Wilber Interview in Salon.com

Salon has posted an interview with Ken Wilber. As Bill Harryman says, nothing really new for those already familiar with his work and likely a decent intro for those not (I’m paraphrasing Bill).

Matthew however has a different take which is entitled: Wilber, entirely wrong again.

There is quite a bit in Matthew’s post, some of it very insightful, but I want to try to do a point by point because I think there is a number of errors in his post as well.

Warning, much more after jump. Long and philosophical (boring alert). That said, enjoy.

1)Matthew quotes this passage from the interview as his starting off place:

[Salon] When you refer to mythic religions, are you talking about the kinds of stories we read in the Bible?

[Wilber] Or any of the world’s great religions. Lao Tsu was 900 years old when he was born. According to the Hindus, the earth is resting on a serpent, which is resting on an elephant, which is resting on a turtle. Those kinds of mythic approaches aren’t wrong. They’re just a stage of development. Look at [Swiss philosopher] Jean Gebser’s structural stages of development. They go from archaic to magic to mythic to rational to pluralistic to integral and higher. Magic and mythic are actual stages. They’re not wrong any more than saying “5 years old” is wrong. It’s just 5 years old. We expect there to be higher stages. There was a time when the magic and mythic approaches years ago were evolution’s leading edge of development. So we can’t belittle them.

Matthew then comments:

His is the attitude the sociologist takes of religion (indeed, the media age has created pop-sociology). The study of social institutions and relationships, like “religion”, is what lies at the heart of “stages” in Wilber’s use…Left unanswered is why religion through the lens of sociology matters, to everyday people with an itch for God. Wilber’s first principle is that it does. I don’t agree, because something like religion, for the purposes of salvation, enlightenment, or wisdom is far too personal an endeavor for sociology to usefully register or comment upon.

Wilber is not doing sociology of religion here, he is doing (developmental) psychology of religion. He is talking about the collected (not collective) patterns he believes follow humans through development. [For a highly detailed discussion of this point footnote 6 here from his Excerpts to vol 2 online]. Which if true, would matter a great deal in understanding one’s personal religious journey.

Sociology of religion has a fairly long and established pedigree as a discipline. It’s “father” is Emile Durkheim who began the study of religion and religious institutions as social phenomena (bracketing the question of their metaphysical truth). As I said, Wilber is employing psychology of religion, more associated with William James–as if on cue Wilber cites James later in the interview.

Now the response likely would be something like—well ok, psychology not sociology but the basic point stands, i.e. that Wilber is taking another discipline and using it to unfairly to judge another. I don’t agree with the unfair part but yes he is using another discipline.

Elsewhere in the piece Matthew makes a point about dislodging the hegemony of science, but we already do this same move in science: philosophy of science, sociology of science, these are of the same ilk. Should we stop these as well? I don’t have a problem with that so long as we know going in what we are doing and what are the limitations and benefits of such an approach. Now in this short interview that might not come across, but certainly in Wilber’s work that point is made.

And while this might seem like hairsplitting it actually matters I think a great deal because in Wilber’s thought there are stages and states in the psychology of salvation. Wilber is here describing stages and not states.

What Matthew refers to as enlightenment or wisdom as being too personal to comment upon by sociology is actually covered elsewhere in Wilber’s interview–as he understands the terms which is different than Matthew’s to be clear but it’s there.

As in for example:

You are a longtime meditator. You’ve written about having sustained experiences of this non-dual awareness. What does it feel like?

[Laughs] It’s very simple. It’s something that’s already present in one’s awareness but it’s so simple and so obvious that it’s not noticed. Zen refers to it as the “such-ness” of reality. [The Christian mystic] Meister Eckhart called it “thus-ness.” These states of consciousness are temporary, peak experiences. There’s no bliss. Rather, it’s an absence of any constriction, including feelings of bliss. The feeling is vast openness and freedom and lightness. You don’t have a sense that I’m in here and the world is out there.

