Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Worldview In Interpreting Our Lives

In the past 3 weeks, I was involved in a rigorous dialog with friends over the interpretation and the historicity of the data recorded in the Bible. Long-story short, in the end, we mainly talked about philosophical methodology.

Yesterday i brought up a similar issue to David Burke, since he has done some reading on this. After the talk, i think i get what Tien Fock is hinting on during the dialog. So, when i was waiting for MRT to arrived, i SMS Steven "God could use myth like d person called Jesus of Nazareth to save humanity from self-destruction. Thus Jesus don necessary nid to exist, neither does moses :)'

What underlies my thought is that the most important thing to one's ever-lasting searching for meaning of one's life in this world is through something called 'worldview'. Worldview is that which presents to us the best explanation of ours, others, and the world's existence. And it is through our worldview that we interpret our surroundings, and thus gaining comprehension.

Now, to relate that to the historicity of the biblical data, it doesn't matter as much if these data are not verifiable based on up-to-date archaeology. We might or might not know for sure whether did something like the Joshua's Conquest of Canaan took place. At best, with up-to-date archaeological findings, there wasn't such massive military conquest in the 15th-13th centuries BC. If that's true, it could be that the Conquest data is a propaganda made during King Josiah's national reform movement. Nonetheless, that does not preclude God working through such propaganda to bring about his message to fellow creatures.

Anyway, the below is a loathsome short-hand of the dialog in Agora Forum.

My contention:
We cannot read the scripture with the assumption that it is historical and give it 'benefit of doubt until proven otherwise'. I think we shouldn't assume the historicity of the data recorded in the Scriptures unless proven to be true. Until then, we can neither say it is historically true or false. I agree with Niels Peter Lemche's statement:

Everything narrated by them [Scriptures authors] may be historical, but biblical text cannot in advance be accepted as historical source...It might be the description of the reign of David contained in the books of Samuel is historically correct, as seen from the perspective of its late author...However, it has to be proved that the narrative in Samuel is historically reliable as far as the tenth century is concerned. It is not something that can be assumed in advance. (The Israelites in History and Tradition, p.29. Emphasis mine)

My reasons:
1) Scriptures is an ancient document, which we can't interrogate its authors to clarify.

2) Scriptures contains data that are inconsistent with 'the modern experience'.

3) There are other similar ancient documents which contain such data which are inconsistent with 'the modern experience'.

The implications when one disagree with my contention:
1) One have difficulty to explain why the preference for the Bible than other similar ancient texts.

2) One either has to accept many other (not all) data which is not similar with 'the modern experience' from other ancient texts, or one be viewed as arbitrary in accepting only those alien data in the Bible and not data from other similar texts. In other words, one does not have intelligible and objective* reason to prefer the Bible than other texts as their canon.

3) It makes those who claim that the Bible is true looks like they are claiming it because it is only true to them. That means their claim for the exclusivity of the Bible over other ancient texts is just because it suits their personal taste (their worldview on the world etc) and nothing else.

*Objectivity does not entail a modernistic notion of a possibility possess pure objective judgment in all things [to discover facts], but, nonetheless, as John Searle argues 'social facts' are not inventions, or free constructions of the human mind. They are to be regarded as realities consisting objective facts. (McGrath, Science of God, p.138) Thus, when i use 'objective reason' here does not mean a pure judgment over all matters, but an objective measurement which is a social construct but nonetheless real.

Objections (some overlap with and derived from others and manifest in different ways):
1) We can trust that Scriptures are historical because ancient documents should be given benefit of doubt unless proven otherwise. If not, then we will have to doubt all histories.Thus one might as well doubt the historicity of Alexander the Great etc.

2) We can trust that Scriptures are historical because 'trusting tradition' is a norm in life. Everyday people exercise 'trust' to testimonies by others and ourselves. It's properly basic to trust testimonies even if it's testimonies from the past.

3) The 'modern experience' is problematic because it is not universal and in no way it is objective.

