Saturday, April 25, 2015

3D Jesus

"...transposition is a criterion of truth.  A truth which cannot be transposed isn't a truth; in the same way that what doesn't change in appearance according to the point of view isn't a real object, but a deceptive representation of such."

Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, p 68

In context, this is part of Weil's discussion of how culture can be transmitted, especially across boundaries of class and education.  She is against popularising, which loses the essentials of culture in trying to create something that can be successfully transmitted.  Transposition, by contrast, involves the hard work of so understanding the essential heart of a thing that it can be put across in a different way to different people without losing its essence.  The end result may outwardly look very different from the idea with which one started, but inwardly it will be the same.

Which is all interesting, but isn't what I wanted to say off the back of the striking quote above.

Ever wonder why there are four gospel accounts, each with their own details and ways of telling the story, and containing between themselves a number of irreconcilable differences?  I think it is just because the gospels are not flat, painted scenes; they are viewpoints on a three-dimensional object, which looks different from different angles.  Which is to say, behind each of the gospel accounts lies a real life - the life of Jesus.  Jesus is real, and so one can (so to speak) move around him and view him from different angles and in different ways.

It is an essential criterion of gospel truth that it work like this.  The reason the gospel message can be transposed into different cultures and situations is that it was never dependent on one particular form of words or way of telling the story; rather it is dependent on the reality of the Person who stands behind those words and stories.

This obviously doesn't mean infinite flexibility; some ways of telling the story would clearly be views of a different object, an invented person.  There are criteria for thinking this through, but in the end a lot will come down to whether the person behind this account seems to be the same as the person behind the canonical accounts.  In Weil's terms, some attempts might look to much like popularising; that is to say, editing the story to look like what we think people will accept.

In practice, we need to be careful about tying ourselves too closely to one way of viewing Jesus.  There are a number of indicators that this is happening - for example, if we're not satisfied that the gospel has been explained unless certain particular words or formulations are used...  But perhaps the biggest indicator would be that we wouldn't know how to introduce Jesus to people who did not share our culture, background, or education.  There's a challenge.

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