2)Back to Matthew:

Now, let’s clarify the matter more. Theology is itself an umbrella term for several disciplines, all with God at the center. Each discipline (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc.) has an art and a science of its own. What is the science of theology? It is the body of things known within a discipline — including the sacred literature or “stories”. And what is the art of theology? It is what we call “religion” — the practices of an individual, the practices of a family, the practices of a congregation; practices being the key term. Religion is the doing of theology, whereas stories a large part of the knowing of theology (along with commentary by the likes of Thomas of Acquinas for Christianity, and countless more in the other disciplines).

What does this have to do with Wilber? Leave aside that Wilber groups all theological disciplines together, which is a violation for thinking people. Fundamentally, the real problem is that he’s arguing against the art of theology (religion) without realizing his real beef is with the science of theology (sacred stories) — and doing so as a sociologist, and again why should we care what a sociologist thinks of theology’s science?

Again a lot here. I’m going to break it up into a few smaller pieces.

The idea that Wilber has emphasized science to the misunderstanding or possibly exclusion of practice and art is remedied by other quotations from the article.

2a)On practice:

What about Karl Popper’s objection: If you can’t disprove something, then it’s not science. Can you disprove the effects of meditation? How far can you take this scientific analogy when you’re talking about a contemplative practice?

Pretty far, I think. These meditative disciplines have been passed down for hundreds of years, sometimes thousands of years. Much like judo, there are actual techniques that you can learn and pass on. In Zen, you have the practice of zazen. You have to sit and count your breath for up to an hour and concentrate on an object for at least five minutes without losing track. The average American adult can do it for 18 seconds. Then you have the data, what’s called satori. Once you train your mind and look into your interior, you investigate the actual nature and structure of your interior consciousness. If you do this intensely enough, you’ll get a profound aha experience, a profound awakening. And that satori is then checked with others who’ve done this practice.

2b)And on the art (or interpretation/meaning) of the practice:

This raises a fundamental question about the whole mind-brain problem. Virtually all neuroscientists say the mind is nothing more than a 3-pound mass of firing neurons and electrochemical surges in the brain. Why do you think this view is wrong?

It reduces everything. And you can make no distinctions of value. There’s no such thing as love is better than hate, or a moral impulse is better than an immoral impulse. All those value distinctions are erased.

So the way I would put it is that Matthew and Ken are using different definitions of theology and each has a science & art of their distinct type of theology. [As I will show in a moment these different schools, if you like, of theology go way back beyond either of these two thinkers].

3)So there still is a difference and one I want to hold up because the difference is important and both have points in their favor.

Wilber defines religion under the terms of exoteric (mythic) and esoteric (mysticism). What Matthew is describing actually falls in between those–or off that categorization if you prefer.

Matthew–though he references Hinduism–is actually, whether he knows it or not, defining theology in light of Western theology, especially medieval Western Christian theology (though by no mean exclusively that trend). Notice the reference to Thomas Aquinas. e.g. A Hindu might not necessarily say God is at the center of his/her religion.

Wilber is a Buddhist and the kind of theology Matthew is describing to put it a little too simplistically doesn’t exist in the same way in Buddhism. That point is debatable in certain ways (there are counter-examples) but the larger trend I think is one Wilber reflects. At least as how Buddhism is typically taught in the West.

Matthew’s quotation again:

Fundamentally, the real problem is that he’s arguing against the art of theology (religion) without realizing his real beef is with the science of theology (sacred stories)

The art of theology for Matthew recall is the practice of religion. But obviously Wilber isn’t against the practice of religion (as such) given that he spends the rest of the interview describing meditation. And just to be clear, that tradition does exist within Christianity, so while Wilber is emphasizing a tradition more dominant in Eastern, specifically Buddhist tradition, he is not totally reading his tradition into say mine (Christian). Christians have a long standing meditative-contemplative tradition in very similar (“cross-cultural” in Wilber’s terms) patterns, though historically at least in Western Christianity, not as dominant. But that is only one slice of religion (religion as defined by Wilber is organized forms of spirituality).

So the art of theology that Matthew is describing is a certain kind of art and one which I agree with him here Wilber doesn’t deal with.