4) Skepticism is self-refuting because how sure can one be sure of anything? And since we can't get certainty in anything, thus we shouldn't be skeptical. In this case, we shouldn't be so skeptical to the Scriptures.

5) We need to read the Scriptures in the worldview of the Scriptures authors so that we can reach common ground. It does not yield any positive effect if we impose our worldview onto the Scriptures because we wouldn't rule out many points and in the end the Scriptures do not make sense to us.

6) We can't examined all claims, thus we will have to cultivate a trusting attitude towards authorities such as scholars who did the carbon-dating etc. If not we are left with no-knowledge.

7) We shouldn't wear a 'modern' (Enlightenment-anti-supernatura
lism) lens when we approach the Bible.

8) We have to read the OT or any literature according to its genre instead of superimposed on the literature our own presupposition or worldview.

My responses:
1) If it is to be our principle to give every ancient texts the benefit of doubt and regard them as innocent until proven otherwise, then our worldview will be heavily affected. We will be obliged to believed in all of the divinities mentioned in all the ancient texts. Thus, we shouldn't give ancient texts the benefit of doubt. We should approach each document with suspicion until our own discoveries convince us of their veracity.

2) Trusting our everyday experience and trusting ancient documents are two different things. It doesn't help if one confuses both and regard both trusting objects as the same, that is 'tradition'. Both are different. Our everyday testimony has the privilege to be checked most of the time, while the ancient documents does not. Other than the text itself and archaeological discovery, we have nothing much to refer to.

3) The 'modern experience' has already become part of our being. We are living in and with the 'modern experience' whether we are aware or not. There are people who do not yet come to know about the 'modern experience' but when they do, usually this new experience will prevail against other experience. This experience is most productive and effective in explaining the natural world, so no matter one agree with this experience or not, it persists to be a big influence to modern humans.

We can't move back to pre-Enlightenment, nor can we dwell ourselves with nihilistic postmodernism. Most human are born into the 'modern experience'. We use modern technology developed by the 'modern experience' in our daily living. To go pre-Enlightened will only make one naive, while the other end of nihilistic postmodernism make one irrelevant.

4) Being skeptical does not mean one embrace skepticism. The former is a critical way of seeing some particular things while the latter is doubting everything. There are events in life that we have reasons to doubt and there are events that require less or no doubt. With regards to ancient texts, i have listed 3 reasons above why we should be skeptical. Disclaimer: i'm not suggesting that everyone of us have to embrace skepticism, and thus be skeptical on everything.

5) This is tough one on hermeneutics. I think common ground is not establish by taking in the worldview of the 'Other', but rather being aware of it. If one already presupposes the worldview of a system, then one hardly able to criticize it from within. Usually when criticism arises, the critic is exposed to other than one's worldview.

6) I'm in total agreement with that. Here again, i would like to emphasize that i'm not saying we should embrace skepticism. I'm just asking us to be skeptical towards a particular object, that is ancient text which is contrary to the 'modern experience'.

7) If not of the modern lens, we will be believing many folklores and myths.

8) The problem is we hardly know what is the genre of an ancient text even if it is stated as a particular genre. Here, we have to be extra careful because we, given the 'modern experience', know that winners love (re)writing histories. A document can be claimed as 'historical' in genre, and if we believe blindly to this claim, then we risk ourselves as victims to these 'winner's histories'. This happened not only in the past, but also in modern time. The different is that, in modern times, we have technologies (global media, eyewitness, cross-checking etc) to help us 'neutralize' such agenda-laden histories. Regarding ancient documents, we dont have eye-witness to interrogate and neither can we do 'cross-checking' with others. What we have is only the texts. In some cases, we can do cross-checking, but in most, particularly the ancient texts, we have limited external evidents.



Anonymous said...

So IF jesus was a myth and IF there was no substitionary atonement of Jesus on the cross and everything was fabricated by writers with religious agendas, in your opinion, in what ways can we be saved from God by God?

