There are two ways of reading a biblical verse. One consists in appealing to the tradition, in giving it the value of the premise in one’s conclusions, without distrusting and without even taking account of the presuppositions of that tradition. . . . The second reading consists not in contesting straightaway, philosophically, but rather translating and accepting the suggestions of a thinking which, once translated, can be justified by what manifests itself.
. . .
Of course, I try to enter first into the language of the nonphilosophical tradition which is attached to the religious understanding of Jewish writings; I adopt it, but this adoption is the not the philosophical moment of my effort. There I am simply a believer. A believer can search out, behind the adopted intelligibility, an intelligibility which is objectively communicable. A philosophical truth cannot be based on the authority of a verse. The verse must be phenomenologically justified. But the verse can allow for the search for a reason. . . . I illustrate with the verse, yes, but I do not prove by means of the verse.
Emmanuel Levinas, Is it Righteous to Be, 61-62.
I put this quote up on Facebook as a stand alone. It initially spoke to me of, or validated for me, how the biblical text can be used beyond confessional ‘logics’. Immediately after reading this, however, Levinas went on to describe how confessional and philosophical readings acted like separate disciplines for him. He even mentioned having separate publishers for these works. Levinas continues this distinction maintaining that we need both Greek and biblical thought; one of reason and the other of sociality. This troubles me because I simply do not know how to exercise these distinctions in practice. I can understand how the distinct disciplines of politics and geology separately ‘read’ the land. But if I understand Levinas correctly I cannot, as of yet at least, make his distinction in practice.
The context I am thinking of in particular is preaching. When I approach the Bible as an ordained minister I do not know what it means to read it ‘simply as a believer’ as Levinas puts it. The Bible continues to come to me as strange and I will literally take anything (philosophy, art, literature, psychology, observations, etc.) that will give me some point of orientation or manner of conversing with the text. In the same way I cannot bracket some of my devotional postures of prayer when I try and gain congruence and coherence in my thinking. Something other than reason wanders through my thoughts that I could not and would not want to exorcise from my ideas. There is the matter of trust (I find that is a better term than ‘faith’ in most cases) that continues to inform and shape my reasoning.
In any event I look forward to working through my first full text of Levinas. And I suspect in as much as he himself embodies both processes he may not adhere to strict divisions all the way through. But what I am left wondering about is to what extent the sheer discipline of distinction would actually benefit both my faith and thought (or are those categories already too reductive)?