To use a parallel from within Christianity: Theology as described in Eastern Orthodox Christianity is mysticism, which is what Wilber is discussing. Theology in the Western Christianity is an academic discipline, usually humanist in nature, which is Matthew’s side.

But there’s one more piece here complicating the matter. The notion that reason proves the existence of God–which is straight from Thomas Aquinas. Or rather proves God cannot not exist. Matthew needs this to show the (as he puts it) scientific side of theology.

One of the classic critiques of atheism (new or old) is that there is no there there with theology. There’s no set of data you are dealing with–Wilber’s way out of that is to argue for contemplation as the data.

Matthew’s road lies in proving that reason philosophically proves God cannot not exist. [If you want a longer, much more detailed and a bit rambling response to that argument from me, here].

The short version is this. On the notion of causing to become versus causing to be. It is true that parents do not cause a child to be but rather become–both through sexual union as well as in the child rearing. And this is true of everything. Like farmers. They weed, hoe, water, but it’s kinda magical that anything grows at all.

The mistake in Aquinas’ thought however–and those who follow in this tradition–is jumping to equate the source of causing to be with God. There’s no rational/reasonable proof for that statement. Why God? Why not natural selection? Why not accident?

To quote Donald Rumsfeld, all the mind can say on causing to be is that it is a “known unknown.” Known unknown does not automatically mean God.

Or to bring it back to the Wilber interview (my italics):

You’ve written that many of the great 20th century physicists — Einstein, Bohr, Planck, Heisenberg — were actually mystics, even though none of them thought science had any connection to religion.

I wouldn’t say it quite that strongly. What happened is they investigated the physical realm so intensely in looking for answers, and when they didn’t find these answers, they became metaphysical. I collected the writings of the 13 major founders of quantum mechanics. They were saying physics has been used since time immemorial to both prove and disprove God. Both views are fundamentally misguided. These physicists became deep mystics not because of physics, but because of the limitations of physics.

Both views are fundamentally misguided–and Aquinas’ contingency argument is an argument from physics to prove God’s existence.

The mystical tradition by the way says the “answer” to this “question” is to actually go into the experience of be-ing, which is mysterious but still able to be experienced. But not at the level of the everyday mind. Aquinas was trying to use the mind to prove that which the mind can not experience. It’s not altogether wrong so much as it is essentially meaningless and misdirected.

If Matthew wants to describe the theology of science, he ought I think to make clearer the fact that large sectors of the tradition do not believe Aquinas was right–from within Christianity (and Judaism and Islam fo that matter) for both philosophical and theological reasons. In Western Christianity we refer to these folks as Augustinians (after Augustine) and those follow Thomas as Thomists. I come from the Augustinian side of this ledger so that explains my disagreement with this proposition.

4)So take away all that—art/science/discipline; reason as proving God cannot not exist; psychology of religion–and there is still a kernel of genuine truth in what Matthew is saying: the tradition of sacred literature.

However even here there is a point Matthew is gliding over–a sacred story as understood/read literally or not. Notice the kinds of issues in the original Wilber quotation: Lao Tzu actually being 900 years old at birth; the universe literally residing on a turtle. To which we could add any number from any tradition–Buddhist, aboriginal, Christian, any.

And this question of literal or not has to do with psychology of religion to bring it full circle.

But there is still a way to release the stories from their literal nature (again when seeming to be describing “physics”) and yet find deep meaning in them. Matthew does this as well in a slightly different way, I just don’t think he’s making it explicitly clear that he is so doing.

The closest Wilber ever gets to this in his writings, I think, is references to the work on mythology by Joseph Campbell (Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality). Campbell pointed out that the way he was reading the texts, as sacred stories for deep spiritual meaning, was also not the way 90+% of people or the tradition historically read the stories.

Even within Christian Patristic exegesis which Matthew mentions (e.g. Augustine), there was a level of symbolic or allegorical meaning attached to stories. And at the same time Augustine still thought the creation story as described in Genesis was how creation actually happened. Which is completely understandable given that was the best cosmology then known. It is however no longer.


