeable and “honest about reality.” The process creates openness to “a multivalent, inexhaustible narrative world” of good and evil. In a dialogical theological conversation, it instills a “tragic vision” that contributes to a “fullness of insight into the human condition” (1992, 9). This essay assumes that tensions between loyalties and disloyalties (re)produce the good and the evil, that which upholds and...

    • Honor in the Bible and the Qur’an
      (pp. 281-308)
      Gé Speelman

      On June 22, 2002, a Pakistani woman from the Punjab, Mukhtaran (or Mukhtar) Bibi, was gang-raped. The deed was the result of a conflict between her family and another family in her village, belonging to the Mastoi clan. The Mastoi accused Mukhtaran’s twelve-year-old brother of assaulting a woman of their clan (in fact, it seems he had been seen talking to the woman in a field). The boy was therefore kept under lock and key by the Mastoi. In such cases, of conflict between families, Pakistani villagers often have recourse to a local tribal law council, a Panchayat. One possible...

    • Fragile Dignity: Family, Honor, Scripture (On the Essays of Ciska Stark, D. Xolile Simon and Lee-Ann J. Simon, and Gé Speelman)
      (pp. 309-318)
      Monica Jyotsna Melanchthon

      I come from a culture that is based on what Eisler (1987) identifies as thedominator model, in which difference is “equated with inferiority or superiority … the ranking of one half of humanity over the other,” a system of hierarchy (caste) based on force or the implied threat of force. Difference—male/female, young/old, upper caste/lower caste, rich/poor, fair/dark—are signifiers of superiority and inferiority. As in other dominator cultures, difference is construed as an indication that one must be right, good, or superior, and the other wrong, bad, or inferior, so that those who find themselves in positions of...

    • Reflections on Reflections: Rights, In/Dignity, In/Equality, Faith—The Bible as Universal Medicine?
      (pp. 319-332)
      Athalya Brenner

      This collection is a many-layered conversation on conversations. As the introduction states, it originated in a series of research meetings. The introduction provides pointers to the context and to the main issues discussed; every essay has a response attached to it; groups of essays have their own responses; and I have been asked to reflect on the collection as a whole. In my view the volume’s editors as well as its contributors should be commended for this manner of presenting their deliberations. It is the closest possible structure to the actual performance of research events, imitating spoken discourse with comments...

  6. Contributors
    (pp. 333-338)