• 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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    Article by: Staks Rosch

    Staks Rosch is a writer for the Skeptic Ink Network & Huffington Post, and is also a freelance writer for Publishers Weekly. Currently he serves as the head of the Philadelphia Coalition of Reason and is a stay-at-home dad.

    39 comments

          1. 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?

            1. 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.

            2. 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?

    1. 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?

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

          1. 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.

            1. 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.

            2. 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.

      2. Staks Rosch, you are an absolute idiot. Not in the sense that I disagree or agree with your view, but in the way you respond to Hamilton. Hamilton is clearly more intelligent and and is actually responding to your comments, unlike you who just says the same thing over and over again. Then you state that the Bible is fiction without providing any facts or logic for it. It’s been years since this article was posted so I really hope you’ve been able to expand your mind and develop your reasoning in religion instead of staying stagnant. Best of luck to you.

        1. Thanks for your comment, but it does seem idiotic to me that twice my comments were ignored and Hamilton claimed that I said the exact opposite of what I actually said. I don’t really now how else to respond to comments that I didn’t say other than to point out that I didn’t say those comments. I told Hamilton twice that even though the Bible is fiction, it still may have value. In fact, that is the point of the post. Yet, he insists that something must be true in order to have any value and then projected that view on me and claimed that I said the Bible was valueless. I reject that. My view is that even though the Bible is fiction (which it is), it still have value. It has value as art, poetry, literature, and to some extent it even has historical value even though it does not accurately reflect history. It still has value in that it reflects the views of people who lived during that time period. So yes, the Bible has value. However, its truth-value is still false.

    3. 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.

    4. Even though the manifestations of Gods by
      an essence-based prospective are metaphoric, it does not follow that the
      sub-conscious forces that are the bases of the metaphors are fantasy. They are real. It is troubling that so called
      rational perspectives cannot perceive this. The attack by so called rational
      perspectives on God is as absurd as those who believe that Gods exist according
      to the supporting dogma. Can’t anybody perceive
      the metaphors as they exist?

    5. Let’s use Aesop’s fables as an example. A race between a tortoise and a hare never took place, but the message Aesop was trying to convey was that slow and steady wins the race. Now, was Aesop himself a metaphor? No, he was using a story to convey a message. Same deal with the bible. God is not a metaphor, but the stories he tells us through Jesus sometimes are.

      1. Aesop wasn’t a character in his own stories. God is a character in a story book written down by anonymous men after it had been told and retold over time and then the after the stories were down, they were edited and rewritten over time until the invention of the printing press. Then they were translated and retranslated into various languages and for various political reasons. Don’t you think that if there was a God and he had anything at all to do with this series of books, he would have had them written in stone or something like the Ten Commandments (which indecently enough, there are actually several versions of that too because the magical stone tablets are gone… just like with the Mormon golden tablets).

    6. First, no one can’t be an atheist Christian, any mre than you can be a Marxist Thatcherite. there’s a clue in the title. Many people confuse being good with being a Christian.
      secondly the reality of God can only be shown as metaphor, as humanity cannot think out of the human box. (Even science fiction is anthropocentric.)
      As I am researching God as metaphor, i would be interested in an e-conversation with you.
      Blessingss,
      Jim Crompton

      1. I have met a Christian or two who believes in following the example of Jesus, but who lacks the belief in God. Thomas Jefferson comes to mind.

    7. I believe god is a metaphor.. but still no less holy or powerful or magnificent. I dont believe im christian, i believe theres truth in all religion. But ill stick to christianity because its what ive been raised up as. How do we know “god”didnt create us. How do we know “god” isnt a number of different people. God could be some kind of bizare interstellar creautre… but this All sounds weird right? Well of course! Its not specified in the bible… and why would it be. If you look in our past we werent the most understanding group of people. Even now a days we arnt. So why would that higher power fill in the blanks that we armt gojng to understand anyways. Are munds werent as powerful as they are tidat and thats the problem. Our minds advanced and religion did not. i for I ne believe that we may all be connected throuh the same subcounscious body; all one. all animals, insects, fish, every plant, tree, rock, star, galaxy could all just be a product of our one combined subconscious… magbe that combined subconscious is God

    8. Staks, perhaps your suggestion to think of the Bible as 100% fiction is just a thought experiment, but I think this unnecessary. In scientific fact the Bible is not wholly fictional. Many of its stories are set in real historical situations, and the authenticity of some Bible characters and events is supported by archeological and historical scholarship. Though you find them unpersuasive, most secular historians argue, for example, there was a real person named Jesus, even if they doubt or disbelieve the supernatural aspects and details of the gospel stories. In my view we should accept the authentic historical content of the Bible (where it can be discerned) even while noting that the biblical authors developed and shaped their stories for mythopoeic and theological purposes. From a secularist perspective much of the Bible is theological fiction, but some of that is historical, ‘real-person’ fiction, and some of it actually happened.

