I’m sorry for the insult in the title, but I’m just reciprocating Sullivan’s latest invective.
For a Catholic, Andrew Sullivan often has rational opinions. But his latest attack on me in The Daily Dish, “Must the story of the fall be true?”, isn’t one of them. And since he calls me “dumb”, and uses other strong language, I think I’m entitled to respond by saying this: Sullivan is a deluded Catholic who not only adheres to fairy tales, but seems to know very little about the history of his own faith.
Taking his cue from Ross Douthat’s similarly-themed piece in the New York Times, Sullivan goes after my attack on Mark Shea’s piece in the Catholic Register. I criticized Shea for “metaphorizing” the story of Adam and Eve, that is, admitting that it can’t be literally true but giving other explanations of how it could be figuratively “true.” In Shea’s case, he conceived of the Original Sin as some dude thinking an evil thought while sitting around drinking coffee. That, he claimed, doomed the rest of humanity to eternal sin and the need for expiation, requiring Jesus to come down to Earth and be crucified.
That’s a dumb scenario, of course. Better to give up the whole myth of original sin and expiation than engage in such ridiculous intellectual contortions. And, as I said in my earlier post on Douthat, the mental gymnastics of apologists determined to save their myths deserves no more respect than does the tenacious stupidity of fundamentalists.
At any rate, Sullivan makes this accusation: I am one of many deluded fools who thinks that the account of Genesis was meant to be taken seriously. From the outset it was an obvious metaphor, and intended to be seen as such!
There’s no evidence that the Garden of Eden was always regarded as figurative? Really? Has Coyne read the fucking thing? I defy anyone with a brain (or who hasn’t had his brain turned off by fundamentalism) to think it’s meant literally. It’s obviously meant metaphorically. It screams parable. Ross sees the exchange as saying something significant about the atheist mindset – and I largely agree with everything he says, except his definition of “fundamentalist” doesn’t seem to extend much past Pat Robertson. It certainly makes me want to take Jerry Coyne’s arguments less seriously. Someone this opposed to religion ought to have a modicum of education about it. The Dish, if you recall, had a long thread on this subject in August. No one was as dumb as Coyne.
What was Sullivan smoking when he wrote this? Among the people who have taken the Genesis story seriously are not only the fundamentalists he decries, but the theologians Thomas Aquinas and Augustine (who believed in Adam and Eve), many Popes, and nearly every Christian in the history of Christendom—at least until 1859. Many of my friends were taught that the Genesis story was true when they were churchgoing kids.Were these people brainless, as Sullivan implies? Were they simply impervious to the obvious metaphor?
Yes, I have read the “fucking thing” (it doesn’t take long), and yes, to many modern ears, aware of what Darwin found, it sounds metaphorical. But not to all of them. Nor did the story “scream parable” to two millennia of Christians, some of them living among us right now.
Finally, if Sullivan has an ear so finely attuned that it’s able to detect which parts of the Bible scream metaphor and which scream “literal truth,” then perhaps he’d grace us with his wisdom. Does he, for example, think that the virgin birth of Jesus, Jesus’s status as God’s son, and his crucifixion, Resurrection, and imminent return “scream metaphor” as well?
Is heaven also a metaphor? What about God himself? To my ear, those things scream “fiction”, which is the secular equivalent of “metaphor.” The thing about “sophisticated” apologists like Sullivan is that they always avoid telling us what Catholic doctrine they see as literally true. They know they’d look pretty bad if they said, for example, that crackers and wine are literally transformed into the body and blood of Jesus.
Like Ross Douthat, Sullivan misses the point. Of course the Bible sounds like fiction, because it is in its entirety. Good Catholics like Sullivan try to save their religion by reading those fictions as metaphors. You could do the same thing with any scripture, or any myth. But if he really considers himself a Catholic, then surely there’s something in Scripture that Sullivan sees as really, truly true. Could he please tell us what that is?
Unfortunately, Sullivan doesn’t allow comments on his website, so I can’t post this there. Perhaps, because he reads this site, he’ll come over here and grace us with his opinion. And perhaps he’d explain why, even if Eden didn’t exist, he’s so sure that there’s God and baby Jesus?
294 thoughts on “Andrew Sullivan is a mush-brained metaphorizer”
I, too, have often been frustrated by the Daily Dish’s lack comments. So, please, please, Lord Jesus, tell Andrew to come over here and answer the question.
The power of Christ compels Andrew!
NO! NO! The “reality” of “only one Adam” and “only one Eve” compels Andrew; but probably not to come into the spiders web.
I doubt he has the fortitude to come here for his evisceration.
WEITers may not know that Andrew Sullivan, pre-Dish, was infamous for having solicited unsafe sex while he was HIV-positive, and this just after having chastised gay men publicly for their promiscuity.
(Google “Sullivan” and “milky loads” [sorry] for details.)
Wow. Sullivan responded. Invective shall reap invective, apparently.
This is what happens when you tangle with Andrew: He gets emotional, then he insults you, then he spouts contradictory/incoherent theology, then he cherry-picks “respectable” theologian/thinker quotes to support him.
He’s what he’s always been: a cunty git.
Is that supposed to be sexist, homophobic, or both?
Yeah, maybe “two-fisted wanker” might be more geneder-appropriate. It’s certainly an appropriate description of Sullivan’s behaviour.
I read a back-and-forth between Sullivan and Sam Harris a few years ago. Very entertaining discussion but, needless to say, Sam mopped the floor with our modern Papist hero. Perhaps equally needless to say, Sullivan seems to have not learned a fucking thing since then.
It’s metaphorical, of course. 🙂
The Popol Vuh sounds a lot like an elaborate metaphor for the growing of corn, but it’s totally real. The gods really did create successive races of men for the four purposes, but they did it using evolution – I don’t see why that makes a difference. And Xmucane and Xpiyacoc may not have been just two individuals who founded the human race, but two genetic founders. Duh!
Clearly, the religion of the K’iche Maya is totally correct, and commensurate with science. Only an unsophisticated fundamentalist militant atheist, who is probably philosophically unsophisticated to boot, would take the Popol Vuh as being “literal truth” when it’s clearly metaphor which is also somehow true.
These arguments work for literally everything. Nazis may not have been correct about the Aryans, but their view that humanity can be roughly broken up into inter-connected racial groups is at least metaphorically true. AND, on top of that, there were some Jews who did have a modicum of political power in twentieth century Europe, so… Only a fool would take Mein Kampf as the literal truth. It’s clearly metaphor, from which we can draw moral lessons and metaphysical precepts.
If I had infinite time – or just the amount of time I had in high school – one project that would be lovely would be to take quotes from apologists and preachers taken as evidentiary for their deity, and have multiple “translations” for various other religions.
Sort of like a mini-Wikipedia with religions instead of languages. [Catholic -> K’iche Maya]
It certainly would hammer home to some the point that *all* religions consider themselves correct…and that this decreases the likelihood that any of them are 🙂
I think it would be quite hard to translate religions in that way – of course. It might be productive, however, to show how any argument that has ever been raised for any religion (in abstract terms, at least) is applicable to almost anything. As this necessarily leads to direct contradiction, the arguments cannot be correct.
That’s actually the simplest proof against religious beliefs, or at least their philosophic supports.
I was reading Hobbes, “De Corpore Politico”, today, and I thought: isn’t it wonderful that today we don’t have to bow down to religious belief in the way he did? Hobbes was not religious (although he knew the Bible inside and out), but had to bend and twist his complex and very interesting metaphysical blend in order to placate the authorities. It is truly a fantastic thing not to have to do that. And even worse, I think, when the person bending and twisting is doing it in order to placate their sincere beliefs on other topics.
I can’t help but feel incredibly sorry for Andrew Sullivan and his lack of courage in confronting metaphysics.
Some religions would make the translation – many have a creation myth of the same general form, many have a similar sort of metaphysical antagonist. It doesn’t extend the same way across all religions – some have reincarnation and some do not, for example – but there is enough overlap with the types of explanations they create that Greek, Norse (after the introduction of Hel) and Islamic versions of the same apologetics could be crafted.
It *is* nice that we need now kowtow, for all the trouble we may otherwise have.
I am also finding it interesting in general what happened to the arts once king and clergy were no longer the main benefactors; apparently, art suffices on its own, and we are now faced with the strange circumstances where religious arts – music in particular – now pallidly echo the consumerist ones.
These arguments work for literally everything.
oddly enough, if you actually apply the arguments made by Sullivan, to the very books he is saying are OBVIOUSLY metaphorical, and you use, you know, the actual established rules one might as a literature major apply to figure out whether something is actually meant metaphorically or not…
it’s not obvious at all.
in fact, it rather comes out a complete mishmash.
so, actually, no, the arguments can be applied to all literature, but they don’t always work.
especially in the very case Sullivan wants them to so desperately.
I would bet money that there already is a complete analysis, using standard literary rules, of the various popular versions of the bible already out there.
sounds like a standard masters project for any lit major to me.
so, anyone ever run across an actual analysis of the bible as to which parts are supposed to be figurative, or metaphorical, or read literally, using standard rules one would apply to any book as a student of literature?
I had no idea there was any such thing. Are they rigorous, these literary principles for the discovery of metaphor? I’m afraid I’m ignorant of many aspects of literary criticism, as its practitioners are frequently bizarre, anti-scientific types, and that has prejudiced me.
Sullivan’s argument is clearly ridiculous: “we know that to be wrong now, so people in the past must also have known that it was wrong; ergo, it was meant metaphorically from the beginning”. That is ridiculous. I expect he knows that, and if he doesn’t, then the self-deception is staggering.
Anyway, what I meant was that clearly the argument Sullivan is making about metaphor could apply to any other disgraced text and be equally applicable (or equally inapplicable). Mein Kampf? A foundational work in population genetics. Chariots of the Gods? An attempt to elucidate the remarkable achievements of ancient civilizations for those more accustomed to sci-fi.
The Bible? A metaphor for the rise of humanity in Africa.
This discussion is already derailed.
Are they rigourous, these literary principles for the discovery of metaphor? I’m afraid I’m ignorant of many aspects of literary criticism, as its practitioners are frequently bizarre, anti-scientific types, and that has prejudiced me.
Of course there are rigourous methods and criteria of textual analysis. But we’re not talking literary criticism here. As anyone with practical, serious experience in ethnology / cultural anthropology will tell you, it’s one thing to take a snapshot of oral traditions and mythology at a given moment and analyse it instantly. It’s entirely different with an oral tradition from more than three millennia ago, selectively gelified and settled in writing centuries later. We have the perfectly understood Roman mythology as a model for how such a corpus can be ruthlessly manipulated to motivate and legitimise power. And this perfectly honed Roman model of manipulation can be seen at work, throughout the history of the Roman Church, adding layer upon layer to the already fraught Hebraic and Aramaic corpus. This is a mighty mind-bending machine. Small wonder someone like Sullivan can’t free himself of the jelly he’s swimming in. Most people can’t.
Folks, serious critical scholarship is serious business. Don’t disparage it just because its subject matter is memes rather than genes. And don’t conflate serious scholarship with the fashionable, post-modernique fuzz that’s taking up the airspace. Lorenzo Valla debunked the Donation of Constantine forgery using strictly classical philological methods — in 1440!
I studied social anthropology at Oxford. I am well aware of problems of that nature. (I’m afraid I also object to your use of the term ‘meme’, as it has been criticised extensively by anthropologists – Dan Sperber, in particular – and doesn’t really make sense.) I didn’t intend to imply that rigorous forms of analysis cannot be employed in understanding speech and action – I was just curious as to whether there were any methods peculiar to literary analysis that had not made their way to me. Certainly that is so with art history, whose methods can be ingenious.
