Can we stop at metaphor?

“It should be seen as a metaphor.” That has has to be one of the the most common moves to save a supernatural belief from criticism. If educated people can no longer take the Bible at face value, well, maybe the creation stories, miracles, and so forth are all metaphorical. If astrology looks brain dead, it still might be a good source of psychological metaphors. Mystical writings come across as drivel? They may be metaphors nudging us toward an indescribable God.

But it’s also worthwhile to ask if it’s possible to push reinterpretation all the way, to have ancient supernaturalistic beliefs become metaphors for natural occurrences. Lawrence Bush, for example, in Waiting for God, worries that even in the most liberal religions, it’s overwhelmingly tempting to have the metaphors turn into supernaturalism.

He may have a point. I like supernatural storytelling: fiction with occult themes, or novels that play with religious stories. Some of my favorites are graphic novels. Many a night I sit down with a John Constantine, Hellblazer or a Lucifer by Mike Carey. So I also checked out the Promethea series, which has won awards, and is written by Alan Moore, who can be really good. It has an occult/high magic theme. But in this case, though J.H. Williams draws it beautifully, Moore loses his sense of humor and gets all preachy. The result is more earnest New Age bullshit than I’m willing to tolerate, especially when you get some serious physics-abuse thrown in. Oh yes, everything is supposed to be a metaphor, but it’s also all too clear that the New Age bits are supposed to be real at some level.

Sigh. Maybe the best thing is to stay away from even the ultraliberal reinterpretations of religion, because the overwhelming majority of people will take it to be saying something deep about the universe, not human aspirations.

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About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University


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