11th of September

(Christian) Religion: The Coherence Problem


For some time I have been saying that moderation in abrahamic religions can be described as a hen hatching Godzilla’s eggs. The following arguments will explain.

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If moderate religious people claim the myth of creation is a metaphor, they will have no power to cease the acid digestion that this ‘metaphorization’ will cause to sacred historical reports (the contents of religious books).

Moderates will be just selecting what is convenient to judge as literal, like the Virgin Mary pregnancy (for Catholics), or the divine parenthood of Jesus. In short words, cherrypicking.

Concerning thoroughly these metaphors, would Yaweh be a metaphor for the laws of Physics? The story of Jonah and the ‘whale’ is a metaphor? The resurection of Lazarus is metaphoric? What about Jairus’ daughter? And the bread loafs being multiplied, the turning of water into wine, the walking upon waters, the apparition to Thomas?

These stories have as much evidence and santity as the six-day creation myth, Eve coming from Adam’s rib, and Noah’s ark (the favorite metaphor spots nowadays).

Fundamentalists are “right” on saying that everything is to be taken literally in the Bible, for thus has happened and worked for centuries and the modern metaphorization would be seen as a heresy by most christian leaders that ever lived.
Of course, by doing so the fundamentalists need to attach to a pathetic ignorance (and reluctance) about nature and scientific discoveries.

Thus, even more coherent are the “Christian Science” believers who would rather wait for a miracle than take medicine to cure diseases like flu and cancer. They are being coherent with their religion, and so are the suicide bombers with Islam.
If the Koran spurs muslims to kill the infidels, on what grounds could a muslim moderate possibly retort otherwise?

I even suspect there are moderates because moderation is the response for those who do not endure the precariousness of their own holy books, those of little faith! If the Bible says that every single animal species has been embarked in an ark of some cubits in length and width, moderates must have faith in the holy book! If the Koran recommends infidels should “have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off”, muslims ought to have faith in the holy word.

Certain things must be taken in absolute terms and do not fit into moderate hypocrisy. Moderates do not actually follow their religions, but claim themselves to be part of them notwithstanding their basic dogmas.

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If you allege you belong to a religion, but regard certain claims of it as mere metaphor, is your allegation truthful? If anyone is free to consider which point is metaphoric, and there is no reliable criterion as to how far goes the metaphor, so we can have within this religion an atheist who has taken the metaphor to the furthest conclusion.

If there is so much free thinking within the given religion, it has probably scattered and decomposed from inside, and is not properly a true religion (in the strict sense of religion as a collective phenomenon).

The ‘problem’ is not the so common habit of interpreting religion through a personal scope – this is a rather admirable strategy from the perspective of calming down the fuss. But could any philosophical coherence be derived from such a stance?

It is traditional to try and organize ideas, and this is a much important task to be done if coherence is wanted out of complete metaphor or complete literality (apparently the only means to imediate coherence) of christian claims. Metaphor seems to be attempted as the fine line between literality and litterality (from litter, complete rubbish).

Bart D. Ehrman says: “Texts do not simply reveal their own meanings to honest inquirers. Texts are interpreted and they are interpreted (just as they were written) by living, breathing human beings, who can make sense of texts only by explaining them in light of other knowledge, explicating their meaning, putting the words of the text “in other words”.”(book Misquoting Jesus)

But wouldn’t it be unlikely that an almighty omniscient being could not find any clear enough means to convey his message? Wouldn’t God avoid such vulnerable obscure texts that allow opposite interpretations?

Such lack of clarity can be a clue to uncover this being as purely fictitious. The permissive attitude towards these texts is not to be expected from an ultra intelligent deity – on the contrary, minimal logic is to be expected, as well as avoidance of personal (not universal) interpretations on answers about whether he did or did not create the world, for instance.

If we are free to interpret the biblical myth as a metaphor, what could halt us when doing so about the creation of the universe, something that in this view did not happen literally?

The commonplace statement “God moves in mysterious ways”, when applied as an answer to these questions, plunges religious thought into ridicule. Where are the mysterious ways when Religion claims he wants to be worshiped and receive prayers? These godly cravings are all too hard to understand for an entity with this weird taste for mystery.

If this deity allows so much freedom of interpretation on what he supposedly said, his behaviour is too lenient: does not scrutinize the vast number of interpretations about his own nature, most of them wrong and even outrageous, for obvious statistical reasons.