Interpretation of anything is difficult, and this is what we are discussing here. What would make Genesis 1 explicable? Sullivan is making a very common error of interpretation, and is erring on the side of the principle of charity. Because the Bible is dear to him, he interprets the work in the way that it can’t be actively wrong – of course – and also that it agrees with Sullivan’s own beliefs. But far more plausible on the basis of all of the evidence is simply that the writers of Genesis 1 really believed that the events described therein actually took place.
No argument with that. What Andrew Sullivan chooses to believe, or can’t stop believing, is his own business, and like all matters of belief, irrelevant to rational discourse. (So, I would surmise, is Andrew Sullivan, but that’s my own belief…)
What the writer of Genesis 1 believed is a more interesting question, because the writer was in all likelihood not the author. All sorts of vaguely similar creation myths were commonplace in the region. The question whether those who transcribed them after a long oral tradition also believed them literally is more difficult. (One might even argue that what is cemented in writing is what is at risk of being forgotten, or questioned.) But the degree of belief is one thing. The use of a canonical corpus as a disciplining and identity-enhancing ideological codex is another: these writs were clearly intended to believed.
As to my usage of the term ‘meme’: OK, that’ll teach me that even in this supposedly Dawkinsian community, the third-degree jocose use of metaphorical shorthand is perilous.
Ah, sorry – I didn’t mean to imply that you’re a heretic for using the m-word. It’s just something I pounce on when I see it, I’m afraid!
Yes: Genesis 1’s authors and writers were almost certainly several. What I find most interesting about it, though, is that it is so utterly unimaginative. I can imagine reading, say, Empedocles and thinking: this must be metaphorical. Empedocles seems like a smart man at a time of some very smart men. When he says that love and strife, combined with the four elements, generate all things, I assume these must be metaphorical usages, and that it is not literally ‘love’ in the human sense that Empedocles is referring to, but some kind of uniting force, with ‘strife’ a divisive one.
Even if that isn’t true, it seems like a natural assumption.
But Genesis 1 is so silly, unimaginative, and commonplace – so downright stuck in its time, so dull, so near eastern – that to take it as anything other than a literal account of belief is to give it too much credit. That is, of course, my own opinion, and errs on the side of an assumption of ignorance on the part of the writers, but I feel that that is quite justified.
Now, whether that implies ‘true’ belief, or devotion to tradition, or simply a Babylonian practice of writing down nice myths and savouring them – who can say?
And bankers really are a threat to society, as we have had amply demonstrated over the last few years.
Good point, if we only look at things as metaphors and would still be part of that religion, we’d all be part of the religion with the Norse gods. If you’re Christian, then you have to take something literally, and if so then how is it determined?
Oh, that’s right, what’s true is what hasn’t been proved false.
I would also add this challenge: what does Andrew Sullivan think The Garden of Eden story is a metaphor for?
Questions like that will only warrant another insult-laden response. Silly atheist, don’t you know you aren’t supposed to ask simple questions like that?
Er, small groups of hunter-gatherer hominids living on the plains of Africa? The original sin was, I dunno, maybe eating some fruit, or perhaps an antelope, against the command of a god who hadn’t been invented yet? As CS Lewis said, we don’t know what the first sin was, only that it must have been pretty bad considering its effects.
And when did these hominids receive souls? Duh — when God created them out of dirt and then breathed up their noses! Can’t you read?
I remember a Bible study by a Baptist seminary professor who put a similar question to the class about Revelation: “OK, it’s fine to say that Revelation is symbolic — but then, what is it symbolic of?” Failing to find any good answers from the class, he proceeded to lay out a fairly standard Southern Baptist eschatology.
That’s too bad, because Revelation is laden with symbols that would have made sense to educated readers in the late first Century AD.
we don’t know what the first sin was, only that it must have been pretty bad considering its [imagined] effects.
CS always forgot to add that part.
“As CS Lewis said, we don’t know what the first sin was, only that it must have been pretty bad considering its effects.”
Perhaps it was a female presuming to stand her ground with a male?
The metaphor according to Frank Zappa:
“The essence of Christianity is told to us in the Garden of Eden history. The fruit that was forbidden was on the Tree of Knowledge. The subtext is, all the suffering you have is because you wanted to find out what was going on. You could be in the Garden of Eden if you had just kept your fucking mouth shut and hadn’t asked any questions.”
That’s what it seems to me too. Obedience = good, knowledge = bad – oh, and of course, women = bad. I would say that even as a metaphor, it doesn’t seem to teach a message that most of us could support. Yet somehow, all these supposedly progressive, modern, liberal believers have no problem with this story.
Ahhhh! But that’s the wonder of the human brain!
Probably no matter what science accomplishes in the future (let alone has accomplished to this point in homo’s history)the “true believers”(of whatever religion) will never admit that probability theory/science is in any way true or accurate in its results. Of course they don’t realize that if a scientific poll ever showed that Adam and Eve had a 99.9(to infinity)% chance of having existed, they would now be locked into their prior position just as they are now. Some folks just aren’t built to accept change; even though we all are different every morning(insert your preferred time of the 24hr period)we are fortunate enough to awaken from our slumbers.
Some folks just aren’t built to accept change
if that were true, we wouldn’t see the numbers we see in the Gallup polls stay unchanged over 2 generations.
it’s much more than that. It’s that there are people who don’t LIKE change, forcing that same belief structure and authoritarian thinking onto their children, and their neighbor’s children.
this has been established through decades of research, and, since i appear to need to post it DAILY, here it is again:
Childhood Origins of Adult Resistance to Science — Bloom and Weisberg 316 (5827): 996 — Science
and for free:
Amounts to the same thing doesn’t it?
yours implies an innate tendency to reject change.
I’m saying it’s taught.
I won’t disagree that part of such a tendency might be “learned”, but that is no reason to preclude the very real possibility that there is also a “hard wired” portion as well. I THINK Pinker agrees with this; I’ll have to find a reference; perhaps in the Blank Slate which I loaned to someone and never got back. I’ll have to buy an ecopy.
Meanwhile, see here:
Geeshh! “a” not “an”!!!
So…essentially…ignorance is bliss?
Well, those are some paltry, not to mention wrong, words to live by.
not for the person in ignorance.
the bliss is for the people who want the others to remain ignorant.
My point was that after science necessitates that the faithful call their stories metaphors, they try to salvage those stories’ importance/relevance by claiming they impart some incomprehensible moral wisdom, such as could only issue from the great god his own self.
Does “ignorance is bliss” fall into that category?
On top of which, bliss doesn’t attend very many for very long when religion really, totally gets it’s way. Even for those who are doing the manipulating.
IMO, “original sin” is a metaphor for how hard it is for reasonable people to sit down together and come to reasonable decisions about actual problems, instead of behaving like monkeys in trees throwing excrement at passers-by. For how hard it is for humans to leave things alone. For how insulted and defiant we are when we are asked to socialize our behavior.
The Adam and Eve story is a metaphor for how the unique human sapience is both a curse and a blessing, which it is; it solves some problems but causes others. We know well how to grow food, but not how to eliminate hunger. We know how to use the resources of the Earth, but not how to avoid destroying them. We are warm and dry, but are we ever content?
That’s the most common interpretation I hear here in Western Europe.
It is usually accompanied by the idea that Jesus is a role model, i.e. the perfect human example to be followed (as opposed to “acting like monkeys”), instead of some entity whose sacrifice you have to believe in in order to be magically saved by that belief.
In ordinary context, that is while not engaged in bashing theists, I believe that most people here would say that they “believe that Evolution is true”, meaning in both cases “understand and accept”. We can understand what Jesus was talking about/pointing to and accept that understanding as a ruling passion in our lives, our collective life, without “magic” or ignoring the world as we learn about it.
About which, here is Fred Clark today.
I believe that most people here would say that they “believe that Evolution is true”, meaning in both cases “understand and accept”.
yes, believe is not a bogey-man word, just because the religious use it as a substitute for “faith”.
We can understand what Jesus was talking about/pointing to and accept that understanding as a ruling passion in our lives, our collective life, without “magic” or ignoring the world as we learn about it.
there ya lost me though.
go on, cherry pick his speeches for me.
Cherry picking is bad. Take the whole life story in its historical context. Not what anyone, even Paul, says about it; what it says about itself. Take it as allegory, historical fiction, or historical fact, I don’t care. The message is simple enough: be grateful for water in cisterns already dug; feed the hungry, care for the sick, and set the captives free.
Take the whole life story in its historical context.
I dare you to do that with even the remotest of accuracy.
The message is simple enough: be grateful for water in cisterns already dug; feed the hungry, care for the sick, and set the captives free.
and you don’t call that cherry picking?
cross check the gospels for the word “hell”
get back to me then about how Jesus was all flowers and light.
My brother believes the story of Genesis is fact. He was taught to believe every word of the Bible at church services, Sunday School, and Vacation Bible Camp.
I have yet to reach him on a rational level.
I blame actual “deluded fools” (and con artists) for teaching gullible children how to become gullible adults.
My goodness! You mean you agree with Dawkins w/r to child abuse?
Seriously, I understand from where you are coming as I have a brother and a sister(neither of them any longer youngsters) that cannot be reasoned with w/r to this belief.
More’s the pity.
My goodness! You mean you agree with Dawkins w/r to child abuse?
the argument is well laid out.
go on, read it for us.
quote dawkins FULL argument for why he used that phrase, AND in what context he used it.
Five bucks not only says you don’t know, but that you actually read this somewhere OTHER than in the context Dawkins wrote it in.
Go actually read what he wrote, in context.
see if you yourself don’t agree.
..or is my irony meter busted?
I think it might be, have it serviced anyway.
yeah, I think I might have been having a Nick Matzke flashback moment.
Don’t we all once in a while?
I think I might be more susceptible to it than most, given how often I argued with the man over the last 4 years.
See! For you, it has become “hard wired”! Just kidding!
When I saw Andrew’s piece, I too thought of Aquinas and Augustine — who apparently don’t have a brain. I also thought of Bishop Ussher’s chronology, and the Jewish calendar’s starting date of 5772 years ago — neither of which makes a lick of sense unless the people of the time took Genesis quite literally indeed. Or consider Josephus and his contemporaries discussing likely locations of the Garden of Eden.
As for how to tell which parts of the Bible a believer will say are metaphor — well, that’s easy, isn’t it? Everything means what it says until advances in knowledge or ethical standards make it no longer tenable to call its literal reading “the word of God.” At that point, if it’s incoherent, it’s a mystery. If it is scientifically disproven, it’s a metaphor. If it’s morally abhorrent, then it is a lesson for another time, or doesn’t mean what it seems to say, or is not for us to question, or was never actually inspired.
At least, that’s how it seems to work from over here.
After all, doesn’t the xtian bible say something on the order of all those who rely on knowledge are fools? Unfortunately there aren’t yet enough fools on the planet.
Of course the Bible sounds like fiction, because it is in its entirety.
This isn’t strictly true. Some of the historical bits in the Old Testament describe genuine events — highly inaccurately, of course, but that’s the way it goes with “histories” written in ancient times (think of Pliny, writing very much later).
As example, while the stuff about slaying Goliath is almost certainly either myth or so embellished as to be indistinguishable therefrom, archaeology indicates there very likely was an Israelite chieftain called David at that time who was later used as a basis for the tales.
All archaeology has shown is that there was a king or leader of “the House of David” in Judah. Now, that doesn’t mean that the historical David was at all the same thing as the Biblical one.
Its also worth noting that Goliath is killed twice in the Bible, once by David and once by some other guy.
Recently PBS aired a National Geographic special about copper mines titled “King Solomon’s Mines?”. They mentioned in passing that his legendary mines are of 19th century origin, not Biblical. The idea was used as a jumping off point for the history of actual copper mines. The episode showed that if Solomon did control these mines at one time, he was only one of many in succession.
