Saturday, May 29, 2010

Necessary Preconditions of Hermeneutics

[I have posted an excerpt from my Th.D dissertation - in progress]

Transcendent Otherness and Authority


One of the consequences of the Renaissance was the displacement of tradition and authority. However, it soon became apparent that the displacement of authority was problematic for ethics and morality, and something had to be done to answer the question. The answer was a turn to the “Book of Nature.” Man needed something that was acceptable to modern views. An alternative that did not offend the new self had to be presented. The “Book of Nature” was man’s way of seeing the design of the Creator in reality and hence a reflection of moral perfection that was desperately needed for self-control. This turn was of course, not the right course of action, but the need for authority was self-evident. Roger Lundin writes,

“The “Book of Nature” was meant to resolve the “problem of many authorities” by providing incontrovertible evidence of the designs of God.”

However, with the romantic epistemology of the self, in which the world was nothing more than a mirror or a projection of the self, the power of the “Book of Nature” lost its authority. Without authority, the goal of hermeneutics dissolves. Lundin comments further,

“With nature drained of moral significance and the locus of meaning shifted so dramatically to the self, the “problem of many authorities became in the romantic tradition the “problem of endless authorities.” In a radically Protestant world, “every being” became not only its own “father, creator, and destroying angel,” but also its own pope and authoritative interpreter.”

The otherness and authority of the text is essential for meaningful hermeneutics. Without these, hermeneutics becomes a subjective exercise with as many authorities as there are interpreters. In other words, norms evaporate into radical subjectivism and extreme individualism. With this, we witness the death of God and metaphysics. The self becomes the measure of all things and for each self there is a different measure. Meaning dies an agonizing death and communication is like a ship at sea without a compass or a map. It does not navigate to where it ought to go; rather it ought to go wherever it navigates. If the goal of hermeneutics is transformation, then change remains a presupposition for engaging in the discipline. Otherwise, what is the point? Some travelers on this journey would contend that hermeneutics is merely about understanding. However, that merely begs the question of why understanding is so important in the first place. We seek to understand, not merely for the sake of understanding, but so that we may be moved, affected, or changed on the other side of that understanding. In other words, we seek the difference in life that understanding promises. The degree of transformation that understanding engenders, depends on the nature of the communication we are engaging and interpreting. Nevertheless, without the transcendent other, change becomes an exercise of pure subjectivism. Not only is there no compelling reason for change to begin with, there is no way to know if change is really for the better. One person’s projection of heaven is another person’s projection of hell. Who is say? Whose projection is best? In addition, who is to say if we are actually in heaven or hell, or some place else as far as it goes? Without otherness and authority, there is really no way to tell.

[Taken from: The Evolution of Jesus: Hermeneutical Foundations of the Emergent Church - A Case Study for Presuppositional Hermeneutics]

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