- Faiths in their pronouns: Websites of identity by Kenneth Cragg
Kenneth Cragg, in his recent work, Faiths in their pronouns: Websites of identity, explores the nature of the religious self and the relationship of man to his God as expressed in the various uses of pronouns by the poets-psalmists of the world’s great religions. According to C, ‘Pronouns . . . are the readiest clue to the discourse of religions, the first preoccupation of faiths in converse Who we are, explores who are you? . . . Identities, perceiving and being perceived, are the stock in trade of faiths and their faithfuls’ (4).
The book is composed of an introduction, eleven chapters, and an extensive section of notes, index items, and scriptural references. Ch. 1, ‘The house of my pilgrimage’ (9–24), addresses the emergence of the self in the Hebrew poetry of Psalm 169. Here, C examines consciousness of body as tabernacle and establishes the origins of the intensely personal ‘thou and I’ structure of western religious discourse, providing examples of its development from Psalm 169 and in the work of William Tyndale, G. K. Chesterton, Thomas Traherne, and James Joyce, inter alia.
Ch. 2, ‘The personal interrogative—Arjuna and the Gita’ (25–41), contrasts the Judeo-Christian emphasis on the individual self with the Hindu focus on destiny and transcendence as poetically expressed in the Bhagavad Gita. The eastern mistrust of ‘personhood’, the self-detachment of Hindu religious experience, and Mahatma Gandhi as a living expression of the Gita’s teachings are themes developed.
Ch. 3, ‘So help me—who?’ (42–57), takes the contrasting ethos of Eastern and Western thought further by exploring the nature of the relationship of man and deity in various Eastern traditions which ultimately serves to highlight the ‘human realism’ of Christianity and its identification of an accessible, ‘supremely worshipable’ God.
In Ch. 4, ‘Pronounal Jewry—God’s own people’ (59–74), C looks at the ‘we thy people’ nature of the Jewish faith through its pronouns. The special relationship, or ‘Hebrew privilege’, of the Jews as the chosen people is, according to C, clearly evidenced in the pronounal structures of its scriptures. ‘You shall have no other gods but me’ was interpreted to mean ‘I will have no other people but you’ (59). The author goes on to examine Jewry from three perspectives: [End Page 518] their faith in creation, the combative theme of their history, and its stimulus to hostility.
Expanding on the previous chapter, Ch. 5, ‘The self-encounter in Judaism’ (75–93), takes the biblical tale of Jacob’s renaming and the murder of Esau (and the birth of the notion of ‘scapegoat’) to be an ironic metaphor for the scapegoating of Jews throughout history. The grappling of individual Jews with the ancient notion of ‘the chosen’, with diaspora, insularity, and persecution informs both the ‘I’ and the ‘thou’ of Jewish tradition.
Chs. 6 and 7, ‘The Muslim personal pronoun singular’ (94–110) and ‘The Muslim personal pronoun plural’ (111–26), respectively, explore the dimension of the singular, the ‘personal believer’ in Islam as one humble and purified before God in the intensely personal ritual of prayer. Just as the prayer rug patterns in the mosque both unite and isolate Muslim worshipers, the people of Islam are, according to C, unified by international attachment to sacred sites, across local loyalties and in the face of resistance. But the geographically grounded nature of the Muslim personal plural is threatened by the ungrounded spread of Islam through the world.
Ch. 8, ‘The “we” and the “I” in the New Testament’ (127–46), contrasts the previous four chapters with the notion of ‘God in Christ’ and its overtones of redemption and selflessness. C further explores the Christian understanding of new chosen-ness, without the inherent tribal struggle and Exodus of Judaism.
Ch. 9, ‘Two great sexes animate the world’ (147–65), focuses on the ‘I’ and ‘thou’ as the generative from which all else comes. These pronouns represent ‘the primary net-working of our human experience’ (7), and the author...