“All faithful, ye may underestimate me even as an anthropomorphic revenge-thirsty entity who builds primates out of clay, but the most important is to worship me and pay your tithes”, God would say.

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SCIENCE AND RELIGION

Scientific models are not completely destroyed. They are usually enhanced, as happened to Newton’s, to the atomic models, and even to the theory of evolution. Things such as spontaneous generation, for instance, have never reached per se this status, for they failed to exclude other alternatives.
But for religion, when it changes substantially, it happens by means of force or power, never on an evidence basis.

This historical process of change by force seems to be in a crossways with modern interpretation of holy texts. What else but evidence could spur such condescending attitude?

What could halt the acid corrosion caused by metaphors?
On what fantasyometer can religions rely upon to weigh whether something is too fantastic to be taken as literal in the Bible?

The birth of a messiah is more or less fantastic than a divine creation as described in Genesis?

Some more problems rise: there are serious biological limitations to virgin conception (as Catholics believe), and these may be as numerous as physical limitations to a creation six days long.

If it is too radical to demand extreme position, the sole reason for this demand is the abscence of a reliable method (never mind text exegesis and hermeneutics) among those proposed by believers fair enough to judge what is and is not a metaphor in the Bible.
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LIBERAL THEOLOGY

Three elements of Liberal Theology according to the Anglican Bishop Sumio Takatsu (only numbered paragraphs):

(1) “It is receptive to science, to arts and present human studies. Seeks truth wherever it is. For Liberalism, there is no disconnection between the human truth e and the Christianity truth, [no] disjunction between reason and revelation. The truth is to be found in experience driven more by reason than by tradition and authority, and [Liberal Theology] shows itself open to ecumenism.”

This could be read this way: “dear Christian, if you reckon you can’t believe in virgin conception and molecular Genetics at the same time, just do some sublimation to both concepts, keep it to yourself, and cease your complaints. You may flirt with other religions which say things different from those that I say, I don’t really give a damn.”

(2) “Simpathy has been shown towards the usage of the Historiography canons [sic] to interpret holy texts. The Bible is considered a human document, whose mean validity is in registering the experience of people open to God’s presence. Its persistent task is to interpret the Bible, in the light of a modern cosmovision and of the best historical research and, at the same time, interpret society, in the light of the gospel narrative.”

An alternative translation to Takatsu’s words (not said by him literally – I’m just feeling free to put his ideas in other words): “dear Christian, remember, above all, that the Bible says cute things, therefore must be true about something. If you don’t know why other human documets (like the letters you write to your girlfriend) are not considered as holy as the Bible, be aware that the Bible is old, it came first, so it deserves a special place in the altar. And please, interpet society based on the Sermon on the Mount, not in the Jericho massacre.”

(3)”The liberals stress the ethical implications of Christianity. The Christianity is not a dogma to be believed, but a way of living and living together, a path of life.”

In other words: “dear Christian, just say you are a Christian because we like to see that happening. Do what is right as we say, keep on taking the bread even thinking it is not Christ’s body. About whether Chirst is really the Christ, forget about it, eat the bread and shut up.”

The Liberal Theology’s postulates do not solve the great elephant in the room of having an almighty and omniscient God who does not behave as such.

If God didn’t mind that a book of men like the Bible had been used to justify so much nonsense in His name, so he cannot be good and interventionist at the same time. My line of reasoning takes me to the classical arguments by Epicurus:

“Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world? He cannot and doesn’t want to? Then why call him God?”

In the manners of Liberal Theology, the concept of God as intelligent, powerful and creator of nature is as hollow as an unicorn with the same abilities.

If the Old Testament is to be metaphorized, and the priviledges of literality are to be given solely to the New Testament, we will face the problem of whether there is any meaningful link between both when the last one cites the first one.

There is an interpretation according to which Christ died to wash away the original sin perpretated by Adam and Eve. If Adam and Eve’s story is a metaphor, Christ died on behalf of vagaries of his father’s literary style – what certainly diminishes the deed.

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ADAPTING EPICURUS TO THE LITERALITY/METAPHOR PROBLEM

God wants to convey explanatory messages to Humanity about himself and about origins, but he is not able to do it through literal messages that would not allow mutually exclusive interpretations or evidence-based rebuttal? Then he is not omnipotent.

He is able, but does not want to? So nobody knows anything about his nature, not even if he is only one or an assembly of entities, not even if he did create the universe.

