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 congregationsIf 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 christians.

Science 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 believable answers.