The Concept of Truth and the Interpretation of Scripture

By Gordon Anderson

In most seminaries and academic institutions, since the rise of critical methods of scholarship, scripture has been studied by applying methods of literary and historical criticism.

Literary criticism views scripture as human writing that conveys moral lessons, values and truths rather than the direct writing of God. Yet, it does not deny the existence of God or imply that the writing is not important to read for attaining a better personal life, a better world or closeness to God.

Historical criticism investigates the historical world around the origin of the ancient texts to better understand the worldviews that shaped the writing and aids dating of writings and events.

Here, I propose the concept of “truth criticism” as a further tool of scriptural analysis.

Theories of Truth and the Interpretation of Scripture

One part of the truth criticism I propose is based on an integral view of truth. On this site last year, Dr. Keisuke Noda described four theories of truth that have evolved since ancient times. These are: the correspondence theory of truth, coherence theory of truth, pragmatic theory of truth, and existential theory of truth. Since each of these approaches describes ways in which something can be viewed to be true, the integral theory of truth Dr. Noda proposes enables us to see in which ways something being studied is “true” and which ways it is not.

For example, historical criticism tells us that the Ten Commandments are very similar to core elements of the Hammurabi Code found on a stone stele in Persia, now on display in the Louvre. This seems to disconfirm the “correspondence theory of truth,” or literal interpretation of the Bible, that these commandments were introduced by a supernatural event in which they miraculously appeared on tablets in Mount Sinai. Those commandments were part of a larger body of knowledge that Moses could have inherited and believed to be essential conduct for a godly society.

The idea that the commandments were emblazoned by fire from a supernatural being could well be a literary device.

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How Do You Know What You Believe Is True? Theories of Truth

By Keisuke Noda

How do you know what you believe is true? This is a difficult question.

If there were a definitive answer, we would probably not have myriad belief systems today. It is ironic that, while people hold mutually exclusive, logically incompatible claims and beliefs, each is often convinced of its exclusive superiority over others.

Suppose you asked a believer: “How do you know what you believe is true?” He or she may cite their experiences as evidence, or give several theoretical reasons, or refer to highly selective scientific findings. The problem is those who hold an opposite view can give plausible “evidence” and cite opposite scientific findings to validate their claims and beliefs.

What makes certain claims and beliefs truer than others?

Here, I explain four main theories of truth as conceptual tools for assessment: 1) correspondence theory of truth; 2) coherence theory of truth; 3) pragmatic theory of truth; and, 4) existential theory of truth.

Although Unificationism presents itself as “new truth” (in the Introduction of Exposition of the Divine Principle), there is no systematic explication of the concept of truth in religious as well as philosophical texts (such as Unification Thought). Since Unificationism claims its teachings to be the “unity of science and religion,” clarification of its concept of truth is necessary.

Correspondence Theory of Truth

The first view is to see truth as the correspondence, agreement or accordance between ideas/concepts/statements and reality/states of affairs. This position often presupposes an objective reality or independent existence of truth. In this model, because you posit reality as something that exists independent of or outside of your perception/judgment, you conceive your ideas/judgments as a sort of picture or mirror image of reality.

Religion and science are ways to reach reality. This is done through revelation and experiences in religion and observation and experimentation in science. The goal is to capture an accurate, neutral mirror image of reality free from interpretation.

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Interpreting the Principle: The Transformative and the Objective

By Keisuke Noda

The Unification Movement (UM) faces a number of challenges, most obviously denominational divisions. But another challenge is the relevance of the UM and its core teachings or beliefs to contemporary society and future generations who are expected to respond and succeed.

Such a challenge is difficult because it is not readily observable, and the way to approach or conceptualize this challenge is unclear. The issue is “hidden” presuppositions we take for granted that shape a wide array of our understandings and experiences.

For some, this article may seem merely an intellectual exercise. But the matter of presuppositions has far reaching implications for all practical exercises and activities, particularly the question of what they mean.

The Principle as Interpretive Framework

The Divine Principle (the Principle), the core teaching of Unificationism, provides a framework with which to interpret biblical texts, human experiences, historical narratives, and a broad range of phenomena from a theological perspective. The Principle is thus a Unificationist theoretical framework of interpretation.

But is the Principle free from interpretation? Or is human understanding necessarily interpretive and is the Principle thus subject to interpretation?

Human understanding is unavoidably interpretive and the framework of interpretation (the Principle) is subject to interpretation. I consider how one’s ontological stance affects his/her interpretation of the Principle.

First, I highlight two contrasting stances in interpreting the Principle, the objective and the transformative.

