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  1. Nombre y apellido del alumno Bert Amsing
  2. Fecha June 17, 2016
  3. Título del texto leído Paul Ricoeur

La Crítica de la Religión y el Lenguaje de la Fe (Part I)

  1. ¿De qué trata el artículo o capítulo leído?

Paul Ricoeur, in his chapter “La Critica de la Religión y el Lenguaje de la Fe,” from his book El Lenguaje de la Fe, lays out the Hermeneutical task of the biblical exegete by looking at both the “destrucción”  and the “interpretación (p. 16)” of religion.

  1. ¿Cuál es la idea central del autor?

On the one hand, Ricoeur believes that the “tres maestros de la sospecha: Marx, Freud y Nietzsche (p. 17)” play an important role in the “desmistificación” of religion but on the other hand, his own philosophical anthropology based on a phenomenological understanding of the human condition, provides the “precomprensión” that is necessary to reinterpret religion in terms that make sense to modern man.

  1. ¿De qué nos quiere convencer?

Ricoeur wants to convince us of a particular way of fulfilling the hermeneutical task that validates the role of religion and “el lenguaje de la fe,” when properly interpreted, as a necessary counterbalance to a rationalistic secularism that “olvida” the value of the individual and the power of love as an integral part of human existence.

  1. ¿Cuáles son los puntos fuertes y los puntos débiles del texto?

There is so much to deal with in this important article that we have separated our comments into three different reviews starting with “La Critica de la religión” and then moving to “El Lenguaje de la Fe,” and finally, “Lenguaje y la teología de la palabra.”  Obviously, all three topics are related, the first two especially, but the last one as well, as a further elaboration on the language of faith.

Since the first part is about the entire project that Ricoeur is proposing for the biblical exegete, we will deal with that in detail.  In general, it needs to be said that Ricoeur’s validation of the role in secular society of the language of faith in specific and religion in general is refreshing, but that only begs the question as to what that role should be and how it should be developed.  Ricoeur still suffers, from the present authors point of view, from modern presuppositions that are at variance with the biblical worldview as well as his own hermeneutical method as we will show in this review.  He begins by talking about the relationship between the two elements of his presentation, namely, the critique of religion and the language of faith and how, in fact, the two are indivisible and inseparable.  He recognizes from the start that religion, in general, presents a problem to secular society but provides an answer based in language itself.  He says, “el problema de “la afirmación” religiosa”  must be solved “desde un plano bien determinado: el lenguaje (p. 15).”  Whether or not language, by itself, can support the infrastructure of revelation and religion remains to be seen, but the fact that Ricoeur is making the attempt is appreciated.

He makes the claim also that he is not trying to “discutir el valor o la veracidad de la experiencia religiosa (p. 15)” but rather deal with the “problema de la significación (p. 15)” of religious language which he sees as “un problema anterior (p. 15).”  He is interested in dealing with the modern difficulty with religion “por la vía del discurso, analizando la naturaleza del discurso religioso (p. 15).”  But, right at the beginning, there is a problem in how he frames the problem/question since the meaning of religious language can only be determined by those committed to the values and relationships that the religious language calls us to in the first place.  Ricoeur recognizes this element of the hermeneutical task to some extent and places himself within the religious tradition with his protestant background and ongoing commitment to a religious (even if not biblical) worldview as re-interpreted through the eyes of his phenomenological presuppositions.

But that is exactly the problem.  The biblical worldview is not the same as a religious worldview and a general religious, even protestant, upbringing is no substitute for someone who is “grasped” by the conviction of the inspiration and authority of the biblical text as the divine vehicle by which God speaks to man today.

Ricoeur betrays his commitment to a modern secular worldview (even as he is also a critic of that same ideology to some degree) when he accepts Bultmann’s demythologizing program as the means of discovering Barth’s kerygma as re-interpreted in the light of a “precomprensión” of the human condition/problem as defined by his own philosophical anthropology rooted in a phenomenological approach.

More will be said on this later, but it is worth mentioning right at the beginning that Ricoeur’s entire approach to a biblical hermeneutic, in fact, denies the value of the biblical text as being “la Palabra de Dios (p. 15).”  In his own words, he says that his approach to analyzing the nature of religious language “debería ser aceptable tanto para el creyente como para el que no lo es, ya que cuando el creyente habla de Dios, ello se debe a que en principio él se refiere a la Palabra de Dios y ese término “Palabra”, aunque lo escribimos con mayúscula, tiene relación con aquello que llamamos la palabra, es decir, el atributo del hombre parlante (p. 15).”

Ricoeur will speak more about his theology of the Word in the last chapter but he already betrays his presupposition that God, as an independent transcendent being, does not exist and that the “God” language is really about man and his existential needs, since mankind is a species that speaks, communicates, exists within and through his words.  Ricoeur tries to make it into something “objective” outside of man when he says that “la Palabra de Dios entra en nuestro discurso y se anuncia como Palabra de Dios por medio del testimonio del creyente (p. 16).”  But that is only to move the loci from the individual to mankind as a whole which will become more obvious later on in his discussion.

The point of his first observation on the project that he is proposing to bridge the gap between religion and secular society is that “language” and what it means is common to both.  That is true, but it is not enough.  Language must reflect reality and faith, in order to motivate people to action, must be believed precisely because it is a faith rooted in the reality of God’s intervention in word and action not just in secular society but in a secular society that wants to build a Babel without God where man, in the maturity of his responsibility to dominate his world, seeks not the kingdom of God but the kingdom of man however defined.  At the end of the day, for all of his good intentions, Paul Ricoeur is simply another engineer in the construction of Babel and therefore must also come under the critique of the Word of God which finds his efforts sadly wanting.

