Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The death of hermeneutics?

There is a whole section of Western academia which is devoted to the art and science of hermeneutics (including biblical hermeneutics). In this realm every claim to truth is up for (re)consideration, few facts are as they appear to be once put into the hermeneutical blender, and the holiest virtue is to assert at each and every point of debate that objectivity is an illusion, and possibly a dangerous one at that.

In the last two days the phenomenon of Trump, expressed in the debate over how many attended and/or watched his inauguration, has, just maybe, fired a deadly shot into the body corporate of hermeneuticists.

In the claim and counter-claim of the past two days Trump's Administration has come up with the notion of "alternative facts." This has been widely derided as another name for lies.

My sense is that the strongest derision comes from the educated classes. If I am right then suddenly a whole bunch of Western educated "there is no such thing as objectivity" folk have rediscovered objectivity.

Perhaps it is too early to pronounce the death of hermeneutics but I do look forward to some books emerging soon along the lines of "The resurrection of objectivity" and "Objective truth undoubtedly exists."

Another reason to thank God for Donald Trump!

Nota bene: I will NOT take comments which discuss/dispute the inauguration itself or the claims and counter-claims about how many were there. That is NOT the point of this post! There are other places on the internet to do this. I will take comments which discuss hermeneutics, subjectivity, objectivity, the general state of Western academia and the like.

18 comments:

Brian Kelly said...

The death of post-modernity must be heartily celebrated.

The "educated classes" will need to learn logic again (or for the first time), along with being able to recognise logical fallacies (and personal biases and limitations), while theologians must think again about history in the light of the miraculous: the Word made flesh and resurrected.

Anti-social media pretending to be truth and opinion masquerading as news both need to be ignored.

Shawn Herles said...

"That is NOT the point of this post!"

Using Trump as an example kinda stuffs that up.

"If I am right then suddenly a whole bunch of Western educated "there is no such thing as objectivity" folk have rediscovered objectivity."

I would not bet on it. So long as the Liberal-Left dominates universities, objectivity truth will have no place there.

Andrew White said...

This article from the New York Times ( https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/13/opinion/sunday/the-real-problem-with-hypocrisy.html ) argues that many people have a stronger negative reaction to hypocrisy than simple poor behaviour. For all Trump's faults, sophisticated sophistry does not appear to be one of them.

I think you're right that there's some "reap what you sow" going on here. It's one thing to have elite guardians of Truth, whose job it is to ensure it gets propagated uncorrupted to the masses. It's quite another to have elite guardians of sophistication, whose job it is to tell the masses what to think. Once the populace believes you've moved from A to B, you've given them motivation to redefine B to their liking if a more appealing (to them) leader turns up.

Andrei said...

"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."

Western science and logic are built upon the concept of axioms

Euclidean Geometry has five and with Euclidean geometry you can build houses, bridges, roads and ships

But change one of those axioms and new geometries appear that are just as valid as Euclid's. Euclidean geometry for all its virtues is not the truth with a capital "T"

Our Christian axioms are stated in the Nicene Creed perhaps - we can argue night and day from now until eternity over the virgin birth with our skeptical brethren over this and get nowhere. We hold the truth of this and our militant friend denies its veracity

The example you use in this post and wont allow discussed is in fact a case of confirmation bias on your part. You choose it and believe it because it confirms your world view. A distorted picture has been painted by those with axes to grind but it confirms what you believe so you accept it without criticism

Western intellectuals are not particularly open minded or intelligent as it happens - the smartest man I ever met was a Scottish boilermaker who left school at 14 to work in the Shipyards on the Clyde

Indeed the News media can be comical at times - we have a story on how last year was the hottest on record on shown on TV news and then without a blush followed by a story of a huge snowfall at Cardrona in January.

The great scientists have all challenged axioms and tried revised ones and sometimes a different axiom or a newly stated one leads to great explanatory power for observed phenomena and science progresses - often with controversy as those older scientists set in their ways dig their heels in and refuse to accept the now obvious

For me the virgin birth is an article of Faith, unsophisticated rube that I am, while the New York Times and the BBC are outlets to be treated with great skepticism

Shawn Herles said...

