Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What πίστεως means to a 10-Yr-Old Girl

Very little.  That's what πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ means to a ten-year-old little girl, whose parents are splitting up after two decades of becoming one because one of them has chosen to covet another's spouse, to commit adultery, to bear false witness, and to kill the other with the crime of hate (never mind the idolatry of holiday rituals and such like flowers to the bereaved). 

"The meaning of that genitive case of old Greek of men then and now?" asks Nancy Ziegenmeyer, Honorata Kizende, Claudine Mwabachizi, Matthew Weiner, Patricia Wettig, Eve Ensler, Geneva Overholser, Jeffrey Gettleman, and some of you, and me.

But the arguing goes on up through Χριστmas.  There is more here than just a silly rhetorical enthymeme as the body of proof.  There is pure logic.  Scholars: behold, the sequitur of the syllogism, the reason for (the season of) the debate --
MAJOR PREMISE: . . . the dispute is bigger than mere points of grammar. Most of these phrases occur in passages which are central to Paul’s theology (Rom 3-4 and Gal 2-3).

MINOR PREMISE:  The topic is central to our interpretation of how Paul understood salvation. And Paul’s ideas are fairly much central to Christianity itself,

CONCLUSION:   so it fundamentally affects the Christian concept of salvation. It has been suggested, with little exaggeration, that the debate has the potential to “lay the groundwork for an entirely different paradigm in the theology of the New Testament” (Sigve Tonstad, “ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ: Reading Paul in a New Paradigm,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 40.1 (2002): 37-59).
And we're promised not just "1 reason" but "100 reasons." Here's that first one:
MAJOR PREMISE:  It is generally agreed that the meaning of πίστις ranges from faith/trust/confidence to faithfulness/trustworthiness, encompassing a fair few other meanings ‘inbetween’. Like all attempts at translation, there is no 1:1 correspondence between πίστις and any one English term.

MINOR PREMISE:  If a word takes a wide variety of meanings according to various contexts, it can still quite plausibly take one of those meanings in one particular context. . . . The term πίστις can simply mean either “faith” (e.g. Mk 11.22) or “faithfulness” (Rom 3.3), depending on the (so important) context.

CONCLUSION:  So it is, rather, a “semantic” fallacy to insist that it must mean both in any given context. . . . [Therefore,] the objective meaning (having human faith in Christ) [and NOT the not objective meaning (i.e., a subjective meaning)] is, on examination, the main gist of the phrase in Paul’s writings.
Here's the second:
MAJOR PREMISE: Proponents of the subjective genitive interpretation sometimes cite the work of [a couple of other scholars] in order to demonstrate that the predominant meaning of πίστις is “faithfulness” in the Greek Old Testament and Hellenistic Jewish literature.

MINOR PREMISE:  While there is a presumption for “faithfulness” in the overall statistics, there is no such easy presumption in respect of the New Testament occurrences of πίστις, given that the New Testament usage demonstrates a marked increase in the use of the term to denote “faith/trust in”. . . . [And] the meaning of πίστις as “faith/trust in” . . . is beginning to emerge in 4 Maccabees, Philo and Josephus . . . [a]nd already in the Qumran interpretation of Habakkuk 2.4, a passage central to the discussion of πίστις Χριστοῦ in Romans and Galatians, אמונה denotes “trust in” or “loyalty to” the Teacher of Righteousness (1QpHab 8.2-3).

CONCLUSION:  This trend continues in the New Testament writings, where Jesus is the recipient of human trust and faith.
Hello?  Are you still awake?  What's going on here?  It's the game of logic.

In other words, the game played so seriously is this: "get it right."  Yes, use logic if you have to. Be coldly objective whether siding either with objectivity or with subjectivity. Get it right, dammit. (Oh, don't say "dammit" -- not necessarily because that's not the Christian thing to do, but it sounds so pathetic, so illogical. And father Aristotle would not approve.)

Since you've let me bring up Aristotle again, can we remember how for him "logic" was the only game in town?  Logic let Aristotle get the facts right, presumably, without too much of a hint of "pathos." What rhetoricians say he said about "ethos" was a better way to argue than "pathos."  Far and away better than either "pathos" or "ethos" for Aristotle, however, is "logos." But that's all still "rhetoric," the stuff of the womanly Speakeristas.

Aristotle invented logic, and as far as I can tell actually even coined the term λογική /logikē/, which he began using to separate his teachings from those of his own teachers, Plato and Socrates.  Logic was NOT EITHER "rhetoric" OR its "antistrophos" called "dialectic," a partial "corrective" to "barbarisms" and "solecisms" and "poetry" and "sophistisms" and such sloppy, subjective stuff that even foreigners and women might use.

Logic was NOT "logos" and especially not "dissoi logoi." The absolute power of reason was NOT cultural relativism. (Notice, I'm using past tense as if we have not appropriated "logic" today, but we have.)

The strategy of logic is to "get it right." To get to the facts. To separate out the bias, the subjectivities, to get at the true nature of the thing in itself.

