Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

What Does It Mean…Really?

Once we start asking ourselves, “What does this text mean to say?” we’re doomed to controversy. When the Constitution of the United States was written, the men who contributed to it felt confident they had stated their meaning clearly. Just in case, the U.S. Supreme Court is charged with interpreting its original intent and proper modern application without bias. So how could regular citizens argue about what any particular part is saying?

Likewise, another writing that should stand without question is the BIBLE, right? Yet the many Christian religions around the world don’t read the same exact texts and don’t agree—often resulting in vastly different behaviors, all supposedly based on the good book. Differences of opinion date back to the oldest manuscripts in existence. They’re reflected in conflicting versions of what were presented as copies of the original words. Recently, I read MISQUOTING JESUS: THE STORY BEHIND WHO CHANGED THE BIBLE AND WHY, by Bart D. Ehrman. Using several different ancient manuscripts, Ehrman explains that some of the changes that popped up in the text as it was copied over and over again were accidental—the products of human error. After all, copying a long manuscript is tedious work. However, many of the changes (additions and subtractions) were sincere attempts to clarify meaning according to what the scribes and priests were certain had to have been intended. And some were careful exclusions of perceived ambiguities they thought muddied what should have been the pristine message and made it dangerous to society—such as the role of women in religion or who actually conducted the crucifixion. They were trying to groom what the significance of the words should have been in their own lives.

Ehrman contends that to read a text is to change a text, because reading involves interpretation. We put the author’s writing into our own words in our minds as we read, and we’re human, “…filled with desires, longings, needs, wants, beliefs, perspectives, worldviews, opinions, likes, dislikes…” We understand through the filter of who we are only what we’re prepared to comprehend. While most of us may not intentionally change any words we’re reading or sharing, some do if they want a specific outcome—as humans have done since the earliest writings. They choose the interpretation they like.

These days with the masses empowered by social media to generate and distribute opinions without “adult supervision,” we’ve turned misinformation into a tool—the spin. “Choose your own ending” applies not merely to children’s fiction but to serious topics such as the consequences of avoiding vaccination. People enjoy the illusion that they can manipulate more than information; they can manipulate reality. In a way, they do. How far from the definitions and parameters of the original text we allow one another to wander depends on how we’re impacted by the outcome. The struggle over who’s right rumbles on ad infinitum.

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