Come on, Bart. You can do better than this. Think through this postmodernist jargon.
In my recent post in which I made a paean to memory – which will be the way I end my current book dealing with memory and the historical Jesus — I said the following.
MY REMARK: “The comment that I sometimes get from readers that I find puzzling or disheartening is when they tell me that if there is something in the Gospels that is not historical, then it cannot be true, and if it is not true, then it is not worth reading. My sense is that many readers will find it puzzling or even disheartening that I find this view puzzling and disheartening. But I do.
Please call me a prophet if you must, but I would like to point out that a number of readers on the blog did indeed find my view puzzling and disheartening. Mainly puzzling. The following was a very well reasoned response from a reader, to which I would like to reply:
READER’S COMMENT: Indeed, stories that aren’t true are no less worthwhile to read. The Bible most definitely is an important part of literature that should be read and studied (I wouldn’t want you to be out of work!). However, I’m not sure I understand what you mean by the word ‘truth’. To me (and I am not a native English speaker so maybe this is a linguistical problem), truth has always meant something that corresponds to reality. If a story didn’t happen, I don’t see how it can be true. The very definition of a true story is that it happened. It can still be important, have significance in our lives, etc, but I don’t see how it can be called truth.
I completely understand this point of view. It is a point of view that I myself had for a very long time. It’s not one that I hold now, and I want to explain why.
In my view, there can be true stories that never happened. . . .
That’s postmodernist semantic confusion. (The remainder of the article turns on the example of the story of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, but you have to donate to Bart’s own favourite charities in America to read this.)
To say a story that never happened is nonetheless a true story renders the word “true” meaningless. I know what is meant. The moral of the story is relevant to the readers, for example. Aesop’s fables tell us about many true real-life principles. The story of Pinocchio teaches the “true” principle that lying can lead to trouble. I learned in primary school that tales about talking animals and lies causing noses to grow embarrassingly long are not true. I also learned to enjoy these stories and knew well the “truths” they taught: that I should beware of tricksters, be prudent and not tell lies.
As Paul Boghassian has observed [in another context]: “To say some claim is true according to some perspective sounds simply like a fancy way of saying that someone, or some group, believes it.“ (Cited in Richard Evans, In Defence of History, p. 220)
I recall years ago Christians expressing abhorrence at the relativism being espoused by postmodernism. That was quite some time ago. I have since seen Christian scholars embracing postmodernism as their own intellectual saviour and defender. It enables them to argue for the relevance of the Bible by means of semantic confusion such as Ehrman is recycling.
Let’s not lose grip of semantic and logical coherence and consistency.