And IF Jesus did not exist and was a myth, how would you reconcile the trinitarian view of God?

Or perhaps would u consider the trinitarian aspect of God even a necessary one? Does God really have to be 3 in person, or could he be just 1 in person and not cease to be less of who He is?

Sze Zeng said...

Everything is just a 'concept'. The substitutionary atonement etc are 'concepts' which if we have faith upon, will eventually secure our salvation. In order words, God saves his people through them believing in these concepts.

With such method of looking at the issues you'd brought up, it fits well in both situation.

If Jesus was really a historical person, how does "what he did on the cross" has impact on us? Isn't it by us believing in "what he's done" that saves us?

If Jesus was not a historical person, such story of him has been preserved (canonized) by God to the world. And when we believe in this story, God's canonized story, we are saved.

God is almighty. He can saves in the ways he pleases.

Anonymous said...

So to clarify its not by what Jesus 'has actually done on the cross' but by man 'believing in a CONCEPT, even if that concept may or may NOT have historically happened' that 'saves' us the divine wrath of God?
I hope i have understood you correctly here.

Could you elabaorate in detail how exactly that kind of 'saving' takes place?

Because I have profound difficulty undestanding how God can still remain a just God apart from the penal substituitionary atonement of Christ actually taking place historically to satisfy God's own divine wrath on sinful man.

Because if that doesnt have to be historically accurate, are you saying that this 'faith' of ours, even if its based on something that didnt really happen, actually is in fact as 'effective' as Christ's redeeming work on the cross, in that this 'faith' can also pacify God's divine wrath?
(Unless of course you think that 'the wrath of God on mankind' is also 'just a concept' and that God doesn't neccessarily have to be angry with sinful man?)

And taking your 'concept' of 'everything is just a concept', are you infering too that the 'trinitarian' concept of God is also not very important, as long as we have 'faith' that God can be either 3 in person, or 1 in person or 9 in person? I think you have not answered my previous qns on the relevance of the trinitarian aspect of God.

Sze Zeng said...

Send me an email and we will discuss over there.

Take care.

Anonymous said...

If you're not willing to declare in public what you truely believe in, then its fine. We can leave it as that.

I dunno about you Joshua, but I know that I cannot live my life believing in someone who may not be even real.
And I certainly cannot fathom myself praying all this while to just 'a concept'.

Can you honestly do that? Really do that? I know i can't, especially when it concerns where I will be in eternity.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation - 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant" Col. 1:21 - 23

You talked about how 'God can save'. But do u realized that this already presupposes the fact you know that there is something very wrong with man, with me, with you, that needs 'saving'?

True faith is not just having a intellectual accent and acknowledgement of a Jesus Christ in the bible.

I hope you will solemnly reflect on this question:

Do you truely believe Jesus Christ is the son of God who died on the cross to pay for all our sins and who bodily resurrected 3 days later, in order that we might be presented holy in God's sight, without blemish and free from accusation?

Perhaps you will think this is a silly question and dismiss it quickly thinking the answer is a easy and obvious one.

But I can assure you that this is the single most important and most theologically profound question in our lives that we will have to answer, not just to ourselves but to God.

Hope that you will meditate on this hard. We can't hid behind the intellectual discussions, the 'biblical studies', scholary works all the time.

In the end, we all need to stand before God.

I'm sorry if this may seem harsh,
but i honestly think you need to hear all this, if no one else has said these yet.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi there,

Thank you for your concern. Appreciate that.

The reason for the invitation to discuss through emails is for convenient sake, not that i hesitate to declare my faith to the public.

Yes, I have no problem praying to a concept, just as i have no problem living in concepts. We are living in concepts everyday, if you realized. Concepts which are not created by you but already here.

Reality possesses structures (concepts) which we didn't create. When we came into this world, we are existing, acting, and reflecting within these structures.

So, yes, i find it alright to live in concepts. 'Capitalism' and 'Democracy' are just 2 concepts which i'm living in. These are concepts but nonetheless real.