Monday, September 05, 2005

Sin and Language

In the conservative evangelical world sin is divergence from the standards / tastes / lifestyles of that community. This is why the so-called “literal” interpretation of the Bible is so important to that subgroup. I think it is axiomatic that language / meaning and the interpretation of symbolism is determined by groups of people. Language comes about by the common agreement / understanding of a community. The conservative evangelical community, through their participation in American culture, are a group of people who have come into agreement regarding language and meaning. Divergence from this language and meaning is sin. The community has determined the language, meaning and the interpretation of reality. Thus, to the people involved in that community, the Bible reflects the language, assumptions and expectations of that community. In this scenario the community is the ultimate arbiter of truth, thus the Bible is viewed through the eyes of the community. Absolute truth lies in the community.

Here is some discussion of the literal interpretive method that I think illustrates what I mean. What I've linked to is, of course, defending the literal method, but I think it pretty much admits my analysis and criticism. Here are some relevant portions:

"The customary, socially-acknowledged designation of a word is the literal meaning of the word."

"The 'literal' meaning of a word is the basic, customary, social designation of that word. The spiritual, or mystical meaning of a word or expression is one that arises after the literal designation and is dependent upon it for its existence. "

"To interpret literally means nothing more or less than to interpret in terms of normal, usual, designation. When the manuscript alters its designation the interpreter immediately shifts his method of interpreting."

The words "customary", "socially-acknowledged", "normal", "social designation" and "usual" are pretty much code words for what I've explained.

With literalism, meaning changes as the community's assumptions and expectations change. So under this method truth resides with the community.

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