There was some compelling carbon dating that showed 10th c. BCE activity, so maybe it was Solomon. The thing which roasted my nuts was that PBS took the “either a petty tribal chieftain or a great ruler of a vast, complex kingdom” view. No alternative was considered. Pointing out various fortified walls peppered around the Levant, they came down on the side of a vast and complex kingdom. Total pandering and sucking up to the Israeli archaeologists featured. I have no problem with Solomon existing, but their view was intellectually dishonest.
Its also worth noting that Goliath is killed twice in the Bible, once by David and once by some other guy.
can you track down ch and verse on that?
the only reference I can find is to a brother of Goliath getting the axe in Chronicles.
Elhanan. For apologetic treatment and the applicable verses, see:
A fair, in-depth examination of the alleged difficulty shows that there actually is no contradiction at all, but simply a copyist’s mistake.
and of course, my first reaction was, as I’m sure many had before me…
just how many of these “copyist mistakes” have there been over the various versions…
“very likely” LOL
“very likely” LOL
I’m no archaeologist, but I gather it’s upwards of 99% likely. LOL
“There is no evidence of a United Monarchy, no evidence of a capital in Jerusalem or of any coherent, unified political force that dominated western Palestine, let alone an empire of the size the legends describe. We do not have evidence for the existence of kings named Saul, David or Solomon; nor do we have evidence for any temple at Jerusalem in this early period. What we do know of Israel and Judah of the tenth century does not allow us to interpret this lack of evidence as a gap in our knowledge and information about the past, a result merely of the accidental nature of archeology. There is neither room nor context, no artifact or archive that points to such historical realities in Palestine’s tenth century. One cannot speak historically of a state without a population. Nor can one speak of a capital without a town. Stories are not enough.” – Prof. Thomas L. Thompson. Admittedly that was before the Tel Dan Stele was discovered, but the reading of that inscription as verifying a historical ‘King David’ is by no means certain.
Thomas L. Thompson
That’s one authority, who’s a theologian. As a non-archaeologist I can’t say if he’s right or wrong . . . or even if he still adheres to that view.
It’s kind of irrelevant, though. I was merely producing a single example to illustrate my point. If you don’t like the looks of David, try another king, Herod: there’s no doubt that he existed and was a nasty bastard, even though he probably didn’t massacre the innocents.
“Probably”? Try absolutely certainly without doubt.
You want to know what else he didn’t do? Consult wise men, witness the Star of Bethlehem or even notice its absence, or anything else the Bible says he did.
The only thing the real Herod and the character in the Bible of the same name share in common is exactly that — the name.
It’s no different from Harry Potter mentioning Churchill.
Not only is the Bible pure fiction, it’s pure bullshit.
You want to know what else he didn’t do? Consult wise men, witness the Star of Bethlehem or even notice its absence, or anything else the Bible says he did.
And precisely who in the blithering blue blazes ever said here that he did? Focus, laddie, focus.
I used the word “probably” because, while it seems a certainty Herod didn’t carry out the nationwide extermination campaign described in the Christ-origin legend, it would seem perfectly in keeping with the rest of his actions if, for reasons unknown, he carried out some more localized massacre, an exaggerated account of which was grafted onto the legend. Now, keep focusing: I’m not saying that this did happen, or that it’s even especially likely, just that it’s quite conceivable that it did. Hence my use of the word “probably” when saying he didn’t carry out a massacre of innocents.
So, what’s left over from your outburst? That we’re in agreement that Herod existed, just as I said.
I assume you don’t disagree that he was, by all historical accounts, a nasty bastard.
You’re the one bullshitting about how distorted and oblique references to well-known historical figures somehow transfigures fantasy into history. And you think I’m the one in need of focus?
So…what’s your point? Egypt’s rulers were called pharaohs and some of them built pyramids, therefore we can’t characterize Exodus as fantasy? Denmark has had many princes; would you have us reclassify Hamlet as one of Shakespeare’s histories? Does the footage of the White House in Independence Day qualify it as a documentary?
You clearly have no clue what is meant by the word, “fiction.”
If you want to convince us otherwise, present an example of something you would classify as fiction which doesn’t contain factual elements.
That’s one authority, who’s a theologian.
you might try Hector Avalos, who has studied all the relevant archeological evidence for the last 30 years.
His account also agrees pretty much with Thompson.
maybe even more conservative.
hes right, by the way. they have found “house of david” written on clay tablets. it doesnt validate the stories in the bible written about him though.
Do the Tintagel inscription or the Porta della Pescheria of the Modena Cathedral argue for a real King Arthur? Why assume that the David chieftain in the Tel Dan Stele inscription is the same as the one referred to in the Bible? Was David an uncommon name? Are there any reliable inscriptions of David other than the Tel Dan Stele?
I suppose you think the Pied Piper of Hamelin is just a story? Check it out on wikipedia.
People don’t just pull folklore out of their butts. Usually it does take inspiration from real events. For example, there almost certainly was a Gaelic chieftain on whom the stories of King Arthur are based (or rather, Morte d’Arthur is based on stories based on a historical Gaelic chieftain).
Likewise, there’s some pretty strong archaeological evidence that there was an explicitly Jewish kingdom of several cities in the time that David is supposed to have ruled. No one is saying this guy slew a giant, just that there was a historical Jewish king named David who may very well have been the inspiration for the biblical David. I don’t see anything wrong with this kind of speculation since it’s entirely in line with how we know folklore works.
David has to be real, otherwise who am I named after? Geez, maybe I wouldn’t even exist…
What makes you think you do?
I stink, therefore I am.
Again, ‘there almost certainly was a Gaelic chieftain on whom the stories of King Arthur are based’ is a considerable overstatement: there is no evidence at all that such a person actually existed; Beowulf, Siegfried and Goldilocks probably didn’t exist either.
Luke Skywalker probably didn’t either. It’s amazing how some atheists seem to think that people can’t make up fictional characters who go on to become legends.
I’d say turning a local chieftain into the king of a mighty empire goes a little bit beyond “highly inaccurately” describing an actual historical person.
But even granted that the Bible contains historical locations, events or people, that doesn’t mean it’s not fiction. We happily classify other books that do that as “fiction” without any reservations, and without feeling the need to point out that some details were not 100% made up.
I’d say turning a local chieftain into the king of a mighty empire goes a little bit beyond “highly inaccurately” describing an actual historical person.
Well, I wouldn’t. Like any sane person, I’d say this particular Biblical legend had some historical basis — i.e., that it’s not entirely fiction.
And what of Harry Potter? London is real. Does that mean that that particular story has some historical basis?
This is a silly comparison. The exact borders of David’s kingdom are not central to the story of David in the same way that the existence of a wizarding school in London is to Harry Potter.
The author of the book of Samuel clearly intended to write history, while JK Rowling clearly intended to write fiction. Departures from reality in the one case are due to propaganda or incomplete information. Departures from reality in the other are intentional and were marketed to the reader as such.
Referring to the Bible simply as “entirely fiction” conceals the fact that some parts have a similar relation to history to, say the Histories of Herodotus, others to the Iliad, and still others to Aesop’s Fables. I don’t think it is very informative to group the former three works simply as “fiction” and I don’t think we should do the same with the various parts of the Bible either.
Now where I do agree with Coyne is that some of the parts of the Bible which are inaccurate enough to call them truly ahistorical (e.g. the part with Adam and Eve) and yet which were considered to be historical by most readers, possibly including the scribes who first committed these fantastical speculations to paper.
I don’t think its that clear cut. At least with David and Solomon, you have the Bible claiming them to have a great kingdom that stretches from the Euphrates to the Sinai, a fairly large empire, and one that never existed. Its like taking a medieval duke of say, Saxony, and imagining that their kingdom stretched across the whole of Europe. For David to be, as he likely was historically, the barely civilized former brigand ruler of a tiny vassal kingdom of a much larger, northern Israeli state, is completely at odds with the stories in the Bible. He was never a ‘great’ king (in the sense that he was not powerful), just the first king. It take a story which is about a golden age, with a fall that is entirely the fault of the king and the people, and replaces it with one where a small kingdom slowly built itself up until it attracted the attention of larger empires and was destroyed. They’re not the same story at all.
And its worth noting that even Herodotus invented speeches and saying as part of his histories. The parts of the Bible that match up with history still put a lot of words in the mouths of people, with a lot of propaganda on top of it.
On the contrary.
Young David used a magical stone to slay evil giants. Young Harry used a magical stick to slay evil giant snakes. David did his deeds in an enchanted parallel universe version of ancient Judea. Harry did his deeds in an enchanted parallel universe version of modern England.
Before the time of David, the great wizard Moses fought epic magic wand duels with evil Egyptian magicians. Before the time of Harry, the great wizard Dumbledore fought epic magic wand duels with evil magicians whose details I’m sure some fan of the series will be happy to supply.
Both books are filled with talking animals, magic potions, dragons, ghosts, goblins, and all the rest. The Bible even one-ups Harry Potter; the Bible’s most powerful wizard is a talking plant.
If you can offer some independently-verifiable evidence that the fantasy in the Bible is more real than the fantasy in Harry Potter, I fail to see why the one should be privileged over the other.
Or are we simply supposed to be impressed with the size and fervency of the fanclub?
If you can offer some independently-verifiable evidence that the fantasy in the Bible is more real than the fantasy in Harry Potter
There is no one on this page who’s making anything remotely like this argument, and most certainly Ray wasn’t. You might want to reread his comment a little more carefully.
I agree that it is not a silly comparison. The question of whether or not there may or may not have been a tribal chieftan named David has nothing to do with the veracity of the rest of the story, which might charitably be called legend, but I’d still go with the term fiction. If one wishes to parse exactly what type of fiction, well, that’s another matter.
“The author of the book of Samuel clearly intended to write history”
Snark! The author of the book of Samuel clearly intended to write objective history, the “value free” kind we prefer in the West, and (he) didn’t have an agenda that motivated what he said. Snark!
I know it’s pedantic but Hogwarts isn’t in London – we must get our fictional facts right 🙂
Actually it’s a rather interesting comparison; J K Rowling made it clear after the series had finished that she intended it as a Christian allegory.
Historical fiction is still fiction.
Historical fiction is still fiction.
That’s an . . . interesting claim to make. If you go look at the average historical novel you’ll find it’s packed with genuine historical information. Of course, you’d have to cross-check those details elsewhere, in case the novelist has been altering stuff for the sake of the plot (unless, like many historical novelists, this one has noted such instances). That seems to me a pretty good analogy of what I’ve been saying: bits of the histories in the Bible have a basis in fact; ergo, even though you have to cross-check elsewhere to find out which those are, the book’s not entirely fiction.
Now, you could make an argument that most history is fiction.
Why are two or three people here so very worried about what’s a completely non-contentious statement? I was merely correcting what I assumed to be a rhetorical slip of the tongue on Dr Coyne’s part — and an open invitation for the goddites to complain about that error rather than address his arguments as a whole.
A fundie creed that’s always struck me as even more ludicrous than most of the rest is that you can’t believe just bits of the Bible: you have to believe all or nothing. It’s intriguing that you share this creed.
Me, I’d say the Bible is almost entirely fictional with a few historical factoids and snippets thrown in. Identifying those is a task for someone else.
I think that argument had some basis if there were any actual history in religious texts.
Obviously these texts weren’t produced by historians trying to collect assumed true descriptions about events past, but by religious storytellers retelling accounts.
I doubt they were interested in actual history, but how their religious fictions fitted with other fictional accounts (fictions).
I forgot that I wanted to reply to the other piece of illusion here: “this creed”.
Generally these things, which can be validated by some for of testing, are called hypotheses on science blogs. Creeds are at most ideology, and I don’t think atheists have formed any form of ideology on anything as of yet.
This guilt by association fallacy is very tiring to hear, mostly becomes they come from fundamentalists and accommodationists that both in their way are, how should I put it, oh why not: “mush-brained”. Present company may be excused naturally, just trying to establish the context here.
