Kenneth Starr’s prosecution failed against Bill Clinton. The investigator hadn’t taken into account ambiguity. A few choice words -- like “I did not have ‘sex’ with that woman” and “private lives” and “that depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” – worked better in the legal hearings than any double-entendre has ever worked for married men who have conveniently used them on women to whom they are not especially committed. So Rush Limbaugh could call the President “Slick Willy.” And John Piper could call out the Scriptures on Limbaugh for that (although few men, much less that particular man of the law named Starr or that particular man of the cloth named Piper, will take the radio man named Limbaugh to task for naming feminists “femi-nazis” as if the singular coined word might disambiguate the meaning of “feminist” and of “Nazi”).
Aristotle avoided ambiguity, and taught his students to do the same. His resulting science of Aristotelianism worked to pigeon-hole everything, and by it he found that nature put some subjects down below others and gave to him, the cold objective logical observer, the high position right at the top with no ambiguity at all. Of course, Aristotle’s own teacher Plato had taught men to be ware of the poets and the sophists, the ones using what Plato coined as “rhetoric.” Slick ambiguous stuff. So: “Avoid Ambiguities! ”
What Aristotle forgot to tell the boys in the Academy was this:
• “How to avoid ambiguity.”
• Learning really depends on some ambiguity. (Kenneth Pike and his friends would come along and call “rhetoric” for learning two different things: “discovery and change.”)
• Absolute avoidance of ambiguity means that you have to kill off all your enemies. (Alexander the Great, Aristotle’s student, tried that; and unfortunately for the Hellene empire some Roman leaders had learned Greek from their mothers and followed Aristotle’s lessons on global conquest and world domination.)
Nathan’s rhetoric succeeded with King David. The prophet used ambiguity. A choice story about the gross domination and abuse of a little lamb and the one who loved it worked better than any congressional hearing. So David ben Jesse heard the story which also, ambiguously, meant discovering meaning for his own life as well and meant changing the enemy in himself by making amends to all of those who he’d violated and by singing a new heart-wrenching song of recovery of joy and spirit (heavy on Steps 1, 2, and 3 of the 12 Steps of AA). And Suzanne McCarthy would write a series of posts on this Psalm of the Scriptures by which some of us began to find life meanings for ourselves, learning by ambiguous spiritual-life and love-of-enemy meanings. There are a few Hebrew or Greek or Latin words in Psalm 50 or 51 too; so as much as Aristotle would push for untranslated unambiguous Greek mainly for men only, we’ll look forward to English as well.
As a further exercise in avoiding some ambiguity, in finding more meaning in life, and in learning to love, let’s do one more thing. Let’s listen to another choice story by a later son of David. Then you tell me if this is not, even ambiguously, a good feminist thing.
To listen, let’s just briefly reconsider Aristotle and ambiguity. And light. This is important.
Just as Aristotle taught his students to avoid ambiguity, he also told them to avoid choice stories. And he rather unambiguously pigeon-holed what he meant by choice stories: the ones Aesop told and the ones black story teller from Libya told. Why? Aristotle was smart, and smart enough to know that his logic and his observations of nature didn’t require him to get down from his high horse in the ivory tower of the academy. Choice stories that black people tell might be slick and might, therefore, compromise Aristotelian science and its power. So now we look at what Aristotle’s science observed about light: for Aristotle, light absolutely and unambiguously produced the color spectrum; and the addition of two distinct colors of light, namely original yellow light plus original blue light, will total a third, namely original green light. Absolutely logical, absolutely natural, absolutely unambiguous. Few scientists through the centuries following Aristotle have disagreed with him on light. But then comes Albert Einstein, who doesn’t completely disagree, but says “Hey, wait a minute. Let’s contemplate light more.” And Einstein says that light can be contemplated, ambiguously, as particle and/or as wave and/or as field (i.e., in relation to space and time). Then Kenneth Pike comes back into the room with us and says “Won’t you see how even Albert is above Aristotle’s logic here? And remember all those black people whose languages don’t even have or need many numbers at all? Person is above logic; person is above Aristotle’s abstract mathematical additions too. My monolingual demonstrations demonstrate that all the time.” Then Alan Lightman barges in saying “We scientists use Aristotle’s logic; we’re people too. We artists are more interested in choice stories. Yes, I’m an ambiguous person who writes like a scientist and who also writes like an artist. I wrote about that in my essay ‘The Physicist as Novelist’ which is the anchor leg essay in my book The Future of Spacetime in which I include an essay from my famous buddy Stephen William Hawking.” Then C. S. Lewis shouts out: “I was once an Aristotelian until God made me read Samuel Alexander’s Space, Time and Diety. Did you know Aristotle and Albert are just contemplating ‘light’ even though the latter, yes ‘personally’ just like Ken and Alan too, contemplates light ambiguously? So we can contemplate light, and logic and math help some but these don’t always make us avoid ambiguity. But did you all know we can enjoy light too?”
This is where Rabbi Joshua ben David (aka Jesus ben Joseph) steps in and tells a choice story in response to some men who are trying to avoid ambiguity, although they are both men of the cloth and are also morality lawyers. The choice story this time is about a woman contemplating numbers and enjoying light and finding meaning and sharing it with her friends.
And, ambiguously, it’s also a story about you, and about me, (if we have ears to hear). Enjoying requires such careful listening for our exercise in avoiding ambiguity. (The contemplators among us will surmise something technical, like, “Light is a metaphor” or something academic, like, “light is a heuristic—see the Greek scientific root--εὕρῃ καὶ εὑροῦσα?”) Once we’ve learned to love our enemies; once we’ve found the security that enables us to love ourselves; once we’ve begun to learn to love our neighbor like that; once we men have learned not to hoodwink women who are not our wives; once we women have learned that Aristotle’s nature isn’t how it is from the beginning; then we’ll know, much more safely, how to avoid ambiguity. Luke welcomes the Reb’s Aramaic into his own Greek (see his chapter 15, verses 8,9,10); and so I’ve welcomed Dr. Luke’s Greek into my own English. You’ll have to welcome the story for yourself. Listen; change your thinking:
ἢ τίς γυνὴ δραχμὰς ἔχουσα δέκα
ἐὰν ἀπολέσῃ δραχμὴν μίαν
οὐχὶ ἅπτει λύχνον
καὶ σαροῖ τὴν οἰκίαν
καὶ ζητεῖ ἐπιμελῶς ἕως οὗ εὕρῃ
συγκαλεῖ τὰς φίλας καὶ γείτονας λέγουσα
ὅτι εὗρον τὴν δραχμὴν ἣν ἀπώλεσα
ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀγγέλων τοῦ θεοῦ
ἐπὶ ἑνὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ
“Or there’s this woman with Greek silver coins, ten of them.
Should she lose a coin, even one of them; then what?
Won’t she enjoy turning on the lights then?
And will she even mind sweeping the house then?
And is it any burden at all for her to have to search until she finds it?
And then she, finding it,
calls together the neighbors and friends saying
‘party together with me
because I found the coin I lost.’”
“That’s just like this ambiguity,”
is my statement to each one of you:
“There’s birthed a party
right in front of the angels making God’s announcements
Whenever any single one who’s broken the moral law
begins changing his or her thinking.”