      None of this prevents us, however, from exploring your primary question about whether a Christian might think God a metaphor. The Bible doesn’t need to be thought 100% fiction to consider the question. Real persons as well as fictional can be considered as metaphors; e.g. Shakespeare as romantic genius, Abraham Lincoln as archetypal president (or vampire hunter). I think your questions are worth examining, and we ought not ignore the Bible’s genuine historical content – embellished and amended as it is – to discuss them. Thanks for the questions!

    9. Haha God is a metaphor, God is the TRUTH, literally the truth, the truth of life. Once you know the truth of no self, you realize that everything and everyone is the one empty awareness that allows everything else. sin is a metaphor for ignorance, humanity at large is stuck in the ego paradigm which is an illusion, and therefore stuck in “Hell” because the ego is all for its self and fears death, and hell is a metaphor for human suffering, which is to say that if you believe you are the human mind it is inevitable, But when you realize existentially that you are not that, that you are the awareness that encompasses reality itself, then your ego dies, death is an illusion because there is no “you”, the real you is everything, it’s eternal. Once you experience this, only then will you experience love, TRUE love, not human chemical love which is just a dopamine spike in order for us to mate and produce offspring, evolutionarily speaking. True love is surrendering to life, it is unconditional, it can never change unlike human emotions that are always changing. And why is it only When we know truth, that true love can be achieved? Because Love is unconditional, as is the truth, true love is peace, peace that is so deep that one has to experience life not believing the illusion that they are this human mind, but as the source or essence itself in which the human mind can be experienced! We can call this source “GOD” ?. Sorry for the extra long post, I had an enlightenment experience yesterday and felt like I had to share this truth I experienced, it was truely breath taking and pure bliss, I was the truth, and let me tell you even though I was “awake” for only a couple hours, I experienced True love, true peace, only because I became reality itself, the world was perfect, how can reality not be perfect? It can’t because reality is the truth! And as the Buddha said, “When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.”

    10. I’ll raise this article from the dead. YES the Bible, including “God” is a metaphor. As are all ancient “religious” texts, as are all works of art, whether or not the author intends it. The phrase “word of God” refers to the very mechanic of symbolism, or metaphor. The phrase “Key of David” refers to the ability to understand these. The big characters in the bible RE-BECAME the gods we all were before we created the universe and purposely forgot – so that we could be surprised by the physical universe and enjoy it. We got more than we bargained for, and stopped caring about fixing it. Here is an example of the “word” of “god”…

      Tree = a concept, a complex thought process.
      Thorn = accountability. They don’t chase you down and stick you, it’s your own fault.
      Fire = witness against negligence.
      The burning thorn tree, not being consumed, is a concept of accountability that cannot be proven wrong. It represents the god that will NOT sit idly by for ANY amount of time, and allow children to be beaten, parents to become taskmasters like their oppressors. A wicked god that allows generations to suffer so that a final one can be rescued is a thorn tree that burns quickly. The un-burning bush is what Moses saw in himself, because no “god” in the “sky” helped his followers for 430 years. Moses said “screw that, there is no such god, I am far more righteous and would help my people if I had the power. As a matter of fact, I’ll send myself.” He was afraid of this concept the same way you are at first, fearing “the real god might punish me for this thought process”, which simply solidified his reasoning. F that kind of “god”
      He said “I AM” (points to sky) “that” (quote fingers) “I AM”
      He said “I am God”

      Abraham said “no righteous external god would ask me to kill my son, even as a test or joke. Therefore I am more righteous than the external god, and I do not withhold my son from me. Screw this garbage”

      Jacob (struggles with man) wrestled with the the concept of “god” and beat “god”, by realizing that he is God. And renamed himself Israel (struggles with God)

      The one they called Jesus is the very anti-christ that he spoke of. The greatest deceiver. He even told us several times in fishy language that he made himself the embodiment of the concept of “satan”. He is a beast, coming up out of the earth (re: tomb) having two horns (good and evil) and speaking like a great serpent. 50% lies, 50% truth.

      The one they called “jesus” has not saved, nor will save, anyone from anything, ever, unless you realize that you are the real Jesus, and go do it yourself. Your last $20 to a sign holder on a street corner, even if he’s a scammer, is a great start.

    11. “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?”

      Yes! Yes!

      I’ve been thinking this way for a long time now, and I see wonderful possibilities in it, for everyone.

    12. According to Neville Goddard:

      Original hebrew was like mahtematics, was a language but could not be spoken. Every word has its meaning. Jesus means: “Jehova saves.” Christ is the highest form of thinking inside of us, the elevated part of thought in us.

      The cross is the body, where the soul is crucified. We are Pinnochios, who are dead until we realize we are dead, then we resurrect out of death. 3 means perfection, that’s why the third day’s resurrection. Christ is the spirit of God inside you. You are God in flesh, and that’s why our skull is like an egg because His spirit has to be born in the brain. As long as we don’t know what is going on we are Pinnochios who are dead and only move because of inertia, but there isn’t life ot its own. Once we know we are dead and that something moves us then we start being born again.

