Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hybrid Teaching Experiment!

Had a most excellent class this morning with some onsite and some live online.  So grateful for the online and onsite students who were game to try something new! It seemed to be the best of both worlds.
  • The onsite students didn't have to stay as long as normal on campus (just part of the morning) because there was an online discussion that will continue for the rest of the week. 
  • Meanwhile, the online students won't have to type as much online (two fewer discussion forums) and they get the benefit of face-to-face interaction.
I love this stuff!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Monday Ricoeur: Metaphor and Symbol 3

This is now my third installment of Paul Ricoeur's Interpretation Theory, a series of foundational lectures on hermeneutics that he gave in 1973 at Texas Christian University.

1. Language as Discourse
2. Speaking and Writing
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Now for the third chapter: Metaphor and Symbol

1. Introduction
Ricoeur considers a treatment of metaphor and symbol important for a theory of verbal signification to have its "greatest possible extension" (45). There were those in the early twentieth century, easily following the trajectory of Aristotle and others, who saw metaphors as non-cognitive and emotional, rather than cognitive features of language. By contrast, Ricoeur means to show that "metaphor is the touchstone of the cognitive value of literary works."

In this essay, Ricoeur will revisit a topic from his earlier work as well--the symbol. What distinguishes the symbol from the metaphor, in his view, is that symbols are not merely semantic (like metaphors). Symbols involve something non-semantic as well. More on this topic in a moment.

2. The Theory of Metaphor
In Ricoeur's day, it was common to see a metaphor as "bereft of any cognitive significance" (46). Metaphors were analyzed on the model of denotation and connotation. In this approach, "only the denotation is cognitive and, as such... of a cognitive order." Denotation refers to the basic meaning of a word.

I personally think of connotations as overtones beyond the basic meaning. The older approach to metaphor saw connotation as "extra-semantic because it consists of the weaving together of emotive evocations, which lack cognitive value" (46). He visits Aristotle, where metaphor is merely a matter of naming. For Cicero, metaphor is simply an abridged comparison.

Aristotle isolates words from one another (he thus can be critiqued by Ricoeur as not looking at meaning from the standpoint of the sentence). In the ancient rhetoricians, the function of rhetoric is to please or perhaps seduce the audience, to persuade them, and in that sense a metaphor might prove of some value.

Ricoeur sums up how the ancients treated metaphors: 1) as a trope, a simple substitution of one word for another, a figure of discourse relating to the "denomination" of an individual word or two, 2) as an extension of the meaning of a name, derived from the literal meaning of the word or words, 3) based on a resemblance of some kind, 4) with the literal word easily being substituted for the metaphor instead and the meaning remaining the same. Thus, 5) there is no semantic innovation with the use of metaphor and 6) no new information involved. It serves a merely emotive function (49).

Ricoeur's move is ingenius. He "shifts the problem of metaphor from the semantics of the word to the semantics of the sentence" (47). This move will allow him to provide a purely semantic definition for all literature in its three essential classes, poetry, essays, and prose fiction.

Ricoeur proceeds to reject the above presuppositions about metaphor. "Metaphor has to do with semantics of the sentence before it concerns the semantics of a word" (49). That is to say, it is a "phenomenon of predication, not denomination" (50). Metaphors involve a tension, not between two words or names, but between two interpretations. "A metaphor does not exist in itself, but in and through an interpretation." Ricoeur thus undermines the second presupposition above.

Now he attacks the third. A metaphor is not the clothing of an idea in an image based on comparison or similarity. Rather, for him the key semantic feature of a metaphor derives from the dissimilarity. How can these two dissimilar things be connected, we ask ourselves? The act of "reducing the shock engendered by two incompatible ideas" helps us find the resemblance that gives meaning.

The tension between two interpretations of meaning brings the creation of new meaning. There is no mere substitution of one word for another as in #4, and a new meaning takes place, against #5 and 6. "A new signification emerges" (52). "A metaphor is an instantaneous creation, a semantic innovation which has no status in already established language and which only exists because of the attribution of an unusual or an unexpected predicate."

Ricoeur thus does not include dead metaphors as metaphors any longer. There is no longer a tension in their use ("the foot of a chair"). Their extended meaning has become part of our lexicon. "There are no live metaphors in a dictionary" (52).

Therefore, "real metaphors are not translatable" (52). They can be paraphrased in many ways but a single word cannot be substituted for them. And metaphors are not mere ornaments of discourse.

3. From Metaphor to Symbol
Introduction
Ricoeur now switches to a treatment of symbols, a topic which has not long been studied by rhetoricians and which, unlike metaphor, moves beyond the merely linguistic and semantic. For example, psychoanalysis deals with things like dreams and other symbols relating to deep psychic conflicts. Poetics in the broad sense can engage persistent figures within a culture or a school of literature. Then there is the religious use of symbols that engages symbols of space and time, of transcendence, and the wholly other.

Symbols thus belong to too many and too diverse fields of research for their study to be as easy as the study of metaphor, and they bring together the linguistic order together with the non-linguistic order.

Nevertheless, Ricoeur believes that his approach to metaphor can clarify the significance of symbols. He aims first to identify the semantic kernel of a symbol. This move in turn will help him isolate the non-linguistic stratum of symbols. This will finally allow him to complete his theory of metaphor.

The Semantic Moment of a Symbol
To begin with, "the symbol, in effect, only gives rise to thought if it gives rise to speech" (55). Within language, the tension theory of metaphor he is laying out can provide an entry point for understanding the semantic dimension of symbols. "The metaphorical twist, which our words must undergo in response to the semantic impertinence at the level of the entire sentence, can be taken as the model for the extension of meaning operative in every symbol."

There is an "excess of signification in a symbol," just as there is in a metaphor. "It is the recognition of the literal meaning that allows us to see that a symbol still contains more meaning. This surplus of meaning is the residue of the literal interpretation" (55). "Yet for the one who participates in the symbolic signification there are really not two significations, one literal and the other symbolic, but rather a single movement."

As a side note, he takes a moment here to distinguish symbol from allegory. "Allegory is a rhetorical procedure that can be eliminated once it has done its job. Having ascended the ladder, we can then descend it. Allegory is a didactic procedure" (56). I'm not sure if this will do, but it is suggestive.

In symbol, we speak of assimilation rather than apprehension. "The symbol assimilates rather than apprehends a resemblance" (56). "All the boundaries are blurred--between the things as well as between the things and ourselves." "There is more in a symbol than in any of its conceptual equivalents" (57).

But it gives rise to concepts. Ricoeur disagrees with those who make us choose between symbols and concepts. Rather, "symbols give rise to endless exegesis" (57). "No given categorization can embrace all the semantic possibilities of a symbol. But it is the work of the concept alone that can testify to this surplus of meaning."

The Non-Semantic Moment of a Symbol
After clarifying the semantic dimension of symbols, Ricoeur now seeks to clarify the non-semantic dimension of symbols. "The opacity of a symbol is related to the rootedness of symbols in areas of our experience that are open to different methods of investigation" (57). Psychoanalysis, for example, delves into sleep. Poetry, he says, connects to a global form of behavior. And religious symbols engage engagement with supernatural forces, "which dwell in the depths of human existence, transcending and dominating it" (58).

"It is the task of many disciplines to reveal the lines that attach the symbolic function to this or that non-symbolic or pre-linguistic activity" (58).

The rest of this section analyzes the symbols of these three areas: psychoanalysis, poetics, and religious symbols. Ricoeur's basic conclusion is that "what asks to be brought to language in symbols, but which never passes completely into language, is always something powerful, efficacious, forceful" (63). They involve a "dialectic of power and form... which insures that language only captures the foam on the surface of life."

For psychoanalysis, symbols skirt the boundary between desire and culture, the boundary between primary repression (of our impulses versus reality) and secondary repression (the restrictions of society and culture). "Psychoanalysis must develop a mixed language," a mixture of the inner and the outer (58). Dream accounts involve a kind of "palimpsest, riddle or hieroglyph," a distorted presentation of a mixed inner and outer reality.

Thus while "metaphor occurs in the already purified universe of the logos... the symbol hesistates [sic] on the dividing line between bios and logos. It testifies to the primordial rootedness of Discourse in Life. It is born where force and form coincide" (59).

Ricoeur's treatment of poetic language seems a little more forced, but we can see that he is engaging it with a hint of the same psychological underbelly as he approached psychoanalysis. "The poetic project is one of destroying the world as we ordinarily take it for granted" (59).

Boundedness is significant for Ricoeur in this section. As he will say of religious symbolism, "The bound character of symbols makes all the difference between a symbol and a metaphor. The latter is a free invention of discourse; the former is bound by the cosmos" (61). So in poetics, "the poem is bound by what it creates" (60) just as in dreams and deep psychology, there is a boundedness of the symbols to our psychic reality.

Yet, in regard to poetics, the hypothetical realm created brings to life new meanings, "new ways of being in the world" (60). "What binds poetic discourse, then, is the need to bring to language modes of being that ordinary vision obscures or even represses."

