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Posted by on Nov 19, 2013 in Atheism, Christianity, featured | 17 comments

Is God A Metaphor Too?

Dt-logoLiberal Christians are always telling me that God didn’t really mean this or that Jesus didn’t really mean that. Those parts of the Bible are metaphors and only atheists and the small minority of about 48% of Christians take that part literally. Real Christians of course understand the Truth and that is that the entire Bible is to be taken metaphorically except for the existence of God, some of Jesus’s magic tricks, his resurrection, and anything else liberal Christians want to believe really happened.

Maybe we should take this whole “metaphorical” thing one step further and just admit that maybe, possible, probably, almost certainly, God is a metaphor too. Maybe the whole thing is fictional and each of the unknown number of anonymous authors had their own agendas and metaphors they were trying to convey and there wasn’t a single narrative at all.

Maybe Jesus was a metaphor too. When this is brought up, everyone always appeals to authority and claims that all the historians agree that there was a man named Jesus. But when asked to produce evidence of this character, nothing of consequence has been presented. In fact, there were similar stories about a man named Simon who was resurrected by the angel Gabriel after three days of being dead. Those stories pre-day Jesus and were circulated in that area. But who cares, it’s just a metaphor.

That’s really the thing I want to discuss today. Can someone properly call themselves a Christian even if they consider God to be a metaphor? Can someone really be an atheist Christian? That is to say that they value the Bible and the message they believe the Bible talks about without a literal god-belief.

So what is this message that the Bible talks about? Well, that depends on your interpretation and that isn’t up to me. But let’s say that you are an atheist and believe that the Bible is 100% metaphor. That is to say that it is complete and utter fiction but that for some odd reason, you are able to pretend that all the horrible stuff in the Bible isn’t there and that the good parts are what counts. You value the Bible purely as a metaphor for the Human condition. Are you still a Christian?

I bring this up, because I think that many Christians today are pretty close to this position except that they do accept God and Jesus as literal as I pointed out in the beginning of this post. But like my hypothetical atheist Christian, they view much of the Bible as metaphoric. So where is the line? At what level can you reject the Bible and still claim to be a Christian?

At some point it really just becomes a matter of degrees. Everyone takes some part of the Bible metaphorically, so why can’t someone claim to be a Christian and take the whole of the Bible metaphorically –God and all.

I ask the same question of Jews, but funny enough there are actually a lot of Jews who completely reject Judaism and still consider themselves to be Jews. There are lots of humanistic Jews who don’t believe in God. So many in fact, that there is an entire organization for them. So that doesn’t seem to be a problem within Judaism.

Christianity is however a different animal. Can we have humanist Christians who reject the belief in a deity and yet retain their Christian identity? If we can, then why do liberal Christians still cling to their literal deity even while they preach a metaphorical gospel? Should we as atheists make this path more accessible to liberal Christians? Should we create a fifth column within Christianity by forming a Society of Humanistic Christians?

Thoughts, comments, below please.

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  • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

    I tend to think that to be a Christian one must claim that Jesus was the Christ, in some theologically meaningful sense.

    Not everyone agrees about that, of course: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_atheism#The_centrality_of_Jesus

    • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

      I guess the question is, what does that mean exactly and does that have to be literal?

      • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

        I’m having trouble wrapping my head around a metaphorical Messiah. He has to save some designated chosen people from something, right?

        • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

          Again, it kind of depends on what you mean my Messiah. Within Judaism, the idea of a Messiah wasn’t that of a “son of God,” but rather just a hero. There were in fact many Messiahs within ancient Judaism. However, over time that concept changed to mean a singular figure/savior. But that’s if we take the term literally.

          What I am suggesting is that it might be possible to take even that metaphorically. One need not believe that Anakin Skywalker was a real person in order to believe that he was the chosen one within the story. So maybe someone could claim that the character of Jesus was the Messiah within the story and still acknowledge that Jesus was a fictional character. Keep in mind, I am not saying I hold this belief, simply that it is a belief that could justify the view of an atheist Christian. My point is that once a Christian accepts that some aspect of the Bible not obviously meant as a metaphor is to be viewed as a metaphor, then it is only a matter of degrees. There is no reasonable objection for someone to come along and claim that even the concept of God could be a metaphor. To reject this possibility would be to reject the Christian identity of pretty much every Christian.

          My argument here is that if a Christian is willing to claim that various parts of the Bible must be interpreted as a metaphor, then why should they stop there? Why not go that extra step and interpret God and Jesus as metaphors as well?

          • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

            Some things are obviously composed to be taken as metaphors (e.g. most parables, possibly the apocalypses) while other passages are clearly composed to be taken literally (e.g. Paul’s claim of apostolic authority as the result of visionary revelation) but it strikes me as equally absurd to try to take *ALL* of the scriptures metaphorically just as it is to try to take them all literally.

            There may be a scholarly case to be made that the entire Gospel of Mark was intended as devotional fiction, however, and that would go a really long way.

          • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

            I’m not talking about the parts that are obviously supposed to be taken metaphorically. I’m talking specifically about the claims made by many liberal Christians that most of the Bible is to be taken metaphorically and comparing that to the claims made by most fundamentalists that most of the Bible should be taken literally. My point is that it seems pretty arbitrary and since each Christian has their own justification for their diametrically opposing views, why not take it that extra step?

  • Bessie

    One can emulate the heroics and follow the wisdom of The Doctor while being completely certain that he’s a fictional character on a popular TV show. If you help the downtrodden to the degree demanded by the written words of Christ, does it matter if it actually happened?

  • Android Hamiltron

    the author is ignoring entire fields of literary criticism, historical scholarship, linguistics, and archaeology that provide the context for interpreting biblical passages. biblical interpretation is not arbitrary, nor as simple as a scale of ‘metaphor’ on one end and ‘literal’ on the other. in the christian denominations that require their leaders to be educated, ministers generally have access to this information.

    the type of christian belief you describe is known to scholars, theologians, and christian leaders as ‘moralistic therapeutic deism’ and it is a phenomenon that has been studied for almost a decade now. their attachment to christian churches is a matter of social utility and this is of great concern to christian academics.

    Judaism is the religion of Jewish culture, which practiced mostly by people who are ethically Jewish. Christianity is not an ethnicity and only sometimes a culture. there is a very different set of relationships among identity, culture, and religion going on with Jews than with the moralistic therapeutic deists.a Jewish humanist group would be more comparable to an African-American atheist group in the south.

    • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

      What the commenter seems to be ignoring is all those Christians who take aspects of the Bible such as creation, Noah’s Ark, the Tower of Babel, and Revelations literally and all the scholarship justifying their beliefs. It isn’t just arbitrary, you have to look at the context of what God was trying to do in those situations. Of course this commenter would like to just pretend that these Christians don’t exist or that they are some small minority of believers but that fact is that they have their own scholars and pseudo-intellectuals that they are trying to pass off as actual academics. Guess what? Religious scholars are not really scholars in the same sense as actual academic scholars. They are only scholars in relation to their bullshit.

      As for the comparison between humanistic Jews and humanistic Christians, my point still stands. Obviously Jews and Christians are difference, but they could be similar in this way if Christians are willing to admit that God is a metaphor.

      • Android Hamiltron

        you’re saying that because creationist literalist nutjobs exist, therefore all biblical scholarship is meaningless, which is illogical and untrue. the bible is literally a series of documents from ancient history, and it has been analyzed as such by crazy and sane people alike, with many different beliefs, for many years. to dismiss the quality body of research that has been done on the books of the bible is ignorant. it’s like dismissing all of astronomy as valid study because Velikovsky was wrong.

        • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

          No, that’s not what I said at all. I didn’t say that because there are Bible literalists that therefore all biblical scholarship is meaningless and I certainly didn’t call anyone a “nutjob.”

          What I did say was that Biblical scholarship is merely scholarship in fiction. Can we still learn from fiction? Of course. But at the end of the day it is still fiction. The fact that biblical literalists exist and can justify their beliefs is important because they have just as much claim to “Truth” than biblical metaphoricalists do. Both claim to have scholarship to justify their positions, but at the end of the day the Bible remains fictional regardless of how much they try to cloak their beliefs in academia.

          The Bible isn’t a series of ancient documents, it is a series of ancient fictional stories. What I am asking is for Christians who already take many aspects of the Bible metaphorically to take the principle characters metaphorically too. I think Christians can still retain their religious identity without believing in ridiculous fictional stories and characters as literal truth.

          • Android Hamiltron

            i don’t think it’s accurate to reduce the bible to fiction and then dismiss it. Paul’s letters are political. Psalms is poetry. Genesis is mythology (which is related to fiction, but serves different cultural purposes). Job is a philosophical treatise. the back half of the torah is law.

            i am an atheist, and close with several grad students at an extremely liberal methodist seminary. in my experience, if humanist views are to take hold in christianity, christians must embrace a contextual approach to the bible.

            the value of a human creation (the bible) rests in the human(s) who created it. this is a very basic humanist position, and is antithetical to your positivist notion that value is dictated by truth.

          • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

            I don’t know what you are reading, but it clearly isn’t what I wrote. This is the second time that you have ignored what I said and claimed that I said the exact opposite of what I actually did say. The Bible is fiction. That is a fact. That doesn’t mean that it is valueless, but that this must be considered when discussing its value. That is the whole point of my post here. My entire argument here has been that one can reject the truth-value of the Bible and still retain a Christian identity and gain value from that. So when you claim that I write off all value of the Bible because it is fiction, I just don’t know where you got that from.

  • jonnyb

    It can actually be a useful metaphor in circumstances where I am trying to envision the perfect goodness or love we strive for from our imperfect being. My Christian background is useful to me when I feel spiritually weak and cannot see myself well. Even when I cannot see myself being perfectly good or loving it helps to have this vision of what it would look like. The vision softens my heart and gives me confidence in my values.

    • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

      I envision Batman, but to each your own I guess…

      • Nerdsamwich

        But Batman’s a dick. I prefer Thor.

  • Deliberatus

    That 5th collum is the UU church. it is done already.