Ricoeur’s second observation is also worth discussing.  Another common thread between the two sides of his hermeneutical approach of “destrucción/critica” y “interpretación/afirmación” is that they are two sides of the same coin, both held in tension and with integrity as complimentary.  He characterizes his approach as a way to enter into “una era posreligiosa de la fe (p. 16).”  He refocuses the dialogue as not only between the believer and non-believer but a dialogue with oneself.  Since theology/religion is about human existence, in hiedeggerian terms, then it is each one of us that is “destroyed” and “re-interpreted” since it is the human condition that is the focus of this hermeneutic task.

Here is an example of Ricoeur’s flirtation with the biblical worldview and the possibility of truly entering into the possibility of becoming a “new being.”  His language is enticing and, even exciting, but lacks biblical substance.  We must take his characterization of his hermeneutical approach as an “era posreligiosa de la fe (p. 16)” seriously in terms of suggesting an entirely new way to understand the Christian faith.  When he speaks of religion, he means to include all religion in general but Western religion (Islam, Judaism and Christianity) in particular.  Even more, he is speaking specifically about Christianity.  We would agree that “religion” needs to be critiqued and even destroyed, but in the Evangelical/Reformation tradition, we are wary of institutions and politics and even a “religious spirit” which often invades the church.  We would even agree that we, as humans, need to be re-interpreted, re-affirmed and re-focused on the possibility of a new way of being human within modern society.  But that is based on a “relationship” with God, made possible through the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit as testified to by the Word of God and the experience of the saints throughout history.  In that way we can rid ourselves of religion and return to the simplicity of faith.

The problem is that Paul Ricoeur does not believe in any of this.  He is not suggesting that we make the old truths more understandable to the modern age but rather that we re-interpret the truth into something new that is both more acceptable/credible to modern man while at the same time calling him to not forget what makes us truly human: love for each individual.  Still, it is true that each one of us must be “destroyed” and “re-interpreted” by the biblical text on its own terms.  The problem is that Ricoeur imposes a meaning on religion through “pre-comprehension” beliefs about the human condition that distorts the biblical message and gives the lie to his own hermeneutical method.  If Ricoeur were to respect the biblical text as a foundational source of meaning and apply his method, in general, to a hermeneutic of its message before he commits himself to an understanding of the human condition based on his philosophical anthropology, he may have discovered a deeper biblical truth that is the true source of this mysterious motivational force that has transformed lives, and to a lesser degree, cultures for the past two thousand years.

His third observation concerning the relationship of the two sides of his approach is shorter but interesting.  There is a sort of dialectic between “destrucción/critica” and “interpretación/afirmación” that cannot be ignored.  He says, “por lo tanto desearía mostrar a partir de hoy cómo en el movimiento de destrucción esta presente un factor que para mí es un movimiento de la fe (p. 16).”  Even in the midst of our critique of religion, institutions, ideologies and the human condition in general (all of which require a hermeneutical approach), we may be tempted to despair and meaninglessness, but the kerygma of the Word of God, calls us not to forget what makes us truly human: love for the individual.  That is an act of faith.  It is the intelligence of faith and it can call us into an entirely new way of being in this world.

Lofty words indeed but again without much substance.  It is true but not sufficient.  To know that love is the answer is not to yet defeat evil within oneself or within society.  In fact, one could argue that our moral obligation to others within society is a basic building block of our individual and social conscience.  Perhaps it is part of that fundamental awareness of God and our guilt before him precisely because we know of our responsibility and yet do not fulfill it.  In other words, the biblical text tells us that the problem is not “forgetting” it but “suppressing” it and thereby creating a primordial guilt before God and man that forms the relational problem at the heart of the gospel.  The problem of evil is not defeated by remembering the solution and believing that somehow, someway, man will rise to the occasion and do something about it.  That is the point of the problem of evil:  when the chips are down, we choose ourselves and not the other.  Evil is first of all within and first of all relational.  Having cut ourselves off from our creator, we have prioritized ourselves over others and alienated ourselves from the source and purpose of all love: to please God above all and love our neighbors as ourselves.  The words are not enough.  Words have meaning and meaning can be comprehended and even agreed to but we still have not yet dealt with the sin or changed anything.  A utopian anthropology from a scholar who believes that the will is defective and in need of repair, needs something more substantive to show how language, imagination, even hope, impacts the will and makes a real change in ontology beyond simply a new self-awareness of our potential.  If he cannot do so, he might consider the biblical answer before he begins his project of “demistificación.”

At this point, after making his three observations of how the two movements he proposes are linked through language, existence and hope, he describes his overall approach.  On the one hand, he will review “la critica externa” of religion by the “tres maestros de la sospecha: Marx, Freud y Nietzsche (p. 17).”  He calls this process “desmistificación.”  On the other hand, he will propose his own “critica interna” which is, in his view, “una critica de la religión por medio de la fe (p. 17).”  He calls this second process “desmitologización.”  Both of these movements make up the first part of his approach which is a critique of religion from without and within.  At the end of the discussion, he will reveal for us the power of “affirmation” which lies within the critique and which takes an act of faith to move boldly into the second part of his hermeneutical approach.  Whether or not, from an Evangelical point of view, he succeeds in his efforts remains to be seen.