Ouch! Sorry, I had a long nap to catch up on some much needed sleep and still on my first cup of coffee. I am mush-brained, and my pitiful attempt at english suffer.
Generally these things, which can be validated by some for of testing, are called hypotheses on science blogs.
Couldn’t agree with you more. It’s a testable hypothesis that the Bible is entirely fiction. Application of a couple of easy tests falsifies the hypothesis: thye Bible may be 99.99% fiction, but the “entirely” is inappropriate. Those who cling to the hypothesis nonetheless . . .
Creeds are at most ideology
and I don’t think atheists have formed any form of ideology on anything as of yet
. . . and neither should they.
Oh, what bullshit.
Give us just one example of fiction which is entirely devoid of fact.
By your test, Star Wars cannot be labeled “entirely fiction,” because it factually depicts real snow and sand.
As Penn Jillette put it, “It’s fair to say that the Bible contains equal amounts of fact, history, and pizza.” Writing, “entirely fiction” is entirely appropriate shorthand.
Yes, but, even if that were so, it’s a bit of shorthand upon which the devout will pounce.
Ah, yes, Penn Jillette: since his libertarianism is adolescent at best, presumably you’d want to discount everything else he says?
Yes, but, even if that were so, it’s a bit of shorthand upon which the devout will pounce.
so, we should retreat on factual claims because the irrational will build strawmen of them?
I’ll pass, thanks.
Frankly much of the bible may not have been intended to be metaphor. It may have been intended to be fiction.
And the rest was probably intended to be fact, it just happened to be fiction 🙂
Frankly much of the bible may not have been intended to be metaphor. It may have been intended to be fiction.
That seems a very plausible argument.
It was intended to be propaganda. The fictional history served a political function of justifying the unification of a number of disparate tribes into a single “related” group.
Nah, it’s sf in the alternat(iv)e history subgenre, a history in which a supernatural entity exists.
By that standard, the story about me winning a Nobel Prize has a historical basis.
By that standard, the story about me winning a Nobel Prize has a historical basis.
I’d say not.
By what criteria?
By what criteria?
Are you contending that the Nobel Prize is fictional and that Deen is not a real person?
2000 years from now this will be used as evidence that Deen won a Nobel Prize. Congratulations, Deen!
I like your take on things. You’re a funny guy, daveau!
btw, is that pronounced as if it were French?
Hmmmm? If the xtian bible is historically accurate, then all of Michener’s fictional historical novels must also be!
For accuracy, guess on which I would place my bets!(Oh heck! You guessed not the xtian bible!)
If the xtian bible is historically accurate
Straw man argument.
Quite true, but isn’t that what most of the rrr fundies in the U.S. believe?
Some of the events referred to in the Harry Potter novels happened in the real world, too (e.g. World War II). Should that be reclassified as a hybrid fiction/non-fiction book?
Or are we allowed to understand implicitly that fictional works can refer to actual history, without being works of history themselves?
Or are we allowed to understand implicitly that fictional works can refer to actual history, without being works of history themselves?
Where did the claim that the Bible was a work of history come from?
Oops. You made it up.
Reverting to Harry Potter: Is it too hard to understand that, while the plot is entirely fictional, some of the background isn’t?
As someone above pointed out, no one would aggressively defend the claim that the works of Homer or Herodotus were “entirely fictional”: to a great extent they’re just stories but, as Heinrich Schliemann demonstrated in the case of Homer, sometimes there’s historical information in there too.
Is it too hard to understand that, while the plot is entirely fictional, some of the background isn’t?
not the point.
the point is:
What was the intention of the writer of the book?
was intended as a historical document of history, or as a work of fiction?
it’s a good question to apply to the bible.
Was the entire Genesis account written as a work of fiction? a fairy tale with a purpose? or was it really written as a historical account of the lives and travels of the Jewish People.
now true, it’s not fair to compare a book written by a single author over a period of a couple of years, to a book “written” by dozens, or even hundreds, of authors over what likely amounted to hundreds of years.
but the question itself can still be applied to the amalgam of stories, if the overall intent of the stories is not really to describe an actual history.
so far, anthropology, paleontology, and archeology has not supported that collection of stories as historically accurate.
Just because it’s inaccurate doesn’t mean it wasn’t intended to be history. The known inaccuracies simply demonstrate that what the Bible’s authors did in the absence of good record keeping (Taking folklore and propaganda at face value, filling in unknown details with speculation consistent with religious preconceptions etc.) wasn’t good historical methodology.
Just because it’s inaccurate doesn’t mean it wasn’t intended to be history.
but this is the evidence we have.
what evidence do we have otherwise?
The known inaccuracies simply demonstrate that what the Bible’s authors did in the absence of good record keeping
totally wrong, though.
in fact, it appears that much of that history was entirely fabricated. That’s not an issue of recordkeeping.
what evidence do you have to support that the bible was intended as a work of history?
How many novels do you know of that contain, as their primary subject matter, 400 years of dynastic succession, brief descriptions of battles, religious reforms, tributes, and changes of borders.(Now I’d imagine you could come up with a handful of modern works aping this style, but good luck finding anything of the sort before the 19th century.)
In more detail: I hope you’ll agree that Kings is at least intended to be a history (albeit a fairly editorialized one.) It’s fairly well confirmed against archaeological evidence, aside from a few pieces of obvious bullshit (the stuff involving Elijah and Elisha for example.) From there, we can conclude that the books apparently written by the same author were also intended as history (Joshua) (Judges) (Samuel.) It’s no coincidence that this is referred to by scholars as “the deuteronomic history.” So that gets us to some pretty inaccurate stuff (Joshua.) The basic rule is, expect accurate history, with some interspersed propaganda, if there was centralized government and Hebrew literacy at the time of the events, and expect a mishmash of myth, legend, and grossly distorted folk memory otherwise.
So what of Genesis and Exodus? Well, the case here isn’t as clear, but the content is fairly similar to the early parts of other early histories (e.g. Berossus and Manetho.) Berossus even has people with improbably long lifespans living in the times before the great flood.
Further, we know that these books came to be regarded as historical works within a few hundred years of their compilation (e.g. Josephus refers to the Jews having “twenty two books, which contain all the records of past times”), and there is no evidence (aside from their inaccuracy) that they were ever regarded as anything but.
Now of course, when I say the Bible is not entirely, or even primarily fiction, I do not mean to say there is no intentional falsehood. Far from it. But in most cases it seems likely that the author intended that the reader believe the falsehood rather than suspending disbelief for the purpose of enjoyment.
Stop. You are making my brain hurt. It doesn’t matter whether some scribe/author THOUGHT he was writing down what actually happened. What matters is if it actually happened. If what he wrote is as laden with falsehoods as this divine book actually is, what value is there in finding a tidbit that MIGHT correspond in SOME OBSCURE way to some bit of history. Is The Iliad history because there really was a Troy? What difference does it make? Why is that more significant that the authors of the Bible (presumably) thought they were writing history than that the authors of The Urantia Book (maybe) thought they were writing true things?
Is Sullivan shows up: So if Adam and Eve are figurative, where did sin come from?
Human nature? God? God-created human nature? What?
Why did Jesus die again? To save us from our sins? That came from where, again?
Crap–IF Sullivan shows up…
Seconded; he would certainly add some odor at the very least.
If it’s so blindingly obvious, perhaps he can be one of the first to lay out some consistent guidelines or a methodology for determining what was meant to be a metaphor and what was not. So no fair consulting modern science to see if it’s possible or not.
And while some people might think that JAC is being ignorant when he hints that the virgin birth could be on the chopping block, this is absolutely not the case. You don’t even have to be a mythicist, just consider books like “The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark” by Dennis R Macdonald which has this opening comment on Amazon:
“MacDonald shows parallels between Homer and Mark so extensive that a relationship of dependence, conscious or unconscious, must be assumed. This is a radical thesis with great implications for the understanding of the gospels.” William Hansen, Indiana University “MacDonald’s conclusion that the author of the gospel of Mark in many significant places is imitating Homer poses a profound challenge to current scholarship on the history of early Christianity and the historical Jesus.” Mary A. Tolbert, Pacific School of Religion
We already know of several places where events were obviously made up to fulfill what the author thought were prophesies. Could it be that the people reading and writing the gospels all understood that they were an “obviously” fictional re-telling of Homer?
Ask Justin Martyr.
“If it’s so blindingly obvious, perhaps he can be one of the first to lay out some consistent guidelines or a methodology for determining what was meant to be a metaphor and what was not.”
You evil muslim atheist scientism-ists, trying to apply that consistent sciency stuff is where you go wrong. You see, if you read something from the bible that’s nice and that feels good in your “heart”, then it’s real (metaphorically or literally) without much explanation needed. But if reading something in the bible doesn’t make your heart feel so good, then it’s a metaphor for something, anything that does feel good in your “heart”.
See? It’s easy.
LOL! I guess that is consistent and it is confirmed by observation. Huh, I think you could be on to something.
Dad gum!!! I really like that!
This analogy is misleading: The Gospel of Mark was written in Koine Greek, in a culture informed and permeated by Greek mythology and centuries of exposure to Homeric versification. A lack of reference to the surrounding Koine heritage would be astounding.
The Book of Genesis, on the other hand, needs to be analysed in the context of the Hebrew oral tradition and its diachronic evolution up to the time of its canonical written version(s). Did Andrew Sullivan perform a critical, scholarly analysis of metaphoric structures in Early Canaanite? Is he able to differentiate between various semiotic layers of Hebrew orality so as to distinguish the metaphoric from the simply narrative, based on textual evidence?
I doubt it. And if he doesn’t, he has no case. His dish is but empty posturing.
If it’s so blindingly obvious, perhaps he can be one of the first to lay out some consistent guidelines or a methodology for determining what was meant to be a metaphor and what was not.
that was my first thought too.
There ARE standard literary rules to apply to any work of literature to determine whether or not something is meant metaphorically.
I’d bet Sullivan did not actually apply any of those rules in making his “obvious” conclusion.
Perhaps Sullivan could also inform us why the metaphor of an incompetent, abusive, neglectful single father who evicts his naked and violently ill toddlers after discovering they took the advice of their prankster uncle and drank the turpentine left in a juice bottle in the fridge has any more bearing on modern life than, say, the story of Tantalus?
I’m going to guess a typical faithiest reply would be either 1) free will, or 2) without god there wouldn’t be a refridgerator. Or quite possibly you might get the ole’ “Hey, what’s that over there” :and runs away:
Free will has been the (non)answer I usually get.
Have you heard the one about the catholics and their free willies?
Oh my goodness; ZING!!!!!!
my such words from a “good Christian” 🙂 And such a coward with not allowing comments on his little screed. I’ll add that I’ve read the “fucking thing” too, and to try to retcon history in a pathetic attempt to claim that no TrueChristian ever ever thought A&E were literal is just ridiculous. The bible is as believable as any modern thriller that mentions actual people and cities, and that means not at all to anyone who is actually concerned with reality.
He will keep avoiding questions like this as long as he can only because he can still make a dime writing to his apologist reading flock. He did it with Sam Harris in a debate with him and always seems to forget the questions when it was his turn to respond. Don’t hold your breath Jerry, just keep on poking um.
I remember that fondly. An example of Sullivan’s “argument” in that exchange:
Yes, it really does boil down to “I refuse to accept that I will die, therefore Jesus.”
Harris’s summation at the end is devastating; it’s worth reading the whole exchange (which you have to do to confirm that Harris’s characterization is fair, which I think it is):
Wow, Harris nailed it!
I have watched you repeatedly pull your
selfpants down by them.
i would have gone with that phrasing.
Because his priest said so, and why would he lie?
Because there was an altar boy handy to lie with.