I then explore how such contrasting perspectives affect one’s interpretation of religious phenomena in Unificationism.

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Authoritarianism and the Unity of Denominations / Religions

By Keisuke Noda

Denominational splits are one of the most challenging issues in the Unification movement. As Unificationism presents itself as the “new truth” to resolve religious/denominational divides, the claimant carries the burden of demonstrating its truth with evidence. Even if Unificationists cannot solve this reality immediately, they should at least be able to articulate the Unificationist approach to religious/denominational unity.

Underlying these splits is the idea of authoritarianism, found in religious fundamentalism in other religions as well. This position enhances division and is contrary to Unificationism as exemplified by Reverend Moon. Within the broad spectrum of Unificationism, there are various interpretations including authoritarian.

I will explain what authoritarianism is in the current context of denominational splits, why and how it can be a problem, and how religious authority can be established in a non-authoritarian way. I contrast Rev. Moon’s approach to an authoritarian one.

Since authoritarianism is a complex and broad subject in social science and found in all types of institutions and organizations, be they religious or not, I focus only on the question of the process of establishing religious authority.

Authoritarianism results in an authoritarian personality and creates such a culture. Although Rev. Moon’s critics characterized him as an authoritarian, he seemed to be trying to eradicate such tendencies from the Unification Movement. I highlight his non-authoritarian approach to religious/denominational unity.

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The Paradox of Religious / Denominational Unity

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By Keisuke Noda

Keisuke_NodaUnificationism calls for the “unity” of religions. The Divine Principle (the Principle), the main text of Unificationist teachings and their systematic exposition, presents the Principle as the “new truth” to unify all religions/denominations and argues its superiority based on its capacity for unity.

Ongoing denominational divisions in the Unification Movement (UM) seem to be paradoxical, however, appearing as counter-evidence for this claim, raising questions regarding Unificationism’s capacity for unity and claim of religious superiority. Divisions run deep in relationships between families, friends, and communities, and the issue requires serious attention.

Denominational rifts raise the question of the concept of unification. What do we mean by the unification of religions and denominations? What forms does unity take? Is it a feasible goal or merely an aspirational vision? These questions require a serious exploration of the Principle.

Contrary to some opinions, the Principle’s key concepts and theses are ambiguous and there are diverse approaches to the Principle.

This article highlights the trans-conceptuality of God in Unification Thought (UT) as a possible interpretation of the Principle that may open the door to unity. I explain how this concept in UT implies the limitation of all conceptual, linguistic, and experiential understanding of God, including revelation. By imposing limits on the finality of knowledge, this perspective opens up a broader horizon in Unificationism to see the living God’s diverse works in others.

The unity of religions/denominations has socio-political-economic dimensions as well. I focus on the aspect of faith alone and propose a perspective as a step towards a complex, historical problem. I do not argue it is the definitive path for unity, but maintain such an approach can open up the possibility of unity and other interpretations of Unificationism.

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Meaning, Vacuum and Autonomy

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By Keisuke Noda

Keisuke_NodaExistential Vacuum” is a term coined by Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor psychiatrist, best known for his book, Man’s Search for Meaning. It is the concept used to describe the meaninglessness or emptiness of life.

Critical issues in the Unification Movement (UM), such as denominational rifts and other matters previously unknown to the general membership, pose fundamental questions for Unificationism, both in theory and practice.  Even the most devoted members who sacrificed years or decades face complex, challenging questions, one of which is the meaning of their lives in the past, present and future.

A worldview (belief system) works as a framework of interpretation and serves as a framework to interpret one’s identity and life’s events. It is quite natural to encounter challenges when there is a shift in this framework since it affects how one sees the self and the world.

In this article, I explore how the meaning of life is always and necessarily individuated (no one can live another person’s life; death is uniquely yours) and the negligence of individual autonomy leads to feelings of emptiness and meaninglessness (Existential Vacuum). Although Unificationism in theory holds the development of the autonomous individual as one of its ideals, an uncritical (blind) faith stance can prevent it and lead one to fall into an “existential vacuum.” I illustrate how an existential vacuum can underlie even religious faith and how one can reconstruct the meaning of life by restoring one’s autonomy.

Why Meaning Matters?

The first question is why meaning matters. No matter what you do and how you do it, the question of why is unavoidable. Without an answer to the “why” of life, there is an emptiness that manifests itself in boredom, apathy, and even despair. Even if you try to avoid the question, the question flows from life itself.