He begins his explanation of “desmistificación” by defining and reducing Christianity to a kerygma, or proclamation to a particular audience.  He claims not to be offering a critique of the content but rather the context or form in which the proclamation comes.  He says, “estamos entonces en presencia de un problema ligado a la ilusión del origen (p. 17).”  It’s like a letter that comes in the mail, he says, with great content and meaning, that you thought came from one person but in fact came from another.  The biblical text falls into the same problem.  You thought that it came from a supernatural source but, it is really just from other human beings.  The content is still significant and meaningful and that is what needs to be the focus.  You were under the “mistificación” of a belief of origin and now you need to have that belief “desmistificado.”

As a first response, I would say that it makes a lot of difference whether the letter came from my father or not, even if the letter spoke eloquently about my future possibilities and what it means to be me.  But, since in this case, the father in question is “supernatural” and I have never met him in person or know for sure that he exists, I suppose Ricoeur’s advice is understandable that the content is all I have to go on.  But don’t tell me that it doesn’t make a material difference in the interpretation, validity and authority of the content, because it does.  Even more, since the fundamental question is “Who am I?” and why am I both “originally good, but radically evil,” it would be wise, if I trusted the source of the content as my father/creator, to allow the content to interpret me before I tried to interpret the content.  In other words, by calling the origin of the content an “illusion,” he has not made things more intelligible to modern man but rather less.  By taking away the authority of the content, he has weakened its ability to change the human heart and make inroads on the problem of evil that faces us all.  Still, he accepts this approach at face value and introduces us to the three masters of suspicion:  Marx, Freud and Nietzsche.

Ricoeur states that “quisiera entrar en este nivel crítico por medio del análisis de la función de la “sospecha” entendida como el instrumento crítico de dicha desmistificación y así tratar de comprender lo que tal sospecha representa para nuestra cultura (p. 17).”  It is worth looking at this statement in more detail.  It is important to distinguish between the content of what Marx, Freud and Nietzsche proposed and the methodology of “suspicion” as a hermeneutical tool that they used.  Ricoeur says that he wants to analyze the “función de la sospecha” as a critical tool in the process of “desmistificación.”  He then connects that suspicion with the central problem of our secular culture with religion in general.  He claims that these three masters of suspicion “pertenecen a nuestra cultura y con los que estamos parcialmente ligados (p. 17).”  On a cultural level, suspicion of the validity of religion is the central problem which Ricoeur wants to overcome by the use of a new language of faith rooted in this “desmistificación/desmitologización” process of his hermeneutical approach.  On a personal level, he admits that he is “partially” connected to their point of view but has gone beyond it to affirm something new about human nature.

Ricoeur claims that all three were involved in a hermeneutic of existence.  Marx through our economic existence, Freud through psychoanalysis and Nietzsche through the evolution of morality and the false conscience.  Since they were all involved in a hermeneutical task and the purpose of hermeneutics, according to Ricoeur, is to reveal what is hidden beneath and behind the obvious, superficial message, there is a natural process of “desmistificación” that takes place through a critique of “appearances” to the deeper ideologies hidden beneath it.  There is not only a “conciencia falsa” (Marx) but a “conciencia enmascarada” (Nietzsche).  Ricoeur says, “precisamente esta relación entre lo que se oculta y lo que se manifiesta convoca a una tarea específica, a una hermenéutica (p. 17).”  He goes on to say, and demonstrates it in the second half of his article, that the appearances are false and the hidden meaning is true and that it is the job of the exegete to reveal that truth.  Again, true but not sufficient, at least in the view of the present author.  To transpose a critique of society and culture where truth is not always apparent and falsehood often intentional to the biblical text and the hermeneutical task of the biblical exegete is nothing short of misrepresentation.

Of course, if you strip the biblical text of its supernatural origins and define it solely in human terms, then truth and falsehood, transparency and hiddeness play a larger role.  The biblical text itself invites us to consider its supernatural origin and therefore inspired and authoritative status as a hermeneutical principle that believes in the perspicuity of Scripture, while maintaining its “mystery” (requiring a deeper “brokenness” and humility, understanding and commitment) to reveal itself fully.  Much in the same way that God himself is both “obvious” in that he revealed himself to us and therefore is capable of making himself understood in all times and cultures, but he is also “hidden” and reveals himself progressively as the relationship with the “seeker” develops.  Much like any human relationship over time.  The problem, in the case of the biblical text, is not in the text itself but in the exegete who wishes to go deeper but finds that he himself is both “destroyed” and “interpreted” by the God who speaks to each of us through the biblical text empowered and enlightened by the Holy Spirit.  In fact, it is not God, nor the biblical text that wears the mask, but rather us.  Ricoeur says that it “es una manera de descubrir el sentido debajo del sentido.  desvelar lo que estaba velado, en otras palabras, quitar las máscaras. (p. 20).”

