They call it an illusion, but in this case it's the opposite: the dis-illusionment of perceiving the reality beneath appearances. The reality is always there. How could it not be? We just have to pay attention to it (or tweak our attentiveness).
I just read a recently republished book by Josef Pieper called Exercises in the Elements, and it's full of solid rock. First of all, what's with the title? What does that even mean? I'm pretty sure it means something more obvious in German, but Pieper explains in the preface that "elements" connotes elemental or elementary, i.e., foundational truths that do not "cheat us of things which are elementary and obvious."
For example, scientism obviously explains a lot, but at the cost of unexplaing a great deal more. And not only unexplaining, but then robbing us of the properly human meaning to which we are entitled. If I reduce you to a bag of chemicals, then everything that transcends chemistry vanishes. Why, it reminds us of an aphorism or three:
--With the categories admitted by the modern mind, we do not manage to understand anything but trifles.
--Scraping the painting, we do not find the meaning of the picture, only a blank and mute canvas. Equally, it is not in scratching about in nature that we will find its sense.
--The meanings are the reality; their material vehicles are the appearance.
And by "exercises," Pieper simply means something like "instruction"; so Exercises in the Elements is really about instruction in the fundamentals.
The first essay asks the innocent sounding question, What Does Interpretation Mean?, but it is full of provocative insights and insightful provocations. By the way, the writing is quite terse and unsaturated, leaving lots of space to fill in the blanks. The secret protects itself. But not from nosy Raccoons!
Pieper begins with Lonergan's answer to the question: "an interpretation is the expression of the meaning of another expression." As such, interpretation always involves translation, even if it is in the same language (for example, transglishing the Bible into plain English).
In a way, you might say that interpretation comes down to explaining what is really meant, from physics to theology and everything in between. It presupposes no less than two levels of meaning. For example, quantum physics interprets Newtonian physics at a deeper level. Likewise, for a Christian, Christ is the interpretative key for unlocking the meaning of the Old Testament. Christ is that to which the OT points.
There can also be pathological interpretations, which involve either a false analysis or synthesis -- say, Marxism, which interprets all of history as class struggle, or reduces economic activity to the labor theory of value.
Yes, it's a stupid theory, but it obviously appeals to a deep need on the part of its votaries to feel exploited and victimized (or it caters to those who harbor narcissistic fantasies of rescuing the exploited and victimized). A proper interpretation of Marxism must advert to permanent features of human nature such as envy, resentment, omniscience, and grandiosity; it conveys certain truths, but only inadvertently and ironically.
So, interpretation is a bridge between two realities. Which brings us to the question of scripture. What is it? Well, first and foremost it is a bridge between realities, not the reality itself. A fundamentalist bibliolater will conflate the two realities, thus defeating the purpose of scripture.
For example, the Garden of Eden story must be interpreted; and indeed, it even goes to the very existence of multiple levels, and to the gap between the way we are and the way we ought to be. "Original sin" means failure to conform to our divine archetype. This results in conscious or unconscious awareness of guilt. What to do with it?
Some notes to myself: "nothing can free us of the need to interpret phenomena; the cosmos is not self-evident." As we know, no one has ever seen the cosmos; rather it is a metaphysical axiom that is promptly forgotten. But to say "cosmos" is to have interpreted the phenomena in a Big Way, indeed the broadest way immarginable.
In the case of atheism, there is no reality to which its interpreter is pointing; or, he interprets phenomena in such a way that interpretation is either impossible or meaningless. But to say that there is no need of interpretation is an interpretation.
Again, interpretation is a link between two worlds, but for the atheist there is only one, so what is the ontological status of his interpretation? It reminds us of another aphorism of solid rock:
--The universe is important if it is appearance, and insignificant if it is reality.
No way around that one. Thus, if atheism is true, then it is unimportant, insignificant, trivial, and ultimately impossible to maintain with a straight face.
"[A]n utterance is significant and therefore able to be interpreted precisely because it points to reality." So, what I would ask the atheist is, What is the metaphysical significance of a contingent animal being able to utter statements that point to this thing you call reality? Things require a sufficient reason. What's yours?
Here's a good one: "All understanding of the individual thing is dependent on the understanding of the whole." Now, my metaphysic accounts for how and why it is possible for us to intuit this whole. But how does atheism presume to have knowledge of the whole? No mere animal knows that reality is the whole and vice versa.
"Truth is, after all the same as reality coming into view" (Pieper).
Here is how we can not only know the whole, but the parts (for parts are only parts because they are part of the whole): "the things we find in the world, by their very nature, exist between two knowing faculties."
In short, we can only know things at all because God knows them first; our intelligence and the intelligibility of things both flow from God's prior act of knowledge. Conversely, atheists have no explanation for their uniquely human intelligence (which is not just more animal intelligence); nor can they explain how human intelligence is conformed to the infinite intelligibility of the world.
We might say that between intelligence and intelligibility is interpretation or translation. Again, there are always no fewer than two worlds, and language -- Logos -- is the link between them. Interpretation is a "living rapport" between things. Things like, O, Father and Son.
That's about it for today.