Faith and Metaphor: A Long, Rambling Post by Yours Truly

The Ten Commandments (Two-Disc Special Edition)I’ve been following the production of The Book of Mormon: The Musical with great interest, primarily because I’m always interested to see how outsiders perceive Mormons. From what I gather, the musical pokes fun at Mormons–but at least it’s poking fun at things we actually believe, as opposed to stereotypes that just are play wrong. But that’s not what today’s post is about.

As I’ve been reading the comments of the creators of that musical, something clicked in my head. They were comments that mirrored many of the remarks people made about Mitt Romney when he was running for president a few years ago. Here’s one random quote that illustrates the sentiment:

While disputing the validity of the faith, Lopez (one of the creators of the musical) also acknowledged its inherent good. “It’s such a load of baloney,” he said, “But people believe in it so strongly, and their lives are demonstrably changed for the good by it.”

In other words, Mormonism is crazy as all get out, but its end result is good people, so I guess that’s okay. Slate Magazine said this during Mitt Romney’s run:

One may object that all religious beliefs are irrational—what’s the difference between Smith’s “seer stone” and the virgin birth or the parting of the Red Sea? But Mormonism is different because it is based on such a transparent and recent fraud.

So it’s okay to be religious if you’re believing things that happened thousands of years ago, but believing that God and angels still appear to people in recent history must mean you’re an absolute lunatic.

The sad thing is, some religious people seem to be agreeing more and more with this sentiment. (BIG DISCLAIMER: I’m not aiming this at any religion in particular. In fact, I don’t even have one in mind. I’m just talking about the general feel I’ve gotten from reading a variety of articles and commentaries over the past few years.) Religious people seem to be turning to scripture more for the metaphor of it than for actual belief in it.

I understand the appeal. It’s a lot easier on you if Christ was talking about metaphors. If Satan isn’t an actual being, and heaven and hell are states of mind, not actual locations. You don’t have to worry about any conflicts with current scientific findings. You don’t have to defend your beliefs to anyone–because you’re just endorsing good morals, or proper choices, or healthy living. But to me, that’s religion without the teeth. You might as well pick a favorite movie and live by its precepts. I could found a “religion” based on the teachings of Groundhog Day or The Princess Bride pretty easily. Heck–people have already started some for Star Wars. And if “religions” like this get people to do good things, then what’s the harm in it, right?

If God doesn’t exist, and it really all *is* a bunch of baloney, then there is no harm. But if He does exist, then it detracts from true religion. It cheapens the faith of millions of people.

It’s easy these days to have a whole lot of faith in science, and not a lot of faith in religion. People are getting smarter. We know about cool things like atoms and quarks and relativity and evolution. We know how immense the universe is, and we’ve got things like genetics to keep us occupied. And since we know so much, it becomes more and more laughable to believe in God. You might as well say publicly that you believe in the Easter Bunny.

Then again, I think it’s right at the moments when you start having so much faith in your own knowledge and understanding that you might be in need of God the most, too. Let me put it this way: I’ve always thought I’ve known a lot. I’ve always thought of myself as well-informed. Even when I was in grade school, I thought I had it all down. I’d be willing to go so far as to say that’s a trait of humanity. We always want to think we know everything. Go back in time a hundred years, and people would believe that. Go back to the Egyptians, and I think they’d believe that, too. Jump forward a thousand years, and we’ll still believe it. Despite the fact that science will have progressed so much further. That “truths” that seemed so solid at one point (flat earth, helio-centric universe, blood letting) now are laughed at.

My point is that human knowledge changes. All the time. Scientists can’t even decide whether it’s better for babies to sleep on their stomachs or their backs. So turning to science for proof of anything as enormous as the existence of God seems sort of like using crayons to design a new form of life.

Either God exists, or He doesn’t. If He does, then science can say all it wants, and that won’t change that fact. If God doesn’t exist, then all the theologians in the world can shout that He does, and it won’t change it, either. If He does exist, then true religion should be an effort not to find a harmonious lifestyle, but to find out who God is, and what His will for us is. But that’s a post for another day.

For now, I just want to say that I don’t believe religion is a metaphor. I personally don’t believe Christ was just a good guy with some good ideas about peace and harmony. I literally believe he was and is the son of God. And I literally believe that He and God appeared to Joseph Smith in the early 1800s. It’s not some feel good story to me to get me to make good decisions and pay my taxes. I believe we live after we die, and choices we make in this life affect our lives in the hereafter. But again–all of that is a post for another day.

I’m not writing this post to persuade you Mormonism is true. I’m writing to say that faith–any faith in God–isn’t just a metaphor.

And I don’t think I’m irrational to believe that.

3 thoughts on “Faith and Metaphor: A Long, Rambling Post by Yours Truly”

  1. I have to disagree with this statement:

    And since we know so much, it becomes more and more laughable to believe in God. You might as well say publicly that you believe in the Easter Bunny.

    According to the most recent data, 173.4 million out of 228.2 million adults in the U.S. identify as Christian. Another 8.8 million are members of other religions. This compared to only 1.6 million who identify as atheist and 2 million as agnostic. Even if you assume that all 46 million people who declared no religious affiliation or refused to answer the question are non-believers, that’s a relatively small minority. So when you say you believe in God, there might be a few million Americans who equate that with believing in the Easter Bunny, but there’s a good 182 million people who’ve got your back.

    Your point is otherwise valid because the census didn’t ask how many of those 182 million believers interpret scripture metaphorically and I’d agree with your general impression that that number is rising, but I just wanted to get the facts out there, lest you fall prey to the unjustified persecution complex that all-too-often makes otherwise rational people behave truly irrationally.

  2. While it’s true that the vast majority of US citizens classify themselves religious, that majority is often silent–at least in some of the circles I frequent online. Has anyone ridiculed me for believing in God? Not recently, but I wasn’t writing the post to defend myself from ridicule. I wrote it to work out my own observations of a growing trend. I’ve questioned the literal truth of my beliefs from time to time, tempted to approach them from a more metaphorical slant. This is my response to that line of thinking.

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