Leading Horses to Water
Ancient Greeks began the way of
thinking originally known as natural philosophy but which we now call
science. Science emerged as we know it during the Renaissance, in
an age dominated by fear, superstition, injustice, and brutality.
In other words, pretty much like the present. These musings are
aimed at explaining how science works, and how science can serve even
nonscientists in their efforts to make sense of the world. I can
try to explain things but it’s up to you to decide whether or not you
wish to drink from these waters.
#10 - Why does god speak in parables and metaphors?
American Heathen: aired: 10 March 2012
Science depends on clarity of expression – I’ve talked about this
before. Ambiguities and multiple interpretations of words are
anathema to science. When scientists speak, that precision of
expression can be boring or unintelligible to some lay persons.
Whenever I insert some biblical quotation into a discussion of
christianity that contradicts the rosy picture of christ as the
ultimate embodiment of peace, love, and harmony – such as Luke 19:27:
But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them - bring them here and kill them in front of me.
I get responses from christian apologists who say things like:
• The parable is
clearly not meant to be interpreted too literally. The king in the
parable is obviously not strictly analogous to God, for he admits he is
unethical. Even skeptics must admit that Jesus would not intend
to openly teach that God is unethical.
• Such a command would contradict Jesus' earlier
teaching, where he rebuked the disciples for suggesting that a village
that rejected him be destroyed.
• The parable is a picture of God's future judgment,
not present-day judgment by humans. God is the one who will execute
final judgment - as in fact Jesus' teaching mentioned in the previous
point illustrates. Other judgment-day parables illustrate that it is
God who will be in charge of the judgment, and there is no reason to
interpret those as a command to Christians to execute judgment now.
Clearly not meant to be interpreted literally? Oh, really?
So what you’re saying is that someone simply can’t read the bible on
their own and understand what it says, right? It has to be
interpreted, like some sort of foreign language or complicated stereo
instructions? Tell that to the christian fundamentalist terrorists!
Doesn’t the need for interpretation mean that anyone can read virtually
anything they want into the bible? How can you trust anything
interpreted for you from the bible? Short answer: you
can’t! And I don’t necessarily trust your interpretation!
Apologists obviously start from the premise that their version of god’s
word is the one true version and so they then have to explain away
somehow all the contradictions and evident falsehoods in the
bible. The preceding bullet list of rationalizations even
includes an argument that the obvious contradictions in the biblical
story of christ can be used to “prove” their interpretation is the
right one! The existence of contradictions means there are no
contradictions?? Say what??
So my question is the following: if we’re talking about an
omniscient, omnipotent deity who commands us mere humans to worship him
(for some mysterious reason), wouldn’t it be possible to write a text that didn’t need interpretation?
Wouldn’t it be more effective in achieving the desired result if it
were so consistent and logical that it would be immune to deviant
interpretations? Why does god insist on talking in metaphors and
using inscrutable allusions? Why can’t this infinite being manage
to make it crystal clear what he’s trying to tell us? The new
testament makes it apparent that even christ’s disciples were
struggling daily to grasp what their leader was trying to say.
Having the living god standing next to them in human form, performing
miracles on a routine basis while they watched, and constantly talking
with them as he wandered about, still wasn’t getting the message across
to his disciples.
According to this site,
god in the form of jesus christ spoke in parables to confuse those
whose hearts were hardened to his teaching. If he had spoken
clearly and plainly, perhaps the understanding they might have obtained
could have softened their hearts! But, of course, being
omniscient, he already knew their minds and what they would do!
Question: why would god go to the trouble to create and then
minister to beings whose actions he knows beforehand? Why even
bother trying to reach them? This is all a typical christian
apologist illogical non-answer to a rational query.
In the present, all we have are these ancient texts, translated and
re-translated numerous times in their journey through thousands of
years from the original scribes (not the actual disciples themselves!)
to us. We have no daily miracles to witness, no burning bushes
speaking to us, no resurrections from death. The bible is the
authoritative source for spiritual belief? This is the basis for
accepting the existence of an infinite deity that hasn’t shown himself
for at least 2000 years (if the bible is to believed)? If, as I
believe, these scriptures are human creations, not the words of an
infinite deity, is it any wonder we have trouble grasping the intended
meaning after all this time? If the resulting bible is the best
an infinite being can do, it seems to me that he must not be working
very hard to get us to accept him as our lord and savior.
This lack of clarity in the bible leaves a niche for the clerics to
claim a capacity for interpretation of this gibberish, so that we
ordinary people will know what to think and do. The clerics in
the various churches produce the interpretations in their position as
the interpreter of the bible, which they arrogated for themselves, as a way to maintain power over their congregations. If there ever was a “Jesus Christ” as a real historical person,
it seems obvious he used the ambiguity and vagueness of his parables as
a way of maintaining his hold on his flock of followers, just as
modern-day cult leaders use this identical tactic. The resulting
confusion over the interpretation allows clerics (cult leaders) the
privileged position of providing the supposedly one true interpretation
of the word of their deity. Oh yes, we must follow and obey these
clerics and cult leaders if we’re to be saved!
We have 40,000+ versions of christianity in the USA because we
Americans have the habit, born of our roots in secular humanism and the
rational thinking of the 18th century Enlightenment, of questioning
authority figures. Suppose some person offers an interpretation
that differs from a particular denomination’s “party line.” This
generally results in that person either (a) being ejected from that
denomination or (b) leaving that denomination before being
tossed. In either case, people who question the authority figures
in their original church may be able to find another denomination into
which they fit, or they may gather like-minded people around them and
form their own denomination, thereby becoming their own authority
figures. In the USA, this has resulted in the continuing
fractionation of christianity. Oh, we Americans are an
argumentative bunch, for sure! Our tradition for that has its
roots in the freedoms guaranteed by our secular government, which (for
the moment) continues to be independent of any particular religious
denomination. Note: if
someone truly wishes religious freedom, the obvious way to guarantee
that particular freedom is to maintain the wall of separation between
church and state.
Whenever anyone’s reasoning is so vague and mysterious as to need
interpretation, then it probably isn’t worth the time wasted on trying
to figure it out. A scientific paper as vague and full of
contradictions as the bible would be rejected even if the science
itself was of value! If the source of your religious inspiration
is laced with unintelligible mumbo-jumbo, incomprehensible metaphors
and parables, blatant contradictions and obvious falsehoods – then it
has no rational claim to the truth regarding any topic. As Ken
Humphries (see link to his site above) describes it, it’s nothing but astounding rubbish!
What’s truly astounding to me is that scientists who can think
rationally about science could ever swallow such a load of garbage!!
Note that everything in this discussion can be adapted to fit any of
the world’s Abrahamic religions, as well as others. By using
christianity as an example, I had no intention to let judaism and islam
off with a free pass! But I live in a nation dominated by
is not a religion but rather a tool for those who wish to think for
themselves about the natural world. Its primary characteristic is
its willingness to entertain questions from those who wish to obtain