Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hermeneutics and Ricoeur - one avenue worth investigating

Ricoeur's teachings on hermeneutics has found a wide reading in the field of hermeneutics, and also specifically in the arena of biblical Hermeneutics. Yet I think one can see parallels between Ricoeur's and that of Schleiermacher's, whose concept of God drove his hermeneutics.

As J I Packer noted about Schleiermacher in 'Scripture and Truth' ed Carson and Woodbridge pg 336.
Schleiermacher's God stirs our feelings but does not tell us things. Schleiermacher conceptualized the impact of biblical and later Christian language on the model of ritual incantation that casts an emotional spell rather than of person-to-person communication that informs. He read Scripture, dogma, and theology as religious feeling evocatively verbalized, just as his English contemporary and fellow romantic William Wordsworth. .. As a romantic valuing sensitivity of response to actual and potential experiences above all, and committed to vindicate religious awareness as part of the good life, Schleiermacher the theologian naturally drew his hermeneutical model from the world of art and aesthetics, and equally naturally turned his back on models from the worlds of philosophy and law, where the conveying of public facts, arguments, and lines of thought is the essence of the communicative process.... The biblical material is not at any point or in any respect the relaying of divinely uttered instruction, even when its writers think and claim the contrary.

What is important about the above statement is that if one has a "God" who only stirs our feeling and does not tell us things then our Hermeneutics is set to follow a certain course. It tells us that God does not speak, He does not call anyone to Covenantal faithfulness because there is no cognitive communication to mankind. it is purely emotion that stirs the feelings.  Thus there is no point in seeking the meaning of the text for the author of scripture does not tell us things or give us facts. It evacuates the text of the personhood of God and the nature of man's personhood. Just as one can eat chili and experience a pleasant stimulation of the taste buds, so another gets indigestion.

Now a similar evacuation of the meaningful communication of God to man happens in Ricoeur's schema.
As you read Ricoeur you see central to his hermeneutical method is that of poetic language. This he believes overcomes the problem that arose with Kant where Kant split the Noumena and Phenomenal, and relegated God to the Noumena. the problem with that was that the Noumena was unknowable, making God unknowlable. however, by suggesting that religious language is poetic, made up of metaphor and symbol, Ricoeur believes he has given a bridge from the noumenal to the phenomenal realm.
Yet truth on his approach escapes us just like it did with Schleiermacher. We are left with paradox. The nature of poetry is that it likewise does not give us facts about things. On his approach don't we presume that the resurrection of Jesus wasn't an historical reality but just a metaphor or symbol to garner feelings in our being?

Apart from the philosophical and theological issues we also have the problem of whether Ricoeur's theory comports with Scripture itself.
After all, what does one do with poetry itself and it appears as a definite genre in Scripture. The Psalms in places reflect poetry which is clearly different to the genre of historical narrative, or gospel commands and exhortations.
In the end doesn't Ricoeur's focus and emphasis that religious language is symbol and metaphor mean that truth has escaped us.
This is not to say Schleiermacher was all wrong. he drew our attention to the empathy etc of the writers and our situation [ see Packer pg 336 ] perhaps then Ricoeour has some positive things to say.
Still if what I outline above is correct then his approach is misguided.

In Christ

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