39 thoughts on “Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ metaphor

  1. When you consider that everything coming out of your brain is metaphorical, you need to look at evidence to determine whether your metaphor represents a literal fact or fantasy. I know a lot of people get confused about their observation of reality and reality itself, but the difference is important when trying to figure out what is real.

    1. Tom, you are pushing “metaphorical” way beyond where it usually reaches. Do that, and you might as well kill the word outright. Granted, all of our ideas are only a map of reality, but “metaphor” only refers to the ideas that are far from directly matched to the world as we think it is.

      “I have a hot dog in my fridge.” is not at all metaphorical.

      “I have an ache in my heart.” is a little bit metaphorical.

      “I have ice in my veins.” is very metaphorical.

  2. Every religious claim that can be proven wrong is a metaphor, everything else is literal, until proven metaphorical.

      1. You’re welcome to use it but don’t attribute it to me, it’s not original. I’ve heard something like this before in a Nonstampcollector youtube video, I cant remember which one and I cant remember the exact phrase.

    1. That is the stated position of the Chief Rabbi of the UK.

      Most Old Testaments scholars would put it the other way around, I suspect: everything is metaphorical unless some archaelogist proves it to be literally true (and boring).

    2. The time may come when mainstream xians will declare the whole sheebang is entirely metaphorical but true; already has for some, but I am not holding my breath….

      1. What was that ridiculous discussion not too long ago about religious claims being true, but not real? Talk about rationalization going into overdrive….

  3. It’s surprising how often liberal Christians who use metaphor so liberally are often surprised that we atheists don’t seem to appreciate it. Hey, they’re being reasonable here! Isn’t that what we WANT???

    No. We want consistency. We’re not in love with the idea of saving the IMPORTANT bits of religious faith by throwing out as many of the unimportant beliefs as you absolutely have to. The actual rule of thumb for determining what is metaphor from what is literal seems to be looking to see what an outsider could point to as stupid — and calling that a “metaphor.” That’s only exemplary behavior if you accept upfront that it’s very important to both be reasonable and “keep your faith.”

    1. Reading the Bible as it was written, (that is, figuratively,) is not throwing anything out. Except for the modern obsession with having facts spoon fed without the tedious requirement for understanding.

    2. Another reason we’re not impressed by it: we understand metaphor in literature, and we see no reason to consider the metaphors in one particular work of literature to be more important than all other works.

    3. Worse is the question of, “What’s it a metaphor for?

      Okay, so the story about the enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard isn’t real, it’s a metaphor. But now it’s a story about a neglectful and abusive single parent who kicks his pre-pubescent children naked to the curb after they got sick from drinking the paint thinner he had left in the juice jar in the ‘fridge. What’s the metaphorical take-away in that?


      1. I think the take away is that much of human suffering comes from our awareness of our own mortality and from our feelings of guilt – which is to say, awareness of good and evil.

        I think it’s kind of a good story in that respect, and might have resonated with people living thousands of years ago, people who had to kill and butcher animals to eat, who had to watch some of their children die of disease or injury, who had to suffer pain throughout childbirth and often die from it.

        Is it such a good metaphor that I elevate it above all other works of literature? No.

  4. I think it’s clear Genesis is a fable because it has a talking animal. But of course Exodus has talking shrubbery, so that jumbles things up a bit.

    Anyway, songs of songs still the best part of the book and hopefully belongs in the literal subset 🙂

    1. But of course Exodus has talking shrubbery, so that jumbles things up a bit.

      The Talking Bush only has a walk on part.

      For sentient plants, Day of the Triffids was much better.

      1. So there’s an Actors’ Equity for plants? Casting calls? I bet the queue at the auditions for Little Shop of Horrors went round the block!

    1. Great work!

      Say…do you take requests? If so, I’m thinking of something where Mo plays Doubting Thomas’s role and fondles Jesus’s intestines….



      1. Ben Goren, what is it with you and fondling Jesus’ intestines? Enquiring minds want to know.

        (I just silently hope Jesus ‘n’ Mo will have a go at male genital cutting. I wouldn’t dream of asking.)

        1. Well, that one incident just distills everything down to its essence so perfectly.

          On the one hand, Christians are very fond of using the Doubting Thomas incident to extol the virtues of faith. On the other hand, even at a most uncritical reading of the text, it demonstrates the opposite: faith is inadequate, and evidence is required.

          But then, if you take even the smallest step back, the whole thing practically explodes. I mean, think about it: we’re trying to have a serious discussion about epistemology…and we’re using a story about a guy who wants to shove his hand inside a zombie’s chest? What the fuck?