I love Sullivan’s blog 90% of the time. Then he starts talking about religion, and all the intellectualism he normally brings to his writing devolves into nonsense. He undoubtedly believes Christ and the resurrection are real in some sense, but I haven’t seen him come right out and say why he believes that is true but the GoE isn’t. In a long blog dialog with Sam Harris a few years ago, Sullivan’s position on the matters of faith he couldn’t let go basically boiled down to “I choose to believe those are true.”
“I choose to believe those are true.”
ah, but how many problems would simply be solved by admitting this?
that there IS no rationale, or evidence, or reason, to support the concept of faith.
some people just LIKE the idea.
just like some people like the idea of flying unicorns, or fire breathing dragons.
or Frodo, or Gandalf, or Harry Potter or…
well, you get the point.
when people finally admit that the very concepts of religion they prefer are no different than any other fiction, I think there will no longer be a need to fight about it.
there also will be no reason to force children to accept them as “truth”, no need to threaten eternal existence or hellfire…
it would all fucking fade away.
I guess Andrew Sullivan is just a metaphorical Catholic. But what the fuck do I know?
But what is “Andrew Sullivan” a metaphor FOR?
oooooooh, sounds like Jerry delivered a sound blow to someone’s defensive mechanisms.
Disinhibited verbal behavior is a sign of cognitive decline in MA men.
Indeed Jerry has clearly struck a nerve. Sullivan follows the old, “if you can’t defeat them with logic, dazzzle them with bullshit. And if that doesn’t work, just call them names.”
Keep at ’em, Professor Coyne. As has been said by others, enough of the metaphor – let’s hear what they really do believe. I’d like to hear Andrew Sullivan tell us that he believes, literally, in the resurrection of Jesus. I want modern and sophisticated Catholics to say what they do believe really happened, what God really does, not talk about metaphor, or about the role of meaning religion and community gives people or whatever justifications they have for their faith. They believe the laws of nature are (or used to be) periodically suspended by an unseen omnipotent being? Then say so. Talk about what you do believe that makes you Catholic, not the parts of the faith you reject. While Catholics like Sullivan may (understandably) want to separate themselves from the fundamentalists, if they don’t believe the absurd story that the resurrection was a real event in which a human being died and returned to life, then on what grounds do they call themselves Catholic?
The thing is, they do say so, in every service: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_versions_of_the_Nicene_Creed_in_current_use#Latin_Rite
Frankly, the main reason I stopped going to church is that I didn’t want to say I believed these things when I no longer did. I don’t understand people who swear belief to supernatural propositions in church and yet pretend they believe no such thing the rest of the time.
Probably to these sophisticated theists that’s just folklore so it’s no big deal to them to play along with a straight face and at the same time claim they don’t really believe it.
Also a reason why many of them still claim to be catholic, methodist, lutheran, baptist, etc. although they have more in common with each other than with the average believer of those denominations.
Good point, they do, which is why it’s hard to accept attacks on atheists from religious folks (Catholics, at least) who claim atheists think they’re all fundamentalists. The Nicene Creed spells it out nicely – Catholics do believe some odd things – but for some reason Catholic intellectuals don’t tend to quote it when debating atheists. I guess when it comes to the contradiction between holding supernatural beliefs but pretending they don’t – well, it’s embarrassing, isn’t it? Or are we being unfair? Maybe the Nicene Creed is meant to be metaphorical as well?
For many believers, the firmness of their beliefs appears to be proportional to the distance to the nearest atheist.
Too right. Once where out of sight they probably leg it to their local church and dive on their knees and beg their god not to burn them:-)
I haven’t yet met a practicing, Nicene-reading Catholic that actually KNOWS what “we look for the resurrection of the dead” means.
When I tell them, they either go “no, no, it can’t mean THAT.” Or they merely change the subject, smiling. But I have never had a Catholic ever correctly tell me what the great climax of their creed literally means.
Which is why it’s probably a good idea to engage believers. Fundamentalists are something else. But I’m sure once most reasonable people, who just continue to follow the faith of their childhood, really think about what it is they claim to believe in, will have a harder time holding onto those beliefs.
But looking at the Jesus resurrection story, if you believe it’s true you have to believe there’s a reason for it. It has to be part of God’s plan for the universe, right? Not just some isolated thing he did on a whim. So the belief in this story is inextricable from the rest of the Catholic beliefs about creation. As a story, it makes more sense that God created Adam & Eve, the Old Testament, etc, up to Jesus, than that he set off the big bang 13.7 billion years ago, let the universe to expand and cool until the laws of physics allow stars, planets, life, and ultimately humans to exist, and after 2 million or 250,000 years (depending on when you start counting – the soul would have to be a more recent addition) of doing nothing, sending his son to make a few middle easterners stop sinning so much. It seems to me a bit top heavy and anti-climactic of a story.
I can haz brains, plz? Nom nom. Zombie time!
Don’t be silly, Ray — they believe those things metaphorically.
Excellent point re: The Nicene Creed. And when I clicked on your link, I realized that I still can recite it from memory, even though I haven’t been to mass in years. It’s almost impossible to forget that stuff, unfortunately enough.
My meme is the US Episcopal BCP Rite 2 version — and yeah, I can recite it easily. Heck, I used to lead “morning prayer” (matins) service sometimes when the priest was out of town.
An Anglican priest friend said that some of his friends, when they reached the usual skeptic phase in seminary, used to recite it as “They believe in God …”
Why skeptics go on to take ordination vows (which involve swearing to even more supernatural beliefs) and becoming full-time religious workers is beyond me. I guess it’s the ‘sunk cost fallacy’.
So they believe in magic?
And why would their form of magic be any more believable than the magic of the nearest shaman? At least shamans use hallucinogenics, which can give pretty darn unbelievable effects I hear. (If it is anything like the soporifics I was given under a local operation, I can agree on unbelievable. =D)
And shamans don’t seem to believe in creators, which are non-starters in modern science. The world as illusion is actually slightly more an effort to reject. (But it can be done too.)
And further, whether nåjd or kahunas, witch or catholic, what would modern society get out of them?
(If it is anything like the soporifics I was given under a local operation, I can agree on unbelievable. =D)
Buddy, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
I have a friend who loves and defends Sullivan at every opportunity, even when this asshole supported Bush…twice. I’ve always thought he was an idiot and a hypocrite… both of which are completely obvious to anyone who can read English.
Hypocrite for sure.
How can you be a gay man, and such staunch defender of Catholicism?
“… even when this asshole supported Bush…twice”
Wrong. He endorsed and says he voted for John Kerry.
He’s an imperfect product of evolution, just like all of us. He is wrong about some things, but then, so demonstrably are you.
He voted for Bush once, but he supported him late into the 2004 campaign and only reluctantly voted for Kerry, only because he had no other choice.
Hmm, *peering at Andrew Sullivan* I wonder why?
Actually, I don’t. W had just proposed the bigoted “LGBT people are subhuman” Federal Marriage Amendment pony that he rode all the way back to the White House.
i like you, jerry coyne.
I still can’t decide if this is the “we’ve always been at war with Eastasia” strategy or the “these are not the droids you’re looking for *handwave*” stragegy.
If those passages really were never meant to be taken literally then those who wrote them (or inspired them) botched it big time.
Nothing like good ‘ol fashioned thought control. lol.
Sullivan is a deluded Catholic who not only adheres to fairy tales, but seems to know very little about the history of his own faith.
The “deluded” in “deluded Catholic” is redundant.
Like most xtians they know almost nothing of the origins of their cult, and for good reason, any understanding would point out it’s very human human origins.
In the case of Catholics this lack of knowledge is akin to total amnesia when it comes to the RCCs sordid legacy of institutionalized child abuse dating back to the inception of the cult.
Glad to see him give the Bible the respect it deserves.
damn funny, Curt
As a lawyer with a long practice in civil litigation, I will venture the following. Zero patronizing involved. (I have committed all these mistakes.)
You are dealing with intellectually very dishonest people. I fear they will do their best to provoke an over the top reaction from you. I worry that they will then exploit it at nauseam to sully your good name. At all times you must be in a position to point out how baseless and vicious their attacks really are. To do this effectively you must remain unflappable and beyond reproach in the names calling department. You are far more gifted intellectually and possess infinitely better arguments. Stick to them and wait for the vicious attacks that are certain to come. It will then be much easier to point out how devious your opponents are. An irreproachable victim is by far the most credible.
In the modern world the infallibility of the Catholic Church is one of its greatest weaknesses. For example why not exploit section 20 of Encyclical Providentissimus Deus of Pope Leo XIII (November 18, 1893)? Many Catholics believe it to be infallible.
“…..But it is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred. For the system of those who, in order to rid themselves of these difficulties, do not hesitate to concede that divine inspiration regards the things of faith and morals, and nothing beyond, because (as they wrongly think) in a question of the truth or falsehood of a passage, we should consider not so much what God has said as the reason and purpose which He had in mind in saying it-this system cannot be tolerated. For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. This is the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church, solemnly defined in the Councils of Florence and of Trent, and finally confirmed and more expressly formulated by the Council of the Vatican. These are the words of the last: “The Books of the Old and New Testament, whole and entire, with all their parts, as enumerated in the decree of the same Council (Trent) and in the ancient Latin Vulgate, are to be received as sacred and canonical. And the Church holds them as sacred and canonical, not because, having been composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority; nor only because they contain revelation without error; but because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author.” Hence, because the Holy Ghost employed men as His instruments, we cannot therefore say that it was these inspired instruments who, perchance, have fallen into error, and not the primary author. For, by supernatural power, He so moved and impelled them to write-He was so present to them-that the things which He ordered, and those only, they, first, rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth. Otherwise, it could not be said that He was the Author of the entire Scripture. Such has always been the persuasion of the Fathers. “Therefore,” says St. Augustine, “since they wrote the things which He showed and uttered to them, it cannot be pretended that He is not the writer; for His members executed what their Head dictated.” And St. Gregory the Great thus pronounces: “Most superfluous it is to inquire who wrote these things-we loyally believe the Holy Ghost to be the Author of the book. He wrote it Who dictated it for writing; He wrote it Who inspired its execution. “”
Who came up with the strange idea that there’s something wrong with name-calling?
Of all the trolls, concern trolls are the largest jerks.
And they are quite opposite the empiricism used by gnus, where social and psychological science results comes together to point out that a plethora tactics are useful, and assertiveness more than most. (Of course you can be nice too, indeed tit-for-tat with forgiveness is great in social interactions.)
Read Rosenhause on this.
These people don’t concern us.
OOps. “Slight” forgiveness. (It _never_ pays to be meek and mild.)
The title did confuse me a little. At first I thought I was reading P. Z.
Oddly, my first thought was Britney Spears: “Metaphorizer, metaphor-metaphorizer, you’re a metaphorizer.”
When asked which parts of the Bible are true, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that the Crucifixion and Resurrection had to be literally true, everything else is on the table.
See, the problem isn’t telling which parts are true and which are not. What really happens is that Christians believe that all of the Bible is literally true, except when you look at any given verse, if there is a reason that its being true is inconvenient, then it is a metaphor. Of course, as soon as the spotlight is off of it, it goes back to being true.
I’m quite rusty on my programming skills, but I think they call that an XOR bit twiddle….
Schrödinger’s metaphor? Kind of…
I’m willing to say that fundamentalists ARE smarter than the “sophisticated” faithful because the fundamentalist knows that if one part of their book of myths isn’t true, then that means more, if not all, of it isn’t true either.
That’s why they try to get rid of science at every opportunity.
I dunno about smarter, and I certainly would prefer there to be more liberals than fundies, but I do think that the fundamentalists are more consistent and honest. They at least have the courage of conviction and their God seems to actually do things worthy of attention (if not actual worship), rather than some tepid, evasive, negligible wisp.
Scratch an inerrant, inspired and literal type of fundamentalist and you will still find someone who dodges behind metaphor and analogy when challenged, just not quite as often.