But, because the supernatural origin of the biblical text is nothing but an illusion, Ricoeur comes to the biblical text from a position of suspicion and therefore needs a hermeneutic of suspicion.  If he reversed the process and started with a supernatural origin to the biblical text and allowed God to define the human condition and reveal his solution in the person and work of Christ, then we can look at our present situation and be suspicious of ourselves and our culture and institutions and make a distinction between truth and falsehood, appearances and hiddeness in mankind and the world systems that needs to be revealed and changed in the light of Scripture.  Now we are on the right track.  But Ricoeur refuses to go there and puts his entire “external critique” of religion (which may not be so bad) on to the biblical text as if the two were the same and that religion is a natural consequence of the biblical text (which almost no one would agree to).  It is simplistic and patently false to equate the two.  Yet Ricoeur states that “sobre esta relación entre lo oculto y lo manifestó habrá de construirse un método de destrucción completamente nuevo (p. 20).”  He then goes on to analyze the contributions of Marx, Freud and Nietzsche to this new critique of religion.  His entire edifice crumbles at the foundation.

All of this begs the question of what Ricoeur is actually trying to accomplish.  It smacks of a new attempt at natural theology starting not from the existence of God but from the existence of Man and a basic understanding of the human condition.  But more on this in the second half of his presentation.  In the meantime, suffice it to say that, from an Evangelical point of view, Ricoeur provides no value in his critique of religion to the degree that he applies this “external critique” to the biblical text as if religion is always a natural and accurate outcome of the reading of foundational texts.  On the other hand, a hermeneutic of suspicion of religion in general, and even Christianity in specific, may be useful since human sin and evil tends to distort the message of the Word of God or ignore its implications for human society.

At the same time, it must be said, that the suspicion of Marx, Freud and Nietzsche was clearly directed at Christianity (and religion in general) without distinction or respect for the biblical message.  Marx had no place for religion in his understanding of the world and his anthropology suffered for it, leading to mass killings and ineffective policies within the various communist movements based on his work eventually leading to ultimate failure of his utopian ideal.  Freud believed that religion was an illusion and an escape from the real forces that drive human motivation.  Nietzsche, at least, was led to despair when he claimed that the idea of God was dead in our modern world (and rightly so).

Now scholars like Ricoeur are attempting to find a place for religion in our secular society but only at the price of “desmistificación y desmitologización.”  This attempt will also fail because it attempts a bridge between the believer and the non-believer on something other than the gift of faith that only a supernatural God can provide.  It is something akin to being a matchmaker by packaging both the man and the woman in acceptable and enticing clothes but not dealing with their basic need to connect and fall in love.  The matchmaker can wax eloquent about the virtues of love and even describe its benefits but cannot create it.  Without a supernatural origin to the incredible content of the biblical message, no bridge will ever make it to the other side unless it comes from the source of love itself.  But that would be too much for Ricoeur’s rationalistic foundations, even though it would be true to his hermeneutical “intent” (as we will see later on), providing a critique of his own approach and presuppositions and potentially affirming his value in relationship with God and leading him into an entirely new experience of what it means to be human filled “ontologically” with the presence of God.  Sadly, that is no longer an option for him.

This question of “affirmation” deserves more clarification as well.  This is the third aspect of this “destrucción/critica” which he calls “la intención común de afirmación (p. 21).”  The question of what is affirmed is central to the rest of the hermeneutical task.  He says, “más allá de la duda, más allá del trabajo de desciframiento, debemos luchar dentro de nosotros mismos con esta afirmación (p. 20,21).”  He even goes so far as to say that these three masters of suspicion are, finally, “pensadores positivos” because they intend to “restaurar fundamentalmente los valores positivos del hombre (p. 21).”  But, to be clear and fair, what he really means is “los valores positivos del hombre sin Dios” which is to say, without the trappings of belief in a supernatural God, transcendent and independent of our world while integrally involved in it.  From a biblical perspective, these are not “positive” values but rather “negative” ones that are at the very heart of the problem of man’s separation from God.  Ricoeur even goes so far as to quote Feuerbach´s definition of man’s fundamental problem with religion as the “disolución del hombre en lo absoluto (p. 22) which Feuerbach understands as a loss of substance (which Ricoeur would not agree with as an attribute of the essence/existence of man).  Still, he goes on to say that “de ahí que Feuerbach reclame, como tarea del hombre, la recuperación de su propia sustancia y detener así su “hemorragia” en medio de lo sagrado (p. 22).”

When you add that to Marx’s interpretation of Feuerbach in terms of “la necesidad a la libertad (p. 22),” you have a picture of man’s fundamental problem of wanting the freedom of liberation from any moral or relational dependence on an authority higher than ourselves that we simply don’t trust.  We sound like a “player” or “womanizer” who is dedicated to his own freedom as a single guy who can play the field looking for some ever fleeting satisfaction in the superficial sex and egoism that so characterizes our modern age, not realizing that what we really want is the fulfillment of a “love-connection” with someone we can trust because that person knows who we are with all of our flaws and imperfections and loves us anyway (or, to use the biblical perspective, “makes it possible for us to be loved anyway.”).  Given Ricoeur’s sensitivity to the necessity of the religious affirmation of life by remembering that the love for the individual is what makes us truly human, makes all of these comments so hard to swallow.  He is so close to the truth but his basic premises and presuppositions keep him from seeing it clearly.

Ricoeur goes on to talk about the idols of money, power and desire that these three masters of suspicion have uncovered in their critique of religion.  But once again, even though the details are interesting, it isn’t the existence of idols as a specific expression of evil in society that is important.  The Bible has revealed these idols to man centuries ago.  The existence of evil or their expression in terms of institutions and systems of action and thought in society isn’t anything new (other than perhaps some aspect of their external form in our modern age).  The question at hand is what to do about them.  It is a question of power not of language.  To name the evil may have some superficial benefit but to harness the power to defeat that evil is the purpose of the hermeneutical exercise.  It is the power of the indicative expressed in the imperative by defeating the power of sin and evil in the human heart and then working together to defeat it in society, even as we broaden the circle of those who have been personally impacted by the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives as an expression of the new relationship with God made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Without that objective reality, faith as a vehicle for motivational power fails miserably.

