Once Upon a Time in the Beginning

Once Upon a Time in the Beginning August 9, 2016

Once Upon a Time in the Beginning

Hemant Mehta shared the image above. What strikes me most is that the change seems striking to him, just as it would seem controversial to many religious fundamentalists. And so the most interesting question, for me, is whom you think that a change like this would be most helpful for – the people who claim to be literalists among religious believers, or the people who reject the literal meaning of the Bible and religion along with it and yet cannot seem to view the Bible except through that same lens provided by religious fundamentalism.

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  • John MacDonald

    Commercials are like fairy tales. They promise a “happily ever after” if you use the product or follow the instructions. Fundamentalism is like this too.

  • jcmchan

    I have always found this to be a strange point of contention, this idea that myths and truths are somehow mutually exclusive. I grew up listening to stories and watching shows about Chinese historical people and circumstances that were both myth and truth.

    In the genre of historical fiction in Chinese literature and art, there are some classics that are recognized with something akin to reverence. They tell stories, obviously fiction, about real historical characters…they may exaggerate fighting abilities, include fantastical encounters with the supernatural, or create love stories and conflicts that may never have existed at all.

    However, the reason that some of these classics are so highly regarded is because they create a narrative of meaning for the Chinese people, for their collective history. They are both truth and myth, myth and truth.

    It may be just my experience, but I have felt that this whole thing is somewhat of a worldview/heritage divide as I’ve found that people from more ‘Eastern’ cultures have much less difficulty, in general, accepting that stories, like those found in the Bible, both tell truth and exist as myth. I wonder at the historical/sociological circumstances that has resulted in this difficulty for some (mostly western people in my experience) in being able to hold myth and truth together, while for others (mostly Asian, Eastern European, south Asian, etc.) truth and myth don’t have to be mutually exclusive…

    I apologize for the rambling length of this post…

    • histrogeek

      The old saw I’ve heard on this is “myth is truth not fact,” e.g. philosophical and spiritual truth not historical or scientific fact.

      Even that has its limitations since myths in historical times, probably better called “legends,” do sometimes, though not always, have a basis in historic reality. The truth you just can’t be sure with ancient stories without further investigation. No ancient people, not even the Greeks and Romans, had the hard and fast distinction between fact and fiction that we moderns believe we have. Exaggeration and drama get added to make stories more interesting; that just happens.

    • John MacDonald

      The Greeks thought that some truths couldn’t adequately be expressed by mere proposition, and so must be attempted in other ways, such as allegories.

  • jh

    I think it would benefit the person who is marginalized or oppressed. Being able to ignore certain verses because the religion is a metaphor could be advantageous for those groups. For example, a woman is told by her husband that she needs to submit. She could say “look, it’s just a metaphor honey. You have to treat me with respect.”

    If you treat the Bible as literal, you have a greater problem with hypocrisy (why give such a damn about LGBT and abortion but not Red Lobster?) and the potential for abuse because “God said so”.

    I think it also helps the religious, because science has proven itself as both a body of knowledge and a methodology to provide results… vaccines, germ theory, computers, electricity. Religion can’t provide those kind of tangible results. It’s better to change the playing field into the supernatural and reign supreme rather than squabbling like Answers in Genesis.

    Consider – Science has revised its position on various subjects. Meanwhile, Judeo-christian believers can’t even fix the first two chapters of Genesis in order to create a consistent account. Making it more metaphorical would allow for edits to the original text and provide a corrective mechanism so the religion can adapt to society.

  • David Evans

    I am one of those who “reject the literal meaning of the Bible and religion along with it”. I would happily regard the Bible as a purely human product, a melange of philosophy, morality, history and fairy tales, some of which is valuable and some (in my view) not. My quarrel is with those who regard it, or parts of it, as infallible instruction which is binding on me as well as on them. When arguing with them it is sometimes useful to ask “How do you know which parts to take literally?” and this may lead to an undue use of the fundamentalist lens.

  • Marta L.

    It seems an indisputable fact that the Bible contains poetry. IIRC Genesis 1 is actually a hymn, but even if it’s not, turn to the Psalms, Isaiah, or any number of other passages. Yet the orthodox typically think of all Scripture as being true and good. It seems an odd thing to think of poetry as truth in the literal, propositional sense – in no other context is poetry understood that way.

    Which has me thinking that applying mythological quantifiers to any section of scripture shouldn’t be as much a paradigm shift as Mehta seems to think it is. (Same for the religious fundamentalists.) The idea that “God’s word is true” doesn’t refer to propositional truth is nothing new. Of course, just what it would mean is another question entirely.