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The Ethics of Care

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By Keisuke Noda

Keisuke_NodaThe ethics of care is an emerging discipline developed by feminist ethicists in the latter half of the 20th century. It has gradually gained support from non-feminist ethicists and is now examined not as a feminist ethics but as a possible general ethical theory.

Care ethics has three main characteristics:

  • It views the human being as interdependent, who values caring relationships and recognizes the family as the primary setting where interdependence is evident and caring relationships are cultivated.
  • It recognizes the moral value of emotional feelings and emotion-based virtues such as benevolence, empathy, receptivity, and sensitivity.
  • It acknowledges the moral value of partiality in intimate relationships, such as those defined by family ties and close friendships.

This article considers each of these characteristics, notes criticism from traditional ethicists, examines the Unificationist perspective, and suggests that it offers the basis for a global ethic.

 Interdependence. Major proponents of this theory such as Carol Gilligan, Virginia Held and Nel Noddings argue that dominant modern ethics, such as Kantian ethics and utilitarianism which they characterize as ethics of justice, were built upon the assumption that the human being is an autonomous, rational, independent individual.

Care ethicists disagree. They point out the fact that no human can survive without caring adults who nurture and raise him or her at the early stages of life. Later in life, one also becomes dependent upon others who take care of them. It is an illusory view, care ethics theorists argue, that a human being is independent. Rather, they argue that an adequate ethical theory must be built upon the understanding that human beings are essentially interdependent.

This insight is similar to the Unificationist understanding of co-existence. One’s identity is not an isolated, atomic entity. It is intertwined with others.

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Rationality and Unification

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By Keisuke Noda

Keisuke_NodaThe idea of “Unification” is central to the Unification Movement. The current reality of the movement is that there is no clear path toward this ideal. This lack of a path, be it conceptual or real, is critical to a movement that carries the banner of “unification” both in doctrine and title.

This issue can be approached from various angles. I examine two types of “rationality,” instrumental and dialogical, and how they are tied to two different understandings of and approaches to “unification.” By highlighting the benefits of dialogical rationality and the type of unification associated with it, I call for further discussion of the idea of unification. This article makes a reference to Hans-Georg Gadamer’s “Philosophical Hermeneutics.”

Why Rationality?

“Rationality” is a key issue in philosophy. Why do we need to care about “rationality” in philosophy and otherwise? Reasoning supports the presentation of a case, justification of a claim, or the establishment of an argument. The question then is what type of reasoning is used, consciously or unconsciously. Whatever type of rationality is used guides the discourse at a most fundamental level, and is critical to understand what kind of reasoning dominates one’s process of thinking. When one solves math problems, for example, he or she may use calculative rationality; in making moral judgments, one may use “prudence,” which requires experience and a sense of balance.

Instrumental Rationality

What is the primary or even dominant rationality today? Martin Heidegger, Jürgen Habermas, and other thinkers identified it as “instrumental rationality.” They argue that instrumental rationality has been dominating discourse since modernity without our even being aware of it; that is, we use reason as an instrument to realize pre-set goals and purposes in the most efficient manner.

The instrumental use of reason is common in the technological era, which seeks efficiency and control. Its exclusive focus is gaining what you want in the most efficient and cost-effective way. This type of reasoning is efficient and effective in handling material. Modern technological developments and production were so successful, they argue, that we consciously or unconsciously adopted this type of reasoning in all spheres of life.

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Poetry: Encountering Philosophy and Life

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By Susan Herrman

Susan HermannThese poems are dedicated to our True Parents of Heaven, Earth and Humankind, and reflect my pondering the lives of the philosophers I encountered in my studies at Barrytown College of UTS, especially from Dr. Keisuke Noda’s “Meaning of Life” class.

“To Season the Season of Change” was a long time contemplated — then sprung to life because a white blossom fell before me.  “To Mr. Camus, with love…” I wrote as I tried to take a positive view of the value of absurdity that Albert Camus posed. “Allegory of the Cubicle” was written as a modern-day twist to Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” as it relates to my real-time life at my cubicle. “My Life” was written after contemplating my life, my encounter with the True Parents, and Moritz Schlick’s essay, “On the Meaning of Life.”  “Meaning” was written as part of the Senior Seminar class when I wrote poetry for the final class project.

To Season the Season of Change

The white petal falls from above

Like the snowflake a season ago

Like the leaf of autumn they dance and blow.

And yes, as the season of summer descends

With its radiant and intense beams of warmth and light

Shedding light to those below

How we must reverse our days and seasons

To come to our own true love’s season

Of radiant joy

Radiant light

Radiant love

So we must reverse our course to find our own unique season of life

Let me change my season now…

 
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