Ricoeur even suggests that the three masters of suspicion provide their own “myths” for the modern world.  He says “no es tarea fácil comprender plenamente estos tres mitos mencionados: la sociedad sin clases o la necesidad asumida, el eterno retorno y el principio de realidad (p. 23),” which combat the idols of money, power and desire as demonstrated in the institutions and systems of modern society.  Ricoeur tries to tie even these three “myths” or “affirmations of the possibilities of the future” together when he says, “lo que tal vez ellos tienen en común es una cierta manera de destacar la realidad tal cual ella es, como una forma de celebración del poderío libertador de la necesidad (p. 23).”  This concept of reality as being its own truth and should be celebrated as such smacks of pragmatism and suffers from the same ultimate fate of “might makes right” that characterizes so much of modern life.  It is not a solution even if it is limited to a freedom from religion, or the sacred, or God as traditionally defined.  If the other two “myths” belong to the same category as the principle of reality and the freeing power of doing what is necessary as dictated by that reality, then all moral intent is founded on utilitarianism, which, in itself, needs an organizing principle to define what is good and what is evil for the people in question.  Between the twin “idols” of pragmatism and utilitarianism is the abyss of a freedom without limits.  Ricoeur seems to have forgotten the fundamental problem mankind which is the discovery that we are “originally good but radically evil” and that only a deeper understanding and radical transformation of who we are will fix the problem.  These modern myths will lead us deeper into the abyss and further from the “love for each individual” that was clearly demonstrated by a God who became man and died so that we could be saved from our “sin.”  The evil is within and it is relational.  That is the exact opposite of what Ricoeur and the three masters of suspicion celebrate in their critique/destruction of religion and the biblical text/worldview.

Perhaps Ricoeur is more aware of the implications of his approach than he seems.  Speaking of the three masters of suspicion, he claims “porque lo que tienen en común es la iconoclasia, la lucha contra los ídolos, es decir, contra los dioses o si se quiere, contra el Dios de los hombres (p. 24).”  Obviously, Ricoeur doesn’t believe that there really is a God that exists as an objective reality that he is fighting against, but even if we interpret him as meaning “the word “God” which represents all of traditional belief that needs to be stripped away,” his intent is still clear.  He equates the idols that need to be defeated as the belief in the supernatural God of the Scriptures.   This is what he means by a “mature faith” for modern man.  He believes that the historic faith in a supernatural God that has revealed himself through history and spoken to us through Scripture has resulted in the idols “de miedo, de la dominación y del odio (p. 24).  This truth was revealed to us through the “critica marxista de la ideología, crítica nietzschearia del resentimiento, crítica freudiana de la debilidad infantil (p. 24).”   It is in the details of each of their hermeneutic that these truths and their logical, rational basis in the poison of religion in the history of Western Civilization is evident.

Even if that were true, which not everyone finds convincing, we are speaking of “religion,” even Christianity, as an institution and a system of belief, politics, economics, morality etc.  Where is the justification for equating that “religious” system with the biblical message which stands over all of us to destroy us and interpret us from the perspective of God?  When someone has a problem with the church, the assumption always is that the church accurately reflects what God desires or teaches.  Not true.  God is committed to the church but he doesn’t always agree with it.  God can use an individual or organization but not approve of him (or it).

Ricoeur now moves on to the “internal critique” of religion (i.e. Christianity) by turning to the work of Bultmann (and even Barth).  According to Ricoeur, this “desmitologización” is just as much a part of the process of his hermeneutical approach as the “desmistificación” and external critique of religion.  The two movements must be understood as two parts of one process.  Together they describe “la distancia cultural que existe (p. 24)” between modern society and the language and cultural expressions of the Gospel.  The wording here is important because Ricoeur is claiming that the problem is not one of historical distance between a culture that existed two thousand years ago and our modern, scientific and technologically advanced society.  It is a linguistic rather than a historical distance.  Ricoeur attempts to use Barth’s concept of “kerygma” as a hermeneutical principle for understanding the core message of the gospel.  But rather than letting the biblical text itself determine the core message of the gospel, Ricoeur imposes his own interpretation (even though he uses biblical language).  At first glance it sounds correct to say that “la predicación de la Cruz (p. 25)” is the heart of the gospel message.  And it is.  But it depends on the content of that preaching.

Ricoeur himself recognizes that it “es una locura para el mundo (p. 25)” but he doesn’t quite grasp what that “craziness” consists in.  He claims, later on, that the foolishness of the gospel consists in the reminder that love for the individual is what makes us human and that the preaching of the gospel is there to remind us of that truth in a society which constantly objectifies humanity in terms of their performance or utility.  Although there is some truth here, that is not what Paul meant by the foolishness of the Gospel.  It isn’t the reminder of our true humanity based on love for the individual that is the solution to our problem but rather the historical reality of the cross itself.  If the biblical perspective is correct that we are willfully estranged from our creator and that has created evil in our hearts and sin in our actions, resulting in suffering, pain and death and that the only solution is that our relationship with the very real, transcendent God must be restored, then the foolishness of the cross begins to be revealed.