His discussion of religious symbolism brings this discussion of the non-semantic boundedness of symbol home. He references Rudolph Otto's sense of the numinous (the transcendent that creates awe, as in Isaiah 6) and Mircea Eleade's sense of hierophany (manifestation of the sacred). There is a power to the sacred that cannot be captured in speech. It does not "pass over completely into the articulation of meaning" (61).

"The numinous element is not first a question of language, if it ever really becomes one, for to speak of power is to speak of something other than speech" (60). There is a preverbal character of such experience.

"The bond between myth and ritual attests in another way to this non-linguistic dimension of the Sacred" (61). Perhaps Ricoeur again goes too far, but his fundamental point is that there is a logic of correspondences between the universe and the Sacred and this law of correspondences makes religious language bounded by the universe rather than freely composed, as in metaphor.

"A temple always conforms to some celestial model" (62). There are intrinsic correspondences between the body, houses, and the cosmos. The skull is like a roof. Our breath is like the wind. A rite of passage is like a bridge.

But without language, "the Sacred would remain unmanifested" (62). Ritual is also a "modality of making or doing--a doing of something marked by power." But it would "lack the power to organize space and time without an instituting word." "Symbolism only works when its structure is interpreted... a minimal hermeneutic is required for the functioning of symbolism" (62-63). But the interpretation presupposes the symbol. "The revealing grounds the saying, not the reverse" (63).

4. The Intermediate Degrees between Symbol and Metaphor
Having explored the character of symbols, Ricoeur now returns to the metaphor, to see if his venture might in turn further clarify his starting point in the essay.

Ricoeur suggests three ways in which the foray into symbols shows how certain metaphors--especially those that have a connection to symbols--can have staying power beyond the moment of invention. How can the metaphor of the moment, a moment of invention in an event of discourse, resist simply becoming trivial and then a dead metaphor? And why is it that symbols seem to have staying power, that symbols never die.

The first potential extending factor is the fact that metaphors can function in a network or chain of metaphors. This is when "one metaphor, in effect, calls for another and each one stays alive by conserving its power to evoke the whole network" (84). Ricoeur uses the imagery of God in the Hebraic tradition--he is King, Father, Husband, Lord, Shepherd, Judge, Rock, Fortress, and so forth. These interconnections create a kind of equilibrium.

There is a "root metaphor" here of sorts, Ricoeur claims, that both assembles and scatters. The network "assembles subordinate images together, and they scatter concepts at a higher level" (64).

A second factor that potentially extends the life of a metaphor is a potential hierarchical structure. "Certain fundamental human experiences make up an immediate symbolism that presides over the most primitive metaphorical order" (65). "This anthropological and cosmic symbolism is in a kind of subterranean communication with our libidinal sphere."

Then there can be metaphors that build on these more fundamental metaphors--what Philip Wheelwright calls archetypes. "Everything indicates that symbol systems constitute a reservoir of meaning whose metaphoric potential is yet to be spoken" (65). "The most insistent metaphors hold fast to the intertwining of the symbolic infrastructure and metaphorical superstructure."

The final factor that extends the longevity of metaphor is its potentially referential dimension, the use of metaphor as a model for interpreting the world. Here Ricoeur recaps Frege, whom he mentioned in the first lecture. The sense of a statement is "the pure predicative relation, the reference its pretention to say something about reality, in short, its truth value" (66). The sense is what it says. The reference is what it says it about.

As in science, metaphors can serve like a theoretical model in science, a way of exploring a complex domain of reality by way of a heuristic, somewhat imaginary perspective. Such a model is "an instrument of redescription" (66).

Ricoeur uses this notion in the remainder of his analysis. Metaphor can be an instrument whereby we redescribe the world. We "describe a domain of reality in terms of an imaginary theoretical model" (67, Max Black's sense of metaphors as models). It is a "way of seeing things differently by changing our language about the subject of our investigation." "Thanks to this detour through the heuristic fiction we perceive new connections among things."

So "poetry creates its own world" (67). Both poetic and scientific language "aim at a reality more real than appearances." We suspend the reality of ordinary language in the metaphor so that we can gain the benefit of a "second degree of reference" (68). We redescribe reality. From this tensive apprehension, "a new vision of reality springs forth." "the eclipse of the objective, manipulable world thus makes way for the revelation of a new dimension of reality and truth."

"Poetic language does not tell how things literally are, but what they are like" (68). "The literal 'is' is overturned by the absurdity [of the comparison and representation] and surmounted by a metaphorical 'is' [that is] equivalent to 'is like.'"

Therefore to conclude this section, he writes, "Can we not then call insistent metaphors--those metaphors that are closest to the symbolic depths of our existence--metaphors that owe their privilege of revealing what things are like [referential dimension] to their organization into networks and hierarchical levels?" (68).

Then to conclude the entire essay, he asserts to contrary propositions. "On the one side, there is more in the metaphor than in the symbol; one the other side, there is more in the symbol than in the metaphor" (68).

On the first score, a metaphor "brings to language the implicit semantics of the symbol" (69). Thus the metaphor brings out more meaning. But, on the other hand, "metaphor is just the linguistic procedure--that bizarre form of predication--within which the symbolic power is deposited" (69). "Metaphors are just the linguistic surface of symbols," while "symbols plunge us into the shadowy experience of power."

Monday, August 18, 2014

Oral Cultures of the Bible

There are any number of paradigm shifts that go along with reading the Bible in context...

[Insert my normal disclaimers that the Spirit can and does regularly speak to people through the words of Scripture out of context. Indeed, since we have no default knowledge of the Bible's context, to the extent that God speaks to most people through Scripture, he must do so to varying degrees out of context.]

... One of them is realizing that, prior to the invention of the printing press in the late 1400s, most people belonged to an oral rather than a literary paradigm. The books of the Bible were written to be read aloud to groups of people, not to read in book form. Throughout history--and especially when the books of the Bible were written--most people 1) did not own books or scrolls, and 2) couldn't have read them if they did.

When Mark 13 says, "Let the reader understand," it is probably not addressing the literary person reading Mark in a book but to the oral person reading Mark aloud to a congregation.

Recognizing this difference will quickly point out some cultural aspects to some modern church rhetoric. For example, the idea of having daily devotions presumes you have access to the text. They certainly could have meditated on Scriptures they memorized, but I have a feeling that this whole line of thinking points to yet another paradigm shift--we are individualistic rather than a group-oriented culture. In other words, they read the Bible together far more than alone. Similarly, they interpreted the Bible together far more than alone.

And the word of God for them was much bigger than a written word. The Word of God in John does not refer to the Bible at any point but, in the end, to Christ. The word of God in Hebrews 4:12 or James 1:18, 21 or 1 Peter 1:23 does not refer to the Bible but to the logos of God, a word with a history in Judaism (and Stoicism) that refers to God's will and plan in action for the world. It is a word from God's mouth, an oral word rather than a written word.

To be sure, the word "Scriptures" is the word for "writings," but even writings have an oral character in an oral world. Paul's letters were substitutes for his presence and they were read aloud probably by the individuals in whose hands Paul had them delivered. Writings can be paraphrased as the Spirit leads. They can be spliced together with Scriptures from other contexts. There is a fluidity to oral readings, a fluidity we find in the way the NT authors quote the OT.

A little paradigm work this morning...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Wesleyan Theology of Sin

I have now completed a series of posts giving a Wesleyan "Theology of Sin," part of my ongoing series called, "My Theology in Bullet Points." It is not, to be sure, the only Wesleyan perspective, but it is an attempt to be true to Wesleyan theology in dialog with contemporary theological issues. Below it are links for my theologies of God and creation.

The Doctrine of Sin (hamartiology)
1. Evil is a matter of choice, intention, and desire.
2. God created the possibility of evil choices.
3. Suffering in itself is not evil.
4. The current bent of humanity is toward evil.
5. All have sinned.
6. There is such a thing as corporate and structural sin.

The Doctrine of God (theology proper)
1. God didn't need to create. (God's self-sufficiency)
2. God isn't literally a guy.
3. God has the power to do anything. (God's omnipotence)
4. God is present in all places and all times. (God's omnipresence)
5. God knows every possible thing to know.
6. God knows every actual thing to know. (God's omniscience)
7. God can do whatever he wants. (God's sovereignty)
8. God loves everything he has created. (God is love)
9. God's justice fits within the context of his love. (God is just)
10. To say God is holy is to say God is God. (God is holy)
11. There is only one God, but God is three persons. (God is a Trinity)

The Doctrine of Creation (cosmology)
1. God created everything that exists out of nothing.
2. Everything God created was good.
3. God is in control of everything that happens.
4. There are good and evil spiritual beings at work in the world.
5. Human beings were created in the image of God.
6. God intended us to live forever.
7. All humanity is of equal value to God.

E5. All have sinned.

Now the fifth and final post in the third section of theology in bullet points on the nature of evil.
_____________________
"All have sinned and are lacking the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23, my translation).

