More Random Stuff

  • I've always thought there was something silly about the librarian festival "banned books week", and this post by St. Darwin explains why.
  • However, there's no need to buy games on the web.  If you can afford index cards, and a pencil, then you can start playing The Card Game, a self-modifying card game invented by yours truly.
  • From St. William G. Witts' blog, an essay on A Hermeneutic of Discontinuity, a take-down some supposedly "Christian" theologians, who actually don't really believe much of anything.  I was particularly interested in the following passage because of my recent posts on Metaphors in Theology:

The primary criterion by which Borg decides whether an event mentioned in the Bible is historical or metaphorical seems to be whether it is miraculous, or mentions what Borg refers to as an “intervention” of God. As with many authors in our narrative of the “hermeneutics of discontinuity,” Borg is clear that contemporary people cannot believe that miracles happen, so any biblical story that contains such an event must be interpreted as a metaphor. For example, Borg writes that the biblical description of Jesus as the Son of God who died for our sins and rose from the dead “no longer works for millions of people.” Also, he writes, “there are many parts of the gospels that they can’t take literally. When literalized, the story of Jesus becomes literally incredible.”  Of course, that millions of contemporary people do take the miraculous events of the gospel “literally” belies Borg’s claim. For those who believe, the story of Jesus is literally credible. That is what the word “belief” means.

The approach here is entirely circular and question begging. Borg nowhere makes an argument that miracles are metaphysically impossible, or that the God who created the world could not become incarnate, or that if Jesus were the Son of God that he could not forgive sins or rise from the dead. Nor does he engage in a careful textual study to show that the biblical texts themselves distinguish between non-miraculous “historical events” and miraculous “metaphorical” events. The distinction between a “literal” and a “metaphorical” reading is assumed in approaching the text and then imposed on it.

Moreover, Borg’s is an odd use of the word “metaphor,” which normally means “figurative,” not miraculous. Presumably, a secular account of undisputed and non-miraculous historical events could use highly metaphorical language, and might have a great deal of contemporary significance or “meaning,” for example, a biography of Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr. At the same time, an account of an entirely fantastic and fictional event could use non-metaphorical and prosaic language. For example, tall tales about Paul Bunyan often derive their humor from describing highly exaggerated and impossible stories in prosaic language. It is not clear why Borg wants to use the expression “metaphorical” to describe certain events in the Bible except to say that “they did not happen.”

People have a bad habit of using the word "metaphorical" to mean "just kidding".  But that's just not what it means.  Nor does "literal" mean factual.  For example, when reading a novel we understand that "Mr. Jones went out the door" can be a literal statement, while "Mrs. Jones' heart was broken" is a metaphor.  The Literal vs. Metaphorical axis lies at right angles to the Factual vs. Fictional axis; all four combinations are allowed.

About Aron Wall

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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