Monday, May 12, 2014

Unlimited Interpretation and the Meaning of Marriage

The human capacity for understanding the action of signs (semiosis) also entails an infinite possibility of interpretation. Take any socially-established sign, such as a road sign or a word, and one would say that it signifies x, y, or z by social convention. But one can take that same sign and begin to read into it other possible meanings, either by shifting the context or removing the context or by taking the sign to mean something literally when it is supposed to be taken otherwise, etc. This process is the basis of deconstruction.

But this capacity to deconstruct a sign and reinterpret it has infinite possibilities. We stop only because of convenience. But we engage this process in the dreaded never-ending argument. In fact, this very process of going deeper and deeper into the sign is why an argument may never end. One sign leads to another, to another, to another, ad infinitum.

Where are the boundaries of a sign? Who establishes them, and how are they established? Is there ever a "final say"?

This process, the source of our uniqueness among the animal kingdom as rational animals, is supposed to be guided by "truth," by some sort of correspondence between the sign, our mind, and reality, by a relation. How do we know when the relation has actualized? Who is to say? We cannot appeal to God on this side of life because God is silent and leaves us to ourselves. Of course, in certain matters, God have not been silent—public revelation, and revelation has implications for rational discussion and hence all aspects of human life.

Nevertheless, dogma doesn't cover every particular, so in many matters we are seemingly left to ourselves. And in fact, reason enlightened by living faith has as its object a body of signs that has been given a protector of boundaries: the Church, who defines the proper meaning of a sign of revelation. The Magisterium of course does not mean that rational discussion is ended, but that it may have an end in certain respects. But what about rational discourse that isn't properly the object of faith?

This capacity of unlimited interpretation is why, for example, the marriage discussion (if there is a discussion) is so difficult. When people re-define what marriage means, then they are effectively stating, "We reject the boundaries established for this sign, and we establish our own." In this way, such advocates become like Protestants, and from thence shall begin the infinite fragmenting and splintering as human semiosis winds down its infinitely-complex trail. Marriage can now mean anything.

Of course, that doesn't mean that we abandon upholding traditional marriage, but I suppose it ought to guide us in our efforts. How do we discourse with people who are very eager and free to toy with the very rules and fabric of discourse itself? It's like trying to play a game with someone who is perfectly fine with cheating. And hence: can there be an actually-rational discussion with such a person?

But what about upholding traditional marriage through political movements? Well, although it may work temporarily, the situation can flip as soon as someone on the other side of the "discussion" takes political power. Hence "upholding" becomes "fighting" for power. And in fighting, we forget about living marriage itself as it ought to be lived, in purity and charity.

It should also be pointed out that anyone who is willing to break the boundaries of rational discourse itself through a free interpretation of marriage cannot be appealed to by means of reason. Should this situation be where force is used? Of course, a democratic society could never allow that. Is the problem then with democratic society?

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