Genesis I contradicts Genesis II, true believers cannot heal every disease nor are they immune to venomous snakes. One way or the other, fundamentalists have to dodge the many self contradictions and contrafactual portions of their holy text.
From the Catholic catechism, paragraph 7, section I, 390:
“The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.”
Could Andrew Sullivan please point out this literal primeval deed?
On a discussion forum I frequent, a former Catholic claimed that the catechism is what Catholics traditionally believed, not what they are expected to believe now.
It may well have been taught to her that way, but she seemed to genuinely think that her experience was typical of how Catholic children were taught the catechism.
or damn, did God mumble again?
“deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.”
Wait. In referring to the “beginning of the history of man”, is the catechism using figurative language? Shirley ‘beginning’ doesn’t actually refer to a single point in time the way ‘beginning’ usually does. Shirley ‘history’ doesn’t actually refer to a known history–more like pre-history, otherwise, by definition we’d know of this deed from the historical record. Shirley ‘man’ is meant figuratively for all humans.
Therefore, rewriting their figurative language more literally, the deed “took place sometime in the unknown pre-history of the human race, we believe.” Now they can stop fooling themselves.
When ‘sophisticated’ religious people start talking about the death and resurrection of Jesus as a poetic metaphor rather than an actual historical event – that’s when I’ll begin to take them seriously.
From what I can tell, though, the MOST “sophisticated” religious people already do talk about Jesus-as-metaphor, at least when pressed. And it’s NOT worth taking seriously, as it gets all post-modern feel-good quantum pantheistic/deistic-y (“but Jesus is still ‘true-to-me,’ as a metaphor, but what’s really truer? Metaphor or truth?”) That’s even MORE frustrating.
Some of them, more of them, are starting to do so. For example the Anglican priest Tom Harpur wrote a book – The Pagan Christ – along that line. And even Dawkins’ site is promoting it (sort of):
So, what if it could be proven that Jesus never existed? What if there was evidence that every word of the New Testament — the cornerstone of Christianity — is based on myth and metaphor?
Based on Tom Harpur’s national bestseller, The Pagan Christ examines these very questions. During his research, Harpur discovered that the New Testament is wholly based on Egyptian mythology, that Jesus Christ never lived, and that — indeed — the text was always meant to be read allegorically. It was the founders of the Church who duped the world into taking a literal approach to the scriptures. And, according to Harpur, this was their fatal error — and the very reason Christianity is struggling today.
Nice language So did St Paul read the “f-ing thing”? Would Sullivan challenge HIM to say it was real on pain of being accused of not having a brain? Funny, because it was Paul who suggested the story of crucifixion/resurrection had something to do with that “f-ing thing”. Or may we no one with a brain should take the crucifixion/resurrection story literally either?
I would rather deal with fundies who believe every word of their book is literally true than with asses like Sullivan.
Which raises an interesting question.
How do one wipe a metaphorical ass after they are done shitting all over the place?
With metaphorical ass wipe of “coarse”!
Sullivan says “I defy anyone with a brain (or who hasn’t had his brain turned off by fundamentalism) to think it’s meant literally. It’s obviously meant metaphorically. It screams parable.”
This argument might seem logically sound if “meant” means “meant by God”, in which case it treats as granted that God exists and the Bible is his inspired word. But of course it should be obvious to Sullivan that if an atheist speaks of how the creation tale was meant, he means how it was meant by the primitive, ignorant people who dreamed it up, and in that case Sullivan is making no sense. It’s ridiculous to think that such people, who had no knowledge of science and were forced to choose between making things up or admitting their ignorance, would write in poetic metaphors, when they were earnestly trying to come up with a plausible explanation for the world around them.
A great example of someone who took the position that the creation tale was meant literally is Isaac Asimov. In two of his books, Asimov’s Guide to the Bible – The Old Testament, and especially the shorter work, In the Beginning, he provided great insight into what the people who dreamed up those tales in Genesis might have actually been thinking.
And I think it’s pretty safe to say that Asimov had a brain and it hadn’t been turned off by fundamentalism.
Asimov is the one arrogant atheist I know of.
Asimov was arrogant in his intellectual brilliance, it is claimed, and he was atheist. So arrogant and atheist. (Not “arrogant atheist”, which doesn’t seem to observably exist.)
Believers are allowed only two possibilities regarding their scripture: literally true or metaphorically true. They don’t even consider the possibility that a particular claim was meant to be taken literally true but is indeed literally false. The authors of scripture couldn’t have made a mistake.
As for determining what’s metaphorically true, they start with the assumption that it is all literally true, until science or what little skepticism they possess compels them to abandon that assumption.
Never mind that something could be “metaphorically” false or wrong in addition to being “literally” false or wrong. That is why you can never state what the metaphor actually represents.
Oh yeah, it can be false in all senses.
Another thing to point out is that people can read meaning into a story which was never intended. One can do this with any contemporary fantasy story (Harry Potter, LotR, etc.) Try it! Aaragorn’s wandering ways are a metaphor for the resentment one feels for the responsibilities the world thrusts upon him, and his re-forging of that broken sword (whatever it’s called) is a metaphor for growing up and accepting one’s destiny and blah blah blah…see?
The sword is Anduril. (/channeling my inner geek]
And LOTR is the “New Testament” part of Tolkien’s metaphorical bible, “Silmarillion” having the “Old Testament” Genesis,devils and angels – all toned down for the children religious propaganda piece LOTR was originating as.
I still think your example makes sense in that context, maybe even more so: metaphor is what metaphor does, your metaphor is my background, et cetera.
My inner geek works metaphorically: it was originally Narsil, and renamed _Andúril_.
That has the ring of truth…
Whenever I read any “debate” about the bible as literal or metaphoric truth, I go back to my bible — the Scopes trial transcript. Here are excerpts from the Darrow-Bryan exchange on the Garden of Eden:
Darrow: Mr. Bryan, do you believe that the first woman was Eve?
Q. Do you believe she was literally made out of Adam’s rib?
A. I do.
Q. Did you ever discover where Cain got his wife?
A. No, sir; I leave the agnostics to hunt for her.
Q. …Do you believe the story of the temptation of Eve by the serpent?
A. I do.
Q. Do you believe that after Eve ate the apple, or gave it to Adam, whichever way it was, that God cursed Eve, and at that time decreed that all womankind thenceforth and forever should suffer the pains of childbirth in the reproduction of the earth?
A. I believe what it says, and I believe the fact as fully–
Q. That is what it says, doesn’t it?
Q. And for that reason, every woman born of woman, who has to carry on the race, the reason they have childbirth pains is because Eve tempted Adam in the Garden of Eden?
A. I will believe just what the Bible says…I accept it as it is.
Bryan was not a Catholic. In 1925 he believed notoriously in the literal truth of the bible. Although Sullivan, et al., are now arguing (and arguing really nastily with the sort of name-calling that is a red flag to all sentient intellectuals) that this is all metaphor and has always been read as metaphor…well, they haven’t done their homework, have they?
“It’s obviously meant metaphorically. …”
OK, OK, fine.
Now tell me why this particular metaphor is any better than any other?
Without a pretense of reality behind it, there’s no basis for preferring one metaphor over another.
If Sullivan were right about the meaning of the book being obvious, there would be only one sect of Chrisitians.
At last wikipedia count, there were over 38,000 sects.
Since Sullivan is so good at determining metaphor, I’m sure he’ll have no problem figuring out what this one means: If you point the same detector at the same subject and get 38,000 different measurements, it’s time to throw that piece of equiment out.
You would wait so long?!
I like how Sullivan claims there’s evidence that the Fall has always been taken figuratively (meaning it has been taken this way throughout history, even by ignorant Bronze Age people who had no knowledge of science), and then cites as his evidence the intuitions of modern people, currently living, who know infinitely more about the universe and how it got here than Moses did. The whole reason this shit is obvious falsehood is *because we know so much better now.* No crap it’s obvious now! But Sullivan provides no evidence for prior centuries.
What a stunad.
Is the argument so hard to follow?
If even one part of a book (never mind several parts) is found to be dubious or wrong, the book can no longer be used as an authority.
The book may have other correct statements, but outside confirmation will be required to determine if the statements are reliable or not.
If a statement can only be found in this book, and has no outside confirming evidence, it makes no sense to believe it as true. If the claim is contradictory to all repeatable or reliably recorded evidence, it makes even less sense to believe it as true.
Oh well. If the response is mostly just name-calling and refuting different arguments, the debate seems to be over.
We’re not dealing with rational argument here. That’s why they fall back on the metaphor thing, which can’t be proved wrong (or right, either). But, of course, it’s still dubious.
Sullivan’s opinion crrries no more authority than yours mine or the guy that delivers my pizza. As the religious reformer, John Wesley, said:
“If there be any mistakes in the Bible, there may as well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from the God of truth.” Game Set and Match
The real problem is that polygenism makes nonsense of the Augustinian hamartiology. Why did the other people who were alive when Adam sinned die? They didn’t sin, and they weren’t descendents of Adam. The inheritance of sin and death, as proposed by Augustine, has always struck me as an immoral doctrine, but the polygenist has to go even further, arguing that all of the other people alive at the time acquired sin even though they weren’t Adam’s descendents. Maybe sin was like an airborne infectious disease that they picked up from Adam.
Someone can always go the Pelagian (or Semipelagian) route and claim that Adam’s act was nothing more than setting a bad example, but Pelagianism (and Semipelegianism) were declared heresies at the Second Council of Orange in 529.
It should come as no surprise, given the damage that polygenism does to Augustinian hamartiology, that the 1950 papal encyclical Humani generis specifically rejects polygenism. The Catholic Church will accept certain aspects of evolution, but they won’t accept scientific claims that nullify central church doctrine. On such matters, the “children of the Church” must ignore science and follow orders.
So, the question for Catholics (and Christians generally who follow the Augustinian line) is what do you do when science has proven that polygenism is true, that there has never been a time when there was only one man on the Earth.
One more thing. This talk of literal vs. figurative language is a red herring. Someone can believe that the story uses figurative language but “affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man” (as the Catholic Catechism states) and one that is non-polygenic in nature (as Humani generis states). The Catholic Church (and many, many other Christians) claim that polygenism is false. Genetics proves that polygenism is true. If Sullivan and any other Christians want to side with Science over the Catholic Church and those Christians, that’s great, but it is ridiculous for Sullivan to claim that no one “with a brain” considers Genesis to be anything more than a parable when Pope Pius XII, Catholic Church and a significant proportion of Christians take it as such.
I guess some other people that Sullivan would say don’t have a brain are Jesus:
I guess some other people that Sullivan would say don’t have a brain are Jesus: “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ . . .
Oh, come on! Jesus was speaking metaphorically!
He really said:
“Blessed are the Cheese-makers!”
Perfection, your name is “not christianity”.
The thing about “sophisticated” apologists like Sullivan is that they always avoid telling us what Catholic doctrine they see as literally true.
Yeah really, why is he quoting other people and then not elucidating with his own thoughts? He’s as bad as Edward Feser, forever quoting other people and nobody knows what the hell they’re supposed to make of it.
His own thoughts are confused. As the debates he’s been in clearly show, he’s afraid of death and just tries to believe for this sole reason.
Like a maniac shooting
flaming arrows of death
is one who deceives their neighbor
and says, “I was only joking!”
Back in my church-going days a minister relayed the following parable:
A bully was going around the neighborhood boasting that he was the toughest kid around, and that he had kicked every other bully’s butt in town. When the biggest, baddest bully found out about this he confronted the interloper: “You aint never kicked my butt!”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” answered the little upstart, “I’ll just scratch your name off the list.”
