The Art and Science of Interpretation

Generally, I speak to Biblical issues, and in fact the lesson today is still important to the reading of the Bible, but I plan to use the debate yesterday as a lesson in words and meaning.

Last night, Mitt Romney accused the president of not addressing the Libya attack as a terror attack until two weeks after the event.  Obama and the moderator stated that he “indeed said it was an act of terror”.  He actually did say “acts of terror” in his speech however, I think a little hermeneutics is in order.  For those not failure with the word hermeneutic, it is broadly defined as the art and science of interpretation.  Let’s take a look at the transcripts from the Rose Garden Speech on September 12.

Rose Garden

10:43 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning.  Every day, all across the world, American diplomats and civilians work tirelessly to advance the interests and values of our nation.  Often, they are away from their families.  Sometimes, they brave great danger.
Yesterday, four of these extraordinary Americans were killed in an attack on our diplomatic post in Benghazi.  Among those killed was our Ambassador, Chris Stevens, as well as Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith.  We are still notifying the families of the others who were killed.  And today, the American people stand united in holding the families of the four Americans in our thoughts and in our prayers.
The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack.  We’re working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats.  I’ve also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world.  And make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.
Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths.  We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.  But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence.  None.  The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts.
Already, many Libyans have joined us in doing so, and this attack will not break the bonds between the United States and Libya.  Libyan security personnel fought back against the attackers alongside Americans.  Libyans helped some of our diplomats find safety, and they carried Ambassador Stevens’s body to the hospital, where we tragically learned that he had died.
It’s especially tragic that Chris Stevens died in Benghazi because it is a city that he helped to save.  At the height of the Libyan revolution, Chris led our diplomatic post in Benghazi.  With characteristic skill, courage, and resolve, he built partnerships with Libyan revolutionaries, and helped them as they planned to build a new Libya.  When the Qaddafi regime came to an end, Chris was there to serve as our ambassador to the new Libya, and he worked tirelessly to support this young democracy, and I think both Secretary Clinton and I relied deeply on his knowledge of the situation on the ground there.  He was a role model to all who worked with him and to the young diplomats who aspire to walk in his footsteps.
Along with his colleagues, Chris died in a country that is still striving to emerge from the recent experience of war. Today, the loss of these four Americans is fresh, but our memories of them linger on.  I have no doubt that their legacy will live on through the work that they did far from our shores and in the hearts of those who love them back home.
Of course, yesterday was already a painful day for our nation as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks.  We mourned with the families who were lost on that day.  I visited the graves of troops who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery, and had the opportunity to say thank you and visit some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed.  And then last night, we learned the news of this attack in Benghazi.
As Americans, let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it, and in some cases, lay down their lives for it.  Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those both civilian and military who represent us around the globe.
No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.  Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America.  We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act.  And make no mistake, justice will be done.
But we also know that the lives these Americans led stand in stark contrast to those of their attackers.  These four Americans stood up for freedom and human dignity.  They should give every American great pride in the country that they served, and the hope that our flag represents to people around the globe who also yearn to live in freedom and with dignity.
We grieve with their families, but let us carry on their memory, and let us continue their work of seeking a stronger America and a better world for all of our children.
Thank you.  May God bless the memory of those we lost and may God bless the United States of America

STEP 1  – Basic Principles of Writing

Though advanced techniques play a roll in hermeneutics,  The first step in interpretation and meaning is having a general understanding of how language is used/written.  Since most of us speak English, we should have a basic understanding how we write a topic sentence, paragraph and argument.  In fact most of us do it unconsciously.

Where is the topic sentence in this speech?  We have several

1- Yesterday, four of these extraordinary Americans were killed in an attack on our diplomatic post in Benghazi.

2 – The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack.

3 – Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths.

4 – Already, many Libyans have joined us in doing so, and this attack will not break the bonds between the United States and Libya.

5 – It’s especially tragic that Chris Stevens died in Benghazi because it is a city that he helped to save.  At the height of the Libyan revolution, Chris led our diplomatic post in Benghazi.

6 – Along with his colleagues, Chris died in a country that is still striving to emerge from the recent experience of war.

7 – Of course, yesterday was already a painful day for our nation as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks.

8 – As Americans, let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it, and in some cases, lay down their lives for it.

9 – No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.

10 – But we also know that the lives these Americans led stand in stark contrast to those of their attackers.

Each paragraph defines the topic of the paragraph so there are several topic sentences.  However, paragraphs are not all we need to know.  Paragraphs give us changes in thought but they don’t tell us the entirety of the argument.  Since the speech given here was a single topic (i.e. the attack on our embassy in Libya) the argument in it’s entirety should also be laid out in a certain way.  When drafting an argument we start with a premise and then create support.  Consider my argument here.  I started with the topic of the argument (a premise) and now I am using the rest of the article to support my premise.  Since this is the way the English language works, we must look more deeply at the argument to determine the premise.

