Friday, April 29, 2005

Hermeneutics of Love

I've been struck by Scot McKnight's post on "Hermeneutics of Love". He recounts his experience of reading Alan Jacobs book, A Theology of Reading. McKnight notes that the simple point made by Jacobs is:

genuine interpretation of another's writing is an act of love or it is an act of abuse. Either we treat the author as a person who has given voice to his or her inner heart that we can then trust, listen to, and respond to. Or, we treat that person as a treacherous voice that we can't trust and that we can strip in order to use for our own power.

In engaging with scholars for research, this needs to be the attitude of a virtuous student and scholar. We are not here to simply construct and deconstruct arguments about knowledge. Rather, we are here to engage in worthy dialogue that leads to a deeper and more nuanced understanding of reality. Especially within the field of literary studies, there may be a tendency to over-react, misrepresent or even manipulate a text. I agree with Alison O'Harae when commenting about the work of Vanhoozer [Is There a Meaning in this Text?]
Vanhoozer suggests that responsible reading (a willingness to listen to the other speak) requires that the reader cultivate hermeneutic virtues in their personal life as well as their critical methodology.
This builds from what Wright notes about an Epistemology of Love:

But we have tended in western culture to privilege mathematical epistemology, chemical epistemology, test-tube knowing, if you like, where it's very easy to think of subject and object, because I am the scientist and that is an object, and I am telling you what it is doing. We have then attempted to suppose that knowing a Shakespeare play or knowing the symphony or knowing another person, is a rather fuzzy, imprecise, kind of knowing. Where as in fact, I want to say that it is the other way around - in fact loving, and being loved by another human being, and ultimately by God, is the highest form of knowing there is, and me knowing that this is a flat table, although not unimportant in its own way, is a rather trivial, low-grade form of knowing.

In our research and reading of others it is imperative to express virtue by reading others well. We should not abuse our power as readers to manipulate a text to support our agenda's or ideologies. McKnight rightly calls this interpersonal abuse. We should go the extra mile in our reading and engage critically, but fairly with our conversation partners.
Isn't this part of our calling and vocation as ambassadors of knowledge and truth? Or is that unimportant in our world today?
just thinking out loud today...

1 comment:

Ben Myers said...

"Hermeneutics of Love" -- great post. I couldn't agree with you more. In his De doctrina christiana (the first real study of hermeneutics!), Augustine had some valuable things to say about the hermeneutical function of love. And the Bultmannian theorist Ernst Fuchs even argued that all language is essentially a matter not of power, but of love. I reckon this dimension of hermeneutics is vitally important today.