The world refuses to accept God’s interpretation of the human condition in such exclusive and supernatural terms without recourse to rational argumentation or scientific verification.  God has not left himself without testimony to this reality, both in creation as well as in mankind himself, in terms of his awareness of a being who is the source of all things, and our primordial guilt for cutting him out of our life and becoming gods to ourselves.  In that context, the cross and its necessity as the only solution to our sin and evil, defined in relational terms first of all, both destroys us as well as affirms us.  We are destroyed in all of our arrogance and willful refusal to bow the knee to our creator father but we are affirmed in our basic value to him that he would take the burden upon his own shoulders and fulfill his justice with his own sacrificial love.  This is the divine praxis that is the keystone of all of history and puts every heart to the test.  This is the divine portal that demands “brokeness” but promises “new life.”  It is the necessity of the cross, so defined, that offends us in our blindness.  There is nothing so embarrassing in heaven or on earth than the arrogance of those who ought to be ashamed of themselves.  Sadly, that applies to all of us.  To accept the preaching of the cross is to be taught first of all (by amazing grace) that we are “radically evil” even if “originally good” and there is no way for us to resolve that paradox or return to paradise on our own.  It must come from a supernatural source outside of us and our wisdom and insight.  We may see glimpses of it.  We may even recognize the outlines of the problem but we have no power to solve the problem.  We are the problem.

Ricoeur may be able to use the structure of Barth’s thought by making a distinction between the kerygma of the gospel preaching centered in the cross from its cultural trappings but it is a false dichotomy.  That is not to say that there aren’t cultural trappings and that there isn’t a process of separating out what is incidental or culturally conditioned from what is the clear message of the scriptures.  That is part of the job of the biblical exegete in the process of his hermeneutical task.  But that is not what Ricoeur is suggesting.  He claims that all of the cultural trappings are found in the actual content of the message and that the supernatural aspects of the message are obviously part of a pre-scientific view of the world which is no longer acceptable to modern man.  This is a belief statement accepted by many modern theologians and has lead to a major distortion of the Word of God.  Ricoeur states it in the following way.  He claims that we need to create “un espacio para creer (p. 26)” for modern man.  His goal is “que la locura de la Cruz se va a decir dentro de lo que es creíble para una cultura dada (p. 26).”  Later he will make some modifications to this criteria of “credibility” but, at least here, he claims that it is the criteria for determining what is cultural trappings and what is the heart of the gospel.  He says, “de esta forma los signos se transformarán en milagros, el origen divino de Cristo se expresará a través del nacimiento virginal, la victoria sobre la muerte y la resurrección se transmitirán a través de la tumba vacía o por medio de las apariciones milagrosas.  Pero esta larga y durable amalgama entre la locura del mensaje y aquello que fue la creencia de una época, se deshace a nuestra vista (p. 26).”  Really?  Why?  Just because it isn’t credible to modern man?

Actually, it goes deeper than that.  Ricoeur, along with many others, has already been infected with the hermeneutic of suspicion about the veracity, historicity and objectivity of the gospel through a mixture of half-truths, misunderstandings and philosophical manipulations of the past two to three hundred years.  It is that “body of evidence” that has distanced him from the truth of scripture as given in the biblical text and provides the real justification for the demythologizing project of theologians such as Bultmann.  So, it isn’t the credibility of modern man that is the criteria but rather, given that these elements have been proven to be cultural trappings by the work of scholars over the past two to three hundred years, we should consider getting rid of them so that the preaching of the Cross can clearly be heard and understood by modern man.  It is Ricoeur’s presuppositions about the biblical text that are the problem here.  What is so unnerving is that Ricoeur launches an attack on the biblical text in the name of Christ and the preaching of the cross.  He defines the hermeneutical task in terms of this distance and lack of transparency (however intentional) that these primitive beliefs represent and the need to maintain the scandal of the cross (interpreted as a love for the individual which makes us truly human) as the true meaning of Scripture.

Ricoeur goes on to talk of the hermeneutical task that the Church Fathers were engaged in  while obviously favoring the Alexandrian Fathers with their Hellenizing attitude over those like Tertullian and St. Augustine who maintained more distance from Greek thought in their hermeneutical efforts.  He talks of St. Paul and his re-interpretation of the Old Testament through allegory as if allegory was his only, or even main, hermeneutic tool while at the same time denying the testimony of the biblical text that Christ (and the New Testament) came to “fulfill” the Old Testament, not set it aside, or re-interpret it or somehow provide the true meaning of what went before.  None of that is true to the biblical testimony of the Old Testament as continuous with the New but finding its fulfillment (distinctiveness) in terms of redemptive history in the work and person of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the church.

Of course, if like Ricoeur, you do not believe that the biblical text can interpret itself or give testimony to its own validity, veracity, historicity and inspiration, then there is no way to have a cogent discussion about any of it.  But if that is the case, why should Ricoeur be allowed to use St. Paul’s hermeneutical approach, misunderstand it and misrepresent it and yet still use it to justify his own hermeneutical approach which is godless and inaccurate with regards to the biblical message.

He even goes so far as to claim that for the early Christians, in the light of the preaching of the cross, the Old Testament turned into “una letra obsoleta y envejecida, el viejo Testamento (p. 28).”   On the contrary, when Christ walked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and revealed to them how the Scriptures (the Old Testament) spoke of Christ and why it was necessary for him to die and be raised again on the third day, the testimony of the disciples was that their hearts “burned” within them.  Ricoeur is simply misinformed.

