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The Politics of Scripture

A Decolonial Reading of the Post-Resurrection Event

Since the risen Christ embodies the gift of hope for those who follow the post-resurrection Christ, our reading of the Johannine narrative on the encounter between the risen Christ and the followers ought to open our hearts to encountering difference as an opportunity to replicate the gift that the followers received – openness to difference as the means by which God chooses to make God present in our world.

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:19-31

If at all anything can be said of western modernity, it is its embrace of the scientific bias for explaining reality. Such a bias affirms the need for clarity both in thought and expressions of ideas. The modernist turn to the scientific offers a bias for a type of human existence that attempts to have the legitimate claim to truth, one that cannot be swayed by all that its cognitive bias has rendered problematic. In fact, this bias for clarity that the modernist human being demands from all its interactions with otherness allows for it to have control and power over all that it sees as threatening. This turn to control of the other is couched in such mantra as clarity of thought and experience are the foundations of objective truth.

But what is clarity? Does clarity mean that one must have mastery over one’s ability to give meaning to one’s experiences? Does it mean that one’s words must have a referential link to the meaning given to the spoken or written words? These questions are at the heart of my reading of John 20: 19 – 31. To do this well, I will embrace a decolonial approach in order to show how the text can be read in a manner that speaks to the contemporary world, where difference is at the heart of our human experience.

In contemporary times, the modernist human being has been conditioned to respond in the affirmative to the questions posed above. Vagueness or a deviation from the path of clarity is seen as either weakness or deception. Anyone who attempts to embrace vagueness as a legitimate response to the questions is considered to be a barbarian, uncivilized, or an outsider who resides at the margins of modernity.

But one has to ask the following question: can the hermeneutical clarity that the modernist human demands from all its interactions be achieved? Immanuel Kant, the father of the Enlightenment, and the first true modernist, would argue that all knowledge has a referential connection to experience.[1] In other words, all knowledge comes from the experiential.[2] For Kant, religion falls outside of this conclusion. For him, since God is supersensual, one cannot speak of experiencing God. Even the belief in the faith-truth that God has become one with creation through Christ is itself an imaginative construct of the sick mind. By denying knowledge of the divine, Kant has created an epistemic limitation of encounter with God. God can neither be encountered nor known. Consequently, all discourses of the divine must be reduced to silence.

Kant’s approach to knowing centers the human person as the source of all knowledge. Even when the source of the experience comes from outside of the human, there can be no mediative role of the source in the hermeneutical conclusions derived from the experience by the subject because the subject has a rationality that is not dependent on otherness. Even though Kant attempts to reject relativism by insisting on the truth of reason that speaks to the cognitive ability inherent in all rational beings, by rejecting the supernatural, Kant has embraced the bias for a certain type of human, one that is areligious.[3] Walter D. Mignolo offers an excellent critique of Kant’s bias through the lens of decoloniality as it pertains to coloniality of knowledge that originates from Kantian mode of knowing. A mode of knowing that has held captive the psyche of the modernist human person:

Coloniality … is constitutive of modernity. There is no modernity without coloniality: hence modernity/coloniality. Modernity is constituted by rhetoric: the rhetoric of salvation by conversion, civilization, progress, and development. But in order to implement what the rhetoric of modernity preaches, it is necessary to drive the juggernaut over every single difference, resistance, or opposition to modernity’s salvation projects. Knowledge is of the essence. Thus, coloniality of knowledge means not that modern knowledge is colonized, but that modern knowledge is epistemically imperial and, … devalues and dismisses epistemic differences. Epistemic differences goes [sic] hand in hand with ontological ones. [4]

 Though one cannot say categorically that modernity’s bias for sameness as articulated by Kantian thought can be ascribed to biblical times, instantiating a critique of modernist thought offers a pathway for understanding the resurrection in an era of hegemonic epistemology. By hegemonic epistemology, I mean the contemporary bias for articulating meaning in a manner that validates a certain form of knowing that serves the interest of idolatrous secularism – secularism that refuses to make space for religious experiences and discourses as well. Reading John 20: 19-31, one is struck by the doubt of Thomas called Didymus; especially when the doubt of Thomas is seen through the biases of the modes of knowing that define the current realities of our world – a bias for the scientific. Thomas’ doubt reveals the delegitimization of otherness in the ritual of encounter between the subject and the other, as well as the rejection of otherness to serve as a bridge for knowing by the subject.

The Johannine narrative is telling: “We have seen the Lord” (20:25). In a world where subjective knowing has been reified as the authentic way of knowing and being, as it is in contemporary western societies, Thomas’ response is seen as legitimate. After all, the right of the individual is given primacy of place. Even epistemic bias that the individual embraces must be protected against the communal. However, the risen Christ upends the world of subjective knowing. Rather than operate in a dualistic mode of knowing that pitches the other against the subject, the risen Christ offers a pathway for embracing epistemic differences that is alien to the modernist human being. Christ did not delegitimize the doubt of Thomas. Christ also did not delegitimize the certitude of faith in the resurrection as expressed by the followers who encountered Christ while Thomas was away. The risen Christ’s approach is a form of decolonial engagement with different perspectives. Decoloniality always attempts to create space and agency for difference to be acknowledged and celebrated.