Note how he [Wilber] slides from the stories to “mythical approaches”. But how, exactly, is a story an approach. When did a story become something other than a story?

On one level, I would say yes the stories are not approaches, but the way in which people approach the stories are. And some approach mythically. And to approach mythically or interpret mythically is to concretize and take literally what is a story. When a story became something other than a story is when it is taken to be a literal description of scientific reality.

Another way to say it is that the stories become approaches (or rather are approaches intrinsically) insofar as they seek to describe and assume they are describing the world as it really is. For example, God is really up in heaven which is located above the sky. A view which all of the writers of the Bible actually uphold. [In Wilber’s terminology that is all states of consciousness are always interpreted, in part, through stages of development].

One way to bridge the two, not without its own limitations, is this article I wrote a ways back reading a Christian story (the crucifixion) according to the levels schema. [Truth in advertising Matthew was an editor of that e-zine.]

But that aside, here’s the difference.


What a story does is manifold. You read a story to ruminate upon the resonance it has in your life; you read a story for fun; you read a story to connect with your elders and community, living and dead; you read a story to understand its influence (how, in the case of the Bible, where Shakespeare’s plays and poetry came from); you read a story to become a more nuanced fine artist; you read a story to pass the time. The only real rule, self-evident, is to read a story as a story, and not as something else. Which means, basically, treat every Bible story as a work of literature, and acknowledge what literature does and does not do, what we should grant it, and what we should not. It is hardly a stretch to conclude that an “approach” is surely in the “should not” pile.

I agree with essentially all of that paragraph. The only thing is a vast number of religious people would respond that Matthew has brought the understanding of secular literature and art into the Bible. He’s done exactly–so the argument would go–what he criticized in Wilber. Because a number of people don’t take the story as literature. Or at least literature minus literal cosmology (e.g. Genesis) and history (e.g. Jesus’ resurrection). Literature plus I suppose.

I actually think this is a wise move but it does have an approach element. Not approach in the sense that the stories are ladders to something else as Matthew says–although in the mystical tradition that is in fact how the stories are treated. But more how we approach–in reverence and awe or not for example. Or approaching them as literature as opposed to say dogmatic descriptive texts.

But this is the pink elephant in this room’s analysis. Notice how Matthew transitioned from sacred stories in the religious texts to Aquinas’ philosophical argument about contingency while leaving out the notion that people read the Bible for evidence about how the natural world is (physically, cosmologically). The most he references is that the Bible is in “older language”, which is insufficient in my mind. It’s not whether it’s older or not, but whether it it is describing and assuming a different picture of the world (not metaphorically) then the one common in post the Enlightenment. [Up just is more sky and space].

To be fair to the ancients and medievals that was all they had. They weren’t fundamentalists in our understanding of the term, which only happens after the story has been properly criticized scientifically (not in terms of the literature/meaning but in terms of cosmology) and now people revert back and start reading the story in a consciously literalistic manner as opposed to the sorta unconscious way it was done prior to the Western Enlightenment.

In sum, Wilber is putting more emphasis on the manner in which the person must transform and then finds new and deeper levels of meaning in the Bible whereas Matthew is more holding up the revelatory nature of the text on its own terms. It’s ability to inspire generation and generation, in art, in literature, in music.

I think both are deeply valid and necessary to complement the other.

Matthew’s pov can far too easily diminish the danger of fundamentalism and not be honest about how his way (if you don’t like the word approach) is not the one of large numbers of religious believers.

Wilber’s method can all too easily not make clear the distinction between the fact that the stories of the Bible all do arise in a mythic worldview (a 3-tiered cosmic structure, patriarchal, assume slavery) and that nevertheless they are, as Matthew says, stories. Stories that inspire that need not immediately be read for their description of reality purposes. They can work on all sorts of different dimensions of our being than that more cognitive-mental level.

Published in: on April 30, 2008 at 10:19 am  Comments (11)  
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  1. I may respond on The Daily Goose to this. It is quite possible that in places of my column, I was not as clear as I could have been.