I think the story reflects the position that theology is in. It stumbles through the centuries boasting of its phantom accomplishments, all while its literal believers cause misery to millions. But when backed into a corner it’s forced to admit that all the energy expended in promoting immeasurable human suffering was for a damned metaphor. In other words, “I was only joking.” Damn you liars!
Thanks for the addition to my collection of funny, bat-shit crazy, and/or deeply ironic bible verses! Is the verse you quote from a certain edition of the bible, or did you paraphrase it? The KJV says
18 As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death,
19 So is the man that deceiveth his neighbour, and saith, Am not I in sport?
“Maniac shooting flaming arrows of death” – I love it!
That’s how the NIV says it! lol
Sullivan’s anger about this is very odd. I try to avoid playing armchair psychologist, but I can’t help but wonder if his crabbiness about Catholicism and nastiness towards those who he thinks “just don’t get it” is some sort of odd projection of his own very conflicted Catholic identity. I know he’s written a bit about struggling with being a gay Catholic, and he’s on record as saying that Catholicism means whatever you want it to mean (which is just silly), and he’s quite the cherry-picker when it comes to what aspects of Catholicism he accepts and what aspects he rejects, so I think there might be something to the whole “projection” thing.
Also, this is so very ridiculous and wrong:
“Obviously”? What? How in the world does he “know” that? And, as others have already pointed out, it’s not just the fundamentalists and those without “a brain” who think it’s meant literally. I was certainly taught (in Catholic school/church) that it is to be taken literally. I really don’t think that Sullivan has much of a clue about Catholicism, to be honest. I know that sounds harsh, but the evidence seems to suggest it’s true.
& Damn, his blog is insanely popular. Last year, he linked to me and quoted an excerpt from one of my posts, and I got more traffic from that than I ever have from any other referrer, including Reddit and RD.net and that Very Popular Atheist Blog That Shall Not Be Named.
I find the comments on here to be the most thought provoking and least frustrating of any blog I read.
I hear the VPABTSNBN is troubled by Kitteh Adoption By Fellow Sites That Shall Not Be Named As Blogs. [Can’t link, freethought seems down.]
“A kitteh in our mittdsteh!” yowls PZ.
(It is a kawai kitteh too!)
I’ve seen both kawaii kittens and kawai kittens. Kowai kittens too, come to think of it. I think I prefer the kawaii ones.
I also think I still remember SOME Japanese.
Sullivan’s anger about this is very odd. I try to avoid playing armchair psychologist, but I can’t help but wonder if his crabbiness about Catholicism and nastiness towards those who he thinks “just don’t get it” is some sort of odd projection of his own very conflicted Catholic identity.
I’m surprised that someone hasn’t done an in-depth study of the psychology of Christianity – although probably someone has or maybe just in bits and pieces – probably on the proscribed index in the Vatican. But, for example, one has to wonder at the motivations of people who would create scenarios for the eternal torture of those who happened to disagree with their politics or morality on Earth and who, to boot, envision the faithful gloating over the torment of the damned – as suggested by this from Aquinas himself (and right from the horse’s mouth – I think – too):
I answer that, Nothing should be denied the blessed that belongs to the perfection of their beatitude. Now everything is known the more for being compared with its contrary, because when contraries are placed beside one another they become more conspicuous. Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned. [Dawkins’ statement in The God Delusion (pg 360) being a reasonably close approximation]
Interesting that in 1880 a British cleric – Frederic William Farrar – called that “the abominable fancy”, more colloquially known as schadenfreude [“damage joy”] although I don’t think the latter is considered a particularly admirable mode of behaviour.
And one might argue that the motivation of those who make a habit of going to horror movies for the “thrill” of being frightened to death [depraved sensibilities?] is only a pale reflection of those Christians who apparently wish to flagellate themselves with profound and cosmic guilt [even more so?]. As Nietzsche put it in his Ecce Homo:
The concept of “God” invented as a counter-example of life – everything harmful, poisonous, slanderous, the whole hostility unto death against life synthesized in this concept in a gruesome unity! The concept of the “beyond”, the “true world” invented in order to devaluate the only world there is – in order to retain no goal, no reason, no task for our earthly reality! The concept of the “soul”, the “spirit”, finally even “immortal soul”, invented in order to despise the body, to make it sick …. In place of health, the “salvation of the soul” – that is a folie circulaire [manic-depressive insanity] between penitential convulsions and hysteria about redemption!
I’m surprised that someone hasn’t done an in-depth study of the psychology of Christianity
what I’m surprised about is the vast numbers of people that are seemingly unaware that the psychology of religion is an ENTIRE FIELD OF ENDEAVOR in and unto itself.
how is it that people can claim to be interested in this issue, yet be totally unaware of things like this:
there are 7 billion people on this planet.
whenever you think you might be surprised that someone hasn’t done something that would appear to make sense to do?
likely you SHOULD be thinking that someone in fact already has, and you should start looking for it.
here’s another excellent resource:
The Summervogel Archive of Research in the Psychology of Religion.
what I’m surprised about is the vast numbers of people that are seemingly unaware that the psychology of religion is an ENTIRE FIELD OF ENDEAVOR in and unto itself.
Learn something new every day. Although it was sort of a rhetorical question as a lead-in to my several comments on the topic.
But I had only recently – in the last few years – run across anything specific, apart from Freud’s “Future of an Illusion”, and have only read a few other articles on the topic, notably one or two by Boyer and some discussions relative to Julian Jayne’s bicameral mind theory – introduced by Dawkins in The God Delusion. Interesting stuff and something that has to be cutting the foundations out from underneath traditional religions at least – too bad it isn’t more in the news and a topic of discussion.
Thanks for the links.
yeah, sorry if I seemed a bit snitty; it’s just I run into this all the time; people making the sudden realization that psychology and religion must be related!
…and yet didn’t think to google it.
No problemo. Been there, done that myself. Hard not to let our exasperation get the better of us at times, particularly in response to Dawkins’ question of “Why be hostile [to religion]?” when there are so many good reasons to do so.
Although I’m sometimes reminded in that regard of Pogo’s comment, “We have seen the enemy. And he is us.”
As a long time P.Z. Myers blog-reader, I offer major kudos to Dr. Coyne on the quality of his blogsite of late. Keep up the good work.
Coyne’s recent take-down of the “sophisticated believers” is spot-on. Every believer I have ever spoken to seems to have their own unique understanding of faith. None of them see it as a problem that faith offers no convergence of understanding or explanation. What criteria could be possibly offered to evaluate myth from metaphor, fiction from allegory? If the first question of rationalism is ” How do you know?”,
Sullivan, Douthat, and Shea have nothing to offer… No believer does, such is the promise of faith.
I, too noted Coyne’s use of “fiction… in it’s entirety”- thinking that he had overstated the case. But as I think on it further, I realize that only a vanishingly small amount of the bible is factual i.e. some of the locations are real. The events associated with those locations are universally fictive. One believer I spoke to recently saw the fact of the ruins of Jerico as “proof” of the Joshua story. Such a WEAK definition of truth. This nebulous truthiness is all the faithful have to support their faith.
It’s all bio-chemical-electrical so almost an infinite number of short circuits is possible.
OT, but given that Jerry’s site puts a little colored tile next to each poster’s alias, might I suggest that they be changed to nonperiodic tiles in honor of the 2011 Nobel for Chemistry?
You can change your gravatar from random to naturally selected by setting up a gravatar account. I’m sure non-periodic tiles are available as images fit to make icons of.
(Though I would be concerned by the ties to islamic faith, as islamic builders were the first historic users of such patterns.)
Isn’t apologetics a little like saying something, and if people get angry, say it was a joke, and if people persist, fall back on “can’t you take a joke”?
Everything’s literal until it has to be a metaphor. Modify the meaning of what was said or written down based on how it is received and you never have to recant, just “clarify”.
Hmmm, I think jeffb made the same point a little more eloquently 🙂
“Because I don’t believe a meteor crashed into the earth and made everything happen. I think intelligent design made everything happen,” O’Reilly quickly answered. He also told Dawkins that “the Judeo-Christian myth is not a myth, it’s reality. And this country was founded on it.” – B. O’Reilly to R Dawkins, October 2011
I’ll never understand why anyone bothers with this pathetic liar. Why validate him and his show?
Because it’s entertaining; except that some take it seriously. Go figure.
The problem only exists because they want to take a piece of mythic storytelling as something more. What the heck does it mean to call it figurative? I don’t know, but it does allow one to dismiss those “literalist” critics and pretend that there is still some sort of divine insight to be gained.
It’s mythic storytelling, and that should be significant in itself. But that can’t be enough for those wishing to privilege that mythic storytelling.
Oh hai there, Andrew! You could always comment here, too, you know. Considering that you’ve been reading this comment section and all: http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2011/10/must-the-story-of-the-fall-be-true-ctd.html
I’m sorry to see that he wrote this:
“It’s truly bizarre to say that there is no rational basis for a mass of ancient texts to include both empirical truths and metaphors. I mean: there is no rational basis to draw a distinction between the parables Jesus told and whether he existed at all? Really? Again, I’m struck by the coarseness, ignorance and stupidity of Coyne’s argument.”
Because it misses the point. And it looks like it’s intentional. My estimation of him has gone seriously downhill. (Just kidding I never had much of an estimation. Lol.)
wow, what an utter intellectual chickenshit Sullivan is.
“And, as I said in my earlier post on Douthat, the mental gymnastics of apologists determined to save their myths deserves no more respect than does the tenacious stupidity of fundamentalists.”
I see no difference between “mental gymnastics” and “tenacious stupidity” – none whatsoever. Even the most sophisticated of theologians are imbeciles who have no respect for the truth and employ sandbox tactics to insist that they are somehow right.
Just a nit to throw on the pile of bad logic dragging Sullivan down, but he’s gobsmackingly wrong in a literary sense too. The Genesis passages don’t ‘scream parable’. They don’t have the structure of a parable at all. Parables don’t generally feature named people (Adam) and specific times (In the beginning…), they usually have the form, ‘Once there was a rich man…’ or some equivalent. They don’t have an ongoing narrative like Adam being created, passing various important events like the creation of Eve and the Fall, having children and dying. All of which of course continues into Cain and Abel, the Begats, Lot, Babel, Noah, etc. All of which, in traditional Catholic teaching, leads straight to Jesus as Coyne keeps pointing out. Parables have only enough story to illustrate their short, didactic message, often spelled out explicitly by an explicit narrator. Nothing in the Eden story reads like a parable.
This is a relatively minor quibble since Sullivan could have argued it was intended as an allegory or otherwise symbolicly, which would at least be more consistent with the form. (Coyne’s points would still stand.) It just shows how completely Sullivan is talking out of his ass.
Yes, what are we to make of Luke 3:23-37?
Was Luke speaking metaphorically when he claimed Jesus’ lineage down not JUST to Adam but to God himself?
Funny that…seems to be rather important to the whole story. His “lineage”.
However, the name Adam (and also Eve) seems to have been deliberately chosen because it could be understood in the way you describe for a parable.
I would say the etymology/meaning of the name can support a more symbolic reading. I wouldn’t call that reading a parable though.
‘Adam’ can have the generic meaning ‘mankind’ and its root means ‘earth’. So it could be that at some point in time Adam was understood as a less specific ‘beginning’ of humanity. (That would still be substantially in conflict with an old earth and evolution.) Of course it could equally be true that the story of a first human already existed and the name was attached as a ‘clever’ pun. Similarly, the connotation ‘earth’ bring up the question: was there an earlier story of a man made from clay to which the name was appended, or was the clay detail added in later repetitions based on the name?
Which all just goes to show that it is an old story based on an older oral tradition with an unknown number of additions, subtractions, edits and typos for unknown political and personal reasons. So when Sullivan or anyone claims there IS a correct original interpretation, much less that they know it, they’re plainly full of it. Nonetheless, we do know that various parts of the story have been taken literally by Abrahamic believers for millenia. For centuries Catholic doctrine emphasized the weak, corruptible and secondary nature of women based on Eve. And if you go and make the story purely symbolic then it becomes a purely symbolic story about how women suck. Way to go Catholic apologists.