He claims that the same thing happened later on in the process of taking the living and active word of Christ and writing it down in the pages of what would become the New Testament which is to say “el que quedará también encerrado en la cáscara de su propio medio cultural (p. 28).”  Not that it isn’t true.  After all, God has determined to use human language within their cultural limitations to speak of things fundamentally unspeakable.  In fact, the existence of the entire Old Testament history and culture was a reflection of God’s intention to create a cultural and linguistic context for understanding the cross and what it means for human life and potential.  If a covenantal/transaction Christology is at the heart of the preaching of the cross, and if that transaction is between God the Father and God the Son (rather than with the Devil or with mankind), then what else could God do but first teach us the language of redemption before accomplishing it.  The very existence of the Old Testament gives credence to the idea that God speaks through human language and its cultural limitations. As the master of language and communication, we believe that God manages to speak clearly and concisely, even if somewhat culturally conditioned, through both the Old and New Testament to our modern age.  The problem is not the language of the message but “the will to be free” (rather than “the will to believe” which is a gift of God).

At the same time, Ricoeur manages to ask some good questions which he sees as the heart of the hermeneutical problem.  He asks, “¿cómo hacer para que el Nuevo Testamento no se transforme en un segundo Antiguo Testamento? (p. 28).”  Leaving aside for the moment his analysis of the Old Testament as obsolete at the coming of Christ, still even Jesus claimed that many in his audience accepted the form of religion but denied its power.  For the Jews, as well as many Christians, the danger is always there that the Old and New Testament can become obsolete and irrelevant but, also like Jesus, we believe that the problem does not lie in the Scriptures but in the heart of mankind himself.

Again he asks, “¿Cómo lograr que no se torne en una simple escritura? (p. 28).”  Meaning that preaching has most often lost its power to establish the new reality of the indicative and motivate people to the imperative of the gospel.  That is also true and needs to be addressed.  Ricoeur believes (without much argumentation or experiential proof) that the power of the Gospel can be regained if modern man understands (or doesn’t forget) the language of faith which speaks of “love for the individual which makes us truly human.”  Even if we interpret Ricoeur’s “not forgetting” with a full-bodied “comprehension and apprehension” (as required by the hermeneutical task), he still provides no assurances that such “apprehension” comes from the efforts of linguistic analysis to create a language of faith that is understandable and credible to modern man even as it challenges him to greater humanity in the context of the objectivization of people in our increasingly technological society.  It sounds good, but does it work?

For Ricoeur, it is this hermeneutical task which makes it possible to believe and belief is essential to the hermeneutical circle.  He says, “yo no puedo acércame a un texto si no comprendo lo que me dice, pero al mismo tiempo, debo ser captado por lo que el texto dice (p. 28).”  So far, so good.  Of course, there probably isn’t anyone alive today, even in modern society, that doesn’t have some notion (however incorrect it may be) of God, man, sin and salvation.  To treat modern society as totally “un-analogous” to early Christians (or Christians throughout the ages and in every culture and race) is simply saying too much.  Is there a problem of credibility in our modern rationalistic culture?  Of course, but the problem is not, first of all, the language of the Bible (although perhaps of the church) but the priority of “freedom from authority” over the “freedom of love” in the heart of man.

Ricoeur goes on to say, “por lo tanto es necesario creer para comprender y a su vez, no es posible comprender sin descifrar el texto (p. 28).”  Almost but not quite.  Yes, we must believe in order to understand but there is an awareness of God, there is a content to the “pre-comprehension” that is necessary in approaching any hermeneutical task (although with very different content than what Ricoeur suggests in the second part of his article) but that is not the issue.  Certainly we cannot understand “sin descifrar el texto,” but just like the Ethiopian eunuch in his chariot in the desert, who was confused by the text, we must not only acknowledge that we need to “descifrar el texto” but ask the essential question.  “Who can explain it to me?”  Certainly the “who” is the exegete, but not just any exegete, rather it is Phillip, one who is filled with the Spirit of God, one of the disciples of Jesus who, by his own testimony, can give evidence to the historicity, validity and veracity of the person and work of Jesus.  The real question is whether or not someone who is not filled with the inner illumination of the Spirit of God and who is not committed to the biblical text as it stands, with its self-testimony to being the inspired, living, authoritative Word of God, whether a person like that can “descifrar el texto” to discover a message that is divine in origin and destined to change the world one individual at a time.  The answer, according to the same biblical text, is “no” – that godless, rationalistic person cannot be the exegete that discerns the true meaning of the text.

Ricoeur anticipates this argumentation by referring to Bultmann and his comment that you cannot reduce this hermeneutical process merely to psychology “como si se tratara de la posesión de la emotividad o la experiencia de la fe como condición para acercarse a un texto (p. 28).”  But that simply begs the question since Bultmann is the very one who suggests the project of demythologizing in the first place since he, himself, does not approach the biblical text from a position of “la experiencia de la fe.”