1. Wesleyans would distinguish two areas in which we might consider sin. The previous entry discussed the one, what we might call a "sin nature." We argued in the previous entry, however, that it would be more Pauline to speak of a Sin power that exists over the world. Humans have a propensity to sin because our flesh is weak and Adam's sin brought Sin as a power over the world.

This Sin power is a consequence of Adam's sin in traditional theology. But we are not judged for Adam's sin, since we did not commit it. We merely experience the consequences of it, serious as they are. We all commit sin acts because our default state is one of susceptibility to sin. We are guilty because we do the same acts Adam did, not because we have inherited guilt from him. [1]

The theory of evolution presents some problems for this traditional analysis. So many Christians who object to evolution do so on the basis of Genesis 1. But Genesis 1 is a poetic presentation of creation in dialog with other ancient creation stories. It is probably an incorrect reading of it in the first place to think it is in dialog with such theories at all.

The question of evil is by far the greatest theological problem in relation to evolution. If a person believes that Adam was a literal person at the end of a long evolutionary process, who still literally sinned and brought the power of Sin into the world, the greatest theological question has to do with the nature of the world before Adam. A previous article brainstormed a little in relation to this question. Basically, death might be seen more along the lines of Genesis 3 itself, where eternal life was apparently something that would have been added to Adam rather than something taken away.

Presumably one might interpret the weakness of human flesh in a similar way. Perhaps one could say that the power to overcome self-interest was always something the Spirit needed to provide for humanity. One might say that Adam's sin prevented the Spirit from doing something he was going to do rather than taking away something humanity intrinsically had before.

The idea that the Adam story was a poetic expression of the human propensity to sin, but that he was not a literal person, presents our theology of sin (our "hamartiology") with the greatest challenge. Now we would have to suggest that the human propensity to sin was somehow part of the fundamental set up, apart from Satan and his angels. This is no problem for the hyper-Calvinist, who thinks God has directly commanded every sin anyone has ever committed anyway.

For the Wesleyan-Arminian it is more difficult. Perhaps we would have to say that God created us all with an impulse to do that which is in our own self-interest. This impulse would be a good impulse in many respects, because it would motivate us to self-preservation. It would motivate us toward excellence. We would have been created to walk with God and thereby to receive the moment by moment power not to violate him or others in our self-interest.

The fundamental problem of Sin would then come from our default separation from God and from his power to do the good, not from something that changed in our nature. Further, the collective separation of humanity would then exacerbate our propensity toward self-interest over God and others even more. The fundamental dynamic of salvation then becomes one of reconciliation and re-empowerment.

Whatever the source, it is clear that "human nature" currently has a propensity to act in self-interest over and against God and others. We can call this, somewhat figuratively, our "sin nature."

2. As a result of our sin nature, we commit "sin acts." We have hopefully begun to get some sense of what sin is in the articles that precede. Sin "properly so called" is an intentional act of mind or body that is contrary to the love of God or the love of others. We know the good we ought to do and we intentionally do not do it (Jas. 4:17) or we know we shouldn't do bad and we intentionally do it anyway.

We can, of course, wrong God or others without intending to do so. We can harm another human being by accident. We can try to take over God's rightful authority without thinking about it. True, there are those who would rationalize their behavior and their intentions. There is a human tendency to say, "I didn't know" or "I didn't intend" or "It was an accident" when in fact we are guilty of intent.

God is not fooled. The fact that we cannot always tell a person's true motives--indeed, the fact that we are prone to self-deception--does not negate the fundamental definitions. God knows, and that is all that matters. God is the one who can divide soul and spirit, who can judge the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12).

Sin is thus not to fall short of absolute perfection. It is defined in contrast to God's true standard in the New Testament--love of God and neighbor. And it is judged primarily in terms of intention. There is such a thing as unintentional sin. But our moral culpability before God is overwhelmingly a matter of intentional sin. In our previous article, we argued that self-interest stands at the heart of most if not all sin.

There are thus also degrees of sin. The greater our intention to act contrary to God and others, the greater the sin.

3. All humans act in their own self-interest. Even self-deprecation is a twisted cry for less pain. Even suicide is an act meant to relieve oneself of life's burdens. We are tempted to sin when our self-interest conflicts with the rightful interests of God and others.

There is a kind of depravity that gets pleasure out of the pain of others. This, and full defiance of God, are the most atrocious of sins because they are most in violation of God and others. These highest of high handed sins approach the domain of what is often called the unpardonable sin.

Theologically, we might rather say that those who commit such sins have entered a territory of evil from which they will never return. Theologically, it is not that God would not forgive them if they repented. It is that they are incapable of repentance. God has long withdrawn his offer of empowerment for repentance because they have scorned and rejected it. There is a special category of justice for such deprivation.

All have sinned. We have all, at some point or another in our lives, crossed the line between what is ours and what is God's or what is our due to others as people created in the image of God. We have lost the glory God intended us to have. We have instead become shameful. We stand separated from God and the power to move beyond our self-interest.

All have sinned and are lacking the glory of God.

[1] This is somewhat of a departure from the traditional way of speaking of inherited guilt. But it is both truer to Paul and more coherent theologically.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Family History 12: Joining Two Streams (My Parents)

1. After my Dad died, I wrote pretty extensively about his life. He was born in Thorntown in 1924 at his Dad's first church plant (I think it was a plant). Although Dorsey Schenck planted churches around some, I think they mostly lived in Indianapolis. I know Interstate 65 now goes over one of the houses where they lived (Parker Ave?). He went to School 51, if I remember correctly, and he graduated from Arsenal Tech High in 1943.

He would have liked to go out for track, even went to the first day of practice once, I believe, but he had to quit because he had to work in his Dad's store. I also remember him talking about how, in earlier days, his younger brother Maurice would get into trouble in class and he would be embarrassed when his Dad would show up at school in his butcher's apron.

He was impressed with his Dad's strength. I guess in those days Dorsey could pull an engine out of a car with a pulley and fix about anything mechanical of that sort. I think he could lift a whole side of beef.

Theirs was of course a very conservative home, even for that day. They did not go to motion pictures. They did not dance (Dad even sat out a square dance at school, if I remember correctly). They used a spinner to play Monopoly rather than dice (the "appearance" of evil). There was such a concern not to lie, that Eugene would not say "Lotto" but instead, "Must I have Lotto?" They did not smoke, long before doctors convinced the public it was bad for our health.

I guess they would try to stay up till midnight on New Year's Eve, which was hard. Sometimes Eugene would sleepily ask someone to spin for him when it was his turn.

2. My mother was born in Greenfield in 1926. Her father Harry at that time was pastoring an established Pilgrim Holiness Church. When she was less than a year old, they moved to Greenwood. From there he would go to teach at Frankfort Pilgrim College. His first stint there was from 1927-32.

I've mentioned some of my mother's early memories of those years here and there already. I've also mentioned the trip they took to Kernersville, North Carolina after FPC closed. The roads through Kentucky and Tennessee were of course gravel in the 1930s and the car could only go 25 or 30 miles per hour. I mentioned them stopping for the night and the car not having any windows. So a farmer invited them in for the night because of rattlesnakes. My mom remembers her mom jumping out with a block of wood to make sure the car didn't roll down the hill when the brakes weren't working well.

Kernersville didn't take that time, so he pastored in Bacova, Virginia for a year. Then they went back to Kingswood, Kentucky. Then to southern Indiana. There are more details scattered in previous posts. Finally, he would return to Frankfort when it reopened in 1939.

One story I think from southern Indiana is a particularly cold day when my mother forgot to take her gloves with her to school. On her walk home, there were two ways she could come. Unfortunately, her father took the opposite way and her hands became almost frostbite. When they finally met up, he took her to a nearby house to run hot water over her hands.

She also remembers a couple coming to her Dad to ask his forgiveness for, I believe, cheating him out of some property in Sullivan, if I remember correctly. She was told to leave the room for the discussion but I guess listened in a little anyway.

3. In the early forties, my Dad was in high school at Arsenal Tech (1939-43). He was set to go to Drafting school to become a draftsman when he himself was drafted into World War 2. I worked through some of his war training and memories in other posts.

My mother was at Frankfort Bible College from 1942-46. The President of the Bible College at that time (I forget the name offhand) thought she might be able to teach Greek and, I think, may have had her teach the class some when he was busy. I've heard her talk about a final in preaching when they picked a piece of paper out of a hat and then had to preach extemporaneously on some topic. I believe she outlined some book on the history of education to complete her credits for graduation.

She was the valedictorian of her class. I forget the precise topic of her graduation speech (have to get a reminder from her on that). I think she may have had her Dad in class in high school for a class on household safety. She remembers, for example, a lesson on not leaving things on the stairs so you won't trip. :-)

My Dad's sister Frances was also attending Frankfort and invited my Mom to come help Dorsey's church plant with piano. I forget who gave my mother piano lessons to begin with, but she can hear a tune and find her way to the right chords. I forget what the method is called (a lot of fill-ins today, I'm afraid). You make an octave of the melody with both hands and then fill in the chords and move with the flow. Over the years growing up, Mom could always find her way to the right key when a pastor would start singing spontaneously.