The strategy of logic is what Robert E. Quinn calls "the telling strategy." It's the mathematician's and logician's game of using statements, one following another, to drive home a conclusion. Linguists use "logic," and call it "description" NOT "prescription." Christian apologists use "logic," and call it "propositional Truth" for the "absolute" nature of the "Word of God." Modern modernists have used "logic," and call it objectivity (as opposed to relativity, subjectivity, and post-modernism that ought to die once a modernist spoofs the pedantic scholarship in a pomo journal--even though spoofing is not necessarily logic or very modern at all). Logic is the "contingency difficulty" or the "epiphenomenal difficulty" that anti-modernist George Steiner says poetry readers sometimes have. (Sometime, I'd like to say something about what Steiner says about "the constantly polysemic stratified techniques of semantic motions in the Pauline Epistles." Steiner suggests that Paul writes like the translators of Jesus have him speak: in parables. And Mark's Jesus, at least, warns against the contingency or epiphenomenon of a seed "falling by the wayside" -- which is the absolute horror of the telling strategy of logic.)

The strategy of logic is what parents sometimes try on their teenagers, not remembering they once were teenagers too who by and large could care less for logic. (I got my first taste of logic in Geo-metry class when I was pubescent adolescent and so couldn't bring myself to take "pure logic" until a wiser post-Sophomore post-teen in college). When logic fails, parents resort to other strategies of commanding obedience, such as forcing and negotiating (also known as bribery or spoiling). There's another strategy I should mention, a better one, a feminist strategy. But that'll have to wait for another day -- or at least for a few more paragraphs.

I guess I should say a couple of other things about Aristotle's use of logic. But then I want also to acknowledge a few (somewhat related) comments from blogger friends.

Aristotle wanted his disciples "to tell" the facts, and to tell them objectively, syllogistically.  But the secret is his "logic" often failed.  Thus, he'd resort to other strategies, like distorting logic and forcing the facts of nature.  Since we're talking about his logic, note what historian Edward Schiappa has said:  
Aristotle consistently sought to contrast his philosophical system [of logic] with that of his predecessors even if the contrast required distortion of his predecessors’ doctrines. . . . Aristotle reduced the origin of rhetoric to the study of probability, thereby accommodating the history of rhetoric to his own system of logic and giving his own treatment precedence. . . . [and in defiance of facts, he] fictionalized some of his own history of presocratic philosophy in order to offer his own as the final solution. . . . Aristotle [would] argue from an either/or logic [to contrast the method of the sophist] Protagoras [who] used a both/and logic. . . [a non-logic that was to Aristotle dangerously] rich and variable enough to be capable of multiple—and even inconsistent—[and nature-distorting] accounts. . . . Aristotle’s comments in the Metaphysics [were made even though they] contain a similar distortion [as the one he makes with history]. Aristotle argued that if two parties disagree about what-is and what-is-not, one of the parties must be mistaken (1063a). (Protagoras and Logos: A Study in Greek Philosophy and Rhetoric, page 52)
Logic becomes so important to Aristotle that he is willing to “fictionalize” history and to “define” rhetoric so that history and rhetoric favor logic and are subservient to logic.  So what?  So, for the creator of the method that bible scholars still use today to argue by, logic was not enough.  The strategy of telling what the facts are and are not is not enough.

So Jane says "Balancing feminism and faith . how do I do that?
IT's a bit like breathing I suppose .."  

And Dan adds: "there is not one answer that the authors agree on to the question of 'can i be a feminist and love god?' but the answers are great." He's pointing us to My Red Couch: And Other Stories on Seeking a Feminist Faith, which is "a collection of narrative essays written by and for a 'young, feminist, Christian' audience. . . . [essays that] bring a 'complex, nuanced, and less polemicized feminism' to the struggle to integrate feminist ideology with Christian faith and life."

Both Jane and Dan, to me, seem to answer Joel's question, "Postmodernism is not a problem, is it?" No, postmodernisms are solutions to modernism. They can be deconstructions of the constructed logic of modernism. They can be counter-speak of the syllogistic statements that purport to give "the right answer," the one-and-only-one correct conclusion, as opposed to the not right answer, the wrong one.  

We quickly add that postmodernism depends on modernism, which means it'll probably be the perpetual motion machine Jacques Derrida described it as.  I'm just grateful to females courageous enough translate the bible, rhetorically too.  Julia Smith did, and makes meanings with her readers (as the Greekish Paul does with his) by her "literal" renderings of πίστεως Ἰησοῦ as "faith of Jesus." Note how the ambiguity of her English is a different ambiguity of Paul's Greek, and yet they are counter-logical ambiguities all the same. (UPDATE: one of you sends me this, which shows that Julia Smith was ahead of some current self-identified postmodernist thinkers, who, looking to "Francis Watson, Paul, Judaism, and the Gentile: Beyond the New Perspective, p. 255). . . submit that this warrants a return to the translation of the 'faith of Christ' in Bible translations in order to keep the gentive deliberately ambiguous (much like the 'righteousness of God')"). Thanks to Suzanne for reminding readers of the availability of Smith's Bible. She's also given us a window into her "egalitarian church" where "the staff are all men" and where she feels no need for that "logic" of female representation through "affirmative action"; as importantly! Suzanne gives some suggestions for snacks in her "brief Christmas notes." These are the important things for my 10-year-old niece this holiday season, believe me.


N T Wrong said...

Syllogism? Sounds like 'silly jism'.

Logic is truth. How can you speak against truth, J.K.? [...irrefutable logic in action...] To do so is to indulge in fallacy (sounds like 'phallusy').

In prayers and tears,
N. T. Wrong?

J. K. Gayle said...

Cheer up, N. T. All is not wrong with logic. And Truth? asks Pilate.

And sounds? Of course, logic sounds a certain way. Aristotle wants it to sound like φαλλικὰ (“ph-a-l-l-ika”).

But, alas, before and after Aristotle there are men and even women who know better.

J. K. Gayle