I’m thinking about hermeneutics and deconstruction. Gadamer, following Heidegger, oberved that writers and readers of texts operate within interpretive frameworks. A shared framework between writer and reader makes communication possible, but it also prevents the possibility of arriving at absolute knowledge independent of context. Derrida, following Nietzsche, looked for places in texts that reveal evidence of alternative interpretive frameworks. The author represses these socially unacceptable ways of seeing things but they’re still there, leaving traces in the text that the author and the intended readers may not have been consciously aware of. In a nutshell, Gadamer reveals the dominant interpretive framework while Derrida exposes the marginalized minority interpretative frameworks.
Take the Nicene Creed, a short textual summary of how the early Christian community interpreted the faith. The Creed wasn’t a spontaneous manifestation of shared beliefs; it was hashed out in contentious debate. Dissenters were excommunicated, executed, driven underground, excluded from the community. The text of the Nicene Creed makes explicit the dominant interpretive framework of 4th century Christianity, but there’s also an “anti-text” implicit in the text, an “anti-creed” that points to the losers in the debate.
We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end. And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And we believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Imagine a praxis of reading the anti-creed that goes like this: for every statement in the Creed, posit at least one opposite statement. So, from the beginning:
We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
One God. What are the alternatives that could be believed? No gods: a philosophical option in every age. Two gods: the Old Testament god and Jesus’s god — this was the Marcionites’ position. Three gods: father, son, holy ghost. Many gods: paganism and gnosticism. All these alternatives to monotheism were in play during the early Christian era.
The Father. Some may have believed that God is Lord but not Father, so totally above and other that he could not enter into a fatherly relationship with mere humans.
Almighty. The Manichaeists believed that God had no absolute power over the forces of evil, which exist in eternal opposition to good.
Maker of heaven and earth. The Greeks and pagans believed that both heaven and earth existed eternally. The Gnostics believed that a demiurge created the corrupt earth by mistake.
And so on. Each tenet stated in the Creed implies at least one unstated opposing position that enjoyed significant support in the early Christian era. We can imagine a whole bunch of alternative creeds that would have incorporated one or more of the banned beliefs. “We believe in two gods…” We believe in many gods…” Five options can be stated just by changing the number of gods: 0, 1, 2, 3, or more than 3. Father versus not father gives us 2 sub-options for each of the first 5 options. So far in our analysis of the Creed we can generate 5 x 2 x 2 x 3 = 60 creedal variants. Only one is The Creed; the other 59 get lumped together in the unstated realm of anticreed. We’ve only made it through the first sentence: plenty of other unstated controversies can be identified as we continue reading. And The Creed doesn’t even cover a lot of the big debates that would take center stage in subsequent centuries: transubstantiation, the Fall, predestination, universal salvation… It’s not that consensus broke down later; it’s that nobody had thought about these issues clearly enough for a controversy to arise. The Nicene Creed describes the inclusive interpretive framework of the early Christian community. The Nicene Creed is a mandate that forcibly excludes minority positions, driving them underground, denying them a voice. Gadamer versus Derrida.
Was the dissent only an external one between disputing factions? Or by naming the tenets of the Anti-Creed do we outline the shadow world in the 4th century Christian heart, the disbeliefs of the believers, the doubts that bubbled up and that had to be pushed back down again? “I believe in no-god, my double, no more powerful than I, the first creator of what heavens and earth mean…” Do my stated beliefs imply an opposing set of vague doubts that roil underground in voiceless disarray, an anarchy of subconscious heretics that lost the battle for conscious control of my mind, forced now to employ guerrilla tactics to make their presence felt? The voice that proclaims “I believe” implies the voiceless anti-proclamation: “I doubt.”