My mother spied a picture of my Dad in his army suit on one of these Sunday visits and the thought flew through her head, "I wonder if I would ever date him?" She would of course meet him when he returned from the war in 1946. His opening salvo wasn't particularly subtle, "A lot of guys my age are getting married these days and I wondered if you would go out on a date with me."

My mother was so unaccustomed to eating at restaurants that she actually picked the tip up to take to him the first time, thinking he had forgotten it. He proposed on the spot when he realized she would feel guilty to kiss him if they weren't destined to get married. At that time he was working, driving a truck for his older brother Vernon, who had started his own business. It required Dad to get up early in the morning, so I guess he actually slept through quite a bit of their dates together.

My mother's family didn't have a phone, so I guess he surprised her one day in late December 1946 on his way to his grandmother's funeral in Camden (Salome Miller). I guess she was embarrassed at how she and the house looked. By this time, I believe her parents were living in the house off campus, across the train tracks.

They were married in 1947. It was a double wedding at Frankfort Pilgrim Church. They drove south to Whiteland for the first night, and I guess Mom's brother Paul pursued them all the way to Indy to give them a little extra money for their honeymoon. He was working at the train station in Indianapolis at that time, if I remember correctly. They would then go down to Mississippi to some of the places Dad was during his basic training during the war.

Earlier posts:

1. The Revivalin' Twenties
In the Year 1920 (Dorsey Schenck, also see here)
From Quaker to Pilgrim (Harry Shepherd in 20s)
The Great Generation (my parents)

2. The Depression Thirties
Dutch Reformed Past (Samuel Schenck)
North Carolina Flashback (Eli Shepherd)
Wanting to be Rich (Oscar Rich)

3. Passing Generations
Old German Baptist Heritage 1 (Amsy Miller)
Old German Baptist Heritage 2 (Salome Wise)
The Dorsey Stream (Pearl Dorsey)

4. The Forties and Fifties
Joining Two Streams (My Parents)

5. The Divisive Sixties
Prophet, Pastor, and Professor (Harry Shepherd)
Flashback to Jamestown (Champion Shelburn)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Feynman 3: The Bomb and then Depression

This is my third installment reviewing a biography about Richard Feynman called Quantum Man, one of the greatest physicists of all time.

So far:
Chapters 1-2: High school, MIT, and Princeton
Chapters 3-5: The Path to a Doctorate

Now chapters 6-7.

Chapter 6: Loss of Innocence
Finishing his PhD degree at Princeton was a condition for Richard and his fiancee Arline to get married. And so, even though she was deathly ill with tuberculous--and generating significant friction between Feynman and his mother--they got married. She would die two months before the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

If you remember from last week, Feynman had helped work on the question of separating Uranium 235 from 238. He had worked with Robert Wilson's team on this, and it had been accomplished. Then next step was to build a nuclear reactor to do the separation, and this was taking place in Chicago with Enrico Fermi and John Archibald Wheeler, Feynman's doctoral mentor.

So Feynman went to Chicago. Soon after he arrived, he blew away the "theory group" by performing a calculation that had eluded them for months (78). Robert Oppenheimer picked Los Alamos as the place where the Manhattan Project would play out, and he picked Feynman to come with the first wave of scientists in 1943.

Oppenheimer was an unusual scientist because, as Feynman himself put it, he "was extremely human" (79). He not only understood the science. He had organizational skills and cared about people. He would notoriously regret the role he played in the creation of the atomic bomb. His words at the first successful testing were from the Bhagavad Gita: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." Feynman merely grinned as he contemplated the physical causes of the mushroom cloud and sonic boom.

Feynman, once again working best in conversation, ended up almost by accident in a conversation in Los Alamos with a seasoned theoretician named Hans Bethe. Bethe would bounce ideas off of Feynman, who being very loud could be heard to cry out, "No, no! That's crazy." From Feynman's recollection, Bethe always proved to be right. From Bethe's recollection, Feynman was probably the most ingenious person in the whole division.

Bethe was the scientist who discovered that fusion fueled the sun. Bethe said of Feynman that "he could do anything, anything at all" (87). He was put in charge of the computing division. You have to wonder whether the Manhattan Project would have ended before the war if Feynman hadn't have been there.

For example, Feynman developed a mathematical method for integrating third-order differential equations that was more accurate than what they were doing with second-order differential equations. When several boxes full of the parts of an IBM computer arrived, Feynman and another person managed to put them together before the professionals from IBM arrived. It had never been done before.

Oppenheimer would say of Feynman that "He is by all odds the most brilliant young physicist here" (92).

Chapter 7: Paths to Greatness
As an academic Dean, I think I am somewhat unusual. I absolutely love knowledge for its own sake. My boss often quotes me as saying, "No one loves the irrelevant more than I do." But I am a pragmatist and a realist. In most cases, it doesn't matter how brilliant a teacher is if he or she can't teach. And in most cases, it doesn't matter how excellent your program is if no one is buying.

Of course there are top flight research institutions that are so heavily endowed that their professors can push the bounds of knowledge without a care and survive off of some small number of purely genius students. Feel free to hire me to teach there. But that is just not where the majority of academic institutions are. And, for all your pretense to greatness, most purists seem to have a penchant for self-destruction (and an overestimation of how great they are).

So I won't tell you what I wrote in the margins of this biography on reading about how the chair of Berkeley delayed making an offer to Feynman on Oppenheimer's recommendation. When he finally did, he had the gall to tell Feynman that no one had ever refused an offer from Berkeley's graduate department of physics.

Feynman did. He went to Cornell, who had the smarts to hire him two years earlier and give him a leave of absence while he was at Los Alamos. Stupid Berkeley.

But Feynman himself was pessimistic and depressed. What future was there, now that there was such a bomb. "What one fool can do, another can," he said (93). Indeed, it is amazing seventy years later that the bomb has not been used again.

It was natural that Feynman would feel like he had wasted three prime years of his intellect--the greatest discoveries of a physicist are usually made in one's twenties. His father had died of a stroke a year after his wife Arline. Teaching takes a whole lot more work than most imagine and back then there was no training in how to teach.

Feynman was being showered with praise from all corners, but he felt like his best years were behind him. Others thought he was incredible. He felt stupid. "They were absolutely crazy" (96), he thought of offers from Princeton and the Institute for Advanced Study.

Bethe, upon hearing of Feynman's depression, remarked that, "Feynman depressed is just a little more cheerful than any other person... exhuberant" (97).

There is a great story about how hard it was for Feynman to finally write up his dissertation for publication. Apparently, two of his friends forced him to write it up while he was visiting them in the summer of 1947. They practically locked him up in a room. It was easy for him to express his ideas in conversational form. But to write them down in a beginning to end argument in detail, with everything exactly write. That he found a hard time doing.

[I know a couple people I'd frankly like to lock in a room to crank some of their gems out. On the other hand, one might argue that I would have written more scholarly pieces these last ten years if I hadn't started blogging.]

However, writing it up seemed to get him over a hump. Quantum mechanics began to be more visual for him. For the first time, he began to describe quantum mechanics in the language of sums over paths, with each path having an amplitude. It was a fundamental reformulation of quantum mechanics on which all the quantum mechanics since is based. His next task was to relativize it, to incorporate Einstein's relativity into his new version of the older model.

The rest of the chapter mostly flashes back to Dirac's relativizing of the original quantum mechanical equation of Schrodinger. We hear about the spin of particles called fermions, after Enrico Fermi. We hear about boson particles that don't spin. We hear of Wolfgang Pauli's exclusion principle and Dirac's theoretical discovery of antiparticles.

Meanwhile, Feynman was trying to find a way to picture the overall paths of these particles in a way that incorporated relativity the way Dirac had for a single particle at particular time and momentum...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Public School Education Idea

I was brainstorming yesterday how we might fix our schools in America. Let me make it clear that I don't blame the teachers. I point to the culture of our children and youth, who are attention deficit and chaotic in general. I've long got the impression that little gets done in many American classrooms, having had four children go through the public schools. Yelling doesn't change things. Other teachers try to hold attention for just a few minutes of instruction and then inevitably let the class "work on homework," which more or less means chaos for the rest of the time.

Since the kids are the presenting issue, it doesn't matter if you give them vouchers to private schools--the advanced classes are often no different from the regular ones. And go look up the Bastille in Wikipedia if you think ignoring the lowest socio-economic factor in some sort of meritocracy has any long term merit. I wait for the prophet who has ideas on how to change our homes to produce children with a different potential for schooling.

All that is background. I was thinking yesterday that, at this point, we really need to shift away from corporate teaching and toward one-on-one instruction. If we could somehow arrange ten minutes an hour of one-on-one conversation between a teacher and a student, we would probably accomplish way more than we are accomplishing now. When temperament allowed, we could even have one-on-three or four instructional moments. Maybe some one-on-four groups could go for twenty minutes an hour.

