Tag Archives: interpretation

Try to be objective about this


“…without a subject, nothing at all would exist to confront objects, and to imagine them as such. True, this implies that every object, everything ‘objective’—in being merely objectivized by the subject—is the most subjective thing possible.”

— Medard Boss, in The Analysis of Dreams (1958), quoted in this intriguing overview of phenomenology

The Boss quotation could explain a lot of things, especially, in terms of this blog’s typical themes and audience, the world’s 8,196 Protestant denominations based upon the same Bible.

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When You’re Certain You’re Right


Is it possible to know you’re right on a controversial subject and not be proud? Are certainty and pride just peas in the same pod?

Is it possible to believe in a position, stance, doctrine, law, worldview, etc., with certainty while also having real empathy and understanding for someone who does not see the same way? If you are certain about a stance on a controversial issue, do you really have the capacity for empathy and understanding of someone who differs?

Is it possible to write a blog post without a sense of certainty?

Are certainty and pride, or certainty and humility, always operating together? Is either pair ever operating together?

If I say I am submitting to the authority of a school of thought, or to the authority of a text, doesn’t my appropriation or my interpretation ultimately reflect back on me, the appropriator, the interpreter?

Does my decision to submit to an authority, of any kind, ultimately become self-referential? (I decided to submit, after all.)

Can I make my way in the world with contingent operating beliefs that are open to correction, clarification, modification, and addition?

If I make my way in the world with contingent operating beliefs, am I certain? Hopeful? Squishy? Humble? Indecisive? Uncommitted? Judicious? Poor in self-esteem?

Maybe just arrogant enough to get through the day?

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Marilynne Robinson on ‘The Accidental’ as a Basis For Interpretation


In her book Absence of Mind, in the essay “The Strange History of Altruism,” Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Marilynne Robinson reviews some of the popular books about science. In the excerpt that follows, she makes an interesting observation about the consequences of two outlooks. I’m guessing most of my readers will agree with her point of view, but even those who won’t agree could see something valuable in her take:

“The comparison that is salient here is between the accidental and the intentional in terms of their consequences for the interpretation of anything. In the course of my reading, I have come to the conclusion that the random, the accidental, have a strong attraction for many writers because they simplify by delimiting. Why is there something rather than nothing? Accident. Accident narrows the range of appropriate strategies of interpretation, while intention very much broadens it. Accident closes on itself, while intention implies that, in and beyond any particular fact or circumstance, there is vastly more to be understood. Intention is implicitly communicative, because an actor is described in any intentional act. Why is the human brain the most complex object known to exist in the universe? Because the elaborations of the mammalian brain that promoted the survival of the organism overshot the mark in our case. Or because it is intrinsic to our role in the universe as thinkers and perceivers, participants in a singular capacity for wonder as well as for comprehension.”

Food for thought.

Meanwhile, Robinson has written an interesting analysis of Donald Trump for the Guardian.

Related:

Marilynne Robinson on ‘the felt life of the mind’ and beauty and strangeness

Marilynne Robinson’s Calvinism is an alternative to The Gospel Coalition’s Calvinism

 

Worldview


A single interpretive tool can save you from the work of understanding.

Easily repeatable narratives often become absolute truths.

When an easily repeatable narrative becomes a socially accepted truth, beware and be wary.

— Question it.

If someone claims to know your motives, be suspicious of his motives.

— What might he gain from your agreement?

So, there’s no point in listening to sermons?


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Stay in bed on Sunday mornings, folks. Just read the Bible and whatever you make of it is cool.

Anglicanism, Episcopalians, and gay rights


Food for thought, from an 8-year-old book entitled Anglican Communion in Crisis: How Episcopal Dissidents and Their African Allies Are Reshaping Anglicanism:

In their conflicting positions on homosexuality, both sides view their positions on this issue as part of their religious identities and faith commitments. Although conservatives sometimes describe the liberal position as an adoption of secular humanist values from the surrounding culture, proponents of both the conservative and the liberal positions ground their arguments in understandings of God, scripture, and the church….

Liberal Christians generally do not take a literalist view of Scripture and offer less condemning readings of the biblical passages that conservatives take as denouncing homosexuality. One example comes from the book What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, by Roman Catholic priest David Helminiak. Helminiak writes: “Somehow God must be behind the fact that some people are homosexual. Then why should God’s word in the Bible condemn homosexuality? . . . There must be another answer. The mistake must be in how the Bible is being read.”

Helminiak’s statement hints at a second liberal argument, based on humanistic ideas about the naturalness and goodness of human nature. This argument holds that since some people experience themselves as homosexual, and since presumably God made them that way, then expressing their sexual orientation cannot be inherently wrong. Such views also rest on an incarnational theology that sees Jesus Christ’s taking on human form as validating humanity in a fundamental way. Human nature is seen not as negative and inimical to faith and purity, but as God’s gift, sanctified by Christ’s sharing in it. An element of liberation theology is present here as well, in the conviction voiced by many liberal Episcopalians that the gospel’s central message concerns freedom from oppression. [emphasis added]

— Miranda K. Hassett, in Anglican Communion in Crisis : How Episcopal Dissidents and Their African Allies Are Reshaping Anglicanism, Princeton University Press, 2007

In both of the above-boldfaced cases, notice how sovereignty, that key term for Reformation theology, is implied in the liberal Christian perspective.

As with literary criticism, so with Biblical interpretation


“Further, if the [literary] work is indeed a stable object, about which careful readers can make objective statements, then why hasn’t there been an emerging consensus in criticism? Instead, the history of criticism seems to be one of diversity and change, as successive critics provide innovatively different readings of the same work. Even in the sciences, the idea of an objective point of view has been increasingly questioned. Facts, as Thomas Kuhn has argued, emerge because of a certain system of belief, or paradigm….in the wake of Einstein’s theory of relativity, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, Gödel’s mathematics, and much else, it seems clear that the perceiver plays an active role in the making of any meaning and that literary works in particular have a subjective status.” — Steven Lynn, in a chapter on reader-response criticism, in his book Texts and Contexts 

Lynn’s quotation stands to reason, regardless of the genre in question.

This is not to drop myself, or to attempt to drop anyone else, into the false dilemma that says either we accept everything as relative or we hold to absolute truth. I’m merely agreeing with the premise that “the perceiver plays an active role in the making of any meaning.”

In ways that are more or less accurate to the situation in which a text was written, readers, especially readers of the Bible, apply their interpretations of Scriptural passages to their lives.

To make more sense of this, let’s flip the issue around and look at it from a different angle.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, a major research university has an original letter written by Saint Paul of New Testament fame. They have the very manuscript over which Paul’s hand once moved. All scholars and clergy, internationally, are permitted to view it (as much as travel funds allow). The scholars have the best possible understanding of the ancient cultural and social milieu in which the letter was written. They understand the language. They understand the themes, which they cross-reference with other letters written by Paul. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, all conditions are set for a perfectly accurate interpretation of the God-inspired letter. The social, cultural, literary, historical, and theological contexts are all understood to the point that a broad consensus — on the letter’s meaning and function within its audience — has been established.

What impact does this perfect interpretative situation have on a man in Marion County, South Carolina, who awakens to read his King James Version of the Bible and applies a passage to his life — while removed more than 2,000 years and a language from its presumed source?

MORE ON THE BIBLE & INTERPRETING IT:

“A Conflicts of Beliefs” — a bad document for Orthodox Anglicans and differences with The Episcopal Church

“Dear Lord, if only I had a simple faith in the Bible…”

Robert Heinlein with the counterpoints

Bible-based cult leader sentenced today

How and why community plays a role in interpreting the Bible

If you take the Bible literally…