    However, two quick points regarding your initial comment. One, I am not saying Wilber is “doing sociology of religion”. I’m saying he is doing sociology, in general. The more general is a study that includes human institutions, and religion is one of those. Further, stage-theory itself is part of general sociology fundamentally, because the stages are only seen through analysis of large populations of people, who they behave, interact based on their values, all of which forms patterns that are these “stages”. The great mistake, in fact, of stage theory is to move it from sociology (where evidence exists, as well as practical relevance) and into the ontogenetic disciplines (where evidence is spotty, inconclusive at best, and with zero practical relevance except to beg the question as in your final paragraph above).

    Two, I have never claimed that whoever you mean by “religious people” would agree with my argument. Nor have I ever claimed many people agree with me. In fact, I implicate in passing organized religion for using the stories for purposes uncalled for. The self-evident conclusion about “what the stories are” is in fact that each is a work of literature — in the word medium, employing characters, using narrative, autobiography, confessional, etc. modes of discourse. To say that to treat, for example, the Bible stories as literature is to “take an approach” would be to say that to swing a bat at a thrown ball would “be an approach”. Rubbish — to use something of its obvious intended purposes is not an approach, it is to use that something how it should be used.

    The Bible stories never say “read this as dogma”. People say that, and those people are wrong, just as Wilber is wrong.

    The resistance I have encountered comes from atheists like Wilber, postmodernists like you, and fundamentalists I have met in church. Because of the turbulence from those quarters, I know I am on to something.

  2. I respectfully disagree.

    I don’t want to get into a my-list v. your-list war about proper boundaries between disciplines; but, Wilbur isn’t doing either sociology (I don’t think he’s capable of running the numbers), and, he’s way far from doing developmental psychology.

    He’s nowhere near making the list with Piaget, Kohlberg, Erikson, Ainsworth, nor even Freud whom he disses. Developmental psych takes observation first: then, say-anything if you can get away with it. But, most devo-psychs are better disciplined.

    Wilber isn’t even focused enough to do comparative religion. His trip about unifying themes has long since been worked by minds far better than his (from Mueller, to Eliade, Doniger, Campbell to name antagonists).

    Wilber’s “formless ground” is .. ah .. pretty much that. Buddhists love paradox; formless, ground. May I have quiche and a side order of fries with my “ground” round?

    For a new look belching out espresso terminology banged together by half-correlated understandings … His truth tables aren’t half bad. But, it’s not third-person truth that’s “exterior,” rather inter-subjective in community. Which is why he has a following.

    Not bad for dreaming.

    But, it’s a long, long, long way from Kekule’s dream to the benzene ring – and a lot of hard work.

    Whatever is po-mo – is whoever joins. And stays. All the rage.

    For my money, if you want to do complexity right stick with Kaufmann and Gell-Mann.



  3. Jim,

    While we do disagree, I have to say that was possibly the greatest and certainly the solid-est comment ever left on this here blog.

    Thanks man. Peace.


  4. MD,

    I still think there problem is an argument somewhere over the sociology piece on some finer points, but I get your gist, so I’ll slide on that.

    The only response I have to make to the end of your comment.

    A)I’m not a postmodernist.
    B)I didn’t criticize reading the Bible as literature.

    I think your underestimating the degree to which those stories are coming from groups who already are assuming religious practice, dogma at times, and the rest.

    As well as the degree to which those stories come from a world in some respects quite different from ours and for us contemporary readers we could use (don’t have to but it helps) a look at the texts from different angles. Since the writers (like any writer) assumes the world in which s/he is writing. It’s nothing to do with the stories but rather with our understanding.

    And yes of course anyone can read the Bible and get an enormous, an infinite amount out, without what I’m describing. But learning something else can also add to even further depth/understanding of the text.

    And that will only be found by other methods of research than reading the stories themselves. On that we basically agree.

    The classic example of this (in the Christian Bible) are the letters of St. Paul where he constantly references “the gospel I preached to you” and then doesn’t tell us very much, if anything at all, about what that in fact was. But presumably the readers know to what he was referring.