PARAGRAPH 1 – Open Paragraph

Good morning.  Every day, all across the world, American diplomats and civilians work tirelessly to advance the interests and values of our nation.  Often, they are away from their families.  Sometimes, they brave great danger.

PARAGRAPH 2 – Description of the Situation

The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack.  We’re working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats.  I’ve also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world.  And make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.

PARAGRAPH 3 – Cause of the Situation

Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths.  We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.  But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence.  None.  The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts.

PARAGRAPH 4 -6 –  Solution(s)

Already, many Libyans have joined us in doing so, and this attack will not break the bonds between the United States and Libya.  Libyan security personnel fought back against the attackers alongside Americans.  Libyans helped some of our diplomats find safety, and they carried Ambassador Stevens’s body to the hospital, where we tragically learned that he had died.

It’s especially tragic that Chris Stevens died in Benghazi because it is a city that he helped to save.  At the height of the Libyan revolution, Chris led our diplomatic post in Benghazi.  With characteristic skill, courage, and resolve, he built partnerships with Libyan revolutionaries, and helped them as they planned to build a new Libya.  When the Qaddafi regime came to an end, Chris was there to serve as our ambassador to the new Libya, and he worked tirelessly to support this young democracy, and I think both Secretary Clinton and I relied deeply on his knowledge of the situation on the ground there.  He was a role model to all who worked with him and to the young diplomats who aspire to walk in his footsteps.

Along with his colleagues, Chris died in a country that is still striving to emerge from the recent experience of war. Today, the loss of these four Americans is fresh, but our memories of them linger on.  I have no doubt that their legacy will live on through the work that they did far from our shores and in the hearts of those who love them back home.

PARAGRAPH 7 – 12  –  Closing Statement 

Of course, yesterday was already a painful day for our nation as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks.  We mourned with the families who were lost on that day.  I visited the graves of troops who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery, and had the opportunity to say thank you and visit some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed.  And then last night, we learned the news of this attack in Benghazi.

As Americans, let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it, and in some cases, lay down their lives for it.  Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those both civilian and military who represent us around the globe.

No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.  Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America.  We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act.  And make no mistake, justice will be done.

But we also know that the lives these Americans led stand in stark contrast to those of their attackers.  These four Americans stood up for freedom and human dignity.  They should give every American great pride in the country that they served, and the hope that our flag represents to people around the globe who also yearn to live in freedom and with dignity.

We grieve with their families, but let us carry on their memory, and let us continue their work of seeking a stronger America and a better world for all of our children.

Thank you.  May God bless the memory of those we lost and may God bless the United States of America.

A basic understanding of the English language and how it’s written preclude any chance of the President’s new assertion that he called the attack on our embassy as a terrorist attack.  President Obama is no dummy, nor are his speech writers so the basic development of his argument makes it quite evident that the cause of the attack was not an “act of terror” but the denigration of religion.

STEP 2  – The Benefit of the Doubt

Another important principle in hermeneutics is giving  the writer the benefit of the doubt.  This can be difficult to determine given that politicians lie for a living.  However, we are not limited to just this speech to determine the authors intent.  Just as with the Bible, we can look to other writing to determine the intent.  We have several other evidences to support Obama’s original argument that the attack was based on denigration of religion.

September 16 – Ambassador to the UN on several TV stations…

“The information, the best information and the best assessment we have today is that in fact this was not a preplanned, premeditated attack. That what happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video.”

September 24th – President Obama on the View…

“We’re still doing an investigation. There’s no doubt that (with) the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn’t just a mob action. We don’t have all the information yet, so we’re still gathering it. But what’s clear is that around the world there’s still a lot of threats out there.”

Given all of the information, not just looking at the speech, it seems evident that the President was either not aware or not willing to label the attack as terrorism as late as 13 days after the incident.  So applying the benefit of the doubt to the speech it appears that the President had something else in mind when he stated “No acts of terror”.

It seems that the President is addressing American resolve and not the specific event in Libya.  The evidence is against the president here:

1. He addresses the cause in his argument in sentence 3 – and  the YouTube video is addressed again in the speech to the UN several days later.

2. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, looking at other writing and speeches, it does not support his new argument that he called the attack a terrorist attack in September 12 (unless he got amnesia after the speech).

3. The language used “acts of terror” are not specific and seem to be directly related to American resolve and not the specifics of the attack in Libya.

4. Arguments are developed from the top down NOT from the bottom up and thus the President would be violating basic principles in the English language to make his new argument plausible.

Words have meaning, and writing is a particular thing.  When we look at our own writing we do it in a particular way almost unconsciously.  So too does the President and so too do the writers of the Bible.  If we lose respect for writing methods, then language means nothing.  In all honesty, I don’t much care when the President knew about the attack, what I care about is the integrity of the English language because manipulating it as the President seems to be doing in this scenario shows another infection from Post Modernism.    When we reject understanding the meaning in the mind of the author and instead replace it with the meaning in the mind of the reader, we are in great trouble of words having no meaning at all.

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