Saturday, June 30, 2018

Difficult meanderings in the search for truth

Perhaps it is time I tried to express a little about what I think when I am reading as well as about the tongue it is in. Formulating an opinion about the contents of the Bible, NT or OT, is really quite difficult.

We are on several axes here - Truth, Justice, Good vs the non-binary opposites Deception, Falsehood, Wrong, Evil. In my high-level semantic terms Promise vs Trouble. Promise is loaded of course as are all words. Words are loaded with relationships and associations. The traditional entity-relationship diagrams would be hard pressed to document these nuances. We know them internally in an uncritical way.

We are also on a Religious vs secular axis. And the so-called rule of law vs faith. Religious language is self-reinforcing to those who use it. I recall how difficult it was to write the word God when I was first going to use it. Divine names need to be used with caution in any sentence. The fear is using a full word in an empty way or using a word that will negate a response in another person.

A related axis is law vs faith. Faith is different from just believing what you want to believe or trusting your own prejudice. Like God, faith is very difficult to pin down. It is another religious word. Law is also problematical. While it seems good to speak of a rule of law, we see daily how law is used to support injustice. Law cannot replace the ineffable interaction of trust that occurs between people.

I have probably not exhausted the difficulties behind our current malaise. But perhaps some thoughts can suggest to anyone on either side of the axis to shift position a little so that the teeter-totter can balance again.

I am just starting Isaiah 30 (scheduled hopefully for posting July 14th). In this case the Hebrew of verse 1 is 'transparent'. And you can even take the words out of their context. Though of course they drag their context into the thought. Every word is potentially loaded.
Ah rebellious children, an oracle of Yahweh, to do counsel, but not from me, to spill out a libation, but not my spirit,
so as to add sin on sin.
We are reading a prophet - supposedly a 'good guy' rather than a 'bad guy'. In context, Isaiah is saying to Israel - don't trust Egypt for refuge. This is not the only place where the warning is given. But on the trust axis - faith, faithfulness, truth, hope, against threat of livelihood and lifestyle, who will trust in a religious framework, a cult, an invisible God, when one has a strong nation nearby with an army to match the threat, or perhaps a strongman government with the power to build walls? And there are those who say they trust God, but they write that on their money, Caesar's money.

I entered into a conversation with a man a year or two younger than I. I do not know him. He was responding to a criticism of the religious right that vote for DT. The page is here. The whole continent seems to have the DTs at the moment. Not to show my prejudice. Of course. But though the word Jesus was in his comment, he appeared to me to have no concept of the justice that Jesus calls for nor any concept of governance outside of the individual response to whatever came his way. In this, in my view, irresponsible attitude, he accepts the governance structure above him as if it were God himself. This may be a good first step because initially we don't know what to do with the governance structure we are born into. But eventually (after 70 years), we should figure out the difference between justice and injustice. There is, of course, cronyism and kleptocracy in all the pressures that come upon our leaders. And process in bureaucratic change is interminable. The curia also has its entrenched and self-serving positions. Are we then completely at sea?

What Isaiah 30 raises for me in verse 1 is just that issue. Have we any truth that is other than our own opinion? Can there be any objective reality to the arguments of the left or the right? This man wrote as if Jesus was about individualism and not about our shared and corporate responsibility through how we govern. It's hard to know where to start. There seems to be no possible logic that defines a path away from accident and individual subjective responses.

So I move to the corporate reality of Israel, the example we are given by the canon of Scripture comprising the Old and New Testaments. Our tradition has been careful not to throw out the OT. The corporate nature of reality over and above the individual is evident in both testaments. I will take just two examples: the vine, and the soul. One could multiply examples.

In terms of words, Vine is very simple - it is always גפן and there is no other gloss for this word. Soul is very complex. I never use the gloss soul because of its total misunderstanding in Christendom. The individual's 'immortal soul' is not a concept in the OT. Your or my integrity in the larger context is.

Vine: The Gospel of John has Jesus say: I am the vine, you are the branches. I have noted throughout this reading exercise that we are one body, wholly interdependent. Similarly, there is no individual in John's statement, one of the seven 'I am' statements he attributes to the son. Jesus takes up the whole of Israel in his body with this metaphor. Israel is the vine that God planted. This is not individualism at a personal level. It is not a narrow self-interest. It is self-giving libation of spirit poured out at a corporate level. The implication is that our life in this interdependent body requires policy, coordination, implementation, and so on. And the body-politic and the consequences of its decisions will be judged and we along with it.

Soul: Throughout this reading exercise, we have wrestled particularly with one word, נפשׁ, nephesh, sometimes translated soul, often something else as for instance a singular noun applying to a group of humanity and sometimes nouns indicating a single subject applied to one person. My reading of this word so far is this: being (215) integrity (84) very self (53) group (46) self (44) throat (31) cadaver (25) -- (10) anyone (5) regroup (3) very selves (3) group being (2) selfish (2) selves (2) -hold (1) being - being (1) everyone (1) groups together (1) self- (1) such selves (1)

I have never used soul in my readings.

Humanity is one vine, even one soul, and we are to care for it. When governance structures, which we must have, limit the good that they will manage, we must remind them of the good vs evil axis and change them.

The consequences of bad governance are for everyone.