While studying in Auckland I repeatedly came across the idea of the "hermeneutics of suspicion" in which we are supposed to approach Scripture by analysing anything and everything it says according to the Cultural Marxist lens of race, gender, and class. Once we have done this, we can then weed out all that is supposedly inappropriate, and what is left is all that is of value. This of course means that most of Scripture becomes useless to us, and we end up with a "Jesus" who looks like Che Guevara. Jesus as Lord and King who became flesh for our salvation has to go because ideas like Lord and King are patriarchal and hierarchical, and thus politically incorrect, and salvation from sin and death is a distraction from what is supposed to be Jesus' true mission, to liberate us from conservative, white, heteronormative, patriarchal capitalism.

All complete nonsense of course, but this "hermeneutics of suspicion" is promoted in the Anglican Church in NZ by more than a few ministers and Bishops, and it drives much of the "theology" behind SSM.

As to the state of Academia in the West, it's rotten to the core.

Glen Young said...


Shawn,
This Jesus who looks and sounds like Che Guevara is the Jesus of TEC and the Canadian Church and is fast becoming the Jesus of the ACANZP. In following the
Progressive's "Jesus the man",we find what Dr. Hort refers to as 'Jesus worship':"A perverted and sentimental devotion to our Lord,not as the revelation of His Father,and not at one with Him;but as a tender and not too exacting saviour who will be refuge from the Father's Holiness and Justice."
(Hort, Life and Letters, vol 2 page 49)

That the modern progressive can not accept 'Objective Truth' is no small wonder. Their world view is so tainted with neo-Darwinism and cultural Marxism. They exist in a world devoid of any rational origin,purpose or plan.Logically,they can not move beyond any occurrence being any thing more than a chance.

Brian Kelly said...

Al Mohler's piece on the problems of preaching the truth in a culture where belief is declared impossible makes interesting reading:

http://www.albertmohler.com/2017/01/23/impossible-believe-preaching-secular-culture/

Shawn is correct on the third-rate drivel that dominates in "hermeneutics" in liberal (read: post-Christian) theological circles, where everything is about "retrieval" of what is "usable" from "tradition" in the interests of women / poor / black / gays / cause du jour (the atheist political programme is nakedly obvious as well as terminally boring), instead of what theology has always meant - until the modern age of infidelity: listening to the Word of God with a believing and adoring heart with the purpose of understanding and obeying. The absurd and blasphemous "service" in Glasgow under Kevin Holdsworth is only the logical outcome of pluralised scepticism driven by a political agenda.

Bryden Black said...

Well Peter, so much for your comments on a post-truth era ...

Peter Carrell said...

It didn't last long did it, Bryden.
A bit like a person pooh-poohing the value of lifejackets who finds him or herself in a choppy sea without one ...

Andrei said...

"Well Peter, so much for your comments on a post-truth era ..."

I don't quite understand that comment Bryden nor Peters response

But the "post-truth era ..." has been with us quite a while

Think of the poor Glaswegians who went to church to celebrate the Epiphany, the revelation of Christ's divinity only be confronted with verses from the Koran that explicitly deny it

And who paid the price? The Anglican chaplain with orthodox views who spoke out of course

You wonder why Anglicanism is in trouble - well there it is writ large

Have you ever heard Viktor Orban speak? Or Marine Le Pen? That's what's coming at you because most people are fed up to the teeth with having their culture trashed by the elites and that includes the Christian Faith when on a Holy Feast Day the purpose of the Feast is mocked in a so called church, the leadership of which speak in empty platitudes virtue signaling and while those who stand firm are marginalized

Goodness only knows where this leads but I don't think the result is going to be pretty

Bryden Black said...

Apologies Andrei for the inability to convey tone - and so irony, sarcasm, etc - via pixels 🤔

Father Ron said...

Surely, good hermeneutic requires to be grounded in incarnational theology. This is not a merely academic exercise but needs to be grounded in the Word Made Flesh in Christ Jesus. Moral imperatives have to be discerned in the reality of the present moment - yet in the light of eternity. This is not a purely academic discipline.

Shawn Herles said...

I admit Peter that I found the post a little confusing. The "death of hermeneutics" seems an odd idea because, as far as Scripture is concerned, we all engage in hermeneutics, and we must. The Bible must be interpreted, and this means a lens by which we do the interpreting. The New Testament engages in a Christ-centered hermeneutics with regards to the Old Testament.