    Reconstructions of this sort are quite tricky and always provisional at best. But I still think they have a place.

    peace. cj

  5. Or put another way–would it be helpful to know something about Napoleon’s invasion of Russia when reading War and Peace?

    Is it necessary?–no.

    If you know a great deal about the war does that mean you already get Tolstoy? Of course not.

    All other things being equal, do I think it’s better? Yes.

  6. Oy,

    Chris, you have this exhausting habit of raising questions based upon things you assume “I underestimate” when I point of fact I haven’t said a word about. For example:

    “I think your underestimating the degree to which those stories are coming from groups who already are assuming religious practice, dogma at times, and the rest.”

    Really. Huh. Have I said a single thing about that, anywhere? No? (Which is indeed the correct answer). Then how am I to respond? I would say that people who create works of literature do so, taken on the whole, for an insane number of reasons, based on numerable private beliefs or social beliefs, might be certifiably nuts, might not, might be god-fearing fundies or god-oblivious atheists (Shakespeare appears to have been, perhaps).

    But none of this touches the self-evident truth that a story is a story; and that being the case, it is a work of literature, and that doing anything else but reading it (and thinking about it, and measuring it against other experiences in one’s life, etc.; all the natural things that result from the workings of people) is to do something with the story that is external to the story.

    No one can stop people from doing that. We can, however, point out that when it happens, whether writ small or writ large (in the case of organized religions) and see if it changes the way people understand the stories.

    Your general habit, which I mentioned at the outset, comprises one major part of why you are a postmodernist. It is a deep feature thing, not a surface feature thing (there, you aren’t as pomo). The postmodernist objects to the notion that external ideas, external “theories”, external perspectives ought not be brought to bear upon the understanding of, say, the fine arts.

    A parallel, not perfect but good enough, would be with the farmer who employs old methods of growing food — which take time and obey the laws of nature in almost every respect — and the farmer who has fields and fields of corn that ends up either feeding cows or processed into thing like guar gum. Of course one “can” remove corn from its natural purpose, and transform it into whatever.

    But should one? And what happens if we exercise restraint, and allow the natural qualities of the traditional corn growing to seep into our consciousness, our interactions, our (if you like) worldviews, our relationships?

    You almost can’t answer those questions, because so few people even know about this possibility, much less practice it with other people.

    If, to take this one step into metaphor land, we are to deal with the flood that is the current external world (and, of course, the external world always), what are the essentials that we are to bring with us on our boat?

    I say bringing the Wilber-belittled (yes, he belittled them) god stories along, and then reading them as stories whilst waiting for the flood waters to recede, would provide the tools to understand profound depth as much as profound depth can be understood through Logos.

    One can always “add” to that; it is not my contention to argue otherwise. Because there is always “more” to say; like the postmodernist who said “you can’t even step into the same river once!”

  7. You wrote:
    But none of this touches the self-evident truth that a story is a story; and that being the case, it is a work of literature, and that doing anything else but reading it (and thinking about it, and measuring it against other experiences in one’s life, etc.; all the natural things that result from the workings of people) is to do something with the story that is external to the story.

    Agreed. Except that, and here is where we disagree relative to Biblical texts, they were already in their original context, using stories to make other kinds of points–religious, political, social. Why not try to understand what those were?

    Or if you prefer were special kinds of stories with their own forms and rules–e.g. gospel. Gospel is not memoir is not a novel is not science fiction. All stories. But very different kinds of stories as you well know, judged on different standards (standards inherent to their own genre).

    A lot of what I’m talking about is actually good old fashioned historical-critical method which comes from the 1700s not exactly postmodern that.

    But the key point for me is this:

    I find it interesting that I’m now in this discussion more in the position of a Scalia–defending reconstruction and interpretation based on original public meaning.

    I’m not saying such a reading is definitive. I’m saying it shouldn’t be absent. Otherwise if the only judge is my thinking about it and judging based on other life experiences, if I don’t have similar life experiences because the world has changed, then how I am to know I’m not reading the passage in a completely different way than originally understood?

