Hermeneutics is the study of spiritual thought, usually through literature, as an integral facet of the search for meaning. We all search for meaning, although we invariably look for it in different places: for some our car gives life meaning, for others their job does the trick and for a few, meaning is found within a spiritual, rather than a material context. All meaning is subjective; reality for you cannot be the same as reality for me, because we each interpret experience according to our own unique perspectives, which means, very simply, that nobody is wrong.
It took me many years to work this out. When the realisation finally broke upon my consciousness, very recently in fact, it was both liberating and shocking. Liberating because in releasing others from the burden of my subjective expectations, I also released myself. And shocking because I came to understand how much energy I have wasted in my life as a result. Strange (and good) things have begun to happen to me, emotionally, mentally and physiologically.
I create all resistance. If my neighbour decides to mow his lawn at 7:30 am, as he did this very morning, the problem has nothing to do with his mowing the lawn, and everything to do with my expectation that he should be more considerate on a weekend. In that situation I could respond in one of two ways: I could either apply pressure on him to mow his lawn later in the day, or I could decide not to have a problem with him mowing his lawn at 7:30 am. The problem arises of course when I have made a rule. My rule might say that ‘people should not make excessive noise on the weekend before 9 am’, and all might be well in my life provided nobody breaks my rule. In a world which contains inhabitants with a different rule: one which says people ‘should not make excessive noise on the weekend before 7:30 am’ there is the potential for conflict.
Clearly this is a rule designed to make sense of the physical world and yet its existence contains a seed of disharmony. Were I to enforce my rule then I am quite sure that relations with my neighbour would deteriorate rapidly, because, what with all experience being subjective, we would both be right: and no compromise would be reasonable for either party. If a compromise were reached it would undoubtedly feature at least a modicum of resentment.
And while that’s only a potential, it is nonetheless a potential actualising from grass-mowing.
Hermeneutics is derived from Hermes, thus Mercury and comes from the Greek hermeneuō, meaning to interpret or translate, and in keeping with Mercury, it is within the derivation of meaning from what is said, that the potential for difficulty arises. Mercury was after all a trickster as much as a communicator. What is meant has almost no bearing upon what is understood.
This is really intriguing because if we accept that all understanding is subjective then we can posit the amazing understanding that no two people can understand the same reality. Scientists will argue, but increasingly the field of quantum study suggests that the Heisenberg principle is distinctly more far-reaching than even Werner Heisenberg himself suspected. Observation alters reality at the quantum level, therefore subjectivity affects reality in the most profound manner imaginable, since observation is intrinsically subjective. Objectivity is bunkum.
Therefore, hermeneutic results are only good for the one engaged in the study. So, I study my life in a spiritual context to elicit meaning and I can share that experience. Indeed, it is what I do every day in conversation, correspondence and in my work, and that is all to the good. Problems can only arise therefore when I create rules. Rules which are absolutely accurate and valid for me cannot, for quantum reasons, be accurate and valid for anybody else, and this applies to grass-mowing as much as to spiritual context. Objectivity is rule-making and therefore senseless.
Okay, so you can argue. You might say that surely it’s objectively correct that you should never physically assault another person. Here there is a confusion of content with context, which is the classic flaw of objectivity. The content (assaulting others) is only inappropriate in context: (e.g. while shopping for groceries). In another context assaulting somebody may be entirely appropriate (if they are threatening to kill your children for example). The realisation therefore is that objectivity cannot exist and this is true for everything of course.
Every problem in the world would resolve itself overnight if everybody realised this truth.
Hermeneutics, which found its natural home among countless Catholic scholars from the Middle Ages on, and to this day informs fundamentalists and moderates alike of various faiths, is enormously limiting to social harmony. If all interpretation is subjective, then interpreting objective truth is a failure of perspective, even if subjectively the interpreter cannot be wrong. Religion is the transformation of subjective spiritual truth into objective rules. While there may be a consensus among scholars, the law of attraction ensures that those of a like-mind collaborate, minimising the need for compromise. If my neighbour believed that mowing the lawn should never happen before 9 am, our conflict potential would be greatly minimised.
So where’s the problem? The same insight applies in reverse. There ought to be no problem with religion, since if that’s what a person chooses to believe then that’s only their reality, right? The problem with religion is that it seeks to quarantine personal hermeneutics and exalt one person’s interpretation over another’s. The priest who proclaims God’s message is denying another human being’s freedom to subjectively interpret their reality. When we deny others the right to choose their leaders, we call it totalitarianism. Defining spiritual truth in commandments, rules or judgements – and denouncing others for not following them – is spiritual abuse. Living by them privately is your choice and how wonderful that you have interpreted spiritual truth within the context of that consensus. If that is your choice, I respect your choice, because what you believe is absolutely, marvellously, beautifully perfect.