Perhaps if you had said the "death of post-modernity" it would have made more sense.

To me the world is no more and no less post-truth than it has always been since the Fall. I'm suspicious about the term as I suspect it's more an excuse by the "educated classes" to explain away Brexit and Trump.

The liberal elites will discover objectivity only to the degree that it suits their agenda, and no more. But their day in the sun is coming to an end, slowly, but surely.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Shawn
I am being provocative by suggesting that hermeneutics itself may have died! I think that is unlikely. Just as it is unlikely that post-modernity has died (since it is a lovely mode of thinking which allows bias towards one's own preferences :) ). More realistically, perhaps a tiny blow has been struck in favour of objectivity but it may require students to stick their hands up in class when objectivity is derided in order to remind the lecturer of what the world's reaction was to Trump's Inauguration.

Anonymous said...

"I admit Peter that I found the post a little confusing. The 'death of hermeneutics' seems an odd idea because, as far as Scripture is concerned, we all engage in hermeneutics, and we must. The Bible must be interpreted, and this means a lens by which we do the interpreting. The New Testament engages in a Christ-centered hermeneutics with regards to the Old Testament."

Amen, Brother Shawn!

As you know, Peter, Schliermacher explicitly retrieved the philosophical discipline of *hermeneutics* from a traditional Protestant theology of biblical exegesis. As further explored by, say Gadamer or Ricoeur, it likewise presupposes some given text as the site at which the horizons of authors and readers touch and perhaps meet. Nothing pomo or post-truth about that at all.

Your comment seems to have conflated hermeneutics per se with a momentary meta-reflection on it. In the '80s and '90s, some but not all academic humanists denied the priority of the text itself, suggesting that all those horizons were fated to drift apart. Meanwhile, historians of the physical sciences had been exploring the dependence of the adjudicablility of evidence on a prior paradigm of research. And of course, less colonial relations among the world's cultures and thinkers were becoming more imaginable. Among those who tried to integrate the three ideas, it seemed that the West no longer had any master narrative. Some who were very pleased about that began breakdancing on the graves of objectivity and facticity. That was both pomo and post-truth.

http://tinyurl.com/pn8ylgu

Tom Wright does not often align himself with movements of any kind. But he has noted that the high modern notions of objectivity and facticity were soaked in Enlightenment hubris. And that God did not have to agree with gleeful breakdancers to use them to chastise that hubris. In adopting *critical realism* for his own vast project, Wright enlists historical reason to meet the hermeneutical challenge of showing how the horizons of certain authors and readers have met in the God-authored text of the Resurrection. He seems to suggest that the episteme of Christ can exploit the processes of the neocortex, but has never required such constructs for secular thinking as *objectivity* or *facticity*.

But anyway the breakdancing was premature. The dancers failed to note that evolutionary theory had dramatically increased its scope to become, at least for a time, the new master narrative of secular reason. It evades much of their critique-- it relies on no text; its data are less theory-dependent; it does not privilege Western Europe. And it is acquiring the broad explanatory scope that distinguishes a master narrative from a small just-so story. Like Wright's project-- and for that matter the project of Douglas Campbell, Beverly Gaventa, etc-- its rationality is abductive and historical rather than deductive and nomological.

Churches have liberals for whom it is 1960 and will always be 1960, and conservatives for whom it is 1980 and will always be 1980, but those days have passed and can never come again. Today's streetfights between the partisans of methodical truthfulness and loyal truthiness do recall some arguments of classical Athens. But although there is some continuity with popular sentiment of the recent past, they are not a return to it.

Bowman Walton

Anonymous said...


Peter, interesting artifacts--

http://tinyurl.com/zuru2sg

http://tinyurl.com/jh5uxks

Who is John Galt? Maybe Thrasymachus.

http://tinyurl.com/gr3c9wk

http://tinyurl.com/zbvera8

http://tinyurl.com/hn55cm3

Bowman Walton

Bryden Black said...

Who is John Galt??! What really happened in Bengahzi ...? And who really knows?

Father Ron said...

In fact, for the purpose of hermeneutics, who cares?