Basically, the ideal would be for all students to have their own IEP (Individualized Education Plan) modeled on a one-on-one, 10 minute atom of instruction. Certain clusters of temperaments might allow molecules of slightly more students with slightly more time. The amount of paperwork associated with these atoms should be minor so that teachers can teach rather than spend hours reporting on teaching.

In the meantime, the intervening chaos between instruction should be managed instead of let to go free. Sports, games, shop, skills, video games--they're already wasting most of their school time. Plan it and it is no longer chaos but a culture of fun, a spoonful of sugar. It makes school a fun place.

And I categorically believe that it is much better for most students to be in this environment than at home. The homes of America--and the streets--are where the default chaos is perpetuated and advanced.

A few thoughts, for anyone who might be listening...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

An Ode to a Coffee

Fair fair, your lovely warming face
With twirling wisps up into space
Aboon the stars ye take your place,
I long to drink.

The groaning teacher there ye fill
Your caffeine like an instant thrill,
While thro' the pores your dews distill
In time of need.

And then, O what a glorious sight,
Awake perchance for all the night,
While sleepiness itself takes flight,
Warm-reeking, rich!

Ye pow'rs what make mankind your care,
Oh dish them out their bill o'fare,
Answer please our grateful prayer,
Give us some coffee!

Distinctivos Wesleyanos (transformación)

La semana pasada, hablé sobre la tradición Wesleyana como un movimiento mas que una iglesia. Hoy, creo que la caracteristica de transformación como central en el pensamiento de Juan Wesley.

Wesley cree que Deos quería transformar la vida de un creyente. Por supuesto, Calvin y otros pensadores creían que esto mismo también, pero no en la medida como Wesley. Wesley cree que Dios no sólo quería hacer una persona legalmente inocente ante él, pero hacer una persona realmente buena.

Este es el "orden de salvación" de Wesley. Primera, Wesley cree que podemos saber ahora sí estamos bien con Dios. Antes de él, los pensadores calvinistos creían que sólo podemos saber en cielo si somos salvos. Wesley prestada esta idea de los moravos, y Wesley cree que experimentamos un cambio real en el interior cuando estamos "justificados".

Wesley también enfatizó santificación. El creía que Dios quería para darnos amor perfecto. Su enseñanza sobre esta tema es difícil y problamente, hasta cierto punta, su personalidad y cultura nublaron la verdad central. (Él era un perfeccionista en la personalidad). Pero la verdad central se mantiene firme. Dios quere que no pecar y su Espiritu nos dará poder para hacer lo correcto.

palabras para mí
pasada
por supuesto
antes de...
pedir prestado
nublar

formularios para mí
hablé
enfatizó
quería

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Wesleyans and Grudem (Miracles)

I've been on a hiatus from reading through Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology for some time. It was a lot of work the way I was doing it. I want to keep working through but offer a more selective response.

I think what I would especially like to do is draw attention to ways in which a Wesleyan-Arminian approach to theology might be the same or different from him. Here is a response to his chapter on Miracles (chapter 17).
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1. First, I want to say that Wesleyans are on the same page as Grudem for most of the chapter. For example, he respectfully disagrees with B. B. Warfield, D. A. Carson, and Norman Geisler, all of whom believe that miracles done through humans ended with the apostles. They are what are called "cessationists" who do not believe that God uses Christians to heal today or to prophecy, etc. This is decidedly not something Wesleyans believe.

Wesleyans believe that God continues to perform miracles through the hands of his people today and give spiritual gifts, since we are filled with the Spirit today just as in the days of the apostles.

Indeed, hard core Wesleyans would go further than Grudem and say that Jesus played it so much by the human rules when he was on earth that everything he did, he did through the power of the Spirit. That means that there is nothing that Jesus did while he was on earth that we in theory cannot still do today through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In general, Wesleyans should be aware that thinkers like Norman Geisler, D. A. Carson, B. B. Warfield, Tom Schreiner, and John MacArthur--all of whom are cessationists (believe the gifts were just for the apostolic age) do not come at theology the way Wesleyans and perhaps even most Christians do. Put them on a theological watch list. They have a particular theological ax to grind against ongoing spiritual gifts.

I am completely dumbfounded that anyone can seriously read the biblical texts and come up with their position. 1 Corinthians 13:8 is obviously not about the end of the age of miracles. It is about the immensely greater value of love when put next to spiritual gifts. Grudem accurately interprets 2 Corinthians 12:12 and Hebrews 2:3-4, showing that these words are being made to say things they weren't saying.

2. Grudem sees miracles as characteristic of the new covenant age. Of course there are miracles in the Old Testament as well, but he seems correct in thinking that miracles served to corroborate the truth of the good news of Jesus' resurrection.

Thus, the purpose of miracles was to point to the truth of the gospel, not to bear witness to the truthfulness of Scripture. It wasn't at all just apostles that had spiritual gifts (see 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, etc). At the time the miracles in the NT were happening, the writings about those events largely did not exist. The written word was not primary for the apostles but the spoken word and, even more so, the living Word of Jesus.

The apostles would look at you like you were crazy if you suggested their miracles served to authenticate the writings of the NT. You just can't have any sense of history and even suggest something so insane. It would be like saying that the ultimate purpose of a great worship service was some account of the service written up by the pastor (or even more likely someone who investigated the event) twenty or thirty years after it happened. You have to be some kind of crazy out of touch even to say such a thing, Mr. Warfield.

3. Grudem defines a miracle as "a less common kind of God's activity in which he arouses awe and wonder and bears witness to himself" (355). On the one hand, it's not such a bad definition. He's trying to walk a line between those who would trivialize miracles by seeing every answer to prayer as a miracle and those who would not give God thanks, for example, for recoveries that come from medicine.

While Grudem's definition isn't all bad, Wesleyans should beware that some of the definitions he rejects are rejected because of a non-Wesleyan theology. Wesleyan-Arminian theology holds that God has given some freedom to humanity, even the freedom to disobey him.

By definition, if you believe in any degree of free will, then you cannot believe that everything that happens is part of God's perfect plan.

Grudem is a particular kind of Calvinist. He believes that nothing happens in the world that God did not plan and direct in detail. Wesleyans do not believe this, and Grudem should be on the watch-list for any Wesleyan as someone likely to come from a different perspective than Wesleyan-Arminian theology.

It is not Deist to go with some of the definitions of miracle to which Grudem objects. For example, I would define a miracle technically as an event in which God interrupts the normal cause-effect chain of events in the universe. Grudem would not like this definition, because he is basically not looking at history as a sequence of causes and effects but as God behind the scenes directing everything.

Because my definition is assuming that miracles happen, that God acts in history, then by definition it is not Deist. Good grief!  Lord help me not to completely lambaste the craziness! Christians will never be good historians or scientists or voters if they can't think in terms of cause and effect. Thunderstorms don't usually come from God or demons throwing lightning bolts around... maybe they never do.

4. A deeper critique of Grudem is lurking here. It is not a Wesleyan critique but a scholarly one. The drive to see the teaching of the Bible as self-contained, unified, and distinct from the cultural contexts of the Bible is a "pre-modern" one, a historically unreflective one. Beware of rhetoric about a "biblical worldview." While it is possible to formulate such a view on a deep level, the more typical use of this language comes from a "flat" reading of the biblical text, not one that perceives the rich three dimensional texture of the biblical books.

It is simply beyond dispute that the books of the Bible were written at specific times and places using the "language games" and building off the paradigms of their contexts.

The words of Scripture partake of the definitions of words at the time of each writing, and the thoughts of Scripture were originally expressed from within the paradigms of the original author-audience thought context. We thus do not have to do with one book whose words all mean and teach exactly the same thing. We have different books using words in different ways to express truths using the paradigms of their audiences as a starting point.

Thus, when Grudem says, "The biblical view is such and such," he says it on a very superficial level, one that does not fully engage the underlying paradigms of the biblical authors and audiences. It is not enough simply to point out that many parts of Scripture use deterministic language. Of course they do--the ancient world in which they were written was largely fatalistic and talked in fatalistic terms.

But there are also central parts of Scripture that express the moral culpability of human decisions and the real possibility that humans will do the opposite of what God prefers. Grudem as a Calvinist works out these tensions in one way, while Arminians work them out in another. Both traditions are drawing on biblical traditions but, in order to come up with a systematic theology, they both of necessity have to re-appropriate one set of biblical texts.

In that sense, both Calvinism and Arminianism are biblical, and both reinterpret certain biblical texts. A mature hermeneutic can live with the inevitability of this dynamic, the need to use a certain philosophical or theological framework that is outside the biblical text in order to "pick and choose," identify central and peripheral texts, and finally form a coherent Christian (more accurate than "biblical") perspective on specific issues.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Monday Review: Ricoeur's Interpretation Theory 2

I'm making my way through Paul Ricoeur's Interpretation Theory, a series of foundational lectures on hermeneutics that he gave in 1973 at Texas Christian University.