Bultmann claims that hermeneutics is about “methodology” where “por un lado, el objeto de la fe regula la lectura y por otro, el método de desciframiento regula la comprensión (p. 28).”  Actually, we would agree.   The problem is that the first affects the second, which is to say, that without “la experiencia de la fe,” the exegete will not rightly discern the “objeto de la fe” which is the scandal of the cross as God’s condemnation and affirmation of mankind and his call to new life on his terms through brokeness and restauration (death and resurrection).  If the personal experience of faith is rooted in the object of our faith which is the person and work of Christ as defined by the Old and New Testament, it will lead us to a particular posture of humility (since we have accepted the freedom of being under the loving authority of God) before the supernatural origin of the biblical text within its human language and linguistic limitations, believing that God speaks his message clearly in the basics, but also rewards ongoing commitment, obedience and searching with the deeper mysteries of his will and person.  From there, in the community of the saints throughout time and in all places, we discern from the biblical text itself the hermeneutical tools that are necessary to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture.  That is an Evangelical “hermeneutical circle”:  the personal experience of faith which rightly, and necessarily, discerns the object of its faith and therefore stands in humility before the inspired and authoritative word of God to discover the hermeneutical principles embedded in the text itself and applies these principles to a particular text while fully aware of its historical, linguistic and cultural context with an eye to the needs of modern man as first of all interpreted by that same Word of God and common (by ontological analogy) to all men of all cultures, times and places and as experienced by the people to whom you must preach.  But this is classical hermeneutics and traditional Christianity and, according to Ricoeur, nobody is listening to the barely credible biblical worldview in modern society today.  That is also not true but that is another discussion for another day.

In conclusion, Ricoeur makes a statement at the end of his first section that is at the heart of his hermeneutical approach but also which gives the lie to everything that he teaches.  He says, “El exégeta no es su propio maestro:  comprender significa someterse a los requerimientos del objeto que se halla implicado en el texto.  De esta forma, la hermenéutica cristiana se pone en movimiento por medio de la Proclamación del núcleo de su mensaje (p. 28).”  If Ricoeur would follow his own advice, he would end up throwing his entire hermeneutic approach in the trash.  He, himself, is trying to be his own teacher.  He, himself, is trying to build a hermeneutical method based on his own philosophical anthropology.  He, himself, does not “someterse a los requierimientos del objeto que se halla implicado en el texto,” rather, he redefines the “object of our faith” along existentialist and phenomenological lines which means that he, himself, has missed “el núcleo de su mensaje.”  And this is not merely apologetic, it is a fact that he, himself, would agree with.  Ricoeur would admit that a supernatural approach to the origin of the biblical text would change everything, including the experience of faith, the object of faith, the humility before the inspired and authoritive biblical text and the discovery of the hermeneutical principles embedded there which are all preliminary to the actual task of hermeneutics.

Ricoeur goes on to say, “la existencia del círculo deriva del hecho de que, para comprender el texto, es necesario creer en el anuncio; pero aquello que es anunciado en el texto no se encuentra en ningún otro lugar más que en el acto de descífralo y en ese tipo de lucha entre el verdadero y el falso escándalo, se sitúa en el seno del propio texto (p. 29).”  What beautiful language he uses but it is filled with content that is misleading.  Especially in his last line where he claims that it is “en ese tipo de lucha entre el verdadero y el falso escándalo, se sitúa en el seno del propio texto.”  The problem is that he has the wrong interpretation of the scandal of the cross because he does not situate himself as the exegete “en el seno del propio texto.”  He, himself, does not follow his own hermeneutical approach but rather re-interprets the entire linguistic context for understanding the text before he begins to exegete the text (but we will discuss this further in the next section).

As a final blow to the classical concept of hermeneutics based on a traditional understanding of Christianity, Ricoeur claims that “ese círculo sólo puede ser roto por el creyente como “hermeneuta”, en tanto permanece fiel a su comunidad, y por el hermeneuta como “creyente”, cuando realiza su trabajo científico como exégeta (p. 29).”  Of course, if you don’t believe that Ricoeur’s (or Bultmann’s) hermeneutical circle is valid in the first place, it certainly doesn’t matter whether it is “broken” or not, since such “brokeness” may, in fact, be the correct way of completing the hermeneutical task from a biblical point of view.  Suffice it to say, that, even so, Ricoeur’s attempt at an “objective,” general hermeneutical method (which is the same for all texts without consideration of the distinctiveness of the biblical text) is counter-intuitive to his claims to be a rational, secular scholar who believes in the subjectivity of man as the ultimate reality.  Perhaps that misguided “objectivity” which has no place in biblical hermeneutics, is even expressed in the desire to separate doctrine from philosophy or even discussion about biblical hermeneutics as if it is not appropriate or helpful.  This author would certainly not agree.  Within Evangelical circles (in Protestant and Catholic Christianity) the goal is to show much charity, but outside, where the proclamation must be made, much apologetics (based on biblical doctrine) and prayer.

  1. ¿Qué aspectos no entendí?

More work could be done in understanding the specific perspectives of Nietzsche, Marx and Freud and how they might contribute to an understanding of modern society but, in the process, there would have to be both a recognition of the religious and cultural causes as well as a separation from the biblical message itself.

  1. ¿Cómo se puede aplicar el contenido a la tarea hermenéutica?

Ricoeur served more as a goad to understanding the classical hermeneutical process in terms of traditional Christianity than as a contributor to the hermeneutical task in and of itself.  Still, the issues he raises are valuable even though his answers are not.  At the same time, thought must be given as to whether the way that he frames the hermeneutical problem in the first place is entirely correct from an Evangelical point of view.

Bert Amsing

Master’s Program – FIET