      Wether Christ existed or not is not the issue. The issue is that Christ has to awaken inside of you. Carl Jung said Christ was the highest comprehension inside us.

      So, one has to read Neville Goddard to understand more. I have been reading him for a year and my life has changed. He says that God is divine imagination. Thought is a form of imagination. His books are very good and all of t hem are short. There is a lot on youtube about him.

      What I say about PInnochio is mine. I have thought about it for years that PInnochio is the story of each one of us. Last year I had a spiritual breakdown after reading PAUL LEVY’S book called AWAKENED BY DARKNESS (half of the book is boring bu t the other half is absolutely fabulous). Somehow I realized I was dead, like Kermit the frog. I realized Kermit the Frog was funny, but in the end it was a piece of clothe. “I am Kemrite the Frog,” I said to myself. Then the breakdown came, I felt so bad knowing I was dead. I realized something had been moving me all my life and that something had allowed me to be me but in reality that hadn was myself. This hadn is ventrolocuist, I said to myself. If I am that which moves me, because I can’t be something diffferent, then who am I? The world came appart. My life was destroyed.

      A month before I had downloded a lot of Neville Goddard when I read in Levy’s book that GOD IS DIVINE IMAGINATION. But I didn’t understand anything. Two months later I had another breakdown and asked that God inside of me: “If you and I are the same, how can I do to be not You-Me and instead of that be you?” Then a voice coming from my bones told me: “It’s in your computer.” I looked for Neville Goddard’s audios in my pc and I started to understand them. It’s been a year and my life has changed a lot for the better. A year is nothing compared to a whole life searching for something different. I had spiritual awakenings before, but not like the one that started a year ago. Neville talks about creating reality, but also about waking up. He also explains hoto to change the world (which can only be changed in our minds), and h e also teaches about thrue forgiveness.

      I recommend Neville Goddard and Paul Levy. Levy talks about Wetiko, name given by native americans to the interdimensional virus that affects consciousness. There is also a lot about Wetiko and Paul Levy on youtube, he woke up thanks to psicological abuse from his father. But his book is fabulous. First half ot the book is boring because he talks about his abuse, but then it becomes a masterpiece when he explains why it happens and how to heal the psiche from all the pain we create and inherit. Both are masterpieces.

      I live in Spain. Hugs for each one of you.

      Daniel Rostand.

      1. I was the same Daniel! Neville Goddard rocks, life is so much better now with a sense of making sense of everything. He really was phenomenal!

        1. That’s the real thing, isn’t it. As humans, we are instinctively trying to make sense of the world around us. But just because we want the universe to make sense, doesn’t mean that everything actually does make sense. Sometimes things happen. Bobby down the street got cancer. He didn’t get cancer because he deserved it. He got cancer because sometimes shit happens. Philip up the block won the lottery. He didn’t win because he is an awesome person. He just got lucky. They both prayed to the save deity too. So why did one get cancer and the other win the lottery? Shit just happens. Life doesn’t always make sense in that way.

    13. hi, humanist or cultural sikh here just dropping by

      and i thought the “american humanist association” paths to humanism was fascinating

    14. You point out the real problem. Your dogma better be consistent. If the Deity says “x” and he’ll do “Y”, then it should be counted upon to be real, that is, if “it” is an actual Deity. If a Deity fails to be consistent, then said Deity either lacks omniscience skills or doesn’t give a damn.
      Now walk through the Bible. You’ll be given the definition of love by a Deity that doesn’t show it. You’ll be given promises by a Deity that doesn’t keep them. When this is pointed out to the average Pastor or Preacher, you will get the catch- all answer.
      “God’s ways are not our ways.” Deity gets a great big grand exclusion from behaving in ways He has asked Us to behave.
      Here’s the thing. The minute you figure out that you love better than you Deity, does…the gig is up.

    15. Yes… I do wish secular Christianity was an option. One of my Jewish family friends had his bar mitzvah recently and in his speech he talked about how he saw the story of the 10 commandments as a metaphor for Moses’ inner conflict between wrath and mercy. The congregation didn’t chastise him or call him out, they respected him. Do that in almost any Christian church, and you’re ‘not taking the Bible seriously’.

      A central tennant of many Jewish communities is going on a journey of what the Torah means to you. I wish it was like that in Christianity. I would love to be able to fully embrace my cultural Christianity as an atheist they way my friend can embrace his cultural Judaism. I’d love to be able to discuss the meaning of the Bible without being shut down. But if I’m completely honest, I’d rather completely abandon Christianity than be made fun of for not thinking about it the same way as others.

    16. God is a metaphor for time.
      Bigger than us. Has always been there. Sees everything. Personification of tomorrow. Act according to God = make your tomorrow better.

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