          And now things really get out of hand. Christians can’t let go of the story, because it’s the foundation of their faith. But that means that they really have to believe that Jesus was wandering around Jerusalem for a month and a half with a gaping chest wound and holes in his hands and feet — and that he was doing this horror show after the townspeople had tried to kill him for some pretty trivial offenses. And there’s just no way that any sane and rational adult can keep of thinking of any of that as something that really happened.

          In other words, I’m hoping that it’s inescapable imagery that will heighten cognitive dissonance to unsustainable levels.

          And there’s the ridicule part. It’s one thing to wax poetically about the noble mystery of a faith in things unseen but hoped for. It’s another to be one of those nutjobs who wants to grope zombie guts. If people know that they’ll get ridiculed for their most cherished beliefs (which happen to be profoundly absurd), they’re that much less likely to sell those beliefs door-to-door or to espouse public policy on those beliefs.



  5. Well, for Catholics I think that if it’s in the Nicene Creed it’s literal, but in other groups it’s often just an eclectic grab-bag of supposition, with the thoughtful answers lost in the shuffle.

    An extremely articulate reflection on this question by a religious astronomer (and strong opponent of Intelligent Design- don’t leap to conclusions re the link at the bottom) is at
    (It is always the religious scientists rather than the theologians who manage to get my respect -if not agreement- on these questions.)

    A very wide range of mostly silly answers is given in this Yahoo Answers post, which alas shows the minimal influence of the astronomer above.

    However, as I posted a day or so ago, often even the metaphorical meaning of the Bible is not a good message per atheist philosopher and blogger Daniel Fincke over at “Camels with Hammers”. The story of a Fall of Man has all kinds of problems. Justifications of misogyny and slavery remain in a metaphorical reading, etc.

  6. So good to see you here. It’s always a pleasure to see your latest.

    Several times now I’ve missed the point of one the first time through and begun to wonder if it’s just the Atlantic ocean getting in the way. Then I read it one more time and the light comes on. Those are the best.

    Thank you

    1. Harsh. The cartoon delivers the essence of the supposed problem instantly, with hooks to make it stick.

      The blog post leaves less to the readers, and can deliver more details.

      I suspect that the Bible is closer to a series of cartoons than to the blog posts.

  7. As long as the topic of what is real vs. really metaphoric, may I recommend a movie.

    That movie is “Kumare.”

    Kumare is a wise guru from the East who indoctrinated a group of followers in the West. Kumare, however, is not real–he is the alter ego of American filmmaker Vikram Gandhi, who impersonated a spiritual leader for the sake of a social experiment designed to challenge one of the most widely accepted taboos: that only a tiny “1%” can connect the rest of the world to a higher power.

    I found myself laughing out loud at how easily people fall for nonsense, and it was. He was making it up as he went. Entertaining, but also an interesting look at the psychology of “believers.”

  8. Sastra:

    “…The actual rule of thumb for determining what is metaphor from what is literal seems to be looking to see what an outsider could point to as stupid — and calling that a “metaphor.” …

    Finally, a ‘criterion of embarrassment’ that actually works.

  9. After somebody told me, that people read and interpret the bible and koran differently so that these books are a good influence on their life, I came up with this:

    Imagine an old really crappy cookbook. If you follow the recipes word by word, you get really crappy food. Sometimes it`s just way too much salt other times even dangerous ingredients like rotten mice.

    So you have a lot of people, who only use this book to cook which leads to unhealthy and bad tasting food but they still insist that this tastes good and that`s how good food is supposed to taste. All other cookbooks are wrong.

    But you also have people, who use other cookbooks and who learned from other people how to cook. They still use the crappy cookbook but ignore all the bad stuff in it. But they still think that this is the best cookbook on earth.

    If you point out to them how bad many of the recipes and ingredients are, they reply with something like:

    “The recipes shouldnt be taken at face value. You have to look for the meaning beyond the words. The recipes and ingredients should be interpreted. The 5 kilo salt in one recipe represents half a teaspoon of sugar and half a teaspoon of garlic. The reason why other people cook bad with this book is because of the people who sell them bad kitchens but its not the books fault. Look how many cooks use this book and their food is still good…”

    But in the end, the good cooks don`t need this book because they ignore most of it and mostly use their knowledge of cooking they gained from other books. And all the bad cooks would be better off if they used many other cookbooks and tested different ways of cooking.

  10. As I see it the problem is with those who see the Bible as being in some way divine. Because of this perceived divine nature, it is considered by such people to be impossible for it to contain anything that is idiotic or barbaric. Since most of it is idiotic, barbaric or both, these parts have to be interpreted creatively to make them seem profound.

    1. Yes, and that’s why the “liberal”, non-literal interpreters aren’t off the hook. They still hold this book up as special, which just validates the literalists and near-literalists who consider it the word of God.

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