Wednesday, November 30, 2005

How it Works

Christianity, Catholicism, value ethics, and orthodoxy in general has been under a general intellectual attack for the past several decades, from a form of criticism called deconstruction.

Earlier, Christ was attacked by the Communists, who claimed that the forces of history would inevitably overwhelm and destroy His Church. "We will bury you!" was their battle cry, and certainly the Communist governments buried hundreds of millions of victims. The collapse of that system of government led many of its followers to become Environmentalists, but also caused many to attack the Church in a more intellectual way. One method of attack is deconstruction.

Deconstruction is a technique of literary criticism invented by the French post-structuralist philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004). It takes a very broad view of 'literature': advertising, political speech, actions, art, and so forth, as well as written words are all considered 'text', and are suitable for deconstruction. Any human artifact that claims meaning or is subject to interpretation is fair game for deconstruction. The purpose of deconstruction is subversion and criticism, to cause doubt and confusion.

Deconstructionists themselves argue about what deconstruction actually is (and logically speaking, deconstruction is inconsistent), but the basics of this theory seems to be this:
  • A text cannot provide a single coherent or consistent message to its readers.

  • The writer of a text has little responsibility for the meaning of it. Impersonal forces of language, culture, and ideology control the meanings in the text. This is one of the great weaknesses of the theory.

  • Deconstructionists look for problems in language, contradictions, missing information, and assumptions in texts. They tend to highly critical in this manner, demanding nothing less than perfection.

  • Despite the intent of the author, a text will contain multiple 'voices' with conflicting viewpoints. "Many voices" is a common catchphrase among deconstructionists. This is another great weakness of the theory.

  • Western philosophy often includes binary opposites and hierarchical values, and any text that claims these to be true is considered highly dangerous and is the main target for deconstruction. The main binary opposite they like to target is that of Male and Female; deconstruction is widely used by 'gender' activists.

  • Texts themselves are seen as being tyrannical and unjust.

  • There is no 'primary meaning' of a text; deconstruction can invent alternative meanings quite easily, to the point of creating a new primary meaning opposite to the intent of the author.

  • Popular culture is more reliable than formal texts. The cartoon series The Simpsons is a favorite of deconstructionists due to its many popular culture references, and so it is considered to provide a reliable social commentary.


After deconstruction comes reconstruction. After the critic completely deconstructs the text, shredding it up, so to speak, he then starts a reconstruction. It is a more-or-less plausible reinterpretation of the text; it doesn't have to be true, or there doesn't have to be any logical consistency to it: it just is. It's all made up. A reconstruction is just another story that is put out there. So a deconstructionist will take apart a text very carefully and logically, and then in its place puts in something that he just made up. This is similar to the technique used by trial lawyers, who make up stories to benefit their client that more or less fits the facts. This will then cause confusion.

The Historical-Critical method has shredded the Bible by its overly-critical methodology, finding contradictions even where a plausible explanation can be found. Imagine a history book that mentions President John Kennedy; and elsewhere it mentions President Jack Kennedy: a highly critical analysis will say that this text is inconsistent and therefore unreliable. This is similar to what happens in deconstruction. Reconstruction can then be quite fanciful: it can then claim that Jaqueline Kennedy was actually elected President and that her sexist homophobe husband drove her out of office, stealing her power. The method can often lead to absurdity.

That is precisely how the Mary Magdalene stories were created via deconstruction. The Biblical texts were dissected, and an alternative 'voice' in the text was heard. Then they created a reconstruction where the Magdalene was the primary Apostle. Never mind that they just made this up with no evidence. The newly reconstructed story cannot be deconstructed because it does not claim primacy of binary opposites and hierarchy.

Modern nonrepresentational art can claim it is meaningless and therefore escapes deconstruction; the same thing goes to much deconstructionist writing itself: it is incoherent.

I once heard this defense of the teaching of evolution in public schools by a teacher: "Evolution may or may not be true, but it is what scientists are talking about nowadays". This is pure deconstruction: 'talking' is considered more reliable than 'text', and truth or falsity is irrelevant.

Deconstruction tends to be either nihilist or relativist, although most practitioners are more agnostic about the truth. It is interesting to observe that most deconstructionists live their lives as though they trust technology and medicine; a truly deconstructionist lifestyle would probably resemble psychosis. In actuality, deconstruction is just used against their enemies; it cannot be a general technique. It ultimatly is all about power, not truth. This is a very good reason to not take the results of it seriously.

We need to be like Socrates, who knew that the truth was out there and that we needed to find it, even though it is very difficult to find. The Deconstructionists are like the Sophists, who were highly critical of their enemies and had no regard for the truth. Subjectivity is a fact of our humanity, but we must try to filter out individual subjectivites to find the truth, instead of just stopping there and saying that truth is unknowable.

2 comments:

  1. Nobody in academia practises deconstruction anymore. It was an 80s thing.

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  2. I'm glad to hear that academics don't do that anymore. What atrocious philosophy are they beating into the heads of their students now? Their students still seem to use deconstruction, or something like it quite a bit, though, especially on NPR (which thankfully I no longer listen to).

    I recall the old historical-critical analysis of Genesis, which claimed to have perceived four different 'sources' of the text, which were later 'redacted'. There was some critical doubt to that theory, since much of the word changes could have come from the same author, for variety or emphasis, perhaps. Deconstructionists started saying that there were instead 'many voices' coming from the same writer.

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