One of our classes this semester is an introduction to the field of Hermeneutics. Hermeneutics comes from the Greek word hermeneutes, which means “interpreter,” and can be described simply as the art of interpretation. As long as written texts have existed, people have argued over how to interpret them, which has resulted in a lively and fascinating history. I’ve enjoyed the course a great deal. One of the subjects we’ve been discussing the past couple weeks is that of literary criticism, which is basically contemporary hermeneutics. You probably won’t come across hermeneutics classes in your English department, but literary criticism classes are everywhere.
Twenty-first century literary criticism has all the shifty atmosphere of a flea market, and about the same percentage of junk. You can try out Formalism, Structuralism, Reader-Response Theory, Psychoanalysis, or Deconstruction. The problem with some of these theories is that while they may contain a nugget of common sense, they have been taken to nonsensical extremes by their proponents. The problem with others is that they have no nugget of common sense at all.
Take Deconstruction, for instance. Deconstructionists believe that once you’ve written something down, like this blog post, for instance, it becomes its own entity. Whatever I as the author intended to mean no longer matters. The only thing that matters is the meaning that the reader creates for himself. As you can imagine, this leads to utter nonsense. When you read Deconstructionists you think they must be joking, but they aren’t. So just to illustrate to you the sort of absurdities that these people feed off of, here’s my own Deconstructionist reading of the first sentence of my post:
“One of our classes this semester is an introduction to the field of Hermeneutics.”
One is the first number, and it follows zero. If it follows zero, then that means that zero is the leader, which means it has class. But class involves warfare; and when we introduce class warfare into the semester system, we end up with the student riots that happened recently in Quebec. We can take this further with the word “field,” which relates to the Plains of Abraham outside of Quebec City. It was there in 1759 that the British defeated the French and brought Quebec under English control. And while we all know that the French have more class than the English, we’ve already discovered that zero has class, too; which suggests that the French are nothing. But if this be true, it means that the English are worse than nothing, an assertion that may be bolstered by the word “hermeneutics.” For when we break down that word we discover that her men are eunuchs; with “her” perhaps referring to the Queen. Did I say Queen? Freddie Mercury died of AIDS, a subject dealt with in the U2 song, “One.”
And so it goes. As you can see, besides offering some entertainment value, Deconstruction offers nothing else. Yet, for whatever reason, it has caught on in some academic circles. People have also applied this hermeneutic to Scripture, dissolving the gospel’s meaning by pulling its threads into the void where their soul should have been. And the argument has been made that Deconstruction is a religious system, with the man who developed it, Jacques Derrida, as the high priest. In fact, the English philosopher Roger Scruton goes even further:
“There is no creation in this world [of Deconstruction], though it is full of cleverness – a cleverness actively deployed in the cause of Nothing. It is a world of uncreation, without hope, or faith, or love, since no ‘text’ could possibly mean those transcendental things. It is a world in which negation has been endowed with the supreme instruments – power and intellect – so making absence into the all-embracing presence. It is, in short, the world of the Devil.”
Thankfully, outside of academic circles Deconstruction hasn’t caught on, nor will it. It’s just too self-evidently stupid. You probably hadn’t heard of it before this post, and you probably won’t hear of it again. Nevertheless, since it is the sort of thing that people are applying to Scripture, we need to learn about it at seminary. Even if only to marvel at the sinister darkness in which some of the brightest people walk.