A decolonial approach that can be read into the encounter of the risen Christ with Thomas offers a pathway for reclaiming that which is not within the control of the modernist subject. Decolonial positionality allows God to be a God of freedom because it is intended to maintain epistemic difference. A decolonial positionality delegitimizes the Kantian bias against religious experience. It creates space for speaking of that which is beyond the sensual. Consequently, through a decolonial consciousness, both the supernatural and natural are legitimate ways of speaking of the human experience and of the world (spiritual or material).

The modernist human being is conditioned to always embrace the familiar. It is a form of conditioning that is intended to validate a way of knowing that allows the modernist human to have total control of the process – epistemic power. The familiar is where pride resides. It is where manipulation is hatched and executed. It is where hate is given validity. It is where death reigns supreme. Beyond the familiar is the horizon of grace that disruption leads one into. Thomas is familiar with a certain image of Jesus, one that does not go against the hermeneutical boundaries that he has created for himself. After all, Jesus was crucified and he is dead. This is the familiar knowledge that Thomas can access.

Again, decoloniality is all about disruption of the familiar. It opens up a new horizon for encountering and knowing that is not held captive by the hegemony of the familiar, be it narratives, experiences, contexts, or memory. The risen Christ that is encountered is anything but familiar. Like decoloniality, the resurrection is all about the disruption of the world where death reigns supreme. The new life in Christ that Christ invites Christ’s followers to embrace is all about disruption. On his own, Thomas cannot achieve this. He needs the grace of disruption that reveals itself in the risen Christ. Since he is a creature of the world of the familiar, Thomas’ encounter with the resurrected Christ is the grace of disruption to allow for him to be oriented towards a new mode of being.

We sometimes think that disruption means taking a pause and then returning to the old ways of being. What if disruption is more than that? Disruption shatters the familiar and makes the familiar simply look like a shattered glass in need of repair. But even the repair will never bring the shattered glass back to its previous state of being. What Thomas did not understand was that the Christ that his fellow disciples encountered while he was away was not the familiar Jesus. As Christ, Jesus has transcended the familiar as a deliberate way to invite creation into a new world where death cannot reign supreme. While Jesus suffers death, Christ overcomes death. Consequently, the risen Christ is God’s incarnation of disruptive grace that God invites all to embrace, a truth Thomas is yet to understand because of his refusal to orient himself away from the familiar. Without God’s grace, he is unable to orient himself away from what he knows so well – the familiar Jesus who has died.

Grace is always a disruption of the familiar. Disruption is itself the most profound way God encounters each of us, even in situations that involve the destruction of one’s reputation, life ambitions, career goals, marriage, and so on. The grace of disruption allows for the possibility for new imaginations to arise and for one to seek God in the unfamiliar while embracing the virtue of total abandonment to God’s care and love. This possibility can only be instantiated in one’s life when one leans into the shattered-ness of the familiar world and asks God to lead one kindly and gently beyond the world into the unfamiliar where graced-creativity is fully expressed and experienced.

The grace of disruption is also the foundation of the virtue of hope. Hope is not to be understood in an abstract manner. Hence, the author of 1 Peter 1:3-9 boldly speaks of hope as an epiphany of the risen Christ. What does this mean? Where despair points to the idolatry of the self, hope orients one to otherness. The fact that the risen Christ is God’s gift of concrete hope for creation means that one who embraces the grace of disruption that the risen Christ makes accessible cannot be led astray. In fact, one sees how this new orientation is instantiated in the life of a believer in the risen Christ through the words and actions of Peter as he speaks to all who cared to listen after the Pentecost event (Acts 2:14a, 22-33). The risen Christ is the disruptive grace that offers sight to the blind; dignity to the abandoned; love to those who experience hate; perseverance to all who suffer unjustly; courage to those who are held captive by self-doubt; companionship to those who experience loneliness.

On a final note, hope is about openness to encounter that which is different from one, whether that difference is in the domain of knowledge, gender, sexuality, race, or culture. Consequently, since the risen Christ embodies the gift of hope for those who follow the post-resurrection Christ, our reading of the Johannine narrative on the encounter between the risen Christ and the followers ought to open our hearts to encountering difference as an opportunity to replicate the gift that the followers received – openness to difference as the means by which God chooses to make God present in our world.

[1] J. M. Bampton, “Modernism and Modern Thought,” University of Notre Dame, https://maritain.nd.edu/jmc/etext/mamt01.htm

[2] Lawrence Pasternack and Courtney Fugate, “Kant’s Philosophy of Religion,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, April 19, 2021, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-religion/#:~:text=According%20to%20Kant%2C%20we%20can,anything%20else%20beyond%20that%20order.

[3] “Does Kant Believe in Moral Relativism?,” Caniry, https://www.caniry.com/does-kant-believe-in-moral-relativism/.

[4] Walter D. Mignolo, The Darker Side of Western Modernity. Global Futures, Decolonial Options (Durham, North Carolina and London: Duke University Press, 2011), 205.

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