The first chapter was Language as Discourse.
________________
Now the second of four: Speaking and Writing

1. Introduction
"No interpretation theory is possible that does not come to grips with the problem of writing" (25). Ricoeur has a two-fold purpose in the second essay. First, he wants to show that the theory of discourse in the first essay is what makes possible the transition from speaking to writing. Second, he wants to connect the intentional "exteriorization" of writing with a central problem of hermeneutics: distanciation.

2. From Speaking to Writing
Introduction
In writing, we have "the detachment of meaning from the event" (25). Nevertheless, Ricoeur disagrees with Derrida that writing has a distinct root from speech. Rather, "writing is the full manifestation of discourse" (25-26). He uses Roman Jakobson's schema of communication mentioned in the first essay with six main factors: speaker, hearer, medium, code, situation, and message.

Message and Medium: Fixation
The first of Jakobson's six factors Ricoeur discusses is the medium of communication in writing. "The most obvious change from speaking to writing concerns the relation between the message and its medium or channel" (26). This medium "fixes" discourse in some exterior bearer. It is not language as langue that is fixed (the system of language) but "what we want to fix is discourse." "Discourse as event disappears" (27).

"What writing actually does fix is not the event of speaking but the 'said' of speaking" (27). What is this "said" of speaking? It is "the intentional exteriorization constitutive of the couple 'event-meaning.'"

"The locutionary act exteriorizes itself in the sentence, the inner structure of which may be identified and re-identified as being the same, and which, therefore, may be inscribed and preserved." That is, the  specific words that are spoken can be exactly the same in writing as in speaking.

"To the extent that the illocutionary act can be exteriorized thanks to grammatical paradigms and procedures expressive of its 'force,' it too can be inscribed." Remember that the illocutionary force of speech is what that language is intended to do by the speaker (e.g., assert, promise, command, etc.). Because such force can often involve gesture, can involve mimicry, and other nonarticulated aspects of discourse (prosody), "the illocutionary force is less inscribable than the propositional meaning" (27).

"The perlocutionary act is the least inscribable aspect of discourse," that is, what the speaker intends the effect of the speech to be on the hearer.

"Writing is much more than mere material fixation" (28). Its invention had impact on the extension of political rule, the development of economic, the perpetuation of history, the creation of legal codes, etc. It also brings human thought directly to a material (or now electronic) medium. It is a short-cut that by-passes speaking in the communicative process. "The fate of discourse is delivered over to littera, not to vox" (29).

Message and Speaker
In spoken discourse, the "ability of discourse to refer back to the speaking subject presents a character of immediacy because the speaker belongs to the situation of interlocution" (29). "The subjective intention of the speaker and the discourse's meaning overlap each other in such a way that it is the same thing to understand what the speaker means and what his discourse means."

"With written discourse, however, the author's intention and the meaning of the text cease to coincide" (29). "It is of decisive significance." And here is the clincher, perhaps the most important comment Ricoeur makes in his lectures thus far: "Inscription becomes synonymous with the semantic autonomy of the text, which results from the disconnection of the mental intention of the author from the verbal meaning of the text, of what the author meant and what the text means" (29-30).

This is the point where exegesis is born, because "a set of meanings... have broken their moorings to the psychology of the author" (30). Ricoeur suggests there are now two pitfalls to avoid. The one is W. K. Wimsatt's famous "intentional fallacy," which sees the author's intention as the "criterion for any valid interpretation of the text."

Yet Ricoeur also warns about what he calls the "fallacy of the absolute text: "the fallacy of hypostasizing the text as an authorless entity" (30). For Ricoeur, it is "impossible to cancel out" the fact that a text "remains a discourse told by somebody, said by someone to someone else about something." To say otherwise reduces texts "to natural objects."

Let me suggest, if I am understanding Ricoeur correctly, that he is not assuming here that the somebody speaking is the original author. In other words, autonomous texts can become something "said" by the reader to other readers/hearers. I have myself often said something similar. Meaning is a matter of minds. A text without a context (of minds interpreting it) is simply a collection of squiggles on a page.

"The semantic autonomy of the text makes the relation of event and meaning more complex... The authorial meaning becomes properly a dimension of the text to the extent that the author is not available for questioning" (30). Ricoeur is not around for me to make sure that my interpretation in the previous paragraph is the one he intended (although I'm quite certain there are Ricoeur experts out there who could reliably tell me). "The authorial meaning is the dialectical counterpart of the verbal meaning, and they have to be construed in terms of each other."

Message and Hearer
"Whereas spoken discourse is addressed to someone who is determined in advanced [sic] by the dialogical situation--it is addressed to you, the second person--a written text is addressed to an unknown reader and potentially to whoever knows how to read" (31). This is the striking "universaliziaton [sic] of the audience." The text is "liberated from the narrowness of the face-to-face situation."

On the other hand, this universalization is only potential. A book "is addressed to only a section of the public and reaches its appropriate readers through media that are themselves submitted to social rules of exclusion and admission" (31). Yet its ultimate readership and the "recognition of the work by the audience created by the work is an unpredictable event." "It is the response of the audience which makes the text important and therefore significant."

"It is part of the meaning of a text to be open to an indefinite number of readers and, therefore, of interpretations. This opportunity for multiple readings is the dialectical counterpart of the semantic autonomy of the text" (31-32). "Hermeneutics begins where dialogue ends" (32).

Message and Code
Ricoeur suggests that the "code" of which discourse partakes when fixed in writing must certainly include literary genres. "Literary genres display some conditions which theoretically could be described without considering writing" (32). Speaking can have literary genres too, like poems, narratives, etc. Genres produce "new entities of language longer than the sentence, organic wholes irreducible to a mere addition of sentences."

Genres, Ricoeur suggests, "are the technical rules presiding over" the production of "works" like poems, narratives, and essays (33). These works are like works of art except they are "works of discourse." They are productions that involve craftsmanship.  "When discourse is transferred to the field of production it is also treated as a stuff to be shaped."

"Even oral expressions of poetic or narrative compositions rely on processes equivalent to writing. The memorization of epic poems, lyrical songs, parables and proverbs, and their ritual recitation tend to fix and even to freeze the form of the work in such a way that memory appears as the support of an inscription similar to that provided by external marks" (33).

Message and Reference
The most complex changes that take place in writing, according to Ricoeur, have to do with the reference function of communication. "The distinction between sense and reference introduces in discourse a more complex dialectic than that of event and meaning" (34).

"In spoken discourse the ultimate criterion for the referential scope of what we say is the possibility of showing the thing referred to as a member of the situation common to both speaker and hearer" (34). "All references of oral language rely on monstrations," on gestures and aspects of grammar that point to a common frame of reference between speaker and hearer (34-35). These monstrations "depend on the situation perceived as common by the members of the dialogue. All references in the dialogical situation consequently are situational" (35). [1]

"It is this grounding of reference in the dialogical situation that is shattered by writing" (35). "A gap appears between identification and monstration. The absence of a common situation generated by the spatial and temporal distance between writer and reader; the cancellation of the absolute here and now by the substitution of material external marks for the voice, face, and body of the speaker as the absolute origin of all the places in space and time; and the semantic autonomy of the text, which severs it from the present of the writer and opens it to an indefinite range of potential readers in an indeterminate time"--all these can contribute to a change in the reader's sense of the reference of the discourse."

What are the consequences of this "extension of the scope of reference beyond the narrow boundaries of the dialogical situation" (36)? First, "thanks to writing, man and only man has a world and not just a situation." It frees humanity up to refer beyond the limits of an immediate situation.

Second, we can now write fiction. We can now emphasize the message for its own sake at the expense of reference, relating to what Roman Jackobson called the "poetic" function of language, where it need not refer to the real world. Ricoeur contends "that discourse cannot fail to be about something" (36). However, there can be an "eclipsing of the reference" in fictional accounts. Only in a few very sophisticated texts, such as Mallarmé's poetry, is there a text completely devoid of reference.

"Poetic texts speak about the world. But not in a descriptive way" (37). "We ought to enlarge our concept of the world, therefore, not only to allow for non-ostensive but still descriptive references, but also to non-ostensive and non-descriptive references, those of poetic diction."

"For me, the world is the ensemble of references opened up by every kind of text, descriptive or poetic, that I have read, understood, and loved. And to understand a text is to interpolate among the predicates of our situation all the significations that make a Welt [a world] out of our Umwelt [environment, 'world around']" (37).

Ricoeur ends this section with a nod to Heidegger. "What we understand first in a discourse is not another person, but a 'pro-ject,' that is, the outline of a new way of being in the world. Only writing... in freeing itself... reveals this destination of discourse as projecting a world" (37).

3. A Plea for Writing
In this section, Ricoeur considers philosophical objections to writing. "Is not this intentional exteriorization delivered over to material marks a kind of alienation?" (38). Ricoeur intends to combat this objection with the argument that exteriority is a "necessary condition of the hermeneutical process."

