Self-Imposed Limitations can Feed Dysfunctional Paradigms

I read Janice Rees’ interesting, September 1st blog post @ WIT (

 ‘On Not Reading Barth: my measly resistance’

Janice raised some good points, for example: Barthian scholarship does tend to attract elitists. Coming from a white underprivileged background, where I was pushed to the margins of the church, I empathize to some degree with some of Janice’s concerns. This is something that predisposes my own theology more towards liberation theology than it does Karl Barth’s.

However, I see Barth’s theology, and those who choose to become dialogue partners in the field, as a counter weight. This ironically helps to liberate me from the self-imposed limitations that can feed dysfunctional paradigms [1]. This can tend to keep people, such as liberation theologians, in a constant circular movement motivated more by emotion than reason (i.e.: chasing ones tail to the point where they compromise the purpose and intent of their manifesto, creed and ergo their entire existence) [2].

Kait Dugan (theologian and feminist) recently responded to Janice here.

Worth noting is Kait’s lament:

…”Now I don’t measure up to what it takes to be in the girls club. And you can’t even begin to imagine the insecurity and isolation that occurs when you feel excluded from the “new feminist orthodoxy” as a woman and Barthian theologian”…(Dugan, 2013)

In some respects I have witnessed the reverse to Rees’ ‘mens club’. In Australian theological academia, at least, there seems to be a  lot of ”tip toeing” and ”egg shell walking” when it comes to women in theology. I think this approach shows as much contempt for feminism as misogyny does. I agree with Jean Bethke Elshtain who suggests in ‘Public man, Private Woman, 1981 (post scripted 1991)’ – that this special treatment towards feminism in some ways negates the ideas within feminist liberation theory of gender equality. This is something Kait Dugan also points too albeit from a different context.

…’Women should be encouraged and free to engage anyone they want within theology and other academic disciplines including the male-dominated field of Barth studies. And women should feel free to follow Janice in not reading Barth if they don’t want to as one form of powerful resistance. After all, isn’t that freedom for women to be exactly who they are and study whatever they want the true ethos of feminism?‘.. (Dugan, 2013)

My concern rests in the overly sensitive treatment from men towards women in this area. It has negative implications for free speech and other key areas which should encourage, rather than supress respectful dialogue. Having said this I understand those sensitivities. I simply question whether such actions are theological responses informed by feminist context, or whether such actions are drawn from a sycophantic – people pleasing – agenda. In this sense such a response could be regarded as a self-imposed limitation feeding a dysfunctional paradigm. This is because it comes from a broken context and in turn becomes hostile to the very thing it appears so innocently to promote (self-defeating is a word that might more appropriately fit here, if I had the time to unpack this further).

Let me just highlight a parting word from Elshtain in her book ‘Public Man, Private Woman’:

…’movements and theories which insist on the centrality of a style of action, a refusal to question ourselves (or others) in order to complete one’s agenda, leads to the repudiation of the very existence of those with whom one disagrees’

(J. B. Elshtain PMPW, 1981:365, emphasis paraphrased)

Axe meet the proverbial grind!

A self-limitation might well be the refusal to question our own predispositions because of a fear that doing so might offend ivory tower sensibilities.

That is why I believe free speech is important. The ability to have a variety of creative discussion and reverent expression (like I hope this blog you are now reading is developing into). One which allows for the tension between embedded and deliberative theological reflection to move forward, correcting our alignment and further pointing us towards the proclamation of the Gospel.


Elshtain, J.B 1981 Public Man, Private Woman: Women in social and political thought, Princeton University Press

[1] I am presupposing a distinction between the terms limitation and limits. I use the word limitation here to indicate negative outcomes to a decision. Limits such as those encouraged by English common law for example, have proven to be beneficial. So depending on the context self-imposed limitations like personal boundaries can be a good or a bad thing. I think what this may really suggest is the fear associated with questioning ourselves, testing our positions whether they be political, theological or otherwise.
[2] I am not intending to imply that Janice or Kait are doing this or allowing it. Here I am reflecting on my own personal/academic journey thus far in conversation with both Janice and Kait’s articles.

3 thoughts on “Self-Imposed Limitations can Feed Dysfunctional Paradigms

  1. godanalytics says:

    A lot of what you write is “above” my head. It reminds me of the reading I did when I took a “Philosophies of Religion” class. But I enjoyed that class greatly. Are you studying right now? Working toward a degree? Or just reading for your own education/pleasure? I keep thinking maybe I should further my education. I’m really interested in learning more, so why not make it official?

    Because I don’t know enough about the different viewpoints you mentioned, I really can’t weigh in. But it’s interesting that from a very “broad” perspective in regard to theology that men are territorial. I guess there are some men who realize they ARE threatened by the entrance of women into a male dominated field and then they feel bad about it and try to work against their natural inclination, to go above and beyond in welcoming the voice of women. But then there are those who make no apology about their belief that women should not be using their brain to figure out God stuff and then of all things actually promoting their platform.

    I believe that women should be free. Yet on the inside, I silently discriminate against women, because often times I naturally defer to a man’s theological stance.


    1. Rod Lampard says:

      Hi Anna, I appreciate your interaction here. I have just completed a degree in Ministry and Theology with the hope of moving onto post-grad study. My overall point here was to reach out towards a balance. This post was a response/attempt to work out my own frustration, drawn from my less than affluent-often-abused upbringing, with the ‘ivory’ tower conversations between affluent (mostly white) Men and Women, which fund (justify patterns of behaviour, politics and circumstances [paradigms]. I see a real danger for theologians and the Church as a whole, when ideology guides our understanding of God. Theological enquiry attempts to encourage the Freedom of the Bible with the end goal being a proclamation [repeating/telling] of God’s promise fulfilled and completed in Christ. This means we allow theological enquiry to critique ideology, instead of surrending theology to an ideology because it appears superior, feels nicer or fits our own agendas. To do so is to put the words of men and women over God. Denying Him the possibility (right?) of speaking through the Bible. In other words ideology as an end in and of itself, becomes a filter that can limit the possibility of the Word of God to confront us and transform our lives, mind and behaviour.



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