This is a relatively minor quibble
actually, I would argue that it isn’t minor at all.
You have hit on the primary thing that is what is wrong with theologists claiming they can decide which passages in a literary text are parables or not.
they, in fact, do not apply any rules at all.
it’s all entirely subjective to them.
Andrew does well to demonstrate just how subjective it is.
What happens when we DO apply standard rules to these texts?
How frustrating! On Sullivan’s site, he quotes his critics, but fails (refuses?) to address their criticisms.
For instance, after quoting a reader who recaps Jerry’s point that no literal Adam and Eve means no basis for the Fall and nothing for the Resurrection to atone for, Sullivan says only, “And eveything science has taught us about our genetic nature shows indeed intrinsic tendencies toward evil, as well as incipient and perhaps accelerating movements toward the good.”
That’s it. To me, this reveals contempt for his readers. Was your critic right? Wrong? Have you changed your mind? Did your critic miss the point? How? Aw, who cares! It’s all a mysterious, mystical mystery.
Dear Mr. Sullivan:
Governor Goodhair (Rick Perry).
Sarah Bag-o-Hammers Palin.
Virtually every other leading candidate for the Republican nomination for the Presidency.
40% of the American citizenry.
Kindly take your gross distortion of the facts and shove them up your already well-lubed….
The first part of your post is probably a good point. The last part probably qualifies as a serious and sexist and totally irrelevant ad hominem.
I suggest you look up the definition of “ad hominem”.
You will discover that I did not, in fact, tell him he was wrong because he was …
Definitionally, my comments were as far away from an ad hom as you can get.
You’re stupid/fat/ugly/whatever, therefore your argument is invalid = ad hom.
Your arguments are lacking in factual basis + a very mild insult couched in an ellipsis = no ad hom.
I might add “with a porcupine” and still not achieve an ad hom. Because I did not attack his IDEAS on the basis of a personal characteristic.
Ok, I stand corrected: it wasn’t technically an ad hominem, more along the line of “gratuitous verbal abuse” – not that Sullivan himself has much of a claim on the moral high ground on that point.
And I see that, as you suggested:
In order to become a fallacy, the insult would need to be given as a reason for believing some conclusion.
However, still seems to me that the insult was either irrelevant or a case of “pointing out a [presumably] negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting” another set of beliefs and hence virtually tantamount to an ad hominem. I’ve seen that Myers, Dawkins and Coyne have all indicated that they’ve been the targets of verbal assaults if not physical threats primarily from religious fundamentalists “unhappy” with their atheism. Yet I expect that religious apologists – such as Feser, Flynn, Sullivan and Vallicella – don’t receive any such, particularly from atheists or agnostics. I would think that people in the latter two groups would want to try to maintain their largely unblemished record on that account.
Yes, but Sullivan doesn’t care about American Christians and their legendary misinterpretations.
He says, “Christianity is not and never has been defined by a majority of American believers in 2011. It has existed for two millennia in countless forms and incarnations, if you pardon the expression.”
Countless? For most of those two millenia it only existed in five or six incarnations, each one ensuring – by political power and the use of violence – that it was the only incarnation in the vicinity.
The denominations only started multiplying after it became illegal to kill people for heresy.
Thanks to Jerry for his spirited reply (pun intended). The perfect re-post – give us a person who can divine the metaphorical from the literal……..I’m waiting……
Sullivan lacks the first virtue – courage – he makes outrageous claims without the backbone to face his opponents.
That, he claimed, doomed the rest of humanity to eternal sin and the need for expiation, requiring Jesus to come down to Earth and be crucified. That’s a dumb scenario, of course. Better to give up the whole myth of original sin and expiation than engage in such ridiculous intellectual contortions.
They will be dragged, kicking and screaming, yielding one literalism after another – “putting away childish things” [“Ok, ok, ok. I’ll give up the soother but let me keep the lollipop – please?”], into adulthood. Eventually, one hopes.
But I really don’t see anything inherently wrong in reading various passages in the Bible metaphorically – a very important step in the right direction as a matter of fact. Particularly in light of Dr. Coyne’s own recent acknowledgement:
And we should put away the whole Bible as a childish thing, save for the stirring literary bits and whatever good moral lessons it teaches that happen to coincide with our secular ideas of what is good.
And Dawkins lists some two pages of “Bible-inspired phrases and sentences …. from great poetry to hackneyed cliché, from proverb to gossip” [pgs 383-385]
And finally, Loren Eiseley used the metaphor of Eden to great effect:
Symbolic communication had begun. Man had escaped out of the eternal present of the animal world into a knowledge of past and future. …. The Eden of the eternal present that the animal world had known for ages was shattered at last. Through the human mind, time and darkness, good and evil, would enter and possess the world. [The Immense Journey; pgs 120-121]
The problem arises when the concession that one part of the Bible is metaphor conceals a hook, i.e. the implied acceptance of or insistence on the literal truth of another part. For an amusing example of which consider this from a philosopher, Bill Vallicella, whom Edward Feser references in Feser’s own attempts at trying to find some justification for a literal Adam and Eve in light of evolutionary biology:
Man’s “fallenness” is a spiritual condition that can only be understood in a spiritual way. It does not require that the whole human race have sprung from exactly two animal progenitors that miraculously came into physical existence by divine agency and thus without animal progenitors. Nor does it require that the transmission of the fallen condition be biological in nature.
“Ridiculous intellectual contortions”, indeed.
The problem arises when the concession that one part of the Bible is metaphor conceals a hook, i.e. the implied acceptance of or insistence on the literal truth of another part.
and, since it is clear that any valued metaphors or literary devices in that collection can actually be found elsewhere, in books that DON’T contain such hooks….
I say toss the whole thing.
It can be very irrational what “non-traditional” Christians will and won’t allow themselves to believe. I have a friend, Tammy, and while at Starbucks drinking lattes I questioned her about her beliefs. Yes, she believes in God and an afterlife. She only occasionally goes to Church but prays to Jesus regularly. Then, to my surprise I found that she believes that Mary’s virgin birth and the visiting angel Gabriel is a “metaphorical” story.
Metaphorical for what?? It’s core Christian doctrine that Christ was an immaculate conception. It’s like the whirling CENTER of the entire conception. Not only was He born without the taint of sexual sin — it was imperative to the story’s LOGIC that Christ be part-God part-human. But Tammy had her own (vague) beliefs. A virgin birth cannot be literally true, she told me. It’s obvious mythology.
I’ve found that many Christians have worked out an inchoate crazyquilt patchwork of tradional and non-traditional and New Agey and irrational beliefs – an “a la carte” approach — that somehow seem to comfortably co-exist in their own minds. Andrew Sullivan believes in a (somewhat unorthodox) Christian God yet he rejects entire stories as “metaphorical” — stories that sometimes form the very texture and substance of Judaism and Christianity.
Father Hardon would like a word with you.
Father Hardon is one of the world’s leading Mariologists. No, I am not kidding.
Actually, it’s MARY, and not Jesus, who was conceived immaculately. But the point’s the same.
Yep. NonCatholics often confuse the virgin birth (of Jesus) with the immaculate conception (of Mary), since they have different theological significance that need not interest anyone who doesn’t believe such nonsense.
The virgin birth was to confirm Jesus’ godhood status, like many other godmen of the time. It’s part of the expanding Christology developed by the authors of gMatthew and gLuke.
The immaculate conception, if I understand it right, was to break the supposed chain of Original Sin, that would have otherwise contaminated Jesus, at the conception of his mother Mary. This also sets up the veneration of Mary, since she was a sinless person in her own right (according to the doctrine, of course — I think she’s just a bit of midrash). It’s apparently a much later development, and there’s no hint of it in the Bible itself.
Straight from the Sullivan’s mouth, pure and unadulterated:
‘I would argue that original sin is a mystery that makes sense of our species’ predicament – not a literal account of a temporal moment when we were all angels and a single act that made us all beasts. We are beasts with the moral imagination of angels. But if we are beasts, then where did that moral imagination come from? If it is coterminous with intelligence and self-awareness, as understood by evolution, then it presents human life as a paradox, and makes sense of the parable. For are we not tempted to believe we can master the universe with our minds – only to find that we cannot, and that the attempt can be counter-productive or even fatal? Isn’t that delusion what Genesis warns against?’
Diawl! (Welsh for ‘the devil!’) Can he not see the pitiful triviality and infantile banality of the ‘lesson’ he supposes Genesis to teach? But like most Xtians I know, little Andrew has never recovered from the shock of Sunday School. (His arguments in the dialogue with Sam Harris showed this, too.)
He also praises ‘Bob’ Wright’s dreadful book on the ‘evolution’ of religion.
For someone trying to clarify his position, he’s awful fast and loose with the “angels” bit. Nobody knows if he means real angels, metaphoric angels, puppy angels, what! WTF with the angels routine!
Sea angels are best angels.
Frankly, I think many in the clergy see the whole Bible as metaphor.
The joke is that “the believers are in the pews and the atheists (or agnostics) are at the pulpits”
I grew up Catholic and as I got to be an adult, I found that the official Church position was that the Bible was some sort of “scrapbook” for what people thought of AT THAT TIME. Of course, passages that were consistent with official church teaching (which were not necessarily related to the Bible) were explained away; one example of this was the mistake of translating the Hebrew word for “young woman” into “virgin”. The church holds that this mistake was a “divinely inspired” mistake!
Says Sullivan, “And eveything science has taught us about our genetic nature shows indeed intrinsic tendencies toward evil, as well as incipient and perhaps accelerating movements toward the good.”
I think with “mush-brained” you are being far too kind.
“Intrinsic tendencies toward evil?” Has he learned his genetics from Mary Midgley? This is, as they say, Not Even Wrong.
It’s truly fascinating what religion can do to an otherwise intelligent mind.
I wonder if we should recommend Sullivan read Pinker’s latest book?
Muoha ha ha ha! Moo hoo hoo! Mwow hwow hwow hwow hwow!
Oh, excuse my evil.
I’m re-watching That Mitchell and Webb Look, and this sketch seems appropriate.
By Vectron’s knees, you’ve got it!
I second that! Never have Truer Words been Spoken, by Vectron’s Home Confinement Ankle Bracelet.
I enjoy reading Sullivan’s political views, even when I disagree with them.
I just wish he’d move his bewildering Catholic apologia along with his Trig Palin conspiracy theories to another blog, cause I’m really tired of reading those.
Gotta take the good with the bad, I guess.
WooHoo, what a rollicking, bracing, laugh-riot of a thread, beginning with JAC’s latest kick-ass post! Bravo, everyone!
(Fancy way to say “subscribing.”)
Perhaps Andrew Sullivan has never heard of “The Fundamentals: A Testimony To The Truth,” published in 12 volumes from 1910 to 1915? It’s where the term “fundamentalist” originally came from, before it developed its more modern pejorative meaning. I think he’ll find a lot of “deluded fools” in there, many of whom would have been highly regarded theologians in their day.
I’d particularly recommend “The Early Narratives of Genesis” by James Orr or “The Doctrinal Value of the First Chapters of Genesis” by Dyson Hague. There’s not a lot of screaming “parable” in those little gems. The “Decadence of Darwinism” by Henry H. Beach is also good for a laugh.
As Hague says: “The Book of Genesis … contains the authoritative information given to the race concerning these questions of everlasting interest: the Being of God; the origin of the universe; the creation of man; the origin of the soul; the fact of revelation; the introduction of sin; the promise of salvation; the primitive division of the human race; the purpose of the elected people; the preliminary part in the program of Christianity.”
Quoth God, “‘Twas not intended to be a factual statement.”