Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thiselton on Ricoeur on Freud

Anthony Thiselton observes how Paul Ricoeur interprets Sigmund Freud's observation on human's interpretation (on the multifaceted dreams in Freud's case. On multifaceted 'texts' and 'self' in broader scope for Ricoeur).

Hermeneutics may be summed up in the two principles: 'willingness to suspect', which destroys idols, and 'willingness to listen' which retrieves the power of symbols and communicative texts... Ricoeur sees [Freud's] procedure as informing and resourcing a 'hermeneutic of suspicion', as the way for a positive 'retrieval'. (Interpreting God and the Postmodern Self, p.69)

I find that to be true and important. In my present context, naive 'hermeneutic of trust' is being again and again promoted by Christians in the reading of the Scriptures. And the adjective 'naive' plays a distinguished role that signifies only a particular hermeneutic of trust from other similar hermeneutic, like one adhered by Richard Hays.

If not careful, adherents to hermeneutics of trust easily slips into the rhetorical 'innocent until proven guilty' stance on Scripture. Many take refuge in such stance, arguing that if court of law uses such determining presumption in matters of judiciary, then our approach to the Bible should be the same.

But the fact is that this 'innocent until proven guilty' stance is not universal applicable in court of law and, not least, in matters of national security. For eg. in local (Malaysia-Singapore context), a suspect can be detained with circumstantial evidents without any prior sufficient evidents. In other word, a suspected terrorist can be arrested and thrown into detention or prison without proving his guilt. That means it is not clear how extensive the concept of 'hermeneutic of trust' should be practiced in churches, not least in the field of apologetic, given the fact that there are data recorded in the Bible that are not historical (for eg. the Exodus and Joshua's massive military conquest of Canaan). There are layers of 'self-protection, manipulation, evasion, or power' (Interpreting God, p.69) in the Biblical texts that need to be interpreted and acknowledged.

On the other hand, the hermeneutic of suspicion is as dangerous and faulty if applied carelessly. Thus Thiselton points out firmly, following Ricoeur, that suspicion has to be utilized as a way towards a positive retrieval of the meaning of the text. But of course, 'positivity' is not a clear idea too. It needs no less critical evaluation on the assumption of what to be considered 'positive'.

Though many things are not clear, one thing still stands out apparent is that both hermeneutics cannot be isolated from one another nor applied incautiously in interpreting a 'text' or a 'self'.

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