Thursday, June 08, 2006

Professionals and Amateurs (II)

Yesterday I thought Chris Heard said it best on the subject of professionals and amateurs interpreting the bible, and I still do. But there's another way of looking at the matter. Consider the parting remark of Duane Smith:

Am I qualified to interpret the Bible? I am not, certainly not if the ignorant are asking anything but the most trivial of questions. So why do I, from time to time, post my interpretation of various things related to the Bible on Abnormal Interests? Well, once in a while I delude myself into thinking I have something interesting to say. But, unless you, my reader, have the skills to critically evaluate what I say, you shouldn't pay too much attention to it.

Readers of The Busybody will recall my series on lying and deception (see the sidebar under "best posts"), in which the topic of self-deception was seen to play a stronger role than anyone likes to admit. Cognitive scientist David Livingstone Smith -- a leading professional on the subject if there ever was one -- said the following in an interview:

Right now I'm trying to sound as knowledgeable and impressive as I possibly can. I sort of convinced myself that I'm this great authority on lying. But really, I'm lying, in the sense that when we're interacting with others, we're always performing. So for this interview, I've been playing the role of an expert trying to impress you. There's deception involved. I, however, am aware of this effort. But plenty of people are not aware of their self-deception; they are narcissistic and have convinced themselves that they're the greatest thing since sliced bread. In fact, most people tend to believe their own lies.

Whether we're experts or amateurs, we love the sounds of our voices, especially our blog-voices, and especially if we're men. (That was one of my explanations for the dearth of female biblio-bloggers.) We naturally think we're right about things, even when we're not; that's what having opinions is about. It takes the passage of time and hindsight wisdom (and humility) to inform us otherwise. Back when I was a fledgling amateur, with only a few books by Bultmann, Kasemann, and Sanders under my belt, I felt equipped to take on the exegetical world. Time works wonders.

Chris Heard is correct. Sound biblical interpretation comes from diligent and honest work with the text over time, whether one is professional or amateur. But Duane Smith reminds us that even the best interpreters, professional and amateur, can be self-deceptive, and because of this readers need to use their critical faculties as much as the interpreters. To echo Duane: Don't trust anything I have to say, much as I want you to. Look into things yourself, and only then will you properly see that I'm always right. :)


Blogger Doug said...

As I pointed out to Jim in comment on his original post, virtually all of the NT authors flout his rules for biblical interpretation. Given that he makes the scriptures themselves the fundamental yardstick of interpretation, that creates a bit of a problem.
On the whole, I want to note two things. First, I believe (and this is a Christian faith statement) truth is indivisble and depends on God's prior reality. Second, (and this is a post-modern descriptive statement) perceptions of truth belong to particular communities.
There are certainly individuals and communities other than the Christian one that believe in the possibility of Truth, abstracted from confessional communities, but there are serious hermeneutical difficulties, which neither Jim or his respondents address, in moving from an abstract idea of a "true interpretation" to judgements concerning concrete interpretations.

Blogger steph said...

What is "Truth" with a capital "T"? I am interested in the origins and hypothetical reconstructions of the earliest written texts but what is "Truth"? As an agnostic I only search for plausible possibilities... I dunno what "Truth" means.

Blogger Doug said...

In answer to Steph - "Truth" with a capital T was my shorthand for saying "objective, rational, and universal" truth. My point was that some people in this debate assume that either there is no such thing, or it is so unattainable as to be irrelevant. There is no Truth, only truths, things that seem true within my framework of discourse.
The problem for many who believe ther is such a thing as Truth, (and this includes Jim West) don't take enough account of the framework of discourse "truth" with which they operate, in moving in a hermeneutic spiral towards Truth.


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