Against Writing
Two philosophers in particular have attacked writing: Plato and Henri Bergson. For Plato, the exteriority of writing was "contrary to genuine reminiscence" (38).  In the Phaedrus, the Egyptian king argues that the invention of letters will make souls more forgetful. Ricoeur describes Plato's position: "Writing is like painting which generates a non-being, which in turn remains silent when asked to answer" (38-39). "Writings are indifferent to their addressees... heedless of whom they reach" (39).

For Rousseau, writing puts us on a path to separation, tyranny, and inequality. "Writing ignores its addressee just as it conceals its author" (39). "Instead of the Word of God, we have the rule of the learned and the domination of the priesthood."

For Bergson, "the written word... has severed its ties with the feeling, effort, and dynamism of thought" in the speaker... It scatters and isolates. This is why the authentic creators such as Socrates and Jesus have left no writings, and why the genuine mystics renounce statements and articulated thought" (40).

The dead imprint is unable to rescue itself.

Writing and Iconicity
These critiques call Ricoeur to legitimate writing. To do so, he considers "writing as a chapter in a general theory of iconicity" (40). In one respect, he will challenge Plato's sense that a painting is weaker and less real than living beings, mere shadow of reality.

Rather, Ricoeur suggests that images can be "iconic augmentation." The "strategy of contraction and miniaturization yields more by handling less" (40). [2] The main effect of a painting is "to increase the meaning of the universe by capturing it in the network of its abbreviated signs" (41). The paintings of the Dutch artists, for example, enhanced contrasts and gave colors their resonance. Painters of that period were "able to write a new text of reality."

"Iconicity, then, means the revelation of a real more real than ordinary reality" (42). It produces, not merely reproducing. This language seems very similar to what Ricoeur has said in the previous section about writing being able to produce a world. So also, the use of images ("iconicity") creates a new reality.

For Ricoeur, "this theory of iconicity--as aesthetic augmentation of reality--gives us the key to a decisive answer to Plato's critique of writing. Iconicity is the re-writing of reality. Writing... is a particular case of iconicity. The inscription of discourse is the transcription of the world, and the transcription is not reduplication, but metamorphosis" (42).

4. Inscription and Productive Distanciation
In this second lecture, Ricoeur has mentioned the autonomy of the text from its author, the detachment of a text from its writer. In this final section, he addresses the problematic counterpart--the "appropriation" of a text by its reader. "To appropriate is to make 'one's own' what was 'alien'" (43). "The problem of writing becomes a hermeneutical problem" at its complementary pole, reading.

The distance of a text from its reader is, on the one hand, a given, "simply a fact" (43). But it is more importantly a "dialectical trait." It stands at the center of a struggle between "otherness" and "ownness." This is the heart of overcoming cultural estrangement. "Distanciation," the otherness of the text, is the "dynamic counterpart of our need, our interest, and our effort to overcome cultural estrangement."

"Reading is the pharmakon, the 'remedy,' by which the meaning of the text is 'rescued' from the estrangement of distanciation and put in a new proximity, a proximity which suppresses and preserves the cultural distance and includes the otherness within the ownness" (43).

How can we "become contemporaneous with past geniuses," the question of the German Romantics (44)? Only this dialectic, this back-and-forth of distanciation and appropriation gives us hope in the absence of the kind of absolute knowledge that Hegel pretended to find.

"A tradition raises no philosophical problem as long as we live and dwell within it in the naiveté of the first certainty. Tradition only becomes problematic when this first naiveté is lost" (44). [3]

"The appropriation of the past proceeds along an endless struggle with distanciation. Interpretation, philosophically understood, is nothing else than an attempt to make estrangement and distanciation productive" (44).

Next Monday, lecture 3 on "Metaphor and Symbol"

[1] It seems quite easy to come up with objections to the idea of "all" here, but no doubt Ricoeur could address these objections and, in some way, surely my questions represent my own lack of full appreciation of what he is saying. Could not a literary work be recited in an oral conversation, in which the dynamics would be as distant as any writing? What of the many times when a hearer can't picture that to which the speaker is referring? I feel confident that I would have been lost in person to hear much of these lectures in Ricoeur's book, even if I had been present. What if you were to walk up on a conversation in progress that was not about the visible present of the two interlocutors? Would you always be able to tell by monstrations that to which the speaker was referring? No doubt Ricoeur would respond to this paragraph as in itself a misunderstanding of his intended meaning. Yet I feel confident I would not have understood more clearly if I had been present when he delivered these words (although I could presumably have questioned him then).

[2] Ricoeur does not mention Aristotle here, but we can see a glimpse of Aristotle's critique of Plato on art at this point. While Plato saw visual art as simply a copy of a copy of the ideal reality, which took us further away from the reality, Aristotle suggested that, for us to recognize that to which a picture referred, it had to capture the essence of the thing. The "less" that it showed was that which captured the essence or "form" of the thing.

[3] In his earlier work, The Symbolism of Evil, Ricoeur speaks of the possibility of a second naiveté, when we knowingly reclaim and find meaning in a tradition after we become aware that its meanings have changed in the process of transmission. The explanatory power of this brief comment above is astounding. If you look at my post on the doctrine of depravity yesterday, you can immediately sense how Paul's original understanding of sin changed almost imperceptibly as it passed to Augustine and Calvin and Wesley and beyond, not to mention the fact that Paul's own understandings were distinct from those of the psalmist or Genesis.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

E4. The current bent of humanity is toward evil.

Now the fourth post in the third section of theology in bullet points.
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1. The apostle Paul put it this way, "There is no one righteous, not even one... there is no one who seeks God" (Rom. 3:10-11). He was paraphrasing Psalm 14, which probably was much more limited in scope originally, but Paul applies it toward a doctrine of all humanity's default sinfulness. [1] "All have sinned and are lacking the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23) [2]

Augustine (354-430) took Paul's comments here and constructed a doctrine of total depravity. The idea of total depravity is that, in its current fallen state, humanity is not able to do any good whatsoever in its own power. He formulated this idea while combatting the Pelagians, who believed that humanity was not totally fallen morally and could still do good in its own power. [3]

John Calvin (1509-64) especially would then pass on Augustine's interpretation in the Reformation to say that, because we cannot choose God at all in our own power, then those who are saved must do so entirely because God has chosen us (election) and empowered us (irresistable grace). This is the idea of predestination, that only those God has specifically chosen can be saved for eternity. The rest will inevitably go to hell because they have no power to do good in themselves and God has not chosen them.

John Wesley (1703-91) also believed in total depravity, but he believed that the Holy Spirit, at some point in a person's life, empowered you to move ever so slightly toward God if you would so choose. If you did, then the grace would increase and it would eventually lead to eternal salvation in heaven rather than eternal damnation in hell. In this way, while Wesley believed we could do no power whatsoever on our own, he believed God's power made our "election" conditional on our responses to God.

Strictly speaking, Augustine may have over-read and overly systematized Paul himself. Paul really only seems to be arguing for a thorough depravity of humanity. In that sense, Eastern Orthodoxy may come closer to Paul than Western Christianity. Paul claims that 1) every human has sinned and that 2) no one is righteous in his or her default state. [4] But Paul does not say, "No one can do a single good thing in his or her own power."

Nevertheless, sometimes it is hard to look around at the world and not find yourself repeating the words of Paul and the psalmist. Is there anyone who is righteous out there? Does not everyone simply do what is to their own advantage whether it hurts other people or not? Who sacrifices their own pleasure for the sake of a greater good? Who gives to those in need the extra they have? Who does not cling violently to what they think is "theirs"--my money, my rights, what I deserve? Who does not lie when it is to their own advantage? Who does not try to manipulate others to get what they want? Who listens to the other without insisting that their way of thinking and doing is the only right way?

2. This situation of humanity leads us to the question--why? Why is humanity bent toward hate of neighbor and usurping God's place? In the first post of this section on evil, we suggested that the two absolute commandments of Christianity--love God and love neighbor--provided the two basic categories of sin. You can sin by defying God's authority and you can sin by wronging others.

When we say that humanity is "bent to sinning," we are saying that the default state of humanity is to usurp God's authority and to wrong others. Both of these imply that the central feature of sin is the human bent toward itself. At the heart of sin is the human tendency to take for itself what is rightfully God's and to take for itself in a way that takes away from others.

Why is this the case? For Augustine, the fundamental cause was a "sin nature" we have inside us. When Adam sinned, we lost the moral image of God entirely. Human nature became thoroughly corrupted. Our individual acts of sin thus result from our sin nature, a nature that all humans now have because of Adam's original sin.

Augustine had a very specific interpretation of Romans 5:12. He did not know Greek, but his sense of the Latin translation was that this verse indicated that all humanity had sinned "in" Adam. He understood the verse to say that, "And thus death passed into all humans, in whom all sinned." We all thus needed infant baptism to atone for our participation in that original sin.

Almost all translations today recognize that Paul was rather saying that death passed to all humans because we all sin like Adam. Paul was thus not saying that humanity stands under God's condemnation for Adam's sin but because we all sin like Adam did. As Ezekiel 18:4 says, "The one who sins is the one who will die." God does not hold us as individuals responsible for the sins of others, including the sin of Adam.

