The self refuting nature of "Hermeneutics"

todangst's picture

Hermeneutics: "The science and methodology of interpretation, especially of scriptural text."

All interpretations are biased. This cannot be avoided. In order to "interpret" you must work from a preexisting set of assumptions, a paradigm for the interpretation - i.e the guiding framework that helps you decide what you are going to make the book say. You're literally reworking whatever appears in front of you, to fit into some preexisting scheme.

Notice that in the case of religious dogma that this means that the reader must choose what is wrong, what is right, and what each passage means based on some interpretive standard, indicating that the reader is in fact choosing what is moral. It is the reader who decides what is right, what is wrong, what is intended, what is moral, what is just, what is sin, what is fact, what is fiction. (Presuppostionalists may balk at this claim, but merely begging the question that a 'god' provides us with this knowledge is not a adequate rebuttal.)

This of course explains why there are so many takes on religion - because religions are partially recursive-self-creations in the mind of the individual believer. Even as these religions "start out in a book", and are transmitted to a reader, this reader will form his own view of what the book, means, which in turn, sets up his 'viewpoint' of the book that will serve as the basis for interpreting it. This viewpoint is also influenced by many social factors that have nothing to do with what is in the bible as well. When you add in the fact that many theists don't even read the bible, or very much of it, or in any particular order when they do read it.... this process just explodes exponentially.... In fact, the entire 'out of context' defense from theists rings hollow when you look at how theists 'read' their bible - as a set of disjointed single passages from multiple books, collected as a 'theme' for Sunday mass.

Now, does this mean that any endeavor to read a book is hopelessly mired in subjectivism? Not necessarily. For one thing, most works do not offer up a set of copied and recopied translations of contradictory opinions from a loose collection of works spanning centuries. And, it is true that some biases or preexisting notions are likely quite close to the "true" meaning of the original author and audience, and it is true that here are ways to mitigate the bias (such as internal and external consistency of the interpretations) or the simple use of a team, rather than one interpreter...

...but in no case is there a way of assuring complete veracity of interpretation - particularly for such a mismash of ancient writings.... for there is no universally agreed upon, non-arbitrary method of deciding "truth", nor can we even assume that the original intent was in fact a clear and univocal message!

Historically, the main method of delineating myth from fact is the desire to avoid embarrassment - Myths are only dropped long after they are considered ridiculous in the mainstream - i.e. the extreme age of the ancients is correctly discussed as only a literary device to make them seem more important. Noah's ark and the tower of Babel become merely metaphors, etc. The more intellectual theologians - deists for example (Which include our forefathers like Jefferson) - forfeit even more - up to and including denying Jesus' divinity, or in some cases his very existence....

So, recognizing that any work like the bible would require interpretation , and recognizing that interpreting a work like the bible has led to vast and violent disagreements concerning even the most basic claims made throughout the various collected books - one ought to take a jaundiced look at the entire process of Hermeneutics....

When the hermeneutician seeks to present his latest revision of what 'the bible means to him" we ought to be moved to ask:

"Why would a perfect God inspire a book that would require vast interpretation?"

Why are humans, such as Aristotle or Euclid, able to send a clear message across time and culture, yet the 'christian god' is not up to the task?*

Remember, this 'god' is supposedly speaking to a group of illiterates who did not know the world was round, or how many teeth a woman had, or that they should wash their hands after defecating. Why not be direct? Consider: Do parents present parables to 3 year olds when they want them to play nice? Or do they recognize the limitations of their "audience" and present simple, basic rules that are almost beyond confusion? (Like the Jewish Ten Commandments that do appear, a few times, in contradictory forms, in the bible.) An omniscient God could have made a simple book of only a few pages - one small enough to be copied quickly even by hand. (Most of the bible is repetitive and recursive as it is...) Such a book could have made simple statements.

So why don't we have one?

* Replying with the point that Aristotle and Euclid were transmitting knowledge of a mathematical sort and not a moral sort, misses the point of the analogy. The point is that humans are able to transmit a clear message across time and culture in some cases.

"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank, for that we call him evil.
"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'