    It might be ok to do that. Again the original public meaning does not hold a monopoly on this point for me. But I think somebody should know they are so reading–particularly in religious circles given that bad readings can lead to very negative consequences.

    If you think the Constitution is not the Bible because one is a law code, one a story, the only problem with that is the Bible is full of constitutional law codes.

    e.g. The Ten Commandments are written in the style of Assyrian Law Codes.
    The Letter to the Ephesians expresses a Roman household code of ethics within it.

    Again for me really what this comes down to is you are describing The Bible in light of artistry and what you have to say on that front I have no disagreement with. In point of fact, I applaud it.

    But I’m in a different context and there what you are detailing is I submit not sufficient. Not sufficient for the boat and the flood an what not.

    Since I stand in a religious tradition I have to take very seriously what the original public meaning (as best as we can reconstruct it) is and how that shapes how I think about my own world and what my response to it should be.

    Like I said, I still think there is a place for the story-reading you describe in churches and theology. I just think there is need for other tools as well.

    Peace. CJ

  8. “…using stories to make other kinds of points–religious, political, social…”; right, because you were there. And how does that touch my argument that the stories call for none of this?

    “Since I stand in a religious tradition…”; better stated, you stand in a tradition that uses these stories for particular purposes, beyond mere stories.

    “I just think there is need for other tools as well.” Of course, and I have no argument; but this need arises external to the stories.

    “…good old fashioned historical-critical method…” also external to the stories.

    “…how I am to know I’m not reading the passage in a completely different way than originally understood?”; with literature, original understanding doesn’t matter.

    And, by the way, I believe my overall argument stands, namely that Wilber was wrong, again. 100%, regarding the stories.

  9. Your complete bifurcation between the story and the tradition has a hole below the water line.

    The Gospel of John 20: 30-31
    30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe* that Jesus is the Messiah,* the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

    So no I didn’t need to be there to talk about what the text was after. It’s there in plain English (or koine Greek).

    Does that mean you have to believe that message in order to read the Gospel or get any meaning from it? Of course not.

    Does it make sense to ignore it as well? I would say not.

    i.e. I’m not standing in a tradition that is making use of those stories for some extraneous purposes. I’m standing in the tradition which actually wrote those stories for the purposes clearly explicated above.

    Now I believe it possesses all sorts of other meanings and revelatory capacities, but ignoring it’s own words doesn’t seem very textualist, as it were, to me.

    Here we get to the nub:
    “with literature original understanding doesn’t matter.”

    How does that square with your praise of Justice Thomas and Scalia? Your going to say the Constitution isn’t literature? That’s dicey at best.

    And/or I hate to say it this way but here goes, The Bible isn’t “just” literature. That’s what we are really arguing about seems to me. Or as I would rather put it is approachable in different manners, each of which has its own strengths & limitations.

    A sub-argument within that frame is that to get a grasp on what is being communicated, it is necessary to use external (in your words) methods because we no longer catch the allusions and references given we live 2000 years separated from the authors. With a different picture of the world, different social structure, different language.

    So it’s not whether the historical-critical method is external or not (you’re right it is), the issue is whether it grants deeper understanding of the text. I hold it does, which you seem unwilling to concede.

    The hist-crit. is unnecessary as you say for understanding the scriptures in terms of literature. It is crucially vital for understanding them in terms of the “other than literature” aspects (or whatever term you like) of the texts.

    And yes implicit in all of that is an assumption that there is something to be gained from understanding what the text meant (as best as we can reconstruct which is always imperfect to be sure) in its original context. You understand and agree with that proposition in regard to the Constitution; I don’t understand why not relative to the Bible.

  10. ps

    re: Wilber.

    KW is entirely wrong only if you are correct that the stories is the only proper lens. With that slice of it, I agreed with your assessment.

    I simply don’t agree that’s the only show in town. He’s catching a different performance.

  11. […] from the New Testament to provide a concrete application of some of the hermeneutic principles I was laying out in this previous post. Particularly the idea that sometimes other sources of information, other angles, other methods […]

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