Sunday, 12 July 2009
I've been thinking about Post Modernism and the interpretations of literary works. Can we discern what the author is talking about? I think that in many cases we can, or at least we can make a good guess. In the case of non-fiction works, this should be trivial, as this is the intent - for the author to introduce a point and communicate it. Once we start talking about fictional works, it gets more difficult. We usually can, however, discern an author's intent because it will inevitably be about things that we relate to and/or understand.
OK, so let's look at the category of religious writings. These have to be thought of as a separate category unto themselves, because of the vehement disagreement on whether they are fictional accounts or not. Also, there's an argument over whether these books tell us about things we can comprehend or not? If we deal with the Xian texts (the OT and NT) we find a story that most believers will claim is non-fictional (indeed elements of it are pretty clear in that regard, whether they are correct or not) and about an entity that we can hope to understand.
Can we discern the author's meaning? I would have to say that in many cases we can not. Let's take one example: Genesis 1. We can't look back at the obviously erroneous origin story of Genesis with our modern scientific knowledge and conclude that the author obviously didn't intend to claim what is claimed in the text. It's quite probable that the authors did intend to claim that the universe was formed in 6 literal days as the text indicates.
Other instances might be where the authors tell us about god. Did the authors simply make up those passages or was god dictating? Either way, we really can't claim to know what they are talking about or how to interpret the writings when the authors themselves may very well not know what they were trying to describe (seeing as how god is supposedly indescribable).
All of this - plus the ambiguity and contradictions - puts us at a significant disadvantage when deciphering the Bible. Is someone using an incorrect interpretation when they claim that the Bible denounces all homosexuals? Is it an incorrect interpretation to claim that Xians should wage holy war on other religious followers? Should one not ever murder, not murder other Jews, or murder freely when god commands it? And, the list goes on. There's really not a good foundation for Xians to use to conclude that their interpretation is necessarily right when it comes to the Bible.