He can and wants to? Then why the holy texts ever produced by Humanity are so ethereal, lost in nonsense and excessive moralism, and almost never predict anything really mysterious in nature (thus revealing who actually conceived them)?

He is not able nor wants to? Then why call him God, and why even consider him a plausible possibility when the only reason to do so is our wish to have a cozy universe?

God could be only something mindless, without any intelligence, the basis of matter and energy, so it is unable to produce holy texts. Neither wants to, nor has the ability to want anything else. Something extremely simple that gave birth to all universe, but is far from being as smart as bacteria or mice.
This seems to me the proper and ultimate metaphor for God (means both Pantheism and Atheism).
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Could be judged as metaphoric only what is written in poetic language in the Bible?

No. This would be too subjective and dishonest a method. The Sermon on the Mount is in poetic language (a beautiful one). So, will the blessed that mourn be comforted or not? If it is metaphoric, then I may interpret that “they that mourn” will be comforted not because there is a comforting force that shall relieve them, but because time heals grief, or because death will be a consolation extinguishing all perception including grief.

Jesus walked on the water violating the laws of Physics and called the prophets men of little faith. If the excerpt seems poetic, therefore metaphoric, this means that faith spurs stronger attitude, not that faith can make of mockery of Newton’s laws. But if the excerpt is not poetic, means that Jesus really did it.

No problem, after all he is the son of God and had the power to do it, right?
To be religious is to believe in things that would happen few times in the course of History. But what is being questioned here is: religious people are ready to be coherent in order to believe in miraculous events reported in the Bible and ignore their inconsistency before science?

Could a line of coherence be drawed when pointing one or another of these miraculous events a metaphor because it is embarassingly inconsistent?
Discarding literality begins among thorough logic reasonings, or sheer selection of explanations on an emotional appetite?

Stating that Christ’s miracles are literal and Noah’s ark is metaphor only denounces the primordial motivation of religion: to humanize the universe. To judge something as true because it is beautiful and comfortable.

This motivation, despite its absurd incoherence, is what lies behind the theological rhetoric, the rise and fall of dogmas, the mysteries of faith, the miracles, and all the fundamental pillars of Christianity.

  • I think the bible is just a book, in which is discribed the way late paleolitic/mesolitic/neolitic people and the problems they faced becoming farmers from hunters.
    This due to the rapid post glacial expasion of mankind.
    The story of Noah's ark is a nice metafoor for the rapid sea level rise 10.000 years ago at the end of the latest ice age.

    Henk van der Luit

  • Yahweh a metaphor for the laws of physics?

    Being an organist for 42 years now, I started as a 14 years old boy in the spring of 1967.
    One year earlier I lost my belief in a God and eternal life in heaven after death in a fraction of a second during a visit to the Teylers museum in Haarlem.
    Due to this event and not having the possibility to discuss about this I reached a stage of deep depression for 9 years.
    Not having the inspiration anymore by the Christian belief, (In that time I was organist in a protestant church on a wonderful historic organ) I substituted the words god, Jesus, the holy ghost by the laws of physics.
    This to guarantee a convincingly performance.
    Cantates composed Bach like “Von Himmel hoch, da komm ich her ” or “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir ” and “ Wachet auf ruft und die Stimme ” obtain a total different dimension.
    What to think about “ Every valley will be exalted ” by Haendel.
    Exalted by what? Geological forces of course.
    In that time nobody suspected me as an agnostic organist in their church.

  • Yahweh a metaphor for the laws of physics?

    Being an organist for 42 years now, I started as a 14 years old boy in the spring of 1967.
    One year earlier I lost my belief in a God and eternal life in heaven after death in a fraction of a second during a visit to the Teylers museum in Haarlem.
    Due to this event and not having the possibility to discuss about this I reached a stage of deep depression for 9 years.
    Not having the inspiration anymore by the Christian belief, (In that time I was organist in a protestant church on a wonderful historic organ) I substituted the words god, Jesus, the holy ghost by the laws of physics.
    This to guarantee a convincingly performance.
    Cantates composed Bach like “Von Himmel hoch, da komm ich her ” or “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir ” and “ Wachet auf ruft und die Stimme ” obtain a total different dimension.
    What to think about “ Every valley will be exalted ” by Haendel.
    Exalted by what? Geological forces of course.
    In that time nobody suspected me as an agnostic organist in their church.

  • Thanks so much for your inspiring comments, Henk!

  • Anonymous

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