So how did Paul understand Adam's sin to have impacted us? He understood the world to have come under the power of Sin as a result of Adam's sin. Despite the way some versions used to translate the word, Paul did not use the term "sinful nature" to refer to the power of Sin over me. Rather, the word he uses is "flesh," that is, my skin.

Flesh, for Paul, is not intrinsically evil. It is, rather, "weak" (Mark 14:38). It is susceptible to the power of Sin. Before Adam's sin, Sin did not reign as a power in the world. After Adam's sin, the world now stands under the power of Sin. Without the power of the Spirit to counteract the power of Sin, humanity is helpless to do the good, even if we should want to do so (e.g., Rom. 7:15). [5].

Paul can thus use the word "flesh" in more than one way. He can use it to refer merely to my human "skin" as weak but not necessarily sinful (2 Cor. 12:9). It is probably significant that Paul does not attribute the inherent weakness of human skin to Adam. What Paul attributes to Adam is the power of Sin over our skin. Paul can thus use the word "flesh" to refer to that aspect of humanity's current state that is subject to sin and say that, "those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:8).

The current bent of humanity is toward evil. It is bent to seek itself over God and itself over others. Historically, Christians have believed that the sin of Adam brought the world and human flesh under the power of Sin. The result is that we cannot do the good in our own power, indeed, that no one even will want to do the good apart from the power of the Spirit.

Further, Christians believe that a parallel Fall took place in heaven with Satan and his angels. Adam's fall may have made the world susceptible to the power of Sin in some impersonal way. Satan's sin brought personal powers of sin into play in the world. We not only have the impersonal force of Sin over us. We face the personal faces of evil and temptation in those beings who chose against God. [6]

Whatever the cause, Christians believe that the bent of humanity at this time is toward evil, and we cannot do good apart from the power of God.

Next week, E5: All have sinned.

[1] Psalm 14 is poetry, and this speaks somewhat hyperbolically of the state of things in the psalmist's own day (he was not making a statement about humanity for all time). In particular, he is speaking of the fool who would say in his or her heart that God was not around (Ps. 14:1). As an example, the psalmist surely is not including himself among such fools. "Not even one" is thus quite likely hyperbole.

We should not consider it a problem that New Testament authors heard different truths in the words of the Old Testament than were exactly what those words likely meant originally. This flexibility of language is the primary tool the Spirit uses to speak so directly to so many different people.

[2] Author's translation.

[3] These ideas were condemned at a regional council at Carthage in 418 and ratified at the universal Council of Ephesus in 431.

[4] Even here, although Paul did seem to believe that every human (except for Christ) has sinned, that is not really his point in Romans 3:23. In Romans 3:23, Paul's point is that all have sinned whether you are a Jew or a non-Jew. Both have sinned and thus need Christ. "All," both non-Jew and Jew, have sinned.

[5] You might note that, contrary to Augustine, the default problem in Romans 7 is not that humanity does not want to do the good, as if we are totally depraved. The problem is that, even when we want to do the good, we do not have the power to do it.

[6] The impact of evolution on this discussion would be profound in that it potentially questions the idea of a Fall. On the one hand, one might suggest that the drive toward the self is part of God's creation but that the power of Sin introduced with Adam seriously warped that drive. If one only takes Adam as a metaphor, then one would have to conclude that God created us with conflicting drives, one of which pushes us toward self-interest and the other of which calls us toward others. The default human state would thus be one of continual conflict.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Family History 11: The Dorsey Stream

Dorsey Schenck and
his mother Pearl
1. In 1949, Pearl Dorsey (my Dad's grandmother), was living with her daughter Lula in Michigantown. The living situation was interesting. After her husband Samuel had died of an appendix burst in 1930, she and Lula had somehow ended up as housekeepers for an old bachelor farmer by the name of Oyette McBride in Michigantown, Indiana. In 1943, he had married Lula, who was 22 years younger than he was. Then he died three years later.

Aunt Lula's final house
So in a short span of time, Pearl and Lula had apparently gone from having very little after Samuel's death to long term security. I am not sure how well off Samuel was when he died. At the age of 59, he was working as a laborer on a dairy farm. It is a little sobering to think that Pearl and Lula had ended up working as housekeepers and living with this bachelor farmer in his fifties. But after McBride's death, Lula would go on five years later to marry another farmer in town, a widower himself. I'm guessing they met at the Michigantown Methodist Church she attended. She would then live out the rest of her life in his house, outliving him by 29 years.

2. Pearl Dorsey was born in 1874 there in Clinton County, and she would die in December that year, 1949. By then my parents were married, and my mother attended her funeral. My grandfather presumably was named after her, "Dorsey Schenck."

I don't know much about Pearl, although a lovely typed letter survives from her cousin, Hattie Price, to her the year before she died. In the letter Hattie apologizes for how her typing has deteriorated from when she was Indiana state champion. She admires the composition skills of Pearl's brother Harry when he writes her. She speaks of the meal she had in the middle of typing the letter--she apparently took some time to type it. She warns Pearl about tramps and urges Lula to milk early in the evening and late in the morning.

But the main point of the letter was information Hattie had on how their family came to Clinton County, Indiana around 1840. Pearl's grandfather, Samuel Dorsey, had moved to Indiana with his mother and sibilings after his own father died in 1838. The letter has a lot of fun details, including a dog named Trip that rode with them on a wagon from Ohio. It would jump out when they stopped, then get back in when they continued.

I guess two of the brothers rode horses and guided a cow. They would milk the cow and put the milk in a churn. Then the up and down of the covered wagon would make butter. They came across what is now 40. They left Butler County, Ohio, in September or October because the kids put apples in bags before they left. I guess they were so afraid of being left behind that they didn't get many apples.

William and Ruth Dorsey
There is also a good story about how Pearl's grandparents ended up together. Apparently he (Samuel) had tried to catch her (Margaret) a little too hard and she had scorned him. She had married someone else and had three children. But her husband and two of her children had died of the "bloody flux" (dysentery). Meanwhile, Samuel married and had three children too, but he came home one day to find that his wife had left him and taken their daughter with her.

So they ended up together anyway and had at least five more children, including my GG-grandfather William Dorsey, Pearl's father. William Dorsey married Ruth Lee, who was 15 years his younger.

In the 1920 census, Ruth has died and William is 81, living with Samuel and Pearl in Frankfort. William would die later that very year.

3. William's father Samuel, born in 1802, had come with his father, John Michael Dorsey, from New Jersey. Then John had come from Maryland, born around 1770.

Samuel's wife, Margaret, had also come from Maryland. They apparently loaded their goods on a boat in east Maryland and went up the Chesapeake River and across the bay. Then they finished the journey to Butler County, Ohio by wagon (all according to Hattie). I have to think they had arrived in Ohio by the 1820s.

There are so many lines--wives, fathers of wives, mothers of wives. I don't have time to try to pin them down. Pearl's father was William. William's father was Samuel. Samuel's father was John, born in 1770. From that point back to the early 1600s, the Dorsey's lived in Maryland. In particular, they lived in Anne Arundel, Maryland.

4. It would appear that an Edward Darcy (1619-1659) came to Maryland in the early 1600s. He was born in Hornsby Castle in Yorkshire, England. He landed in Virginia about 1642, moved to Maryland, and apparently drowned off the Isle of Kent in Chesapeake Bay in 1659.

Hornsby Castle, Yorkshire
Edward came from nobility. He was apparently born in Hornsby Castle in Yorkshire, as was his father Thomas (1545-1604). His grandfather Arthur (1505-61) was the son of another Thomas Darcy, who was put to death by Henry VIII in 1537 outside the Tower of London for opposing the dissolution of the monasteries and delivering Pontefract Castle (as its guardian) over to a northern group opposed to Henry's withdrawal from the Roman Catholic Church.

The line of Darcys--or shall we say D'Arcy--goes back to around 1066 and the Norman invasion of Britain from the south. The furthest back I can get has a "Norman D'Arcy" born around 1063 and a "Mrs. Norman D'Arcy." I have to consider this a joke, since the Normans invaded in 1066.

From there the line would jump back to France, presumably back to Arcy area France, southeast of Paris.

Fun!

Earlier posts:

1. The Revivalin' Twenties
In the Year 1920 (Dorsey Schenck, also see here)
From Quaker to Pilgrim (Harry Shepherd in 20s)
The Great Generation (my parents)

2. The Depression Thirties
Dutch Reformed Past (Samuel Schenck)
North Carolina Flashback (Eli Shepherd)
Wanting to be Rich (Oscar Rich)

3. Passing Generations
Old German Baptist Heritage 1 (Amsy Miller)
Old German Baptist Heritage 2 (Salome Wise)
The Dorsey Stream (Pearl Dorsey)

5. The Divisive Sixties
Prophet, Pastor, and Professor (Harry Shepherd)
Flashback to Jamestown (Champion Shelburn)

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