Monday, June 19, 2017

Deconstructionism, the Constitution, and Biblical Interpretation

Introduction

As a defender of the Christian worldview my primary goal is to see unsaved people be saved, but in many conversations, I see numerous intellectual stumbling blocks for them, many put in place by other Christians. This is the reason that I not only defend the Christian worldview in general but also in details, often to fellow Christians who disagree with me (see a fuller explanation in this post: Internal Debates and Apologetics). In many of my discussions with fellow Christians on different theological positions, the proper interpretation (meaning) of what the Bible says is the focus. I also have political discussions with Christians in which we discuss the meaning of the words of the U.S. Constitution. Most of us agree that the proper interpretation of the Constitution is found in its authors, just as we believe that the proper interpretation of the Bible is found in its Author. We agree that in neither case is the meaning of the two ever found in the readers (deconstructionism). However, I have detected an inconsistency in the rejection of such an idea when it comes to one and not the other. Today, I want to explore this inconsistency and how removing it from our thinking can help, at least one, theological debate come closer to resolution.


What is Deconstructionism?

Deconstructionism is a way of interpreting received communication where the meaning of the communication is not found in what the author intended but in what the reader wants it to mean. In this view, if someone tells you something, you are free to understand what they say however you wish. If someone says, "I do not like strawberry ice cream," the meaning of the statement can be "I do like strawberry ice cream," if you (the listener) want it to be. There is no need to investigate further what the person means (i.e. if they are talking about a particular brand of ice cream, or strawberry with another flavor, or strawberry ice cream on a cake, or something else, or if they meant "cherry," or if they actually meant, "I do like strawberry ice cream.") On this view, there is no need to look at the context of the statement, the other statements of the individual, or the actions of the individual to find consistency (to help interpret the original communication). The listener determines the meaning; the author does not, so why investigate the author's other words or actions if meaning is determined by the listener. This idea can lead to all sorts of odd interpretations of what a text means, and it can have profound implications.

Take gay marriage, for example. In the summer of 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) acted as deconstructionists regarding the Constitution's text on marriage. Even though they understood what the original writers of the Constitution meant, they disregarded it and "interpreted" the Constitution to allow for same-sex "marriage." (I wrote a response to this when it happened: "SCOTUS' Decision on Gay Marriage: A Philosophical Critique.") Interestingly enough, the Justices, who's opinion was the majority, do not want anyone else to act as a deconstructionist with their opinions on the case in the future. These authors (the Justices) intended for their opinion to mean that homosexual couples may now get "married" just as heterosexual couples do. They do not intend for it to mean that homosexual couples may not get "married" just as heterosexual couples do. However, on the deconstructionist view, the next generation of SCOTUS Justices could ignore any meaning the current Justices intended by their opinion and could reverse the whole thing with a new interpretation, which would then be subject to the same philosophy. This could keep going back and forth forever, if meaning is determined by the reader and not the author- marriage would be defined by the opinions of who is currently on the Bench, and homosexuals would magically become "married," then "single," then "married" again, then "single" again, with the change of the opinions of the Justices as they heard and opined on the pertinent cases.

The Rejection of Deconstructionism

Those who reject deconstructionism understand that the meaning of a text comes from the author, and the best way to determine what the author meant is to investigate the author's other writings and their actions. We must look at other works of the authors of the Constitution to determine what they meant in the Constitution. The idea that other writings and actions are helpful in proper interpretation is based on the idea that the author will write and act consistently, so the proper interpretation of their writing under investigation will be consistent with what else the author has written and how the author has acted.

Those who reject deconstructionism with regards to the meaning of the Constitution do so based on the assumption of consistency; even though they know that the writers of the Constitution were fallible and could have been inconsistent in their other writings and/or in their actions. So, the reliance on other writings and actions to discover meaning, could be invalid. For the Bible, though, the Author (God) is infallible, thus He cannot be inconsistent, so the reliance on His other writings (the rest of Scripture, when trying to determine the meaning of a particular passage) and His actions could not be invalid. Because God is infallible and men are fallible, the rejection of the practices of deconstructionism regarding biblical interpretation is on more solid of a foundation than rejection of the practices of deconstructionism regarding the Constitution. Because of this, most conservative Christians accept the logical conclusion of rejecting deconstructionism as a philosophy by which to govern interpretation of both the U.S. Constitution and the Bible. Unfortunately, a common practice of deconstructionism, that is incompatible with its rejection, is accepted by many conservative Christians when it comes to interpreting the Bible.

An Implication of Investigating God's Actions to Determine What He Meant

One major application of the rejection of deconstructionist philosophies with biblical hermeneutics is that investigation of God's creative actions (the creation) reveals a universe that is roughly 13.7 billion years old and an earth that is about 4.5 billion years (see "Origin Science"); it also reveals a history of animal death that predates the appearance of modern humans (see "Peril in Paradise"). These go against what many people believe that God has communicated in the Bible- specifically in Genesis 1-11. Many arguments from God's other writings (the rest of the Bible) have been provided to help resolve the issue from a merely biblical perspective; however, those who reject an ancient universe (in favor of one much younger- 6K-100K years [young-earth creationists or "YECs"]), yet the issue has not been resolved. YECs believe that they can interpret the other writings in the Bible in consistent ways, so that leaves the debate still unsettled- the meaning of ALL of the passages are in question and cannot be used in the debate without committing the logical fallacy of begging the question. The only thing left to do is to rely, now, on God's actions: His creation.

Ignoring God's Actions- The Creation

If we are to reject deconstructionism, along with its common practices of ignoring actions of the author, with the U.S. Constitution (written by fallible men, who could be inconsistent), we need reject these same practices with the Bible (written by an infallible God, who cannot be inconsistent). This means that in the debate over the meaning (proper interpretation) of Genesis 1-11, we must look at God's other works (including His creation- nature) to determine what he meant in His Word. For instance, just as we look to the Founding Fathers' actions to interpret their intended meaning of the First Amendment (see Legislating Morality, pg 81), we must also look to God's actions to interpret His intended meaning of the Bible's descriptions of the creation and the history of creation. If we want to know what God intended to communicate with Genesis 1-11, we must look at God's actions: nature. To refuse to look at nature to discover the proper meaning of what God communicated to us in Genesis 1-11 is to allow deconstructionist philosophy to enter into our hermeneutical (interpretative) process and to reject Psalm 19:1 and Romans 1:20. To not allow God's actions to determine what God intended to communicate in the Bible regarding His creation is to accept the illogical practice of the deconstructionist.

Conclusion- The Decision At Hand

What I have described in this post is an apparent inconsistency in how many Christians interpret the meaning of writings. With regards to interpreting the U.S. Constitution, they appeal to the authors' actions to settle debates; however, with regards to interpreting the Bible, they disregard the Author (God)'s actions (creation). Since we live in a universe that God has made subject to the laws of logic, any philosophy of reality (which includes how we discover meaning) must be consistent. So we are presented with a decision: do we reject deconstructionism and allow God's actions (creation) to tell us what he meant when He spoke about the creation in the Bible (including Genesis 1-11), or do we accept deconstructionism and allow the Justices on the Supreme Court of the United States to reinterpret the Constitution? For those who wish to remain faithful to the rejection of deconstructionism and remain faithful to the Author's intended meaning of the Bible, I encourage you to investigate further with these posts:
It is my hope that through logically challenging the specifics that we hold about the Christian worldview (and changing them where necessary), we can defend a more accurate (in the details) Christian worldview and remove the intellectual stumbling blocks to see more people come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

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